Archive for March 2008

Sex in an Enlightened Society

March 15, 2008

Elliot Spitzer has been caught in a media and federal web for arranging to meet a prostitute in a Washington hotel. He has now resigned as Governor of New York. This is only the latest in an endless series of political and social tragedies dating back to prehistory. Thinking about this “crime”, several points need to be made.

1. Most people have strong sexual desires from about age 12 to age 60. It is not possible to understand the strength of this desire in your neighbors (for eample, in men “normal” testosterone levels vary from 300 to 1000 units, with attendant effects on behavior)

2. These desires are hard for some people to satisfy within the confines of the social codes of their place and time. These vary widely. For example in Iranian Shiism, “Mut’ah” or “Sigheh” marriage is sanctioned. Some jurists insist that one can only have four sigheh marriages at a time; others disagree. Many societies have allowed sex before marriage, for example to prove fecundity.

3. Some will, inevitably, evade the codes of their social group on occasion.

4. Some societies make evasion a great crime; others understand and live with it. In older tyrannies, whether tribal or national, powerful men generally had access to a wide range of women (as we see in the Old Testament). Modern American and conservative islamic societies head the list of those who make sex outside marriage a major crime. (even in those islamic societies that allow sigheh).

5. “Prostitution” is the term used in our society for the form of evasion for which social or judicial punishment is most commonly exacted.

At this point we should stop and notice that keeping a mistress or having sex at the conclusion of a casual date are generally overlooked in many societies, including our own. Payments in kind seem to be generally accepted, but not in cash.

The Spitzer affair led to a number of op-eds in the NYTimes. Most of them argued that prostitution is not a victimless crime. The writers insist that laws against prostitution should be vigorously enforced, especially against the Johns. The argument is made on the basis that coercion is often involved. However, one prostitute offered an op-ed that said that if prostitution is conducted on a private referral basis, no one is hurt while all parties benefit.

It seems to me that coercion and mistreatment is what should be criminalized. Many service people are mistreated. Laws should perhaps be strengthened to cover coercion in the sex for hire business. Enforcement should be directed especially at the entrepreneurs who bring people across national boundaries for sex, or traffic in underage persons of either sex. If retail prostitution were decriminalized, it would be much easier to gather evidence against the brutality and coercion by pimps and johns that are the real problem.

In an enlightened society, the importance of sexual relations of any kind will be downplayed at the same time that laws will be developed and enforced against any forms of oppression and cruelty in the family or outside it, whether or not sex is involved. It is time to lift society above slavish acceptance of inherited dogmas, deal with people as they are, placing law and condemnation on the side of humanity instead of prejudice.