The idea for this post came from Dennis, who you can see commented on my photo in my gallery of a sticker from a Dutch bathroom. I found this in a fish restaurant in the seaside town of Scheveningen.

If anyone cares to translate I'd appreciate it

He kindly translated and explained the premise behind ‘Rent-a-bob’. I must admit I was disappointed to discover there was no man called Bob who you could briefly enslave, for a fee.

Rent-a-bob consists of a person you can hire to drive you home, in your own car. He arrives when you are drunk, and chauffeurs you in your wheels. It’s like the service (which has a great website btw) in the UK.

I must admit I have a bit of an overactive imagination so the idea of a friendly person who comes to drive you home really set me off…

Do you think he kisses you good night?

Does the guy always come wearing that little tie like in the advert?

Can you ask him to come early and pretend to laugh at your jokes?

If you asked nicely would he buy you a drink?

Is it sometimes a woman?

Do you think it’s like an escort service and they’d go all the way for a bit more cash?

Will they choose the music on the drive home or can you?

Are they always called Bob (OK it’s an acronym in Dutch)?

All these ideas were swirling around in my head. They began to coalesce into some fully formed questions eventually.

In the Netherlands prostitution is legal and heavily regulated and licensed. Does this fall under the same laws? Surely what Bob is doing is … ‘something anyone can do, but for money’ which is occasionally used as a definition for what is prostitution. Do you think Bob wears a corset under his tie? Can you take you on an S&M version of the drive home if you pay extra?

Are models prostitutes? Is the person who delivers your newspaper a prostitute? Are the pretty eastern European girls who work in Cafe Nero prostitutes? (Don’t answer that last one)

I think one thing that isn’t a question but a matter of fact is that definition is pretty outdated. It doesn’t even include a reference to sex, which is kind of the defining feature of prostitution.

So, who should set the definition for what comprises prostitution? Should there be one single definition? Does it mean the same thing wherever you are in the world? Do different cultures have different interpretations of the same act? How would you legitimise the definition? Would you go out to consultation? A survey in 100 languages of a representative sample of 1000 prostitutes across the globe.

I’m not going to pass judgement on prostitutes. But… (there’s always a but) I don’t think anyone really wants to be one, people may talk about female empowerment and the right to make decisions about your own body… but really… are prostitutes happy? Do they wake up every morning and go ‘yes! I have the best job in the world!’

The real trouble is being able to tell who is doing it out of choice (however wrong we may consider it) and who is effectively enslaved or indentured. The problem lies with people with lower mental capacity or those in countries that are unfamiliar or children. That’s the worst one. But, you wouldn’t want to go on some crusade to save all the women working in the sex industry. I can’t think of anything more patronising. Fully armed agents from the local council bursting into a lady’s front room while she whipped the local MP, trussed up like a chicken.

Maybe the answer is regulation. In the Netherlands prostitution is heavily regulated, it’s licensed and taxed and the workers are unionised. It’s like working in a school. Just with more PVC.

So, to conclude, some questions.

  1. Is it wrong to have sex for money?
  2. If so, why, give me a good reason.
  3. Who should define the terms around selling yourself and who should police it.
  4. Should we give a damn?

I think Ruth Mazo Karras’ (author of Common Women) take on it is very clear:

“Prostitution exists today because women are objectified sexually, and because it is considered more permissible for men than for women to have purely sexual experiences”

I’m sorry if I’ve taken us on a journey starting with a sticker and a scheme to reduce drink driving to a wholesale debate on the ethics of prostitution.
Go figure.


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