Prostitution must be legalized. No one should do this work if they’re under-age. No one should be forced to do this work. That’s slavery. But if a grown-up feels their best career opportunity is in the sex industry, it should be their right to pursue that line of work.

Many well-educated, well-intentioned people have told me that it’s in a woman’s best interest for prostitution to be illegal, because legalizing it condones and legitimizes it. Few of these people have ever worked in the sex industry. And those who have seem to confuse slavery with real sex work.

The one thing criminalizing prostitution does is insure that women who do sex for money will be punished. Because it makes them into criminals. So many poor, hungry, undereducated, unskilled, ill-equipped women are being punished every day in every city of America. By johns, by pimps, by cops.

Prohibition does not work. We proved that already in our country in the thirties with alcohol. The results were disastrous. Criminalizing sex work puts the business into the paws of both organized and unorganized crime. If sex work was licensed and controlled by a woman-staffed organization that aggressively protected the rights of sex workers, perhaps they wouldn’t be stabbed, shot, raped, harassed, jailed and forced to give freebies to every cop with an attitude. With tax revenue generated from the sex industry, scholarship and trade education programs could be set up for sex workers, in addition to health, drug, and career counseling.

Some sex workers have been sexually abused. By a parent, an uncle, a cousin, or a total stranger. An abuse survivor needs help to break the patterns this abuse produces. Needs help overcoming the damage abuse does to the brain. Many sex workers want help, and there is no one to help them. But some don’t. And that is their right.

But some sex workers have not been abused. They come to the work because they have made a cool, calm, rational decision. And that is their right in America. Many professions are high risk. But if someone wants run into a burning building for a living, that is their right. And of course no one has the right to force anyone to be a fireman.

If your options are to make four dollars an hour flipping burgers, or $500 a day turning tricks, suddenly selling your sex doesn’t seem quite so unreasonable.

In a utopian society everyone would get all the love and sex they want and need. There would be enough love to go around for everyone. People would express their love freely in all kinds of intercourse, not just sexual. There would be interesting and profitable work for everyone. There would be no bigotry, no orphans, no sexually abused children.

But we do not live in a utopia. We live in America. There’s always been a sex industry in America. And business is booming, even as we speak.

Because we live in a society that represses natural sexuality, we make sex working a heinous act. If a person has skill at sex, and they don’t feel guilty or suffer from it, why isn’t their skill as valued as any other essential skill, like building a house, or talking someone down from the ledge?

Instead of burying our heads in the sands of utopianism, or condemning sex workers and customers who want to honestly exchange sex for money, we must protect the valiant men and women of the sex business. Monitor the industry to eliminate violence and decease. Tax it and use the money to help educate, enlighten, and train sex workers.

Prostitution must be legalized.