How a War on Porn Is Endangering US Sex Workers

Yves here. Sex work is legal in Australia. I’m linking to a New South Wales guide by the Sex Workers Outreach project which explains the rules there. The depressing part is that it’s not hard to come up with sensible laws, but we Americans won’t go there. And yes, when I was in Oz, I lived about a six minute walk from Kings Cross, Australia’s most notorious sex district. I would walk through there at least once a day, including at night and never felt unsafe or even uncomfortable (although you did watch your wallet in any busy part of Sydney; there was a fair bit of pick pocketing). And in keeping, high priced real estate was hard by in my ‘hood, Potts Point, and Elizabeth Bay.

Here, Hallie Lieberman describes how a supposed war on child porn and sex trafficking is a Trojan horse for a campaign to find new ways to criminalize and restrict sex work. For instance:

Sex trafficking and consensual sex work are one and the same, according to the NCOSE [National Center on Sexual Exploitation], which stated in a 2017 amicus brief that “the majority of prostituted persons should be classified as victims of sex trafficking”.

By Hallie Lieberman, a historian and journalist who writes about sex and gender. Her work has appeared in BuzzFeed News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vice and other publications. She is the author of ‘Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy’, and is currently working on a book about the history of male sex workers. She is on Twitter: @hallielieberman. Originally published in openDemocracy

An ‘anti-trafficking’ US law that has been accused of endangering sex workers faces a crucial hearing this week.

The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (FOSTA/SESTA), which became law in 2018, claims to hold websites liable for promoting or facilitating prostitution or sex trafficking.

But critics say it has actually increased trafficking, as well as threatening sex workers and free speech.

Under the law, a website can be sued if a user discusses prostitution or sex trafficking – and the site’s owner can be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison. This means some platforms have introduced bans on all content relating to sex work.

Former sex worker and sex-trafficking survivor Justice Rivera told openDemocracy that this is “pushing people to more risky forms of work, like full-service sex work, or something that’s on the street”.

Woodhull Freedom Foundation, an organisation that defends sexual freedom as a fundamental right, first sued the federal government over the law in June 2018.

The foundation argued that FOSTA/SESTA violates the first amendment, which protects freedom of speech. But a court dismissed the case months later, ruling that Woodhull and its co-plaintiffs, Human Rights Watch and online civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation, had no legal standing.

This decision was overturned by the Court of Appeals in January 2020, and last March a court ruled in the government’s favour. Woodhull is now appealing that decision, and the Court of Appeals will hear the case on 11 January.

‘Getting Porn Off the Internet’

A 2020 study of the effects of FOSTA/SESTA found that 72.5% of sex workers had faced economic instability since the law’s introduction.

In San Francisco, the number of street-based sex workers tripled in 2018 and there was a 170% increase in human trafficking cases. CBS said both spikes appeared “to be connected to the federal shutdown of sex-for-sale websites”.

This increased hardship is because websites that sex workers previously advertised on have been shut down, including Craigslist personals, as have websites that were used to verify clients’ identities.

Similarly, in July 2018, police in Indianapolis admitted they were having more trouble finding sex trafficking victims because sites used by pimps have been taken down.

Sex workers’ groups say they were not given a chance to present their views on FOSTA-SESTA before it became law.

Mike Stabile of the Free Speech Coalition, an adult industry trade group, told openDemocracy that “the adult industry would love to work with the government to find solutions”.

In passing the legislation, Congress also overlooked a letter from US assistant attorney general Stephen E Boyd, who raised a “serious constitutional concern” over the fact that FOSTA/SESTA retroactively criminalises actions that weren’t illegal when committed. Boyd also warned the law would make it harder to prosecute traffickers.

Police in Indianapolis admitted they were having more trouble finding sex trafficking victims as a result of the law

Woodhull’s lawyer, Lawrence Walters, told openDemocracy that those backing the legislation, including several Christian groups, realised that “online adult entertainment is constitutionally protected, so they weren’t going to convince Congress to censor that”.

He continued: “But if they created these enormous penalties for anything associated with that kind of content… that’s an awfully good way to get porn off of the internet.”

The result has created a loophole in the Communications Decency Act, which shields websites from being liable for what users post. Walters says this has had a chilling effect on free speech, with social media giants moving to ban all sex work-related content.

Only a few cases have been brought under FOSTA/SESTA, with only one criminal conviction so far. The owner of CityXGuide, where thousands of sex workers advertised, was in November sentenced to eight years in prison and ordered to forfeit $15m in assets after two teenage trafficking victims were identified on the site.

A case has also been brought against Twitter, by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and two teenagers. The co-plaintiffs say the site initially failed to remove a tweet sharing a video of a 13- and 14-year-old engaged in sexual activity. The case has not yet been settled, with Twitter arguing that it cannot remove all such content immediately due to the “sheer volume” of tweets posted every day and that FOSTA/SESTA applies only to “openly malicious actors”.

Staff at Woodhull are worried that their website could be subject to the law for discussing sex workers’ rights.

Misleading Data

Among the most influential groups to lobby for FOSTA/SESTA were Exodus Cry and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, both of which have links to anti-abortion and anti-LGBTIQ causes.

Exodus Cry is a California-based Christian non-profit advocacy organisation, which claims to “fight for the freedom of all sex trafficking victims” and seeks the abolition of the commercial sex industry, including online pornography and strip clubs.

The organisation was founded in 2008 by Benjamin Nolot, who tweeted in 2013 that “abortion is largely about finding a ‘solution’ for irresponsible gratuitous recreational sex, not ‘women’s rights’.”

In an email to openDemocracy, Exodus Cry’s former director of abolition and founder of TraffickingHub (a campaign created by Exodus Cry) and the Justice Defense Fund, Laila Mickelwait said that the organisation is not ‘anti-porn’.

She said: “I do want to note and clarify that not I, nor the Traffickinghub movement, nor the Justice Defense Fund, are ‘anti-porn’. Rather, we aim exclusively to stop criminal nonconsensual content such as child abuse, rape, sex trafficking and illegal image-based sexual abuse.”

However, Exodus Cry’s data has previously been found to be unreliable. In 2012 it claimedfalsely – that 300,000 children in the US are at risk of being trafficked, or that on average girls get into prostitution at 13 or 14 years old, also a debunked claim.

Data on trafficking is often incorrect or exaggerated. In 2015, Republican congresswoman Ann Wagner wrongly claimed that human trafficking is a $9.5bn industry in the US, and in 2018 Democrat congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee claimed there were 79,000 victims of sex trafficking in Texas, likely to be an inflated figure given the National Human Trafficking Hotline identified 1,001 cases in the state that year.

Justice Rivera, who helped to collect data for a group that supports FOSTA-SESTA, which she asked openDemocracy not to name, says the methodology used by some anti-trafficking groups is flawed.

“Anyone I encountered, we had to count as a victim of trafficking. It didn’t matter if I was just seeing them on the street and they were doing sex work, or they were homeless youth.

“If I encountered them, checkmark, they’re a victim of trafficking – so we can keep getting our funding. And that’s the whole field,” said Rivera, who later resigned from the organisation.

Exodus Cry is indeed well-funded, receiving more than $2.5m in donations in 2021, including from prominent Christian foundations, according to filings to the Internal Revenue Service. It also received $117,300 in government grants.

Similarly, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) received $4.8m last year, including $204,392 in government grants.

Like Exodus Cry, the NCOSE – formerly known as Morality in Media – is a conservative non-profit with anti-exploitation and anti-pornography aims, which successfully lobbied Visa and Mastercard to block payments using their cards on pornography website PornHub.

Sex trafficking and consensual sex work are one and the same, according to the NCOSE, which stated in a 2017 amicus brief that “the majority of prostituted persons should be classified as victims of sex trafficking”.

Patrick A Trueman, the NCOSE’s leader, is a former obscenity chief at the Department of Justice. Trueman has also worked for the American Family Association and the Family Research Council, both of which are designated anti-LGBTIQ hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

NCOSE’s CEO Dawn Hawkins believes fighting porn is a “calling from God” spurred from her time proselytising for the Mormon church in Hungary, while its board chairman, Ron DeHaas, is president and co-founder of Covenant Eyes, a company that produces pornography-monitoring software primarily for a Christian audience. Another board member, political scientist Hadley Arkes, has said that gay conversion therapy proves that homosexuality is unnatural.

In an email to openDemocracy, the NCOSE said it is “nonpartisan and nonsectarian because the fight for human dignity knows no political or religious boundaries”. It added: “NCOSE came under new leadership in 2010 and rejects any hateful speech or conduct toward LGBT+ or other marginalised groups.”

Porn is Political

Leo Vice, a Taiwan-born adult performer, started making porn full-time when he was laid off from his job in the video game industry during the pandemic.

When PornHub stopped accepting major credit cards for its premium memberships in early 2021, following Visa and MasterCard’s withdrawal, Vice, like many in the industry, turned to another outlet: OnlyFans.

He told openDemocracy: “That kind of became the replacement for people. But the way OnlyFans works, it still doesn’t have the same level of reach the way Pornhub does.”

Soon, OnlyFans became a target of the NCOSE, which urged the Department of Justice to take action against the site and pressured credit card companies to stop allowing payments to the site.

More than 100 members of Congress sent a letter to attorney general Merrick Garland on 10 August 2021, asking him to investigate the site.

Ten days later, OnlyFans announced it would remove sexual material from the site – a decision it reversed the following week after widespread backlash.

“When they started attacking OnlyFans with the same playbook, a lot of the performers were able to get in front of it,” Vice said. Critics “were able to paint the picture of Pornhub as an evil corporation, where they weren’t able to do the same thing for OnlyFans because we as performers were humanised.”

Mike Stabile of the Free Speech Coalition isn’t surprised by the fight against the commercial sex industry. He explained: “Porn is by nature political… because it challenges the family, challenges heteronormative views, challenges our ideas of gender.”

These groups’ leverage doesn’t come from influence and money alone, he said, but also the shame associated with porn.

“There are not people in Congress who are willing to stand up and say porn is a perfectly fine piece of entertainment,” Stabile explained. “You’re not going to have Joe Biden say, ‘Oh, it’s fine to jerk off’… So they … allow the demagogues to really control the conversation.”

The fight against porn is not just about porn or sex, according to Ricci Joy Levy, president and co-founder of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation. Sex is the target because it’s an easy one.

“When we see this level of censorship, the only speech that will be left will be government speech, which is what we see in fascist countries,” said Levy.

She and Stabile said that anti-porn laws, anti-trans and book-banning laws are all connected. The NCOSE wants to restrict what children can read, with EBSCO (a database of educational materials for school children) and the American Library Association previously featuring in its annual ‘Dirty Dozen’ lists of “mainstream entities for facilitating, enabling, and even profiting from sexual abuse and exploitation”.

Politicians in Utah, Texas and Florida have already been banning LGBTIQ+ books that they deem pornographic in public schools. Lawmakers are also equating discussions of transgender identity in schools with pornography.

Legislating on sex is not just happening in the US. Levy mentioned the new Indonesian law that criminalises sex outside of marriage. “You can’t look at this across the whole world and say, this is just about adult entertainment. It’s about controlling our bodies, our personal autonomy,” she said.

Vice agrees. “We keep painting a picture of how perverse and horrible porn is and how it’s destroying Western society. But let’s look at some of those places [that restrict porn] like Saudi Arabia, and let’s see how equal and free people are in these places. It doesn’t exactly seem like getting rid of porn makes people free over there, you know?”

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47 comments

  1. Patrick M P Donnelly

    3rd World Country, controlled by gangs, often based on those who migrated there, with the newest migrants, the most exploited and the oldest at the very top.

    What was NY called before it was NY?

    Reply
    1. KD

      Above comment is being a smart a$$, but it is interesting how different traditional Christianity viewed sex work in contrast to Religious Right Christianity. Augustines De Ordines, where the above quote is found, is also related to his marital advice for men who suffered from “unseemly desires”–go seek a prostitute. The corruption Augustine sought to prevent was the corruption of matrons, and a blurring of categories between those matronly females of the upper classes upholding morality, and the harlots. Further, there is no sense that sex work is a “corruption” of the female, it is rather the natural state for the daughters of Eve, which is why so much effort must be exerted socially to prevent the corruption of elite women. None of the pseudo-Marxist exploitation by the man type sensibilities.

      With the Evangelical Religious Right folks, we get stuff from “I should be enough for him” (obviously laughable for Bishop Augustine) as well as a Victorian woman-on-a-pedestal which probably connects back to Medieval (and non-Christian) courtly love/romance stories. Here, it is male sexuality which is the social danger that must be controlled, it is male sexuality which exploits innocent females, and it is male sexuality over which society must exert all power to control. Not surprisingly, there is a certain amount of overlap between the Religious Right and certain sects of Feminism. Obviously, porn and prostitution overly excite male desire, and society will perish if this is allowed to happen (and maybe there are echoes of Jordan Peterson here as well).

      What I mean to point out with this typology is that you have competing anthropologies, and competing political notions of society viz. sex and gender. On the other hand, these kinds of libertarian takes really lack much substance, consent is good (even if no one can agree on what constitutes consent), and gobbermint shouldn’t regulate morality. But even if you are pro-porn, you still have to draw a line, whether it is child porn, snuff porn, torture porn, zoophilia, necrophilia, somewhere, so the First Amendment absolutists is tripe. At the end of the day, I think its kind of sloppy if not cowardly in not really trying to confront the issues. . . which might also be said of this author BTW who remains deeply ambivalent on these subjects.

      Reply
  2. VT Digger

    Or, or hear me out, just have a UBI and single payer healthcare and watch prostitution wither away.

    Sex work is an act of financial desperation or coercion in 95% of cases. That other 5% need other kinds of help…

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I hate to tell you but quite a lot of sex involves coercion and/or women seeking to curry favor with presumed more affluent men…or even feeling obligated to put out after a fancy dinner (and alcohol lowering their inhibitions).

      One of my friends who has had a very large number of sex partners maintains women should always be paid for sex, it make the nature of the exchange explicit. Teenage girls giving blow jobs and getting nothing for that in particular bothers her.

      Reply
      1. boots

        I agree with your friend, Yves. Conservative feminist legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon (on the other side of the sex wars) said consent isn’t really possible up a steep power gradient. A friend likes to say, “Men use tinder to get laid, women use tinder to get dinner.”

        In my dating life, I pretty much always experienced transactional expectations from men (even in my non-dating life, just my everyday life when I was an unmarried/”unowned” woman). Like the obligation you note. When I was younger/poorer/more vulnerable, I had less negotiating power. Being explicit about the transactional nature of some of my relations with men decreased our power gradient. What I offered was explicit, negotiated, and (verbally) contractural. Neither of us was indebted once the transaction was complete. It gave me some of the (men’s) power of contract to counteract my vulnerability.

        I worked on craigslist a little bit; friends worked on it much more. I wasn’t making basic expenses, but I was gaining access to restaurants I couldn’t afford, gathering stories to laugh about with my girlfriends, and building my library of expensive books related to my research interests. Friends and I experienced the various waves of criminalization as attempts to increase the power gradient against us, and increase men’s negotiating power. By making us more vulnerable, by undermining the legitimacy of our contracts, or our power to negotiate and say no. It is much, much harder to say no safely on the street or in a bar than on craigslist.

        In New Orleans, they went so far as to round up street sex workers before Jazzfest, Mardi Gras, and Halloween every year, entrapping them and then charging them with felony crimes against nature, forcing them to register as sex offenders. This destroyed their negotiating poisition, restricting where they could live and work, costing a lot, telling everyone they showed their ID to they were a sex offender (it was stamped across the picture), leading to battles for their children, etc. The public defender’s office was so clogged with these cases they went on strike, refusing to represent murder, aggrivated assault, aggrivated rape cases (which take a lot of time to defend), causing the release of accused dangerous offenders to protest the laws and keep up with their case load. Any politician or judge that did the right thing would be destroyed by the family values lobby. Pushing us off craigslist fed more of us into this meatgrinder.

        Meanwhile, when I fled the home I shared with an abusive partner to the domestic violence shelter, I met an actually sex-trafficked woman who had been transported across state lines by a guy she met while stripping at a club. She was barely legal, a single mom, partly supporting her own mom, and she let him get her drunk because he slotted herself into her fantasies of the kind of life she’d like to be living. The DV shelter helped her stop and think about her path, make a safety plan, and go home. The guy didn’t know where she lived; she did fine til 2008 when the house she rented was foreclosed, her mom’s house foreclosed, and her, her mom, and her daughter all ended up in a homeless shelter. No DV shelters for that.

        If you don’t mind a NSFW link (due to explicit writing), Mark Ames’ Whore-r Story about watching the anti-sex-trafficking film Lilya 4-Ever with a hired prostitute in 2005 Moscow is a painful but beloved (among my friends) pic of the idiocy of anti-trafficking “feminism” that forgets what women are people anchored in particular positions in material history. I think Ames’ Whore-r Stories were some of his best writing, but the English speaking world is puritan and does not handle bitter satirical rhetoric well, so they’re also the writing he’s been attacked the most for.

        Masha 4-Everyone: http://www.exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=7882

        I bet this topic leads to some tough calls for the moderation team, and appreciate their work.

        Reply
        1. Soredemos

          I get that what I’m going to say here is probably stepping into a minefield, and I won’t even try to dispute that there is a substantial religiously driven, moralizing anti-sex movement, because that is manifestly self-evident. But sex work is inherently a labor issue and there are very real reasons to disapprove of and lament it outside of being a prude.

          Adjacent to that is that ‘sex work’ these days is a phrase that is doing a lot of heavy lifting. There’s a great leveling, and frankly stolen valor, going on when we pretend that there is any real equivalence between someone selling feet pics on OnlyFans and someone selling themselves in an alley, Victorian London style. There’s an order of magnitude of difference in the amount of character, emotional, and physical sacrifice invokved.

          The only real similarity is that both usually have an underlying economic cause. World’s oldest profession and all that; most people, especially women, selling themselves absolutely would not be doing it if they didn’t perceive a financial incentive to do it. And frequently not just an incentive but a perception, often not wrong, that they need to do it to survive. The great explosion in OF accounts and Pornhub channels maps directly to the decline in the global economy.

          Probably there are people somewhere who genuinely enjoy the work, but most people wouldn’t be doing it if they weren’t making substantial (relative or in some rare cases absolute) money.

          I’m not saying any of it should be made illegal, but I am saying a much healthier economy would have far less of it because far fewer people would be debasing themselves if they didn’t feel pressure. It’s not noble work, in any form, and usually most people intrinsically recognize that. I suspect in fifteen or twenty years a lot of internet thots are going to look back with regret. It’ll be a gold mine for therapists.

          Reply
        2. Kouros

          So, cheap manufacturing goods from China, cheap energy and materials from the rest of the world including Russia, and cheap sex from American women. Makes sense now. Even cackling Hillary seems to be on board with this…

          Reply
        3. Karl

          Thanks for your candid, moving story, and for the link.

          I admire Masha, only 19. She’s building a future for herself slowly, getting a high school diploma. Is she resilient? Or traumatized? Maybe a bit of both?

          Sorry to get political, but I was struck by this moving and perceptive quote of Masha’s while watching a scene of the film very reminiscent of her former home in East Ukraine:

          Somehow this [scene drenched in vodka and bad sex] led to an anti-Orange Revolution rant, to the point where I had to pause the film. Every [prostitute in Moscow] I’ve met from Ukraine has ranted against the Orange Revolution, and Masha was no different. She explained that everything got even worse for the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine-“Yuschenko’s people are just throwing their rivals in from the Russian-speaking parts jail and taking their factories, that’s it. We now have less money, less work, it’s terrible. And really, I’m sorry to say this but:the Americans. Well, I don’t want to offend you, but the Americans organize this Orange revolution for themselves and:I’m sorry, I shouldn’t offend you, but this is bad for us, it’s destroying us.”

          Reply
      2. Soredemos

        I’m sorry, but your friend has a very cynical, bleak view of sex and sexual relations, I think. It almost seems like she’s removing women’s own agency from every potential scenario. Does it not occur to her that there might be teenage girls for whom giving blowjobs is its own reward? Granted I can’t say for sure, because I’ve never been, uh, a teenage blower myself, but assuming they haven’t just all been lying to me, I’m pretty sure there absolutely are women who will give blowjobs, or perform other niche sexual activities, because they genuinely like doing it (I can certainly tell you that the reverse of that scenario is also absolutely its own reward).

        I get that sex can often be a chore for women because it’s often just not very good. But I think it’s completely wrong to treat it as always some tedious activity done just as a means to some other end.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          From my experience, giving a blow job is 100% servicing (and yes, I have had quite a few sex partners). I hate to tell you but the motives may include it gets you out of more intrusive vaginal or anal sex (as in you get him off because he is horny and you are not) or hopefully earns you appreciation points at low cost. But the act is not rewarding save maybe in some craftsman way, like being good at carpentry or making omelets.

          And yet is has reportedly become pervasive among young teens women to give blow jobs to boys, as in they feel obligated to pleasure them and get nothing in return, or at most incommensurate gratitude.

          Reply
    2. Samoan

      Couldn’t agree more. This article is right to criticize attacks on sex workers since they are desperate people, but that does not legitimize porn or sex work.

      The issue is that there really aren’t many avenues to go about banning porn. Groups like Exodus Cry can only attack and take down porn sites by attacking their facilitation of things like child porn or non-consensual sex. The desperate people who are in sex work are the ones unfortunate to be caught in the crossfire.

      Porn is immensely destructive and should be banned outright, however the US is too right wing to be able to support people that would otherwise fall into sex work.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I have personal friends, one a stripper, one who did phone sex. They viewed them as good gigs. I also know a Hollywood producer who prostituted herself for a while when the industry was in a mini-collapse. She was admittedly more at the escort level but my sense was her reservations were the status issues about being a prostitute and worries it might get back to people in the industry…since a successful production would also be more lucrative than the sex work.

        Also how do you explain the regularity of young girls in Japan soliciting to be paid for sex? These are nice middle class girls who are doing it for extra spending money.

        And in very low income countries, a prostitute will easily make >5x a textile workers, which is tiring long hours.

        In other words, I don’t think this is as simple as you make it.

        Reply
        1. Soredemos

          Fundamentally it’s always a labor and economic issue.

          For Japan specifically, in your example the motivation is spending money. As for why that is commonly viewed as a viable path when Japan still has a very robust economy with plenty of non-humiliating jobs a teenage girl could easily get, that I think has a lot to do with the simple fact that Japan is a patriarchal, sexually retarded society where girls and woman don’t have sexual self-respect. (Which is not to say that the US or anywhere else is enlightened and sane, the lines delineating our own stupidity are just different).

          Harsh terms, but at the risk of sounding like a naive first year women’s studies major writing her cliched babies first analysis paper, I honestly think it’s essentially correct. At the risk of revealing too much about myself, I have a pretty extensive knowledge of the hentai and Japanese Adult Video industries (though how much I’ve kept up with either has fallen off of late. The default Japanese male sex fantasy is one where the woman is not only submissive, but basically doesn’t want to be having sex. Every fantasy is adjacent to a rape fantasy, to the point that in the actual rape comics and videos (and believe, those absolutely exist, as substantial genres all their own) the coached mannerisms of the girls are virtually identical to the ‘consensual’ stories. “Squeek like a tortured mouse and say ‘no’ and ‘stop’ like a mantra.” Whatever you can say about the Western porn fantasy with its fake moaning and awful male-ego stroking dialogue, at least the intent there is to pretend the women actually want to be having sex. Japanese porn where the woman appears to actually want to have sex exists in either a vanishing small porn-for-women sub genre, or as femdom stuff. Sex is generally treated as something to be dragged out of a woman, and no ‘proper’ woman should ever want to do it.

          There’s a lot of deep social psychological damage going on that creates this environment, and girls and women in such a society have also internalized a lot of it. If sex is something no woman should want to do, than the only reason to do it is for some financial incentive. It can also, paradoxically, become viewed by many women as not really a big deal. If women are explicitly expected to not be sexual creatures spontaneously without financial coercion, and in fact there’s something ‘wrong’ with them if they’re into sex for its own sake, then giving it away for money is not necessarily a big deal.

          Also I have no idea of what the ratio of those girls going all the way to sex is, compared to stopping at a date. Many probably go into it intending to just sell companionship, geisha-style. You can make a bunch of money just regularly hanging out with some sad middle-aged salaryman who may very well just be content with a cute girl being near him, pretending to have fun.

          Reply
        2. Kouros

          Which is why in Victorian London, apparently one in ten houses were brothels…That is from a research note / comment from the French Lieutenant’s Woman novel…

          Reply
      2. James

        Trying to ban porn outright is insane – we couldn’t ban alcohol successfully but we are going to successfully ban porn?

        The successful model is to tax vices. Taxes on cigarettes and alcohol have dramatically reduced their consumption in my lifetime. We should pay $40/month for internet with porn sites blocked or $80/month for unfiltered internet. Taxing vices works – at least it works better than any other approach.

        Reply
        1. Soredemos

          Taxes, yes, but even that is ultimately a fairly clunky, direct tool. The larger, perhaps more permanent change would be a wholesale transformation of society, where you significantly reduce the underlying economic despair that pushes people towards sex work. But that kind of thing would be a holistic, long-term project that is vastly more difficult.

          *I absolutely understand the motivations and rationale behind prohibition. Ultimately it was a complete failure, but it was an attempt to address a genuine problem. Alcohol freaking sucks, and is a social plague. The teetotaler’s were and are right to abstain, and a major block that pushed for prohibition were the same people pushing for women’s suffrage. Booze was correctly identified as a major social ill; drunk husbands coming home to beat their wives was a thing that happened with regularity, such that banning alcohol came to be viewed as something of particular interest to women. Ultimately a lot of the early women supporters of prohibition would turn against it after it had clearly failed catastrophically, but it was an attempt at solving a genuine problem.

          I work with the homeless a lot, and I’ve come to despise booze nearly as much as I despise something like fentanyl. The latter is objectively worse than the former, but alcohol absolutely leaves a significant trail of destruction in its wake. At best it gives you the guys who come in slurring and semi-coherent, at worse it gives you the guy who can barely walk in, then falls asleep in his chair and spends half the night jerking and twitching in his sleep and who will probably be dead from liver failure within five years if he keeps up that pace. I get that for every person like that are a dozen or more people who can handle alcohol fine, can be aficionados of craft beers or whatever without it taking over their lives, but the ratio of people who can pace themselves to people who are ruined by it is still very poor.

          Reply
        2. Karl

          Sin taxes, like all excise taxes are regressive. The plutocrats don’t mind paying them, and for that reason they advocate them. That’s why I’m against uniform CO2 taxes and traffic congestion charges–they make our society more unequal.

          If banning porn “outright” is insane, then just ban the parts that are most objectionable. After all, sin is equal. Therefore, it should be banned for everyone.

          Also, it wouldn’t surprise me if the plutocrats are the biggest consumers of the most kinky and objectionable porn, having become over-satiated on the regular fare.

          Reply
    3. Roger Blakely

      The way our species works is that females need provision and protection from males. Women give men access to sex in order to get the provision and protection that they need from men. Men have to pay for sex. Men have to pay for sex. Men have to pay for sex. Did I mention that men have to pay for sex?

      When a woman gets that provision and protection from one man, we call that marriage. When a women gets that provision and protection for several men at the same time, we call that prostitution.

      Why do women hook? They hook because they like to hook. Marriage is a better deal for women by all measures. Every hooker could be married to a good man tomorrow. When I say a good man, I mean a good-looking man with a good job. The reason why hookers aren’t married is that they have emotional issues and cannot maintain stable relationships with men.

      What is happening in modern society is that women are collectivizing the provision and protection of men without giving the collective of men access to sex. On computer dating applications women are only responding to the top 4.5% of men. We call this the 80-20 rule, but these days it is more like the 99-1 rule. Men are responding by refusing to marry women and refusing to participate in the dating market. Men are also responding by dropping out of society.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I disagree that marriage is a good deal for women if the woman is not interested in being a mother. 75% of divorces are initiated by women.

        Multiple studies have found that that the happiest group in the US population is married men. Next is single women. Next is single men. The bottom is married women.

        BTW a married woman who on paper has a good stable marriage was first to point this out to me.

        Mind you, these are averages, so the deviations within such large groups will be substantial. There are no doubt many happily married women.

        But what you miss is marriage is about progeny and property. That is why mistresses are so well tolerated among aristocrats and upper class Europeans. The mistress is to provide sex and amusement to the aging husband. But she does not threaten the marriage and knows her place. There are some cases where the mistresses and wives have gotten on well.

        In the US, how involved the husband is in the childrearing and household duties is totally his option. It is also his option to divorce his wife with kids for a foxier item (as BTW one of my brothers did). How is it a good deal to get married and have kids with this risk, particularly since one in seven single mothers winds up bankrupt? So marriage has become a less good deal for women who want to have kids.

        Married women and women who have been in long-standing relationships routinely report they have to subordinate themselves to their husband/boyfriend. I can count on one hand and have fingers left over as to how often I have seen a couple where the man and woman really did seem to operate as equals. This includes a Wall Street couple where the wife was major producer, way outearned her husband, but was careful to defer to him in public.

        Reply
        1. KD

          https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260306617_Gender_Differences_in_Marital_Satisfaction_A_Meta-analysis

          Above paper claims that the gender skew in married couples is as a result of over-sampling people in marriage counseling, with females being typically unhappy with their partner in that subgroup. Without this design flaw, gender differences in marital satisfaction disappear.

          Also, there is a problem in all of this stuff in that it doesn’t really distinguish between types of happiness. There is a joy of running a marathon, and a sense of pride and achievement, but on mile 20 it is pretty painful. Compared with someone eating potato chips and watching TV, probably sigificantly lower happiness. I think child rearing is similar so people are “happier” without kids but often lacking by other measures.

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          1. Yves Smith Post author

            FWIW, the research my friend cited in the early 1980s was from the general population, not people in therapy.

            And this is only one study, but seems extremely well constructed, longitudinal, and from a general population data set. 5 years after your meta-study:

            We may have suspected it already, but now the science backs it up: unmarried and childless women are the happiest subgroup in the population. And they are more likely to live longer than their married and child-rearing peers, according to a leading expert in happiness.

            Speaking at the Hay festival on Saturday, Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics, said the latest evidence showed that the traditional markers used to measure success did not correlate with happiness – particularly marriage and raising children.

            “We do have some good longitudinal data following the same people over time, but I am going to do a massive disservice to that science and just say: if you’re a man, you should probably get married; if you’re a woman, don’t bother.”

            Men benefited from marriage because they “calmed down”, he said. “You take less risks, you earn more money at work, and you live a little longer. She, on the other hand, has to put up with that, and dies sooner than if she never married. The healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children,” he said.

            Dolan’s latest book, Happy Ever After, cites evidence from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which compared levels of pleasure and misery in unmarried, married, divorced, separated and widowed individuals.

            Other studies have measured some financial and health benefits in being married for both men and women on average, which Dolan said could be attributed to higher incomes and emotional support, allowing married people to take risks and seek medical help.

            However, Dolan said men showed more health benefits from tying the knot, as they took fewer risks. Women’s health was mostly unaffected by marriage, with middle-aged married women even being at higher risk of physical and mental conditions than their single counterparts.

            https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/may/25/women-happier-without-children-or-a-spouse-happiness-expert

            Also re having kids, the findings are the reverse. People with kids less happy while raising them but report stronger sense of purpose.

            I also suspect extraverted people would find it harder to be single, both the extra work to have a social life and being in a couple =ing more social options.

            Having said all that, I have seen a few couples, as I am sure you have,that were clearly very happy to be together. But we don’t have anywhere near enough of that to have good modeling.

            Reply
            1. KD

              Interesting. Given the split between working/upper class on marriage, I wonder if anyone is teasing out differences between married vs. cohabitating.

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              1. Yves Smith Post author

                The split has moved into the middle classes. CA government workers, who are more likely to have college degrees and have good steady jobs, are anecdotally not married much these days, a big change from 2 decades ago.

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            2. c_heale

              How many of the unmarried women were childless? The two categories seem to overlap which would indicate they are not well chosen.

              It may be that having children means that people are less happy – given that today’s society seems to be only concerned with money and to my mind does not seem to help children and parents very much.

              I’m really not sure how you measure happiness, and if you can’t measure happiness, this survey is not valid.

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        2. Roger Blakely

          I get it. My only response is to say that social media is full of women making fun of men like me who are the kind of men that modern women said that they wanted. Men like me are seen as get-no-sex beta-male punk-ass-chump simps.

          Reply
          1. Yves Smith Post author

            I know this is no solace, but many young women with looks an/or hot bodies are mean to women too. Female bullying is brutal and starts very young.

            The big consolation is that they are at sea when their looks start to go.

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          2. Jason Boxman

            FWIW I find some of this is US centric. When I lived in a moderately large US city, I had much better prospects with non-American women. Similar American women are those that you describe only talk to the top 5% or so of men. Or I have some particular characteristic that makes non-American women interested.

            Who knows. With the Pandemic none of this is relevant to me any longer. Any significant socialization invites the possibility of infection and long term health consequences. Oops.

            I have seen what you’re talking about, though. In the past, the guy friends that I had that were that idealized look, their dating apps would simply explode. I’d never seen anyone get so many likes and messages. It’s hard to believe that world actually exists. It does. But not for me.

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          3. Soredemos

            I’m sorry, but you need to get off the internet and get out into the real world where you interact with real women. Simply getting to know people goes an extremely long way to forging connections and furthering intimate relations. On the internet nobody truly knows anyone and it’s essentially purely a meat market, and in that scenario, yes the best looking guys absolutely have a significant advantage. Also social media is a weird subculture, and platforms like Instagram even more so. It doesn’t reflect or map to the real world.

            The thing with self-professed Nice Guys™, and the reason it has become a widely mocked cliche, is that most of the time they’re just strange weirdos with no self-awareness. They are nowhere near as genuinely decent a person as they might perceive themselves to be. They think of themselves as ‘nice’, but there’s usually something off about them that pushes people away. Girls aren’t rejecting them because they’re ‘beta-male punk-ass-chump simps’; they’re rejecting them because they give off the vibe that they’re going to be someone who loots your panty drawer to find something to sniff. It’s not that you’re not a giga chad alpha male (literally none of that stuff exists, by the way, it’s all fake pop psychology nonsense. It’s astrology for men), it’s that you’re ‘creepy’ (a very bad place to be. Once you’ve instilled that impression in a woman it’s very hard to get rid of it). I don’t wish to insult you, but if you’re really having a recurring problem where ‘modern women’ keep wanting nothing to do with you, might I suggest that the recurring point of failure isn’t the women, it’s something to do with you as an individual. It is entirely possible for a guy to get laid, frequently, even if he isn’t rich or doesn’t look like Henry Cavill.

            I can personally attest, and I’m sure plenty of other people can as well, to having seen couples where your first inclination is to uncharitably think “how did that happen? She’s way out of his league”. And no, it’s not always because he’s rich. All that asinine fake pop evolutionary psychology nonsense about how the ‘human female seeks out protection and wealth and blah blah blah’ very often does not remotely hold true in the real world (and incidentally, nine times out of ten the person assuring us of these ‘facts’ is a man. Ah yes, when I want to learn about women, my first recourse is some internet MRA guru. If you listen to people like this, you are willfully being taken for a ride by someone who is pandering to you to fleece you for money).

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      2. Karl

        The reason why hookers aren’t married is that they have emotional issues and cannot maintain stable relationships with men.

        As a male with absolutely no experience of real hookers, I would guess many do it as a pure cost/benefit/risk proposition, as you suggest in your opening paragraph. And, as part of that decision, they’ll consider the alternatives, e.g. steady partner, open marriage, closed marriage, deferral of marriage. Marriage and prostitution are not mutually exclusive in time and space. Probably, many more women with “relationship issues” and “cannot maintain stable relationships with men” take the marriage path anyway, so what’s your point?

        Are you free of “relationship issues”? Who is? My guess is those willing to work on these issues can indeed maintain a stable relationship with a man or woman, if that is desired.

        Aside from that quibble, your post seems reasonable.

        Reply
        1. KD

          The only prostitute that I ever really knew in the course of my life–and I was NOT a customer–was married. I think she was basically a nympho or needed male attention is some base way, and her husband was kind of into the fact that she did it. He was well off, so she didn’t need the money.

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  3. t

    Kind of in the mood to make some random calls to NCOSEand ask about farm workers and nail salons and restaurant chains because I’m sure that NCOSE has tons of original work and outreach regarding widespread human trafficking.

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  4. The Rev Kev

    War on porn? Sure, yeah, why not? After all, Prohibition worked so well for America back in the 20s when the do-gooders had their chance. Shame about all that organized crime resulting though. And now you have the do-gooders wanting to go after sex-workers even though their actions put them at more risk. Look, I would suggest that sex is really never free and that we all pay for it – one way for another. They could go the way of marijuana and legalize it though I would be loath to see sex-workers having to work for some corporations as a result which would be financed by some hedge fund. But if they were licensed they can be properly taxed and the raised money be used to help protect their health and police illegal sex-trafficking and the like.

    Yves has mentioned Oz. Well, ‘Prostitution was decriminalised in 1992 with the passage of the Prostitution Act 1992. Brothels and escort agencies are legal but must be registered, as must the prostituted persons, through the Office of Regulatory Services.’ And that is why in my State that you not only have legal brothels but also the governmental Prostitution Licensing Authority-

    https://www.pla.qld.gov.au/

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  5. KD

    “When we see this level of censorship, the only speech that will be left will be government speech, which is what we see in fascist countries,” said Levy.

    I suppose if you got rid of all the furry porn on Twitter, all you would be left with is the DNC conspiracy theories laundered through the FBI with a smattering of the Ukrainian Ministry of Information agitprop for good measure. Sex-Positive Fascism?

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  6. David in Santa Cruz

    The Internet is probably the best thing that ever happened to sex workers, who can now get paid to have “relationships” without risking STD’s or physical violence. Broad-brush attacks on consensual Internet speech of a sexual nature (so long as it safeguards minors — a big “if”) are misguided and potentially harmful.

    To the points raised in Comments: I don’t believe for a minute that prostitution is a panacea creating a world of self-actualized women. I have a dear friend who wound-up suffering a lifetime of complications from multiple STD’s that she contracted during a period of low self-esteem — even though she was a highly educated professional and had/has meticulous personal habits. She eventually realized that the power relationships with men were never going to be in her favor.

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  7. Janos

    I am always somewhat amused by the ‘Christian’ values of war (violence) is holy and sex (love?) is evil.

    The notion of chastity and abstinence as being holy or a part of being a holy person is also somewhat amusing to me as (I need to look up my source and share) I recall in a treatise on early christian history an anecdote concerning a letter from one bishop to another complaining ‘how do I get these guys (priests) to stop fucking each other?’

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  8. A

    The people who are fighting for this are the ones who are the dirtiest of them all. They are the same people who pretend to be holy and all that crap, but they always have rotten eggs under their bums hidden while they sit on them. If tomorrow their personal laptops are searched or their internet history is looked they would be the one watching porn themselves.

    If people want to sell sexual act on through account that People pay to buy then there is no legal justification for only fans to stop being a platform and plate from alone for artist to portray and sell their service or product.

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  9. NewJerseyJoe

    Highly impressed by the frankness and accuracy of this comment section, even though it is not overtly about ‘economics’. Thanks for broadening my worldview on this very important topic!

    Reply
  10. Victor Moses

    Vice agrees. “We keep painting a picture of how perverse and horrible porn is and how it’s destroying Western society. But let’s look at some of those places [that restrict porn] like Saudi Arabia, and let’s see how equal and free people are in these places. It doesn’t exactly seem like getting rid of porn makes people free over there, you know?”

    Yeah – this is really dumb. This person has no clue about Saudi which is one of the top countries on sites like PornHub. They just outsource their porn consumption. And what does freedom and equality have to do with availability of porn?

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  11. Stick'nMud

    Maybe I missed it, but I think we really need to talk about patriarchy versus matriarchy. A great starting point is the book Sex At Dawn. Also, no one posted about the exploitation of men and boys. Btw, all of my experience with sex workers– male and female– was face to face. Three decades ago I used to frequent an area in SF infamous for male street hustlers. I was usually not interested in hiring them, but I would ask them if they were busy (needing to hustle for money right then), and if not, I would offer to buy them some food, and sit and talk. Most of them were gay runaways, running away from abusive homes very often. Some of them would just do me for free, some were so tweaked out they couldn’t get an erection. One beautiful boy from Seattle was the first ‘bug chaser’ I ever met: he was trying to get HIV so he could get social services. One young man I met in a club, at 3a Easter morning, was also hustling to rent a room each night, and pay to keep his car in a garage. He was from an abusive home in the mid-west, and got into a toxic relationship where he assisted his bf in committing suicide. He was terrified that law enforcement was looking for him, and he kept a rifle in the truck to kill himself if they ever caught up with him– because as a petite gay boy, he knew he could not survive prison. He always had an ad in the back of a local gay rag, so that he could avoid the risk of street hustling. He told me he was hired by the D.A., who turned out to be physically abusive, and impotent. That D.A was later a grand marshall in the Pride Parade. He told me about being hired by a very successful multiple bar owner and restaurant owner, who would hire a couple of cute twinks (slim petite gay boys), and put an ounce of coke on the table in his apartment, and have them play with each other and do lines until their noses bled, than flush the remaining coke down the toilet. I tried to convince my friend that the police were not coming after him, and I was very relieved when his car was stolen. He is now happily gay-married with a child, but many of the other street hustlers were not so lucky.

    In the 80’s I used to party in NYC until the wee hours, and sometimes availed myself of black female lip artists. I have a habit of talking to people, and I found that many of of these working girls were single moms living in the projects, and if they could find a legit job (big if) making the same ‘hourly pay’ they might lose their public benefits. The same was true for many of the spa women I used to go to when I got my bonus checks for helping to sell overpriced solar hot water heaters (which I found out were made by the Israeli defense industry). I was a canvass crew chief, and this was one of three p.t. jobs I had that quarter while putting myself thru university. When I figured out that I was helping the sales people sell to folks who may not need these things, I became ashamed, and that’s when I started going to the spas. I found out from talking to these women that most of the men were (unhappily) married, and they mostly just wanted to be touched by a woman who would at least pretend they were attracted to them. It was not even about sex: most of the men just wanted to talk. I have no doubt that there is plenty of exploitation of sex workers, it’s not just women who get exploited, and the patriarchy causes lots of men to be stuck in rigid unsatisfying roles.

    Lastly, roughly two decades ago, I became disabled due to birth defects (prolly from DES). Discriminated against at work, my career ended, and I was hard up for money, and a gay friend in the BDSM community helped me get a few ‘modelling’ jobs, mostly as a sub for femdoms (and yes, one was a single mom). Just like the gorgeous Syrian stripper I met on a slow afternoon on North Beach, who sat down and talked to me how she was very well paid to be ‘arm candy’ for wealthy men (no sex!). I’ve always believed it is women’s choice, but that doesn’t mean I’ve said yes to every woman who hit on me. And yes, I live in a community where there are women hiding out from DV, and some other women who were perpetrators of violence against men. It’s complicated.

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  12. JR

    This has been an enlightening article and conversation. My two cents, it’d be generally great if the amount of sex work declined. However, it won’t. Therefore, and as a philosophical principle, laws and the societal response generally should ensure that sex work is as safe as possible and that sex workers get 100 cents on the dollar (outside of taxes, I guess it has to be said). The FOSTA/SESTA initiatives mentioned in this article do not, to me at least, comport with these principles and therefore should be opposed. I think this would mean that if these types of initiatives surface in the jurisdictions where I live I would need to be public in my opposition so that the politicians know there is a constituency opposing the FOSTA/SESTA initiatives mentioned in this article.

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  13. JBird4049

    I think that most of the efforts against prostitution and pornography, aside from being done by Goody Two-Shoes, neither prevents abuse or brings any help at all to those people who need. Instead, these efforts, like with the PATRIOT ACT and its purported goal of keeping the Homeland safe from terrorism, are about imposing control over the general population especially the poor or those of deemed morally corrupt.

    It will like the communist witch-hunts, instigated (IIRC) by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s aid Roy Cohn, in the Federal government that pivoted directly away from hunting communists to hunting lesbians and gays. Or the successful assaults during the 1960s and 70s on various combinations of the poor, bikers, gangs, whites, blacks, and so on as being criminal by local and national law enforcement using the excuse of being criminal gangs. Criminalize, prosecute, and destroy any unapproved organizations, which many of sex workers’ ones are. Politically active organizations have arisen from such small efforts. The latest legal tools of censorship in FOSTA/SESTA well as requiring proof of identity in states like Louisiana are merely that clichéd camel’s nose; they will mainly be used to punish and control instead of protecting.

    I also find it extremely hypocritical and therefore enraging that things like healthcare for all, a minimum wage worth a damn, or a job guarantee, something that would actually improve the lives of everyone especially sex workers instead of new means of control passing as new ways to protect. But that would actually cost money and used to help those people. You know, the ones that didn’t learn to code.

    Reply

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