Listen: Open To Debate — Is It Ok To Pay For Sex? premiered on June 2, 2024 across 300 syndicated NPR stations.

More Resources: Review our companion resource guide from the debate.



Opening Remarks from Kaytlin Bailey: Is It Ok To Pay For Sex?

I believe that it is ok to pay for sex but you don’t have to believe that buying sexual services is ok to know that criminalizing people who do leads to bad outcomes. The World Health Organization, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch don’t support decriminalizing sex work because they love the sex industry, but because it is simply, the only policy that reduces violence. We know what prohibition does to markets and it doesn’t make them safer.

All labor exists on a spectrum of choice, circumstance and coercion. Exploitation is wrong across labor sectors. Forcing someone to work in a slaughterhouse, or to pick fruit is just as wrong as forcing someone to work in a brothel.

Prostitution has become a symbol of exploitation. But there are people who choose to have sex for money — like I did. I have met hundreds of people who do this work because they felt called to it, and many more who did this work without regret to pay their bills.

The problem with sex trafficking is the trafficking part-and not the sex. Sex that would not be a crime if money was not being exchanged should not become a crime just because someone is getting paid.

People who pay for sex, more often than not, are looking for connection. And that isn’t just my experience; sociologists, researchers and sex workers all over the world know that the overwhelming majority of their clients are trying to get their very human, very understandable needs met. It’s ok to pay for sex for in the same way that it’s ok to pay for daycare, or for a pedicure, or for someone to clean your house.

Clients help people pay their bills, go to school and start businesses. According to the Sex Worker Project at the Urban Justice Center, more trafficking victims in NYC are rescued by concerned clients than by law enforcement.

Predators exist. We can and should arrest people who prey on sex workers and vulnerable people. But we can’t do that by conflating respectful clients with violent criminals.

When clients are criminalized it’s harder for sex workers to report crimes committed against them, to advocate for their own safety and everywhere this policy has been implemented people who sell sex are more vulnerable.

We have decades of data that shows that decriminalizing sex work not only reduces violence and STIs, but also creates opportunities for sex workers to hold people accountable who try to hurt us. That isn’t true in places where the explicit policy goal is to eliminate prostitution, where everyone involved has good reasons to fear the police.

You don’t have to be someone who would ever buy or sell sexual services to support policies that reduce violence and exploitation.

We can make it easier for people to report crimes committed against them, aggressively prosecute predators and provide real resources to those fleeing violent partners or employers.

But we will not do any of that by arresting people for paying for sex.