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Our bodies belong to God

The growing “sex work”movement does not make it moral

Prostitutes and their supporters march in a protest demanding workers rights in Kolkata, India, in late April. Associated Press/Photo by Bikas Das

Our bodies belong to God
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Prostitution is legal in India, and the country’s Supreme Court recently expanded the rights of “sex workers” (i.e., prostitutes) by defining their profession as one with protected employee rights.

Legitimizing prostitution is a growing cause. And the mainstream media increasingly replace the term with the supposedly more value-neutral “sex work.”

Christians naturally must reject prostitution for theological and ethical reasons—so, too, should believers in natural law and classical liberty. Our faith and liberties are premised on the understanding that our bodies ultimately are not our own but God’s.

According to The Washington Post, prostitution has been legal in India for more than 30 years. Advocates for prostitutes in the country complain, no doubt justifiably, that “sex workers” are commonly abused because of the “ambiguous” nature of their work. By some estimates, there may be 20 million prostitutes in India.

As persons, prostitutes certainly should be protected from cruelty. But trying to legitimize their profession accomplishes the opposite because prostitution is exploitative by its very nature, even when dressed up as legal “sex work.” Activists who combat sex trafficking stress that prostitution rarely involves adult women choosing that work deliberately as a profession. More typical are desperate underage girls coerced into selling their bodies, often by boyfriends who benefit as pimps. By the time these young women or men become legal adults, they are already captive, compounded by addictions to drugs and alcohol, often reinforced by threats of violence. Legalization and polite language for “sex workers” don’t change this reality.

“We are part of the sexual labor community,” a spokeswoman for the All India Network of Sex Workers told the Post. “We are people who provide sexual services. We are part of the service industry. We must collectivize and work for our rights.” This supposedly ennobling terminology for prostitution does little if anything to help prostitutes and arguably even contributes to their degradation. Even when fully consenting adults sell their bodies by informed choice, they are degrading themselves in ways that a just and decent society that reveres human life must reject.

Prostitution may be legal in India and Nevada, among other places, but it’s never right.

The only state in the United States with legal prostitution is Nevada, which allows brothels in rural counties but not in cities. As of 2018, an estimated 20 recognized brothels exist in the state. That year, a brothel owner told a journalist that his employees were “all sorts of girls. But if I’m going to be honest, some of them come from [troubled] families. I’ve had plenty of girls who were abused.” No doubt. Abused young persons, not knowing anything else, often succumb to abusive situations as adults.

A former Nevada prostitute told the same journalist that she and her colleagues were demeaned and had barely survived, with brothels keeping much of the profit. “The fact of putting a price on a human being or body part is, to me, inhumane,” she said. “Now I’m totally against it, I want the entire thing shut down and I want it illegal across the nation and across the world.”

Forty-nine states criminalize prostitution, but, of course, it is still readily available, now primarily through online services. It’s thought there are 1 million prostitutes in the United States, perhaps twice that many, with tens of millions around the globe. Perhaps one-fifth are male, often young boys. Arguments for legalizing prostitution typically claim that since it is inevitable, crime and violence will at least be restrained under regulation. But, more typically, as prostitution increases, violence against prostitutes and related crimes continue. And the stigma for prostitutes does not decrease. No matter how progressive the argument, no matter the new terminology, few people respect “sex workers.” And how many “sex workers” are pleased with their profession and live happily? No sane society would allow this.

Modernity and liberal democracy are often faulted, often with good reason, for commodifying human life. But John Locke in his Second Treatise, when arguing against suicide, actually showed why prostitution is unacceptable: “All the Servants of one Sovereign Master, sent into the World by his order and about his business, they are his Property, whose Workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s Pleasure.” Consent cannot sanction “sex work” because nobody ultimately owns his or her own body. Our bodies belong to God.

The human body is to honor God and must not be desecrated as the human conscience universally knows. Prostitution may be legal in India and Nevada, among other places, but it’s never right. Making it legal serves only to make the entire society complicit.

Mark Tooley

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and editor of IRD’s foreign policy and national security journal, Providence. Prior to joining the IRD in 1994, Mark worked eight years for the Central Intelligence Agency. A lifelong United Methodist, he has been active in United Methodist renewal since 1988. He is the author of Taking Back The United Methodist Church, Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century, and The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War. He attends a United Methodist church in Alexandria, Va.

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