Selling Sex Is OK and Child Abuse Isn't

I wanted to reply to Ross’s post on the so-called Wilkinson-Howley worldview, but I had to go to L.A. for a little political theory conference at UCLA, where I am now. Let’s see if I can clarify a few things. Ross writes:

Given the premises of the pro-prostitution worldview, what’s so abusive and damaging about incest and molestation in the first place? If there’s no moral distinction between giving a handjob in exchange for twenty dollars and getting paid twenty bucks to wash dishes or mow lawns, then why is there a moral distinction between a father who teaches his daughter how to pound nails and one who teaches his daughter to do something more intimate and (to go all wisdom-of-repugnance on you) disgusting? I understand that the kids involved aren’t “consenting adults,” but if selling sex is just like selling labor, and adults force kids to perform all kinds of menial tasks as part of their education, why can’t adults force kids to have intercourse too – especially if they’re safe about it? If selling sex is no big deal because sex itself is no big deal, what’s the big deal about incest?

I found this comment … vexing, to say the least. I think Andrew’s reply to Ross’s previous post suggests the obvious response Simply reformulate Ross’s question to see how immensely tendentious and confused it is:

If there’s no moral distinction between one man giving a handjob to another man and a woman giving a handjob to a man, then why is there a moral distinction between a man giving a handjob to small boy?

I think we can all grasp that it possible to reject some moral distinctions and accept others. In this case, it would seem that Ross understands the answer perfectly well. Children are not consenting adults. So there you have it.

Since he had the answer, I do wonder why he asked the question. Ross’s subsequent chain of reasoning is a disaster that does very little to help him out. I think it is fair to reconstruct the argument like this.

(1) Selling sex is a form of work. (By stipulation)
(2) It is permissible for parents to make their children labor as part of their education. (By convention)

Therefore, (3) It is permissible for parents to make their children do sex work as part of there education. (By fallacious inference)

But (4) Obviously (3) is repulsively absurd.

So, (5) What?… Selling sex is not a form of work? (Reductio!)

Forgive me if I do not understand this argument. In order to derive (3), Ross would need (2) to say that parents may make their kids do any kind of work as part of their education, which is obviously false. We all know that there are many things it is not OK for kids to do, or for adults to do to kids, that it is OK for adults to do, and to do to each other. Sex is one of those things. This needn’t be difficult. And, since no one was previously talking about children, again I have to wonder why Ross brought it up. I mean, I don’t think he’d stoop so low as to insinuate that people who think adults are capable of making rational decisions about their own welfare, and should not be subject to paternalistic interference, cannot see what’s wrong with fucking their own children. So what was that about?

Sex work is work. It is not always pleasant work. It is very emotionally complicated and requires some degree of emotional compartmentalization and the selective hardening of certain natural human sentimental dispositions. Surgeons, hospice workers, police officers, lots of people, must learn how to cabin off certain sentiments and to develop a bit of a callous in order to do their jobs. This takes some degree of emotional maturity, which is one reason why we encourage kids to sell lemonade, but not to perform surgery on people gushing blood from a gunshot wound, or practice their sexual technique with Uncle Ralph.