Prostitution is illegal in the land of the free

Where sex and business mix

In the country of freedom, the USA, prostitution is anything but free. Even though the trade of love for sale is flourishing, it may only be legally practised in a few places under certain conditions. Here Ronald D. Gerste examines how prostitution is handled in the USA. A legalisation of the “oldest trade” is being fought against by both the left and the right – albeit for different reasons

For the country’s chief physician, the comparison was not daring but pragmatic: “Why do we get upset when prostitutes sell the act on the basis of consensus among adults? We say that they sell their bodies, but how is that different from what top athletes do? They sell their bodies. Top models? They sell their bodies. Actors? They sell their bodies. We do what we think is right with our bodies. We live in a free country, and these are things we have to think about and deal with.” And then the doctor added that the money spent on prosecuting adults who have sex with each other on a consensual basis should be better used to ensure that all the children in the country can grow up safe, healthy, well-educated and with hope for the future.

Bush – believe instead of enlighten

The author of these words was Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who during President Bill Clinton’s term of office as Surgeon General was the head of the US public health service and the voice of a liberal, evidence-based health education system. Her admonitions for an unexcited approach to prostitution in particular and sexuality in general date from 1998 – it seems that this time is eons away. When George W. Bush took office in January 2001, the guardians of virtue, who have always been influential in America, exerted influence on official government policy, “faith-based”, being rooted in religion, often gained the upper hand over the factual, faith always triumphs over questioning. The basis of the governmental AIDS policy is not sexual education and the information about the benefits and limits of condom use, which was massively propagated by Dr. Elders just a few years ago, but the call for abstinence

The position of prostitution in American society, however, seems to be hardly influenced by the Christian-conservative restoration – it is illegal (with one geographically defined exception), it rarely becomes the subject of public debate, and it flourishes. Apart from activists from various camps – religious fundamentalists who vacillate between demanding tougher prosecution and “conversion” of sinners, and advocates of decriminalization – hardly anyone touches this issue. For politicians of different hues, critics argue, there is nothing to be gained by reviving a taboo subject. Containing sexuality and sexual needs by the power of will and faith and understanding them less as an expression of normal human physiology than as physical weakness, as sin – this is an approach that runs like a red thread in American cultural history from the landing of the first English settlers to the recent heyday of Christian fundamentalism in the early 21st century, and which also shapes the way prostitution is dealt with.

In the English colonies on the North American continent, prostitution was at best the third oldest profession, since the preachers first came to the New World with the “Mayflower” in 1620 and its cargo of a good 200 Puritans, who were soon joined by what was apparently the most essential of all American professions, the lawyer. Although the historiography of the Anglo-Saxon settlement speaks almost unanimously of strict morality, even before 1700 the larger cities – New York, Philadelphia and Boston – felt compelled to enact laws against “night walkers”.

After the national consolidation of the USA at the beginning of the 19th century and with the dawn of the industrial age, the profession of love for sale prospered. In most cities, often in less reputable areas, brothels or entire neighborhoods of sin had sprung up, where a generation of men who had outgrown their families at an early age and migrated from the farms to the urban centers in search of work sought sexual gratification. In many places, the brothels provoked violent and violent reactions from politicians and citizens who saw in the establishments breeding grounds for moral decay, crime and disease. Since prostitution was not illegal everywhere, the law was often disregarded.

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