Social Theories and Prostitution

Topics: Sociology, Criminology, Erving Goffman Pages: 7 (2454 words) Published: October 14, 2012
There are many sociological theories that can be used to explain prostitution in modern society. Two such theories are functionalism and symbolic interaction. Many people feel that prostitution may be an immoral act however, from a functionalist perspective there are social needs that are being filled through prostitution. Both social actors are gaining through the engagement of prostitution. Another sociological perspective; symbolic interactionism; focuses on the interaction that occurs between social actors. The labeling theory of symbolic interaction states that a prostitute is deviant only because he/she is labeled as such. “The provision of sexual favors for financial reward has probably been institutionalized in the form of prostitution in every society that has had coinage. It has nearly always involved the prostitution of women to men, though male prostitution, especially to male clients, is not uncommon” (Oxford Reference). In the United States prostitution is categorized into three forms; escort, street and lastly brothel prostitution. From a functionalist perspective prostitution serves a need in society. If an act is not serving a societal need it wouldn’t continue to exist. “In America 80,000 citizens are arrested a year for soliciting sex” ( According to functionalism prostitution is a job; a source of income needed to support self and family. Income is essential to provide the basic essentials of living such as food and home and therefore prostitution serves the need of the prostitute in providing an income. “Some prostitutes feel validated and empowered by their work” (Weitzer, 30). In addition to a source of income the prostitute may feel an emotional gain. A functionalist will also see that prostitution serves the needs of those seeking its services. It can be a sexual outlet for members of society. People may seek the service for any number of reasons including; need for sexual activity, sexual outlet or fantasy. The “top three reasons men paid for sex are to satisfy an immediate urge for sex, experience a specific physical, racial or sexual fetish and unsatisfied in their current relationship” ( The functionalist perspective focuses on the reasons that an individual may resort to prostitution. Robert K Merton used the terms manifest and latent functions. According to Merton there is a “distinction between manifest and latent functions; the first referring to those objective consequences for a specified unit (person, subgroup, social or cultural system) which contribute to its adjustment or adaptation and were so intended; the second referring to unintended and unrecognized consequences of the same order” (Farganis, 182). Merton distinguishes between manifest function and latent function to assist in the functional analysis of a society. Manifest functions are intended results and latent functions are the unintended results of an event or pattern. The motive is the reason that an act occurs. “Social life is not as simple as it first seems. For as long as people confine themselves to certain consequences (e.g. manifest consequences), it is comparatively simple for them to pass moral judgments upon the practice or belief in question” (Farganis, 186). According to the functionalist theory members of society need to look past the manifest consequences of prostitution and focus on the latent functions that are being served. Since a functionalist believes that all societal acts occur because they serve a social need then one can see that prostitution has both latent and manifest functions for social actors. In 1937 Kingsley Davis authored “The Sociology of Prostitution”. In the article Davis concludes that prostitution serves an important and possibly latent function in society. Davis believes that men have a need for sexual experimentation and adventure....
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