Emily Bazelon and Josh Levin take readers' questions about prostitution.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
March 13 2008 4:57 PM

Sex Sells

Emily Bazelon and Josh Levin take readers' questions about prostitution.

Read more of Slate's coverage of the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal.

Slateeditors Emily Bazelon and Josh Levin were online at Washingtonpost.com on Thursday, March 13, to chat with readers about prostitution—the laws against it, the workings behind it, and the marketing of it—in the wake of the Eliot Spitzer scandal. An unedited transcript of the chat follows.

Josh Levin: Josh Levin here. Ready to answer some questions.

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Washington: When one books a hooker for two hours, what goes on other than sex? Seriously—is there foreplay, conversation? I am trying to rid my mind of the image of Spitzer naked, in bed.

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Josh Levin: There's a great piece on Slate now by the sociology professor Sudhir Venkatesh, who has done a lot of research on the sex trade in New York City. (No, not that kind of research.) He reports that 40 percent of the sex transactions in NYC don't go beyond kissing. A lot of guys just want someone to talk to, it seems. As Venkatesh writes, if you're paying $4,300, "That's one helluva conversation."

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Savage, Md.: If we could get past the hypocrisy about sex, would it not be a good idea to establish government- or state-regulated brothels so as to better protect the health and well-being of both buyers and sellers?

Emily Bazelon: Maybe yes, but maybe no. In Amsterdam, where brothers are legal, the red-light district is reportedly seedy and full of pickpockets. (Disclaimer: There's going to be lots of second-hand reporting in this chat.) The Dutch aren't shutting it down, but they've added restrictions. One question I have is about how widespread legalization and regulation would have to be to change the working conditions for prostitutes. If you legalize in one place (like Nevada) then doesn't everyone go there and turn it into a mess. Whereas if prostitution is legal throughout an entire country, or part of the world, wouldn't the ramifications be different, potentially?

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Greencastle, Ind.: Wasn't it noted behavioral expert Charlie Sheen who once said he didn't pay women for sex, he paid women to leave?

Josh Levin: A classic quote from one of American's leading thinkers. I bet Eliot Spitzer is hoping his public image will one day rise to the level of Mr. Sheen, or better yet Hugh Grant.

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Garland, Texas: According to Ms. MacKinnon, women always are victims because men are preditors. Men always force or lure women to having sex. I am sure she thinks that it is always men who are charged with indecent exposure. I wonder what she thinks of women who wear skinny clothes, which should be considered undergarments. How about see-through cloth without any undergarment? In my opinion, women lure men as well. Needless to say, prostitutes lure clients (men/women) all the time. This is their business. So, how is it fair for her to say that women always are victims and men always are preditors.

Emily Bazelon: I don't think that's a fair rendering of MacKinnon's views. Yes, she emphasizes the role that men play in buying porn and buying sex. And she uses strong words, like that women are being sold, to make you think about acts we often gloss over. But calling men to account, even harshly, isn't the same as condemning women for wearing revealing clothing. Yes, MacKinnon stresses that men are often predators, and she exhorts women to watch out, but it's not quite as black and white as you portray.

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Claverack, N.Y.: The New York State GOP is trumpeting a new line: All Democrats must give back money donated to them by Spitzer, because it's ... er ... "tainted." Really? It's not like he's giving people money the prostitutes have touched themselves personally. If Spitzer had done something fundamentally corrupt rather than work-a-day lechery—yeah, okay, I could see that. But can anyone make a case that this taints every dollar of the Spitzer fortune, retroactively?

Emily Bazelon: I agree, that seems like the classic overplaying of a political hand. It's a testament to how tainted Spitzer's brand is, but that's got nothing to do with his money.

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Washington: Are there any "organizations" that employ older women? Probably not. Do these places exist to fulfill fantasies for men who never got the girl in high school, and now are making up for lost time?

Josh Levin: I'm not familiar with any agencies that specialize in older women, but when it comes to the sex trade there's generally something for everyone on the World Wide Web. Your take seems spot-on based on the Emperors' Club website, though. All of the women are described as being in their early 20s, fresh-faced, full of youthful brio, etc.