By now I'm sure you've all heard about the raid on the "Phoenix Goddess Temple" a few days ago; the Wild Hunt covered it in multiple posts if you need to get up to speed. In comments there and elsewhere there was the expected amount of hand-waving and pearl-clutching about poor sex-positive pagans' rights, but I think it's past time where we have to give a pass to any kind of behavior simply because someone claims a sacred basis for it. Religion has been the last refuge of scoundrels of all stripes since the dawn of history, and I suppose that will never change; but can't we start to call bullshit when we see it?
I don't care how you dress it up, or what labels you attach to it. The ads this "temple" ran for its services were listed under "adult entertainment" and were quite obviously advertising outcall and incall sexual services, which is prostitution, and which is illegal most everywhere. Calling it sacred doesn't make it so. Candles and incense don't make sex-for-money a federally protected religious practice. And go ahead and call me a prude, or tell me I'm still laboring under Judeo-Christian hangups, or whatever, but I will state absolutely that yes, shit like this really does make it a lot harder for pagan women who don't fuck everything that moves or sell their asses and call it sacred to be open about their spirituality. There are still plenty of people out there who conflate "pagan" with "promiscuous" and naturally assume that any woman who assumes that mantle is--hell, may even be religiously required to be--open to all comers. (You should pardon the pun.) Do I speak from bitter, unpleasant experience? Bet on it.
(Disclosure: At this point in my life, I'm a married woman in a monogamous situation. When I was single, that was not necessarily the case, but I did have standards to which I assiduously adhered. At no time in my life have I ever allowed any outside entity, be it a religion or a corporation or a supposed deity or anything else, to dictate my sexual behavior. Nor should you, Gentle Reader.)
Paganism comes in many flavors, some of which wish to be respectable to the larger culture in which we must live. Illegal brothels using the language and symbolism of paganism to acquire a veneer of acceptability are criminal and reprehensible in my book. Do what you will and make your living however you see fit, but not at the expense of the reputations of others.
And yeah, I'll admit I'm still a little touchy on the whole "sacred whore" subject. Very early in my internet pagan days I kicked that hornet's nest on a mailing list and found myself dogpiled by a plethora of apologists who made it seem that there was something wrong with me because I was disinclined to trick for the Goddess, as it were. The only support I received was backchannel, from others who frankly admitted that they felt as I did but wouldn't say so out loud for fear of the kind of tar-and-feathering I was taking for the team in my newbie ignorance. (The party eventually ended when the proud Sacred Whore who was leading the charge against old stick-up-the-ass me was shown to have plagiarized most of her responses via verbatim cut-and-pastes from the website of a "sacred" prostitute of some repute. I left that mailing list shortly thereafter, with a bad taste in my mouth that stuck with me.) And what did I say to start the war?
"'Sacred Whore'? Isn't that an oxymoron?"
(I slay me. Seriously, I think my jokes are very humorous.)
There is new scholarship available to suggest that the received wisdom on temple prostitution may not be entirely correct, and I would direct the interested reader to begin with this article from Johanna Stuckey and go from there. I would also remind the reader of the import of words, the dangers (or delights, depending) of aligning oneself with words that carry heavy cultural significance, and the difficulty of "reclaiming" language and attempting to redefine strong terms. The meaning you, even in your best intentions, assign to a thing may be vastly different from that given to it by the rest of the world, and that may be more dangerous to you than you realize.