There’s been much ado about Amnesty International’s recent call to legalize prostitution, with Nigerian bodies reliably condemning it as another sign of Western moral decay. At first blush, it’s easy to be aghast at the very thought of such a proposition. Sex is the most impolite of topics, especially in these parts, and the fundamental idea that trading sex for money, goods, services, or benefits is abhorrent is one that we have always held dear as a society… or have we?
Transactional sex has existed since the dawn of human civilization, and has always been an established feature of all of Nigeria’s hundreds of cultures, from karuwai and ‘yan dauda in northern Nigeria, to a multitude of southern Nigerian ethnicities, all of whom engaged openly in prostitution until it fell out of favour following the colonization of our country.
Fast forward to 2015, and Nigerian women are still being constantly told to “know their worth” and not to “cheapen” themselves by engaging in sexual activity with men, implying that their sexuality is valuable. Yet paradoxically, we are expected to give sex away to men for free, and women who do not, who “know their worth” and insist on being paid their monetary due for access to their vaginas are pilloried as whores, hoes, and “runs girls”.
Society is in contradiction with itself. You cannot simultaneously be “cheap” for having sex with men for free, and “cheap” for having sex with men for money. Neither can you be “expensive” or “worthy” for not having sex with men, if the the end result is that you are still going to have sex with a man for free anyway.
Therefore, if a woman is devalued every time she opens her legs to have sex, then it is in her interest to gain as much from each sexual encounter as she possibly can.
In the patriarchal society that we live in, whether women have sex for free or for profit, they are still subject to the same slut shaming, and reputation damaging consequences for being sexual. If a woman refuses to have sex, she becomes an “uptight bitch”, a “goody-goody virgin”, or a “deeper life prayer warrior”. If she does have sex, she becomes “loose”, an “ashawo”, a “hoe”, etc.
It doesn’t matter if a woman only has sex with one man. The fate of her reputation is always in the hands of others, and it takes very little to destroy a woman’s reputation in Nigeria, whereas Nigerian men can do and undo with barely any effect on their social standing.
A decent girl will wait for at least one or two months b4 dating another guy after a break up,only a hoe jump from dick to dick
— Iswat Oreoluwa (@Mz_Iswat) August 7, 2015
Perhaps men are secretly afraid that if more women start to charge for access to their vaginas, then the free and plentiful sex that they are so accustomed to will become much harder to come by. You see, throughout history, men have always gone to extreme lengths to secure their supply of sex, as evinced by many oppressive customs against women like Female Genital Mutilation, which are centered on controlling the sexual behaviour of women.
While with any sexual encounter, both parties run the risk of STDs, the distribution of total risk is lopsided as women alone bear the brunt of near indelible socio-cultural damage to their reputations, and consequently, their quality of life.
In life, and in business, we are all familiar and accepting of the idea that whomever takes on more risk should be rewarded with greater compensation. This is why banks charge interest on loans, why in the USA, you’re made to sign a 2 year contract to buy a phone, and end up paying over one and a half times the actual price of the phone.
Yet somehow, when women choose to monetize the enormous risks they run in their social and sexual interactions with men, everyone balks.
Legalizing prostitution would enable women to do just that by allowing sex workers take control of the revenue they make from sex work instead of being exploited by traffickers and brothels.
It would also allow women engaged in sex work to lobby for and receive resources from the government, such as free routine STI/STD testing, condom enforcement backed up by the law and police officers in their places of work, and particularly resources to protect them from violence and rape by way of official police protection/ security detail.
This is something that is sorely needed as sex workers are often the victims of violence at a rate much higher than the general population, and in Nigeria, are often targeted by ritualists and other criminals due to them being easy targets, and the assumption that nobody will miss them (poverty being a major reason why people become involved in sex work) or come to their aid.
The argument of religion or morality has not prevented prostitution from existing or thriving. If anything, all it has succeeded in doing is driving transactional sex underground, thereby making it more dangerous for everybody involved, and society at large. Reversing this attitude would bring many women (and other sex workers) out of the shadows, and allow them to make an honest living, safe from bodily and psychological harm.
Prostitution’s ancientness and pervasive ubiquity is due to the fact that it is the one profession that women have always been able to turn to to support themselves in times of extreme need. The world could literally end, and there would still be more than a few men looking for sex.
Why not make them pay?
Sugabelly is a Nigerian illustrator and blogger, she is the Features Editor at YNaija and also runs SugabellyRocks.com
Features Editor of YNaija