According to that digital fountain of information, Wikipedia, Mary
Magdalene has recently been reformed in Christian religions from being a
repentant prostitute to someone healed by Christ from illness. As the
Wikipedia article on this person puts it, Mary Magdalene was a "victim
of a historical defamation of character."
It is ironic that we should be discussing "the role of prostitution in
society" on the holiest of days in the Christian calendar. Whilst I
certainly have no ambition to rehabilitate prostitution in our society,
I don't know about you, I certainly have some serious questions, which I
ask in my short essay, that I hope will challenge the moral and
philosophical immaturity expressed by some well appointed members in our
In the meantime we'd be well advised to check out the link Edwin sent me
on a very related theme of prostitution, Edwin writes: Given the topic
for next week I think some people may do well to read this
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilya_4-ever. It was a film that was
promoted by Amnesty International and was very moving. Given the
preponderance of young girls from Chisnau in Moldova who are "promised"
the same golden future or simply abducted it is something to think about.
In the meantime I hope you have a good holiday and look forward to see
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The role of prostitution in society
In the real world we live in, prostitution is part of society and the
sex industry is certainly one of the more successful industries to be
involved with. In the world of philosophy, that is, the world as it
ought to be, we come across a number of issues about prostitution that
require some investigation.
There are three main issues, amongst many, relating to prostitution that
concern us: 1) the health implications of prostitution, 2) the economic
implications of prostitution, especially those affecting women, and 3)
the biological implications of prostitution.
However, I do not see any moral issues as far as consenting adults are
concerned when agreeing to sexual activities involving the exchange of
money. It is the environment surrounding prostitution that might give
rise for concern.
Thus as far as the consenting act of prostitution itself is concerned
there is no difference from any consenting agreement between adults to
provide a service in exchange for money; in this aspect prostitution
ought to be afforded the same commercial status as any other
transaction. That prostitution is not always afforded this commercial
status is maybe an explicit or implied (moral) shortcoming on the part
of those who deny this status. And the reason for the need of this
recognition is simple, the present status quo creates a lot of victims
and leaves weak people open to abuse.
This opinion, however, is probably not true to the real facts because
according to the Wikipedia article on the subject, in many European
countries prostitution is fully legalized and in many others it is not
criminalized. (Prostitution. (2010, March 30). In Wikipedia, The Free
Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:49, March 30, 2010, from
But of course, the real situation in Europe is still vague and certainly
not universal throughout the continent. Outside the borders of Europe
the situation is seriously chaotic.
But because of the irrational status given to prostitution we are
prepared to allow this group of people to be a source or victims of
sexually transmitted diseases and of course to suffer all sorts of
abuses and health hazards. This is very true outside the boarders of
Europe, but I doubt whether the situation is that much better even given
the hight standard of health care we find in Europe. For example, in the
Medical situation section of the Wikipedia article on Prostitution it
clearly shows (with the relevant references) the causal connection
between prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases. And although I
won't pursue this issue any further, the link between prostitution and
sexually transmitted diseases probably has a more devastating effect in
developing countries where healthcare is basic or non existent than say
in developed countries.
What is however clear, is that there are still countries who still
approach prostitution with a degree of moral and philosophical
immaturity that only harms society in general and certainly some
individuals in particular.
But this moral immaturity has implications beyond ethics. It has direct
economic implications. The irregular status of prostitution makes it
fertile ground for criminal abuse and economic exploitation. Human
trafficking connected with the sex trade, i.e. prostitution, is rife and
quite profitable. It is telling that human trafficking is rife for
prostitution which is not well regulated globally, but we don't have
human trafficking of say lawyers or accountant, professions that are
well regulated, but certainly professions with a good demand curve.
Again a quick look at Google will give you a good overview of the
economic implications of prostitution, but for me the following
questions sums the issue to a "T": What skills can earn a woman $5,500
an hour? (THE ECONOMICS OF HIGH-END PROSTITUTES SUPPLY AND DEMAND, April
10th 2008 - http://www.moreintelligentlife.com/node/964).
Whatever the moral issues might be there clearly is a demand for
prostitution. But we have to be careful with a statement like this even
when the statistics support our claim. We have to establish whether
there is a demand for prostitutes because there are people who are
prepared to provide this service, or because there is a natural demand
I'll clarify this point by giving the following analogy. There is a
demand for actors because there are people who are prepared to work as
actors, but of course there is no inherent or natural demand for acting
or to pay for actors. However, there is a natural need for us to want
and pay for doctors, dentists, or farmers. Without the services of these
people we cannot function in our society. The question we have to ask
ourselves is, therefore, what is the status of prostitution and the
demand for sex? Indeed, what is the role of prostitution in our society?
Is sex an natural demand or a luxury?
If sex is a luxury than sure we have to proceed on the principle of
Caveat emptor (buyer beware). But what if we accept that sex is a
natural demand then we have to accept the philosophical implications
that stem from this claim or assumption.
The first of these implications goes to the heart of at least western
social thinking which is (in theory) based on monogamy and faithfulness
to a partner. If there is a demand for sex outside this monogamous
structure, and of course, by those who are not in a relationship at all,
then it ought to follow that the need for sex is much stronger than the
need for a partnership. But this is, as I say, a direct challenge to the
moral and ethical foundations of western society.
In our society, not only is sex outside a partnership frowned upon, it
is still a subject that the least said the better. The monogamous
structure in our society, at least, is so strong that sexual jealously
is a very strong emotion. But prostitution is a contradiction in this
social and moral structure of monogamy. How can there be prostitution if
we are supposed to be monogamous?
But there is also a practical question about prostitution that might
challenge the status quo. Why is it that that there are people who need
to purchase sex, when sex is one of the most basic needs of human
beings? To put this in another way, why is it that some people are not
being chosen as (sex) partners? Why are some people excluded as sex
partners, but not as paying customers?
Maybe the fact that we can ask these questions about our society
reflects some structural flaws in our society. Maybe the way we choose
partners is not necessarily the best possible method we can employ. And
while I am only going to ask the questions here, I would hazard an
opinion to suggest that if there is a discrepancy it must be somewhere
in the fact that sex is based on competitive selection and partnership
on rational strategies. Competition and rationality, are at least at
face value, incompatible.
We often see prostitution as an issue of abuse of women (although of
course men are not excluded), freedom of individuals, immoral
activities, crime, and economic exploitation of women. But I would argue
that many if not most of these issues are a direct consequence of the
irregular status prostitution is given in most societies.
What is more challenging about the role of prostitution in society is
precisely the philosophical dilemma that we rationally know that
monogamy is a great survival strategy, but the need for sexual
fulfillment is equally strong that in some cases people are prepared to
defect. Whilst "prostitution" exists in the animal kingdom and even
monogamous societies, the question we have to ask ourselves as rational
being is this: Is prostitution a reflection of some primordial instinct
that has survived in some human genes, or is it a simple case of
cheating in an otherwise successful game based on a win-win strategy?
from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: The role of
prostitution in society