Selling Sex

There is a sex industry because people are willing to pay for it. There is a sex industry because men (mostly) want to have sex, yes, but also because we want to be aroused by it.

Last night I attended a screening of Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, a Christian documentary about the sex industry. It focuses on the lack of freedom that the women and children have who are servicing the “Johns.”

They are entrapped. They are enslaved. They are held there through physical and psychological coercion.

There were two bright spots in the film, one of them in the progress that Sweden is making in cutting down on its sex industry.

Sweden criminalizes the hiring of a prostitute at the level of what would be a felony in the U.S.

And the prostitutes? They are treated as people who need social services, counseling, protection, and rehabilitation in order to escape the industry, recover their dignity, and reenter society.

The chief enforcement officer of Sweden’s sex industry policies demonstrated what it takes to institute these kinds of laws. Here’s the mentality behind them:

Every act of prostitution is a degradation of a woman.
Every act of prostitution is an exploitation of a woman.
Prostitution is not sex, it is a man masturbating inside of a woman.

Sweden’s laws are undergirded by a cultural shift in understanding of how to think about sex for money.

In America, we are in no place to institute such laws because all of us, all day long, are paying for sex.

Every time we buy our clothes at Abercrombie and Fitch, we are paying for the sexual titillation they have offered us through their hyper sexualized ads.

As Julie Clawson was lamenting earlier this week, NBC won’t even try to sell us Olympic sports where women are large athletes or compete fully clothed or covered.

And we’re not even talking about the $13 billion dollar per year porn industry. (In the U.S., that is.)

There is a sex trade industry because there is a market for it, a market that does not contain solid borders from which those of us who have never paid a sex worker are hermetically sealed. It is a market whose black fades to grey in the everyday purchasing of sex that drives our marketing- and consumer-dollar economy.

Men want sex. A lot. And we pay for it in various ways, even when sexual intercourse is not the actual product we’re buying. (The year that I worked in a restaurant, women servers typically made more money than men; men typically were paying the bill.)

The point in this is that treating women as sex objects, and exploiting that deep seated tendency, is a deeply seated disposition in our hearts and in our culture.

Behind the terrible stories of girls being kidnapped, of mob bosses paying for safe border crossings, of terrified children huddled in out of the way apartments–behind all of this is a market. Men who want sex. Men who will pay for it. Men who are paying for it every day even when we’re not soliciting prostitutes.

As I reflect on my week–watching the Chick-fil-A dust-up, reading Julie’s article on the Olympics, watching a little Olympic coverage here and there, and now screening this film, I’m humbled by a couple of things.

First, most of us are complicit in the selling and buying of sex. And I might say that all of us men are so complicit.

But second, I’m struck afresh by the message that the Church has been sending in the latest wave of our culture wars. We are acting as though the most egregious thing a man can do sexually is to desire and have sex with another man.

While all the time there is this multi-billion dollar sex industry, representing one of the gravest human slavery industries in the modern world, being driven, mostly, by men’s insatiable desire for women.

If only we could redirect our righteous indignation here, against the objectification of women that runs right through the middle of not only the dark alleys but our own living rooms. If only we could agree that the selling of women for sex is degradation and exploitation–and see, also, how we’re all complicit.

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