A new paradigm for thinking about prostitution

// 5 June 2008

Over at Genderberg is this piece on a new paradigm for thinking about prostitution. And it’s fabulous!

To cut to the core, it argues new moves in Sweden and Scotland are part of a move from a Build-A-Better-Whore paradigm to a Build-More-Sexually-Responsible-Men paradigm which could lead to – at it’s most inventive:

tricking men could be licensed and be made to openly register with governments in countries where they use prostitutes. We could implement a 5-hour course in responsible prostitute-use similar to responsible driver or gun permit courses. We could make STD checks mandatory for every would-be john and maintain a website where men who use prostitutes can be listed so wives can know if the family food money, and her trust, is being misspent.

From Genderberg

And why? Because

We need to unstick from the idea that men’s desire for sex is an immovable force of nature so uncontrollable that all we can do is “fix” prostituted women to withstand the frequent violence johns inflict. …Men’s violence is not about prostituted girls…it’s about communities confronting the male privilege that lets them get away with abusing prostitutes or any women.

From Genderberg

Go read the rest of it!

Comments From You

Qubit // Posted 5 June 2008 at 1:25 pm

I can’t help but feel that the outcry against making it illegal to use prostitutes would be so great it would be impossible to implement. It would be taken as a strong attack on male rights and a sign that women have way too much power within society.

Personally I am not sure whether legalization can work to produce a safe industry and even if it can whether it should. However I feel if prostitution is illegal buying the services of a prostitute should also be illegal.

Molly // Posted 5 June 2008 at 1:37 pm

Oooh, I love this. It makes me wonder what a good analogy would be. Typically, as nitpickers and MRAs will undoubtedly point out posthaste, it’s the “business providers,” not the customers, who are licensed and checked. But there are industries which have both (gun sales, for instance) and I bet there’s at least one where it’s completely reversed—I just haven’t thought of it yet!

The (US) health care system comes close, perhaps; obviously doctors and so on are licensed, but it’s the patient who has to provide proof of the ways in which she’s an approved participant (insurance, etc).

Anyone have a better analogy? I’d hate to be stuck with gun sales, that’s not exactly universal (do you even have gun shops in the UK?).

lisa // Posted 5 June 2008 at 1:43 pm

I think a paradigm shift in thinking is the only way forward and for many people it has already happened (Sweden, Scotland and a general mood throughout Europe). BUT how best to maintain the momentum and to set the debate in the context of all sexual activity in particular non-paying abusive sex ?

There are many women who are used as masturbation aids both in relationships and during casual sex. Many women are unchappy about the experience but think there is a problem with THEM – they’re frigid, not doing it right, made the wrong decision and went home with the wrong guy etc – when in fact the problem is with the male cultural belief that sex is something they ‘do’ to women and that any old women will do. As long as this belief is deeply held in male culture it will be difficult for women to have sexual experiences that satisfy and fulfil them. Given current ‘raunch culture’ it may even be difficult for women to have any space in which to get to know themselves though – which is a serious encroachment on a young women’s ability to develop sexually.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 5 June 2008 at 6:23 pm

It used to be said that slavery was here to stay because those who were enslaved were sub-human beings compared to the white western male. But, slavery to a certain extent has been made illegal not abolished but it is no longer widely perceived as ‘natural.’ Likewise prostitution is never ‘natural’ it is male demand which drives this demand. Raunch culture is part and parcel of prostitution and the mainstreaming of the sex industry. All three are about ‘naturalising,’ normalising and making male sexual exploitation of women respectable and acceptable. Sweden has criminalised males who buy women in prostitution, Norway is going the same way so it is time for the UK to follow suit. But there will be immense opposition just as there was when slavery was challenged. Does not mean we should give up but it does mean keep demanding an end to men’s claims they need women’s bodies for masturbatory purposes. This is female sexual slavery and it must end.

Jack Leland // Posted 5 June 2008 at 6:56 pm


The MRA argument would be off-point. Business providers are regulated because they are the ones best-situated to bear the costs of the risks they pose to society (e.g., defective products like an exploding soda can). In the case of prostitution, as the linked post makes clear, the risk to society really flows from the johns, so it makes sense that johns should bear the cost of the regulation of their sexual activity. The MRAs would have to show why johns shouldn’t internalize the costs of their potentially harmful behavior, just like smokers paying higher insurance premiums.

Rachel // Posted 6 June 2008 at 11:22 am

All good points being made here. Whether unsympathetic men like it or not, we need to challenge this notion that male sexuality is uncontrollable – it is perfectly controllable, as many anonymous and uncounted men around the world demonstrate. The idea that all men have a “right” to sex with women also has to go. Sexual relations with anyone are more of a privilege, not a right.

As for what Lisa had said about non-paying abusive sex, there’s an idea that’s been floating around my head for a while now. We need to challenge the obsession with sex as fantasy. If you think about it, actual sex with someone should be about as personal and real as it gets – you are engaging in the closest and most direct way possible with another human being!

The way that our society encourages elaborate sexual fantasies, which will always be selfish to a certain degree, undermines this.

George // Posted 6 June 2008 at 5:28 pm


“It would be taken as a strong attack on male rights and a sign that women have way too much power within society.”

Surely it is a society’s (not just “women’s”) responsibility to ensure each individual has basic rights – such as the right not to be raped, violently assaulted or sold into slavery. I think I know plenty of men who would never describe themselves as feminist, who nevertheless cringe at the thought of what prostitutes have to endure, both on a daily basis and throughout their lives.

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