Law and Sex

Any attempt to codify social and economic behavior in mere words almost inevitably creates contradictions.  Case in point: the way sex is treated by US law.

As everyone knows, it is illegal to directly exchange sexual favors for money.  This is called prostitution, and is publicly condemned in our society.  The men who often oversee these sales are popularly known as pimps, and are prosecuted for high crimes when they are caught.

And yet, as everyone who has watched porn knows, it is completely legal to directly exchange sexual favors for money if it is being filmed.  This is called pornography, and is also publicly condemned in our society, but to a lesser extent and without legal recourse.  The men who oversee these sales are known as erotic talent agents, and cannot be prosecuted if they play by the rules.

If someone were to pay a ‘model’ to have sex with him, film it, and then archive the footage for non-use, would it be legal pornography or illegal prostitution?

And I don’t even want to get into the "escort" industry…

Statutory rape is another interesting concept riddled with contradictions.  In many states it is illegal for a 19-year-old to have sex with a 16-year-old under any circumstances.  But as far as I know, in any state, it is legal for a 60-year-old to have sex with an 18-year old; money, alcohol and other social lubricants often create this circumstance less organically than the sincere exchange of emotions between two teenagers, but only the latter might have the specter of US law hanging over it.

It is acceptable (and legal) within many U.S. cultures to marry your daughter off at a young age to someone she doesn’t know or like with the sole purpose of procreation (sometimes supplemented with a modern-day dowry).  You can even go online and order a wife if you can’t find one here.  You just have to pick one you like from pictures and a short description that usually doesn’t exceed 100 words.  These mail-order-bride services, which seem like a joke, are quite legal.

And yet, two men or two women who have shared decades of earnest love for one another, who would die for each other, and who can’t imagine themselves with anyone else, are still denied legal marriage status.

Sometimes I wonder if our social and economic priorities are so twisted that their written expression (i.e. law) is blamelessly beholden to the actual values of our country – or if the law actively fastens outdated values to people’s real social and economic relationships against their will.  Both explanations probably come into play in the above examples, but increasingly I’m leaning towards the second.

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