Sex Talk

The language of sex is a horse of a different colour. Language is ambiguous, and sex terms take this a step further.

My main thrust is neither the power-structure angle of Foucault or Beauvoir nor the penetration politics of, perhaps, Butler, Dworkin, or Paglia. Instead, I’ll start with ex-US-President Bill Clinton.

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

William Jefferson Clinton

Bill is also notable for declaring it depends what is is.

Woman holding cigar

Of course, Clinton was a lawyer, and he understood the ambiguity inherent in language. The problem is that despite this recognition by the legal profession, they arrive at a point where language specificity is good enough. It’s not, but Upton Sinclar got it right when he pointed out, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” But that’s a topic for another day.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

Upton Sinclair

Clinton was attempting to employ the word sex, simultaneously distancing himself from the act. By his logic, he was defining sex as vaginal intercourse. It seems that many people share this definition—it’s convenient in the Christian sense—, so his comment was not unfounded.

To Christians, there is only one legitimate sex act: intercourse between a penis and a vagina—and only in missionary position. Anything else is basically sodomy. So, by this definition, Clinton did not have sex with Lewinski because all he got was a blowjob—and so he’s a sodomite.

To the uninitiated, a blowjob is oral sex. Note the modifier: this was not sex but oral sex. Of course, if you see sex as a class of activities, vaginal, oral, anal, or whatever, then you can conclude that his actions fell within this classification; but if you see sex as the more limited definition, then no sex occurred (in this particular blue-dress moment).

Sex workers have their own nomenclature for sex—and their own acronyms and abbreviations. They make a similar distinction. To them, sexual intercourse is full service, FS, for short. Anything less doesn’t qualify. In practice, lesser activities are discounted, and other activities come at a premium, as they are considered to be fetishes. Again, that’s a topic for a different day and, most likely, a different blog.

A larger question that I will avoid is what should qualify as sex? This question is not simply rhetorical because, say, in the case of rape, where is the delineation? Rape, it seems, is more about penetration than of sex, though, it further seems, that not all penetration is created equal. What qualifies as rape changes over time and place—again, an issue with language and objective truth.

It is not that language and words are meaningless, but it does mean that it is contextual. Heuristically, this is adequate for incidental communication, but technically, things don’t hold together. There is no there there.

Abolishing Prostitution

So, now I’ve gone and done it. I thought that my commentary on prostitution would be a one-off. However, in researching arguments against prostitution, I happened upon this blog, which led me to videos on Elly Arrow’s Youtube channel.  To be fair, she self-identifies as ‘a radical feminist from Germany’, and although there are many cultural similarities between the US and Germany, I could be missing some urgency not present here in the US. Please visit her channel and decide for yourself.

At the start, it seems we have many things in common. She Elly declares, ‘I am the humanist, atheist, pro-lesbian, sex industry-abolishing, gender-critical, radical feminist Liberals and Conservatives warned you about’. Whilst, I am not a Humanist, as I feel this is too narrow of a focus on the larger system, I am an atheist, pro-lesbian, gender-critical, and radical, though perhaps not feminist, as, like the term ‘terrorist’, it’s lost all meaning because it’s been coöpted by so many different factions. . I do have to ponder how one can simultaneously be gender-critical and pro-lesbian or a feminist, as both of these rely on gender identity, but I’ll save this for a possible future topic.

Specifically, she replied to a commented I made on her video, Arguing for Abolition Pt. 2 – Talk About Class. I also commented on How To Make The Case For Prostitution Abolition, so I’ll start there. I haven’t watched the rest of the series or any of her other videos yet, though I may if only to critique them.

Let me get the ad hominem stuff out of the way first. Perhaps she mentions on her blog or in other videos how she came to this place, but I’d like to understand her experiences and motivations that brought here to this conclusion. She says she used to feel differently, so I’d also like to know how she formulated that conclusion, too. It is apparent that she reads a script, which is distracting. Even the choice to read can be edited to sound more natural. It would also make the presentment more succinct. It would also be useful if she would upload her transcripts to the videos so we didn’t have to rely on the auto-translate feature. Pro Tip: This would also help with search indexing and findability.

How To Make The Case For Prostitution Abolition

In this video, Elly gives good advice on how to engage in a ‘debate’.

  1. Make sure your opponent really wants to debate.
    • Emphatically, yes.
  2. Don’t try convincing an opponent all at once. This is a complex issue, and it is unlikely that you will succeed in countering all facets in one conversation.
    • Yes. This is the basis for propaganda and marketing alike. Chip away and win small battles before you worry about the war.
  3. Assume the other side has good intentions. 
    • Good intentions are not necessarily relevant; rather, assume they have a reason for their convictions without recourse to good or bad intentions. What would be an example of bad intentions in this arena anyway?
  4. Don’t antagonise your opponent.
    • Indeed. This is likely to lead to escalating commitment, where they dig in their heals and double down.
  5. No ad hominem attacks: Attack the view, not the person.
    • Solid advice. Continue… 
  6. Change minds on the fence.
    • Sure. If you are in some context where you’ve got onlookers or evesdroppers, make your points, and take wins where they fall. 

In the midst of this setup list, Elly slips in some irrelevant commentary about pimps. This is a related but distinctly separate side issue. Later, she tries to conflate sex trafficking and prostitution, which is again a tangential concern but can be resolved independently. In policy, this is known as scope or specificity. This is an intentional misframing of the argument. Don’t fall for this ploy and adopt this frame. You’ll lose the debate by not recognising that she’s switched domains.

Allow me to illustrate this:

We start simply with a canvas of all work.

Venn Diagramme: All Work

Then we add ‘sex work’ as a subset of ‘all work’.

Venn Diagramme: Sex Work

Then, let’s add prostitution as a fully contained subset of sex work (and all work). Again, clearly, this is not to scale. Although sex work can be subdivided into categories besides prostitution, cam girls, phone sex operators, pornographic actors, and so on, and some women may operate in more than one of this subcategories, I will ignore them for the sake of this illustration.

Prostitution can be future subdivided into categories of streetwalkers, escorts, call girls, and so on, each sharing aspects whilst retains distinctions. Besides distinctions in services and autonomy, the ranks comprise of women from different socio-economic classes.

Venn Diagramme: Prostitution

Next come ‘pimps’, but before we get to them, let’s recognise for the moment that these people—for better and for worse—provide a supervisory or managerial function. ‘Managers’ exist outside of prostitution, inside the sex industry and out.

Venn Diagramme: Managers

Within the sex industry, and particularly within the subset of prostitution, these managers are called pimps, so we’ll focus our attention there. As depicted, not all and perhaps not most prostitutes have pimps. Presumably, there are pimps, if even by some other name, who ‘manage’ sex workers who are not otherwise considered to be prostitutes.

Venn Diagramme: Pimps

Now that we’ve established that pimps are not involved in all prostitution, let’s step back for a moment before bringing all of this together. First, let’s recognise that there exists a general category of human trafficking. These humans might be domestic workers, manual labourers, or sex workers.

Venn Diagramme: Human Trafficking

But for the sake of discussion, let’s limit the scope to the subset that is human sex trafficking, again noting that not all prostitution involves human sex trafficking.

Venn Diagramme: Human Sex Trafficking

Finally, let’s look at the final diagramme. Here we see the overlaps among the entities, and we can see that, theoretically, we can formulate a policy solution that addresses the deeper exploitation without disrupting the broader order of things.

Venn Diagramme: Complete

In the end, one cannot simply conflate either human sex trafficking or pimping with prostitution. This is an attempt to win an argument by playing slight of hand with a language shell game. But at no time does Elly create a compelling argument as to why prostitution somehow does not fall into the category of work.

I am not going to enter into debate at this time the issues that Capitalism and Colonialism introduce into the world at large, though I feel that the real debate lies there.

Moreover, looking at the length of this post, I am going to address my response to Arguing for Abolition Pt. 2 – Talk About Class in another entry, hopefully, either today or tomorrow.

Capitalising on Prostitution

DISCLAIMER: This post is a veritable rant. It promises to go off script or at least be oblique to the recent themes I’ve adopted. It is also a bit late, missing the heels of the FOSTA debacle in the United States

Prostitution is immoral. It exploits women. It exists in a world of violence. It objectifies and creates a rape culture. It is a vector for transmission of diseases. These are the main arguments against it, yet many of these are arguments against Capitalism itself.

In fact, most arguments of prostitution are criticisms of capitalism or conflated claims to some tangential activity. The most popular conflation is with sex trafficking,  ‘modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act‘.

Prostitution is a category of sex work, which includes dominatrixes in the BDSM space, porn actors (and actresses if you expect archaic sexist jargon), phone sex operators, cam models. Nude modelling is somehow tasteful and not readily included in the collection.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines sex workers [PDF] as ‘women, men and transgendered people who receive money or goods in exchange for sexual services, and who consciously define those activities as income-generating even if they do not consider sex work as their occupation‘. I won’t comment on why they feel the final dependent clause is relevant to the definition. Perhaps it’s in the realm of the aspiring actors or screenwriters who wait tables but don’t consider themselves to be waitstaff.

Returning to the main arguments in turn:

Prostitution is immoral. As a subjectivist, this is a difficult argument to win. Although morality is a human social construct, many people believe otherwise, and even those who don’t ascribe to the notion of an objective morality still adopt and abide by the fabricated moral codes generated by the worldview of, say, Christians or Muslims or some other sect who claim to have direct insight into such codes.

Nothing is immoral that society doesn’t declare to be immoral.

Nothing is immoral that society doesn’t declare to be immoral. In the United States, the institution of slavery—what I call hyper-capitalism or a capitalist’s wet dream—was deemed moral by most. Eventually, the morality was hotly debated, and now, it is considered to be immoral. Time changes everything. In some circles, slavery is still considered to be moral. In other circles, it has morphed into wage-slavery and because money is exchanged within a frame of a labour market, it escapes the definition.

Excepting for local norms, prostitution is not inherently more immoral than banking or retail sales.

Prostitution exploits women. Excepting that there are male prostitutes and sex workers, it is commonly believed that these people are (somehow) less likely to be exploited, so I’ll keep this focused on women. First, it is important to separate prostitution from human sex trafficking. This is not the topic, and it’s a problem with specificity. If you feel that sex trafficking is immoral and should be illegal, that’s fine; but don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Focus on the actual problem. <sarcasm>If you want to prevent all women from being exploited, lock them all up in monasteries. Problem solved. </sarcasm>

Prostitution is not inherently more immoral than banking

If one wants to discuss exploitation, let’s discuss a system designed such that a person needs to earn money to survive. Period. Full stop. If you buy into the capitalist worldview, then, that in order to survive a person chooses to be a marketing executive, a customer service representative, a janitor, or a prostitute, is none of your concern.

I have heard many arguments put forth that these women should get ‘real jobs’, jobs that pay minimum wage (or less) and have no other benefits, jobs where it would take a week or more to earn what they could in a day or less. That’s not even rational.

Prostitution exists in a world of violence. Despite trends, the world is still a violent place. Part of the higher probability of violence in the realm of prostitution exists because these women are marginalised by moralists. Even where prostitution is legal, it is still often viewed as immoral. They have little recourse to the legal system. They can’t organise. They are forced underground. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Don’t force these women into alleys and underground.

In the US, recent FOSTA and SESTA hysteria have disarmed women from the tools they used to navigate their environment. They could share intelligence related to which men to avoid for one reason or another. Other tools have cropped up to facilitate this cooperation, but these tools benefit from network effects. The more people having access to the information clearinghouse, the better.

Prostitution objectifies women. I’ll concede this point straight away but not without noting that many things objectify women: the beauty industry, the entertainment industry, the marketing industry in general. If as a society we can resolve objectification and prostitution is the last holdout, I’m onboard, right there with you. But there is no need to make prostitution the poster child for eliminating objectification.


Prostitution creates a rape culture. To be fair, I have no metrics on this, and I am going to pass, but not without saying that it seems to be an implausible claim. And I have read counterclaims anyway.

Prostitution is a vector for the transmission of diseases. Indeed. And driving is a vector for traffic accidents. Of course, given higher frequencies of an activity, one would expect a greater number of outcomes—even with the same probability, the additional exposure may result in hitting this undesirable lottery. And the variety of partners with unknown sexual histories is problematic.

However, a mitigating factor is education—and not simply moralistic lip service. Women need to understand the risks and understand how to diminish it. Yet again, being marginalised does not necessarily allow a woman to be empowered. A client can insist on unprotected sex. If he forces his hand, no one is going to believe that a prostitute can be raped. As with sex trafficking, rape is its own subject and is only part of a larger conversation.

I was winding down, but I found a related quote I wanted to address:

Geena Leigh was in prostitution for 19 years from the age of 18. In her submission to an Australian inquiry into the regulation of brothels, she said prostitution: “has this way of stealing all the dreams, goals and beautiful essence out of a woman. During my years in it, I didn’t meet one woman who enjoyed what she was doing. Everyone was trying to get out.”

Evidently, lack of enjoyment in one’s employment is not limited to prostitutes. The is the problem with fundamental attribution bias. A recent Gallup poll cited that 85% of people hate their jobs. Maybe Gallup only interviewed prostitutes, or perhaps the 15% who liked their jobs were the only ones who weren’t sex workers.


Well, there went my morning…

For those wondering (and who’ve gotten this far), the impetus for this post was some other blog posts I happened upon in WordPress’ Reader.