The case for freedom of the seas is fairly analogous to the case for sexual freedom, they are both about eliminating restrictions. But as Grocio, the seventeenth century Dutch jurist stated, the seas belong to no one and their commercial use should be unlimited, whereas in prostitution, the human body clearly belongs to someone and its use should be determined exclusively by its owner. More to the point, by its female owner. Because when we think about prostitution, we are not referring to what is done to men’s and women’s bodies. Instead, we are talking about the female sex. Such precision matters.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Hugo Grocio published his book Mere Liberum, meaning “Freedom of the Seas”. In it, Grocio advocated for the right of any vessel to navigate any ocean. A little over a century before that, The Pope had given the kingdoms of Castile and Portugal ownership of most of the known world. Protestants of course questioned Papal authority. But beyond that, Grocio put forth an indisputable argument about free commerce and the wealth it brought about. On the other hand, proponents of mare clausum, who opposed freedom of the seas, consider the possible abuses of freedom to be reason enough to have restrictions.
While there has been male prostitution since time immemorial, it suffices to read Antonio Escohotado to realize how prevalent the figure of the female prostitute, not the male one, has been in the history of the Western world To him, the knowledge possessed by courtesans was well known, accepted, and thus envied. But as contradictory as it may seem, this very knowledge was codified by law even as far back as in the Code of Hammurabi which, to protect courtesans from scandal, used the same statutes that applied to married Patrician women, their superior social status notwithstanding. No one in the Western World should be surprised by this, it suffices to remember the importance of sex in European courts in the eighteenth century and the relevant role (sometimes even political) played by courtesans (this role was crucial from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, particularly during the Italian Renaissance and in the English and French courts). Back then, women’s future was as limited as men´s, who went to war, defended the family´s status and reputation and, if they wished to embrace learning, had to become clerics and give up sex and worldly pleasures.
Women would marry “well”, enter a convent or, if they wished to pursue intellectual matters and had the talent and the right connections, join the court. There they had many privileges, such as reading in fabulous libraries, participating in political discussions with the men, organizing salons with the world´s best scientists and intellectuals, and privately counseling the most powerful men in the kingdom. In return, courtesans would become lovers of the best possible catch, some nobleman who could advance their fortunes, was as tolerable as possible, and had a good reputation. In essence, she would find the lover who would provide the most value added. Such a fate was not that different from that of a young maiden whose parents would marry her off to increase the family’s wealth, except that courtesans switched beds and patrons and got to enjoy intellectual pleasures. The courtesans’ somewhat ill repute was brought about by the opinions of jealous aristocratic wives, particularly those who had no lovers of their own, and by the sanctity of marriage within Christian morality. I would not want either one of these life options for myself.
“In ancient times, it was considered very important for sacred whores, Ishtar among them, to know the secret of male sexuality and use it to rule over men. How could this not elicit wrath from wives and other rivals, such as secular and religious organizations who also wished to control man’s animal nature in order to rule over him?”
In ancient times, it was considered very important for sacred whores, Ishtar among them, to know the secret of male sexuality and use it to rule over men. How could this not elicit wrath from wives and other rivals, such as secular and religious organizations who also wished to control man’s animal nature in order to rule over him? In times of war, a “quality” prostitute would be sent to the leader of the opposing armies in order to keep him engaged in sexual activities for as long as possible. Such spent passion would calm the warrior´s fierceness, determination, and bravery at the time of battle.
The dirty and the private
Keeping in mind this brief anthropological analysis, we wonder what happens to women’s animal nature, which is denied or deemed uninteresting, or why there were no priests in Classical Greece who investigated female sexuality, while they did study how to assuage male fierceness through female prostitution. But that is as far as I can go; I just do not know the answer. Let us not forget, however, that we are talking about a time in history when battles were fought hand to hand, and the strongest warriors would prevail; when population growth was needed to supply more troops, and it was women who gave birth and raised new warriors. That was a sad fate indeed, which we have overcome thanks to economic freedom and the change in mentality that has caused prejudices to wither and made gender roles into something increasingly determined by choice, not necessity. Nowadays we continue to be the ones who give birth, but it’s a role we choose, just as our sons can choose whether or not to join the military.
In early 2019, getting ever closer to the end of the first quarter of the twenty-first century, bringing up Ishtar or ancient courtesans, or merely speaking openly of prostitution is considered sacrilegious by both the left and the right.
The main arguments put forth by the advocates of sexo clausum are the same as those who believed in mare clausum: They mention the abuses that freedom can bring about as reason enough to impose restrictions. Specifically, they bring up the crimes associated with providing sexual services for profit, such as drug abuse, slavery and human trafficking. They also point out the corresponding objectification of women as something humiliating and intolerable; as the antithesis of what “healthy” sexuality should be. Prostitution sets a terrible example for future generations and therefore it is objectionable. Among all of these reasons, there is one I’d particularly like to cover.
“The main arguments put forth by the advocates of sexo clausum are the same as those who believed in mare clausum: They mention the abuses that freedom can bring about as reason enough to impose restrictions. Specifically, they bring up the crimes associated with providing sexual services for profit, such as drug abuse, slavery and human trafficking. They also point out the corresponding objectification of women as something humiliating and intolerable”
Some people support banning prostitution because it is immoral according to their religious beliefs, Christians believe this, for example. To them, the human body is sacred and sex, whose purpose is reproduction, must be reserved until the couple has had the blessing of marriage. Of all the reasons I have encountered, this one seems the easiest to understand, because it rests on faith, on the blind acceptance of the unexplainable, on the submission to rules established by an authority assumed to be divine.
But what about non-Christians? Should there be a religious norm that bans the sale of sexual services? How justified is the legal prohibition of prostitution? Obviously, I wish to make this perfectly clear, all attacks on life and property, as well as breaches of contracts, should be prosecuted and condemned. Those related to prostitution but also those that occur in any other realm; politics, law enforcement, education, or bel canto, for that matter. But should we ban politics or close the courts because they can be sources of corruption? Should we close down night spots because that is where many young people are introduced to controlled substances? Or rather, is it not a question of eliminating the root of the problem? Human trafficking, which is often tied to drug dealing, will not be curtailed as long as the cartels continue to profit from it due to national prohibition laws. These policies ease the conscience of government and citizens but maintain the status quo that benefits drug kingpins. The trafficking of women for the purpose of prostitution is part of this vicious structure. This entire debate smacks of a certain hypocrisy which, like the Medusa of old, has many heads. One is Western hubris when it comes to judging countries in which prostitution is rampant due to poverty. The West prefers to concentrate on the sexual aspect rather than focus on conditions that increase wealth everywhere: free enterprise, free markets, pervasive initiative. Instead, we feed corrupt governments and close our borders to their citizens. And most of all, we become appalled at seeing girls being sold on the waterfront. This double standard can also be seen in the way Western societies tell the young not to use drugs and do much to combat their trafficking. Drugs are bad. Except for the ones my doctor prescribes. But this whole issue would merit writing a whole different article, so enough on that.
The objectification charge is one of the weakest arguments, yet it is among the most widespread and it looms large in popular opinion. Sexual objectification is defined as “the act of treating a person as a mere object of sexual desire… treating a person as a commodity or an object without regard to their personality or dignity.” Anyone who has ever enjoyed sex purely for its own sake is guilty of this. But who says that sexual pleasure necessarily implies considering your partner´s whole personality? In fact, that depends on whatever people need or demand from their partners. Whoever considers sex for its own sake to be immoral is not obliged to engage in it, but that should not be matter of legislation. And there is more. If a woman pays to receive another woman’s sexual services, leftist feminists will not consider it objectification, as this can only occur in the context of “heteropatriarchal domination”, i.e. there has to be a heterosexual man involved. One wonders what men who pay for the services of a dominatrix would think of this. Objectification theory also does not address the number of personality traits or disorders that can be helped by specific sexual practices. What’s more, sex (preferably with another person) has been demonstrated to be very positive for self-esteem. Why not pay for it, then?
The fact is that, beyond religious and moral motives, prostitution is opposed because it is done for profit. The same sexual practices are accepted if they are done out of a sense of charity, love, to please others, to overcome a personal complex, or for any other reason other than profit. Things become altogether different the moment money changes hands. Sex games are only repugnant if they are paid for. It is true that a needy prostitute will probably take on repulsive clients, and she will not enjoy her work. But this is also true in many other services; men who descend into city sewers to clean them out will surely know what I mean.
“The fact is that, beyond religious and moral motives, prostitution is opposed because it is done for profit. The same sexual practices are accepted if they are done out of a sense of charity, love, to please others, to overcome a personal complex, or for any other reason other than profit. Things become altogether different the moment money changes hands.”
But what about sex? Well, sex is private and dirty. People do not talk about sexual disorders as they do of stomach ulcers. It belongs in the private realm, in some cases more that in others, depending on the environment. And that does not have to be positive or negative, it implies privacy, not disapproval. Other animals have no problem coupling in plain sight. They also do not hide to urinate. The lack of normalcy when it comes to addressing sexual issues is an acquired trait, which I think gives rise to the vision of sex as something impure. Sex in no dirtier or more animalistic that any other of our bodily functions. But morally and psychologically it is considered so. And so it is in the popular consciousness, although we love it. That’s why it is mystified or demonized. Genitals are sacred or damned. To talk about sex is an audacity or an obsession. We do not have a “normal” verb to describe the sex act; we either use a scientific term or a corny euphemism. In the West, we “tame” sex by describing it as “making love”. Love is love, and it can be Platonic. Sex is sex, and it does not necessarily involve love. Maybe affection, but not love. What does it depend on? It is hardly romantic, but the fact is that chemical substances are discharged into the bloodstream and produce certain feelings and emotions. That is all there is to it.
We live in a society in which it is fine to pay someone to improve our self-esteem, but it is wrong to pay for somebody else for a service that achieves the same goal. We are scandalized and appalled when we imagine an unattractive client (often described as a fat, dirty old man) abusing a woman who has no choice in the matter. But what if a contract could specify different prices for different services, say, manual or oral masturbation, penetration, etc.? And there was a cover charge? And medical insurance? And security guards? None of this is unheard of; it is the normal course of action when it concerns a voluntary activity that is recognized as such, instead of one that is relegated to the underground economy. To claim private ownership of one’s own body, and to demand that its life and integrity be respected by others, in the context of prostitution as well as in all others, casts a new light on the matter. And that is the aspect that should be legislated, not the moral facets. In my point of view, the capacity and freedom to choose is what dignifies human beings. Spreading wealth and education is crucial in trying to reduce those factors that limit such capacity.
What about morality? We don’t legislate it. We teach it by example, we discuss it at home, we seek ways to avoid solutions being forced by circumstances, we address it with integrity while avoiding contaminating it with hypocrisy, all the while respecting the freedom of those who do not share our moral values.