Prostitution is commonly referred to as the ‘‘world’s oldest profession’’ and has been documented to exist even before biblical writings. Considering that historically prostitutes were forbidden the privilege of marriage (Rathus 1983), the phrase spousal prostitution appears to be an oxymoron; however, spousal prostitution is a very real phenomenon in contemporary American society, as husbands, in exchange for money, provide sex with their wives as a service to others.
For clarity of definitions, prostitution is defined as the granting of nonmarital sexual access, by mutual agreement, between the prostitute or her employer and her client, for remuneration (Siegel 1998). As the term ‘‘prostitution’’ is not specific to gender, the prostitute may be either male or female and either heterosexual or homosexual; however, most literature on the topic of prostitution addresses only the female prostitute. When the term ‘‘spousal’’ is added to the term ‘‘prostitution,’’ this is often indicative of the existence of a division of power and labor between the two married individuals. This division of power reveals itself as one individual prostitutes (or grants sexual access to) the other. In most cases, the husband, in exchange for either money or drugs, prostitutes his wife.
Hollywood is not ignorant of the arrangement of spousal prostitution, and this theme has been presented in several contemporary movies. However, in movies such as Indecent Proposal with Robert Redford and Demi Moore and Honeymoon in Vegas with Nicholas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker, spousal prostitution is depicted as an arrangement of mutual agreements; this is not always the case in real life, as some prostitutes are not given the opportunity to say no. In reference to discussions on the relationship between spousal prostitution and domestic violence, often the prostitution of the wife by the husband is accomplished through abuse or the threat of abuse—not unlike other outcomes of domestic violence. Therefore, for the purpose of this research paper, spousal prostitution is defined as the sexual exploitation of one spouse by the other spouse for some profit.
Over three decades ago, Winick and Kinsie (1971) suggested that the majority of prostitutes had a history that included abuse by either a husband or a boyfriend. In fact, Hotaling and Finkelhor (1988) suggest that a family member often introduces prostitutes to sexual exploitation as children; that exploitation, as suggested in the cyclic process of domestic violence (the cycle of violence), continues into adulthood. It stands to reason that, as many males have been socialized to view sex as a commodity and women socialized to view themselves as sexual objects (James 1977), the idea that a woman is ‘‘sitting on a goldmine’’ simply because she is a woman provides the foundation for entertaining the thought of spousal prostitution. Husbands perceive sex with their wives as a product worthy of trade and therefore use that sexual activity as a product for sale on the open market.
Few women imagine their married lives to include sexual relations with men to whom they are not married or sex with other men at the request of their husbands; for the majority of wives this never occurs. However, some wives, because of financial needs or substance abuse, discover themselves engaged in prostitution, with their husbands occupying the position of pimp. Just as a pimp controls the actions and life of the street prostitute (Williams and Cluse-Tolar 2002), the husband controls the actions and life of the wife. Therefore, it is not unusual for a husband, in need of money to support a drug habit or as a livelihood to support his family, to prostitute his wife. In addition, for some women, the activity of prostitution was originally the desired outcome by the husband, and marriage is simply the avenue to it. These women may be mail-order brides. In fact, some of these women volunteer themselves to be brought to the United States to fulfill the role of a bride but sometimes discover themselves in the business of prostitution.
It is suggested that the mail-order bride industry is a cold and heartless business that has provided a focus for human rights campaigns for years. Every year, thousands of women leave their countries to begin new and ‘‘rewarding’’ marriages in the United States (Cullen 2002). Unfortunately, many of these women become trapped either in an environment of slavery or in prostitution (Cullen 2002). For some men, the allure of a tax-free business through prostitution is enough to entice a civil marriage ceremony, thus allowing the wife/‘‘breadwinner’’ to begin working for them. These brides, who end up in loveless marriages, are often forced into prostitution by their husbands in order to provide him financial revenue. They are deprived of freedom, money, and rights and are used simply as sex objects offered to the highest bidders. Therefore, not only are these women deceived into entering the trade of prostitution, they are now victims of domestic abuse and spousal prostitution.
In an attempt to address the problem of spousal prostitution, many states have written laws on prostitution that specifically prohibit spousal prostitution. As historically the legal system in the United States has been perceived as reactive instead of proactive, the fact that both federal laws and state statutes prohibit spousal prostitution indicates that spousal prostitution has been identified to exist and has been identified as a problem.
Specifically, in Virginia one is guilty of facilitating prostitution if the prostituted person is the facilitator’s spouse. In Oregon, a person is guilty of compelling prostitution (a class B felony) if that person induces or causes his spouse to engage in prostitution. In Arizona, causing a spouse to become a prostitute is considered a class 5 felony, and in Maryland one is guilty of prostitution if one places a spouse in a house of prostitution. Obviously, these states, which are not unique, have recognized the phenomenon of spousal prostitution as an activity they choose to address and to end.
In summary, just as with other crimes that occur among family members, the prostitution of one’s spouse, or spousal prostitution, exists within the United States as well as in other countries. As more information becomes available on the full reach of domestic violence, one should expect to read of more cases of spousal prostitution.
- Cullen, S. ‘‘The Miserable Lives of Mail Order Brides.’’ Women in Action 3 (2002): 6.
- Hotaling, G., and D. Finkelhor. The Sexual Exploitation of Missing Children. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, 1988.
- James, J. ‘‘Prostitutes and Prostitution.’’ In Deviants: Voluntary Action in a Hostile World, edited by E. Sagarin and F. Montaninos. New York: Scott and Foresman, 1977, p. 384.
- Melrose, M., and D. Barrett. Anchors in Floating Lives. Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK: Russell House, 2004.
- Rathus, S. Human Sexuality. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1983.
- Siegel, L. Criminology: Theories, Patterns, and Typologies, 6th ed. Belmont, CA: West/Wadsworth, 1998.
- Williams, C., and T. Cluse-Tolar. ‘‘Pimp-Controlled Prostitution: Still an Integral Part of Street Life.’’ Violence against Women 8 (2002): 1074–1092.
- Winick, C., and P. Kinsie. The Lively Commerce. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971.