Some people urge newspapers and other media outlets to refuse ads for businesses in the sex industry. The businesses include showbars, adult bookstores, escort services, and massage parlors. The same people sometimes want the police to investigate those establishments and close them down.
Workers in the sex industry, however, fulfill important societal and personal needs. In a free society, no one should prevent them from doing so.
Benefits for customers
Sex workers often provide companionship for people who don’t otherwise have it. The reasons for the customers’ loneliness are frequently beyond their control. They may be too disabled, unattractive, shy, socially inept, turned-off by pick-up or dating games, tired of rejection in the normal dating scene, otherwise unsuccessful at dating, or just plain too busy with school or careers.
People who denounce the sex industry may be fortunate enough to have a spouse or other partner who prevents them from experiencing extreme loneliness. But they should try to understand and respect the needs of those who, through no fault of their own, are not so lucky and might turn to the sex industry to alleviate sadness, boredom, or rejection.
Additionally, for persons having certain social phobias, the sex industry can provide an atmosphere where they are accepted and are not under stress. In this environment, they can learn to be comfortable with others and develop social skills. These benefits may enable them to interact with people and cultivate relationships outside the sex industry.
Even for many couples, businesses in the sex industry are a source of information, titillation, products, or services that enhance and add variety to their love lives. The result can be a “walk on the wild side” that makes their relationship more interesting and fun, and brings them closer together.
Sex researcher and writer John Ince describes a related benefit for couples: “Getting aroused by watching strippers or sex films can kindle desire that we can bring to our relationship. As an old saying puts it, ‘I don’t worry where my man gets his appetite as long as he comes home to eat.’ People with active sex imaginations are more likely to stay sexually active with their partners.”
He also explains that “sex workers can provide committed couples a way to gratify needs for sexual variety without risking the emotional attachments arising from sexual affairs.” This is another means by which sex workers can actually promote the stability of relationships.
Moreover, the services provided by sex workers helped make America great. Timothy Gordon writes that in the booming mining towns of the Old West, men often outnumbered women by 20 or 30 to one.
He says the strong women who came to those towns to work as dance-hall girls, “hurdy-gurdy” dancers, or prostitutes “contributed to upholding the morale and humor of these very lonely and affection-starved men, who often had not been close to any female for years, much less touch one. The West would have never expanded so rapidly if it was not for their wonderful high spirits and help during such trying times.”
Sex workers have provided similar morale boosts for men performing important work in other environments where males greatly outnumber females, such as near U.S. military bases or encampments.
These benefits are consistent with the views of sex therapist and sex educator Lloyd G. Sinclair. He says increased happiness and productivity result from accepting sexuality rather than repressing it.
Sinclair writes: “Psychologists agree that people with active and satisfying sex lives, including fantasy lives, tend to be somewhat happier and better adjusted, on average, than those who are sexually repressed. Sexual repression, like other attempts to curtail normal creative impulses, risks dampening creativity, imagination, and productivity in other spheres of life.”
A similar observation was made in the nineteenth century by the writer Mathilda von Kemnitz. He said “man experiences the highest unfolding of his creative powers not through asceticism, but through sexual happiness.” The famous birth control advocate Margaret Sanger likewise stated “the magnetism of [sex] is health-giving and [it] acts as a beautifier and a tonic.”
John Ince adds that “sexual gratification is very effective in shedding physical and emotional tension.” This tranquilizing effect makes people more peaceable and helps them avoid the health problems caused by excessive stress.
Clearly, sex workers provide important contributions to society by enabling customers to experience these benefits.
Benefits for sex workers
The men and women working in the sex industry often find it to be a means of earning a good living for themselves and their families. And the work can provide funds for paying college tuition or starting a business in a separate field. It’s simply ignorant and cruel to deprive them of their livelihood.
Aside from the money, many sex workers enjoy their work. They receive much personal satisfaction from bringing happiness to those who would otherwise be lonely, sad, or bored.
The work also enables them to meet people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Because other occupations might never give them the chance to interact with so many different types of people, the sex industry can make them more knowledgeable, savvy, and well-rounded.
Further, some report that working in the sex industry helped them become more comfortable with and develop a greater liking for their bodies. This improved self-esteem led them to take better care of themselves and feel more confident. And they continued doing so after leaving the sex industry and moving on to other work.
These are some of the reasons why working in the sex industry has been a positive experience for many.
Ethics of sex work
Opposition to the sex industry can only stem from some form of Puritanism. H. L. Mencken defined Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere might be happy.” And Puritans often try to impose their ascetic, pleasure-hating philosophy on others.
The founders of the U.S. soundly rejected Puritanism when they said, in the Declaration of Independence, that people have the inalienable right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
That right was described by the nineteenth-century British philosopher John Stuart Mill, author of the classic essay “On Liberty.” He stated: “So long as we do not harm others we should be free to think, speak, act, and live as we see fit, without molestation from individuals, law, or government. . . .”
Mill’s views are consistent with a humanistic approach to morality. It involves judging acts based on their short-term and long-term consequences. Acts that promote human happiness are ethical, and acts causing harm to others are unethical.
This moral standard is met by persons working in the sex industry. They can provide the services without causing harm, as long as they are fair, considerate, and safe with customers. And they obviously bring happiness to customers who pay for the services.
The same ethical standard is violated, though, by people seeking to close sex businesses. These busybodies do no discernable good. Rather, they would harm the customers by denying them a source of companionship, relaxation, learning, or rejuvenation.
Opponents of the sex industry also act unethically by needlessly harming the industry’s workers. They would stop the workers from making a living and bringing enjoyment to others.
Finally, the opponents are not hurt by ads for sex businesses or the services provided, and are free to ignore both.
It’s not only immoral but a waste of time, energy, and resources to restrict the liberty and happiness of adults involved in consensual activities in the sex industry.
Society would benefit in many ways if people left sex businesses alone and focused on solving real problems that truly cause harm.
For starters, they might want to work on stopping war, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, violent crime, white-collar crime, government corruption, child abuse, spousal abuse, unemployment, poverty, homelessness, hunger, global warming, environmental degradation, pollution, overpopulation, racism, sexism, sickness, loneliness, ignorance, and lack of equal opportunity.
That should keep them busy for a while, and actually make them useful.
[Postscript: For a refutation of the claim that sex businesses have harmful “secondary effects” on communities, see Paul Bryant, Daniel Linz, and Bradley J. Shafer, “Government Regulation of ‘Adult’ Businesses Through Zoning and Anti-Nudity Ordinances: Debunking the Legal Myth of Negative Secondary Effects,” 6 Communication Law and Policy 355 (Spring 2001).]