Red light district

Decriminalising Britain’s £4bn sex industry would increase protection of women

Summary:

New evidence from international sex surveys show large and continuing differences between male and female perspectives on sexuality in all cultures. Male sexual desire is manifested at least twice as often as female desire, and men would like to have sex twice as often as women. This gap in sexual desire between men and women is growing over time and cannot be dismissed as an out-dated patriarchal myth as argued by some feminists.

The sexual deficit among (heterosexual) men helps to explain many puzzles, including why men are the principal customers for commercial sexual entertainments of all kinds. It is no surprise that sex workers (male and female) cater to men almost exclusively. Male demand for sex invariably outstrips female demand.

Demand for commercial sex is therefore inevitable and the sex industry is likely to continue to flourish in the 21st century. Not only does male demand for sexual activity greatly outstrip non-commercial female supply, but economic growth, globalisation and the Internet facilitate access to the world’s oldest profession.

Several factors suggest that the male sex deficit will not disappear, and might even grow in the 21st century. Women’s increasing economic independence allows them to withdraw from sexual markets and relationships that they perceive to offer unfair bargains, especially if they already have enough children or do not want any. Changes in national sex ratios towards a numerical surplus of men helps women to reset the rules in their own favour in developed societies.

A key objection to the sex industry is that it damages women and that the presence of porn, lap-dancing and prostitution in a country promotes rape and other violence against women. However, although there are too few rigorous studies to draw definitive conclusions, all the available evidence points in the direction of prostitution and erotic entertainments having no noxious psychological or social effects, and they may even help to reduce sexual crime rates.

In many countries, including Britain, it is perfectly legal to sell sexual services; however any third-party involvement is illegal. The aim is to prevent exploitation by pimps or madams. The effect is to criminalise the industry and brothels, to prevent girls working together in a flat for their mutual protection, to prevent anyone from lawfully supplying services to a sex worker or even rent a flat to them.

The commercial sex industry is impervious to prohibitions and cannot be eliminated. Countries that criminalise buyers (such as Sweden) simply push demand abroad to countries with a more sex-positive culture. Policies that criminalise sellers directly, or criminalise third parties who supply them with services, simply push the sex industry underground, increasing risks for sex workers. The sex industry is estimated to be worth over four billion pounds to the British economy. It should be completely decriminalised.

The paper featured in The TimesThe Independent, City AMThe Daily TelegraphThe Huffington PostThe Daily MailThe Metro, The Sun and The i. Discussing the paper’s key themes, Catherine appeared on Channel 4 News and LBC.

Catherine also wrote an IEA blog, Demand for sexual entertainments is ineradicable. We must decriminalise prostitution, which can be read here.

To read the press release, click here.

2015, Discussion Paper No.61

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