Penn and Teller on legalized hooking

The other night I watched a couple of episodes of “Penn & Teller: Bullshit!” on Showtime. The first one was about gays in Boy Scouts, and made a darn good point: that as long as the Scouts get to use publicly funded buildings, they can’t discriminate the way a private organization can. They’re having it both ways, and that’s not right. Good episode.

But the second episode was a different story. It was on the benefits of legalized prostitution, and it missed a key point – maybe because they were too busy going for the sex factor by showing lots of completely naked women. Isn’t it strange how when people sigh and say “Oh, well – sex sells”, what they really mean by sex is “naked women”? Do you think if Showtime got some marketing research that indicated showing some cock would improve ratings by 150%, they’d show some? Me, neither.

And maybe if Penn & Teller thought more that way, they’d have gotten the point they so sorely missed: if being a legal hooker in Vegas is such a viable idea, why aren’t more men doing it? Why aren’t all those self-proclaimed horndogs – you know, those guys who say at parties “hehe, if I was a girl I’d be such a slut!” – flocking to Vegas in hopes of getting paid for getting laid? Is that not the ultimate male fantasy? So… what gives? What is it they get about the hooking industry that some women just haven’t figured out yet?

Answer: the sex trade isn’t about sex. If it was, believe me, women would be paying pros to give them really good sex, too, and in principle at least, I’d be completely in favor of it. Instead, the sex trade is about promoting the gender hierarchy. According to the prostitution industry, sex is something women give or sell to men. It is not something shared between two individuals. In some cases, it’s something young boys sell to men. Only in rare cases is it something men sell or give to women.

And it’s not just in prostitution. Look at how we frame the subject. How often do you hear people talk about a guy’s virginity as a precious gift to be given to a worthy female? How often is a cheated-upon husband admonished to blame himself for not putting out well enough to keep the little missus from straying?

Sex, according to our culture, is for women to give and men to take. No wonder most young men are surprised the first time they encounter a girlfriend who wants sex more often than they do, or who seems to enjoy it at least as much as they do. No wonder so many young women don’t realize they should be enjoying sex instead of performing it as a girlfriend or wife duty.

Comments

  1. Glaivester says

    And maybe if Penn & Teller thought more that way, they’d have gotten the point they so sorely missed: if being a legal hooker in Vegas is such a viable idea, why aren’t more men doing it? Why aren’t all those self-proclaimed horndogs – you know, those guys who say at parties “hehe, if I was a girl I’d be such a slut!” – flocking to Vegas in hopes of getting paid for getting laid? Is that not the ultimate male fantasy? So… what gives?

    I doubt that mot of these men think that they could earn anything as a hooker. In any case, I thought that there were male hookers, but their clientele tended to be gay. I think that the relative lack of male prostitutes (at least, ones that service women) is due more to demand than supply.

    Answer: the sex trade isn’t about sex. If it was, believe me, women would be paying pros to give them really good sex, too, and in principle at least, I’d be completely in favor of it.

    Bu for many men, paying a prostitute isn’t about getting “good sex.” It’s about getting sex, period. The man pays a woman to have sex with him because it is easier than taking a woman out on a date and hoping she’ll say “yes.” I don’t think thta men are, on average, as picky about the quality of sex as a woman who is looking for sex for her own pleasure is.

    I think that the number of men whom women would pay to have sex with is far smaller than the number of women whom men would pay to have sex with.

    “Oh, well – sex sells”, what they really mean by sex is “naked women”? Do you think if Showtime got some marketing research that indicated showing some cock would improve ratings by 150%, they’d show some? Me, neither.

    Do you think that showing naked men would improve ratings? If women are so anxious to see naked men, why isn’t Playgirl as successful as Playboy, and why do (presumably gay) men outnumber women as Playgirl subscribers by 3:1?

  2. scarlett says

    I think the bigger market for men to have sex then women is mostly caused by women being conditioned to not enjoy sex, or at least, not actively pursue it. I don’t think there’s any physiological reason for men as a gender to be more sexually active then women, but men are encouraged to flaunt their sexuality, and women encouraged to repress theirs. It’s the whole slut/stud double-standard; for the same behaviour, men and women are given different labels, with wildly opposite meanings.

    In theory, I have no problem with the sex industry, so long as it works both ways. But it doesn’t. So really, the sex industry is about putting women in their place as the providers of sex, even if they get paid for it.

  3. Brian says

    Note from BetaCandy: This is the sort of comment that gets a person banned from making further comments on this blog.  I leave it as an example of the sort of personal abuse that is not tolerated here.  Brian here does a better job of making his side look bad than anyone arguing against him could have, by using personal attacks in lieu of intelligence.

    Conditioned? Yeah, by millenia of natural selection. Women who are not choosy will enjoy a poorer quality of mate and give birth to kids that want to grow up and live in a trailer park.

    Women are encouraged to repress their sexuality? You’re in university, right? Only someone in university could say something so blissfully idiotic. The assertion requires an extreme naivete about the world as well as dogmatic theorizing learned at the foot of some bitter old women’s studies professor.

    Men and women, by the way, are very different from each other, and measuring them by the same yardstick is rather silly. When you enter the real world you will find out that women as a group simply do not share your views; they will roll their eyes at your observations.

  4. scarlett says

    See, I don’t think that women and men are all that different. There may be a few physiological differences, men tend to be stronger overall, their reproductive bits are different and only women can bear children. But everything else, personality, sexuality, whatever I don’t see that there’s any difference overall that social conditioning can’t account for. I don’t believe that women are more inclined to play with dolls then men or that men are more inclined to play contact sports then women. I believe what has created these differences is social conditioning, that women should be ladies and men should be warrior/heros.
    You can’t seriously tell me women aren’t repressed in their sexuality. For centuries we’ve been forced to a double standard that men should sleep with as many women as possible but women should sleep with as little men as possible (which as well as being unfair, creates something of an impossibility). For a thousand years women have been told to remain virgins for their husbands and endure sex for the sake of the husband and their children, and much of these archaic values remain. It’s still far more acceptable for men to be promiscous then women (or at least talk about it). We still live in a society where men are studs but women are sluts for the same (or tamer) behaviour.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    You can’t seriously tell me women aren’t repressed in their sexuality.

    I kind of wondered how he reasoned a denial that women are conditioned to repress their sexuality. Do I need to give a lecture about what happens to women who behave in a sexually unacceptable manner in certain Muslim countries? Whether or not you favor that sort of conditioning, it does meet the definition of “repress”.

    I should note that to ME, “repress” is not automatically a negative thing. I would say we “repress” our natural animal urges to hit people when we look at each other funny, and that’s a good thing.

  6. scarlett says

    Ageed on the hitting people part. But for the most part, repressing sexuality (unless you happen to be a peodophile) tends to be a bad thing, in my book.

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    I agree. I was just trying to come up with any way on earth Brian the Banned could have arrived at the conclusion that women aren’t taught to repress their sexuality.

  8. scarlett says

    Maybe if he admits women have been taught to repress their sexuality, then men like him have to have a long, hard think why?

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    I actually wish he’d expressed himself in a way that would have allowed some debate on the topic. I don’t find his perspective very unusual – in fact, it may be typical of the “target demographic” to which TV and movies cater, for all I know.

  10. Glaivester says

    I think that there are similarities, byt there are biologically-based differences. Biologically, the man has two reproductive strategies: either try to father lots of children by many different woman, and not put much investment in, or father a few children by one woman and put a lot of effort into making sure that those few children grow up to have their own families. (Of course, there are many in-between strategies).

    The woman is more limited in her options because the number of children she can have is limited by her body’s capacity rather than by how many men she can have sex with (assuming that her sexual partner is not infertile).

    This causes a biological prejudice toward women being more concerned with quality of sex (and quality of mate) and men more interested in quantity (because the consequences of choosing wrong are less severe).

    This is reinforced to some extent by culture but this culture is caused largely by biology.

    The point is, I do think that biology is why female prostitutes outnumber male prostitutes. Male prostitutes would need (a) to be incredibly good-looking, and (b) learn very good sexual techniques to make any money. Female prostitutes, on the other hand, can probably find customers if they are (a) not completely repulsive, and (b) are willing to screw, or to let the man do different techniques. Whether or not she is any good is not a requirement at the “entry level,” so to speak.

    Also, even if the difference in female and male apparent sex drives is caused by culture rather than biology, it is still the female sexual behavior that is the reason for few male prostitutes, not male unwillingness. I am fairly certain that a lot of men would become prostitutes if they thought they could make money on it.

  11. scarlett says

    So it’s like a quality vs quantity thing, and the reason we get less male prostitutes is that the standard expected of them is so much higher then women prostitues? Or maybe that when the quality is higher, the price goes up – basically eliminating all the two-dollar hookers and their clientele.

  12. Jennifer Kesler says

    Male prostitutes would need (a) to be incredibly good-looking, and (b) learn very good sexual techniques to make any money. Female prostitutes, on the other hand, can probably find customers if they are (a) not completely repulsive, and (b) are willing to screw, or to let the man do different techniques. Whether or not she is any good is not a requirement at the “entry level,” so to speak.

    This is, ironically, an exact reversal of the way it works in the world of freely exchanged sex. A man who’s not completely repulsive will have at least 5 or 6 women trailing after him, while an equally not completely repulsive female will have far more trouble attracting a mate. This isn’t biology: centuries of laws which forced women into either marriage or prostitution by denying them the right to own property, hold jobs or run businesses has resulted in a society where a much lower quality of men can find mates than would be possible in a truly equal society.

    That is one of the uglier strategies for genetic success that men have employed, albeit on a group level.

    This causes a biological prejudice toward women being more concerned with quality of sex (and quality of mate) and men more interested in quantity (because the consequences of choosing wrong are less severe).

    Let’s consider for a moment where you’re getting this idea. There are plenty of women who like to sleep with every man they can get their hands on – which is, according to some biologists, a viable way for a female to assure the best sperm wins, so to speak. But we’ve been conditioned to view these women as psychologically abnormal, so they tend to get left out of these discussions. See the circular logic? They don’t count because they’re abnormal; they’re abnormal because we say so; we say so because it suits our culture to believe that. And we reinforce the stereotype by punishing women who sleep around.

    You really can’t say you have any idea how many women would have sex with lots and lots of men, if it weren’t for all the concerns about being branded a “whore”. And if men who sleep around a lot were branded as whores, risking loss of public respect, maybe even career or career advancement, who knows how many of them would suddenly discover being circumspect is a good thing?

    Speaking of, I’ve known a number of men who really aren’t interested in sleeping with a lot of women. They really seriously dig getting to know how to make one woman happy in bed, then staying with her. And if I’ve known more than a few like that, then how many are likely to exist?

    You can argue that these men are psychologically abnormal or unusual, but then we’re back to the circular logic.

    It’s interesting that we have two men here claiming that men and women are biologically different, and it’s not culture’s fault, and two women telling you that’s just not true. What would it take to get you to believe that maybe, just maybe, we know what our real and true sexual urges are better than you do, seeing how we actually live in our own female bodies?

  13. scarlett says

    The most sexually active (and multiple-partnered) people I personally know are women, and I know several people, men and women, who are quite happy with the fact they’ve only ever had one partner – and they seem to be getting the most, and best quality sex of all of us :p Admittedly, the few hundred people I’ve spoken to about it at some time or another hardly makes a comprehensive study, but in my personal experience, sexual inclination is a personal thing and not the least bit related to gender; women just talk about it less.

  14. Jennifer Kesler says

    That’s exactly it. Ask a guy at work, “What did you do over the weekend?” and he’ll proudly describe his one-night stand. Ask a woman who did the exact same thing for the exact same reason, and she’ll probably tell you she just went to dinner with friends.

    And trust me – men fall for it every single time. ;)  Probably because they’re so conditioned to view women as creatures who don’t enjoy sport sex like they do.

  15. scarlett says

    It’s just a pity we don’t get more open-minded men on this site. I’ve tried directing a few this way, but I think we’re all too a little irony-minded for them :p But such men do exist, I know at least two.

  16. Mecha says

    Ah, if only I had even one woman (or man) trailing after me. *cough* Okay, brief mental fantasy over, on to the discussion.

    To Glaiv: The sex trade is a seedy business in general. And somehow, I doubt anyone knows that more than some subset of women. And if not knows it, at least believes it. You have number one right there on why women don’t follow the traditional male indicators of ‘let’s look at the naked girlies’ as compared to men where, as much as I don’t like it, porn is essentially a rite of passage and a guy’s first Playboy is almost ritualized into our culture via movie after TV after schoolyard. After perhaps a couple handfuls of teenage coming of age movies where the (catholic school)girls frankly talk about sex that isn’t pandering to the horny young guy demographic comes out, reinforcing the other side of the options, maybe that’ll change. Or perhpas a number of throw away jokes about a 13 year old girl having a vibrator under her bed in something that isn’t a full on parody.

    On that note, consider how a boy is always told that his mother will disapprove of him having pornography (I have an example in my head at the moment, at least.) Do you think mothers have a point of view on their daughters’ sex toys or pornography themselves? Can you find a single piece of pop culture that says _anything_ on that? If you can, does it do anything but basically treat the child as a freak or slut? Do you think that this is biological imperitive that creates this? Why? On the ‘wilds of Africa’, it’s probably better for the woman to want to have sex to keep the species going. Except that’s not how it works in modern culture. Why? Because of the pretty obvious knowledge that if young women take control of their sexuality at an early age (which is not the same as being told that giving head to every guy at the highschool is cool) that they are less likely to be controlled by men for sexual purposes in modern society. (To diverge in an ugly manner, consider how when a woman is raped, it is often because ‘she was uppity’ or ‘she deserved it’. Women expressing personal or sexual power leads to violence and rape and control attempts. Pretty straight shot there.)

    Now, some of the sexual shame is scattershot to men and women both, but where is the ‘female’ reinforcement, especially young, that ‘sex is okay’ in pop culture? It’s few and far between. While for men, the joke is spread far and wide that masturbation is a way of life, and last I checked that’s not exactly a biological advantage. Cultural imperitives makes this situation, not biological.

    -Mecha

  17. Jennifer Kesler says

    That post is bang-on. As a pre-teen, I objectified scantily clad male rockstars in MTV videos just the way men drool at Playboy. And yet my friends and I lacked a common frame of reference for talking about masturbation, because female autoeroticism was so underrepresented in both pop culture and biology class (whereas “wet dreams” were discussed, for cryin’ out loud).

    So how would the average man know what women really feel and want and seek?

  18. scarlett says

    I was once chatting to a girl I shared a unit with, and we were talking about how hot our unit co-ordinator was. I made a flip comment that in different circumstances (ie, I didn’t have a boyfriend/he wasn’t married/my unit-coordinator) I would totally do him. She looked at me in total horror, and I think she’d never before (or very rarely) heard someone be so frank in their sexual interests. It wasn’t like I was serious about pursuing my married unit co-ordinator. At the time I had a good joke at her expense behind her back but I’m wondering now if she was just raised to think that Nice Girls Don’t Talk About Sex. (Hate to think what she thought of me, then.)

  19. Glaivester says

    It’s just a pity we don’t get more open-minded men on this site.

    I dont think that the fact that you haven’t convinced me yet makes me closed-minded.

    I am also sorry if I gave the impression that I didn’t think that girls enjoyed sex, or didn’t enjoy casual sex. I think my position, more precisely, is that on the average men are more interested in casual sex. This does not mean that there are not plenty of women interested; I just think that the men outnumber them enough so that most women can find casual sex without having to pay for it more easily than most men can.

    I think that there are biological reasons for women to be a little more cautious about sex on average, seeing as they pay a bigger prcie for making a “wrong” choice (e.g. a woman having sex with several men of “varying genetic quality” carries the risk that the man with “bad genes” will wind up impregnating the woman and preventing her from conceiving with a “better quality man” for at least nine months and probably much longer, with a man, he can move on immediately).

    None of this will accurately predict what an individual man or woman will do. But it can create trends in society as a whole.

    And in any case, I am not in favor of prostitution at all. I do agree that it is a seedy business.

  20. Jennifer Kesler says

    I dont think that the fact that you haven’t convinced me yet makes me closed-minded.

    Er, I thought she was referring to a quantity of open-minded men, not saying that all the ones here lack that quality.

    I just think that the men outnumber them enough so that most women can find casual sex without having to pay for it more easily than most men can.

    As far as, say, doing market research for opening a brothel goes, I would agree. But my impression was that you were saying this was mainly due to biological issues, while I maintain it’s mainly sociological. That was the point I was arguing. (And I apologize if my “what would it take” line came off as snotty – in my head, it was just a straight-forward question.

    I think that there are biological reasons for women to be a little more cautious about sex on average, seeing as they pay a bigger prcie for making a “wrong” choice (e.g. a woman having sex with several men of “varying genetic quality” carries the risk that the man with “bad genes” will wind up impregnating the woman and preventing her from conceiving with a “better quality man” for at least nine months and probably much longer, with a man, he can move on immediately).

    Some biologists have argued that multiple partners actually ensures the best sperm will win, and usually the best sperm ensures the best offspring.

    As I stated in the Entitlement argument, I do concede that any informed woman is wise to exercise a bit more caution in having sex with strangers than men need to exercise, simply because men are statistically so much more violent and dangerous than women. Which is another nature/nurture topic we could debate ’til the cows come home. :D

    But it can create trends in society as a whole.

    So can the attitude that female virgins are a father’s No. 1 commodity in trade and treaties. The use of virgin daughters in such commerce may have disappeared in modern western history (maybe: my great-grandmother was given to her brother in law as a wife when she was 13 because her sister had died and some female had to take care of the kids, and that was under 100 years ago), but the trends that thinking set remain with us.

  21. Glaivester says

    As far as, say, doing market research for opening a brothel goes, I would agree. But my impression was that you were saying this was mainly due to biological issues, while I maintain it’s mainly sociological.

    I think it is some of both. Plus, they reinforce each other. Society reflects people’s preferences, which are influenced heavily by our biology (for example, our sanitary systems are largely influenced by our dislike of the smell of feces, for example; if we were coprophages, we would think about sanitation entirely differently). On the other hand, society influences biology as well; by rewarding some traits and punishing others, society can influence who reproduces and who therefore spreads their genes into the next generation; to the extent that the traits being rewarded or punished have genetic bases, this will effect the frequency of the alleles (i.e. different versions of a gene; blue eyes and brown eyes are two alleles) responsible for the traits in the next generation. For example, to the extent tht fidelity is influenced by genes, a society where adulterers and adulteresses are executed (and where a large percentage of adulterers/adultresses are actually caught) will likely greatly reduce the frequency of any alleles that increase promiscuity.

    Some biologists have argued that multiple partners actually ensures the best sperm will win, and usually the best sperm ensures the best offspring.

    Possible, although I would assume that timing and other factors would play a role as well. If all of a woman’s sex partners are pretty high quality, this could be a good strategy. But the risk of conceiving with a “lesser” male is still there, and if it occurs the cost is higher than for a man conceiving with a “lesser” female (as he can impregnate another right away).

  22. Jennifer Kesler says

    I have to say full stop right here:

    Society reflects people’s preferences

    Our society reflects the preferences of White Straight Christian Men. Are you forgetting that the term “people” includes a lot more than that, or do you think this society reflects the preferences of the vast majority of so-called “minorities” who have had to fight to get the things that have always been handed to even the most worthless of white, straight, Christian men?

    I think some invisible privilege thinking is showing here.

  23. SunlessNick says

    I want to thank you for posting this. I don’t have a comment, except to say that my position has generally been “it’s the prostitute’s body and the client’s money, so as long as they’re consenting adults (and pimps are taken out of the picture), then it’s up to them.” But you’ve given me reason to reconsider… Maybe I’ll disagree with you and retain my previous view, maybe I won’t, but either way, it’s something to think about.

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