Sex in Australia

Welcome me back, mate. I’ve just spent two weeks in Australia training psychologists in sex therapy and couples counseling. (Insert your favorite joke here about the Land Down Under.)

The people there are wonderful, the food is great, and the beaches are gorgeous.

I learned that in Australia adult prostitution is mostly LEGAL, and adult pornography is mostly ILLEGAL—the opposite of what we have in the U.S.. The consequences of each policy are quite instructive for American law-making.

Australia also has a political party called the Sex Party—and people vote for it! Its platform includes:
* decriminalizing recreational drugs
* 24-hour weekend public transportation in major cities
* guaranteeing the right to die with dignity
* giving tax breaks to small businesses

Oh yes, there are some sexual issues in their platform, too:
* developing a national sex education curriculum
* developing a national internet education scheme for parents
* guaranteeing reproductive choice for all women and men
* investigating child sexual abuse in religious institutions
* decriminalizing all non-violent erotica

I love the Sex Party’s work, and they appreciate mine. Their brilliant major candidate Fiona Patten held a reception for me, at which I spoke about the Religious Right’s influence over U.S. policies regarding sexuality. They reminded me that religion has less overt political influence over there (although still more than the Sex Party would like), but that conservative feminism had a very strong voice that generally tried to control sexual expression.

The Sex Party notes that adult pornography is generally legal in countries with higher living standards and better levels of education. Conversely, countries that ban X-rated films typically have lower living standards and levels of education. And, I might add, there’s a huge difference in the rights of women—countries in which adult porn is legal enforce dramatically less discrimination against women and girls.

Compare:

Adult porn legal: Europe, Canada, Japan, South Africa, USA
Adult porn banned: Iran, China, Turkey, Nigeria, Philippines

The Australian government made it legal to PURCHASE and POSSESS adult porn in 1983. But all Australian states ban the SALE of X-rated video material. Enforcement of these contrasting laws is very low, so there is a gray market—non-rated material is sold by gas stations, convenience stores, etc., putting legitimate adult shop owners at a competitive disadvantage.

There are many other inconsistencies as state-by-state laws try to coexist with federal laws. For example, in many states it’s legal to sell an adult magazine—but if you film the magazine it’s illegal to sell it.

So what’s the result of Australia banning the sale of various adult entertainment? Australians buy it anyway, creating a generation of criminals. The government loses tax revenue, as well as respect.

The foolishness of attempting to ban a popular, victimless activity like watching adult porn is even more obvious when considered in light of Australia’s decriminalizing of most adult prostitution in 1992. In most states brothels are legal and registered; sex workers may work privately, although soliciting is illegal. Prostitutes must be at least 18 years old.

What has the result been? Most people do NOT become prostitutes, and most people do NOT hire prostitutes. The divorce rate isn’t any higher than America’s, which obsessively persecutes sex work

And what about human trafficking, the latest American moral panic? In the U.S., advocates speculate (with little documentation) that prostitution is an enormous gateway for trafficking; in Australia, the estimates of human trafficking rates are far, far lower than the rates typically suggested for the U.S..

So what have we learned here?
* Criminalizing popular private sexual behavior just drives it underground rather than reducing it;
* Decriminalizing sex work doesn’t increase its use, society’s debauchery, or human trafficking;
* Adults can take a political party focused on sexual rights seriously;
* In Australia, they really do say “G’day mate” (pronounced “g’dye mite”).

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