Sex is not a fundamental human need. Prostitution is not a fundamental human need.

Early this year, Amnesty International UK (which seems like somewhat of a oxymoron) had one of their policy documents leaked. As it turns out, Amnesty International is considering making the legalization of prostitution part of their platform. This is of course a woman-hating position and isn’t based on anything resembling reality, especially given the gravity of human trafficking, rape and murder in prostitution.

But the most outrageous statement from the document, which elicited some response from the public, was the following:

As noted within Amnesty International’s policy on sex work, the organization is opposed to criminalization of all activities related to the purchase and sale of sex. Sexual desire and activity are a fundamental human need. To criminalize those who are unable or unwilling to fulfill that need through more traditionally recognized means and thus purchase sex, may amount to a violation of the right to privacy and undermine the rights to free expression and health.

One has to wonder a few things about this paragraph:

1. Are “all activities” related to prostitution to be decriminalized, such as human trafficking, pimping, rape and murder?

2. Is the right to privacy and the right to free expression of a john more important than the basic human rights of prostitutes and trafficked women?

3. Since when is prostitution not a “traditionally recognized means” of “fulfilling” sexual desire?

4. If sex was a fundamental human need, then wouldn’t women be obligated to provide it for men?

5. How is paying for sex an issue of privacy, expression or health? Whose privacy is invaded? Whose expression is curtailed? Whose health is risked?

These questions are all individually important and worthy of discussion (if only because they expose how utterly ridiculous the pro-prostitution position is). But to me the most egregious lie is the proposition that “sexual desire and activity are a fundamental human need.”

I have noticed that some men want to make women believe this horseshit. They seem not to rely on women having any sort of understanding of human biology or on any man calling them out on it. But I am calling them out on it.

Sexual desire and activity are not fundamental human needs. No man has ever died or been physically harmed from lack of sexual desire or activity. Not having sexual desire or activity is not in itself a health issue.

The high importance put on sexual desire and activity by society gives people, especially teenagers, the impression that they must have sex. This does create a need, but this is a constructed and highly unhealthy need. It is not “fundamental” in any sense.

When we think about “fundamental human needs,” we think about biological imperatives such as eating nutritious food, sleeping long enough, breathing clean air, having protective shelter. All these things imply social contact and support, so that’s part of it too. But “having sex” is not part of that list because it’s not a biological imperative; we like it because orgasms feel good, but hey, that’s why we masturbate, too.

You know what else feels really good? Taking cocaine. It triggers pleasurable parts of our brain, like orgasms. And I have nothing against people who use cocaine, any more than I object to people who have (consensual, egalitarian) sex. But I don’t think it’s a fundamental human need either.

You know what else is not a fundamental human need either? Prostitution.

This whole argument is really just a more well-written version of the old bromide that we need prostitutes to keep men happy and keep them from raping “respectable women.” When they’re talking about “traditionally recognized means,” they really mean “respectable women.” Prostitutes are inherently “not respectable.” That’s why their rights are irrelevant. All that’s relevant is the rights of the john.

Pro-prostitution rhetoric is woman-hating rhetoric, because any ideology which supports the exploitation and objectification of women is woman-hating rhetoric. Insofar as it states that prostitutes (who are human beings) must be means to some end (such as prostitutes existing to relieve men’s needs), it goes against the fundamental ethical principle that no human being may be treated as a means to an end, and therefore it must be rejected outright.

No stance on prostitution (no matter what side it comes from, and no matter who it comes from) should be taken seriously if it contradicts the fact that sex is not a fundamental human need. No ethical stance on any issue (no matter what important person said it or whether their stance is harmonious with your worldview) should be taken seriously if it contradicts the fundamental ethical principle of not treating human beings as means to an end.

Don’t treat human beings as means to an end.
Not: “Don’t treat human beings as means to an end unless it fulfills a fundamental human need.”
Not: “Don’t treat human beings as means to an end unless the end is good (as decided by you).”
Not: “Don’t treat human beings as means to an end unless they voluntarily chose to be treated that way, then it’s okay.”
Not: “Don’t treat human beings as means to an end unless (it is commonly believed that) they’re inferior to you.”

19 thoughts on “Sex is not a fundamental human need. Prostitution is not a fundamental human need.

  1. Cann Abyss June 26, 2014 at 03:08 Reply

    Prostitution is the oldest profession known to man. It’s not going anywhere. Who are you to tell a woman not to be a prostitute, or that being a prostitute is a woman-hating career? If a man has to shell out cash to get someone to sleep with him, why do you care?

    Personally I’d rather masturbate than spend $50+ to sleep with a stranger.

    Where’s your article claiming porn to be anti-women as well?

    What would you rather these women do? It’s not like they can afford to take out tens of thousands in student loans just for a CHANCE to work a better job.

  2. Adam June 30, 2014 at 12:31 Reply

    “1. Are “all activities” related to prostitution to be decriminalized, such as human trafficking, pimping, rape and murder?”

    The whole point of decriminalization is so that prostitution can be regulated. A sex worker with worker’s rights can have a man jailed if he hits or rapes her, and she will be protected from STDs as well.

    “2. Is the right to privacy and the right to free expression of a john more important than the basic human rights of prostitutes and trafficked women?”

    Again, human trafficking is largely the result of an illegal and unregulated market.

    “4. If sex was a fundamental human need, then wouldn’t women be obligated to provide it for men?”

    I’m sorry, but this is just lazy. Shelter is a human need but I’m not obligated to let you stay the night in my house. Prostitution is a viable solution to someone’s needs because the woman is not being coerced but is in fact profiting. In a regulated market, the women will not be having sex against their will. No obligation is necessary. Sure, everyone does a job they don’t like sometimes. I suppose you think there is some magical property about a vaginas that separates sex work from any other job.

    “5. How is paying for sex an issue of privacy, expression or health? Whose privacy is invaded? Whose expression is curtailed? Whose health is risked?”

    Whose privacy is invaded? How about the sex workers who have decided they want to sell sex? You don’t really think every prostitute is doing it against her will, right?

    Whose health is risked? Everyone involved, since a black market is not sufficient to provide STD testing, protection and basic worker’s rights.

    Your biggest error is that you consistently conflate any kind of prostitution with human trafficking. These are not the same thing.

    • Francois Tremblay June 30, 2014 at 13:03 Reply

      “The whole point of decriminalization is so that prostitution can be regulated. A sex worker with worker’s rights can have a man jailed if he hits or rapes her, and she will be protected from STDs as well.”
      So the answer, then, is “no”?

      “Again, human trafficking is largely the result of an illegal and unregulated market.”
      That had nothing at all to do with the question. You’re evading.

      “I’m sorry, but this is just lazy. Shelter is a human need but I’m not obligated to let you stay the night in my house.”
      You’re straw manning. I never said that you specifically had to provide the fundamental need. You made it about a personal obligation when it’s really a social duty.

      “Prostitution is a viable solution to someone’s needs because the woman is not being coerced but is in fact profiting. In a regulated market, the women will not be having sex against their will.”
      Not sure if you’re just ignorant or plain stupid, but fucking inform yourself:
      http://feministcurrent.com/7038/new-research-shows-violence-decreases-under-nordic-model-why-the-radio-silence/

      “I suppose you think there is some magical property about a vaginas that separates sex work from any other job.”
      I suppose you think you’re fucking funny, asshole.

      “Whose privacy is invaded? How about the sex workers who have decided they want to sell sex? You don’t really think every prostitute is doing it against her will, right?”
      Straw men sure are hilarious. I never said that, you asinine dudebro.

      “Whose health is risked? Everyone involved, since a black market is not sufficient to provide STD testing, protection and basic worker’s rights.”
      Then why does the pornography industry, not a fucking black market, not provide basic STD protection, you asshole?

      “Your biggest error is that you consistently conflate any kind of prostitution with human trafficking. These are not the same thing.”
      What the fuck are you going on about. I never conflated the two, in fact I kept them quite separate, which is the opposite of conflating, you illiterate baboon.

  3. elchegar June 30, 2014 at 13:52 Reply

    I’m against prostitution because I think it’s bad for society. Also, personally, I find it degrading, for both men and women. These days, those most ardent defenders of prostitution seem to be libertarians. This is one of the reasons I think Libertarianism is a perverse ideology, which serves as an excuse for vice for unwholesome people in the name of freedom.

  4. Heretic June 30, 2014 at 17:42 Reply

    Re: to Adam’s nonsense:

    “1. The whole point of decriminalization is so that prostitution can be regulated. A sex worker with worker’s rights can have a man jailed if he hits or rapes her, and she will be protected from STDs as well.”

    Do you not know that decriminalization and legalization are two different issues? Most prostituted women agree with radfems that they need decriminalization, except that radfems go a step farther and support the Nordic model to target the johns and decrease the demand. And many prostituted women are explicitly against legalization because the state has no right to regulate women’s bodies! That is precisely the argument radfems make when they say sex should not be “work.” To say nothing of the double standard where there are no background checks and STD testing on the johns. Or the fact that johns still pay higher amounts for unprotected sex.

    If you stopped thinking with your dick and pretending that you could speak for the numerous voices of exited women and the studies made on prostituted women, maybe you’d understand that.

    “2. Again, human trafficking is largely the result of an illegal and unregulated market.”

    Trafficking has a positive correlation with an increase in demand. When there are not enough “willing” native women, women are trafficked to meet the demand. Hence, under the Nordic model, decreasing the demand decreases trafficking.

    “4. I’m sorry, but this is just lazy. Shelter is a human need but I’m not obligated to let you stay the night in my house. Prostitution is a viable solution to someone’s needs because the woman is not being coerced but is in fact profiting. In a regulated market, the women will not be having sex against their will. No obligation is necessary. Sure, everyone does a job they don’t like sometimes. I suppose you think there is some magical property about a vaginas that separates sex work from any other job.”

    You DO know needing money to survive is not a sexual orientation or indicative of sexual attraction, right?

    Also, yes, supporting “sex work” IS making sex into a contract, which means that when johns pay then the prostituted women must provide sex for them whether they want to or not! Same for the spontaneous, painful acts brought up on porn sets. It’s just explicit and one step farther than the usual, implicit transactional model of sex men try to pressure women into often (that when men spend money on women, they are obliged to provide sex in return).

  5. […] Sex is not a human need. Prostitution is not a fundamental human need. […]

  6. […] articolo (QUI l’originale) che ho tradotto ci fa pensare che forse la lobby del commercio di sesso è più […]

  7. Alex Gramson October 9, 2015 at 21:34 Reply

    I’m not convinced by your arguments against the legalization of prostitution.

    First, the only ethical principal I follow is based on benefit and harm. Harming others is undesirable, and therefore unethical. So sex trafficking, pimping and rape are unethical, but not necessarily prostitution. All kinds of people can decide to do sex work of their own free will, and denying them that right is placing unfair restriction on their freedom. And arguably their sexuality and bodies as well. Sex work can, and in many cases is, ethical–just taboo.

    Also keep in mind that criminalizing all prostitution doesn’t help prostitutes who are the victims of those truly harmful practices which are unethical. Only the harmful practices need be criminalized and focused on for maximum results.

    Second, you seem to misunderstand the concept of fundamental human needs. In fact, a human may have all strictly biological needs met, and still not have all needs met. Fundamental human needs include the need for intangible or social things such as understanding, leisure, and most relevantly, affection. This is according to the Human Needs and Human-scale Development model, developed by Manfred Max-Neef and others.

    All of that said, I think you may be aware of these things. I’m mostly playing devil’s advocate in my criticism here. I admire and agree with your overall stance on this, and capitalism as well.

    • Alex Gramson October 9, 2015 at 21:46 Reply

      (I take even the slightest vestige of hostility back after reading your mission statement. I couldn’t agree with your ideals more; they coincide with my own ideas almost perfectly. I feel bad for jumping into a critique.)

    • Francois Tremblay October 10, 2015 at 00:31 Reply

      I read your reply, so all is taken in total respect. That being said, I would like you to read my entries on “free will” and “agency” before we continue this conversation. If that’s gonna be your argument, then we might as well engage on that basis.

      As for criminalization, that is not my position. My position is that I support the Nordic Model, which criminalizes johns and pimps but decriminalizes prostituted women and supports the women who wish to leave prostitution and integrate the workforce (no, “sex work” doesn’t count because it’s not “work”).

      I agree with you that we have human needs for understanding, leisure and affection. No disagreement there. By “fundamental” I’m referring to those needs which must be inscribed into human rights because they are necessary for human survival and basic well-being.

  8. unabashedcalabash October 14, 2015 at 11:19 Reply

    I feel like the position of Alex and other seemingly intelligent and well-meaning people comes from ignorance and a certain brand of knee-jerk liberalism.

    Although, as a woman, I’ve always known there was something fundamentally wrong with prostitution (I knew many formerly abused girls went into it, that many started very young, that it made me feel uneasy about my place in the world as a woman, that so many became addicted to drugs and went through heartbreak); nevertheless, I was brainwashed by liberal feminism like most of my generation (I’m among the first of the millennials), which, in combination with my old-school forced feminization as a rebellious adolescent really did a number on me…it’s amazing how people will do all sorts of things that are bad for them (that secretly they know perfectly well as self-destructive and that’s why they’re doing them) and feel buoyed and justified by a dominant movement that says self-exploitation is empowering, performing for men is fun, and your body is not only not a temple but not worthy of much protection at all…

    So, despite knowing instinctively the harms of prostitution (which I’d felt as a child the moment I learned what it was), I parroted the rhetoric of sex-positive, “choice” feminism and felt that at least (some) prostitution was chosen and good (and didn’t take into account its contribution to the world-wide oppressive system of prostitution as a whole), some johns were nice and respectful and just lonely and needy, and sometimes “sex work” could be therapeutic; and while as a writer and therefore a student of complexity (and ambiguity) I know such people exist, the harms they would suffer if the Nordic model were adopted (going on the down-low, the john maybe deciding it’s not worth it, the prostitute possibly having to look for another way to make money) don’t outweigh the very real harms visited upon the exploited and violated in prostitution, by the abusers; and legalizing prostitution even in one location only, say (New Zealand for example, not the perfect model of legalized prostitution people claim) still means innocent victims will be caught in the cycle of abuse, including trafficked woman. It’s just very difficult to try to distinguish between when a woman is truly doing it of her own free will and when she’s not, particularly when it’s a matter of survival; furthermore if the action of buying the right to violate another’s bodily integrity and sexual identity with money is in itself abusive it should be condemned even if the person wants to sell it (just as we condemn the idea of sweatshops, nominally, workers selling their hard labor for a dollar a day to survive, even if “consensual,” or poor people who desire to sell an organ, for another example).

    In any case, it seems to me a lack of research. I began doing research because of a book I’m writing (a fictional story), and was appalled at what I found and even more appalled by the fact that these facts, which are plain as day, are so obfuscated, misrepresented and covered up by the sex industry lobby, which has all but taken over the conversation. Why aren’t there more people out there unapologetically posting stats about the incidence of PTSD in women in global prostitution, the colonial abuse of women in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the average age of women when they begin in prostitution, the amount of violence they face, the (self-described) attitudes of johns, the (money-driven) confessions of pimps, the inextricable nature of sex and trafficking and prostitution (in fact, they are usually nearly identical, except that prostituted women are turned out locally and not “trafficked’ across state or international lines; prostituted women and trafficked women often work in the same brothels and experience the same conditions, but one is somehow okay because it’s “chosen”?), the fact the the demand for prostitution fuels the enormous sex trafficking industry and that legalizing demand causes it to skyrocket, as well as greatly increasing organized crime, the lowered prices, higher competition (from the masses of trafficked women) and increasingly abusive and dangerous demands of johns when prostitution is legalized (the “McBrothels” of Germany), how coercion whether in the form of trafficking or pimping is hidden under legalization, the rights of johns and pimps to argue against a prostituted woman’s version of events under legalization, the obvious lack of any greater safety for women under legalization and in fact an increase in the dangerous demands and the violence to the most vulnerable women, and on and on and on…these are facts, well-documented and well-researched. Even just one sex slave, kidnapped, taken from home, and forced into a life of being a rape slave, is one too many to justify the prostitution industry; we’re talking millions of women and children (and some men). Even just one woman raped, murdered, or left with PTSD from routine acts of prostitution which require mental dissociation to survive them is one woman too many. We’re talking anywhere from 70-80 percent rates of PTSD of the world’s most vulnerable prostituted women (which is most of them), depending on the study. Where is the justification for this monstrosity?

    The simplest research led me to this. There is no refuting it. Nor is there refuting how the Nordic model, while admittedly imperfect, is the only model which has halved prostitution where it’s been instituted (providing women with exiting strategies for reintegration into society and johns with disincentives to patronize prostitutes), but it’s also the only model in which the prostitute’s story is never in question, and thus the only model in which she has full rights to report a crime (as a crime has been committed just by being with her, while she’s guilty of no wrongdoing herself); under full decrim all any john has to say is “I paid for it” and “it was consensual” and “it was part of the act,” and how are we to ever disprove it? Next rape, even if proven, is “theft of services,” and if the prostituted woman leaves with the money without performing (or perhaps having accepted the money changes her mind about what acts she’ll perform, feeling uncomfortable with her client) she’s stealing and according to some he’s within his rights to kill her (this actually happened in Texas; a man was acquitted for shooting and killing an escort because of a “theft by night” law, after she tried to leave with his payment without having sex with him; of course, she was under control by her pimp, who was impatient in the parking lot, and she may have not been trying to leave at all but simply to talk to him, worried he’d beat her afterward).

    The whole idea is madness. Something that’s trafficking at age seventeen doesn’t magically become consensual at age eighteen. Something that’s trafficking when women are tricked and carried across state lines doesn’t magically become consensual when women are tricked and turned out in the city or town they were born in. The idea of regulation is a laughable fiction, when it’s so difficult to tell trafficking victims from your average prostituted woman, as they, like the average prostituted women, are also brainwashed by their pimps, and as many have their families threatened and won’t talk. There’s also rampant corruption to contend with in all governments (it’s a pipe dream to eradicate that factor) as well as the inevitability of rape in prostitution, as many men go to prostitutes in order to abuse them (why else are they raped more than any other class of women, when sex with them might be relatively cheap, or other women could also be raped?), and can merely argue they paid for the right to do so and no rape took place. Murder will still happen disproportionately too, again because of the charming clientele of prostitutes; johns will not suddenly change into nice people when it’s legalized. Non-prostituted women are not believed by police and their rapes and murders not investigated, so why do people believe the crimes against prostituted women would be? Do they advocate making prostituted women a special class that is more, not less, protected against rape and murder, because they want so badly to maintain this class of women for entitled men to stick their dicks in (why not advocate for a world without rape and murder of all women, first)? There’s also the fact that competition from the women trafficked to meet increased demand forces all prostituted women–trafficked or otherwise–into ever more dangerous and depraved acts for lower prices in worse conditions (the disgusting “brothel menus” of Germany). There’s also the fact that yes, something as egregious as rape would be considered theft of services under this idea, and women could get in trouble for changing their mind about acts they’ve contractually agreed to perform; they would not have autonomy to decide to say no to something already paid for and agreed-upon when the john has equal rights as a client (not without returning the money, at least), and if they did so–and returned the money–they would risk losing their jobs (this happens all the time in Germany, Amsterdam and New Zealand, supposedly bastions of “enlightenment” compared to say, Thailand; even women who “choose” to be sex workers have no choice, at the brothels they work, not if they want to keep their jobs; even if they’re told they do, if they say no they’re out on the street, at least as reported by the women themselves).

    Add to all this obviously the fact that there is no choice at all when it comes to poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, and psychological coercion; no true choice. There is no excusing abuse because someone agreed to it, regardless of circumstance (even if they agreed to it enthusiastically; this is why I am against BDSM too; by this logic it should be perfectly fine to kill someone if they ask you to).

    Do any of these pro-decriminalization/legalization supporters do any actual research? I gathered all of that from reading a few books and dozens of online articles. It also quickly became clear that the most privileged voices, heavily involved with the multi-billion dollar sex industry and lost in their own self-righteous choice rhetoric, wanted to paint their own relatively privileged, entitled, and politicized experience of “sex work” as the same as that of women all over the world who might not have access to the internet, know how to address the issues, or (more importantly) would prefer to keep silent because of the deep, abiding shame of being prostituted when one doesn’t “choose” it. And that’s most of the world’s women, as so many studies have proven (as well as being common sense considering the impoverishment and subjugation of the majority of the world’s women).

    Not to mention all the pimps, johns, traffickers and capitalists who support the sex industry, whose voices cannot be trusted because of their vested interest.

    I simply don’t believe these “reasonable” people. I believe they must have read the same studies as I have, seen the same statistics. This is willful blindness and it’s coming from some ideological place I don’t understand (unwillingness to give up entitlement for men, and unwillingness to admit male entitlement and lack of agency for fun-fem women?).

    Anyway I know this was a long comment but…this issue really gets to me. And quite obviously, too, as women’s oppression revolves around control of our sexuality, and prostitution is the flip side of the marriage contract, legalizing prostitution sends a message that it’s okay to commodify women’s sexuality, that women aren’t really people, and that women are most useful (and productive, even work-wise) when serving men sexually; it sends a message that this is a good thing; it means any woman could become a prostitute, if suddenly her circumstances change, or maybe she can just choose this soulless exchange of her body, for money, that most important of all Western goals…it sets back the whole cause of women’s equality and is an implicit threat to all women (most of whom will never by into the hype and don’t want to become prostitutes and sleep with repulsive, abusive men, although it’s somehow okay for and the “choice” of other women): this could be you. Just a spell of bad luck, another downturn of the economy, and this could happen to you. And everyone else would defend it in the name of your “right” to prostitute out of desperation, when really they are defending the john who abuses you and the “manager” who takes your money.

    I just don’t understand people who pretend not to see this as the human rights abuse that it is. They seem really disingenuous to me. What is their stake in it? Why are they defending an institution as harmless when it flies in the face of all the facts? (This goes for Amnesty too).

    • Francois Tremblay October 14, 2015 at 16:36 Reply

      This is a great comment. It would be a shame to just leave it here. Do you mind if I publish it? With attribution, of course.

      Also, you should see the morons posting under my latest entry on pornography and prostitution. It’s a doozy.

      • unabashedcalabash October 15, 2015 at 12:04 Reply

        Oh, I’m glad you like it! I thought it was kind of rambling and a little repetitive. This issue really sticks in my craw, though. I mean, so do a lot of others and maybe it’s just the research I’ve been doing recently…but I also think it’s because I’m a woman, and also because people defending this shite are co-opting feminist language in order to do so and pretending it’s for the benefit of women and progressive to be pro-legalization. That’s like saying it’s good for poor people to be poor, or something…they just need to be empowered to be poor and starving! Take charge of their suffering, be in control of their suffering so they can go to the police when the rich inflict it on them! Even though, in this scenario, the rich is also given the go-ahead to inflict, and the kind of routine suffering he inflicts is not called suffering at all…I just…I dunno…at least Objectivists and others who privilege brutal selfishness and champion superiority are honest.

        Anyway, do you want me to clean it up a bit? It’s kind of messy like this, I could make it more entry-like.

        • Francois Tremblay October 15, 2015 at 18:36 Reply

          Yea sure, or you could post it on your blog if you prefer (I didn’t know you had a blog before you mentioned it). Whichever.

          • unabashedcalabash October 15, 2015 at 19:51 Reply

            Oh, I don’t think my blog’s the right place for it. I just started it and don’t know how to get traffic, haven’t posted in a while (pretty much since starting it), plus it’s a travel/literary blog so…I’ll edit this comment slightly and send it to you.

      • unabashedcalabash October 15, 2015 at 12:07 Reply

        Oh, I replied to the morons, by the way…really strange to see someone pro-pornography but anti-prostitution. And calling pornography “fantasy” is the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time.

  9. unabashedcalabash October 14, 2015 at 11:30 Reply

    I know that was long and repetitive but…this issue just makes me so mad. It’s something where the lies are so out in the open and the massive scale of the injustice so unimaginable that it’s rendered invisible.

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