Thursday, March 16, 2006

My take on prostitution, or, by hook, not by crook

Before I tackle this subject, let it be known that I, a male human being with fully functional sexual equipment, have never employed a prostitute. Nor have I ever been tempted to. In fact, to my knowledge, a 'lady of the night' has only once spoken to me.
I was walking home rather late at night from downtown Kitchener. This is a walk of some eight kilometers, not the sort of thing I was in the habit of doing often, as (a) I'm a lazy sod and (b) EIGHT KILOMETERS! But what the hell. I'd just seen Titanic for the first time and was in something of a trance. And the weather was ideal for walking, as long as you were dressed for it: clear, cold but without a breeze...Oh, yeah, I had missed the last bus of the evening. Takes a while for that boat to sink, you know.
Downtown Kitchener is bracketed by red-light districts to its east and west. The east side is considerably seedier, which is the case in most cities in North America: the prevailing wind blows from the west, so factory effluvium on the east side rarely enters the upturned noses of the snobs to the west. But Kitchener dares to be different...there's one block immediately west of the downtown core that attracts a few sex workers.
As I was traversing this block, I heard a gravelly voice call out "Hey! Wanna blowjob?"
Now, I live by a number of rules. One of them is that I regrettably decline all blowjobs from strangers out of hand. This rule, which has served me very well, dates from the moment I determined where this voice was coming from.
Off in the shadows was a woman. I can't be much more specific than that. Well, let's try. She was--umm, not white, but kind of a dirty gray. Her shape was that of a fire hydrant, her age was somewhere between forty and four hundred, and the grin on her face was a terror. It looked like she wanted to eat me up. (Yeah, I know, she did, very funny.)
I looked at her and shivered. "No, thanks," I said quite firmly. "I'm gay." If it came down to a choice between sex with a guy and sex with that, I'd pick the guy every day and twice on Tuesdays, thanks. Ugh.
According to a recent survey, men spend an average 63 seconds out of every minute thinking about sex in some form. I'm not your stereotypical man. I can go long periods of time--sometimes more than half an hour!--without a sexual thought. But they do bubble up out of the hindbrain quite frequently. So I can say that although I've never had cause to consider prostitution, I have done so. I've come to the conclusion that it should be long as it can be strictly regulated.
Many people don't realize that hooking is, technically speaking, legal in Canada already. What's against the law is solicitation for the purpose of prostitution. Which, when you think about it, is really kind of bizarre. You can do it, but you can't ask for money first. As George Carlin asks so eloquently, "why is it illegal to sell something that's perfectly legal to give away?"
So people get around this by calling themselves "escorts", the idea being you're not actually paying for the sex, wink-wink-nudge-nudge, just for the company.

Before I go any further, I think I should clarify my vision of a legalized sex trade. I can tell you it would look a lot different from the face of prostitution we normally think of.

For one thing, you couldn't just take up a street corner and start plying your wares, with or without a pimp. Most (not all, but most) streetwalkers are hooking to pay for somebody's drug habit, either their own or their pimp's, and this 'profession' is degrading and dangerous. Ask any third woman you find walking the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside just how dangerous her job is. Chances are she knows somebody who picked the wrong john--who allowed the wrong john to pick her, I mean--and wound up dead. No, this is not the sort of thing I'd like to see legalized. In fact, the penalties for pimping should be much more harsh. I'd equate pimping with kidnapping and forcible confinement, to start. Then you can throw in aiding and abetting sexual assault. Add the penalties for those two crimes together and you'd be close.

No, in the course of legalizing whoring, I would raise the respectability level of the profession considerably. I'd set certain areas aside for the purpose, as Amsterdam has done. Prostitutes would be licensed: to keep your license, you'd have to remain drug-free and pass weekly blood tests for STDs. The hooker would have the right to reject any client for any reason, and security would be available to enforce the rejection.
In the Netherlands in 2004, the going rate for a sexual encounter translated to about $30, while in the United States, the least you could have expected to pay for sex was $200. I believe that prostitutes should be allowed to charge whatever the market will bear. They would keep most of the money they earned: perhaps as much as twenty percent would be taken off the top for overhead. (Any streetwalker who claims to keep twenty percent of the money she makes is lying.)
With these guidelines, and one vital paradigm shift which I will detail in a moment, I believe people would actually choose to enter the profession.
For a profession it is, an honourable one and an old one. In Western society, we have heaped scorn on the practitioners of what is, in fact, an art. Our picture of a whore is not the true one. A whore--at least one who is doing his or her job well--combines the functions of psychologist, priest, massage therapist, friend, and lover; a client cannot but feel better, after, and the same goes for the whore.
Many of the people who employ prostitutes at present have no other available source of satisfactory sex. They also tend to have low self-esteem. The two conditions are, of course, related, and a good prostitute will seek to correct both at once.
The problem, of course, is that most prostitutes have, if anything, lower self-esteem than their johns. Their every action, whether they bother to feign pleasure or not, is infected with strains of bitterness and self loathing. They believe themselves to be nothing but receptacles, and they act accordingly. This affliction is very hard to correct. It would make most of the current crop of prostitutes unfit for practice, in my world.
A side benefit to legalized prostitution is the reduction of rape. One study I read recently suggested that if prostitution was legal in the United States, there would be 25,000 fewer rapes each year. Of course, say the Gloria Steinems of the world, all those rapes get transferred to hookers, most of them female, and the rape of a hooker isn't worth counting, is it? It's just this sort of attitude that needs to change. In a licensed and regulated system, whores would choose their clients, making rape exceedingly rare. Further, and ironically enough, the feminists who so bemoan the fate of prostitutes are viewing them as walking privates, nothing more. If we could somehow get everyone--johns, the world at large, and the hookers themselves--to understand that prostitutes are valuable in more than a purely monetary sense, that their function in life is to spread their own dignity with dignity, not merely to induce genital sneezes--well, then we'd be set.

1 comment:

Peter Dodson said...

Well said Ken. For me, red light districts are the way to go. They provide prostitutes with a modicum of safety and keeps the practice limited to one area, plus, you eliminate the need for pimps.