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Rachel Moran on Her Years in Prostitution, How She Got Out of It, and Why She Thinks It Is a Form of Sexual Exploitation

Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution (book cover)

Rachel Moran is the Director of International Policy and Advocacy for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE, a leading non-partisan organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health harms of pornography). Her work has been endorsed by Jane Fonda, U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan and many others. Her bestselling memoir, Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution, is regarded by legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon as “the best work by anyone on prostitution ever” and has been published in more than a dozen countries and numerous languages including German, Italian, Korean, French, and Spanish. Ms. Moran was prostituted for seven years in Dublin and across Ireland, beginning when she was 15 years old. She later completed her education and received a degree in Journalism from Dublin City University and a Masters in Creative Writing from University College Dublin. As an abolitionist, Ms. Moran was instrumental in bringing the Abolitionist (Nordic) Model to Ireland in two separate processes on either side of the Irish border, and works centrally within the international survivors movement, which calls for the implementation of the Abolitionist Model worldwide. She has spoken at the United Nations, the European Parliament, Westminster Parliament and many other global institutions and prominent places of learning. Read more about her work here, here, and here.

“The reality of prostitution has been hiding in plain sight for millennia. We all know it, instinctively. That’s why we don’t want our sisters and daughters and mothers in brothels. It’s strange how something we know on a sensory level can elude us intellectually. The reality of prostitution is not complex, it is simple. Controlling what people do sexually is inherently abusive.” —Rachel Moran

Shermer and Moran discuss:

  • her dysfunctional family background that led to prostitution
  • her boyfriend who pimped her
  • Who are the women who sell sex?
  • Who are the men who buy sex?
  • why other prostitutes have attacked her
  • agency and volition in prostitution: women and men
  • why “prostituted” as something done to women (instead of choosing it)?
  • what she thought about when having prostituted sex
  • drugs, depression, and suicide as responses to prostitution
  • the myth of prostitutes’ sexual pleasure
  • the myth of prostitutes’ control
  • the myth of the happy hooker
  • the myth of women putting themselves through college through prostitution
  • virtual sex, phone sex, cyber sex, cam sex, etc. (OnlyFans and other sites)
  • feminism and prostitution
  • Liberal vs. Conservative attitudes about prostitution and pornography
  • Do prostitution and pornography lower moral standards and/or degrade neighborhoods and societies?
  • why Moran thinks “sex work” and “sex workers” are bad euphemisms for “prostitution” and “prostitutes” that hide the true abusive nature of the practice
  • how she got out of prostitution
  • What’s the harm in consenting adult women selling their bodies for sex?
  • What about men who cannot get sex otherwise and need to pay for it (incels, disabled)?
  • What should be done about prostitution, if anything? What is the long-term goal?
  • ethical issues: victimhood, freedom of choice, general benefit or harm to society
  • proposed responses to prostitution (for buyers, sellers, and/or distributors): criminalize, decriminalize, legalize and regulate.
Show Notes

Anthropologist Alan Fiske’s model of four types of human relationships:

  1. Communal Sharing: Relatives, couples, marriage, families, friends—freely share resources within a group, no tab keeping, egalitarian, “one flesh” common essence, no contamination, evolved: maternal care, kin selection, mutualism
  2. Authority Ranking: Employer/Employee, Teacher/Student, Parent/Child—linear hierarchy, dominance, status, age, size, strength, wealth, precedence, tribute from inferiors, obedience, paternalistic, noblesse oblige; evolved: hierarchical primates
  3. Equality Matching: Friends splitting gas, informal exchanges. Marriage? Tit-for-tat reciprocity, division of resources equitably via turn-taking, coin-flipping, matching contributions, cut and divide cake equally; evolve: fairness & reciprocity, intuitive economics, cheating detection, perspective taking & calculation
  4. Market Pricing: Economy of strangers, money is the social currency of exchange and reciprocity—currency, prices, rents, salaries, benefits, interest, credit; evolve: none

Violations of Fiske’s 4 Models:

  • Restaurant diner invites owner to dinner instead of paying
  • Dinner guest offers to pay host
  • Woody Allen’s watch/my neighbor’s car
  • Organ sale
  • Roads: Public vs. Private
  • Sex between Employer & Employee, Teacher & Student, Parent & Child
  • Prostitution: Sex is usually within communal sharing or equality matching, not market pricing.

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This episode was released on February 25, 2023.

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