The great prostitution debate

From Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish:

A reader has an interesting point:

1. Why is it illegal for me to pay a prostitute for sex, but it’s NOT illegal for a film director to pay two people to have sex in front of a camera and then make money for his product in the form of a DVD or an online download?

2. As a corollary: Why are a prostitute and her john held in such contempt by the media and the public, but Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy are treated as rock stars on both cable and network television? Are they not prostitutes? They were, in actuality, paid for sex. No?

A thought experiment: if you hired a couple to have sex in your bedroom while you watched, it would be prostitution. if someone else hired them, put it on video and you watched them in your bedroom, it would be porn. Why is one illegal and the other isn’t?

Discuss. Feel free to venture into other Great Prostitution Debates, such as:

  • Is prostitution oppressive to women, or a free choice on their part?
  • Should Eliot Spitzer have had to resign?
  • Is Silda Wall Spitzer a faithful spouse or a tool of the patriarchy?

39 responses to “The great prostitution debate”

  1. bw says:

    the only thing i’m certain about at this point is that eliot spitzer kind of looks like gollum.

  2. Dave says:

    Yeah, I tend to take a libertarian-ish view of prostitution. There are all kinds of reasons people have sex, and plenty of them are despicable and/or indicative of exploitation and nasty power imbalances, but for some reason we only ban one of these reasons — direct monetary exchange.

    It doesn’t seem that legalizing and regulating prostitution would be a panacea for the women who end up doing sex work, but I suspect the outcome would be marginally better than what we currently have.

  3. Dave says:

    Eliot spitzer is definitely a funny-looking dude.

  4. Dave says:

    And I’m disappointed we won’t have him around anymore. He was very committed to strong, liberal reforms of state government and policy, plus he had a lot of populist cred for going after Wall Street that helped him with conservative working-class whites.

  5. lane says:

    yeah, wow, the whole spectacle puts life’s problems in perspective. “Well, my life is messed up in these ways (take your pick) but at least I’m not Eliot Spitzer!

  6. Godfree says:

    Pornography is protected by the 1st amendment because the Supreme Court considers it speech, whereas, prostitution is not; it is an illicit business transaction. Spitzer is in further trouble because he broke the Mann Act by transporting a prostitute over a state line, thus making what he did a federal offense. Due to this, the now Governor of NY, David Paterson, can’t pardon him. The man is in hot water indeed.

  7. Ruben Mancillas says:

    The Great Prostitution Debates?

    It’s like Lincoln-Douglas II but more fun…

    The contrast between the policiing of prostitution and porn is a worthwhile discussion but why stop there? I’ve always felt that the Hollywood machine relentlessly promotes its own brand of middle-to-lowbrow softcore titillation but is somehow judged as classier than porn.

    I suppose the whole problem with prostitution, or porn for that matter, is the potential (OK, likelihood) that it is based on unequal power relationships and prone to exploitation.

    But what isn’t, right?

    Throw in that sexuality isn’t precisely something that you can (or would want) to try and make vanilla according the majority’s taste and we may have overstepped the bounds of public policy but I do think the emphasis should be on worker’s rights and public safety.

    Prostitution is oppressive to people but there is also a degree of free choice involved. Women from Eastern Europe shipped over in the hold of a container ship as sex slaves (you’re darn right I watched season 2 of The Wire) are one thing but a 22-year-old aspiring musician who has sex with the governor of New York for more money than most of her peers make in a month is something else.

    From what I’ve read, I’m in agreement with a lot of Spitzer’s politics so I’m sorry to see him go. I assume he wouldn’t have resigned unless he felt that he had to, and it sounds like his self-styled reputation as a sanctimonious enforcer did him no favors. Of course, he shouldn’t have to resign but that’s part of the problem with seeing politicians as anything more than people we hire to make (hopefully) informed decisions for us. I don’t want or need a politician to inspire me or act as a symbol for the country’s projected desires. I want him or her to do a good job, and I’m likely to not care in the least what they do in their personal lives. This is an issue I have with the argument for Obama (I know, I know, a whole different subject) as a transformative figure. If he can perform such an abstract function in addition to being an effective manager then so be it but please don’t list “change the way we look at ourselves/our country/etc.” as a resume builder. This kind of misguided identification leaves us with the disconnect that leads otherwise perfectly qualified people like Spitzer to have to leave their jobs because they have supposedly “betrayed our trust.”

    As for his wife, why not leave her alone? Sure, she’s a political figure in a high visibility market but let her deal with her family and marriage as she sees fit without assigning her the role (are there only two?) of faithful spouse or tool? Did she know? Did she care? Did she sell out by marrying him? By staying? What about the children, the children, for the love of all that is holy, what will the impact be on the sweet blessed children?

    In order: It sucks, I’m sorry, but in the end it doesn’t matter and I don’t care.

  8. Dave says:

    It’s like Lincoln-Douglas II but more fun… with a happy ending.

  9. Godfree says:

    So you think the country would’ve been better off without Lincoln?

  10. Dave says:

    There should be some follow-up joke, but I’m not clever enough to come up with it.

  11. Natasha says:

    My friend recently told me about this happy ending thing… interesting

  12. Rogan says:

    If you are working for the Man, you are a prostitute already. Wake up, it is the matrix, and you are a whore.

  13. Natasha says:

    #12 But hey, you have a choice to be unplugged and on your way to Zion…there is no spoon

  14. Tim says:

    I don’t want or need a politician to inspire me or act as a symbol for the country’s projected desires. I want him or her to do a good job, and I’m likely to not care in the least what they do in their personal lives.

    Agreed, but . . .

    There are certainly people who wanted Spitzer to resign because of moral issues. I wanted him to resign for different ones, ones that may overlap with his personal life, but in fact have a great deal to do with his ability to “do a good job”.

    (1) Stupidity. One has to question his judgment for thinking that he could get away with using a CREDIT CARD TO PAY FOR A PROSTITUTE, especially when he was the Attorney General of NY state who fought to toughen laws about tracking transactions in order to combat crime AND BUSTED SEVERAL PROSTITUTION RINGS HIMSELF. (Was I shouting? Oops, sorry.)

    (2) He can’t do a good job of governing the state of New York when he’s preoccupied with being PROSECUTED FOR FEDERAL CRIMES. (Again with the shouting, apologies.)

    That is all.

  15. Witchie Poo says:

    If this was France this story would have not made the front page.
    How much of our sex laws, even our current sexual mores are still rooted in the fact that the Pilgrims had loud voices and nooses?

  16. Stella says:

    He broke the law. I don’t care how he broke it. But you can’t ask other people to follow the law if you don’t. And he lost all his political leverage, so he couldn’t go on.

    I’m most fascinated by the phenomenon that happens where these (mainly) powerful men suddenly feel untouchable and immune to the law or to being caught. He spent a lot of money, as Tim pointed out, on his credit card. He consciously put himself at risk.

    Did he try it once and when no one could see the deceit, try it again…and then it became a habit? Is it the rush of adrenalin at the risk? Is it the burden of being a public figure and needing a shocking alter ego to cope?

    But maybe we do equivalently stupid things in our lives, just at a scale commensurate with our small lives?

  17. Dave says:

    I suspect there are at least a thousand reasons why men go to prostitutes. Who knows why Spitzer did?

    Ruben gets it right — I care about a politician’s public pronouncements and acts, not about how he deals with his sexual urges. Spitzer presented himself as a liberal in the campaign, and he governed as a liberal, and that’s all that really mattered to me. I’m sad to see him go.

    Rogan gets it exactly right — what difference is there between wage slavery and prostitution? The Matrix gets a lot of Cartesian play, but really it’s about capitalism, no?

  18. LT says:

    um, except there’s always the stigma the prostitute carries. and the fairly common drug addiction issues. but i guess all us “workers” are getting f__cked.

    are we back to marx again? how reductive.

  19. Tim says:

    I’m sad to see Spitzer go, too. I think he did a great deal of good in going after Wall Street and the insurance industry. I also don’t really care what a politician does with his or her privates (that’s why they call them private). Moreover, I’m not entirely convinced prostitution should be a crime, for the reasons others have cited above.

    Despite all of this, I think he had to resign and was pissed at him for not doing so immediately. (It looks like he probably used the time between the apology and the resignation to negotiate some sort of deal with the Dept. of Justice.) The reasons are spelled c-r-i-m-e and h-y-p-o-c-r-i-s-y. Spitzer made his political career on aggressively prosecuting high-level crime (including prostitution), but turned around and knowingly broke the law multiple times. And not a couple of minor laws. These aren’t misdemeanors. Let’s get this straight: this wasn’t about cheating on his wife or sucking cock or expressing some other sexual freedom. This was about knowingly breaking laws that he himself had used to get to the position of power he held.

    Hell, in comparison, Larry Craig’s hypocrisy and lies seem palatable to me. He’s simply a repressed closet case who has never known a licit way to express his desires, the poor schmuck.

  20. Godfree says:

    I think that some of you are a little off base if you believe that Spitzer went after Wall St. or prostitution rings or anything else if it were not for his political advantage of doing so. His rise in NY politics seems shockingly similar to another NY crime fighting opportunist who was recently and thankfully disgraced: Rudy Giuliani.

  21. Dave says:

    Oh, of course Spitzer went after Wall Street and other targets for political advantage. Has anyone here argued otherwise? He’s obviously an incredibly ambitious and ruthless politician. But I don’t care about moral purity in politicians. He’s a guy who took on Wall Street, insurance firms, big music companies, and other baddies, then became governor and started working hard for liberal policies, including introducing a bill to legalize gay marriage. I’d much prefer that kind of opportunist to, say, a guy who makes his name prosecuting the Mob and then becomes mayor, only to encourage the most brutal and racist elements of the city’s police force, criminalize homelessness, and rant on the radio about ferret owners.

  22. Godfree says:

    You make some good points, as usual, Mr. Barber. Enjoy your NYC weekend.

  23. Dave says:

    Woo! Weekend in NYC!

  24. bw says:

    With andrea e in town!

  25. Is prostitution oppressive to women, or a free choice on their part?

    I’ve struggled with this for years now. The prostitute’s life fascinates me. Whenever I express this fascination, I invariably get, “Don’t think that! Prostitutes lead horrible lives!” Yes, some might live in poverty and under a layer of dirt, and some might contract venereal diseases, but it doesn’t stop my fascination with them.

    Maybe it”s the books I’ve read with prostitutes as main characters. They have such fascinating conflict and such fascinating characterization. Their lives are so different from mine. And for a woman who has a very strong sex drive and who likes being in control, wouldn’t this be an enjoyable job?

    Maybe I just need another book that present whores in a realistic light instead of a fictionalist light. Anybody have any recommendations?

  26. lane says:

    I’ve never read Madame Bovery, But it was banned wasn’t it. Wasn’t she overly sexual for her time. It’s survived as a classic. Old, but maybe a place to start.

  27. Godfree says:

    Kate- I used to live on one of the main prostitution streets in San Francisco. Durring the summer months, when my window was open, I could clearly listen to the conversations the women would have when no one else was around. This was an endlessly fascinating way to pass the time.

    Most of what I heard was mundane conversations about this or that john, but every now and again, I would hear them discuss their pimps, which lead me to conclude that their lives were pretty stressful. From what I could gather, actual violence was rarely used, but it was always a threat hanging over them. A big problem was that (as with all organized crime activity) none of them felt that they could go to the police for help.

    Most troubling of all was when the police actually swept my hood, and the violent way in which they treated the women. I remembering hearing the cops say things like, “just get in the fucking car before I bash your fucking face in!”

    Yes the police were there serving and protecting as always.

    Anyway, this was what the life of the street hookers I observed was like. I imagine that the life of upscale call girls is better. I can’t imagine that there isn’t at least the vague threat of violence hanging over most of them, however.

    Sorry I don’t have any books to recommend on the subject.

  28. It’s okay. Your experience is fascinating.

  29. shrin2 says:

    Kate, Madame Bovary, as great as it is, may not be the book to read on prostitution unless you’re looking at it from the “marriage contract as prostitution” angle but then you guys know my take on Pride and Prejudice. Note how Bovary was (over?) used in the recent Little Children.

    Try Iceberg Slim’s “Pimp: The Story of My Life” It’s incredible. Can’t recommend it enough.

    Vollmann writes very well about prostitution in a number of his books but his role in the process can become tired and/or a bit disturbing after awhile.

    A flim that’s kind of interesting on the sex worker/customer dynamic is The Center of the World.

    It’s directed by Wang…insert joke here…or don’t…either way, I’ll quit now.

  30. ruben mancillas says:

    um, the cash for sex reading and film list was my all doing, not shrin2’s.

    sorry about that

  31. With everything else going on to day, did anyone else notice this little story unfolding?

  32. Natasha says:

    Paterson’s wife is a lot hotter than he is, she should at least have had some extramarital affairs herself before coming back to be by his side, what a waste. On the other hand, privet is privet, everyone has their marriage the way they see fit. My best friend, Tanya, for example, lets he husband have a “fishing trip” once in a while, and they both know he does not bring any fish home. She is OK with that.

  33. Dave says:

    I thought Paterson’s wife also stepped out — tI could have sworn that was what the Times story I read earlier today said, although the version currently on the site doesn’t include this detail.

  34. bw says:

    The news yesterday was that they both had affairs. I heard him say it on the radio.

  35. From the current Times story: “The governor and his wife told the columnist that they had each strayed during the marriage”

  36. lane says:

    Hillary REALLY needs a good lay.

    And Don Rumsfeld is just the guy to do it.

  37. Dave says:

    Ah. I can’t read.

  38. Natasha says:

    I am back. Sorry for the late response, but I could not miss commenting on this favorite topic of mine pertaining to “who she should have done it with”. Rumsfeld…ewww…Lane with all of the respect, he is not my type… Jude Law is the perfect one night stand or, of course, Angelina…