Posted by: christineshreve | September 30, 2016

Is Prostitution Empowering for Women?

Over the last six years I have been researching sex trafficking, legal prostitution, and illegal prostitution, and from this research, I come to the conclusion that prostitution is not empowering for women. Many have said that legalizing prostitution is a good idea because:

  1. It would decrease illegal prostitution and sex trafficking.
  2. If women are going to sell their bodies than legalizing prostitution would provide a safer way for them to do so.
  3. Women should have the freedom to choose whether or not they want to sell their bodies (idea of women empowerment).

While these arguments bring up good points, from the research I’ve done on the sex industry in the US, Amsterdam, and different parts of Southeast Asia, I have found that legalizing prostitution does not decrease illegal prostitution or sex trafficking, rather it actually creates a more dangerous environment for women; it gives pimps and sex traffickers a safety blanket under which the can operate more covertly.

Do women who work as prostitutes really feel empowered? When I was in Cambodia the past two summers I had the opportunity to become friends with some of the women who work as prostitutes, and 0 out of the 30 women I met felt empowered because of their jobs — they hated their jobs but had to work them out of financial need. When I spoke on the phone with a prostitute who works in Nevada’s legal sex industry, she admitted to me that the reason she started working as a prostitute was because she needed the money. Are women free and empowered when they are working as prostitutes or is their financial need being exploited?

As well as creating a harmful environment for women physically, I also believe that legalized prostitution encourages the mentality that women are sexual objects. This whole issue reminds me of the the documentary we watched in class. In the film, there were countless pictures and video clips of women being portrayed as sexual objects. Most of the women in the clips have CHOSEN to be portrayed in this way. I feel as if many women believe that appearing very sexually appealing empowers them. Does it? Or does the focus on women’s sexual appeal encourage the idea that women are only valuable because of their bodies? Is Kim Kardashian an empowering figure for women or is she encouraging this idea of women-as-sex-objects?

As we have discussed in class, when women are objectified and only their physical features are noticed, it affects their leadership. If fellow-workers have this objectification mentality, it would likely affect how they view, as well as treat their female co-worker(s). If a woman’s worth is based on her physical appearance, her dreams and ideas will be overlooked.

So, how does prostitution affect women in leadership? Does it empower and free women or does it encourage a skewed view of women?

*Disclaimer: I realize that I am completely leaving out the discussion of men as prostitutes but for the purpose of discussing women empowerment and women leadership I thought it would be helpful to focus on women as prostitutes.*



  1. I have not researched this, nor have I ever been in this situation. So, I am just going off of my very bare knowledge of prostitues. I do think it hinders women, to an extent, of becoming leaders. A lot of the time the reason these women are in this position is because they feel like they don’t have anything else they can do or offer. By putting themselves in this position they may not feel like they can reach any higher or do anything more with their lives.

    On the other hand, there have been many cases of college students engaging in prostitution. This is generally because they need the money to pay for schooling. In these cases I don’t know how much it hinders them with becoming leaders. They are going through the schooling to possibly be in leadership positions later on. They just used prostitution as a way to make some extra money to pay for school and they might not feel as this is the only thing they can do with their lives.

    But, later in life when these women who were once prostitues moves on to bigger and better things and start moving towards leadership positions their past may hinder them. If it were to leak that they were once a prostitute that might stop them from getting into a company or becoming a leader.

    I might be wrong with some of the stuff I said because it is on my very little bit of knoweldge of prostitues. This is my stance on what I know though!

  2. I do not think that having sex for money is empowering for anyone who engages in the profession whether it is through prostitution legal or illegal, or even pornography. Women who engage in prostitution legal or illegal are being paid to be an object for the buyer to use, which expresses that they are giving up a lot of their control over the situation. A few years ago i watched a documentary on young women in the porn industry and many people would be shocked to learn that many of the young women in the industry are pressed to look a very specific way, and often times must comply with what the “director” wants. This is because many young women in the industry see it as a way to make money very quickly, and often do not know what to expect. additionally, society also looks at women who engage in prostitution and porn very negatively and often as a detriment to society.

    From the perspective of a pimp it can be reasoned that women in prostitution as simply an asset that will make him/ her more money as long as they are working. This easily takes the human element out of the equation and further dis-empowers the women who engage in these activities. Thus, it is likely that women have nothing to gain from this career.

  3. I highly doubt if a woman could choose between any equally paying job and prostitution she would choose the other option. The mental and physical toll that prostitution takes on women is extensive. Real power is located in the ability to chose to be sexual or not. The decision makers have control, not the young woman in scanty-clad clothes because society tells her this is what makes her attractive. I personally have no respect for Kim Kardashian and find it hilarious that people give her attention. She is not a good role model for anyone. She is very privileged and lives an extravagant lifestyle. Women need more role models who use their actions not their bodies for respect.

  4. I think prostitution is a real problem, but I think what should be mentioned is the individuals who run the sex trafficking ring. For example, it is not just men who are pimps, but you have madames too. It would be interesting to conduct a study (how, I have no idea) but to see if pimps are more violent than women. The question I ask, is how can other women, who have gone through this put other women through it? It’s all about money, and greed. I think you also need to factor in the escort industry. These individuals who love the higher society life and the escort industry is their chance to make decent money and experience the “other side” How do you justify that? These are women who are sought out by men to make them seem more powerful at different events.

  5. I do not believe that women will feel empowered by selling their bodies (legally or illegally). I believe that this is a real problem that more people should be aware of. It is sad to see that women are treated/viewed as sexual objects rather than a human being. I believe that legalizing it would create a bigger problem for women, especially for the youth. I don’t think people realize the power they have to bring awareness to this particular issue. Kim Kardashian, in my opinion, is not an empowering figure for women. However, she has a lot of fans and follows which is a perfect way to address these issue… but she doesn’t! So many young girls look up to her for the wrong reasons, so imagine how much of an impact she could make if she took a stand to address issues women face every day.

  6. I found this post very interesting. I have not researched the problems surrounding prostitution, but after reading your post I have gained some insight. I agree that legalizing prostitution does not fix the problems, but instead creates more. Also I do not think prostitution provides women empowerment in any shape or form. You are correct when you mention the backlashes of such practices. For example,legalizing prostitution only creates a safer environment for pimps and sex traffickers to get away with even worse treatment of women. Secondly, most women go into prostitution as a means of financial survival, which takes away the aspect of feeling empowered. Lastly, legalizing prostitution provides means to further objectify women.

    The second part of your post that I found very interesting was the effect on women in leadership. I agree that the media tends to objectify women for their bodies and sex appeal. This does show a skewed image of women that can hinder their ability to lead successfully. The research shows that the media focuses to a much greater extent on the appearance of women political leaders. Furthermore, the media will also focuses on the family life and relationships of the female leader more than the male leader (Fox & Oxley, 2013). I believe these stereotypical association stem from society’s fixation on the female stereotype for displaying communal qualities. Additionally, I believe the media continues to support the importance of appearance and beauty for women leaders. This strong emphasis on the female stereotype and beauty continues to objectify women for their bodies. This objectification further creates obstacles for women in leadership as it hinders their ability to appear competent and influential.

    Legalizing prostitution would only add to the objectification of women’s bodies. Our society does not need to set anymore practices in play that help devalue the abilities of women. It is time to focus on truly empowering women.


    Fox, R. L., & Oxley, Z. M. Why no madame president? Gender and presidential politics in the United States. In M.A. Genovese & J.S. Steckenrider (Eds.), Women as political leaders: Studies in gender and governing (pp. 306-335). New York, 2013: Routledge.

  7. Wow, now this is a topic to be discussed! I think it is incredibly sad that this happens to women or they make it an option for themselves. I think if we were able to ask each woman, most would say they would prefer not to be involved. The real truth is that prostitution has been happening for centuries, think about all the movies that deal with it such as Les Miserables, Reign, and the new movie Priceless which is trying to draw awareness to the problem. Does this phenomenon still happen today because it has occurred throughout history? Going back into the dark ages where women literally had no rights, prostitution was one of the only ways for women to provide for themselves. Within a society completely run by men, sex is the only thing they can’t do for themselves and therefore women then gain more power in being able to offer such a specific service. Although it is depressing and a little degrading for the women, prostitution provides an income for so many more women than we would expect. In the leadership realm, there is absolutely no room for women in prostitution. Leadership is all about encouraging and guiding others and if a woman was involved with prostitution it would hinder her emotionally and physically to lead others in the best most effective way possible. The best leaders are secure in themselves and being involved in prostitution hurts women psychologically and therefore it would be better for them to seek help instead of leading a group of people. They probably need more assistance than they can offer.

  8. In my view the effects of prostitution reinforces this mentality of demeaning and degrading women. Most of the times the sex industry, trafficking and prostitution whether legal or illegal are run by men. Therefore underhandedly influencing this perception of men being dominant and in control. While also supporting a false empowerment that would only harm the role of leadership for women. A lot of times when I look at the media the idea of empowerment seems to be more manifested in the way someone physical appears rather than the being of who they are. Especially in regards to women and sexuality and being seen as only sexual objects. This view of women does not help to influence respect or equality in the way men and women view each other. As a woman leader where should the empowerment come from? It can’t just be taken from the external of the physical there must be something innate that implements this idea of empowerment. Women in prostitution can become leaders once they believe in the fact that their worth should not be abused and cannot be bought. I believe once a person believes in their value and worth their ability to become a leaders will only help to be more effective and transforming in the lives of others.

  9. I agree with the many points made that prostitution is a detriment to the empowering of women. While it is a woman’s choice whether or not she would like to sell her body for sex, women who do this do not do it out of empowerment. Many of them are prostitutes because dire financial situations push them towards it. Prostitution for anyone is easy money because there are no qualifications for the position. Therefore, I would argue, that because it has no real qualifications, women are less empowered. In this way, they see it as a quick and easy fix to their problems rather than working hard, using resources available to them, and getting an education so that they can better their situations. Prostitution is demoralizing and it promotes the idea that women are sex objects. It also leads to mental and emotional problems in women, which further lowers their self-esteem. If prostitution is legalized it will perpetuate these ideas and not empower women but demoralize them, corrupt their self-esteem, and allow them to have low self-worth.

  10. I agree that prostitution is not empowering to women. While there are women who voluntarily decide to be prostitutes, they are still selling their bodies, and their patrons only care about their bodies for sexual purposes. Prostitution does arguably the opposite of what we should be trying to accomplish as a society. We are trying to encourage men to see women as equally capable to men, and encourage women to see themselves as equally capable compared to men. This can’t happen if men look at prostitutes and see someone who is only as good as their body, and isn’t offering anything more (ie her ideas, her intelligence, her helpfulness) than her body. This also makes women think that their body is all they have to offer. It is how they make a living and the only thing men are interested in when they hire her, so it makes her think that she doesn’t have anything else to offer.
    Prostitution can also be very unsafe. The men partaking in prostitution have no obligation to care about the health or emotional well being of the woman they are with, and therefore could do emotional or physical damage either 1) not knowing they did, or 2) not caring that they did. This is then something that the woman has to deal with later and could be a very scary situation for her. Human trafficking is also a very prevalent problem in this country, and I agree that if prostitution was legalized, it would give traffickers an “out.” These women need to know that there are other options for them, and legalizing prostitution would make it more of a norm, and I believe it would only further peoples’ views of women as objects.

  11. I completely agree with you on this. I was actually thinking about writing on this topic for my blog post, but you’ve definitely done more research so I’m really glad you brought it up! This also goes back to something I mentioned in my original short post that we talked about in class. So many women have worked so hard and accomplished so much to get to a place where women have the right to choose. But, an unforeseen circumstance of this choice is that women now have the right to choose to exploit their bodies via prostitution, which is a huge problem. I don’t think that’s what women’s rights activists of the past had in mind when they envisioned of female empowerment. Prostitution just perpetuates the idea that has been flooding society (in large part due to the media as we saw in the documentary shown in class) that women should be seen as sexual objects.

    I’m glad you brought up Kim Kardashian as well. It honestly drives me crazy that people see her as a figure of female empowerment because she posts naked selfies and whatnot. People think that she’s a great example of finding confidence in yourself, which is of course important… but in my mind, it’s more like she’s spreading the idea that women need to find their identity in their looks, which is an absolutely toxic mentality (that I’ll admit, I can fall into more often than I would like to…). Like prostitution, she perpetuates the idea that people need to focus on women’s bodies, rather than their minds, their personalities and their leadership capabilities.

  12. Prostitution is a beast of its own when regarding whether or not it advances women’s freedoms or further hinders them by objectification. In the early 1960s when Helen Gurly Brown published her book “Sex and the Single Girl,” it was at the brink of the sexual revolution of women’s freedoms. Her book was largely acclaimed for giving women, or rather acknowledging to the world, that women are just as sexual as men and should therefore have the same type of sexual freedoms (such as marrying at later ages, having more sex partners, choosing careers, etc.). Ms. Brown then became the first woman editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, a magazine known for its sexual nature and risque topics. While I think that Ms. Brown’s original intentions were to create an equality where men and women were both free to experience the same types of sexual freedoms, Cosmo is notorious for sexualizing and objectifying women in harmful ways. I think that a similar parallel can be concluded with prostitution. Safety concerns aside, the nature of prostitution is sex, and not only sex but sex at its rarest, most animalistic form. It is therefore by nature objectifying. The only argument I can see is that women are free to choose to be objectified and to use their bodies as they please.

  13. I think you are absolutely right in regards to prostitution in its present institutional form. It doesn’t offer women much empowerment or leadership opportunities (unless you want to delve into prostitutes eventually becoming madams or reference some particularly ambitious prostitutes like Empress Theodora). However, I genuinely don’t believe the act of prostitution is what is responsible for degrading or objectifying women. What makes prostitution any different than other services exchanged for money? Sex. Sex is whats the difference and the inherent belief that sex, particularly promiscuous sex, somehow diminishes a woman’s worth. Prostitution does not turn women into sex objects, our society does that. Through the images we are exposed to, narratives we hear, and ideology that is passed down women’s bodies are sexualized from a young age. Although women’s bodies have historically been policed, our present society commodifies and extorts them in an alarming new fashion. In fact, there are more forced sex workers globally today than ever previously recorded. I believe that is because objectification, commodification, and violence against women is a backlash to a push for gender equality. Sexism is what makes prostitution harmful to women not performing sexual acts for money. No one says selling sperm, standing nude for a figure drawing class, or selling plasma is degrading or detrimental yet all of those acts are forms of “selling one’s body.” Prostitution is not inherently harmful, but the sexism that is deeply rooting in today’s society is and has made prostitution a truly abysmal institution. That same sexism is what makes leadership an ever up-hill battle for women. A woman does not have to exchange sexual acts for money to be sexually objectified today. That can happen if a female CEO of a fortune 500 company wears a skirt above her knee. While I’m not arguing that prostitution should be legalized (eradicating sexism and the sex negativity in society is a long, if at all manageable, process so I cannot imagine a society where prostitution wouldn’t me negatively impacted by those ideas), I will argue that the act of prostitution is not inherently detrimental to women. Instead of condemning prostitution (the act not the present institution) we should focus on the underlying hazards to women.

  14. I really like your stance on this post. I feel that many women dress “sexy” or “provocative” because they find it empowering, that being said, I do not think they sell their bodies because it is empowering to them. Like you mentioned, it is a need. Whether that need is food or cocaine (or just drugs in general), we do not know, but whatever it is, they deem it important enough for them to sacrifice their bodies. I find it very sad that women have gotten to this point in their life where they are selling their bodies. I feel as though we need to better support these women by getting them the help that they need so that they do not need to exploit themselves to survive. The idea might have been empowering at first thought, but I agree with what you’re saying that these women do it because they do not have an alternative.

  15. This is an excellent point you bring up about if women are legally allowed to be prostitutes, doesn’t that mean that they will be seen as sexual objects and not humans? While legalizing it can mean that they can get healthcare, you are right, it basically is saying that women are not objects that can be used for sex. This is a horrible thought. Women in the sex trade are already treated poorly by their pimps or their customers because they know they can get away with it. I think legalizing the practice would ultimately cause even more ex trafficking in our country and more problems for women in the long run. No woman I think, just like you said, feels empowered when they sell their body. Women should also not be punished for this practice, especially if they were forced into it as many are. I think that women obviously need more support and access to jobs and positions or else they are forced into selling themselves because they are given no other choice. Women need to support them instead of looking down on them, because they need the support and help.

  16. I think that women who over sexualize themselves provide themselves with a false sense of empowerment. In the moment it may seem powerful, but there is a difference between getting someone’s attention and getting someone’s respect. I think that we are moving into a tricky area of freeing woman from traditional stereotypes and standards when it comes to sexuality, but also walking a thin line of making it look like this is for women, when it’s really still about men. As you mentioned about objectifying women in ads and videos. Are those naked women holding beer bottles empowering women, or encouraging this male dominated idea of sexy and alluring, further objectifying women. I feel like society has created this monster of sexualizing women. Beauty and sexuality is largely a huge center point for women. No matter how much you focus on other things about women, it seems to still come down to what women look like. It is also a challenge because being beautiful and enjoying beauty is absolutely not a bad thing. It is when we put women’s value solely in beauty and sexuality then it becomes a bad thing. So, I can see how being a prostitute isn’t empowering or glorifying.

  17. I feel like I hear all the time about how some women feel empowered by sexualizing themselves, and I am certainly not judging someone for those feelings. However, I do have to ask the question of whether doing so empowers other women. A woman who voluntarily becomes a prostitute is one thing–that’s her choice, and so long as she is not forced to stay, she can leave at any time. But like you said, there are numerous women who are not there voluntarily. Through a variety of ways, they were forced into it. People don’t know which prostitutes chose to be there and which didn’t, so when somebody uses the services of a prostitute, there is a good chance they could also be supporting sex trafficking. Besides that obvious problem, though, there is the argument that women who over-sexualize themselves also create problems for other women. Where one woman may want to be seen as sexy and gear her lifestyle towards that, there will always be people who assume other women want to be treated the same way. That may be fine for women who want to be seen as sexy–models, prostitutes, etc.–but for women who want to lead a business or become a news anchor, it becomes problematic. People see them not as professionals, but as objects of sex. So while in the short term, one woman may feel empowered from it, another woman may be damaged by it.

  18. I do not think prostitution is empowering to women. I think it further perpetuates the idea that a woman’s value is determined by her body and sexuality. I have also seen and heard many women’s stories of women in the United States and in other countries about their experience as a prostitute. Most of the women were prostitutes out of necessity. A few years ago, I travelled to Haiti with my church and we got to talk with women in the local brothel. Prostitution is legal in Haiti. These women were saying that they were prostitutes out of desperation- they had nowhere else to turn. These women felt trapped. I do not think that the legalization of prostitution would have any benefits.

  19. Interestingly enough, many dangerous or less desirable occupations are attained from individuals not being able to financial reasons. This is seen through not only prostitution, but also, through Deep Sea Fishing, becoming a drug dealer, or working as a Trash Truck Operator. Due to the fact that these jobs are not preferred it creates an increased financial return. Additionally, these jobs all come with a variety of risks. Such that Prostitution can result in physical harm either from violence or sexually transmitted infections. Deep Sea Fishing allows for a great amount of uncertainly from the harsh and dangerous conditions. Thus, it is evident that the financial gauge makes sense in terms of the variables changing simultaneously.

    Connecting prostitution & finance back to women on a broader scope shows that women are at a significantly bigger disadvantage when it comes to being financial well-off and financially independent. I learned in a Women’s History class that women are more likely to attain part-time jobs, or jobs that do not offer financial investments. In other words, they do not apply for retirement plans, or sick leave. This disadvantage adds up over a life time and creates a huge discrepancy.

    Therefore, in prostitution women are making an income to support their current financial situation. Yet, they are hindering their potential to effectively plan for their future. Through focusing on the financial aspect as well as the danger aspect, I would agree that prostitution is NOT empowering!!

  20. I so agree with this so much. I think there’s a big difference between owning your sexuality as empowerment and being truly made into an object. I fully believe that there are parts of the sex industry where women truly do feel empowered, but I think the biggest part of that is still having control over your situation and body. Women that choose to be overtly sexual because it empowers them have every right to do so and more power to them for it. However, I would have to agree that prostitution in large part does not empower women because in most cases its them doing what someone else wants them to do, its not them expressing what makes them feel good sexually or what they want in a given situation, its focused solely on the pleasure of their client and I think that’s a very different situation to being allowed to express a persons own sexuality.

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