Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The oldest oppression

I was listening to the latest Humanist Network News podcast this morning, in which Norma Ramos talks about her work to illegalise prostitution. The sex industry's effect on the women who are trapped in it and on the rest of women in society is something I have never been comfortable with, no matter how many happy hookers the pro-lobbyists trot out to try to support their argument that it is harmless.

It is difficult to argue that prostitution is bad, without being made to feel like a prude or a hypocrite. Some of the things that Ramos said, however, helped me to formulate a new argument (or at least, one that is new to me): making sex a purchasable commodity is bad for all of society because it implies that sexual satisfaction is a right to which we are all entitled whenever we want it, rather than a relationship (of whatever depth or duration) between two people.

Proponents of sexploitation often argue that sex is natural, that we as animals evolved such an appetite and are thus naturally entitled to fulfill it. But even in the wild, animals must earn the right to fulfill their instinctive desires: by attracting mates through elaborate displays and courtships, providing food and protection, etcetera. These behaviours are part of a relationship. People who visit prostitutes or view pornography (and I have never been able to see the difference between the two, from an ethical point of view, except on a cost-per-unit basis) are asserting their right to sexual satisfaction, now, without reference to the needs, wishes or rights of the object of their immediate desire.

I'm not trying to put a social value on sex in a backhanded way, by insisting on a certain amount of time or number of dates before two people are allowed do the deed. I'm not even saying that it's wrong to have sex with someone you've just met and will never see again. Or with someone anonymous. Or with more than one partner. Or even by exchanging money, gifts or favours for sex. If that kind of relationship is okay with everyone involved, it's okay with me.

However, while a sex drive is natural, it is not an imperative. There is no inalienable right to sexual satisfaction in the articles of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. On the other hand, article four asserts an inalienable right to be free from slavery in all its forms, and I believe that the purchasing of sexual satisfaction is a form of temporary (or, for some, more permanent) slavery.


Grangry said...

You are absolutely right Beche. But you started something here - there are a lot of things today that we think we have an automatic right to - fridge freezers, holidays, fertility, pregnancies when we are pensioners, celebrity, longevity, having a job and a family and after wanting all that - happiness!

beche-la-mer said...

Yes Kay, I entirely agree that we do take a lot for granted: and I am at present reading Peter Singer's book The Life You Can Save in which he challenges our assumptions of our right to financial security and small luxuries when people are dying every day for want of a few dollars worth of food or health care. Very thought-provoking!