A few days ago, one of my female Nigerian friends who holds a first degree in Philosophy, a second in Law and a masters in Law cornered me with a question in the wake of the Moesha CNN faux pas.
The question was: who is a prostitute and would you term what Moesha and many other women do today as prostitution?
Knowing the background of my friend, I knew she was not looking for a dictionary definition of a prostitute, else she would have checked that herself. She was looking to entangle what on the face of it would seem like an easy question with probably philosophical strings in relation to the zeitgeist of our time.
I remained calm for a few seconds to carefully structure my response and said: “a prostitute is any person who trades sex for financial gains or advantage—whether the intended gain is express or implied.”
I thought I had nailed it but she was not satisfied and therefore jumped in: “so if I meet a man at the bar and I think he’s cute and would want to sleep with him, and immediately before taking of my panties in his house, I realized he’s rich therefore asked that he pays me for the sex which he also so much wants, does that make me a prostitute?”“Certainly yes, you are a prostitute—because you traded sex for money,” I said.
She went further, “what if we agreed that he will pay me for the sex and after the sex, he did not pay—am I still a prostitute as I did not receive any payment for that sex?”
I answered: yeah, you are still a prostitute because the keyword is intention—it does not matter if the intention materialized or not.
She smiled briefly and asked again: “On the first night of a reluctant hooker at work, she meets a man and instantly comes to the conclusion that she loves the man and will, therefore, want to have sex with the man, intending to just get sexual pleasure. After the sex, the man leaves while she was sleeping, leaving behind 500 dollars with a note saying thanks for the good sex—is this woman a prostitute?”
This was getting complicated than I anticipated so I decided to be extra careful with my answers as it was obvious her follow-ups were solely looking to weaken my answers.
I replied: “no she is not a prostitute. Because the intention of the intercourse was for something either than financial gain. The money was an afterthought or happening—she didn’t intend to have sex for that.”
She then decided to directly attack my fluid usage of intention. She asked: ‘so if your own girlfriend knows sex softens your heart and she intends to extract some money from your pocket—therefore comes to have sex with you one afternoon after which she asks for money which you pay out, does your girlfriend suddenly become a prostitute even to you—if the determinate element is intention?’
I said: That’s ridiculous. The fact that the person is in a relationship with you negates any tendency of being a prostitute to you—even if money is paid out after sex.
She was somewhat accepting to this but said she does not agree that intention or the existence or absence of a relationship determines whether a person is a prostitute or not—rather, it’s whether the person is running a business or not.
“It’s about trade—a trade is a commercial enterprise. In the absence of that commercial setting, even if money is constantly paid out, a prostitute cannot be said to be present,” she said.
Our conversation came to an end when she was called by a colleague. But it has kept me wondering who really is a prostitute. Because since the Middle Ages, the definition of a prostitute has been ambiguous with society’s definition of prostitution constantly evolving.
Who’s a prostitute to you?