As usual, sex was a popular topic in the news this year. From changes in laws across the globe to favor same-sex marriage and the safety of sex workers to watching a young woman swing naked on a wrecking ball, it was impossible to escape the controversial and polarizing nature of sex in our culture.

Global Spread of Marriage Equality

One of the biggest stories of the year was the continuing spread of legal same-sex marriage. According to the New York Times, the global population with access to marriage equality doubled in 2013, which was largely due to progress in North and South America. Eight more of the United States passed laws on marriage equality which are now recognized by the Federal Government thanks to a Supreme Court decision this summer, while Uruguay and Brazil voted to legalize same-sex marriage earlier this year.

France became the largest European country to do so as well, and New Zealand brought same-sex marriage to the Southern Hemisphere. This brings the total global population with access to equalize marriage rights to approximately 585 million, which sounds pretty high until you realize it still only represents about 8% of people across the entire world. Here’s to hoping we double or even triple that number in the coming year.

Challenging Canada’s Prostitution Laws

Another of 2013’s biggest stories came just one week before the end the year when the Supreme Court of Canada voted unanimously to strike down three of Canada’s current laws pertaining to prostitution. While it is not currently a crime in Canada to sell sex for money, there are laws prohibiting living on the profits of prostitution, communicating in public with clients, and using a private residence such as a brothel for the location of the act.

These three laws were challenged by three women with experience in the sex trade, Terri-Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott. They argued that the current laws prevented them from safely conducting their business, which violates certain rights and freedoms set down in the Charter. While the Ontario Court of Appeal later upheld the law about communicating about prostitution in public, they sided with the Supreme Court regarding the other two laws, agreeing that they were too broad.

The Supreme Court gave Parliament a deadline of one year to create new laws, if they so desire. It will be interesting to see how far they go in protecting the safety of sex workers, a story that I will continue to cover in the coming year.

Miley Cyrus Twerks Her Way into the Spotlight

mileyMuch has already been written this year about the raunchification of Miley Cyrus and her “all grown up” behavior shift from squeaky clean tween idol to lewd tongue-wagging twerker. One of her most memorable moments of the year came when she teamed forces with one of this year’s other prime provocateurs, Robin Thicke, singer of ‘Blurred Lines’ aka that disgustingly ubiquitous song you hope you never have to hear again.

Their little performance on the MTV Video Awards definitely earns top billing for most controversial dirty dance moves, as Miley stripped down to a barely there nude bikini and violated that poor foam finger, causing a media storm in only the way our little Wrecking Ball can.  Will she find newer, more disgusting ways to shock us in 2014? Only time will tell…

No One Wants to Envision Rob Ford Getting Enough to Eat

rob_fordFinally, I’ll close with the little oral sex story that could, and in fact did, make its way around the world’s gossip columns and nightly news satire shows. Toronto’s bumbling mayor extraordinaire Rob Ford made a lot of strange comments that were scrutinized by media outlets everywhere, none as shocking as his response to allegations that he was sleeping with one of his female staffers. Ford said to a room full of reporters that he never wanted to eat her pussy, since he was happily married and “got enough to eat at home.”

I guess ultimately I should feel happy for Mrs. Ford, if indeed these are the arrangements of their sex life, since every woman should get enough at home, but the shock value of his candor mixed with the mental picture of Rob Ford doing anything in the bedroom was enough to make me shudder. The main question on everyone’s minds is how much lower can he fall in 2014?

Last Thursday, the Canadian Supreme Court saw the case that may in eight months decriminalize prostitution in Canada.

Last year, the Ontario Supreme Court overturned two key provisions in Canada’s Criminal Code related to prostitution. The Court ruling struck down sections that prohibited brothels and pimping but kept communication for the purpose of sex illegal. The last part, most likely an urban aesthetic choice than a moral one.

In a historic move, three Ontario sex workers and York University professor Alan Young successfully argued that the sections infringed on the Charter’s protection to life, liberty and security of a person. Ontario Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella determined the provisions targeted and violated sex workers’ rights by creating a hostile work environment.

The ruling has set into motion a precedent to decriminalize prostitution across Canada. Quebec has signaled it is already moving to establish licensed brothels and will likely follow Ontario and bring the world’s oldest profession out of the Dark Ages.

Department of Justice Minister, Rob Nicholson, through the Crown, has filed an appeal for more time so the Harper government may study and prescribe alternative solutions to address issues raised by Justice Abella. The request was supported by religious right wing and conservative groups that maintained prostitution degrades society’s moral fabric, harms women and supports criminal activities.

Participants in the recent Toronto and Quebec decriminalization street marches were predominately women but not all women’s groups are of one mind on this issue. Some advocate a similar position to that of Nicholson and the right wing groups.

Conservative feminist position prostitution as irreconcilable as a free and willing choice for women because the commercialization of sex mainly favours heterosexual men’s demand for women and that it objectifies women as sexual commodities. Broadly, they feel it degrades society as well as women’s career prospects, image and self-esteem.

It’s condescending to assert that women (or men, Conservative Feminist arguments hardly acknowledge male or LGBT prostitutes) do not have the mental faculty and free agency to decide who their sexual partner(s) are for themselves. Feminists claiming women engage in sex work lack education and understanding of their social condition are paternalistic and patronizing.

While they may see themselves as crusaders, much like the suffragettes, rescuing fallen sisters manipulated by mankind’s wicked ways, they are actually putting the patriarchal shoe on the other foot. Instead of men controlling women’s bodies, certain women control all women’s bodies. Prostitutes are treated as infants incapable of rendering rational decisions and understanding the world.

Rather than degrading society, especially women, affording prostitutes necessary rights and legal tools to protect themselves from bad johns (or janes), empowers them to decide who they will and won’t sleep with.

Currently, prostitutes not working for reputable escort services operate in total darkness and fear. Street workers are not hired often because they suffer from mental illness and substance addiction. They are the most vulnerable and subject to extreme poverty.

Present laws push them further outside the margins of society and deny them police protection. This forces them to get protection from pimps, or in some cases male officers (or “sperm whales”), both who are known to abuse and exploit them.

They cannot hire their own protection, such as boyfriends or husbands, because they would be charged with pimping. Those with children would also lose custody.

Opponents of decimalization rob women (and men) from making choices in their bedrooms while subjecting prostitutes to deadly environments. Street prostitutes cannot all leave the business, if they could they would. Arresting prostitutes does not stop them for the same reasons; they are desperate.

The patriarchy did not corner everyone into prostitution. Some willingly chose the profession.

For opponents of the patriarchy what better way to stick it to the man than to withhold sex. Men would have to be proper in all areas of male and female relations.

Arguments for decriminalization are similar to those favouring abortion rights. They revolve around choice and consent and that competent adults can decide for themselves what they can and cannot do with their bodies and with whom.

So if successful, Young may become the next Morgentaler. Unlike the latter, conservative feminists would not be able to attack Young by implying financial profiteering. He has taken on the growing half a million dollar case pro bono.

The three women who filed the initial case: Nikki Thomas, Terri-Jean Bedford and Valerie Scott, left to right

It just got a lot better to be a prostitute in Ontario. On Monday, Ontario’s Court of Appeal voted to strike down two out of the three provisions of the Criminal Code that pertain to prostitution, deeming them in violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

While prostitution is technically legal in this country, it resides in a grey area of the law, since living on the avails of prostitution is itself a criminal act. Canada’s Criminal Code also prohibits “the keeping or frequenting of a bawdy house”, as well as soliciting for sex in public.

The appeal was filed on behalf of the federal and Ontario governments regarding a landmark ruling by the Ontario Supreme Court Judge Susan G. Himel in September 2010 that sought to strike down all three aspects of the current prostitution laws. While the Court of Appeal agreed that sex trade workers should be legally allowed to live off their trade and practice it indoors, they upheld the ban on street solicitation and public communication for the purposes of prostitution.

“This decision means that sex workers can now pick up the phone, and call the police and report a bad client. This means that we no longer have to be afraid, that we can work with the appropriate authorities,” noted Valerie Scott of Professionals of Canada, one of the original three women to challenge the laws.

While the ruling does mean safer working conditions for certain sex trade workers, like the ones who will now be able to employ staff including drivers and bodyguards, it ignores the safety of the street workers. The ruling did also stipulate that those living off prostitution in circumstances of exploitation would still violate the law.

It will take 30 days for the ruling on living off the avails of prostitution to kick into effect. The Court of Appeal gave Parliament 12 months to amend the law pertaining to the bawdy houses in such a way that it no longer infringes on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Colloquially referred to as the world’s oldest profession, prostitution has occurred in one form or another across different cultures since ancient history. Currently, each country has its own laws governing the legality of sex work. For example, in the United States, street and call services are illegal, as are brothels everywhere except for in about a dozen rural Nevada counties. The state regulates these brothers by requiring condom use and regular STI testing.

The most well-known example of legal prostitution occurs in Amsterdam’s Rossebuurt, or red light district, where registered prostitutes advertise and sell their services from windows on the street and pay income taxes.

In Thailand, one of the world’s most popular destinations for sex tourism, prostitution is technically illegal but is tolerated in practice, reflecting a trend throughout the continent where sex workers themselves are stigmatized by society while it is considered acceptable for men to use their services. In some countries, certain sexual acts are permitted while others are deemed illegal. Take Japan for example, which passed the Prostitution Prevention Law in 1957, which drew a distinction between peddling vaginal sex as forbidden while other forms of sexual activity were permissible. I wonder if this includes bukkake and tentacle rape?

Photo Credit: Alex Urosevic for National Post