Under capitalism, things are monetized and forced into being part of a financial hierarchy, where those at the top can buy anything and those at the bottom can have little or nothing.
This allows for top-down control of society. It also forces everyone particularly those in the middle or below to participate in this system to access more things.
When sexual activity is commodified, it also becomes a part of this process and supports capitalism.
In contrast, sexual activity and sexual lifestyles which are not commodified are arguably one of the biggest obstacles for capitalism and functions to defy capitalism. Because both physical sexual attraction and romantic emotion are potentially extremely strong, people can choose these over money. They may choose an individual person, or a lifestyle, they may forgo taking up their position in a hierarchy or working in the same way they otherwise would to choose their romantic partner, sexual identity or lifestyle.
Often, sex and sexual identity are discussed as if they are in themselves freeing. This may come in part from a sex industry lobby, but very often such opinions simply come from an array of individuals who often see themselves as progressives. Within feminism these opinions can be identified as coming from the perspective of what’s being called “liberal feminism” (or, should it be called neoliberal feminism). However, there are a large variety of people who hold this opinion and express it in various ways.
This may be partly because the idea of a “bohemian” and potentially promiscious lifestyle has become entrenched in many people’s minds as being aligned with intellectual and artistic freedom. The idea of sexual lifestyles as being freeing often seems to stem from and incorporate themes from the sixties hippie era, although they have been reshaped many times and are very indirect derivatives. They seem to often appropriate certain ideas from “free love” culture, but ignoring the ideas of being free from capitalism that were originally addressed.
Prostitution enslaves the prostitute, just as, you could say from a left-wing perspective, all work enslaves the worker.
Simply likening prostitution to work in general delegitimises any false claims it could have to being something that progressives or those who self-identify as left-wing could support. The usual exploitation for money is there, and in most measures it is infinitely worse than any normal work.
However, because sex and romance have a special and unique role in human identity, human nature and life, there are also reasons why it causes a far greater impact than the levels of individual harms to each prostitute (which in itself could be very significant).
Sexual identity and romantic relations have a much wider impact on society, it’s level of awareness and spirituality. For that reason, free love advocates believed that their lifestyle and beliefs could positively change the world on a scale outside of the effect on individual people. In that exact same way, the presence of prostitution, prostitution culture, and a large and visible prostitution sector causes a wider level of enslavement and suffering.
In a world where, for example, capitalism persisted, prostitution was illegal, and free love was practiced, the free love lifestyle can play the role of a refuge from, alternative to and a separate space from capitalism.
In a society where a culture which was both capitalist and traditional (including the illegalisation and societal disapproval of prostitution), but where a parallel liberal culture had come into existence (such as America and many other countries from the sixties onwards), each person would be part of one of these options and the value systems surrounding them. (There may of course be other cultural choices, many of which would have been part of another traditional pattern too). On one hand, an individual could choose the existing predominantly Capitalist and Christian society in Australia, America, England etc in the late 1900’s, or they may choose the liberal culture which mainly arose from the 1960s onwards.
However, they were subject to the value systems of whichever they chose. If they were for example, a male white middle-class American in the 1960s, and chose to remain part of the existing Capitalist/Christian culture, they were expected to develop a career, buy a house, get married, have children, support them financially, go to church and so on. If the same individual chose to be part of the emerging liberal lifestyle, there were actually expectations placed on them too. For example, they were expected to have some level of intellectual knowledge about and opinions on a range of political topics, to refrain from occupations which were overly conformist or capitalist even if that caused them financial hardship. In terms of their relationship with women, although they may no longer be expected to be a sole bread-winner, a range of other responsibilities emerged. In order to attract a partner in the more traditional world, it was necessary for the man to have a good job, dress in an ironed shirt, have a new car and so on. In the emerging liberal society, attracting a partner had its own challenges, it was arguably just as necessary to have a particular type of identity and do particular things and come across in particular ways, just that the value systems were different.
One of the other problems with the sex industry is that it allows men (usually men although there may also be female clients in some cases) to have sexual identities that are not part of any culture or value system at all. This is even more dangerous because sexuality forms such a core part of people’s identity that it will affect who they are even in situations which are unrelated to sex.
Living without a value system would tend to support and aid capitalism. The Christian-Capitalist culture of the mid 1900s has declined, while the capitalist culture of today is a purer capitalist culture. The idea that anything can be bought motivates those who are crawling to the top, and it’s no accident or coincidence that overworked highly-paid managerial professionals are associated with strippers and escorts. These primal rewards and motivations effectively serve as motivations for continued capitalist activity. So the existence of a widespread and widely accepted sex industry sector also acts as fuel to capitalism.