My recent Sweatshops! post was a respone to Anna’s piece on sweatshops. Anna was kind enough to drop in and join our conversation. As a reward, I have decided to pick a nit with a bit of a throwaway line in one of her comments:

Turning to crime or prostitution for lack of a legitimate way to earn a living is not better than working in a sweatshop.

I’m just going to go on record and say that prostitution is a legitimate way to earn a living (assuming we’re not talking about child prostitution). I may not approve of it, but that does not delegitimatize it.

*I promise I’ll stop with ‘Single-word!’ blog post titles now.

Jonathan McLeod

Jonathan McLeod is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. (That means Canada.) He spends too much time following local politics and writing about zoning issues. Follow him on Twitter.


  1. I’d say prostitution should be legal with safety and health protections for the workers. If it isn’t than its a way for mostly vulnerable woman to be badly used and abused by pimps.

    • Indeed. The illegality of prostitution is its true vice… not the sex… or the money.

      • I would think that Rose would say differently, judging by her post on objectivization of people and how we ought not to do it.

        I’m not certain how I feel at the moment.

        • People should be able to do what they want with their bodies. Certain jobs, like prostitution, should entail safety protections for the workers but people should be able to sleep with whoever they want to and for whatever reason they want. The safety protections would make OSHA a lot more fun to work for.

          • wading through piles of human feces is your idea of fun?
            Not mine, that’s for sure!

        • Do sweatshops and assembly lines not objectify people? If we at to take the objectification argument seriously, it can’t just be about sex.

          I don’t want to speak for Rose, but if you’re referring to the post I think you’re referring to, she talks a lot about context, consent, and injury. All of which seem highly relevant to both sweatshops and prostitution, without requiring either to be forbidden. And explicitly talks about “legitimate business transaction[s]” as being a context where objectification is acceptable, though of course the idea of “legitimate” is doing a lot of work in that phrase.

          • Do sweatshops and assembly lines not objectify people? If we at to take the objectification argument seriously, it can’t just be about sex.


            If it were up to me, the noun form of the word “labor” would be stricken from the language. Language matters and the words we use when speaking of things contributes to how we think of those things. When “people” become “workers” they become a kind of “other” distinct from “consumers” or, better yet, “you, me, and our neighbors.” Turn “workers” into “labor” and now you’re not even really talking about human beings any more but rather just a mechanistic factor of production to be purchased for the lowest price possible, and used and discarded at will, no different than any other machine on the production line.

        • Fully conceded that I am not the best person to judge the various and unique impacts of prostitution on women. I’m sure Rose (or others) can make arguments that would make me change my tune.

    • Prostitution’s a little like drugs. Defacto legal for those rich enough.

  2. I’d legalize it and then offer substance abuse counseling (up to and including rehab) and vocational training to prostitutes so that they can get out of the sex trade.

  3. I grew up in a moralistic milieu in which postitution was unequivocally seen as evil and illegitimate, and something undertaken only by wickedly immoral women.

    As the father of three daughters, I’d be devastated if one of my daughters chose that line of work.

    But when I drove a cab I ocasionally had prostitues in my cab, and they were not all degraded, oppressed, desperately unhappy with their lot, etc. The two that really caught my attention were very nice and friendly, were their own bosses, and I remember hearing them talk about how special a particular client was and how the one young woman wanted to do something very special for his birthday because he’d always treated her so well.

    And Superfreakonomics has a thought-provoking chapter on prostitution that includes one woman’s explanation for why she determined that it was a rational career choice for her.

    So, legitimate, yes. I just hope my daughters all have better legitimate career options.

    • I always hear stories about women who pay for their educations by being escorts and/or sex workers. I’ve also read articles on the Internet by women who say they did sex work to pay for schooling.

      Often the heard stories came from female classmates who said that they could not bring themselves to do sex work but were envious of the alleged money made by escorts and how it would beat student loans.

      This brings up the whole issue of taboo. Since sex work is a taboo subject, very few people are going to talk about it frankly as either a worker or customer. If we could have frank conversations about these subjects they would either be relieving or depressing depending on your out look.

      • You should check out reddit, which frequently has AMAs (Ask Me Anything, community-conducted interviews) with people involved in sex work as customers, prostitutes, or other roles.

      • I’ve worked with some women, in a substance abuse rehab, who had been prostitutes. They felt it was soul draining and unbearable. The only way they could do it was to be high as a kite. Having been prostitutes haunted them.

        • The young women in my cab contrasted sharply with the ones who walked Post and Geary streets with the emptiest eyes I’ve ever seen.

          • Is the Tenderloin just trapped in Amber?

            San Francisco is a lot more gentrified since you left but it feels like that thee are just some areas that stay the same.

      • I know someone who befriended prostitutes. Whose friends hired an escort for him — and he didn’t end up sleeping with her (she gave him her portion of the take, for the fun date, actually).

        In DC, apparently, being an escort can be kinda fun — lot of educated people looking to have fun, have an intelligent conversation… and then get into bed.

        But this same person talks about high-rent realtors willing to prostitute themselves out to swing a deal. And somehow that seems more tawdry, even if there’s more money involved.

        [Did you ever do the question: How many sex partners have you had? Field Negro did it, and someone started remarking on how all the men had more than the women. Then a few sex workers (female) stopped in. Changed the numbers a bit, as you might imagine]

  4. There’s actually a common principle between this and Mr. Kazzy’s X-Games post

    Individuals should have the right to engage in risky activities – and for money, if they can find a market – but they are also entitled to go into such activities fully informed of the risks with eyes wide open.

  5. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

    • This would be especially true for legal sex workers, who would probably have more need for police protection than the average office worker.

          • JB,

            What I’m getting at is that if prostitution were legal then she would be entitled to the same police protection as any other citizen and her payment for those services is just paying her taxes which pays the cop’s salary.

            If it’s illegal the situation is a bit more murky since much or all of her income is underground and untaxed, although she’s likely paying other taxes directly or indirectly. Which means she’s entitled to the same protection as any other citizen I suppose, but she’s also at risk of getting arrested for her profession. In that case, “tipping” the cops is just prudential.

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