Why our Puritan, Monogamist, Capitalist Society Will Never Decriminalize Prostitution

Sex workers face countless instances of sexual abuse, STDs, limited educations, health care options and future job opportunities as a result of their provocative occupation. Several sources have argued that removing criminal prosecution for sex workers can help create a legal framework to protect and guarantee the rights of such individuals. While Nevada’s actions are a testament to this hypothesis, I’m afraid it will never become a common occurrence. I contend that prostitution will always be criminalized in today’s puritan, monogamist, capitalist world.

The Puritans were a group of English Protestants of the 16th and 17th Century who wanted a simpler, purer form of disciplined worship, and were intolerant of any form of sexual activity outside marriage. While a cursory look at American culture suggests that Puritan values have been discarded, further evaluation suggests that these values still hold a pernicious hold on the American value system- shaping our beliefs, judgements and behaviours. Thus, capitalism exploits our puritan value system by putting a price on sex to make it seem like a ‘forbidden fruit,’ a service worth paying for.

What’s more, the reasons behind the economic dimension of sex can be traced back to the definition of monogamy. The term “monogamy” develops from the idea of a patriarchal heterosexual family, where the main purpose of the marriage is to produce sons who would come into their father’s property as natural heirs. Mostly in the form of dowry, daughters conversely became property to be sold and bought for their capacity to produce heirs in return for land, cattle or cash.

This creates an inequality between the two genders as their purposes in society are at polar opposites, where men inherit property and have control over the means of production, while women are subordinate and are only useful for childbirth. When sex is placed in market relations today, parallels can be made with this concept of monogamy- where prostitution is the modern day’s form of dowry.

So what we have here is a deadly combination of an intolerance towards natural sexual activity and an unequal power dynamic between men and women. In such a situation, sex workers will inevitably be treated as anomalies of a conservative, repressed, patriarchal world.