How can it be ignored? It’s all over TV and the internet, on billboards and in magazines, but it seems like the ethical debate over the sex industry is born from the mouths of religion and the media. How does the sex industry relate to women’s rights? Feminists have been standing on both sides of the brothel for centuries arguing that the sex industry in our culture either enhances or inhibits women’s rights.
A prominent feminist view of the sex industry supports that not only are ethics irrelevant, but that it is purely a civil rights issue. Sex worker advocates, like those who work for C.O.Y.O.T.E (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) located in Los Angeles, believe that men and women have the right to own, use, and enjoy their own bodies in any way that they feel is appropriate and prostitution is covered by that right as long as it involves consenting adults. From this argument stems the idea that women can and should use prostitution and pornography to gain empowerment and sexual liberation.
By exercising an open and even deviant sexual lifestyle, some advocates of the sex industry believe that they can achieve gender inequality and also that women who do not exercise these behaviors are succumbing to the sexually oppressive nature of our patriarchal culture. They say that men and women have the inalienable right to use their bodies as their own property and therefore it is legitimate to buy and sell this commodity on the free-market as a reaction to the supply and demand for sex.
The people that argue against the sex industry argue a women’s rights perspective as well. They state that the right for women in society to not be degraded and objectified, or made to look cheap, overrules a person’s right to exercise freedoms that encourage said degradation. Women and men on this side of the issue feel that the concept of “sexual freedom” is being abused and is further separating men and women as equals. The glamorization of cheap sex gives men and boys the idea that if so many women in pornography, on the streets, or in brothels can be bought, that all women can be bought and are not to be seen as much more than an object or a tool used for pure carnal satisfaction.
The challenge here is to define the rights women have sexually and finding a balance between putting limits on sexual freedom and discouraging the abuse of that freedom at the price of the dignity of women, as well as protecting people from the byproducts of the sex industry.