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Sexual autonomy, prostitution, and the law

Prostitution is a morally loaded word. More than just sex for money, it implies something debased, dishonourable, corrupt. But there is something puzzling about the wrong, if any, of prostitution. Intuition suggests there is something peculiar about sex that distinguishes prostitution from other bodily services. However, if we discount out-dated prejudice about promiscuity, it remains mysterious why adding money to sex should change the permissibility of the act. The current debate broadly falls into three camps: 1) Qualms about prostitution are based on mere social prejudice about sex; 2) Sex has a special value which is debased or degraded when exchanged for money; 3) Prostitution perpetuates skewed power relations that feed into wider gender inequalities. Too often these stances respectively ignore relevant points of disanalogy between sex and other bodily activities; rely on undefended essentialist views about the value of sex and how it is debased or destroyed; or focus too heavily on contingent empirical and sociological evidence, without analysing the nature of the activity itself. This thesis takes a step back, analysing the nature of sex and money to identify what sets prostitution apart from other bodily services. I suggest prostitution blurs the boundaries between a personal service and an exchange of the body as property. This raises the question to what extent individuals can willingly surrender powers over their body to others, as one might do with a piece of property. Should a liberal state allow individuals to freely transact with their bodies in this way or not? Closer examination of these puzzles serves to shed light on the tension inherent in prostitution and helps to clarify key notions in the debate, including the concept of sexual autonomy, the objectification and commodification of bodies, and the relevance of the particular risk of harm inherent in the activity.
Date January 2015
CreatorsCarnegy-Arbuthnott, H. M.
PublisherUniversity College London (University of London)
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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