The Case For Legalized Prostitution

Prostitution is illegal. But should it be? This article claims the law creates more costly social problems than it solves. Find author Bill Allin at


The Case For Legalized Prostitution

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
- Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist, Nobel laureate (1879-1955)

When all the criticism of prostitution is distilled down to its core, the result comes out as "prostitution is a sin because it has always been considered a sin." A tautology, "proved" by constant repetition but no evidence.

What we consider a sin forms from our morality. Religion has, for many centuries, dictated morality. Religion tells us that prostitution is wrong and we made laws to support the claim.

Prostitution fundamentally is sex (coitus) between two consenting adults. Sex is the means by which each of us reading this came into existence. True, the rules differ in some societies that demand marriage or other relationships for sex and procreation, but sex between two consenting adults is still the foundation.

In the situation of prostitution, money or some other form of compensation is exchanged. That makes it illegal. Why is it illegal? Because prostitution is immoral. Why is prostitution immoral? Because...well...everyone says it's immoral. And why is that?

That last question brings us to a murky part of our past that most of us in the modern world would rather not think about. But you and I must because that's why you are reading, so stay with me.

In prehistoric times, our ancestors lived in families that were part of groups known as bands. These bands might have been from 15 to 30 people. Some bands might have been nothing more than large families, in many cases with the most fit males fathering children with as many females as could produce children.

Sometimes bands grouped together to form alliances known as tribes. By themselves, band life was rough, subsistent, based on hunting and gathering. Bands carved their own territories for hunting and gathering, but sometimes boundaries were crossed as food was scarce. Stealing food from another band's territory brought risks. Sometimes a band would overcome that risk by attacking the band that occupied an adjacent territory, killing the adult males, taking the females into their own band and assimilating them into the new and larger band. We must assume that the males of the victorious band did not ask permission to impregnate the captured females. That would be typical of our species and its cousin species.

For obvious reasons, a band wanted to expand as quickly as it could so that it could defend itself from attack or attack other bands as this became necessary. The morality of which males had sex with which females is unknown to us, but we may be certain that it varied from one band to another.

When bands formed into tribes, codes of behaviour were necessary. One important one was that a woman must not have sex with a man who was not part of her own tribe. That would maintain tribal integrity. Genetic diversity resulted from males and females breeding with members of other bands within the same tribe. If a woman got pregnant by a man from another tribe, that would mean the woman would produce a child who would be the product of an enemy tribe. She and the child might have been killed.

If a man conceived a child with a woman from another tribe, this might be frowned upon, but not punished. After all, the child (if it was allowed to live) might enhance the numbers of the father's tribe, not the mother's tribe. Ownership of women and children rested with males in the case of most tribes. That is, if the father could steal the child back after birth. But the woman's tribe (if it didn't kill the child) might want to adopt the child, raise it and enhance its own population, which might work against the welfare of the father's tribe.

In matters of tribal population numbers, size mattered. So developed the rule against a man having sex with a non-approved woman. That rule has remained with us to the present day, though its form has changed.

Prostitution, illegal in most countries (but not all), exists because of unfulfilled human needs. Often the woman needs money and the men need a way to satisfy their hormone-driven compulsion for gratification with a member of the opposite sex (let's stay with the male-female pairing for this discussion). "The oldest profession" has existed as long as our species has been around. Because of unfulfilled human needs our societies have refused to address.

Instead they pass laws which have always been flouted and ignored and always will. The needs of nature almost always take precedence over the laws of a culture or society in matters of behaviour, but not in matters of law or morality.

Illegal sex (prostitution) opens a large opportunity for organized crime participation. Organized crime gangs exist to fulfill human needs that societies would like to pretend do not exist. Of course they don't pay taxes. They take risks, but the benefits are tax-free. We law abiding citizens foot the bill for taxes, including for police, courts, legal staff and jail administrators so prostitutes may be "brought to justice." Judging by history, members of organized crime gangs risk more from fellow gang members, from other gangs and from poor nutrition habits than from prosecution under the law.

Prostitutes risk beatings, disease, drug use to get them past the worst parts of their job and time in jail. Because the law does not recognize their job as real, nor does it happily defend prostitutes against the dangers they face. In name the law offers protection to everyone, in practice not so much to prostitutes. The law also does not collect taxes from prostitutes, pimps and organized crime gangs.

Here we, as societies, face situations where human needs for sex with willing partners are ignored, we pretend they don't exist (even though we know they do) and our cost for health care is much greater than it should be because some people we would rather pretend don't exist require more health care than most of us do.

A couple of years ago a study in the USA (respondents were assurred anonymity) showed that 85 percent of married men had sex outside of their marriage at some point. With women, the number was 65 percent. Marriage failure sits around 54 percent. One of the most common causes for failure of marriages is that one partner had an affair outside of the marriage. Those affairs almost inevitably involve sex, the fulfillment of a need for sexual gratification the one partner could not get from the other.

Moreover, humans are not monogamous, as religions (the descendants of tribal morality administrators) would have us believe. Rare indeed is a bisexual species that remains strictly monogamous after pairing (science has trouble identifying a handful). We are naturally programmed to spread our genes as widely as possible. That means males and females together, as often as possible. As our species has males always ready and females fertile and able to reproduce many more times each year than most mammalian species, sex and the desire for it are part of who we are. Hormones rule, no matter what our religions and our laws say.

But sex must not, by law in most societies, be with another consenting adult if money is involved. Let's remember that our species has existed for about 150,000 years, while money or its equivalent has been around for only a few thousand years.

Something is wrong and few countries are doing anything about it. Because of religious dogma, we stick with tribal morality so old that it predates history. But without justifiable rationale in modern society, except that "everybody says so."

Let's remember where we see tribal morality in action today. In Afghanistan, where the Pashtuns (many of whom are Taliban) have been at war among themselves for over 3300 years, since four of the ancient Twelve Tribes of Israel left the Holy Land when they broke up and took up residence in a mountainous land no other tribes wanted. Similar tribal customs are practised in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, where people associate more with their tribe than they do with the nation where they were born.

We can see tribes in action in many parts of Africa, especially where there is violence. Libya is essentially a war between tribes. Same in the Congo (DRC), Nigeria and most of the Arab states experiencing disruption at this time. What is now known as the genocide of Rwanda was a war between the Hutu and the Tutsi tribes. Tribal law is harsh, protectionist and its punishments severe. Some of our modern laws in "free" democratic countries are legacies of tribal laws.

Which brings us back to severe punishments for two people engaged in consenting sex where money is exchanged. I do not claim to be an expert, but I have studied the subject enough to know that some men visit prostitutes because they want more sex than they are having with their wives and they want to save their marriage, not destroy it, by visiting a prostitute (in private). Male prostitutes with female clients exist in every major city, but with lower numbers.

We are, in fact, paying more in taxes and our governments are effectively supporting organized crime activity by not setting up prostitution under controlled legal environments. Note that I have said nothing about girls who run away from home and turn to prostitution as the only way they can find to support themselves, or about the sex slave trade that exists because it can easily be hidden, or about single mothers who support their children by prostitution because they can't make ends meet otherwise. Or about mass murderers of prostitutes who manage to kill dozens of them before they are caught. These problems wouldn't have a place to be if prostitution were legalized and controlled by supervised government facilities.

Prostitution exists as a social problem because we persist in supporting ancient tribal rules instead of making our societies into ones that can function safely and more inexpensively in the 21st century. We no longer live in tribes. Our laws and our moralities have not caught up.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to prepare their children for their whole life ahead, not just with what they will learn in school.
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