House of pleasure in Pompeii.
You’ve heard of them: these “seeking arrangements” and “sugar baby” online services that have been all over the media for years. That’s when (usually) young men and women rent their company out and by “company” they usually include some form of sexual services. For the most part.
Escort services have gone online in a big way these past years –the internet was MADE for this kind of business- and wealthy men (yes, usually men) are signing up. And these ARE escort services, make no mistake about it.
A “No obligations” relationship
Sometimes, these men are married and are seeking a little “strange” and other times they’re busy businessmen who want the benefits of female companionship without the obligations that come with a full relationship. They may want the whole “girlfriend experience,” as in date nights, a faux-relationship in that their emotional needs to be listened to, etc. are being met and the women, usually young women, are paid handsomely for providing this service. Other times it’s just about the sex. The key here, at least to me, is that they don’t want to give back, not really. They don’t want any of the emotional obligations but they do want their own needs to be met.
Critics say that women in these circumstances are being exploited. But are they? I’m not so sure.
Prostitution: a need, a solution
Prostitution is as old as the hills and maybe older. In fact, the oldest known record of the sex trade is around 2400 BCE. So it goes back a long time. Commercial trade requires there to be a need and a way to fill that need, and in that regard, prostitution fits the definition. Women have something men want to buy. As a simple trade between consenting adults, where’s the exploitation?
But the key terms are consenting and adults. Prostitution is not always victimless–human trafficking in underage girls is a huge problem. But that’s not always the case. If no one is being hurt, if both parties are benefiting, is it exploitation?
While in Amsterdam some years ago I spent time observing the brisk trade in the red light district. The Dutch believe that if you ban these things, they’re harder to control. There, prostitution has been decriminalized since the 1800s (or so I read) and is regulated. The goal is to eliminate illegal exploitation, cripple criminal enterprise, and improve working conditions of prostitutes. As it turns out, the experience has been mixed. There’s still human trafficking, especially in underage girls. At the same time, there are fewer sexual crimes. Still, the Dutch are working on further reforms and regulation, including raising the minimum age for working girls to 21. But there’s concern among prostitutes that some of the other changes in the law may hinder their ability to make a living.
New Zealand decriminalized it in 2003 and some say it’s made it easier to protect sex workers.
Here in the U.S., we’ve had a difficult time with sex, mostly an outgrowth of our Puritan history. Although prostitution is regulated and controlled in one Nevada county, that’s pretty much it.
I admire that Amsterdam’s struggles with this system are so public. It’s the first country that has made any attempt to grapple with the issues surrounding the sex trade –New Zealand is the second, I think– and has worked to make the system safe and fair for workers. Because make no mistake about it: prostitution is booming in the U.S. Booming and unregulated. Sex work is always going to exist. The question is do we want to keep it illegal and underground?
I’m interested in your thoughts.