Author Topic: Should Prostitution Be Legal?  (Read 1173 times)

Lord J Esq

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Re: Should Prostitution Be Legal?
« Reply #15 on: September 16, 2009, 06:00:48 pm »
It's interesting that several people have mentioned the importance of emphasizing safe sex practices in the event of legal prostitution. I certainly agree, but the fact that this is the caveat that people are choosing to focus on is a humbling reminder of how purely academic the matter is for most if not all of us here. Much in the vein of Uboa's story about the person who put up with the sexual harassment of her landlord because she could not afford not to, I think that, by beginning our consideration of this topic from the viewpoint of sexual health, we are inherently assuming that the females participating in the sex industry are going to be well-educated and fairly affluent, when usually the opposite is the case.

From the point of view of the people who would actually be involved in a legal sex industry, protection from aggressive customers and exploitative managers, and the guarantee of fair pay, are at least as important in immediate practical terms than sexual health. Sexual health is right up there, but not getting raped or robbed, I would have to say, ranks even higher.

I think we need to remember that one of the best arguments against legal prostitution is that many of the people who end up working in the industry are the most vulnerable, the least educated, and the least able, economically, to stand up for themselves. (It's amazing but not surprising what people will put up with, when the alternative is to have no income.)

ZeaLitY

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Re: Should Prostitution Be Legal?
« Reply #16 on: September 16, 2009, 06:32:07 pm »
Yes. That's similar to the model industry, which can be viewed as a form of prostitution. We personally see the wealthy, affluent models, because they're the supermodels who've made some degree of fame and appear on TV. But your random models in magazines, newspapers, catwalks? Many of those are disadvantaged women who turned to modeling as a way to escape poverty. This is especially prevalent in Europe, where Ukrainian, Russian, and other Eastern European models are coming in to escape subsistence living.

(And in return, the French and Italian model agencies have started wage discrimination, paying them less because they know they're exploitable. Classic business ethics.)

The same could easily happen (and does) for prostitution. The woman who can make her living in an intellectual field or by contributing some skill has less motivation to be a prostitute than the disadvantaged woman who can only sell her body.

Boo the Gentleman Caller

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Re: Should Prostitution Be Legal?
« Reply #17 on: September 17, 2009, 01:15:01 am »
Quote
Legalizing prostitution would take away a lot of the problems associated with it, such as pimps and violence.

I disagree.

FaustWolf

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Re: Should Prostitution Be Legal?
« Reply #18 on: September 17, 2009, 01:45:07 am »
I would support the legalization of prostitution on the condition that it promotes formation of prostitutes' unions, or some analogous structure for worker protection and arbitration with the pimps/madames, customers, and agencies they have to deal with. This is purely a practical matter for the betterment of their conditions in the short term. To add to Boo's observation, we should assume that even with the best case outcomes there will probably still be a black market for customers who refuse to wear condoms and want to engage in extreme practices, and in these black markets prostitutes will be horribly abused -- though possibly highly paid.

In the long term, I can't help but find very unscrupulous any situation in which a human being engages in sexual activity he or she does not enjoy, and which he or she would not have engaged in without receiving special compensation. Therefore, while it seems we mostly agree on the basic proposition of prostitution's legality, I'd still like to separately examine the question of whether prostitution is "good" or "bad" for a society.

I can think of only one practical argument to justify prostitution's existence. Let us suppose that both men and women use the services of both male and female prostitutes in equal numbers to erase outright sexism considerations. If we allow that sexual expression with a partner is a basic human right, is prostitution not the ultimate solution to the "love market"'s misallocation of resources?

Of course, we know intuitively that the answer is "not a freakin' chance." Prostitution, being a paid service, would naturally go to the highest bidder and not those most in need of sexual companionship.

Unless we can find another justification for prostitution, this establishes that it serves no societal need, or at least not sufficiently. On top of that, I will go a step further and suggest that prostitution could be directly undermining specific social needs.


It is my theory that men born into a patriarchal society seek sex not (only) because of inbuilt nature, but rather (at least partially) because the society teaches men that sex is the acceptable avenue for fulfilling needs of emotional intimacy. Sex and intimacy are certainly related, but not necessarily the same -- there can be sex without intimacy.

Let's assume again for sake of argument that sexism is removed from the prostitution equation, and men and women are taught equally that their need for emotional intimacy can be satisfied through sex.

So we have Man A who is in a marriage in which the fire of passion has simply gone out over the years. He and his wife feel they need to stay married for the sake of stability in the lives of their children; the wife suggests that he simply buy a prostitute to fulfill his sexual urges (situations like this actually happen if I remember an old news report correctly).

So we also have Woman B who wants sex, but is afraid of getting into a relationship due to underlying issues of self confidence. She also purchases the bodily services of a prostitute.

But the prostitute is only an individual who lends his or her body for a few hours; Man A and Woman B may feel satisfied for those few hours, but in the end Man A still has a need to forge an emotional connection, and Woman B goes home to a cold bed with nobody to snuggle up to. What has prostitution, conducted under the best possible, perfectly safe circumstances, truly accomplished? It has merely distracted Man A from marriage counseling, and distracted Woman B from some counseling that would better serve her emotional needs as well.*

This is all theoretical of course. But part of me is curious as to whether prostitution is already doing this on a large scale. Does the ability to purchase pleasure outright truly serve men and women, or is it merely a palliative that disguises deeper issues that crop up in our society?


*To sweeten the deal, let us presume that in this perfect sexism-less society, the psychological health services Man A and Woman B are being distracted from are covered by universal health insurance.
« Last Edit: September 17, 2009, 01:54:28 am by FaustWolf »

Radical_Dreamer

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Re: Should Prostitution Be Legal?
« Reply #19 on: September 17, 2009, 05:06:01 pm »
I fairly recently became aware of the notion of a sex surrogate:
http://nymag.com/nymetro/nightlife/sex/columns/nakedcity/n_8542/

How do people feel about this profession? Is it medicine, or prostitution, or some combination of the two?

FaustWolf

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Re: Should Prostitution Be Legal?
« Reply #20 on: September 17, 2009, 05:27:36 pm »
From what I understand sex surrogates are more about body awareness and intimacy training, and very rarely engage in actual intercourse (although, the incidence of "sexual activity" between the sex surrogates and the patients could theoretically be much higher than the incidence of "intercourse" if we expand our definition of what constitutes sex exactly).

There are probably times when this kind of body work is needed for a patient to overcome trauma, lack of self esteem, poor body image, etc. I see no problem with this practice since it serves a specific psycho-medical need under the supervision of a licensed therapist and the surrogates aren't trying to fulfill the patient's every wish or anything. In fact, I'd prefer to have prostitution abolished altogether but have this sort of thing covered by universal health insurance.

Thought

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Re: Should Prostitution Be Legal?
« Reply #21 on: September 21, 2009, 10:22:02 am »
The sex surrogate, at best, is like an acupuncturist. There may be real benefits, but there's sparse science or regulations behind the practice. There are indeed sexual issues for which people need to seek help for, but I see no evidence to suggest that a sex surrogate is the best, or even a good, way of dealing with said issues. It seems that to a degree, this practice really goes beyond vulgar physicality and also provides a level of intimacy surrogacy; the individuals don't feel comfortable admitting their problems to their significant others and working through it with them (and possibly a real psychologist) and so the sex surrogate is an appealing option. The ones we care about as some of the hardest ones to show our weaknesses to.

Getting back to the larger topic, Josh is right; a lot of this has been merely an academic exercise. Like a lot of academic discussions, the underlying cause isn't much questioned. Why does prostitution exist in the first place?

Given that prostitution very well may be the oldest profession, we can't claim that it is the result of "aberrant" behavior. There is something fundamentally human, it would seem, in the desires that drive the market. Perhaps it is for the same reason that the use of illicit substances is so persistent throughout human history? An orgasm is, after all, nature's crack.

Lord J Esq

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Re: Should Prostitution Be Legal?
« Reply #22 on: September 21, 2009, 07:54:12 pm »
Given that prostitution very well may be the oldest profession, we can't claim that it is the result of "aberrant" behavior. There is something fundamentally human, it would seem, in the desires that drive the market.

That's one of my favorite points in argument to "follow up." Every one of us is born pre-civilized, teeming with the genes of a feral human, and we each must be raised up to conform to modern social norms sufficiently as to be able to function or at least persist in society without everything falling apart. People often resort to our animal instincts to explain contemporary behavior--as you have done with prostitution just now. This is done to varying degrees of correctness or error. In this case I think you're right that there is a strong animal component at work.

However, it's a given that most of our instincts can be overridden by conscious choice. Therefore invoking our primitive past to explain (and sometimes to attempt to justify!) our behavior immediately raises the question of whether, and to what extent, we as contemporary creatures of relative civilization should allow ourselves to express animal instinct in our social behavior.

For example, on this subject but less ambiguous than prostitution itself: Many cultures at least in theory have outlawed rape even though it's obviously an expression--one possible expression among countless more--of human male nature. In other cultures, however, the crime is to be raped. This contrast, where two sets of cultures take the same animal instinct and assign it very different social values--one of intolerance for the act and one of indulgence in it--illustrates the power of modern humans to decide how much of their animal nature can be permitted or even welcomed into our lives.

Our animal nature affects all walks of life, not just sexuality. With hunger pangs, most cultures have said that it is permissible to eat--though they vary on the degree and kind of food that may be consumed, as well as the settings and times of day where it is appropriate to eat. Very few cultures have allowed that it is permissible to steal food to satisfy one's hunger. The animal behavior is hunger-related, and therefore easy to appreciate, but the social effect of stealing food is to degrade the integrity of ownership and civil order. And so this thievery of food is often outlawed to the point where people routinely starve. Jean Valjean famously stole "a loaf of bread" and got five years for it--a commentary on the price of enforcing property laws over the most basic needs of individuals--but The Law had a point: Stealing disrupts society; the more it is done, the worse the damage. There is a saying in Latin, which in English translates to "What Jupiter may do, the ox may not." In other words, with power and position, comes privilege: the privilege to behave in ways that mundane people may not. Much of our society and many others is built upon the specialized legal thievery by the very privileged, and strict prohibitions on thievery for everyone else. Once again the discrepancy illustrates the power of human will to trump animal instinct, even as it highlights the sheer power of those instincts to compel us: It's not a coincidence that powerful people often resort to decadence of every kind. This is what most of us would do with ourselves, if we could.

Eating, itself, is more widely accepted than thievery because of the inconvenient fact that people will die if they don't eat. All else being equal, no one will die from not having sex or from not stealing what they desire to possess. But we all gotta eat. The Christians and others certainly tried to the utmost to marginalize that reality, in the Christians' case establishing the "sin" of gluttony--first as ideological response to Roman excess and quickly thereafter as a pragmatic instrument of social control. (Christianity's second truest source of power is its profession of austerity. Food, like sex, are among the strongest threats to Christ, because the animal impulses associated with them are so thoroughly present in the lives of almost everyone, and the thought of satisfying these impulses is a powerful motivator of behavior--particularly in the absence of education and social stability: a condition which has been history's norm. In Christianity the lure of eternal paradise is presented to the unwary, and the promise is made made to these individuals that, if they will live severely in this life, they will have every treasure in the next. Since, historically, the material quality of life had been pretty severe already for most people, it was easy enough for most of them to accept the offer. To entice them further, and persuade anyone still on the fence, the threat of damnation was added in to exploit people's fear. In this way austerity measures were embraced and social control established, and, thereafter in Christian lands, people would routinely act against their own interests in the name of treasures to come after their own demise. Brilliant. Diabolical.) The example of hunger itself, and eating to satisfy it, is an example of an animal instinct that, while it can be tightly controlled, must be accepted in all societies. Even prisoners scheduled for execution are fed...at least in the liberal democracies. Such impulses are in the minority; sex is not among them.

Anyhow, my purpose here is not to actually try and answer the question of whether and to what extent we should allow our animal instincts into our societies, but merely to point out that the question is so valid, and so relevant, that anyone who invokes the contribution of animal instinct to our contemporary behavior, without explicitly pointing out that we have both the means and the obligation to exercise judgment when it comes to the premise that our "nature" will or should drive our behavior, is guilty of a serious omission.

However, I will go so far as to answer the question, for myself, when it comes to prostitution in particular: I agree with you that there is a strong animal component at work here, but, no, I do not think it should be accommodated. In other words, I do not consider it to be an acceptable premise that "because some people are compelled so seek out sex in exchange for money (or other valuables), so therefore should they be able to do so legally." If there is to be legal prostitution, it must be justified on other grounds. Why am I against indulging male animal nature in this instance? Well, in part I think this way because I know no one will die from not having sex (wherein you can see my underlying judgment that society's default should be not to indulge animal nature solely on the grounds of impulse power, which itself is a judgment against the premise that our animal impulses are self-justifying), and in part because it does not strike me as sufficient in itself that one group's impulses should be accommodated when considering the exploitation, abuse, and exploitation which are routinely inflicted upon the practitioners of the trade. No one will die from not having sex, but people do die, and suffer, within this industry.

As I indicated upthread, I prefer to focus on those who buy sex rather than those who sell it, and if anything is going to be criminalized let it be the buying. Should it actually be criminalized, though? Well, as I suggested in the topic post, I'm still undecided on that one. Just because I would make a decision not to accommodate male nature doesn't mean that other people's desire for paid sex is going to go away, and it also doesn't mean that there aren't those "other grounds" of justification to which I referred. Which would produce the better outcome for society: legalization or illegalization? I don't know. Probably the former, but I don't know. What I do know is that most things which are illegal to buy (or sell) are illegal because they cause explicit harm or sow disorder, whereas sex does neither--at least on the innate level--which influences my thinking. Nevertheless the nature of the commoditization of sex routinely causes considerable harm to those selling it, not because sex is supposed to be "sacred," but because prostitutes rarely are the masters of their business, and, as I said, are subjected to extensive exploitation, abuse, and social ostracization. That weighs heavily on my thinking. Would these problems be reduced if prostitution were fully legalized and more closely monitored? Again, probably. What about society as whole? Would a legal prostitution industry improve or degrade the quality and health of a people? I don't know. What I suspect is that we are all caught up in Abrahamic sexual mores and that a more enlightened society would consider this a nonissue, providing for a full and robust sex industry that included the buying and selling of sex, as a routine matter of satisfying market demand. (Of course, this uses the assumption that sex can be completely divested from any form of relationship between the congressional partners. I know what the devout think about that, and while I dismiss their arguments, I do have a few reservations of my own...not out of judgment but of ignorance. What is the psychological gravity of sex, in the context of a society where sex is not taught as a sacred concept? These questions may have to wait a long time to be answered empirically. If it should come out that sex cannot be fully divorced from relationship-building, then I suppose a more enlightened society's sex industry would include rapport as a part of sex. That would be interesting.)

I suspect none of this is a surprise to you, Though, and that you don't disagree with my main thesis. Still, as I said, I love to make this point whenever somebody says or implies that, because animal nature can drive our behavior, it therefore should be accommodated. Don't take it as directed at you personally; I offer these thoughts to the gallery.

Thought

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Re: Should Prostitution Be Legal?
« Reply #23 on: September 22, 2009, 06:40:44 pm »
I suspect none of this is a surprise to you, Though, and that you don't disagree with my main thesis. Still, as I said, I love to make this point whenever somebody says or implies that, because animal nature can drive our behavior, it therefore should be accommodated. Don't take it as directed at you personally; I offer these thoughts to the gallery.

Of course. My own comments were particularly geared towards common perceptions that prostitution (and indeed, pornography) is somehow related to decadent cultures or modern "sins." There are people who might blame prostitution on rock and roll, or jazz and liquor, or any number of external influences on a person. It was not to say that because the forces that allow prostitution to exist can be found within us that it becomes acceptable, rather that we cannot look to external influences to find the cause. While we must be wary of the followers of Vecna, all they can do it attempt to make the seed of evil in each of us grow. The source lies within.

FaustWolf

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Re: Should Prostitution Be Legal?
« Reply #24 on: November 14, 2009, 03:01:51 am »
Came across this while doing research on pornography (jeez, that looks weird in writing). Anyway, it seems to be an honest look at factors that sometimes motivate men to seek out for-pay sex. Interesting how often they seem to find the experience less than they expected -- there's no intimacy, no real feeling I guess. It just becomes a mechanical exercise, because it's lacking the most crucial element, and that's something money can't purchase.

http://lettersfromjohns.blogspot.com/

Anyone come across anything like this from a female buyer's perspective? There's a similar "Letters from Working Girls" blog that examines the supplier's perspective. If I had to take a wild guess, the outcomes would probably be roughly the same for male and female purchasers.

I feel, ultimately, sex is something that has to be traded (or more appropriately, shared) through barter -- the raw coincidence of wants, no money intervening. It is, perhaps, the only item in all economic history that can't be so easily molded into the money model...not if the goal is to satisfy deeper human needs.

Of course, the flipside is that barter has often been inefficient compared to money models.

ZeaLitY

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Re: Should Prostitution Be Legal?
« Reply #25 on: November 14, 2009, 05:11:25 am »
So much of what we've covered in my class is about the global sex trade, sex slavery, and voluntary prostitution in countries other than the US. At this point, I'm leaning towards never legalizing prostitution because of the capacity for abuse. Unless prostitution were state-run (and run by a very, very efficient and upstanding state, as well as incredibly regulated), there's just too much potential for incorporation into underworld activities, reinforcement of deleterious gender roles and attitudes, and social disruption by incentivizing voluntary prostitution because the pay often outclasses pay for other available work.

But something more on "reinforcement of deleterious gender roles and attitudes"... If one reads the advertising for prostitution and sex tourism, one will be horrified. These are base elements at work, appealing to base desires and savage minds. Advertisements make a big deal about virgins, stress exoticism, and are written with such things like, "Thai women...sexy, sunburnt, and striving to please," and other sex object descriptions that are a lot more disturbingly vulgar than that. The entire attitude in these advertisements and the industry amounts to pure objectification and devaluing of women and sex.

There's just too much baggage for prostitution. Part of the reason I want to fight sexism is because ingrained, adversarial attitudes and gender roles are the root of so, so many problems. Prostitution, while it may alleviate some problems, adds fuel directly to the fire of these gender attitudes. It's like watering the tree of evil.

FaustWolf

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Re: Should Prostitution Be Legal?
« Reply #26 on: November 14, 2009, 05:38:08 am »
Fully agreed. Sometimes it's not the activity itself, but the culture that invariably surrounds that activity, that becomes most disturbing (when it comes to consensual activities, that is). Perhaps things like this can be more fully embraced once all sexism is defeated one fine day, but until then, institutions like prostitution could become a natural receptacle for sexist attitudes, and must be treated in an incredibly careful and nuanced way as long as that's the case.

V_Translanka

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Re: Should Prostitution Be Legal?
« Reply #27 on: November 14, 2009, 01:26:37 pm »
There are several good reasons why it should be legal and one stupid prudish "moral" against freedom and 9/11~!!...>_>

FaustWolf

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Re: Should Prostitution Be Legal?
« Reply #28 on: November 14, 2009, 02:03:23 pm »
Well, it's true that regardless of prostitution's legality there are black markets where the most horrific abuses take place and will continue to take place. The problem here are the societal attitudes ZeaLitY's talking about. In best-case scenario, prostitutes would have full freedom to refuse acts they aren't comfortable with, and be able to shoot overaggressive johns with a stun gun on the spot. But then, those same people who can't get what they want in an environment where women are empowered will just seek sex in environments in which women are not empowered. Perhaps this osmotic process lies at the very root of Western sex tourism?

Currently, I would argue, many prostitutes are going to lack full freedom to experience sexuality in the egalitarian way it should be experienced. There should be no pressures when it comes to how we use our bodies, which is the most personal of our belongings -- and yet, a prostitute's worry about bad ratings from customers (often men who desire to experience patriarchal norms of sexuality, which are rife even in our very sex education), about lack of economic opportunity otherwise, about any number of things rooted precisely in sexism, could outweigh skiddishness over a particular act, robbing the prostitute of the word "no," which is such an incredibly important communicative option in human relations. This concern lies at the core of feminist critiques of pornography and prostitution. What we also need to realize is that these things are not unique at all to sex industry work; they exist in private relationships as well. It's everywhere, it's invasive, it's corrosive.

To boil this down to the essentials: the concern that some feminists have with all prostitution, legal or illegal, is its capacity to reinforce gender norms that have proven destructive both inside and outside the bedroom. It's true that a highly paid call girl could theoretically exercise immense control over what she will and will not allow in her relations with the men who pay to access her, and that can be empowering; but when your business is pleasing people's various desires, empowerment can also be a poor business model. Ergo, the worries that a pay-for-sex scheme will flow toward the latter rather than the former possibility in a patriarchal society, or even a society in the throes of overcoming patriarchy.

EDIT: Just got to thinking, ZeaLitY, it might be constructive to investigate the structures of prostitution that arise in gay and lesbian circles. When you are the same gender as the person you're paying to access sexually, the difficulty of "The Other" theoretically disappears. Empathy is of huge concern to me in the context of the various sex industries; when it comes to heterosexual relations, the difficulty of "The Other" arises from the fact that our understanding of "The Other" is shaped by patriarchal stereotypes rather than one-on-one communication. Ability to empathize with the supplier being a crucial aspect of an egalitarian sex industry, perhaps an egalitarian model of sex supply is more likely to be found in the homosexual community than the heterosexual community. I could quite likely be wrong, of course.


EDIT AGAIN: I should probably emphasize that the goal here isn't to outlaw and censor things like prostitution and pornography, at least not in my point of view; the focus for me is not to limit what women and men can do with their bodies, but rather to get the johns (and janes, supposing prostitution is supplied to both sexes equally, a supposition for which I have no stats or anecdotes) to think critically about what they're doing, and to question how their own actions could possibly contribute to and be shaped by patriarchal norms and stereotypes.

While I've made a conscious decision to not consume the product of the sex industries for my own part, I'm not concerned with forcing that decision on others. I am, however, concerned with creating a space for conversation and exploration of real abuses that exist even in circumstances that meet the bare definition of legal consent. It is possible that Third Wave feminism's focus on consent can cause it to overlook the equally important issue of promoting a full, rich, egalitarian life experience for both women and men. It was my understanding that this, and not the bare issue of consent, was the main purpose of the sexual revolution.

One factor that bars a fuller discussion of important issues in feminism is this mentality that people can be either prudes or full-on defenders of sexual freedom; there needs to be room for middle ground where people can accept the existence of these institutions but subject them to relentless questioning, to burn out that which has been shaped by patriarchy. The sex industries are institutions our current society has inherited from more patriarchal societies that existed in the past; there are probably better ways of doing things, and an all-or-nothing approach to the debate leaves these questions unexplored by treating a complex and nuanced subject in far too simple terms.


EDIT YET AGAIN: Okay, last time. It may be useful to clarify the ways in which prostitution can be said to "reinforce patriarchal norms," because this is often said without further explanation. Speaking for myself at least, what this means is that the way prostitution is set up and has been set up throughout the history of patriarchy, men are essentially buying sex to be pleased by women whose duty it is to please them. This is the very definition of a patriarchal sexual model. Even if reversed, we get into the language of role reversal and we're just enacting reverse sexism in the case of women purchasing men's bodies. Just because the customer has to pay for sex doesn't mean this is about his or her own wish fulfillment; the act of paying is meant only to resolve a market dilemma in which the buyer can't find sex successfully otherwise. Once that market dilemma is resolved, I don't think sex happening within the structure of prostitution should get sex off the hook of being a two way street and about human communication.

Yes, there can probably be power in devoting oneself to another's pleasure; even in marriage, one partner or another may be doing this as an act of love on occasion without experiencing his or her own physical pleasure, and instead taking joy in the non-physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the experience. But to make a culture out of this model, to replicate it endlessly and create expectations for behavior based on it, is what I take issue with. A prostitute who's left with a bunch of fake orgasms to her credit hasn't necessarily experienced sexual liberation, though she made the choice to enter that line of work and fully agreed to every act she performed. As long as men are trained to think that women's bodies exist for their pleasure, patriarchy is at work. And if we solve this dilemma by just training women to objectify men's bodies equally, I'm not sure we've really accomplished what we were supposed to set out to accomplish as feminists and pro-feminists.
« Last Edit: November 14, 2009, 05:24:09 pm by FaustWolf »