Laws to control prostitution ineffective and irrational

For those interested in prostitution policies and their failures, here’s an article I published recently in an academic journal. For copyright reasons I can’t reproduce it here, and the journal’s not subscribed to by a lot of universities, and the language is roundly academic. Still, here is the reference for a rather caustic piece on the subject of the West’s assumed superiority.

Sex and the Limits of Enlightenment: The Irrationality of Legal Regimes to Control Prostitution (pdf when you click here)

Laura Agustín‌

Sexuality Research and Social Policy, Vol 5/4, 73–86, 2008


To assess the reasonableness of projects to improve the governance of commercial sex, the author explores how rationality in its current hegemonic Western sense is a cultural construction, perceived differently across time and space within Europe. The author examines some aspects of how varying conclusions are reached about which legal prostitution regime to impose, taking into account the role of cultures, worldviews, and interpretation. The author avoids the conventional classification of policy by country that results in unsubtle and overdetermined nationalistic explanations. Current projects to govern prostitution show how the traditional Western idea of rationality fails to lead to social betterment. Worldwide, social policy on prostitution tends to follow Western cues, in seeming acceptance that West is the best, with the most progressive, most enlightened approach. The rational project is, therefore, not limited to European geography.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

2 thoughts on “Laws to control prostitution ineffective and irrational

  1. mel curtiss

    Hi Laura,

    I’d like to read your article: ‘Sex and the Limits of Enlightenment: The Irrationality of Legal Regimes to Control Prostitution’, if you would be so kind as to forward a copy to my email address. Thank you, again, for your generosity in making your academic works available to your readers.

    Best Regards

    Mel Curtiss

  2. Kris

    I read the article. My response:
    Aren’t all laws based on values which change over time? And basically, many laws don’t help if you look at how many of the perpetrators are caught in the first place. How many rapists and thieves actually go to jail?

    I think it is very important indeed that the sex industry needs some regulations. From what I know in countries where prostitution is legal, there are no rules set as to what kind of behaviour is acceptable or unacceptable. Some prostitutes complain that clients just grope without warning, put their fingers in orifices, scoff at the women etc…. (read for instance the book “Fucking Berlin” by Sonia Rossi who makes similar complaints). Perhaps some guiding rules for prostitutes and clients are needed.

    I think this is an interesting case because many sex work activists want prostitution to be treated just like other work. But if other work is like prostitution, perhaps the other workers should also get the right to be free of groping hands and fingers in orifices without warning.

    I believe you shouldn’t look at the question if something can be policed or not. I think it is more about setting rules about how people should more or less behave, and that victims could get some justice.


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