Recently the media in our province did, if you will pardon the pun, an “expose” on the colloquial massage parlours. These are not the offices and suites of Registered Massage Therapists. We’re talking about rub ‘n’ tug establishments here. Whorehouses. Brothels.
Here’s the deal – the province’s largest city (Saskatoon) has opted to license and regulate “adult entertainment services”. This means that massage parlours (brothels) must acquire a business license from the city in order to operate. It also means that the individuals working in these establishments must be licensed as service providers.
In Regina, the provincial capital, there is a bylaw that “massage parlours” can only operate in the industrial areas of town. That’s it. That’s all that’s said about them – except for the weird thing about being 110 metres away from a bowling alley, because what else do you do on a Saturday night but go bowl a few frames and then hit your local rub ‘n’ tug for a perfect cap to the evening.
So the public debate has begun about whether it’s okay for the law to “turn a blind eye” to what goes on in these establishments, and whether Saskatoon is right in licensing and regulating brothels or whether Regina is more correct in simply stating that if you’re going to ask someone with whom you are not romantically entagled to put their hand(s) on your genitals in exchange for money, you have to do that near the Refinery. I cannot believe that was just one sentence. There have been debates and talk shows and articles in the paper and a great deal of, as my friend @JasonDFedorchuk would say, “pearl-clutching” (which is, I must say with full props to Jason, probably the very best backhandedly-snarky description of the kind of gut reaction we get in Saskatchewan whenever someone mentiones any sort of change. Just picture all of us – every single Saskatchewanian, sitting in our dining rooms, clutching our pearls and saying things like “well I NEVER” and gasping loudly).
So we’re dealing with two issues, really:
- What to do about the sex trade
- Where to put the sex trade
Both of these questions seem pretty easy to answer, in my never humble opinion:
- Legalise and regulate it
- With any other business
[cue the pearl-clutching]
Look. Everything is a commodity. Everything. Food, shelter, clothing, romance, sex, drugs, culture, art, water…about the only thing that *isn’t* commodified is air…oh wait. Yes it is, at service stations sometimes you have to pay to use the air compressor. If you don’t pay for goods, you pay for services. If you pay for neither, you live in the sort of world of which I am quite jealous, and in which I’m not sure I could thrive. But it’s true.
If you *really* want to be cynical (and I know you do), the argument can be made that every interaction is a kind of transaction – the trade in information, the trade in sound, the trade in non-verbal communication. While much of those sorts of interactions are not commodified, some are (do you pay for long distance service on your telephone? Do you pay for internet access? Then your *interactive transactions* are being commodified – you pay for the service of communication). We don’t feel any moral indignation over buying kumquats from our local kumquattery, and we certainly don’t feel any moral indignation over paying for a spa treatment, so what’s the big outburst of moral indignation at the idea of selling sex?
Well, the church (on which our legal codes were established) taught us that sex is bad and dirty and wrong. I mean, *wanting* to commit sex is right up there with murder and theft when it comes to the ten commandments of things you Really Ought Not Do. I don’t want to get in to a debate about the rightness or wrongness of religion, so I won’t. The fact remains that the written codified laws of most of western society were established based on the common law, which was heavily influenced by the church’s teachings of morality and of right and wrong.
The sex trade has been vilified for hundreds of years, and it’s really difficult to change our minds on that, and it’s really difficult to get these horses going in a new direction. But hey, we can hold each other’s hands and bravely go forward together. I’ll be right here with you.
There shold be nothing morally objectionable about sex. Therefore, there should be nothing morally objectionable about commodifying sex. As long as the choice is yours to offer sex as a service, you should have the right and the privielge to do so however you see fit, providing you do not harm others. [Insert argument here about people who are married stepping out on their spouses and exposing people to disease, etc.. See ‘providing you do not harm others’. Also, with a licensed and regulated sex trade, sex workers would have better access to things like health care, and benefits like every other employee in Canada.]
If you legalise and regulate the sex trade, you can also tax it. Consider it a ‘sin tax’ if you’d like (which completely countermands my argument about sex not being a sin, but whatever).
Question two – where to put it? Any damned where you please. [cue the “dear Glob won’t someone please think of the CHILDREN” argument.]
This argument always confounds me. Do people really think that if children know what goes on behind the bedroom door, they will be irrevocably broken? Do you think that seeing a prostitute is going to make your children decide to become prostitutes? Do you think that brothels automatically attract rapists and murderers and drug dealers and all of the other criminals?
There you go, vilifying sex again. Listen, the claim that only criminals have sex is pretty ridiculous. The claim that only criminals want to pay for sex is only an accurate claim because we have made buying sex services illegal. That right there is what we call circular logic. If something is only illegal because doing it is illegal, then only criminals will do it.
If you legalise and regulate the profession, then you get to set bylaws and policies which outline things like safety, cleanliness, health codes, etc.. Sure, don’t put a brothel in a high school or across the street from a daycare, because by and large, schools are built in residential zones anyway. Keep commercial endeavours in commercially-zoned areas, and we’ll all be good.
We good now? We’re good.