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Monday, January 12, 2004

Selling yourself part I, money versus services

I have seen many people discuss how prostitutes sell their body, and what a pity that is, or what a shame it is. The difference between pity and shame seems to do with personal accountability. It is a pity if the person in question had no chance and choice, because they were abused or were forced into it. It is a shame if the person did it of their own free will, since it is "obviously" an immoral choice.

There has been much written about our society's discomfort with sexually liberated, promiscuous women, while the same behavior is greeted with back-slapping camaraderie among men. Sure it is, just watch television, the great definer of our social thinking, or the movies, the great mirror of our morality.

Let's look at this closer, shall we?

In an earlier post I defined a prostitute as follows:

A woman who will perform some subset of what an ideal girlfriend will do in return for money, with "no strings attached."

As I pointed out, the defining word is "money". Most evolutionary anthropologists argue that natural evolution has driven the social instincts of women to look for male-provided services such as protection and food in return for sex. Indeed women are still more likely to fall in love after they have been fed by a man, and in this age of liberation, they still value being cared for and scorn weakness in their men.

If you subscribe to this thinking, you would interpret modern womens' desire for flowers, dinners, and jewelry as a modernized form of this social contract.

So how is this different from prostitution? Some point out that divorce judgements are far more expensive than patronizing pros, although this discounts the value of commitment. Yet if we confine our discussion to dating, what is the difference there?

If the goal of dating is to have a friend, I have argued below that there is less difference than most people would like to believe.

If the goal of dating is to have children, ok, there is a difference there. Having children is an important social contract. You have to raise children in society, like it or not (a reason why some people elect not to have children), so having a socially acceptable relationship is important (an important reason why gay marriages are seeking social legitimacy. More power to them!)

Is there such a difference between contracting for sex for money versus the security of a commitment?

One difference is a place where many do not look. The reciprocal contract.

Prostitution is generally very transactional. The expectation is that money is exchanged for a sexual act. Marriage is not so strictly defined. It is quite possible, and perhaps even common, that commitment and money is exchanged and tracked in a marriage, but it is rare with sexual acts. They are certainly decoupled, so you can't have some kind of sex debit account. Yet it is part of the contract. Even in the Catholic Church, an organization in the business of setting moral standards, a sexless, childless marriage is grounds for annulment (Canon 1096, sec. 1; Canon 1101, sec. 2), a contract they feel is a contract with man and God. And some marriage counselors advise people to think of a marriage as something that has a debit account, a love obligation account that you have to consider keeping current (e.g. Marriage Builders)

So in a sense, prostitution, by virtue of being explicitly transactional, is also a stronger commitment. Hmm.

But faithful adherence to a social contract is not what invokes moral high ground. Obviously since less than half of prostitution contracts are broken, and more than half of marriage contracts are.

Of course not all relationships are like this. But there is more of it than we'd like to think. Society enjoys papering over the transactional nature of human relationships with all kinds of complex morality. Yet at the core of it all, we are simple creatures.

Part 2 will look at selling your body vs. selling your brain.