The oldest profession and sexually transmitted disease have gone hand in hand for centuries. Shaming sexually active women is old as time, as well. Do you think that by now we’d address the public health risks in a way that shows the evolution of our understanding and growing knowledge? Of course not. Prostitution and STDs are stigmatized interconnectedly, much like discussion around abortion devolves to slut shaming.
I have been a proponent of the regulation of prostitution for a very long time. I’m also against slut shaming. These two go together. Let’s break it down. In our society, men are thought to require sex constantly, a sexist notion that puts both cis genders at high risk for problems. When the women in these men’s lives refuse to give them sex, or the men are single, they go to someone who can service their needs. That part is often ignored, because boys will be boys. The prostitute is to blame, as is any wife in the equation.
Religions either teach that sex outside of marriage is filthy or that the act at all is filthy—unless in a marriage and for procreation. This dissonance leads to shame. Shame leads to hiding. Prostitution is an all but hidden fact of our world culture. The nature of it, several partners for the exchange of money, no questions and usually no condoms (until recent times, and even that inconsistent).
In committed relationships, most men don’t use condoms either. The condom has been around for centuries with varying degrees of effectiveness. The technology of today’s condom makes them pretty fool-proof protection against STDs and unwanted pregnancy, but they’re not perfect. In combination with education and proper health care, the condom has made STDs increasingly rare, but certainly not gone. In addition, the stigma of having sex or an STD remains. If a husband visits a prostitute and contracts an STD, he will transmit that to his wife because it is unlikely they use a condom. This is how middle class women from upwardly mobile families in committed marriages were getting diagnosed with AIDS. Dishonesty in relationships is part of hiding one’s sexuality.
Instead of keeping prostitution hidden, regulating the industry would not only minimize if not remove a number of public health risks that the women and men who do sex work suffer (domestic violence, rape, infection), but those benefits would be extended to the general public. Men and women who make use of such services would have far less fear of being harmed during a transaction (either being robbed, assaulted or infected). Sex workers, in addition, would only be those who chose the vocation. Too many young people are kidnapped or forced into prostitution as a means of survival. Regulation would prevent that and give sex workers greater autonomy.
A side benefit of such a change would be the lessening of the stigma around sex. This is a very serious public health risk. The doctrines of religion teach contradictory information in an effort to control the morality of the population. Not everyone is devout, wants to be devout, or knows better than they were taught. Many people are born into a faith and groomed to stay a part of it. This doesn’t mean that they have moral character, something that is born in the brain and can be developed further or stifled by the lessons of life. In fact, maps of the US show that the most pornography looked at in the United States is accessed from the deeply religious south.
Making sex taboo has forced many to engage in sexual activity in hiding. This reduces discourse on the topic, preventing adequate education. Children, without the benefit of a properly educated and mature parent, will never learn all they need to learn about maintaining sexual health, healthy relationships or their own bodies. Teen pregnancy increases with the reduction of education AND health services provided to that segment. Studies have proven that abstinence only education is a danger to society.
All of this said, slut shaming doesn’t even begin to address the issue. Women don’t infect themselves. There is a partner involved, from whom they contract the disease. Without services and education, people have no idea they’re sick. Or, if they do, they know they will be shunned. When this is the way you survive, you don’t make choices based on the welfare of others.
Historically, we’ve seen this born out, so why do we still tip-toe around sex talk in 2015?
Have a look at this article from the Smithsonian about World War II quarantines of prostitutes. The posters promote the “clean woman” morality to the culture. It expresses how the military and other institutions understood that men were making use of prostitutes to satisfy their needs, but places zero blame on these men, while simultaneously asking them to abstain.