Legalized Prostitution *Is*a Moral Stance


Ian Sane_Moral Ambiguity_Creative Commons

Ian Sane_Moral Ambiguity_Creative Commons

One of the hottest arguments against prostitution abolition and abolitionists is that we rely heavily on 'moral' arguments to create alarmism, false information, forcing our morality onto others who would otherwise like legal access to paid sex. I would agree that a large number of abolitionists have stronge value-based stances — familial, religious, political, secular — and do rely on their informed views to construct their (our) arguments. Having said that, some abolitionists refuse to do their homework and are against prostitution and sex trafficking "just because it's wrong".

Let's be clear on that last point: the "no-homeworkers" dwell in every camp and on every issue. There are no-homeworkers in the "legalize it!" camp, too, who want access to paid sex but really haven't delved into the issue. So putting ALL no-homeworkers aside for the moment until they catch up, let's continue.

My stance is that the demand for full legalization of prostitution is a moral stance. 

Morality, as defined by Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is: 


  1. descriptively to refer to some codes of conduct put forward by a society or,
    1. some other group, such as a religion, or
    2. accepted by an individual for her own behavior or
  2. normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.

The definition goes on in more depth and please read through it for yourself. After having read it, it seems to me that both sides (abolitionists and harm reductionists) consider themselves rational persons, but have been guilty of accusing the other side of acting irrationally. 

Defintion 1a. would describe many abolitionists:

  • prostitution is inherently violent
  • prostitution is the world's oldest oppression, not the world's oldest profession
  • legalization sets back feminism by decades, if not centuries, but reinforcing the lie that women's bodies are still worth more naked than they are as whole people
  • prostitution is not generally a choice
  • prostitution should be addressed from the demand side, giving the supply side a chance to break chains of poverty, abuse, addictions, mental health issues and other social barriers preventing fully, healthy lifestyles


Definition 1b. would easily describe many harm reductionists:

  • prostitution is largely a choice by sex trade workers
  • there should be a shame-free society when people choose to exchange money or goods for sex
  • women should be able to choose sex trade work
  • choice is for the individual alone, and not for society to judge
  • prostitution is a viable and authentic working environment that promotes healthy sexuality, femininity and economic inclusion

Definition 2 could feasibly be claimed by both sides. 

My point is that when abolitionists are accused of using morality to pass judgment, it is a tenuous argument at best, if not nothing more than smoke. Abolitionists have a form of morality, but so do harm reductionists. It would be wrong to say that harm reductionists/all those in favour of full legalization are amoral in this matter. It would be even more wrong to call either side, fully and completely, immoral. 

Harm reductionists are coming from places of deeply held beliefs, views, values and opinions that are guiding their morality.

Abolitionts favour:

  • freedom and equality for all persons (men, women and children)
  • a society free from oppression of women through prostitution and trafficking
  • a society that is open to various expressions of sexuality, gender and ideas
  • understand and accept that prostitution and sex trafficking are two different acts, but believe they are inextricably linked
  • a society that holds those who demand sex accountable for actions considered inherently violent
  • a sacredness to sexuality that is destroyed through the process of paid sex
  • a belief that current prostitution in Canada sees sex trade workers enter the lifestyle before they are 18 years of age, and/or are not in possession of full mental faculties, and/or have previous or current addictions issues, and/or have had prior or current sexual/physical/emotional abuse, and/or are from marginalized communities, particularly from Asian and Aboriginal communities

Harm reductionists favour:

  • freedom and equality for all persons (men, women and children)
  • a society free from oppression of women through prostitution and trafficking
  • a society that is open to various expressions of sexuality, gender and ideas
  • understand that consensual prostitution and sex trafficking are two different acts; consensual should be allowed, while sex trafficking should be penalized
  • the idea that human sexuality is boosted through legalized prostitution
  • sex trade workers do a public service by servicing clients who would otherwise looke elsewhere (for example to children) to satiate their desires
  • legalization will give women power to choose their own clients better, retain their own sources of revenue, and have a higher standing in society by becoming taxable

Take careful note that, in between some extreme differences, both sides overall share some important values: equality, freedom from oppression, freedom from violence, freedom from stigma, and freedom to talk about and express various forms of sexuality without reprisal.

Sometimes I think that it's not our differences that pit us against each other, but rather it is the frustration over how to express our shared values. For example, I want to see all women have equal opportunities so many others through generations past have worked hard for in order for prostitution to be gone… no longer needed… no longer the last resort women are flung to in the name of female sexuality and survival.

As soon as I say this, however, my colleague speaks out about how her sex trade work is an equal opportunity, that she is not a victim, and that she is expressing her sexuality. We both value equal opportunity and roles, we both value societies free from violence and shame, and we both value a healthy view of sexuality. But we both express these values very differently and it is in this messy place, and places like it, that we get tangled up.

Enough for today. The one think to take away from today's post: every position in this fight surrounding prostitition has a moral undergirding. It simply depends on which morals one holds in higher esteem than others.

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