The Case Against Purchasing Sex

1. Purchasing sex violates basic human dignity and respect. Putting another human being’s sexuality on the market violates the standard of respect on which our society is built. Financially and psychologically the ability to buy implies a sense of entitlement. A common belief is that by definition a prostitute cannot be raped. By selling her body, she is considered to have sold her basic human rights.

2. Sex purchasing pits individual freedom against social interest. An individual who purchases the body of another for sexual gratification is participating in, and fueling, an industry that is overwhelmingly destructive not only to hundreds of thousands of sellers, but also to society as a whole.

3. Purchasing sex objectifies sexuality. In most modern societies, sex is ubiquitously commoditized. Assigning a dollar value to another’s body is an extreme act, with a profound effect on the person whose body is bought and on the buyer. In the balance of human dignity, both are devalued by the transaction.

4. Purchasing sex furthers destructive gender dynamics. Given that most buyers are male and most of those bought are female, the dynamic of gender imbalance is undeniable. Since the crushing number of women and girls being bought were raped and otherwise sexually traumatized when they were younger, those who “choose” a life of prostitution generally do so against a backdrop of severe inequality.

5. Purchasing sex is against the law. All states in the United States have enacted laws that criminalize human trafficking and, with the exception of twelve counties in Nevada, prostitution is illegal throughout the country for both the buyer and seller. However, 42 states lack “safe harbor” laws that would protect trafficked minors from being prosecuted for prostitution.

6. Purchasing sex underlines the negative consequences of legalization. Legalizing the selling and buying of bodies does not have the dignifying and regulating effect for which proponents may hope. Instead, it gives license to a practice overwhelmingly destructive to those caught up in the system. Legalizing behavior normalizes it.

7. Purchasing sex violates ethical standards. Buying a person does not meet the fundamental test of respectful, honoring, and compassionate love. Instead, it is inherently narcissistic and self-absorbed “naked hubris.”

8. Purchasing sex harms the young. Even if the desire is to have sex only with adults, a buyer has no way of knowing whether the person solicited is a minor. Whether the person bought is “of age” or not, the buyer is participating in a trade in which children are being harvested for their bodies.

9. Purchasing sex exploits a lack of choice. Those who sell their bodies rarely do so of their own free will. Children never do. The vast majority of those who sell themselves are financially or emotionally deprived—many desperately so. They feel trapped.

10. Purchasing sex causes self-damage. There are other dangers to the buyer that are less obvious than sexually transmitted diseases or abuse at the hands of violent pimps and traffickers. Counterintuitively, buyers’ self-esteem decreases as they indulge in self-gratification.

11. Purchasing sex undermines care for others. As inherently social creatures, human beings create standards for concern about the well-being of others. Buyers may begin to realize that buying sex encourages a lifestyle that creates permanent physical damage and emotional scarring. The purchase of sex and genuine empathy are incompatible. Buying a body for sex is callous at best and violent at worst.

12. Purchasing sex coarsens conscience. Men understand that prostituted women and girls live in shame. They are afraid to tell their families about their lives and fearful of being shunned. In response to this shame, victims must create an inner defense. They often try to escape their troubles through drugs and alcohol, or psychological “dissociation,” in order to live with their trauma. Toward those bought, the perpetrator must repress his empathy, that fundamental and natural compassion vital to community, friendship, family, and identity.

13. Purchasing sex damages other relationships. Treating sex as an impersonal transaction decreases the ability of an individual to use sexuality as a language of love. Memories of experiences with prostitution become associated with sex and cannot simply be left outside the door when one is with a devoted partner. For single individuals, purchasing sex seriously limits future intimacy.

14. Purchasing sex is not inevitable. In the same way that we have come to reject the truism that “boys will be boys” when it comes to domestic violence, we can require men not treat women and girls however they want based on their sexual impulses.

Learn more at Ambassador Swanee Hunt’s Demand Abolition article: Deconstructing Demand: The Driving Force of Sex Trafficking.

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