The Red-Light District

Exploring the carnal and taboo

Let's Legalize It

It's a healthy decision to legalize prostitution.

By the time I hit my late twenties, I was apathetic. The novelty of and all the freedoms that came along with being a young adult didn't mean much to me anymore. I grew tired of going out, attempting to date women and even watching movies or playing video games. Indifference and low-grade depression had become the status quo. Every day, I woke up and wondered what could possibly make this day different from the previous or even the next. Who really cared anyway? Even if I were to accomplish all that I wanted, would any of it mean much? I was still one person, with one person's problems, slowly drowning in a sea of anonymity.

After feeling dejected and disillusioned for a year, I fell in with a strange crowd: a group of men who completely understood my ennui. A group of nihilists who, like me, believed that nothing in life had any importance of value, but, unlike me, still enjoyed having a good time. For the first time in a long time, I felt invigorated. I found four other guys with whom to celebrate indifference. When nothing means anything, and morality is interpreted as little more than a contrived convention imposed by a society intent on controlling us, hedonism comes home to roost.

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Granted, none of us wanted to go to jail. We were smart when indulging our counter-culture ways. Sure we partied, but we did our best to keep our activities under the radar. (Some of us were more successful at keeping out of trouble than others of us were.)

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We maxed out our credit cards traveling to places that would offer us different opportunities to "celebrate": Amsterdam, Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica or wherever. As soon as we touched down, we were already working the cabbies for the local angle on "fun" activities.

After a couple of years, I moved away and left this clique of friends behind. At first, I was sad about leaving, but I soon realized it was probably for the best. I was changing and conventional morality was appealing to me once again. I saw my once-intractable belief that hedonism was a lifestyle served only as an excuse for bad behavior. Additionally, hard-living was taking its toll on me.

Today, I'm married with kids, and, in every way, I've become the staid family man. I do my best to model good behavior for my kids, and however hypocritical this may sound, I would discourage my boys from falling in with a group similar to the friends whom I once had. Nevertheless, permissive psychic vestiges from my time with my old friends still remain. Among them, I believe that, in the United States, prostitution should be legalized.

The legalization of prostitution is a quandary for many academics and lawmakers. There are no clear answers. Starting in the 1970s, it became en vogue for academics to argue for legalization. But in the early years of the new millenium, with a return to conservatism and a need for lawmakers to be "tough on crime," arguing for the legalization of prostitution fell out of favor.

Despite whatever moral stance you may take on the subject, solely from a public health perspective it makes good sense to legalize prostitution--a position supported by the World Health Organization. If prostitution were legalized, then the American government could develop programs that formally educate prostitutes about health risks and screen for sexually transmitted infections. Additionally, prostitutes could receive compulsory health checks in order to maintain a license to work. In Brazil, where prostitution is decriminalized and prostitutes receive government support, one study found that 100% of prostitutes who were interviewed used condoms and only 16.5% had ever contracted a sexually transmitted infection. Additionally, if prostitution were legalized, then prostitutes could freely solicit health care without fear of judgment or incrimination.

It should come as no surprise that prostitution is inherently dangerous. Prostitutes risk violence from both their pimps and their clients. But because of fear of punishment, prostitutes rarely approach law enforcement officials for help. If prostitution were legalized, then prostitutes would be free to enlist the protection of law enforcement. One study predicts that if prostitution were legalized in the United States, the rate of rape would decrease by 25% to 25,000 rapes each year.

We must remember that prostitutes are people, too. Even though they may have chosen a career that upsets some, it doesn't mean that they should be denied health benefits and protection by law enforcement. People who object to the legalization of prostitution on moral grounds forget that morality should also apply to the prostitutes themselves. In the end, it's important for people who are staunchly opposed to prostitution to remember that it may be okay to hate the crime but the criminal (prostitute) should be shown compassion. We must work hard to preserve the basic human rights of all people even if the only option allowing us to do so in part mandates the legalization of prostitution.

What do you think?

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Naveed Saleh, M.D., M.S., attained a medical degree from Wayne State University School of Medicine and a master's degree in science journalism from Texas A&M.

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