Let's hear it for the brothel

Legalised prostitution could provide centres of healthy satisfaction.
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The Independent Online
Why are we so frightened of legalising brothels? A colleague of mine who was working on a documentary about prostitution in the King's Cross area of London found a morass of disease, sleaze, drugs, blackmail, pimp-violence and official corruption. Legalised brothels could prevent most of that.

In countries that tolerate brothels, the incidence of sexual abuse and the sexual abuse of children is lower than it is here. Yet what are we up to now? Parliament, at its most futile, has set up an All-Party Prostitution Group, led by Diane Abbot, which is kerb-crawling its way through the Commons and demanding, among other things, that prostitutes be given community service and clients arriving by car have their licences endorsed. Not a lot of humour in the All-Party Prostitution Group.

Meanwhile sexual titillation is becoming torrential. Hen-nights assume the character of the Theatre of Riot - far more so than the tame little stag-nights - and repro-Chippendales sweat down to their last spangled jock-strap and then begin wildly looking for the emergency exits as the lusts of Messalina surge through the thighs of suburbia.

Peter Stringfellow gets a police licence in the West End for "lap-dancing". I saw it on Richard Littlejohn's television programme - pubescents grindingly simulating sex full-on in front of immobile males who feared to move in case they got arrested. In a prime West End theatre, a few yards from the Mother of Parliaments, a new show opens called Voyeurz projects a lascivious performance that would have been banned in a Soho strip club not long ago. The top racks of newsagencies nationwide groan under the combined weight and embarrassment of splayed, engorged private parts. Hollywood is damn-near explicit and late-night British TV is showing a determination not to be left out.

Which is fine by me, but in this environment brothels would seem to have everything to recommend them: health checks for both parties, panic buttons for the women or men selling their services, age control - and these are the least of what an entrepreneur like Richard Branson could turn into an opulent centre for "healthy satisfaction" ("Virgin Brothels" - what title could better suit the English?) But brothels remain off the agenda.

Of course there will always be a minority on both sides of the transaction that wants the sleaze and the risk, and no doubt they will retain it even in the most brothelised of societies. But they are surely marginal to the main argument.

Meanwhile, there are a few small signs. In Edinburgh a limited experiment in legalised prostitution has achieved its aims, and there are improvements very similar to the successes secured in those few lucky areas that have been able to run an enlightened clean-needle and controlled-drug policy. But it does not seem to be gathering moral support.

There is, of course, a traditional and legitimate objection to brothels from those who believe that family values would be undermined, even more decisively than they are at present, were boltholes for promiscuity sanctioned by Parliament. This is a fair point; but alas its time appears to have gone, if indeed it was ever truly here - at the time of high Victorian morality, the Strand was lined with child prostitutes. That view depends on a universal acclamation of monogamy and the sacred shackles of the family, and wonderful though this is for some, it does not take enough into account.

You simply cannot force everyone into the same-shaped box. And for a thousand and one reasons there have been and there will always be men and women who want to seek paid sexual gratification. Allowing it to continue in its present dangerous way is cowardly.

But who will be the brave Horatio in the House of Commons and move the Bill and seek the support and withstand the hounding that could well come from the press, and the scolding that might proceed from Their Lordships and Their Ladyships and the full gale force 10 of the Brits in a high puff of morality? One suspects that no man could. This in my opinion is the true reason for the decline in our respect for Parliament; not its petty corruptions but the refusal of its members to do anything that might dent their electoral prospects.

Given the attitude to sex that certain media masters manipulate and exploit so cunningly in this country - alternately leering pompous, jeering hypocritical, pious prurient, everything but adult - the idea of legalising brothels is probably paralysed in its starting blocks. One hope remains. No man would dare to chance it. It would have to be a woman MP. She would need to be bold and tough; be known to know about sex and be interested in it and be unafraid to talk about it; be unafraid of the spotlight when the arc lamps of publicity swing onto her; and a street fighter. I nominate Edwina Currie.

Her private life is unimpeachable. Her energy is formidable. Her sexual explicitness - in her novels - seems cheerfully accepted by her fellow MPs, in whose chamber she locates many an erotic act. She could clean out the blocked drain in our ethical plumbing and emerge as a heroine of the people. Edwina Currie - your time has come.