It has been argued elsewhere that the decriminalization or legalization of prostitution can do much to alter existing impressions about the industry, the women and to a lesser degree men, who labour in it and societies attitudes towards sex and gender. But the realignment of these attitudes can also lead to a greater shift in perceived notions of race.
The stigmatization of prostitution is based on moral judgments. Extramarital, sex for pleasure rather than reproduction is viewed as profligate[i]. This stigma however tends to rest on females involved and not the men who purchase this service. "A man who buys sex is viewed simply as a 'man' doing 'what men do' and therefore is nothing unique or interesting enough about his behavior to justify research…For this reason, paid sex is considered legitimate, even 'natural'[ii]" To some extent this is true, since the little evidence collected about men who pay for sex prove their motivations and attitudes are not significantly different from those who do not. The majority of men who paid for sex primarily did so because of issues dealing with self-esteem: such as shyness meeting women, insecurity about their physique; preference: desire more than one sex partner, enjoy control during sex, like women who are experienced and willing; and displeasure with conventional relationships: convenience over responsibility and little time for relationships[iii]. Prostitution for these men is the easiest means to satisfy their perceived inadequacies, sexual tastes and impressions on monogamy. The factors that contribute to the demand side of this equation cannot be legislated away, but a shift in public policy can alter the stigmas that effect women in the industry. If men are believed to want sex for particular reasons, outside of abject immorality, then the women performing sex can be considered in a different and positive light as offering an important and beneficial service. Legalization can contextualize prostitution as work and not merely as sin.
The present relationship between customer and provider in a criminalized environment upholds the existing stigma of sex and sex workers. If the provider is judged by society, the customer also carries these impressions into their dealings and this creates a power disadvantage. Women hold less leverage and control in this dichotomy. For the purchaser, this relationship is necessary to overcome the moral imperatives society places on their behaviour. Men who buy sex commonly have a low impression of the individual providing it; this is usually informed by racist, classist and sexist beliefs. These impressions allow the customer to feel superiority to the provider and absolution from the social expectations associated with their actions. Prostitutes, particularly with sex tourism, are believed to deserve this state and must carry the majority of the shame of this transaction. The divisions that are created through policy and social stigmatization change the dynamic that would not otherwise exist between two equals consenting to sex without pay[iv].
By changing the institutional and social implications of sex and sex workers, the possibility exists for a reassessment of notions on race, class and gender. Although it can be debated that legalization and decriminalization may not effectively alter any stigma, it can also be argued that giving sex workers legal rights and exposure in a new context as an entrepreneur and service provider, the inequalities that enter into relationships between clients and supplier could be eliminated and each can mutually benefit from an equal engagement[v].
[i] Giusta, Marina Della. Di Tommaso, Maria Laura. Strom, Steinar. Sex Markets a Denied Industry. Routledge: London New York. 2008. Pg. 8.
[ii] Ben-Israel, H. and Levenkron, N. (2005) The Missing Factor: Clients of Trafficked Women in Israel's Sex Industry. Unpublished manuscript, Hebrew University Jerusalem. Sited in, Giusta, Marina Della. Di Tommaso, Maria Laura. Strom, Steinar. Sex Markets a Denied Industry. Routledge: London New York. 2008. Pg. 10.
[iii] Giusta, Marina Della. Di Tommaso, Maria Laura. Strom, Steinar. Sex Markets a Denied Industry. Routledge: London New York. 2008. Pg. 46, table 3.
[iv] Giusta, Marina Della. Di Tommaso, Maria Laura. Strom, Steinar. Sex Markets a Denied Industry. Routledge: London New York. 2008. Pg. 12-13.
[v] For a more in-depth look at implications of race and gender in prostitution see Sherene Razack's Gendered Racial Violence and Spiritualized Justice, from Race, Space and the Law: Unmapping a White Settler Society. The piece goes deeper into the relationships between parties of prostitution and the racial dynamics involved in their dealings. It primarily deals with a violent segment of sex clients while the above piece is concerned with nonviolent solicitors, the difference between a violent transaction and a nonviolent one is tenuous in circumstances where race, culture and class are perceived to be in conflict and inequitable.