Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why Prostitution Should Not Be Legal

Note: For those concerned by the title, this post is NOT sexually explicit. It simply covers the issue of prostitution (in very general terms) from the viewpoint of inalienable rights. I do my best to remain discreet and tasteful even when discussing activities that are not.


One of the major problems I have with some of the ideas of Libertarians is that they misunderstand inalienable rights and their application in government and society. This has led to some incorrect views on some major social issues such as recreational drugs, abortion, and prostitution. I’ll be examining some of their claims in coming posts.

In this post, I’ll examine one of the claims of the Libertarians: that prostitution (if voluntary) hurts no one and should be legal. This claim is false on both fronts. Prostitution does in fact cause harm, even when it is voluntary. It is also a violation of inalienable rights and, since government’s highest purpose is the protection of inalienable rights, it should be illegal.

First of all, prostitution violates the inalienable rights of the prostitute. This is true even if the prostitute wants to be a prostitute and wants the specific act with the specific person. As we saw in Part 1 and Part 2 of my inalienable rights series, God, as our Creator, retains rights to us. Since we are the work of His labor, we are not free to do whatever we want with our bodies. A person’s inalienable rights cannot be given up, even by the person himself, since they are really rights that God retains to His creation. For example, we cannot rightfully kill ourselves or sell ourselves into slavery, even if we wish to. Prostitution is, at its heart, a selling of the intimate self. Such a thing is not permissible, nor should it be.

Prostitution also causes physical, emotional, and spiritual harm to both parties involved. It is not a “victimless crime.” Physically, there is great risk of transmitting sexually-transmitted diseases. Many people who wish to legalize prostitution point to countries where it has been made legal and where medical evaluation and treatment are available to lessen this factor. While the precautions taken in these countries are better than nothing, they can, at best, lessen the risk. They cannot take it away completely.

Emotionally, prostitution is also harmful to both parties. To claim otherwise shows a profound misunderstanding of the nature of sex. Contrary to popular opinion, sex is not simply a physical act. Sex was designed to be a complete merging of a man and a woman in marriage to become physically, emotionally, and spiritually connected on the deepest level. The two become one. Even when used outside the bounds of marriage, sex still connects people. It has been described as “emotional superglue.” During sexual activities, the hormone oxytocin is released from the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. Oxytocin is often referred to as the “cuddle hormone” and it produces feelings of love, satisfaction, and attachment. It is the same hormone released when a mother cuddles and nurses her child that bonds them together. Regardless of whether two people love each other or have a marriage commitment, the same hormone is released when they engage in sexual activities together. In the absence of a committed relationship, the hormone causes only mental and emotional havoc. To have complete strangers engage in such an intimate activity short circuits the way that sex and sexual relationships are designed to work. It leaves people with a disconnect that hinders their ability to really love and bond emotionally in a marriage relationship. It may also produce feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and lack of self-esteem. Prostitution is especially damaging to women, who are more emotionally vulnerable. In essence, prostitution is simply rape that has been agreed to for a price and bears the same emotional consequences.

Another thing to consider is that, if the john is married, prostitution is also a violation of the conjugal rights of his wife. A husband and wife have a covenantal relationship such that (among other things) they have exclusive rights to each other’s sexual acts. Marriage is, by nature, sexually exclusive. It is designed to be a merging of two selves to become one. It is impossible to give yourself wholly to more than one person; each person has only one self to give. In marriage, that self is given to the spouse. Married couples no longer belong only to themselves, but belong equally to each other. Thus, prostitution steals that which rightfully belongs only to the spouse. Prostitution (of either spouse) violates the marriage relationship by attempting to give part of the self (which belongs to the spouse) to another.

Since prostitution violates inalienable rights and in some cases is a violation of conjugal rights, government should protect these rights by making prostitution illegal. However, even if prostitution violated no one’s rights, society has the right to decide that certain activities will not be allowed as long as they are not thereby violating anyone’s inalienable rights (as we saw in Part 3 of the inalienable rights series). The ability to be or use a prostitute is not an inalienable right. At best, it would be an individual liberty (although, as we saw above, it is actually a violation of inalienable rights). Thus, banning prostitution does not violate any inalienable rights. Prostitution has detrimental effects on society (such as the breakup of marriages, the spreading of sexually-transmitted disease, and the devaluation of women). A society is therefore justified in making such activities illegal without having to prove that the activity directly violates someone’s rights.

Thus we see that the arguments of those who wish to legalize prostitution are flawed. Prostitution does indeed cause harm to both the prostitute and those who use her and also brings harm to society. More importantly, however, prostitution violates the inalienable rights of the prostitute and the conjugal rights of any married participant’s spouse. All of these are good and sufficient reasons for making prostitution illegal.

The response of some Libertarians (like Ron Paul) to the issue of prostitution is to “leave it to the states.” That’s the standard Libertarian response to every issue on which they don’t want to take an actual stand. But this is not the proper response. While many issues should be handled at the state level, no government at any level has the right to allow inalienable rights to be violated.

This is an extremely important point that Libertarians have failed to distinguish. They think they are returning to the fundamental concepts of the Founding Fathers, and in some cases they are, but in this case they promote a view that is totally inconsistent with the principles on which this country was founded. Inalienable rights are only inalienable if the person cannot give them up under any circumstance. This is because God holds these rights and has not granted them to mankind. Thus, as the Founding Fathers understood this concept, inalienable rights imply that a person does not have the right to participate in certain activities – those that violate anyone’s inalienable rights (even his own). Since government’s most basic purpose is to protect inalienable rights, it is the duty of all government – federal, state, and local – to make and enforce laws that make violations of inalienable rights illegal. So if prostitution is a violation of inalienable rights (and it is), then no state or federal government has the right to legalize it.

Linked up with WLWW.


  1. Very impressive article. I appreciate the reasoning present in this article. I am a libertarian who has often wondered about traditional libertarian arguments defending legalization of prostitution. As libertarians, we believe that people should be able to do what they want, so long as they don't harm others. (Sometimes a distinction is made between direct harm versus indirect harm.) But of course, with prostitution, there is a degree of risk of harming others with std's and similar.

    However, on the other hand, I have often wondered how far one could take the argument that it harms others, ergo, keep it illegal. I am interested to see how this pans out. For example, should we outlaw alcohol for alcoholics? If we know a man is an alcoholic, should we make alcohol illegal for him? There is certainly great spiritual harm there, correct?

    We could continue...what about fast food for an overweight man? Wouldn't giving him fast food harm him, really? And what about the rights of his mother to have her son alive? Losing her son would harm her, so why not make fast food illegal--at least for that particular man?

    I can appreciate your distinction in your article between rights and freedoms. It is true that we libertarians desire freedoms. However, I am interested to see how your argument from inalienable rights pans out.

    Now, to be clear, I too am a Christian (by the grace of God) who believes prostitution is a sin. But I do distinguish between the civil realm and the spiritual realm, even as we all agree that, in the civil realm, there should be freedom of religion. But doesn't this cause spiritual harm? We both agree that if someone does not embrace Christ, they will suffer eternally for it. Yet, we agree that in the civil realm, there should be freedom of religion.

    With the above, shouldn't we therefore, in the civil realm, allow prostitution, with the caveat of "play at your risk", if you will? There are many things we allow in the civil realm that cause great harm spiritually, and sometimes physically as well.

    Thank you again for your article. I am very interested in your response, because I appreciate someone dialoguing with libertarianism on a logical and reasonable level.

    Peace to you!

    1. Thanks for the comment. I appreciate a reasoned discussion of issues and you ask some good questions.

      I agree with you that there is a separation between the civil and spiritual realms such that we do not (and should not) enforce spiritual matters on those in this secular society. In other words, we do not live in a theocracy and should not make things illegal simply because the Bible (or any other religious text) says it is wrong. We should have independent, secular reasons for banning any activity. Banning an activity without sufficient reason is an infringement on the right to liberty that each of us has.

      So, the question is: What constitutes sufficent reason to make an activity illegal? One very obvious one is the violation of inalienable rights. If you haven't already, read my inalienable rights series (most of which are linked in this article). Start at Part 1 and read all 5. That will explain what inalienable rights are (and what they are not).

      The argument I am making here is not that prostitution should be banned because it is harmful to those involved (although it is), but that it should be banned because it violates inalienable rights. The protection of inalienable rights is the main reason for government and government's highest purpose. Thus, it is imperative that any legitimate government must protect inalienable rights. This comes before any other considerations.

      The secondary consideration in any situation is the good of society. Thus, even when an activity is not inherently a violation of inalienable rights it may be banned by consent of the people if it is *intrinsically* harmful to society. It does not have to be banned (there is no violation of rights if it is not), but it may be legitimately banned if the people so choose.

      Note that I speak here of activities that are intrinsically harmful. This is an important distinction. This label does not apply to activities that are intrinsically good, but may be misused. For example, eating food is an intrinsically good (and necessary) activity. Thus, banning the eating of food is not justified even when it may be bad for certain people to eat certain things or certain amounts. On the other hand, there is no good or necessary purpose for prostitution or recreational drugs or tobacco products. Thus, it is not wrong to ban them IF the people so choose.

      I would make a distinction here between prostitution and the other itmes I mentioned, however. Prostitution is a violation of inalienable rights and MUST be banned in order to protect those inalienable rights. Using recreational drugs or tobacco products is not necessarily a violation of inalienable rights and thus does not have to be banned, but may be rightfully banned if society determines that the effects of these useless, non-necessary items are detrimental to society and the people voluntarily give up the alienable right to use those items (through voting and lawmaking).

  2. For what it's worth, there are two distinctly different types of behavior being considered here.

    On the one hand we have activities which, if done correctly:

    1. Will not result in long-term bodily harm to the participant or anyone else,
    2. Does provide an obvious benefit to the participant or someone else,
    3. Will not adversely modify the persons behavior,
    4. Will not adversely affect others in society.

    Examples include: eating, exercising, sleeping, riding a bike, driving a car, climbing a mountain, not using a seat belt (for adults, anyway), etc.

    On the other hand, we have activities which, if done correctly:

    1. Will result in long-term bodily harm to the participant and/or someone else,
    2. Does not provide an obvious benefit to the participant or anyone else (or perhaps I should say, 'Obviously does not provide a benefit ...'),
    3. Will adversely modify the persons behavior,
    4. Will adversely affect others in society.

    Examples include: LSD, heroin, marijuana, cigarettes, etc.

    Obviously, the first category should not be subject to government control (beyond what is necessary to ensure that one does not harm others or their property). Therefore, the argument based on Inalienable Rights which Lindsay referred to applies only to the second category (see Lindsay's posts on Inalienable Rights). There is a distinct difference between these two types of behavior. Unfortunately, Libertarians (like Ron Paul & his supporters) often confuse them. They also seem to not understand the Inalienable Rights argument either.



  3. Prostitution was never actually a Crime under the Civil Law of Ancient Israel. and since Gentile nations on this side of the Cross are meant to be eve less strict. There is no way you'll convince be Porustion Laws are acceptable.

    1. There's no way I'll convince you? I guess you've made up your mind and no amount of reason or evidence can change it (probably because it isn't based on reason). If you simply aren't convinced yet and don't think you're likely to be convinced, that's one thing. But to say there is no way you'll ever be convinced is to show that you're emotionally invested in your position and that it isn't a logical decision but is about what you want to believe.