I am pro-prostitute. As far as I'm concerned, a woman's body is her own property to do with as she pleases. If that includes charging for admission, you will not ever catch me judging.
That does not mean that I am pro-trafficking, or that I am glad that some women are coerced unwillingly into prostitution by their economic situations, substance abuse issues or men in their lives. But when it comes to voluntary sex work, I am of the Annie Sprinkle school of whore admiration -- Whores are creative! Whores challenge sexual mores! Whores help people explore their sexual desires!
And whores -- along with junkies, transvestites, outsiders, strippers, swingers, S&Mers, weirdos, punks and perverts -- are my people, the ones I relate to, consort with and love. Some of my best friends are whores.
By the same token, I love others who feel the same way. While I agree that the prostitution industry can be degrading and oppressive, I don't think every guy who has been lured in by its siren song is a bad person or a woman-hater. If he wasn't doing it compulsively or addictively, and recognizes the provider as a human being offering a service, then I'd have absolutely no problem dating a man who has paid for sex. In fact, if our culture was set up differently and the same opportunity was available to women in the same way, I think curiosity and an adventurous spirit probably would have led me to try it at least once.
So forgive me if I'm less than impressed by this new study claiming that men who buy sex commit more crimes than men who don't. First of all, it's hardly a surprise that men commiting one illegal act (paying for sex) are more likely to commit another. Secondly, the sample size is small, just 200 men in the Boston area, and no information is given about how the men were selected or what kind of prostitution they engaged in. I'm sure you'd find a different mindset in the men who use escort services versus the men who engage in street prostitution.
Thirdly, and most importantly, this study, while being presented as objective and scientific, comes from a group called Prostitution Research and Education, which states clearly on the "About PRE" page on its website that its goal is "to abolish the institution of prostitution." Good luck with that!
Furthermore, they're led by Melissa Farley, an anti-pornography, anti-sadomasochism and anti-prostitution activist, whose studies have been criticized by sociologist Ronald Weitzer, for "lack of transparency in how the interviews were conducted and how the responses were translated into statistical data, as well as the sampling bias toward highly marginalized groups of prostitutes (such as street prostitutes)."
According to a more objective 2007 study from athe National Institute of Justice, whose stated goals are "to improve knowledge and understanding of crime and justice issues through science," men who "solicit prostitution are not atypical demographically or in terms of criminal history. ... Commercial sex participants werr also less likely to report having forced women into sexual acts."
I'm not saying the sex industry is only full of well-adjusted women happy-hookering their way through a bevvy of respectful, enlightened clients. But neither are men who pay for sex all violent beasts and low lifes. In fact, considering 1 in 10 men have paid for sex, some of them are bound to be your friends, husbands, brothers or sons. (Even Farley’s team says they had a difficult time locating enough men who haven't engaged in commercial sex to make up a sample size). Check out Susannah Breslin's Letters from Johns project for a more nuanced portrait of men who pay for sex.
Just as I admire sex workers, men and women who give of themselves in such a demanding, stigmatized and difficult trade, I also give props to those who see and treat sex workers as the special people they are. Because as my girl Annie Sprinkle says, "Not everyone has what it takes to be a whore." And not everyone has what it takes to love them, either.