While all prostitutes share the act of selling sex for money as a defining element of their profession, the actual circumstances and nature of their work vary considerably. Today's prostitutes are far from a homogenous group. Some obtain clients from the stereotypical street corner, while others work in five star hotels and luxurious penthouse suites. Some offer primarily "vanilla" sex, some provide BDSM services, and some are experts in sacred and tantric sexual practices.
Given the huge discrepancy in working conditions, it seems only reasonable to acknowledge there are vastly differing experiences as well as explanations for the decision to engage in prostitution.
The athlete, the scientist, and the police officer mentioned above all share the luxury of having a choice in the first place. None of them is destitute or disadvantaged or otherwise limited in their capacity to choose. In fact, Suzy Favor Hamilton, Brooke Magnanti and Victoria Thorne seem to have invested considerably in their respective career choices, carefully crafting professional paths designed to optimize their level of satisfaction and fulfillment. Given the nature of these women's other life choices, it seems logical to assume their decision to become a prostitute more likely involved logical and practical considerations as well.
Most of us have been told that prostitutes suffer from low self-esteem. But the facts seem to point away from such popular stereotypes. Dr. Suzanne Jenkins' Keele University thesis, “Beyond Gender: An Examination of Exploitation in Sex Work” reports that 72% of escorts feel their self-esteem is higher because of their work. Jenkins’ study also shows that 72% of escorts like their work for the independence, 67% for meeting people and 93% for the money.
Many prostitutes who have spoken candidly about their choice to engage in the trade, have listed empowerment as a number one benefit. Some point to the added economic power. Others speak almost glowingly about the positive treatment accorded them by their clients. Freedom and a sense of adventure also seem to rank high, as does the opportunity to take more control over their interactions with men in general.
To be sure, these are not the sort of fringe benefits usually associated with prostitution. In fact, it flies completely in the face of what most of us "know," or think we "know," about prostitution.
While society certainly heaps denigration on prostitutes, is it possible that the actual act of exchanging sex for money isn't degrading for some prostitutes? Could it be that adults have the mental and emotional capacity to decide what type of sex they want to engage in, with whom and for what purpose? Might we also honor the right of adults to arrange for the exchange of goods or services or cash in exchange for sex? And if not, what is the rationale which drives our reluctance to do so?
Will society suffer if sex is allowed to become the province of individual preferences? Certainly we must enforce safeguards for minors, but when it comes to what happens between consenting adults, is it anyone else's business?