Firefly and Legalized Prostitution

I’ve been watching Joss Whedon’s (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) short-lived science fiction Western Firefly, thanks to Corey. First of all, I’m not sure why I didn’t “get it” when I first tried watching it. Well, maybe I am sure:

  1. I wasn’t a Buffy fan yet, so I didn’t know Joss Whedon from a hole in the ground. Therefore, I had little trust in a “Sci-Fi Western” coming from Fox. What can I say? After Berman et. al. running Star Trek into a deep dank hole in the ground, I’m a cynical bastard. And it takes trust to give a new show time.
  2. And Firefly really needed time, as some early episodes were kind of slow (I saw “Bushwhacked” initially, then saw the pilot later on).
  3. Of course, the song was just a trifle corny. I will get vehement disagreement on this point, but I think that could have been solved by doing a cool instrumental version for the opening credits and doing the vocal version on the end credits–at least for season 1.
  4. The time it was on was terrible, especially since I had a girlfriend at the time and was out during the regular time.
  5. Sci-Fi Western–it’s a dangerous concept, because it requires somebody skilled at worldbuilding to bring it off. See point 1.

All that being said, get it on DVD and see the upcoming movie version. Especially on DVD, you can give it more time without getting bored at the commercials.

All that is a warm-up to the topic it got me thinking about: legalized prostitution.


In the show, the crew of Serenity have a “Companion” on board, who is something like a geisha in Japan: much more than just a prostitute, though she is that as well. She has high status in society and commands respect from most of the hoi polloi, but at the same time the captain of the ship (who has a thing for her he won’t admit to, and she has a thing for him she won’t admit to, wackiness ensues) will use the word “whore” casually to level the social playing field, particularly when he’s feeling jealous.

But the Companion belongs to a guild with strict rules, screens her clients carefully, and is a true escort and social companion–witty, erudite, a great counselor and conversationalist–in addition to a provider of sex. Still, some of her clients inevitably look down on her. Others want to take her away from all that–but she really doesn’t want to leave.

Of course, just as in Japan, there are regular prostitutes in this Westerworld of the future. Some are struggling for respect, others wallow in the disrepute. Some are cast out of the Companion Guild, others are just regular ol’ workin’ girls (and boys, natch).

One of the conflicts set up in the show is the aforementioned romantic tension between the captain and the Companion. When the captain spends the night (his first in a loooooong time) with an ex-Companion friend of the Companion on his ship, the Companion cries out of a feeling of–hurt? jealousy?–but makes a brave face about it and claims a healthy attitude toward sex, free from jealousy. The captain, for his part, resisted initially but gave in, possibly through projection of his desire for the Companion on this ex-Companion.

So that brings to mind a number of thoughts–if you are still reading, click below to see them.

Prostitution is seen as having several downsides that make it a less-than-desirous profession, especially for the naiive young girls of TV:

  • Attracting a “criminal element.”
  • Risk of disease, particularly STDs, and particularly AIDS.
  • Drug abuse.
  • Exploitation and human trafficking.
  • Violence, from the aforementioned “criminal element” (especially pimps) as well as the attentions of an undue number of serial killers.

I believe most of those problems are due in no small part to prostitution’s illegality. Make it legal, and:

  • Most prostitutes will screen their clients for ability to pay and not be violent as opposed to just not being undercover vice (and not be so violent that it makes it worth going back to the pimp empty-handed).
  • Oh yeah: if it’s not illegal, they can report anybody trying to be a pimp for them against their will to the police. Or if somebody hits them.
  • Any “criminal element” will stick around illegal things–if prostitution isn’t illegal, it will be much less attractive (though I wonder how much it really brings it in now, with the exception of the aforementioned pimps).
  • Drug addicts probably turn to prostitution to feed their habit because it has low barriers to entry and crime tends to be concentrated in certain areas. Remove the criminality from prostitution, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t go where the johns are, rather than staying where network effects of criminality work in its favor–there’s no need for skilled criminals to be involved if it’s not illegal.

However, I don’t think the problems stop there. Other, perhaps new problems might come up, like the Companion in Firefly.

For one, how do you maintain that profession and have a relationship? I’m a firm believer that humans are evolved animals–and we have evolved jealousy largely because it aids in the transmission of our particular genes by keeping away rival gene sources (other men) and the diminution of resources available for the resulting offspring (er, other women). Just because you can’t or won’t have children doesn’t mean those biological urges won’t be there. Of course you can try to rise above them, just as we rise above the urge to whack that dullard downstairs who won’t ever try to debug a frickin’ program before coming to you for help, but it is like swimming against the current: possible, but it takes more effort than going with it or sideways to it.

So how can you have a partner who won’t mind that you take other partners, regardless of the reason you’re taking them, or the benefits that may bring to the relationship later?

Disease transmission is a function of the type of exposure times the amount of exposure. Just being in a room with someone who has a cold will get you some exposure to a rhinovirus. Just because you are exposed doesn’t mean you will get sick. If you’re not exposed to enough of it at once (they sneeze into your air path as you breathe in–ewwww) or enough times (say you take a trip to Croatia for several days with somebody who WILL NOT COVER HIS FREAKING MOUTH when he coughs no matter how much you hint).

While the legalization of prostitution will bring resources and probably a draw for more educated participants (in addition to killing the thrill for certain types who loved the threat of being caught, so they’ll have to go back to porking blow-up dolls in public), the nature and frequency of the activity will lend itself to disease transmission. Not just STDs, but disease in general. That kind of close contact indoors will spread diseases just as staying cooped up all winter spreads colds. Having a child or older people around has the same effect, albeit minus the STDs. So on the one hand you can say “hey, if somebody can have kids, why can’t I be a prostitute” and on the other I can say, “hey, that’s another good reason not to have kids.”

Nonetheless the risk of disease transmission has to be higher than that of the general public (c.f. the recent outbreak of AIDS in the US porn industry) and would be a drawback to pursuing the profession.

I’m not sure that violence would go away, either. When you consider that sex and power are linked in some people’s minds (hence the usual explanation for rape), increasing one will likely increase the other. Certainly domestic quarrels are a leading cause of violence–in the US, murder is most likely to be committed by someone the victim knows well, all too often a lover. Again, this could be an argument for remaining single and celibate, but it could be a factor in people who have a hard time relating normally to others in a sexual way would seek out prostitutes–so some of the risk of predatory attacks might remain.

Again, these are largely speculations on my part. I still say the benefits of legalization far outweigh the drawbacks–the main drawbacks being that they don’t completely erase the drawbacks of prostitution (when seen from the prostitute’s point of view) that exist currently, rather than adding anything new–with the possible exception of the jealousy in relationships I mention above. Certainly Amsterdam and Nevada have had legalized prostitution for some time–and the porn industry probably has experience with all these issues. Now New Zealand has legalized prostitution, I’m given to understand, so we may see some experience from there.

6 thoughts on “Firefly and Legalized Prostitution

  1. I have heard a while back that Amsterdam requires all prostitutes to annual physicals in order to maintain their license to work. Having been there and had a glimpse of their red light district (full of woman posing and “promoting the product” by the window of their room), it’s amazing to me that some women are willing to go to that length to fulfill their financial needs. I saw an interview with an American woman who works on in the red light district in Amsterdam who also has a daughter on one of the news magazine shows. During the interview she seems to be proud of what she is doing in order to provide for her daughter. I really wonder what she is going to say when the little girl asks what she does and what her attitude is about sex and relationships.


  2. Hi Sandy,

    I’ll be most happy to talk about decriminialisation of prostitution in New Zealand. There is a distinction between this and legalisation.

    With legalisation the State controls prostitution and who and how people work in the industry. If people don’t have State approval they are forced on to the streets or have to work illegally. It is, as you say, the illegal nature of the industry that allows crime to penetrate (if you will excuse the term) and what perpetuates violence against workers (mostly female).

    Decriminialisation takes away all the illegal components of working and gives workers much the same rights as other people take for granted (in NZ). New Zealand’s legislation is based on that in New South Wales (Australia if you are sure of what’s downunder – perhaps another bad term!).

    I want to talk to the Prostitutes Collective (sort of like a union but not exactly) to make sure I am giving you correct information.

    Catch up with you soon.


  3. “(and boys, natch)”

    Does ‘natch’ mean naturally? I’ve seen that term in various net-related settings, and the context has always just brought Pinky’s “Narf!” exclamation to mind. This has been the first time that “naturally” has come to mind, and it fits the context better. So ah, am I right, or am I still in the dark?


  4. Hi Sandy, et al.

    Been a bit busy so bit delayed with my reply.

    Prostitutes are, in many ways, the best way of educating men about STD / HIV, etc. Research has shown that prostitutes have a lower rate of STD’s, etc., than the general population. Not surprising, really. First, we want to protect our bodies from harm. Secondly, our livelihod depends on our bodies being healthy.

    When told by a prostitute about using condoms, dams, etc., a guy is more likely to take notice than in a classroom situation. If for no other reason, no condom, no go!!

    If you want to check this out, confirmation can be obtained from the Disease Control Centre in Atlanta (no sure of its correct name).

    There is really no need to have separate laws for prostitution. When an industry has no illegal components, there is little attraction for the criminal element. Whereas when laws make parts or an entire industry illegal, criminals are attracted like flies to dung.

    This is when workers are put at risk. For to ask for help from the police, works are putting themselves in line for prosecution themselves. Clients, pimps, etc., know this and can get away with many crimes, murder included. (Because of New Zealand’s laws, pimps aren’t part of the industry as they are in other countries).

    Since the illegal aspects of working have been removed, sex workers now come under the Health and Safety in Employment, and other legislation, just as all other workers do. This includes me, whether I’m working from my home or elsewhere.

    All other aspects of the sex industry can be “controlled” by other laws or by-laws of city council. Such as noise nuisance, public nuisance (street workers making a pest of themselves), etc.

    There are some workers who use drugs, but these people are generally avoided by other workers. Sex work may be the only way they can earn money but they can put themselves and others at serious risk.

    As you say, Sandy, there is a much higher risk of getting a nasty bug from people on the street, in public transport, at work, etc., than from prostitutes.

    Trafficking is obnoxious, to put it mildly. But again, if the sex industry is illegal, women or children have nobody to turn to. But again, this is something that can be dealt with by “normal” immigration policies. New Zealand does have one advantage here. We’re surrounded by water, and the nearest somewhere else (Australia) is 1,200 miles away.

    Hope this helps.

    And in answer to Dave-O-Rama’s question, “natch” is an abreviation of “naturally”. Many of the older abreviations, words, etc., have not made into the computer world.

    An enjoyable day to you.


  5. Those are really interesting and good reads. Wish the first one had talked a little more about alternatives, but it was a good check on the reality of the current situation.


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