The question that should be asked of prostitution, or for that matter of any issue that restricts personal freedom and choice, is not whether it should be legalized, but why should it be criminalized. Can the current situation which restricts people's freedom be justified?

Our legal system, along with that of the rest of the western world, is derived from and based upon Christian ethics. By looking at the issue of prostitution this way it is clear to see how it came to be seen as wrong; because sex is intended to be an act that should only conducted between married couples. But we no longer, as a society or through our laws, hold such an extreme view. Why then in a modern multi-cultural society do we still hold on to the idea that prostitution is a bad thing?

One of the main arguments against the idea of legal prostitution is that it is something to which people only turn when faced with desperate circumstances. While this is an exaggerated generalization it does have some truth. This being the case are we helping those people by making the activity illegal?

When people are in such situations that prostitution becomes an answer, turning them into a criminal is not going to help anyone. I am not arguing that we should allow, and make it easier for, prostitution to be the solution to their problems, just that the criminilization does nothing to assist them and in fact makes matters worse.

But it is not true that people only become prostitutes as a last resort. For some it is a well paying occupation that does not require them to be away from home all day long, and so can allow them to spend more time with their children. Not everyone has a moral objection to prostitution and this is a vital point, one often overlooked, to bear in mind when considering this issue. Not all prostitutes are victims or unwilling participants in having made the choice to become one. People should be able to make a rational decision that is right for them even if it is nothing something we would consider right for us.

A different type of argument against prostitution comes from feminists who have a more sociological criticism. Rather than having a problem with the concept per se, they instead see it as objectifying women and perpetuating sexist notions about them. Of course this view is rather short sighted as it fails to acknowledge male prostitutes who are used by women as well as homosexual ones, both male and female. That aside there is still some merit to their point. Is this something in which the law should be involved though?

Should make-up, heeled shoes, and skirts be banned simply because they are, in general, used by women in order to objectify themselves? Simply choosing to present yourself in a particular way is a form of objectification, and those forms are, with few exceptions, associated with identifying as a particular gender and has carries particular social connotations, particularly amongst men.

This idea would be rightly considered absurd though, because it would deny people the right of self expression. Instead each woman is left to decide for herself whether she wishes to conform to the way society says she should look. This has lead to many women preferring to wear trousers nowadays. Surely in the same manner women can be trusted to make their own decisions about their own interests over whether to become prostitutes.

I would also argue that the claim prostitution objectifies women is one chosen to promote the political beliefs of those raising them rather than ones of equality and destroying hegemonies. It is no different to a religious organization claiming to be a moral authority as a way of pushing forward their own agenda. It could just as easily be argued that it is men who are objectified in stereotypical male-client and female-prostitute relationship. It is the man who is characterized as being incapable of controlling his needs while the woman is taking advantage of this to her own benefit. From this perspective prostitution, rather than objectifying women, is empowering them. In reality I would consider neither perspective to gold a significant position in justifying a curtailment of civil liberties.

One thing that needs to be considered is the reason why people use prostitutes. For many it is simply because, for whatever reason, it is the only option for sexual release open to them. Whether because they are unable to attract a partner, or that they have desires which their partners are unable, or unwilling, to satisfy. For these people there is no intention of objectifying anyone.

In many ways the only difference between prostitution and 'one night stands' is the involvement of money. As a society although we consider people somewhat immoral should they pick someone up in order to satisfy their sexual desires, with little regard for their chosen partners emotional well being, it is not regarded as a criminal act. Of course many such relationships are entered into mutually but the idea of sexual predators, of both genders, is not an uncommon one. People are perfectly entitled, within the law, to 'chat up' someone in order to have sex and leave the person emotionally hurt. But to offer someone payment to do something they are willing to do we consider it a criminal act. Does this make any moral sense?

If you feel that prostitution will not go away, and given its often cited as being the world's oldest profession this seems likely to be the case, then the legalization of it would also lead to advantages to all concerned. By regulating the activity it can be ensured that there will be protection from sexually transmitted diseases to the benefit of both parties. Clients can be safe in the knowledge that they are visiting someone 'clean', while the prostitutes will not feel compelled to engage in unsafe activities because they will have protection within the law.

It will also be much more difficult to force people, because of debt etc., into prostitution because most people will not risk committing a crime with unlicensed prostitutes when they can receive the same services legally. There is a problem with violence against prostitutes, from clients, pimps, and other prostitutes, which can be to a large extent prevented by allowing legal protections. And a somewhat more crass benefit is that it would lead to the government receiving revenue though income tax, national insurance, and VAT. Something of which they are currently being deprived.

Some argue that legalization will not make all the existing problems go away, but this view does not offer any argument as to whether or why prostitution should be a criminal activity. Even if the only benefit that would come from legalization is that only a few people are better off then it is preferable to the current system. This reasoning is the equivalent of damning a minority because you cannot save everyone. One undeniable benefit would be that stretched police resources can be put to better use.

It is also claimed that legalization would encourage prostitution, but is this something we should be concerned about? It is highly unlikely that women, or men, would suddenly give up their jobs to become prostitutes because it offers better pay for easier work if they find it reprehensible. Likewise they would not become clients. This is a matter that will be left to the morality of those concerned. Using this argument is to force our own morality onto other people.

As to whether it would encourage people to using prostitutes then the situation is more complex. If society's prevailing attitude is against people prostitution then there will still be a stigma attached to making use of them irrespective of legality. Such as is the case with pornography which carries a 'seedy' reputation. But should it stop some people taking advantage of others for their own sexual gratification, as may be the case with 'one night stands', then surely it is something we should encourage as a better alternative.

This has only been a brief defense of prostitution. Essentially though my position is that we are all adults and are freely able to decide how we best conduct ourselves. Those who find prostitution immoral, on whatever grounds, are perfectly entitled not to use or become prostitutes. They should not be allowed to restrict how two (or more) consenting adults may act when it has no affect on anyone else. It also needs to be remembered that there are both male and female prostitutes coming from very different circumstances, something often overlooked in a debate polarized by the clichéd notion of poverty stricken women forced into a life they detest.

A commonly presented view is that women only get involved to fund drugs habits, but this is very naïve. People get involved in prostitution for many reasons and this includes people with interests in fetishes that, while not illegal, many people would be unwilling to participate. Others just really like sex. But where people are turning to prostitution to feed drug addictions then we should be more concerned with curing that problem and not how they would be served simply by changes in laws regarding prostitution. To allow the fuelling of uncontrollable drug addictions to have a direct effect on policy is to give an implicit acceptance to such behaviour. The problem here though is not prositituion, it is the addiction.

Incidentally my only actual connection with the world of prostitution was when my partner and I were in Edgbaston, Birmingham one night and a woman made advances to me. I found it quite surprising considering we were obviously together. That people are forced to go to such desperate lengths though suggests to me that we should be helping them, not criminalizing them.