We fear what we don't understand and certainly as long as prostitution is framed by stereotypes and taboo, it invites some of our deepest fears. What if our daughters, our wives, or our mothers resort to prostitution? What if schoolteachers also worked as prostitutes? Wouldn't that erode the very fabric of society?
In fact, a school teacher was arrested for prostitution in 2003. Shannon Williams, a Berkeley high school teacher, was a media sensation after news of her arrest spread, spawning many philosophical discussions about the implications of a prostitute being allowed access to children. Melissa Petro was fired from her schoolteaching job because she admitted to being a call girl years before becoming a schoolteacher. The consensus seems to be that even former prostitutes pose some sort of threat to the safety and well-being of children. But are women who get paid for sex more dangerous than women who have sex for free?
Despite the abundance of sexual images (and perhaps even because of them) sexual shame drives our economy and infects our lives. It distorts our relationships and cripples our ability to experience ourselves as whole. Women, especially, are penalized by what is often referred to as the Whore/Madonna Complex - a syndrome that creates desire for a sexual partner who has been degraded (the whore) while making desire for the respected partner (the Madonna), taboo. Although the Whore/Madonna Complex may seem outdated, clinical psychologist, Uwe Hartmann, stated in 2009 that it "is still highly prevalent in today's patients".
Can we comprehend the price we pay when sexual shame predominates? Any culture or society which enforces a sexual double standard and refuses to accord half the population their sexual birthright, is a culture that cheats all of us.
Many anthropological studies have established that societies with a more permissive attitude toward female sexual behavior are in fact more peaceful societies. This is true for the Mosuo in China, and the Zapotec of La Paz, Mexico. It is also true of our closest non-human relative, the bonobo. Yet the sexual double standard persists in the dominant world culture.
Over the years, many women with impressive professional careers have confessed to me their secret fantasies about working as a high priced escort. And in their eyes I have seen an all too familiar sadness that seems to communicate a desire so taboo and potentially dangerous it must never be spoken or acknowledged. Instead, it lives hidden deep in the hearts and psyches of women like a relic from our ancient past - a time long ago when women experienced their sexual power without apology.
The suppression of our sexual wholeness leads to all sorts of dysfunction including depression, anxiety and rage. It fuels the war between the sexes and the resulting animosity and mistrust feed into our violent responses to life's frustrations and challenges. Ultimately, a negative and controlling approach to sexuality in general and women's sexual autonomy in particular, contributes to the desecration of our planet and our ability to survive through the raping of the environment and the many wars which have plagued the human species for milennia.