M.J. Watson offered something particularly interesting to our conversation about prostitution. So here it is:
At the root of the view that prostitution is harmful to women, and men, is (the idea) that there is something intrinsically valuable about our sexuality that should not be commodified. To engage in prostitution is to treat oneself as a means rather than an end. Connie's view seems to rely only on the criterion of consent. Whatever one consents to is legitimate.
My view is that one can consent to an activity that nonetheless is demeaning and immoral. I don't know that there is a prior principle to appeal to that would prove either of us right or wrong, but let me give two illustrations of why sex is intrinsic to us in a special way, even at the risk of making this too long of a comment.
1. Imagine Fred says to Steve, "Hey Steve, Betty and I are playing tennis on Thursday night. But I can't make it, would you be willing to fill in?"
Now imagine Fred says, "Hey Steve, Betty and I are having sex on Thursday night, but something has come up and I can't make it. Would you be willing to fill in?"
We may laugh at this, but our laughter reveals that we know there is something not quite right about this scenario. Sex is not just another activity.
2. On a more serious note, consider why we think rape is wrong. Leon Kass has an amazing article about the rape of Dinah in Genesis. He notes that today rape is seen as wrong merely because it violates a women's consent and because of the physical harm. But on the older view rape is also considered wrong because it also violates her "womanliness", or, to really use antiquated language, her virtue (her specifically sexual virtue).
But on the consent-only view it's hard to understand what makes rape the specifically awful crime that it is. It is a violation unlike any other because of the special nature of our sexuality, and thus the act of rape is intrinsically different from a punch in the nose or another violent assault.
I grant these examples don't prove that the consent-only view is wrong. As I said, I'm not sure what would do that. But I hope they illustrate why we have good reason to think there is something intrinsically valuable about our sexuality and that it thus should not be treated like a widget to be commodified.