Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sex, the "profession" of prostitution, and philosophy

Among a group of acquaintances, primarily Indians, a discussion was started by one of us who was horrified at the actual social and physical conditions that exist in the world of prostitution in India (this is well documented in publicly accessible records but of course few of us like to think about such things).

Some others in our group defended the practice of prostitution on the grounds that there is nothing wrong with pleasure in exchange for money.

One used the term "oldest profession" in the discussion to provide a sort of historical legitimacy to prostitution.

Another responded to this with: "Its interesting how we have provided social acceptance to the term "the oldest profession". Is prostitution a profession? How many commercial sex workers do it because they enjoy it? (like people do in most other professions?)? Is it a profession to which we would happily send our wives and daughters?"

This prompted the following reflections from me, disconnected as they are:

A profession is an occupation, vocation or career governed by a self-regulatory body which enforces adherence to an ethical code of practice and supervises the communication of specialized knowledge of a subject, field, or science, usually through systematic training and acquisition of proficiency certified by some formal examination and the award of an appropriate qualification.

So it is clear that "sex work" is not a profession. Any expression such as "oldest profession" simply tries to disguise an unpalatable reality – in other words, such an expression is simply a lie.

This is not to make any comment on the question of pleasure. Sexuality is pleasurable, otherwise I am not sure whether its messy side would be indulged in.

In all cultures, sexuality is bounded by long-term mutual commitment on the part of those who consent. Prostitution (sex for money) provides the pleasure without the relationship. That is to say, the money exchange substitutes for the long-term relationship. In every society, there will always be people who will (at least for a period) resort to short cuts or the easy way in terms of providing pleasure for themselves without regard to the long-term consequences. But any such short-cut or easy way will always interfere with any existing or future long-term relationship.

I guess there is a sort of parallel in hiring a servant to look after a baby or an aged parent. That is different from looking after the baby or parent yourself. Naturally, some services can be bought. But the very process of buying the service distances you from the personal commitment (and therefore the relationship) involved. In other words, it changes the relationship.

No society believes that faithfulness (which is different from "possessiveness") is easy. That is why sexual pleasure is bounded by moral, social and psychological factors in every society, even in what is reputed to be the "free" West.

Of all the philosophies regarding sex, the most difficult of all is the philosophy of Jesus according to whom the ideal sexual relationship is one man and one woman for life, in which care and nurture and understanding each other provides a superior context for, as well as quality of, sexual pleasure. Naturally, in the historical gospel accounts regarding him, his teaching was not based on personal experience but on first principles going back to his understanding and teaching regarding the origin of the universe and of human beings.

However, the most difficult teaching of Jesus was at least one of the factors that, according to social historians, led to the rise of the West from being one of the poorest parts of the world to one of the richest.

It is also interesting that the teaching of Jesus instinctively finds resonance in societies such as ours (Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain....) in which there is no other basis for any teaching about one man-one woman in our own traditions, so that most middle-class Indians favour at least theoretically the notion of one man-one woman, even though all our great teachers and scriptures nowhere put forward such a notion. Hindu tradition is traditionally polygamous and polyandrous as can be seen in the Vedas, Puranas, and so on; Islam allows four wives and innumerable "temporary wives", Buddhism and Jainism have very little to say on the subject. The sexual antics of many of our great gurus are common knowledge but do not detract from their supposed "holiness" because, in our tradition, such gurus are "liberated" from the moral constraints that are supposed to apply to ordinary mortals. Sphere: Related Content

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