A few years ago, prostitutes disappeared from the pages of medical journals; they returned as “sex workers.” Nor did they work in prostitution any more: they were employees in the “sex industry.” Presumably, orgasms are now a consumer product just like any other. As for pimps, the correct term is probably: “brief sexual liaison coordinators.”

The editors who decided on the new terminology almost certainly felt, and probably still do feel, a warm glow of self-satisfaction (one of the few emotions than never lets you down). How they must have prided themselves on their broadmindedness, as they strove to reduce the small-minded stigma traditionally attached to offering sexual services in return for money! How morally brave and daring they must have felt, to fly so boldly in the face of two millennia of unthinking condemnation!

Unfortunately, ideas—or in this case attitudes—have their consequences. If prostitution really is a trade like any other, with no particular moral opprobrium attaching to it, why should women (or for that matter men) who receive state benefits not be coerced into prostitution under threat of losing their benefits, just as they can be coerced into taking any other job that becomes available?

In fact, this is precisely what has just happened in Germany. Government officials have threatened a young unemployed waitress in Berlin with a reduction in her state unemployment benefit for turning down a job in a brothel. Since prostitution is a job like any other, they maintained, she had no right to turn it down.

The young woman in question could still refuse. But what would she live on? It has always been the argument of those who want to destigmatize prostitution that wretched personal circumstances force prostitutes into their sex-work; as is so often the case, this gloomy determinism has now helped to bring about the very circumstances complained of in the first place. Logically, and on exactly the same grounds, there is no reason why the government should not coerce young—or indeed old—men into homosexual prostitution.

The idea of the state coercing its population into prostitution is, of course, repellent. Even the most liberal of liberals would probably agree with that. This means that there is after all a moral difference between prostitution and washing dishes in the local restaurant or stacking supermarket shelves. And that prostitution is both age-old and ineradicable does not make it any less degrading to all concerned.

Once again, the attempt to remake our moral universe by a change of terminology stands revealed as shallow moral exhibitionism: Look at me, see how unfettered by convention, how empathic towards the downtrodden, I am! I think for myself, unlike all those people of the past two millennia, and I don’t accept the burden of the so-called wisdom of the past!

Of course, the German state might not have been in a position to coerce the waitress in the first place, had its social security payments not been so generous, causing 4,500,000 people to be unemployed.


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