The phenomenon that is prostitution has for a long time been a controversial issue in philosophical arguments. Defined as the act of engaging in sex for commercial ends, its main paradigm is understood as a case of a woman engaging in paid sexual intercourse with a man, other than her husband. Thus, the major distinguishing characteristic of prostitution is the commercialization of sex.
Nonetheless, the philosophical debate on prostitution is its rightness or wrongness. On the one hand is the moralistic position that maintains that it is wrong as a unique manifestation of adultery. This viewpoint is informed by religious principles such as the Christian Ten Commandments in which adultery is prohibited as a sin. On the other hand is the ‘consenting adults theorization,’ which argues that “sex acts for hire, between consenting adults, are perfectly moral in and of themselves, so long as they are not performed in public, or anywhere it might scare the horses,’ and that “the exchange of money doesn’t change anything” (Perry 2005). This approach to the justification of an immoral act is widely seen as a philosophical rationalization which has had the impact of encouraging abortion, contraception and now advocating for the constitutional recognition pf prostitution. Indeed, the Fourth Amendment in the US constitution in regard to the right of privacy is being used as a platform upon which prostitution is given afforded a decent face in society.
The argument hinges on the famous phrase of ‘the right to be let alone,’ with the assertion that “consenting adults should be allowed to perform any sexual acts they desire within the privacy of their own homes” (Taylor 2002). It further borrows from John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian principle, which defends the individual’s right to absolute freedom and the pursuit of happiness, and as they please with their bodies and mind, provided it does not cause any third party harm (Mill 93). In America, prostitution has literally seduced its way into the constitutional provisions of the Declaration of Independence, which protects the freedom of individuals to seek and enjoy happiness. If sex satisfies the lust desires of man, however banal they might be, then for the sex worker prostitution is definitely killing two birds with no stone at all!
The religious moralists object this materialistic philosophizing, by pointing out that whatever the legal or rational justification accorded prostitution, the fact remains that it still portrays social decadency and the corruption of moral norms. Saint Augustine notes that it transforms “husbands into adulterers, wives into harlots, bridal chambers into brothels and fathers-in-law into pimps,” while Pope John Paul II observed that “take away from love the fullness of self surrender, the completeness of personal commitment, and what remains will be a total denial and negation of love……and this subtraction, taken to its conclusion, leads to what we call prostitution” (Taylor 2002). According to Christian teachings, sex plays a sacred role in people’s lives and as such, it should be consummated in love and for the purpose of procreation within the institution of marriage.
Finally, the question which arises at this point is whether prostitution and marriage exhibit some commonness, especially when there are huge economic disparities between the wife and the husband, which results in the financial dependence of the former on the latter, just as the prostitute earns a living from her sexual services. However, Debra Satz at Stanford University’s department of philosophy explains that there is a clear line of distinction between the two. She notes that when sex is engaged with the casualness and business-like manner that portrays it as “a market transaction where one party sells a service for a price that another party is willing to pay” (Satz 2005), it undermines its sacred purpose as well as debases its value.
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