Carol Roth: No, Teen Vogue, you should not promote prostitution as a career choice

The Internet is a crazy place, made crazier with a desire from many platforms to be shocking just to get readership. Clickbait headlines and outrageous, negative stories complete with aggressive phrases like “owned” and “called out” litter websites and their corresponding social media accounts, which all do their best to out-shock each other to capture readers’ limited attention. While this insanity is definitely detrimental to our health as a society, it deserves even more scrutiny when directed at children.

Teen Vogue recently published a story with the headline "Why Sex Work is Real Work," written by Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, who makes the argument that “sex work” should be decriminalized and says, “I am a doctor, an expert in sexual health, but when you think about it, aren't I a sex worker? And in some ways, aren't we all?”

To answer the question posed by Dr. Mofokeng, unless there’s something we don’t know about how you perform your services, no, doctor, you are in fact not a sex worker. And no, we all are not either. In fact, if you ask any parent what they want their kid to do for work when they grow up, you would be hard-pressed to find one who would say “a prostitute."

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Putting aside the discussion about decriminalizing prostitution (and feelings about other related “sex work”), the issue here is that this is a website, which bears the title of “Teen” and is specifically targeted at teenagers. In fact, it is likely read in large part by pre-teens and younger teens (as older teens tend to want to view themselves through more of an adult lens).

For a doctor to promote prostitution as a viable career option and compare health care and selling your body as similar is disgusting and just plain wrong.

Was there no editor, no staffer, nobody at all that put aside the desire for controversy and instead thought that presenting prostitution as a good and viable career option to pre-teens and young teens is sheer lunacy and incredibly perverse?

First, prostitution is illegal in the United States currently, so presenting it as a good choice, whether you think it should be legal or not, is like suggesting that a teen pursue a career as a drug dealer. Moreover, sex with a minor is also illegal (with the age of consent obviously varying by state) and with sex trafficking and sexual assault of minors being issues that society far too frequently contends with, and especially in the midst of the #MeToo era, a piece like this is nothing short of insane.

Opportunities for fantastic careers in entrepreneurship, technology, financial services, health care and many other industries are abundant and young people should be educated about them. The doctor could have talked about the benefits of being a doctor and caring for people. But for a doctor to promote prostitution as a viable career option and compare health care and selling your body as similar is disgusting and just plain wrong.

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Again, the issue at hand is not about prostitution or sexual education of minors, which are debates that can be had at other times and places. It is about glorifying an illegal, and to many, immoral, activity, which is often linked to severe emotional stress and/or to human trafficking, as a good and reasonable career to young people in their formative years – by a person in a respected profession, nonetheless.

Sure, the internet is full of all kinds of distasteful words and video, and kids are not stupid. They are likely to be exposed to things that perhaps are beyond their years or beyond general norms of acceptability. But, that doesn’t absolve platforms and the adults that run them from having some common sense. Having an authority figure promote careers in prostitution doesn’t pass that sense test.

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