Analysis / Unproblematic Prostitution

Unproblematic Prostitution is a trope wherein the negative aspects of prostitution are downplayed or removed entirely, making a career as a sex worker seem no worse than any other career, possibly better — more profitable, and more fun.

Authors dealing with this trope may have to deal with two different audience reactions. These two positions are very different from each other, but they both agree that it's dangerous to portray a sex worker in a positive way because it appears to promote or glamorize prostitution. The first position sees sex workers as victims, thus despising the trope Disposable Sex Worker even more than this one. The other position sees sex workers as immoral, thus tending to see the other trope as a valuable aesop instead.

One major issue is, depending on viewpoint, either "the myth of the happy hooker" or "the myth of the myth of the happy hooker". A lot of people believe that at least one of these two phenomena is a real social problem, and many believe that both are.

"The myth of the happy hooker" claims that prostitutes are never happy or comfortable with their lives, and that the illusion that they are merely gives customers false reassurance that what they are doing is okay. It also misleads gullible young people (men and women) into doing things they regret. Some social workers have met young prostitutes who blame the movie Pretty Woman for the mistakes they made in their lives.

"The myth of the myth of the happy hooker" claims that it is not unrealistic or misleading to depict a prostitute as an ordinary working woman with control over her destiny, satisfaction with her life choices, and a mind of her own. Sex workers have claimed that they dislike being treated and seen as victims, and that some of their 'defenders' treat them like ignorant children or look down on them with a kind of pity that is actually contempt.

Given the range of status and socio-economic class of prostitution, sex workers also resent the broadness of the label "the hooker." People take the liberty to discuss whether "the hooker" is happy or not, a liberty they would never take against any other group since it would then be obvious how patronizing and objectifying it really is. For example, talking about social problems in Africa or in urban areas of American cities in terms of whether "the negro" is happy or not would of course be unthinkable in today's society. The simple fact is that prostitution, as with any social group, is made up of a great number of individuals with their own unique experiences and perspectives, not just a homogenous lockstep collective.

As for works having it both ways with social problems, this can be handled in many ways. We might have a character or group of characters in the eye of the storm, so to speak. They are sufficiently strong or lucky to live up to this trope, while other characters live horrible lives with trafficking and abusive pimps and all kinds of trauma. Another way is to let the character suffer social stigma and prejudice and all that kind of stuff, but keeping these problems externalized: the life isn't their problem — other people's bigotry is.

Generally speaking, a sex worker is more likely to find their experience of the industry generally positive and empowering if they have certain privileges including physical, mental and emotional health, education, independence and beauty. Unproblematic Prostitution narratives such as the ones listed on the main page are popular and palatable for the reasons outlined above but unfortunately do not often examine the factors that lead to an individual's experience of the sex industry being positive or otherwise.

For some complex reasons not to be discussed here, Real Life prostitution in European countries, from escorting to the humble streetwalking, has a better chance to be "unproblematic" (fewer problems with law enforcement, less use of drugs, lesser violence, fewer gangsters to deal with or to run from, easier access to healthcare, and so on) compared to the USA, based on testimonies from clients and workers, and it's worlds away like Heaven is from Hell compared to some Southeast Asian countries. In media, even worse in the media from roughly the 1970s to the 1990s, exploitation of the "exoticism" would shift the opinion in the opposite direction — Asia was portrayed as the land of endless joy, while the American and European characters would appear stuffy by comparison.

The idea of no-strings-attached sex on demand with a woman who is entirely happy to offer it is an understandable male fantasy at the root of most literary portrayals of Unproblematic Prostitution. As stated above the 'profession' may well be 'unproblematic' for women with health and beauty who are able to pick and choose. But beauty doesn't lastnote  and for those with poor health (whether it be physical, mental and/or emotional) being a sex worker can likely open more alleyways to abuse. When it comes to (often low income) sex workers who can't leave the profession or are forced into it, whether due to pimps/traffickers, poverty, and/or serious drug addictions, it is obviously no longer "unproblematic".