General Question

cockswain's avatar

Would legal prostitution be immoral?

Asked by cockswain (15254points) July 25th, 2010

This is a spinoff from this recent question, in which many believe prostitution is unquestionably immoral. It got me wondering exactly why it is considered immoral. The quick answer is for religious reasons, but if there is a woman who wants to provide the service without coercion, and a man who just wouldn’t be able to get any otherwise decide to have sex, why is this so bad? People with pent up sexual frustration and no outlet can do really bad, creepy things. On the flipside, I have to admit I would be horrified if my daughter went into such a line of work. So there is conflict in my mind about it. What do you think?

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63 Answers

Seek's avatar

I think I’m not the one to get in the way of what consenting adults do with their time and money.

marinelife's avatar

I think that the reasons a woman wants to provide the service are inherently a form of coercion—economic if no other.

The act of selling your body has deep emotional wounds attached to it. The act of doing it causes those wounds.

cockswain's avatar

“The act of selling your body has deep emotional wounds attached to it. The act of doing it causes those wounds.”

So this really gets at the heart of the matter: is the above a true statement if the woman feels no guilt or remorse for doing this work?

whitenoise's avatar

I feel that on an individual basis, when in full consent and under honest fair reward, prostitution need not be immoral.

The problem, I have with it, however, is that in real life prostitution always comes with a lot of missery in the form of oppressed women and women participating as a last option, often loosing their dignity and self-respect in the process.

So, although, the act of prostitution in itself need not be immoral, I fear the phenomenon in society causes so much grief, that we should not allow it.

My impression that the phenomenon can only be stopped, by declaring the behavior immoral, makes me feel that prostitution as such should be regarded immoral.

I tend to think, however, that is not so much the prostitute that engages in immoral behavior, as well as her (his?) customer.

So to refine:
prostitution as an individual act is not immoral, being a prostitute’s customer, however is, since it fuels demand for an industry that has too many negative effects to be condoned.

Sorry for not addressing the legal vs illegal aspects of your question. That element seems to me of less relevance than the prostitute’s full freedom to choose to offer sex for sale or not. So whether the prostitution is voluntary or not would be my more important consideration than its legality.

AstroChuck's avatar

@marinelife- “I think that the reasons a woman wants to provide the service are inherently a form of coercion—economic if no other.”

The same can be said for why I carry mail. I certainly don’t do it for fun.

marinelife's avatar

@cockswain Show me a woman who feels no guilt or remorse for doing that kind of work. I contend one does not exist.

Women who do have irreparably damaged self esteem.

@AstroChuck But you choose to carry mail rather than sell your body. You choose what kind of work that you do.

Seek's avatar


My impression that the phenomenon can only be stopped, by declaring the behavior immoral, makes me feel that prostitution as such should be regarded immoral.

Prostitution has been a thriving business since the beginning of human civilisation. Only one or two specific civilisations that I can think of did not consider prostitution immoral.

Hasn’t put a dent in the number of clientèle or the service providers.

Seek's avatar


If prostitution was considered a service that is legal to use and socially acceptable, I am certain the number of “hurt souls” would lessen immensely. People feel guilty because they are told by their society to feel guilty.

What would be so wrong about a girl saying “Hm. I like sex. I do it a lot. Might as well get paid for it!” No different than a hobby sculptor selling his thrown ceramics for profit.

Fyrius's avatar

I bet you’d also be horrified if your daughter would end up flipping burgers at a fast food place for the rest of her life. That’s not because that’s immoral, it’s just not a very good career.

marinelife's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr You are leaving out the inherent imbalance in the relationship. Having sex and getting paid for having sex are two different things. There is an intimacy to sharing one’s body that is a gift. You diminish yourself when you give over your body to someone’s else’s demands and needs when there is no connection.

It is not a product of training. It is inherent in us that our bodies are the one thing we have control over.

Seek's avatar


That’s a very romantic notion, but people have casual, meaningless sex every single day, and have since the beginning of time. The whole “connection” thing… it’s a social construct that doesn’t need to exist.

Fyrius's avatar

“Show me a woman who feels no guilt or remorse for doing that kind of work. I contend one does not exist.”
Do you know many prostitutes?

I had a music teacher in high school who told us he’d had a hooker for a room mate for a time. He told us she was pretty nonchalant about her profession.
It came up when we were discussing Jesus Christ Superstar.

“Women who do have irreparably damaged self esteem.”
Hey, come on now. Don’t pre-emptively discredit counterevidence you just predicted doesn’t exist.

whitenoise's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I live in the Netherlands and I used to be fully in line with what you are saying. We legalized prostitution and so far I don’t feel it helps a lot to improve the faiths of the women involved. If you don’t believe that, then do come over. I have walked the areas, spoken with the women involved.

Besides… I would be far from in favor of trying to fix it through making it illegal again. But I would suggest to still regard fueling the demand side of that industry in its current state as immoral.

It is like buying from a clothing manufacturer that uses child labor.

cockswain's avatar

@whitenoise But if the industry were legalized, so much of the associated misery would be removed. That was the key reason I added the word “legal” to the question.

@marinelife So we need to explore some of your assertions.

“Show me a woman who feels no guilt or remorse for doing that kind of work. I contend one does not exist”
“There is an intimacy to sharing one’s body that is a gift.”
I’m not certain these are absolutely true statements. While one can legitimately argue the virtues of intimacy, that does not necessarily mean all sexual acts must be therefore emotionally intimate and not just sexual release. I knew a porn “actress” who contended having sex was just like shaking hands. While I don’t exactly agree, that was her take.

@fyrius I would be not be horrified if my daughter flipped burgers

@Seek_Kolinahr As usual, I’m in agreement with you.

marinelife's avatar

@cockswain @Fyrius I think that the women who say that have created a shell. That they are blocking themselves off from the experience. That in itself is part of the damage that occurs.

@Seek_Kolinahr I contend that meaningless sex is a sign of a damaged individual.

Seek's avatar


Are you religious?

That’s the only reason I can think that someone would hold so firmly to the belief that the act of copulation has an inherent “emotional connection”. It’s a very spiritual notion.

Coitus releases the same endorphins as eating chocolate. Have you formed a meaningful emotional connection with everyone inside every Dairy Queen you’ve ever visited? Does it lessen your personal “self-ness” to share a Hershey’s bar with a friend? I’ve accepted hot cocoa from everyone from my 80 year old neighbor to the school lunch lady. Am I a chocolate whore?

cockswain's avatar

@marinelife I get what you’re saying, but does mean the women have “harmed” themselves by not seeing “intimacy as a gift” any longer? Plus one can’t blindly assert all prostitutes lose the ability to love, only become less emotional about sex. Analogously, I used to volunteer at a firehouse and became more “used to” seeing blood and pain than others who aren’t accustomed to seeing such things. Some might argue that my lack of shock (or a doc in an ER) at seeing something someone else thinks should shock me means I’m not emotionally whole. Maybe not the best analogy, but is “harm” being done?

I think it is reasonable to define “immoral” as an act that harms the self or others against their will. What do you guys think of that definition? If the prostitute chooses that profession of her free will, is it immoral?

@Seek_Kolinahr You are a chocolate whore.

whitenoise's avatar


Like I wrote…. I felt the same way before we legalized in The Netherlands and in essence I have no issues at all with two individuals exchanging many and sex on a consensual basis. In the Netherlands we have legalized prostitution in the early 90’s.
So for me it is not hypothetical point of view.

In real life though, legalized prostitution has done little to alleviate the misery, I fear.

Like I said… until we can truly clean up the industry and treat it like all others with true safeguards against exploitation of its workers, one should not buy any of its products.

Aethelwine's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I can’t speak for @marinelife, but I agree with everything she has said in this thread. I’m not religious, I’m agnostic, (only been to church twice in my life and have never read the bible) but for me the act of copulation does hold a significate emotional connection.

cockswain's avatar

@whitenoise What is causing the misery?

cazzie's avatar

@marinelife I think meaningless sex CAN be a sign of a damaged person, but so can overeating to obesity. Is THAT immoral?

I think there is WAYY too much stereotyping going on with what some people think a prostitute is like. There are societies where it’s legal and regulated and probably attracts a HUGE variety of people to the job. Cities in Germany, Amsterdam…. It is GOING to go on, it’s the first oldest profession for women (the second, of course, is motherhood as a result…etc..)

People judge this as a ‘victimless crime’ and mostly it is, but it’s kept in the dark, unregulated (for health reasons) it remains in the nasty underbelly of society, instead of being recognised for what it is.

cazzie's avatar

@jonsblond yes, for YOU it holds a special emotional connection, but why should we judge how other should feel about it based on our own experiences?

whitenoise's avatar

I am not sure, but it seems that even though we legalized prostitution, there is still a big inflow of women traffickers and women that ‘lost in the game of life’. Still most of the men around the scene are not your ideal son-in-law. And still in general these men make more from the trade than the women.

The sensation of visiting the places that they work, to me is eerie. I cannot clearly put a finger on the issue, but to me it is not a happy place. It’s in the eyes of the girls.

cockswain's avatar

@whitenoise I see your point. I guess I can’t exactly picture how a nice, clean industry would look. It would be pretty unusual to see a brothel in a strip mall next to a Home Depot or a Chili’s. Obviously ideal locations would be near airports and hotels, but I doubt The Marriot is going to want a whorehouse next door.

marinelife's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I feel sorry for you that you do not see any difference between eating chocolate and having sex.

@cockswain You can get used to anything, but that does not mean that you are not damaged by it. Most policeman and fireman that I know acknowledge the damage that being immersed in blood and gore and the seamy side of life takes on them. That is why they have higher rates of divorce and suicide than the general population.

JLeslie's avatar

Pretty sure I agree with @whitenoise on this question.

I know some countries where it is illegal it is the client who is to be prosecuted for buying sex, not the woman for selling it. I like that idea. In America the female prostitute is targeted by the poilice more often I think. I guess focusing on the Johns curbs demand.

Although, I can get behind legalizing it. It’s just the sex industry in general has women who feel there is no other way, or have been abused previously, many use drugs to do what they do. I find it depressing.

JLeslie's avatar

@cockswain It would still be restricted to certain areas of town I think. Zoning laws would be in effect I’m sure.

cazzie's avatar

I remember a ‘house of ill-repute’ in a city I lived in once. The women who ran it were ex-nurses. They looked after the ladies. The city basically turned a blind eye because there was never any trouble there. The local newspaper even did a ‘lifestyle’ piece on the place and the Madam was interviewed for a program about sex that aired on National TV. It’s NOT a romantic industry to be in… in fact, the complete opposite, but it’s an industry non-the-less. Judge all you want, wag your fingers, write an angry letter. There is a market for the service. Don’t shoot the provider.

Aethelwine's avatar

@cazzie I never said I judged others, I was giving @Seek_Kolinahr an example because she felt that religion is the only reason why someone would feel the way I do.

whitenoise's avatar

Just to re-itterate on the aspect of legalization of prostitution.

I think the industry should be criminalized nor forbidden. Like @Seek_Kolinahr said… there is little one can do to eradicate it anyway.
Legalizing is however only the first step. Care, regulation and control should follow.

It made me think of a quote from the makers of The Wire that “one cannot fix a social health problem through law enforcement by the police”.

cazzie's avatar

@jonsblond , so your point was just that prostitution wasn’t for you. OK.

Aethelwine's avatar

@cazzie My point was a person doesn’t have to be religious to have a need for an emotional connection during sex. But you are right, prostitution is not ok for me. I had a chance to be a high-class call girl when I was 18. Long, long story, but I saw the ugly side of the profession, and I wanted nothing to do with it. I had enough of being treated as an object.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I wouldn’t have much of an issue with legalized prostition. As far as being moral or immoral, for me that depends on how a person lives the rest of their lives. A person who’s agreed to be in an exclusive relationship or monogamous marriage and then uses the services of a prostitute is immoral.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

As long as we live in a society that treats women as less than equal, pays them less for work of equal or greater value, we will both push women towards prostitution and then declare what they do as immoral and demeaning as a way to exert and maintain social control over women and their choices of breaking out of society’s economic traps and limits.

When women will be acknowledge to be truly equal, society will stop judging women as a means of social control. Women who freely choose their careers will not be evaluated on their morality but on their skill and their career satisfaction.

Moralists are advocates for the very social controls and limits that keep women economically oppressed.

Kraigmo's avatar

Adult prostitution is not inherently immoral.

It’s not inherently “degradation of women”.

People are uptight over this issue because its a traditional issue, and we have a traditionalist nation.

The only legitimate problems with prostitution are a side effect, not an inherent effect: The trafficking of slaves. But that occurs whether or not prostitution is legal.

And so, we should keep slavery illegal. Because slavery is inherently wrong.

But a woman who places ads in classifieds and sells herself out for sex is not necessarily harming herself, her community, or “women”.

People shouldn’t ban things as symbolic fights against other things.

whitenoise's avatar

I would dare to say that everyone’s a moralist at one moment or another. It takes effort and courage to be willing to discuss ones morals and be willing to adjust them.

Personally, I feel people should be less willing to judge others, especially when the behavior of the ones they intend to judge has no negative impact on others.

josie's avatar

If it is a product of choice, and if no one is being harmed with intent, how is it immoral?

Seek's avatar

To clarify – I did not say there is no possible emotional connection to sex. I said it is possible to have emotionless sex.

The idea that sex=emotional bondage is a social construct. A fairly modern one, as well. Even early Victorian women were told to close their eyes and think of the Queen – they weren’t even expected to enjoy it. at least until Victorian-era scientists “discovered” that a woman only became pregnant after achieving orgasm. It was the most convenient way of explaining away rape as adultery. – if she didn’t want it, she wouldn’t have gotten knocked up. If she’s pregnant, she’s a whore.

Yes, one can use sex as a method of expressing the emotions they feel. They can also have sex for the sake of having (or giving) an orgasm. Just like I can laugh when something’s funny, or laugh on stage when a script tells me to.

Sex is not the emotion, it’s merely an avenue of expressing emotion if one chooses to use it as such. If one chooses to use it as a means of profit, they should be allowed to do so without being seen as some sort of pitiable soul.

Imagine how much nicer it would be if “pimps” were actually employers – employers that had to fill out tax forms, supply health insurance and pension benefits, perform drug and disease tests… if sex workers were just job-holders like the rest of us? Their clients would feel (and be) safer. Sure, there would still be the “black market” sex workers, but that’s true for any industry.

jerv's avatar

Morality is determined by those with the loudest voices and the most/biggest guns. THey are also the same people that write the history books.

While I personally see nothing immoral about legalized prostitution, there are many who would disagree with me. For instance, I have a friend that believes that 2,842% of all prostitutes, strippers, and porn stars were molested as children, 4,379% of all strip clubs are hangouts for drug dealers and gang-bangers, and that they are almost the entire reason that her state (Ohio) has problems with crime. Needless to say, not all people are rational when it comes to determining what is/isn’t moral.

whitenoise's avatar

So you’re saying that wether something is moral or not is not an integral party of the act involved?

Like that there is nothing wrong with raping a young girl in and by itself?
That it only becomes immoral, because “those with the loudest voices and the most/biggest guns” say so? And that it would be perfectly OK, if they were to deem it that way?

Seems you’re theory is amiss somewhere.

airowDee's avatar

being a bit immoral is part of being human, i think. I think anyone from any profession can be immoral , i dont believe there is one profession where the work being performed must be all moral or immoral.

JLeslie's avatar

@josie I would argue that many of those girls and women don’t feel they have much choice, even though they are consenting to do it. I am not saying it is immoral, I am not caught up in the morality or lack of really, I am only saying that men kid themselves if they think those women are happy in their lives. There might be a few that are fine with that lifestyle and have high self esteem, but very few I would bet.

rainboots's avatar

Sure, if your okay with being a part of raping someones soul. legal or not I feel its wrong.

jerv's avatar

@whitenoise Let me rephrase; I do not take advice on morality from a group that has a history of genocide and has current scandals of pedophilia.

Now, if you ant to get into a long philosophical discussion about “What is morality?” then we might want to do that elsewhere since I don’t feel like threadjacking here with an argument that has gone on for thousands of years, beyond teh following:

Is it immoral to eat meat? Is it immoral to worship God or Jesus instead of Allah? How about dancing? Allowing women to show their faces? Vote Democrat? Support the troops in Iraq even if you don’t support the war?

Morality is subjective! Like it or not, that is how it is.

@rainboots I personally believe that most humans are born with an innate sense of morality (don’t kill, don’t rape…) but the details are subject to change by our upbringing. If a particular group (women, non-Christians, blacks, left-handed people, heavy metal fans…) is considered non-human then that morality still applies, but not to members of those groups since we are raised to dehumanize those people.
How that ties together with what I said to whitenoise is that different groups have different ideas about which groups are exempt from being treated like humans.

I don’t know if that came out right since I am not always good at putting thoughts into words, especially not nuanced thoughts like this that have many levels of inter-related complexity.

whitenoise's avatar

@jerv re “Let me rephrase; I do not take advice on morality from a group that has a history of genocide and has current scandals of pedophilia.”

I agree that such a group would not be the best source for moral advice.
Just curious, though… what group are you referring to?

meagan's avatar

Only if the taxpayers don’t mind paying for more of this food stamp business.
Condoms and birth control don’t work 100% of the time. And if a lot more people start being involved with this because its “legal”, you bet your sweet ass that the baby mama rate will climb.

JLeslie's avatar

@meagan Are you saying that people would have to pay for more food stamps if prostitution is legal? Why? And, why would there be more babies born? I don’t get the connection. I don’t think prostitution being illegal is a deterent to people being prostitutes.

jerv's avatar

@meagan Any smart prostitute knows that getting knocked up means you won’t be earning any money for a while. And trust me, the failure rates on some forms of birth control are close enough that your fears are largely unfounded. Sure there may be a slight increase, but it’s nothing compared to the number of people put on food stamps by the Bush tax cuts.

Oh, wait… if it’s legalized then they might be eligible for health coverage that may pay for at least part of the cost of birth control! And they might generate more revenue for the US government!

I guess fear-mongering and/or proselytizing is easier than doing the math :/

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv And if it is legal they will be paying taxes on their income.

meagan's avatar

@JLeslie You don’t understand why more babies would be born if selling sex was legal..?

JLeslie's avatar

@meagan No I don’t. What does selling sex have to do with using birth control? And, again, I don’t think making it legal means more people will do it. I would also assume prostitutes are more likely to get abortions if they do get pregnant. Pregnancy and babies would slow down business realistically.

meagan's avatar

@JLeslie Like I said earlier. Birth control isn’t 100% effective. Not to mention I doubt every prostitute will be able to pay for an abortion.

So its either.. more babies being born.. or more abortions being had.. I’d rather have neither happen and no legal prostitutes :P
Talk about a win-win situation!

JLeslie's avatar

@meagan Again, I think there will be prostitution no matter what. Birth control is VERY effective when used properly. There are people who still become pregnant, we have a few in the collective, but it is extremely rare. People lie all of the time about using birth control when they didn’t. I know one person personally who got pregnant while taking the pill, I believe her, but I know 100’s of women who use birth control, have sex all of the time and never became pregnant, and when they wanted to did, so it is not that they are infertile. That 100% effective line sounds like religious bunk to me. But, I don’t know if you are religious or not, so maybe I am wrong.

meagan's avatar

@JLeslie You really don’t know that birth control isn’t 100% effective…?
Has everyone else not been subjected to years of birth control commercials? :P The Pill is 92–99.7% effective as birth control.
I’m not really interested in having this conversation anymore.

JLeslie's avatar

@meagan, I admitted it is not 100% effective. I said I know someone personally who got pregnant on the pill. If it works 95% of the time, that is a pretty high percentage. You make it sound like there will be pregnancies all over the place, even if the women are on birth control. I agree, let’s drop it.

JLeslie's avatar

@meagan I see where the confusion might be, just to clarify when I said religious bunk, I did not mean it is 100% effective, I meant religious people, who are generally judgmental, pro-abstinence, and who want to believe birth control is not effective use that line.

cazzie's avatar

Wow… selling sex legally = babies. If anything it might be the other way around. The women would be heath checked and have medical coverage. The legal woman would hopefully take work away from the crack whores so there could even be less crack babies born. That would be a good thing… but I don’t know… it’s all crazy when women on drugs have unprotected sex. There is nothing rational about it.
Ok… perhaps we should look at it this way. Men are pigs. They will put women in danger, no matter what. As women, the less we have to do with men the better. (woke up angry at my SO again..)

JLeslie's avatar

@cazzie LOL. I gave you GA for that. I agree with your entire answer.

AstroChuck's avatar

Oink oink.

Fyrius's avatar

Some men are also golden retrievers.

cazzie's avatar

@JLeslie Thanks for the GA. @Fyrius pigs can be trained to fetch. Doesn’t make them dogs.

whitenoise's avatar

Some men are fluffy puppies.
Some women are truffels.

mattbrowne's avatar

I agree with @Seek_Kolinahr – I’m not the one to get in the way of what consenting adults do with their time and money either.

More needs to be done about human trafficking, the illegal trade in human beings for the purposes of forced sexual exploitation which is indeed a modern-day form of slavery.

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