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A view of sex work from the other side
June 11, 2012 6:40 AM   Subscribe

"Seeing women for money, made me a little less sad. It was a brief respite from loneliness, from my skin being hungry for human touch the way a drowning person is starving for oxygen." Paying to Play: Interview with a John
posted by desjardins (155 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
I should have mentioned - there are no NSFW photos but obviously some of the text is going to be NSFW.
posted by desjardins at 6:47 AM on June 11, 2012


Great article!
posted by mrbill at 6:49 AM on June 11, 2012


Very interesting, thoughtful interview. Thanks for the link!
posted by jasper411 at 6:58 AM on June 11, 2012


That one is still queued in my instapaper list. Looks like I need to knock it out tonight.
posted by jquinby at 7:07 AM on June 11, 2012


For a similar perspective, people may want to check out Chester Brown's Paying For It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John. Brown's perspective is a little problematic and politically wonky at times, but still worth checking out.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:08 AM on June 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


This article is a nice bookend to the happy gay married Mormon. Similar combination of significant self awareness, clear writing, and an undercurrent of "is this guy really telling the truth about how he feels?". Thanks for posting it.
posted by Nelson at 7:19 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


NB: I did read the article.

I sort of get it. But I can't help but think of the fact that there are plenty of single women who aren't escorts who are also "hungry for human touch", where he wouldn't have to pay for it; he would have to spend a little time getting to know us, but we're game if he is. Except, he isn't. So we're out of luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:20 AM on June 11, 2012 [18 favorites]


I sort of get it. But I can't help but think of the fact that there are plenty of single women who aren't escorts who are also "hungry for human touch", where he wouldn't have to pay for it; he would have to spend a little time getting to know us, but we're game if he is. Except, he isn't. So we're out of luck.

He deals with this somewhat; as he stated, after he "got sober and lost weight and got some of my self-esteem back, the attraction of these relationships was the implicit agreement about non-commitment. I was unavailable for a long-term relationship. When I got involved with a non-professional, feelings would develop, things would go too far, and eventually somebody, usually both of us, would get hurt."

At least the man's not an unfeeling asshole in this regard (although this is definitely counteracted by the knowing use of trafficked women).
posted by jaduncan at 7:28 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, I appreciate he's put some thought into this, and he at least is doing what he thinks is the beset all around. And for who he is know, it probably is the best thing.

But I still can't shake my own emotional response that "hey, wait a minute, this leaves people like me -- who are also looking for something casual but are unwilling to pay for an escort -- kind of screwed over. So now what?"

I'm not saying he's a bad person; I definitely sense that he is trying to be compassionate. I'm just also having an emotional response of my own, is all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:34 AM on June 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


"....for who he is NOW it probably is the best thing."

Dammit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:35 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I kept reading and reading, waiting to get to the part where he talks about the women. Finally reached that part: "Still, there’s something thrilling to going from feeling utterly alone and unlovable to realizing that all these women with all these pictures in all these ads, you can be with any one of them, at least for one hour, and pretend. And all you need is money."

A few paragraphs later, we get insight into what one stripper feels. Sort of. "She was sick of the business— didn’t feel like working,"

Urgh. The next one: I had met one woman a couple of times at her apartment, she was funny and we got along well, and then I saw her a year later and she had a black eye and was pleading for an extra $40, offering things like sex without a condom for a little extra money.

Finally more than a sentence about the women involved:
And call me naive, but what I discovered after a couple of trips to these places is that many of these women are victims of sex trafficking. They’re imported into the country under the ruse of getting a good American job, and then their handlers make them work off their exorbitant “travel fees” in the sex spas before they are cut loose. And even after they work off their debt, often they just return to the sex industry, because they lack skills, they lack a verifiable work history, they don’t speak very good English, and the sex work is what they know and it becomes, in a way, easy money.

Thing is, they are not glassy-eyed robot slaves sobbing under their oppressor like you see in movies about this kind of thing. They’re funny, they’re charming, they’re nice to you. And they’re very much in control as far as the sex goes: they set fierce limits about what is and is not allowed, and are usually much stricter about condom use for every act than regular escorts.

Rumpus: But it’s not consensual. It’s coercion. It’s sex slavery.

Max: And I felt very remorseful when I learned this.

And then I did it again.
I guess this is one of those male privilege things, because as a woman reading this, I see nothing but two men waxing on and on and on about their experiences and, hey, we get one woman's first name. He says he avoided real relationships because people get hurt, but when these women are pimped, abused, addicts, trafficked, and suicidal, um, that's okay?

The ones that were escorts who didn’t have pimps, didn’t have drug problems, and weren’t trafficked, I honestly believe that they chose their profession about as much as any of us choose our profession. I don’t think they feel any more exploited than all of us workers feel exploited.

He doesn't mention asking them about any of that, though. He just "believes" and "thinks".

I really don’t know whether they considered themselves feminists. Do people even talk that way, outside of literary and political forums?

*headdesk*
posted by fraula at 7:38 AM on June 11, 2012 [74 favorites]


Mutual signalling issue? It seems like it's a problem of reliable identification.

In an unrelated note, when I've had single/promiscuous periods OKCupid was very useful.
posted by jaduncan at 7:38 AM on June 11, 2012


fraula, just to be clear my comment there was not regarding the trafficked women.
posted by jaduncan at 7:41 AM on June 11, 2012


Speaking only for myself, if my only two choices were becoming a warehouse picker for Amazon for $10 an hour, or sucking dicks ten times a day for $50 bucks a pop, I’d buy me some kneepads. - from the article

I have to wonder if part of the social concern over sex work is that people can fundamentally disagree on this choice: I would rather work as a warehouse picker for $1 an hour (let alone $10) than do any kind of sex work. That's just me, and my hangups. I support sex workers, but (because of my own feelings) I have trouble feeling okay about sex work because it's something I could never do happily. But then I think about the people who have casual sex for fun, not money, and that's something I also can't do happily, and they seem to enjoy it.
posted by jb at 7:42 AM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


This article made me slightly sick to my stomach. I get that he's sad and lonely, but the lengths that he goes to to justify the fact that these women are vessels for his desires, and the way he walks away from the clear cases of exploitation because, well, it makes him feel bad -- just ugh. It's all about him, and what he needs, and feeling bad about being slimy doesn't make you any less of a slime.

This is obviously something I cannot think about objectively. My grandmother was widowed when my mother was twelve. She sent the oldest girls to live with distant relatives where they worked on a farm to earn their keep. To support the ones who were too little to work, she took up with a married man who was mostly kind to her and probably thought it was consensual and perhaps even noble of him. This was Vietnam during the sixties, and she did what she had to do, but I still remember how sad she was, and how thickly the pain fogged the air whenever my aunts interacted with their half-sister (born 11 months after their father's death), and it makes me it hard for me to believe that transactional sex is a choice that can be made freely by most women. And her story is benign compared to the others I've heard about that side of the family.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:43 AM on June 11, 2012 [34 favorites]


But I can't help but think of the fact that there are plenty of single women who aren't escorts who are also "hungry for human touch", where he wouldn't have to pay for it

I think that boils down to supply and demand; that there are simply more men in his position than available and willing women. That's compounded by the fact that he's cheating on his wife, and a lot of women who may otherwise be willing don't want to be complicit in infidelity. And then there's the appeal of single-serving, no-strings-attached intimacy: To quote the august Charlie Sheen, "I don’t pay them for sex. I pay them to leave."
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:45 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


This sort of thing is interesting to read, but I think not very deep in the questions & presentation of the john's POV - probably because the (female) interviewer's sympathy for him & identification with him is all too apparent.

Yes, he seems relatively self-aware, but there's still plenty of justification that I feel doesn't hold up. On preview, fraula makes great points. And I think EC's point above drills right to one of the justifications: what of all the women "hungry for human touch", who are not set up in a society where they can pay to consume it, but must accommodate those willing to take advantage of that option if they want it?

I dislike the idea that we are to commend this man's "gentle courage" because it makes me feel like society in general & people who I think who should be more aware want so badly for the rest of us to identify with the privileged, and feel sorry for them, and understand them & forgive them - but they are not willing to do the same for the other side if it makes them more than a bit uncomfortable, yet the rest of us have to deal with so much more than just being "uncomfortable". For those more willing to identify with this man's story than those he used, probably it's easier to just keep taking, but ask the rest of us to absolve their guilt.
posted by flex at 7:45 AM on June 11, 2012 [14 favorites]


...I see nothing but two men waxing on and on and on about their experiences...

Did I miss something? The only two names I see in here are Antonia and Max. Who's the second man?
posted by Longtime Listener at 7:46 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also I found the part where he says that people react strongly to sex work because they're prudes or think that all women are being brutally exploited extremely self-serving. I do believe that some women can and do freely chose to do it, and I would fully support a licensing and legalization scheme that would enable that. But to pretend that most of the women out there aren't being coerced in some way so you can feel better about treating people as objects and avoid the real, messy work of interacting with human brings -- ya, I'm going to react negatively to that.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:56 AM on June 11, 2012 [20 favorites]


Save me a place in a ten dollar grave,
With those who took money for the pleasure they gave.

-Leonard Cohen
posted by Danf at 8:08 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Flex: I think the self-justification he's making isn't really getting to the heart of why he does what he does -- which is telling.

Look - all sex calls for a certain degree of intimacy and compatability. Even casual sex - you don't have to have the really deep intimacy, but you at least have to be able to trust that the other person isn't a total skeezeball, and be able to have at least a few minutes' worth of pleasant conversation. (Or at the very least, trust that they're being honest with you about their medical past, and accept that they're still gonna wear a condom anyway and that it isn't a slight on you.)

The thing is, that kind of intimacy -- even that glancing kind -- can be really hard for some people. That kind of comfort-in-your-own-skin, that kind of self-knowledge, that kind of security in yourself thatyou won't be personally challenged by what someone else does or says when they give you a glimpse of what makes them tick -- that's hard for some people. It's what makes sex worth it, even casual sex, but it can be really hard for some people, and it takes some degree of self-reflection. And for some, paying money for the illusion is just a lot safer than taking a peek at your own self and what makes you tick.

I respect that it takes a lot of courage for some people to risk that kind of self-reflection and vulnerability - I actually think that's a lot of what precipitated my last major breakup, was that my ex just didn't want to examine himself past a certain point. Some people can't do any at all. For them, paying for an escort is actually safer. And I sympathize with that.

But I still think it sucks, as it leaves a lot of people who are willing to risk that intimacy, even only casually, out in the cold.

So I understand his plight, I just wish that he someday finds the bravery to rid himself of it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 AM on June 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


I went through a short phase of my life (maybe about a year?) when I was a frequent john. People curious enough to dig can easily find my (very few) writings on that topic.

but when these women are pimped, abused, addicts, trafficked, and suicidal, um, that's okay?

Show me where anybody says, or even implies, that that's OK. Who said this? It sounded like those were things that he thought were very much not OK.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:13 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Part of what made this article interesting to me is that Antonia Crane was apparently a sex worker herself:

I’d had many a deep and intimate conversation with clients about sex workers and the negative way that clients were viewed in our culture. They openly shared their feelings about paying for it—what it meant culturally and what it felt like in the context of their lives. Men who thought of themselves as powerful came to me stripped of their routine status and its burdensome accessories. They wanted to tell their secrets. They’d crawled up my stairs in marabou slippers and a pink spandex thong, glided around my pole in the living room. They wanted to share their innermost desires and act them out.

The dynamic here is sypathetic because she's been in that room with a john, and understands how it works.

I'm a little startled about how quickly we have gotten back to "sex workers are all exploited", to be honest. Plenty of women are in sex work, and I'd argue that the ones who choose it are not in the minority at all. Is it so hard to imagine that the work is not automatically degrading and awful? That there is real incentive to perform this sort of work, and that some people in the industry actually find it rewarding?
posted by Jilder at 8:17 AM on June 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


Yes, he seems relatively self-aware, but there's still plenty of justification that I feel doesn't hold up.

I am curious about what you mean when you say "doesn't hold up"?What argument do you think he making?

I mean, I sort of took the pieces as an answer to the question "how do Johns think?"
posted by Diablevert at 8:31 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a little startled about how quickly we have gotten back to "sex workers are all exploited", to be honest.

This is a topic where people have strong visceral feelings.

Ironically the amount of mental gymnastics that can go into justifying why prostitution is terribly wrong match the amount that can go into justifying why it is perfectly okay. At the bottom of both absolutes, however, is a lot more feeling than logic.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:32 AM on June 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


Is it so hard to imagine that the work is not automatically degrading and awful? That there is real incentive to perform this sort of work, and that some people in the industry actually find it rewarding?

Well, I find it hard to believe sex work isn't usually (though not always) degrading and awful. But as they discuss in the interview, the question is "Is it *more* degrading and awful than many other jobs?"
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:33 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I sort of get it. But I can't help but think of the fact that there are plenty of single women who aren't escorts who are also "hungry for human touch", where he wouldn't have to pay for it; he would have to spend a little time getting to know us, but we're game if he is. Except, he isn't. So we're out of luck.

It is really not true that anyone can have a healthy sex life if they just try. The fact is that there are huge numbers of men who for one reason or another are involuntarily celibate for years or even decades despite putting consistent effort into meeting potential partners. It can be a really unhealthy lifestyle and I suspect it can be responsible for some nasty social ills.
posted by Winnemac at 8:36 AM on June 11, 2012 [23 favorites]


Is it so hard to imagine that the work is not automatically degrading and awful? That there is real incentive to perform this sort of work, and that some people in the industry actually find it rewarding?

I do not find that so hard to imagine, but I feel those that choose it are choosing it in a larger, problematic context which influences their personal choices. I worry more about the context than those that say they choose it & find it rewarding; I worry more about those who would take the knowledge that some choose it & find it rewarding to overlook all the times that it *is* obviously exploitive.

What do I find hard to imagine is that the (mostly) men taking advantage of sex work are doing so with more than a beginning level of enlightenment to the issues involved & useful self-awareness; in fact I would say that beginning level is likely an outlier, but I cannot know that for sure. It seems likely, if we are to praise this one man for his level of awareness, and yet this interview is still full of his privilege in his justifications - I am not hopeful it gets better than that.

This is not black-and-white; you are not automatically a prude or sex-negative if you have problems with how sex work, sexuality, porn, attitudes towards women as sexual objects and so on works in this society; that does not automatically involve condemning those that perform sex work, at all. But it is hard to discuss it without both absolutes shouting it down: that either you do not condone prostitution at all, or try to keep it as a completely devalued, nasty choice; or you are repressed and trying to censor those who want to willingly take part. There's so much ground in between.
posted by flex at 8:38 AM on June 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


I too was troubled by the questions around trafficked women and girls.
If you have a straight-up willing prostitute, then I would rather a man who is unavailable exercise that option.
A married man is not doing anyone any favors by having anything more.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:44 AM on June 11, 2012


Plenty of women are in sex work, and I'd argue that the ones who choose it are not in the minority at all.

Can I ask why, and how, you would argue this? I don't mean this in a "cite please" way.
posted by rtha at 8:49 AM on June 11, 2012


Katjusa Roquette: "I too was troubled by the questions around trafficked women and girls.
If you have a straight-up willing prostitute, then I would rather a man who is unavailable exercise that option.
A married man is not doing anyone any favors by having anything more.
"

The word "married" is not necessary in that sentence.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:53 AM on June 11, 2012


Plenty of women are in sex work, and I'd argue that the ones who choose it are not in the minority at all.

Are you arguing from feelings, or do you have facts at hand? Could you tell if a sex worker was victimized or not? Especially if she knew she'd lose your money if she presented as such?

The problem with sex work is that there is massive incentive to hide how much of it might be a form of slavery, because the demand is high, the clients mostly reluctant to talk about it, and the workers have little power even when they do speak up.

So many seem to want to approach this issue in strict academic terms: is it ethical, can it even be empowering, for someone to be paid for sex/sexual activity? Yes, it can be, but in the world we actually live in, the chances of all that being true are very low, and more importantly, the ability of clients to know if it's true or not are almost nonexistent. Therefore, if you become a john, your chances of participating in what is basically slavery are extremely high. No matter what the sex worker tells you or what you want to believe.

Which limits my sympathy. Get therapy, get regular legit massages, do whatever you have to to deal with your social isolation, but don't let your need make it ok to participate in the coerced sexual exploitation of other people's bodies.
posted by emjaybee at 8:53 AM on June 11, 2012 [27 favorites]


Sex workers run the gamut from those brutally coerced to those preferring this work instead of Amazon warehouses to high end callgirls.

I get that he's sad and lonely, but the lengths that he goes to to justify the fact that these women are vessels for his desires, and the way he walks away from the clear cases of exploitation because, well, it makes him feel bad -- just ugh. It's all about him, and what he needs, and feeling bad about being slimy doesn't make you any less of a slime.

These were transactions between consenting adults and some exploitation probably isn't avoidable. And it isn't something he could fix. Certainly he can choose not to 'transact' with those women again but not much beyond that. That's the problem with sex work being illegal.

I guess this is one of those male privilege things, because as a woman reading this, I see nothing but two men waxing on and on and on about their experiences and, hey, we get one woman's first name. He says he avoided real relationships because people get hurt, but when these women are pimped, abused, addicts, trafficked, and suicidal, um, that's okay?

This story is written from his perspective (and isn't he talking to a woman who's a former sex worker?) not the escorts'. He acknowledges the exploitation that can occur with sex workers, largely because it's illegal. And I'm not sure how many exploited sex workers go around telling customers they're being exploited. And he can't fix/stop pimping, abusing, trafficking and suicidal behavior but he could and did tread carefully so as to not deliberately cause abuse and pain. I found a high level of decency with him, all things considered.

I used to be of the mindset that all sex work was horrible and degrading and that only desperate women or teenage runaways ended up doing it but there are women who do it by choice. It can pay better than other jobs. People crave physical and sexual contact and sometimes the only way to get it is through transaction.
posted by shoesietart at 8:53 AM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


It is a good thing we can assume all sex workers are exploited, otherwise we'd have to judge the women by the same standard that we judge the johns.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 8:54 AM on June 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


fraula: "I guess this is one of those male privilege things, because as a woman reading this, I see nothing but two men waxing on and on and on about their experiences "

It's an interview of one man by one woman. It's interesting how your prejudices biased your reading of it.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:58 AM on June 11, 2012 [20 favorites]


In the interview he describes an experience where the woman he was seeing had a black eye and he felt the only way to react to that was to have sex with her and get out as quickly as possible. Otherwise, either he or she would probably have gotten beaten by her pimp.

This is not a great endorsement of the sex industry as it stands today. He claims to avoid abusive sex work situations, yet, when confronted with them, he claims that his only choice is to complete the contract, but, well, not enjoy it I guess?

The good and the bad are all intermingled here. It is not possible to say, "well, bad things happen but I'm just going to take the good." From this man's recollections, if you support the sex industry as it stands today you are supporting all of it, the good and the bad, without the ability to pick and choose.

The implications of that are probably different for different people. I personally would support extensively regulated legalization, because right now the system protects only those who choose to participate, while ignoring or punishing those who are compelled to participate.
posted by newg at 9:11 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


The good and the bad are all intermingled here.

That's what makes this such a compelling read. No one here is grinding an ax, making themselves the hero, or sugarcoating anything.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:17 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Paying to Play
He calls it play, she calls it work?
posted by francesca too at 9:30 AM on June 11, 2012


My experiences with women in sex work come from interacting with them. I've been working in the periphery of the industry for about a decade, and have in turn been drawn into advocacy and sex workers' rights activism from there. So this is not in the context of them losing my money if they look less than enthusiastic; this is in the context of one woman talking to another about the shit that affects them. It doesn't really come from a purely abstract space.

The only real caveat here is that I'm in Australia, where it's legal to be a sex worker. I am aware that this is going to have an impact on how many willing workers I'm going to see. There is still the social stigma (in a big way) and a lot of the same issues of discrimination that sex workers face, even in an environment where sex work is legal.

Basically, my takeaway here is that it is entirely possible to enter into a career as a sex worker voluntarily and willingly. Just like any other career! Fruit pickers are hideously exploited in the US - but this does not mean that any consumption of fruit is automatically makes you complicit to the whole horrible program of exploitation. Cleaners, service, meat packing, construction - I can think of many situations that are much more exploitative and degrading that sex work - and might I add by the descriptions of those employed, not white knights out to "save them" - but because they aren't fucking anyone it can't possibly be as bad.

These sorts of comparisons crop up because "it's exploitation!" is the new "it's immoral!" when it comes to sex work. You can't just say it's immoral any more, not when we've decided that women should pick what they want to do with their bodies. No, we use "explotation" as a fig leaf, and these comparisons come up because realistically, it's no more exploitation than any other form of physical work. It's not good justification at all when we're quite happy to see millions of other workers exploited physically so long as we get our cheap orange juice and cheap chicken nuggets.

I tell you - I would rather fuck some stranger for a few hundred than spend twelve to fifteen cleaning up his bodily fluids for the same amount of cash. Not because sex is a simple act, but because it's a special one. It's service, and the women I've spoken to about this tend to be fairly pleased with being able to offer that companionship to people who can't otherwise manage to connect to other people. Helping damaged people feel human again. They have crap days and good ones, like anyone else, clients they don't particularly like and others they'd work for gratis if the need every cropped up. I had one high end escort tell me recently she's hang out with her favourite john for nothing, he was a fun dude and she liked him as a person, but the cash made the lines clearer and space easier to navigate.
posted by Jilder at 9:31 AM on June 11, 2012 [42 favorites]


I would prefer to see prostitution legalized and regulated, and this article just bolsters that opinion.

I grew up near a border city. Two names, two countries, but really just one post-industrial metropolis, divided by a river. On one side, prostitution was legal. On the other, U.S. side, it was illegal. The U.S. prostitutes lived into every negative stereotype. Drug addicted, often homeless, pimps usually hanging around, just total desperation and sadness. On the other side of the river, there were no streetwalkers. The girls worked for services, had drivers who also functioned like bodyguards, wore something like a medical alert button to signal that they needed help, paid taxes, and generally led safer, healthier lives.

About ten years ago, some of my family moved to Nevada. Visiting them, I was surprised to discover how many young women do time in the sex industry out there (I'm including stripping/dancing here). What really shocked me was how difficult is was to get a job in a brothel- brothels turn women away *daily*. And this is back when Nevada was booming, before the foreclosure crisis, so it's fair to say that a goodly number of women were either attracted to this sort of work or how well it pays.

I'll be honest, if I felt safe and the pay was high enough, I'd do sex work. I think a lot of the harm of prostitution is that the workers can't call the police, so they need protection from someplace, which is how we end up in situations with pimps and black eyes and a $40 surcharge to ditch the condom.

I think the idea that women could never, would never choose to do sex work is both naive and prescriptive. Some women are coerced, yes, and I don't mean to make light of trafficking in any way. But some women choose that life. I know a lot of women who have done porn or worked as exotic dancers. About ten years ago, I worked as a waitress in a strip club, and was often encouraged to get on stage, but, frankly the earning prospects weren't high enough for me to consider it. I made very close to what the dancers did, and had to deal with only half their headaches. Those girls paid for their own costumes, paid to work each shift, and had a lot more talent and skill than I ever will- pole tricks are athletic feats, let me tell you. Some of the girls I worked with were drugged out losers, but that was true of the waitresses and the dancers. Most of us had pretty normal lives and needed the income from slightly sketchy jobs in order to fund them.
posted by Athene at 9:36 AM on June 11, 2012 [23 favorites]


fraula: “I guess this is one of those male privilege things, because as a woman reading this, I see nothing but two men waxing on and on and on about their experiences and, hey, we get one woman's first name. He says he avoided real relationships because people get hurt, but when these women are pimped, abused, addicts, trafficked, and suicidal, um, that's okay?”

I totally agree with where you're coming from, but I do think you should give this a closer read, since I really don't think the article is saying what you think it's saying. The interviewer, Antonia Crane, has been a sex worker herself. Almost every question or response of hers references her days as a stripper and sex worker. Her perspective is so prominent in this interview that I kind of wonder what you're reading to miss it.

Moreover, while I agree that what Max does is terrible, I think the interview has more of a confessional tone to it. I think he's aware that these things are terrible – and if not, Antonia certainly is, and it informs the direction of the discussion. The fact that they are frankly discussing bad things does not mean that they are endorsing bad things.

Indeed, what made the thing so compelling to me is that Antonia is there to force them both to confront the fact that it's a coercive industry. And I like how they spotlight the fact that it's not just coercive for trafficked women – even for those who are in the industry ostensibly by choice, there are lines that get crossed and boundaries that get pushed. I disagree with Max on some points for this reason. Work in general is coercive – we accept that because it has been ever thus: people have to eat to live, and need shelter, so we do what we must do. But bringing sex into this necessarily coercive relation turns sex into something coercive.
posted by koeselitz at 9:40 AM on June 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: “But I can't help but think of the fact that there are plenty of single women who aren't escorts who are also "hungry for human touch", where he wouldn't have to pay for it”

qxntpqbbbqxl: “I think that boils down to supply and demand; that there are simply more men in his position than available and willing women. That's compounded by the fact that he's cheating on his wife, and a lot of women who may otherwise be willing don't want to be complicit in infidelity. And then there's the appeal of single-serving, no-strings-attached intimacy: To quote the august Charlie Sheen, ‘I don’t pay them for sex. I pay them to leave.’”

That perspective made a little sense – not a lot, but a little – if you were living in the outskirts of Reno in 1982. But nobody is living in the outskirts of Reno in 1982 anymore, and "supply and demand" arguments when it comes to sex don't make as much sense when you leave the drab limitations of chasing hookups in the bar scene. It takes five minutes to make an OkCupid profile, and there are plenty of people on the internet who are cheating on spouses and/or don't care if you are cheating on yours. Really, the whole "prostitution is just easier" argument is becoming less and less valid, I think.
posted by koeselitz at 9:52 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I think the idea that women could never, would never choose to do sex work is both naive and prescriptive."

I don't think anyone has said that in this thread.

"I know a lot of women who have done porn or worked as exotic dancers. About ten years ago, I worked as a waitress in a strip club, and was often encouraged to get on stage..."

I hear what you are saying. I too knew a significant number of girls who chose to be exotic dancers and completely believe some sex workers choose it. But I would urge you to not universalize your experience in one strip club to all of sex work. Clearly you were able to communicate with these girls about the work and their own agency in the choices they made. As the article mentions, a not insignificant number of sex workers in the US (and other richer countries) are immigrants with limited language skills and contacts.
posted by seesom at 9:58 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


but the lengths that he goes to to justify the fact that these women are vessels for his desires

This is not a great endorsement of the sex industry as it stands today.

I don't think the article is trying to be an endorsement of sex work...or an apology, a defense, a justification, a confession, or a moral argument.

It is aimed at description and largely succeeded at describing an experience.

I think part of what makes this piece successful is that both Antonia and Max engage difficult ethical questions without presuming to answer those questions.
posted by space_cookie at 10:07 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Paying to Play
He calls it play, she calls it work?


I don't understand the point being made here. He's being paid for a good time, she's being paid to provide it. Like the guy in the Mickey Mouse suit at Disneyland.
posted by shoesietart at 10:14 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, absolutely, seesom. In my former town, there were a bunch of Oriental massage parlors. Those women were slaves. It baffled me that no law enforcement ever got involved- not because of the prostitution, but because of trafficking, illegal immigration, tax evasion, and a host of other problems. I don't know if this for a fact, but I suspect that if sex work were legalized and destigmatized, more women would choose to do it, and the incentives for trafficking- and therefore trafficking itself- would decrease. At least, I hope so.

Working in a strip club was absolutely a matter of choice for me. I was just become independent from my parents, and I was tired of relying on them to supplement my income. My mother was appalled that I was working, even as a waitress, at a strip club, and when she found out, offered me a thousand dollars to quit that day. I declined, because I was trying to be a financially independent adult. Several dancers were in a similar boat. One had a master's degree. One was married to a resident who specialized in heart surgery. One was in dental school. They all had incredible student debt loads, and were actually getting ahead while working twenty or thirty hours per week. They had the education and skills to do something else, but they decided that dancing was the best choice for them at the time, because they were sick of relying on others or digging a deep hole of debt in order to progress financially or educationally.
posted by Athene at 10:15 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


exactly like the guy in the Mickey Mouse suit at Disneyland
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:25 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only real caveat here is that I'm in Australia, where it's legal to be a sex worker. I am aware that this is going to have an impact on how many willing workers I'm going to see.

I would say that being in an area where sex work is legal would have a massive impact on how many willing workers you see, frankly.
posted by KathrynT at 10:26 AM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


It takes five minutes to make an OkCupid profile, and there are plenty of people on the internet who are cheating on spouses and/or don't care if you are cheating on yours. Really, the whole "prostitution is just easier" argument is becoming less and less valid, I think.

Disagree. OkCupid makes it easier to find matches and communicate quickly, but it doesn't change the fundamentally unbalanced ratio of men to women who are looking for sex, particularly who are looking for sex but not a relationship. And "prostitution is just easier" still seems pretty true, considering the time and emotional costs (rejected again?!) associated with online dating.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:28 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


This (NSFW, even the title) conversation between Antonia Crane and fellow Rumpus writer Cheryl Strayed is an interesting companion piece, where they address some of the exploitation issues.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 10:33 AM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


I guess this is one of those male privilege things, because as a woman reading this, I see nothing but two men waxing on and on and on about their experiences and, hey, we get one woman's first name.

I'm going to try to read the article later, if I have time, but this was the first thing I thought of when I saw the post. Almost every piece of writing or discussion about any aspect of the sex industry that I've encountered eventually (usually quickly, like right away) turns to the subject of men as consumers of the sex industry. This drives me crazy. It's often the least interesting, least important angle to approach from and it completely destroys the framing and shatters any possibility for the topic to go any other way.

I understand that that's kind of the perspective presented in the interview, so I'll try to set aside my feelings when I read this, but yeah; just wanted to vent about that.
posted by byanyothername at 10:57 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's a really interesting piece, and definitely made me think. I'm not sure how I feel about it. In a lot of ways, I don't think sex work should be forbidden at all - I agree with those who say that there are a lot more degrading jobs out there.

At the same time, being able to buy women for services generally associated with emotion makes it hard for the next women they interact with, that cannot be bought and doesn't like being approached like a transaction: "X money for dinner = Y sex acts."

I think it's that very history of transactional behavior that makes this really hard. Women have been sold for so long, into marriage, into slavery, to men of all kinds, that it's really hard to support women voluntarily selling themselves - especially when so many aren't.

But I wonder if that makes our feelings right, or if we're just being emotional about this. Very hard.
posted by corb at 11:08 AM on June 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


koeselitz: "Really, the whole "prostitution is just easier" argument is becoming less and less valid, I think."

Not for men with abysmally low self-esteem, those who have serious physical or attractiveness limitations on their abilities to negotiate one-on-one hookups, and those who don't feel they can afford the time to play the flirt game, but think of sex as a relaxation hobby. (I know of professionals who use escorts for exactly that last reason.)

It truly can be a victimless crime - and the odds of that being true increase as the illegalization is reduced.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:08 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


It truly can be a victimless crime - and the odds of that being true increase as the illegalization is reduced.

A large majority of people in this discussion would probably agree with you, but right now it's not victimless, and men are still creating an enormous supply. That doesn't give me much hope for this being a good thing for society any time soon.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:13 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


*demand, sorry
posted by stoneandstar at 12:15 PM on June 11, 2012


Really interesting discussion.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:18 PM on June 11, 2012


EmpressCallipygos But I still think it sucks, as it leaves a lot of people who are willing to risk that intimacy, even only casually, out in the cold.

corb At the same time, being able to buy women for services generally associated with emotion makes it hard for the next women they interact with, that cannot be bought and doesn't like being approached like a transaction: "X money for dinner = Y sex acts."

Could you explain this a little further? I'm not sure I understand how it follows that sex work makes various degrees of non-transactional intimacy more difficult.

I'm not criticizing the opinion, just trying to understand how you both arrived at it.
posted by space_cookie at 12:33 PM on June 11, 2012


The basic problem that afflicts many pro- and anti-sex work arguments is that they take for granted the desirability and legitimacy of wage labor in general. They are caught up in an ideology that says that work is supposed to be a source of meaning and dignity in life. They are therefore committed to either stigmatizing sex work as an illegitimate and particularly dehumanizing kind of work (if they oppose it) or endorsing it as being just as dignified and fulfilling as any other job (if they support it).
Peter Frase: The Problem with (Sex) Work
posted by RogerB at 1:03 PM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


A large majority of people in this discussion would probably agree with you, but right now it's not victimless, and men are still creating an enormous supply.

The thing is, that's also precisely true of drug consumption. But I don't blame the guy smoking the joint for victims of the drug war, I blame the lawmakers and the society which presumes to remove our bodily autonomy. I feel the same way about prostitution; the great majority of the (very real) evils involved can be squarely laid at the feet of a society which calls for policing what we do with our own bodies of our own free will. One cannot point to evils created by prohibition of an act or a substance as justification for that same prohibition.
posted by Justinian at 1:16 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


being able to buy women for services generally associated with emotion makes it hard for the next women they interact with that cannot be bought and doesn't like being approached like a transaction: "X money for dinner = Y sex acts."

This seems incorrect. If both parties are already sexually satisfied, the transactional ambiguity of dating should fade and non-sexual characteristics of the relationship should rise in importance. A person who can already purchase sex has no reason to go through transactional dating routines because if they just wanted to trade money for sex they could have gone and done that. Seems like dating would instead skew more towards people who are interested in serious relationships.
posted by Winnemac at 1:18 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


byanyothername: “I understand that that's kind of the perspective presented in the interview, so I'll try to set aside my feelings when I read this, but yeah; just wanted to vent about that.”

Please read the article knowing that that is not the perspective presented in the interview. Fraula was wrong. The interviewer is a (female) sex worker. That seems like a pretty essential detail, and it isn't incidental – it clearly informs the whole thing. Like, for example, the half-dozen times she talks about what stripping and sex work are like for women who are doing them, from a perspective of knowing what she is talking about.
posted by koeselitz at 1:27 PM on June 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


Could you explain this a little further? I'm not sure I understand how it follows that sex work makes various degrees of non-transactional intimacy more difficult. I'm not criticizing the opinion, just trying to understand how you both arrived at it.

What I was getting at was: a guy who is paying an escort to have sex with him probably isn't going to be available to have sex with me, because, well, he's already getting laid with someone else.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:01 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


EmpressC, as someone who has paid for it in the past, I assure you: it wouldn't slow me down one jot in pursuing a girl at (say) a party who was flirting with me, just because I'd released some pressure previously that day with a pro.

In so many ways, sex with a prostitute, oggling a stripper, and other aspects of sex trade consumerism are fundamentally different from The Real Thing of human sexual affection. It's like comparing eating a ho-ho* to having dinner: the first isn't going to keep me from wanting the second, but if I'm hungry and that's all that's available...

*Yes, it was.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:16 PM on June 11, 2012


me: "Really, the whole 'prostitution is just easier' argument is becoming less and less valid, I think.”

IAmBroom: “Not for men with abysmally low self-esteem...”

I want to preface this by saying I really don't think prostitution should be illegal, per se; and I know you gave a few other reasons why prostitution might be easier for men.

But this first reason you gave is a pretty big one, I think, and it's really worth pointing out that prostitution is certainly not a solution to the problem; in fact, it's the cause. A lot is made of the ways that prostitution is exploitative of women, and that is probably fair, but it should be noted that it is also incredibly exploitative of men. The assumption behind any economy is that the product cannot be had for free; so the tacit assumption made by everyone involved in the transaction when a client pays a sex worker for sex is that the client cannot get it for free.

The underlying assumption that men who pay for sex are utterly unwanted and undesirable for themselves, and that they are only worth having sex with if they pay for it, is an assumption that is in the background every time a man pays someone else for sex. This is degrading, because over time it annihilates their sense of worthiness, particularly sexually (which is pretty huge.) I know this is a psychological thing, but it seems inescapable to me.

EmpressCallipygos: “What I was getting at was: a guy who is paying an escort to have sex with him probably isn't going to be available to have sex with me, because, well, he's already getting laid with someone else.”

That seems exactly correct to me. And the other side of the coin is the male perspective, which I guess is more intuitive to me because I'm a guy – a guy who is paying an escort to have sex with him probably decided a long time ago that no woman would ever want to have sex with him anyway unless he paid her. And that seems doubly tragic to me.
posted by koeselitz at 2:17 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Max does touch on that a bit, but the paragraph is fairly opaque.
After I got sober and lost weight and got some of my self-esteem back, the attraction of these relationships was the implicit agreement about non-commitment. I was unavailable for a long-term relationship. When I got involved with a non-professional, feelings would develop, things would go too far, and eventually somebody, usually both of us, would get hurt.
I'm inferring that although Max can and has formed relationships with non-professional partners, he prefers the transactional intimacy he has with sex workers.
posted by gladly at 2:17 PM on June 11, 2012


gladly: “I'm inferring that although Max can and has formed relationships with non-professional partners, he prefers the transactional intimacy he has with sex workers.”

Then what needs to happen is for sex work to be liberated from the monetary component so that its degrading elements are removed. Ancient city-states had ways of doing this: temples wherein the priests and priestesses served as sexual liaisons to the citizens who needed them as a sacred rite. That ain't the internet, really, but the technology exists to get closer to that ideal.
posted by koeselitz at 2:21 PM on June 11, 2012


The assumption behind any economy is that the product cannot be had for free; so the tacit assumption made by everyone involved in the transaction when a client pays a sex worker for sex is that the client cannot get it for free.

While I understand that Max isn't representative of every John, I think it's closer to say that a sex worker's clients cannot have the service they want under the terms they want it for free. Max could have had the human touch he hungered for within the relationships he formed, but he preferred to seek it outside of that context for whatever reason.

On preview: koeselitz, I don't mean to make Max into a generalization that should or could apply to all Johns.
posted by gladly at 2:25 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


koeselitz:
"IAmBroom: “Not for men with abysmally low self-esteem...”
...
But this first reason you gave is a pretty big one, I think, and it's really worth pointing out that prostitution is certainly not a solution to the problem; in fact, it's the cause.
"

You believe that prostitution causes low self-esteem? No. It might help perpetuate the self-abusive lies they tell themselves, at most.


koeselitz: "a guy who is paying an escort to have sex with him probably decided a long time ago that no woman would ever want to have sex with him anyway unless he paid her."

Your assumption is flatly untrue, amongst the majority of johns I've met (I'm happy to report). They may believe that they are able to "play outside their league"; that is, a homely guy with few social skills can fuck someone he considers a "10" for a few hundred dollars. But that's different from him believing he's Forever Alone Guy.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:26 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nibbly Fang: This (NSFW, even the title) conversation between Antonia Crane and fellow Rumpus writer Cheryl Strayed is an interesting companion piece, where they address some of the exploitation issues.

Thanks for sharing that link - I fully admit I found that piece a lot more interesting than most discussions shared on sex work. FWIW I'm not finding I really agree all that closely with either woman speaking there, but their positions are full of nuance & I love that it is not a confrontational discussion. It makes me despair a little that these discussions so often are; they don't have to be, but it's a topic that triggers a lot of defensiveness.
posted by flex at 2:39 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The underlying assumption that men who pay for sex are utterly unwanted and undesirable for themselves, and that they are only worth having sex with if they pay for it, is an assumption that is in the background every time a man pays someone else for sex. This is degrading, because over time it annihilates their sense of worthiness, particularly sexually (which is pretty huge.) I know this is a psychological thing, but it seems inescapable to me.

But what about the situations in which this is true?

I have a few acquaintances of mine who have never had girlfriends. They're in their thirties now. They spend an awful lot of money at strip clubs. I don't inquire as to whether they hire escorts, but I wouldn't be surprised.

People tell them to keep trying, to go out and meet girls, but it does not work. And it does not fail because of their belief in their unworthiness. In fact, sometimes they have inflated opinions of their own attractiveness. It fails because they are inherently unwanted and undesirable for themselves, both physically and socially, and no woman that they are interested in having sex with wants to have sex with them.

We aren't supposed to talk about that. We're supposed to believe and claim that there's someone out there for everyone. But it's quite simply not true.

Could you explain this a little further? I'm not sure I understand how it follows that sex work makes various degrees of non-transactional intimacy more difficult. I'm not criticizing the opinion, just trying to understand how you both arrived at it.

This is entirely based on anecdotal experience over the course of a few years, watching lonely men in an overseas environment discover sex work, and seeing how their treatment of non-sex-workers declined during said time.
posted by corb at 2:41 PM on June 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


How would legalizing sex work eliminate trafficking? I'm not sure there are lots of American women who would choose sex work if only it weren't illegal - wouldn't the demand for service increase if men knew they wouldn't get arrested? For the high demand to be met, the women must come from somewhere...
posted by desjardins at 2:42 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


a guy who is paying an escort to have sex with him probably decided a long time ago that no woman would ever want to have sex with him anyway unless he paid her. And that seems doubly tragic to me.

This just seems so contrary to everything I've read and seen that I don't know how you come to this conclusion. All the stats I've seen say that men who have engaged a prostitute are very nearly a cross section of the male population. And the ways in which they are not representational tend to put them on the opposite side you suggest; less likely to be criminals and so forth.
posted by Justinian at 2:49 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


How would legalizing sex work eliminate trafficking?

Lots of ways. A big one would be giving prostitutes and escorts access to the legal system as something other than victims of it.
posted by Justinian at 2:51 PM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


no woman that they are interested in having sex with wants to have sex with them.

Emphasis mine.

That bolded clause really changes the whole sense of the experience, for me. What kind of woman are they interested in having sex with? It is entirely possible for this clause to be true without it being true that "they are inherently unwanted and undesirable for themselves, both physically and socially".

How would legalizing sex work eliminate trafficking?

It wouldn't. There is plenty of trafficking for legal work, i.e. domestic laborers in hotels and seamstress work. However, illegal work tends to provide an opportunity for criminal enterprise to make enormous sums of money, both because the workers are very poorly paid and because there's tremendous social pressure not to investigate the conditions under which the work is done. Legalizing sex work would make trafficking in prostitutes much less attractive to organized crime, much like the bottom fell out of bootlegging after Prohibition was repealed.
posted by KathrynT at 2:52 PM on June 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think the argument for legalization means that legitimizing the industry would allow protections to be put in place for the treatment of the workers, make law enforcement more likely to pursue and follow-up on enforcing against illegal avenues (since legal ones are available), allow workers to set themselves up in a place of strength (unions, taxation, escort-owned businesses and brothels - safety in numbers), that johns would be more likely to use legit services rather than illegal ones and therefore not support the illegal ones with their custom; all this making trafficking less lucrative. I don't know if a lot more women would decide to become sex workers, but maybe the ones in the industry already would not burn out as fast if it offered more safety, more legitimacy (and all that one can demand from legitimacy such as insurance, tax breaks & writeoffs, not having to be a contract worker with very few rights - strip clubs come to mind, the strip club model is exploitive of the workers - sex workers have tried to fight this before IIRC), less chance of being stigmatized? It might also increase wages for the women doing it since they would be able to set their prices and not have to pay out to someone else (the club owner, the escort service owner, a pimp, etc.).
posted by flex at 2:52 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ah, yes, I didnt mean to imply that legalizing prostitution would eliminate trafficking, only reduce it from current levels. As KathrynT points out, people are trafficked for lots of different professions. That some people are trafficked to sew shirts does not mean we should outlaw clothing.
posted by Justinian at 2:58 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


"it's exploitation!" is the new "it's immoral!" when it comes to sex work.

And yet we (in the US at least) are, right now, all part of a system in which exploitation of one's fellow citizens is fundamental AND rampant.

So: why the double standard?
posted by Twang at 3:03 PM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


Sex is icky.
posted by Justinian at 3:06 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I assure you: it wouldn't slow me down one jot in pursuing a girl at (say) a party who was flirting with me, just because I'd released some pressure previously that day with a pro.

....Then why bother with "releasing the pressure with a pro" in the first place?

what I mean is, if "releasing pressure" is all it is -- doesn't jacking off accomplish the same thing?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:24 PM on June 11, 2012


what I mean is, if "releasing pressure" is all it is -- doesn't jacking off accomplish the same thing?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:24 PM on June 11 [+] [!]


Most folks have discovered how to masturbate long before they come to hire a sex worker, but they still do. So the answer is clearly no.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:36 PM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


During the investigation, agents found over 100 women and children in the Eugene area who were working as prostitutes and posting commercial sex advertisements online through Craigslist.com.

Human trafficking in my little burg.

This is what give me pause. I think that people should be free to do what they want for a living, and providing pleasure, however, should be an honorable job.

But, if one is a straight man, how can one know the real circumstances of the women he patronizes?
posted by Danf at 3:37 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


flex (referring to the conversation linked by Nibbly Fang): their positions are full of nuance & I love that it is not a confrontational discussion.

I loved this discussion too. It's exactly the sort of intelligent, emotionally nuanced, mutually respectful, thought-provoking discussion about sex work that I have long wanted to read - and I can relate very well to so many of their points, in part because I am around their age (early 40s). I'm also a feminist who once seriously considered doing sex work, but...looking back, I'm so glad I didn't. Thank you so much for that link, Nibbly Fang.

This paragraph, in particular, moved me to tears:
The real question is how will I rebuild what has been broken? When I first started dancing, hands crawled across my body like crabs, and I’d cry, but soon I developed an emotional shellac, like the other girls in order to shoulder rejection and be touched when I didn’t feel like it. Nearly 20 years later, I want to melt. I want to feel cared for by someone I am fucking. I want to fuck the person whom I care for. I want to be held by someone who’s not paying me. I want to be moved and be in love and I want to fucking feel something other than isolated. That’s why my book is called “Stripped” because I want to be stripped bare of the shellac and not be scared shitless and run. I don’t want to cringe like a feral kitten when someone I love tries to hug me. And all of that theoretical, post-modern, feminist ideology was great and fun and empowering, but it’s hogwash when all I want to do is sear through the numbness and walk out of the strip club into the sunlight. Can someone point me in the direction of the sunlight?
posted by velvet winter at 5:45 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, this guy is scum of the worst order, and it's telling that so many commenters have adopted him as a perfectly reasonable, average, everyman who they sympathise with. (He is pretty average, doesn't mean he's a good or even okay egg).

Yeah, you go into this with a list of things you’ll never do. Lines you’ll never cross. You’ll never get a blowjob without a condom (until you find out how uncommon covered blowjobs are, and well, that’s an easy temptation to give in to.) You’ll never see a girl who’s being coerced by a pimp, and then you find out that, well, you’ve been doing it, and now what? Try harder to screen people? You’ll never see a girl who’s got a bad drug habit, but then you run into one, and now what? That list of things you’d never do becomes the list of things you’ve done.

And now what? I'd have thought anyone, having realised what they were participating in, and some human decency, would stop taking the risk they might cross those lines again.

Thing is, they are not glassy-eyed robot slaves sobbing under their oppressor like you see in movies about this kind of thing. They’re funny, they’re charming, they’re nice to you. And they’re very much in control as far as the sex goes: they set fierce limits about what is and is not allowed, and are usually much stricter about condom use for every act than regular escorts.
Rumpus: But it’s not consensual. It’s coercion. It’s sex slavery.
Max: And I felt very remorseful when I learned this.
And then I did it again.


He has intimate knowledge of how, sometimes/often, sex workers who don't want to be there give a great impression of wanting to be there, and being empowered. And yet he continues to go back, and let himself believe the acting because it's more comfortable.

Those are the lies johns tell themselves and the lines they let themselves cross, and then in public some of them argue that they're not doing anything worse than employing a maid or a juggler at a party. Eeeeurgh.
posted by pickingupsticks at 6:26 PM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


But I still can't shake my own emotional response that "hey, wait a minute, this leaves people like me -- who are also looking for something casual but are unwilling to pay for an escort -- kind of screwed over. So now what?"

Well, there is a problem with guys looking for casual things, if they are also interested in looking for a longer term relationship. Look at the profiles for women on Okcupid or Match and you'll see plenty of women who have their preferences set to actively discourage or deny contact by men who have looked for casual contact.

I notice your OKcupid profile doesn't mention you're looking for casual encounters. To me, that answers a lot of it. There's a double standard going on with both sexes. We may be open to causal encounters, but few want to admit it.
posted by bswinburn at 6:32 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


The difference is that the Amazon warehouse worker or the guy in the Mickey Mouse suit is not going to come home and blow his brains out because of the memories of being bodily violated by dozens of strangers. What a smarmy argument.
posted by cairdeas at 7:16 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I really recommend A Crime So Monstrous which is about slavery in general in the modern world, including sex trafficking. One point he makes is that legalization does not remotely eliminate trafficking. There's a long chapter or so about women trafficked from Eastern Europe to Western on the promise of jobs. Once there they are forced into sex slavery via the usual methods -- stealing their passports, addicting to drugs, thugs, etc. Like most illegal residents, they have few resources to go to the authorities (and often fear being sent "home" where the same thugs who trafficked them can take revenge). The issue of sex work and trafficking is much, much bigger than legalization and will require changes such as much greater world economic equality.

A quote from the book:
Tatiana [trafficked from Eastern Europe] woke upwith a miserable hangover one misty Amsterdam morning in late May 2002.

The misery outlasted the hangover. This was her first day in slavery. At 6 p.m. that evening, Anton returned, unlocked the apartment, and took her to her new workplace. Because she was one of an estimated 150,000 illegal aliens in the Netherlands, she could not work in the regulated clubs or in red light districts. Instead, he drove her to a desolate, waterfront tippelzone, one of several taxpayer-funded areas that in 1997 the Amsterdam City Council had zoned to contain streetwalkers.

...

Tatiana regularly saw police come through thetippelzone. Officers in the Amsterdam antitrafficking vice units were allowed to purchase sex from prostitutes, as long as they did so out of uniform, and not in their own jurisdiction. In Tatiana’s case, they just nodded at her falsified passport, and moved on. “I found it ridiculous,” she said.

The other girls in the tippelzone explained what would happen if she told the police that she was a slave. They would deport her to her home country. “If I got out at the airport there,” she said, “the traffickers’ friends would be my escorts.” A girl from Tatiana’s country escaped with the help of a client. When her traffickers found her at home, they killed her. There was no investigation by the police. “Case closed,” Tatiana said.
I think the point someone made up thread that you (as a possible consumer of sex services) generally can't know that the one providing it isn't being coerced in some fashion. That many do realize that some of their providers are coerced (as this man here), but continue, is I think telling. I don't consider the comparison to agricultural workers to be particularly compelling. Food is at least something you have to consume and there is likely far less coercion in agriculture than in sex work. Though sadly there is still plenty.
posted by R343L at 7:44 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


a guy who is paying an escort to have sex with him probably decided a long time ago that no woman would ever want to have sex with him anyway unless he paid her

Completely discounts the extent to which the commodification of sex itself is eroticised. I think a lot of men find the idea of being able to coerce a woman to do something which she otherwise wouldn't (reality aside) arousing, and I think this is can be traced directly back to a worldview where women are chaste by nature and men must exercise some kind of leverage to extract sex from them against their will. Prostitution allows men to recapitulate these (nasty, sexist) gender roles in their own life. For me, this is borne out by the same theme's popularity as a porn plot: the "casting couch" scenario, the "driving around in a van offering women money" scenario, the "how much do you have to pay your girlfriend to agree to be filmed" scenario, etc.
posted by pullayup at 7:57 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I notice your OKcupid profile doesn't mention you're looking for casual encounters.

That's only because I generally like to size you up first and see what cards we both want to play.

But at least I'm sitting at the table with the deck in my hands wondering if you want me to deal you in and see what happens, as opposed to just going over to the slot machines where it's just you dishing out money by yourself as opposed to you having some back-and-forth with another human being to see the outcome.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:02 PM on June 11, 2012


....Whoa. Every so often I come up with a metaphor that makes me think "I need to write that down."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:02 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Max followed up in the comments to the article, and I guess I missed that he remains in his unhappy marriage:
Yes, infidelity and lying are bad. It’s not something I’m proud of. The original interview (the first draft was about twice as long as what you see here) got into details about my marriage, but Antonia suggested and I agreed that it got us off on a tangent. As you point out, infidelity is a whole issue on its own regardless of whether sex workers are involved, and there are millions of words written elsewhere about cheating, so in the interest of staying on-topic, we decided to leave it out. But I don’t think “just end it” is something that anybody could say who has actually been through a divorce, or been in the position of thinking about initiating a divorce. Divorce is traumatic and awful. Yes, cheating and seeing escorts is maybe taking the easy way. Maybe you can imagine how great is the temptation to take the easy way if you have a choice between that or the terrors of the family court system.
posted by gladly at 8:15 PM on June 11, 2012


Yes, cheating and seeing escorts is maybe taking the easy way. Maybe you can imagine how great is the temptation to take the easy way if you have a choice between that or the terrors of the family court system.

Well, if his wife and/or kids ever read this article, connect the dots and figure out that yes, it is indeed their husband/father who is seeing escorts (not to mention knowingly exploiting trafficked women) the fallout will make family court seem like a garden party - and lead to what he doesn't want, a divorce.

"Max" is playing with fire. It's very hard to keep secrets in the age of the Internet.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:40 PM on June 11, 2012


But I can't help but think of the fact that there are plenty of single women who aren't escorts who are also "hungry for human touch", where he wouldn't have to pay for it; he would have to spend a little time getting to know us, but we're game if he is.

i'm sorry, but you don't really understand the situation. you say it just takes "a little time getting to know us" ... really? that's all? because it usually takes a lot more than that, at least that's what i know from my experience.

as an analogy, it's like saying these women could meet a guy who is more than willing "to spend a little time getting to know us" if they would just put on a little make-up, wear some heals, and just loose 20 lbs. It's just that easy!

I'm just also having an emotional response of my own, is all.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:50 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


While I understand that Max isn't representative of every John, I think it's closer to say that a sex worker's clients cannot have the service they want under the terms they want it for free. Max could have had the human touch he hungered for within the relationships he formed, but he preferred to seek it outside of that context for whatever reason.

if you don't have sex under the terms you want it, isn't that sexual assault or rape?
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:32 PM on June 11, 2012


Uh, I don't know what you were hoping to achieve with that comment, cupcake1337, but you are doing yourself and your perspective absolutely no favors. Unless you were deliberately trying to make yourself and consumers of sex about as unsympathetic as you possibly could.
posted by cairdeas at 9:34 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a few acquaintances of mine who have never had girlfriends. They're in their thirties now. They spend an awful lot of money at strip clubs. I don't inquire as to whether they hire escorts, but I wouldn't be surprised.

People tell them to keep trying, to go out and meet girls, but it does not work. And it does not fail because of their belief in their unworthiness. In fact, sometimes they have inflated opinions of their own attractiveness. It fails because they are inherently unwanted and undesirable for themselves, both physically and socially, and no woman that they are interested in having sex with wants to have sex with them.

We aren't supposed to talk about that. We're supposed to believe and claim that there's someone out there for everyone. But it's quite simply not true.


Hear, hear.

EmpressCallipygos, I'm not really sure why this -

Then why bother with "releasing the pressure with a pro" in the first place?

what I mean is, if "releasing pressure" is all it is -- doesn't jacking off accomplish the same thing?


strikes you as so odd. After all, you could just as well ask why people will go to a nice restaurant when they could stop at Burger King instead? Or wear anything other than gym shorts and a t-shirt wherever you go? After all, they satisfy the basic needs of food and clothing perfectly well, right? What more could one want?

People like variety in sex, as they often do in virtually every other area of their lives. And I can easily imagine a guy having sex with a prostitute and then, running across an interested woman, being quite happy to get laid again. You seem to have a remarkably low opinion of the male libido.

The card game analogy really struck me as a good one for relationships, but buying a prostitute isn't the equivalent of playing the slots - because one of the attractions of the fromer is precisely that there is absolutely no doubt that you're getting what you want back. Its more like going over to the casino bar and ordering a drink. And some people really, really aren't very attracted to playing a card game in order to determine whether or not they can get that drink. I think that even many people who do the traditional mainstream dating thing, that card game is the least fun and interesting, if not outright frustrating and unpleasant, part of the whole process.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:37 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Low opinion is confusing. I meant your statements seem to underestimate the willingness of most men to take whatever sex is offered, wherever it is offered. It's not like, oh, well, this woman wants to sleep with me but I fulfilled my quota for the day, ho hum.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:39 PM on June 11, 2012


pullayup: the commodification of sex itself is eroticised. I think a lot of men find the idea of being able to coerce a woman to do something which she otherwise wouldn't (reality aside) arousing, and I think this is can be traced directly back to a worldview where women are chaste by nature and men must exercise some kind of leverage to extract sex from them against their will. Prostitution allows men to recapitulate these (nasty, sexist) gender roles in their own life.

That's a good and oft-overlooked point. Max addresses this explicitly in the article:
Still, there’s something thrilling to going from feeling utterly alone and unlovable to realizing that all these women with all these pictures in all these ads, you can be with any one of them, at least for one hour, and pretend. And all you need is money. It’s not a replacement for love— it pales in comparison to a real loving relationship with somebody who you are sexually compatible with, but it sure as fuck beats being alone and feeling untouchable.
I think the intent is for the reader to identify and even empathize with Max here, because human touch is such a fundamental need, and it can be extremely difficult to get this need sufficiently met, especially when it is not available within the socially acceptable context of a loving intimate relationship. Loneliness and hunger for intimate touch are very real problems for a great many people, and I often wish that as a culture we could come up with better solutions to these problems.

But when I read that Max finds something "thrilling" in having all these women instantly available to him so he can "pretend," I don't identify with him at all. Even if this sort of sexual service were readily available to me - a lusty middle-aged woman - I can't imagine ever finding it thrilling, because I am fundamentally opposed to sexual coercion in all forms. A reluctant or "pretending" partner would be a huge turn-off for me, whether or not any money changed hands.

What does it suggest about our culture that it is not only easy, but even arousing for johns to disregard the emotional lives of sex workers? Where is the respect for their selfhood, their bodily integrity, their right to self-determination, their agency?
posted by velvet winter at 9:46 PM on June 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


He has intimate knowledge of how, sometimes/often, sex workers who don't want to be there give a great impression of wanting to be there, and being empowered. And yet he continues to go back, and let himself believe the acting because it's more comfortable.

Those are the lies johns tell themselves and the lines they let themselves cross, and then in public some of them argue that they're not doing anything worse than employing a maid or a juggler at a party. Eeeeurgh.


I thought that people in Amazon warehouses were well treated. But then I read about conditions there. And I ordered from Amazon again.

I didn't think my own resource consumption made such a big difference. Then I started reading about global warming. And I still drive a car.

I thought that meat production was regulated, and animals here are treated humanely. Then I found out about modern factory farming. And I still eat meat.

None of us are saints or martyrs here. Me, I am comfortable with being a normal and fallible human being who is not always bathed in the light of righteousness.

The difference is that the Amazon warehouse worker or the guy in the Mickey Mouse suit is not going to come home and blow his brains out because of the memories of being bodily violated by dozens of strangers.

No, I am sure they have other justifications for suicide when they are depressed and desperate.

Do we really have to either praise or condemn this guy? If nothing else we can thank him for being willing to give this interview and provide his insight and perspective. He sounds like an interesting and thoughtful person.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:43 PM on June 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


i'm sorry, but you don't really understand the situation. you say it just takes "a little time getting to know us" ... really? that's all? because it usually takes a lot more than that, at least that's what i know from my experience.

If memory serves, your experience is somewhat particular and may be colored by a particular filter.

The card game analogy really struck me as a good one for relationships, but buying a prostitute isn't the equivalent of playing the slots - because one of the attractions of the fromer is precisely that there is absolutely no doubt that you're getting what you want back. Its more like going over to the casino bar and ordering a drink. And some people really, really aren't very attracted to playing a card game in order to determine whether or not they can get that drink.

Okay, that's a fair point.

So what would you call it if you're not necessarily talking about "a relationship" but you're also not talking about a one-night stand either?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:03 PM on June 11, 2012


Interesting, yes. Thoughtful? Not so much. I'm seeing a lot of cognitive dissonance and wilful blindness in him.

The terrors of the family court system? Apparently having a court decide on equal division of property and responsibility would be worse than knowingly participating in sex slavery while cheating on his wife so he can get his jollies without having to risk emotional hurt (his own, since he doesn't seem to care much about the harm he does to others). He seems like a pretty standard misogynist to me, as well as incredibly selfish. I sincerely hope he's not representative of all johns.
posted by harriet vane at 11:04 PM on June 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


What does it suggest about our culture that it is not only easy, but even arousing for johns to disregard the emotional lives of sex workers? Where is the respect for their selfhood, their bodily integrity, their right to self-determination, their agency?

I really think you're misreading the section you quoted. He isn't excited to disregard the emotional lives of potential sex partners, he's excited by the idea that he could have sex with a bunch of beautiful women. Just as I used to get a little frisson of excitement walking into a new bookstore because I could walk out of there with any one of these thousands of books and that was an awesome feeling. Except, you know, not sexual in the case of the books. Mostly.

He's not thinking "I could make these women have sex with me for money!", he's thinking "I could have sex with these women! Wheeee!"
posted by Justinian at 11:25 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


As an analogy, your reading would interpret someone's excitement at finding a deal at an estate sale as finding it thrilling to force grieving relatives to give you their dead loved one's stuff for money, while the truth is that people just like to get good deals on cool stuff. There is no reason to reach for the former interpretation when the latter is both more charitable and more likely.
posted by Justinian at 11:35 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


It is really not true that anyone can have a healthy sex life if they just try. The fact is that there are huge numbers of men who for one reason or another are involuntarily celibate for years or even decades despite putting consistent effort into meeting potential partners. It can be a really unhealthy lifestyle and I suspect it can be responsible for some nasty social ills.

And when a woman chooses to be a sex worker, those become her problems. As a former sex worker I have a problem with men thinking we would choose to take on those societal burdens, while ignoring our own, because the price is right. Some of the more privileged have the luxury of being able to throw money at such problems. That's what people feel uncomfortable about when people say women do it willingly. It's like, yes, a therapist does choose to go into the field of psychotherapy, knowing the realities they will be exposed to. And they are paid well. But in the long run, we would all be better off if those realities didn't exist in the first place. Escorting is not like being a rock star. We get to dress up, travel, meet great people, but in the end, I wasn't an artist, I was someone men got to use to achieve orgasm, and in my world, 99% of the time, a stranger's orgasms are not in any way meaningful to me.

I also have a problem with the entitlement men feel about having their issues with celibacy addressed by others. I never imagined myself deserving of such attention even at a top dollar cost. I know of no equivalent concerns on the black market that address the emptiness and lack of intimacy women are feeling except drugs. It's a very misunderstood dynamic the one between espcrt and john, made all the more strange buy the fact that johns feel comfortable speaking about the experience escorts are having.
posted by JLovebomb at 12:13 AM on June 12, 2012 [17 favorites]


Sorry for typos. I was afraid if I waited too long I wouldn't post it at all.
posted by JLovebomb at 12:17 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


None of us are saints or martyrs here. Me, I am comfortable with being a normal and fallible human being who is not always bathed in the light of righteousness.

Well Meatbomb, you don't have to be a saint or a martyr to be concerned with the treatment of other humans, or to object to it when you see it as abusive. Do you really believe that is only the purview of saints and martyrs, and it's something "normal and fallible human beings" can't rightfully - and therefore shouldn't - concern themselves with?

To my perspective, the most important thing you can do as a normal and fallible human being is concern yourself with the treatment of your fellow humans.

You had a whole long list of the ways that people knowingly behave in exploitative ways. I think this was designed to show us that because humans behave in lots of exploitative ways it wouldn't make sense for us to be concerned about one more? I wonder why, whenever I see this rhetorical device used, the "conclusion" is always that because there are lots of bad things we should care about NONE of them, when you could just as easily conclude that we should care about all of them.

Do we really have to either praise or condemn this guy? If nothing else we can thank him for being willing to give this interview and provide his insight and perspective. He sounds like an interesting and thoughtful person.

"We" don't have to do anything, you Meatbomb are perfectly free to thank this man and refrain from any praise or condemnation, nobody is stopping you. Do you feel uncomfortable expressing how you feel unless everyone is agreeing with you?

You are free to react to this however you want. But even though this is couched in kind of "enlightened" language I think there is nothing "enlightened" about the idea that we should not object to mistreatment of fellow humans. And react to someone's tale of wilful mistreatment of human beings with thanks for his "bravery." Telling people they need to be saint or martyrs to have a problem with social injustice is really wrongheaded IMO.
posted by cairdeas at 1:18 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey there cairdeas,

I think you are misreading me. My thesis is not "it's OK to do this questionable thing". What I am saying is "people aren't perfect". Don't set the bar too high in your expectations of others or you will become a bitter old misanthrope like me.

I didn't use the word "brave", but based on the intro setup to the piece he was the one john that this writer knew who would actually agree to this interview, after many attempts and multiple rejections or ignores.

You can care all you want. Everybody does, yeah, and it's OK.

Do you feel uncomfortable expressing how you feel unless everyone is agreeing with you?

Come on, play nice. That is a completely uncharitable reading of what I am saying. AND I AM SURE EVERYONE AGREES WITH THAT RIGHT? RIGHT???
posted by Meatbomb at 1:46 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


What does it suggest about our culture that it is not only easy, but even arousing for johns to disregard the emotional lives of sex workers?

I don't think it suggests anything particularly fucked up about our culture other than that it's made up of humans. I tend to agree with Justinian --- what the guy seems to find thrilling about it is merely that they would, not that they wouldn't otherwise. There's plenty of people I might want to sleep with who I know wouldn't find me attractive. If you change "plenty" to "most" or "all" that's a pretty lonely place to be, especially if the things that make you unattractive are difficult or impossible to change. The idea that there might be such a simple and easy solution to this otherwise insoluble problem --- yeah, I can see where that would make someone feel giddy.

It all depends whether you think someone can freely chose to do the work, and be okay with it.
posted by Diablevert at 1:53 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


My thesis is not "it's OK to do this questionable thing". What I am saying is "people aren't perfect". Don't set the bar too high in your expectations of others or you will become a bitter old misanthrope like me.

People aren't perfect, it's true. However, I don't think you have to be a perfect person to refrain paying for sex with women who were forced into prostitution against their will, addicted to drugs, and getting black eyes from their pimps. And I don't think that refraining from that is "setting the bar too high" in expectations of people. There are some failings that can be waved away with "people aren't perfect." This isn't even in the ballpark of that IMO. However, we don't have to agree on this.
posted by cairdeas at 2:19 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The difference is that the Amazon warehouse worker or the guy in the Mickey Mouse suit is not going to come home and blow his brains out because of the memories of being bodily violated by dozens of strangers. What a smarmy argument.

Yeah? You sure about that?

I may be slightly bitter about this, because I used to work in a profession that has one of the highest rates of suicide. Every year, LITERALLY at least one of my friends from said profession kills themselves. I am not kidding about this or exaggerating in one bit.

This profession is not sex work, by the way. So yeah, maybe people won't blow their brains out because of the memory of being violated. But there are still an awful lot of people blowing their brains out because of the circumstances of their work. Or their poverty and inability to find better work, or escape the consequences of the work they did.

People above talk about domestic workers and seamstresses and agricultural workers, and I think this is really important. Because yes, there are an awful lot of people who are coerced into really shitty work and if we applied the standards we're using here, they're exploited. Why is sex work so different?

I also have a problem with the entitlement men feel about having their issues with celibacy addressed by others

Thanks, JLovebomb, for being willing to talk about this.
posted by corb at 4:00 AM on June 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


People consider sex work differently because sex is much more personal than just about any other service/action and because some people can't or at least can't imagine having sex with a stranger.

Like I said upthread, I actively support sex workers, but I don't think that we can say that sex work is like any other. Not even childcare or personal body care (both of which I can do and have done) is as personal (at least for the worker). Even a gynaecology exam has its distance -- and the doctor/nurse usually talks about stuff to increase that distance.
posted by jb at 6:16 AM on June 12, 2012


EmpressCallipygos - would you really want to have sex with the kind of guy who patronizes prostitutes? I don't think they're taking anything away from you because I don't think you'd want them anyway.
posted by desjardins at 6:21 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


would you really want to have sex with the kind of guy who patronizes prostitutes? I don't think they're taking anything away from you because I don't think you'd want them anyway.

That's as may be, but I was speaking more to the justification of why they were patronizing prostitutes in the first place. The complaint that "I'm looking for intimacy and human contact because I'm lonely" sounds a little to me like a guy saying "I know it isn't great to go to McDonald's, but sometimes I just really, really want a burger so I can't help it," and my reaction to that is more like, "but....I've got a Shake Shack stand right here."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:26 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


How would legalizing sex work eliminate trafficking?

The same way ending prohibition eliminated bootlegging: Incentives.

If done right, legalization and regulation would create a world in which it's less expensive and less risky to play by the rules. This works wonderfully for all kinds of industries, from cab drivers to doctors to pharmaceuticals. So that's the economic side of the argument.

As mentioned upthread, it would also give the victims of trafficking access to the legal system without fear of being victimized by it, which would reduce the effectiveness of the weapons traffickers use to coerce their victims.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:27 AM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sorry, hit post too soon -- if they were to go on and say "I really, really want a burger sometimes, but Shake Shack is a problem for me because [foo baz schmeh,]" then that'd be different.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:28 AM on June 12, 2012


As a former sex worker I have a problem with men thinking we would choose to take on those societal burdens, while ignoring our own, because the price is right.

Thanks for your comment.

But isn't it sort of self-evident that some women do choose to take on those burdens because the price is right? I don't think anyone has argued that most prostitutes become sex workers because they really, really like having sex with people for money and it was a lifelong dream.

Disclaimer for the thread in general: The dude in the article continued to visit sex workers he had good reason to believe had been trafficked and that's seriously not okay on any level. I think it's actually quite a lot worse than Meatbomb's analogy of patronizing businesses which treat workers badly and so forth. I can have sympathy for somebody and still recognize they are a giant dbag.
posted by Justinian at 7:10 AM on June 12, 2012


I also have a problem with the entitlement men feel about having their issues with celibacy addressed by others. I never imagined myself deserving of such attention even at a top dollar cost.

But in that case, isn't the bad thing your feeling of unworthiness, rather than his feeling of entitlement? Don't we want a world where more people can have their problems treated at a fair price, rather than fewer?

I know of no equivalent concerns on the black market that address the emptiness and lack of intimacy women are feeling except drugs. It's a very misunderstood dynamic the one between espcrt and john, made all the more strange buy the fact that johns feel comfortable speaking about the experience escorts are having.

The failure of every attempt at female-serving brothels is an interesting topic. A number of people have tried it in Nevada, and they've always lost money because the market wasn't there. Is this because of internalized feelings of unworthiness and slut-shaming? Or is it because women's need for touch and intimacy aren't met by hunky dudes offering sex? I've heard women say "I've been lonely for so long, I started going to a high-end spa just to have someone touch me," which sure does sound like a john, but in a very different context (and not necessarily one free of trafficking and exploitation).
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:23 AM on June 12, 2012


I notice your OKcupid profile doesn't mention you're looking for casual encounters.

That's only because I generally like to size you up first and see what cards we both want to play.


This is kind of my point. If a person has a desire which a fair portion of the population finds repugnant and shameful, that they keep secret, don't advertise, then they're disingenuous when they complaint people who share that desire don't come to them to have it satisfied.

To put it in OKCupid terms, if I were a heroin user, and a person has "Never does drugs" marked in their preferences, complains than no one every contacts them to chase the dragon. Well I wouldn't think they have any right to complain that no one ever contacts them to share their underground poppy farm.
posted by bswinburn at 7:49 AM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


"complains that": my kingdom for an edit window.
posted by bswinburn at 7:51 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


If a person has a desire which a fair portion of the population finds repugnant and shameful, that they keep secret, don't advertise, then they're disingenuous when they complaint people who share that desire don't come to them to have it satisfied.

I think my own OKCupid profile is a red herring, to be honest, and I'd like to get away from using me as Exhibit A, to be honest.

To put it in OKCupid terms, if I were a heroin user, and a person has "Never does drugs" marked in their preferences, complains than no one every contacts them to chase the dragon. Well I wouldn't think they have any right to complain that no one ever contacts them to share their underground poppy farm.

This isn't an equitable analogy - there's a difference between someone actively saying "I would never do X" and someone not saying anything either way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:56 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The failure of every attempt at female-serving brothels is an interesting topic. A number of people have tried it in Nevada, and they've always lost money because the market wasn't there. Is this because of internalized feelings of unworthiness and slut-shaming? Or is it because women's need for touch and intimacy aren't met by hunky dudes offering sex? I've heard women say "I've been lonely for so long, I started going to a high-end spa just to have someone touch me," which sure does sound like a john, but in a very different context (and not necessarily one free of trafficking and exploitation).

ThatFuzzyBastard: Here is what I think, based upon my own thoughts and those of women I know (and yes, I realize that anecdotes =/= data, but it's what I have to go on):

- I'd rather do without than have to pay someone to have sex with me. To me, and to my friends who have offered opinions on the topic, that's a big deal. If I can't attract a man on my own merits, whatever those may be, I'd rather not have sex. "Paying someone to have sex with me" means "I have sunk so low that I have to purchase sex with money." I know that women exchange sex for other things (love? touch? a home-cooked meal? ego-stroking?) and that many men do exploit their female partners financially ("I pay all the bills and he sits around playing video games and buys expensive toys") but there is something, ahem, naked about the exchange of sex for money that squicks me. "I have to pay" = "I'm undesirable and reduced to having to buy something other women get for free."

The message women get from society that men are always horny and women can (or should) have men, or a man, want them enough (at least for a one-night stand) that a woman shouldn't have to buy sex is pervasive. I think men are more used to an unvarnished idea of sex-as-commodity, whether it be paying for sex workers or a rich man using his financial leverage to get a trophy wife.

- A high-end spa isn't about "sex" but about "pampering," which is something women are encouraged to do for themselves. When I go to a high-end spa it's not primarily for touch (though that is nice) but because for half a day or so I can live in my own sweet little relaxed and carefree world, detached from the everyday grind, and come out with dewy skin, smooth feet, and sweetly scented. I don't know that a sex worker offers a man the same experience - do sex workers give pedicures and face masks in a room scented with lavender and clary sage? Maybe I'm not on the same page as the women ThatFuzzyBastard mentioned, but I can't imagine a gigolo offering quite the same I'm-going-to-leave-my-cares-behind experience, complete with lime green toenail polish.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:21 AM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I guess the question then is why is there something ickier about desiring touch and sex rather than pedicures and face masks in a room scented with lavender and dry sage? Personally, I'm far more squicked at the idea of some random stranger giving me a pedicure, but that's just me! I'm getting the heebie jeebies just thinking about it.
posted by Justinian at 8:30 AM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Rosie makes solid points. I would add that (strictly from my POV) women are socialized that sexiness is something determined by men and that sex is something women perform for men, so I don't think you can just flip the script there - women are not trained to perceive men in the same way that men perceive women. Women's sexuality is all too often wrapped up in desirability: to pay for it carries the implication that you are not desirable, and not being desirable is not sexy. "Craving human touch" in the sexual context is probably more honestly "craving to be touched by someone who finds me desirable to touch".
posted by flex at 8:33 AM on June 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think my own OKCupid profile is a red herring, to be honest, and I'd like to get away from using me as Exhibit A, to be honest.

Done.

This isn't an equitable analogy - there's a difference between someone actively saying "I would never do X" and someone not saying anything either way.

That's a fair point; but I think my underlying analogy holds up. There are norms in our society and if a person doesn't specifically state that they aren't following those norms it's up to them to state otherwise. i.e. My OKcupid says that my diet is "strictly anything", but I think a person reading it does not think, "Oh, so he may be open to eating human flesh, hamsters, and horse." As it happens I'm open to eating hamster and horse, not so much on the human flesh.

The norm, as it appears to me, in our society is that people involved in dating are not looking for casual encounters. This belief of mine is bolstered by there being separate sections of websites for both behaviors on some websites (e.g. craigslist) or entire websites (e.g adult friend finder). And I don't think you need to go very far to find evidence that craigslist's causal encounters or adult friend finder are stigmatized.

If we, as a society, want to divert men from prostitution to causal encounters it's going to require a large systematic change which, I believe, will have to be led by women. And as far as I can tell women, as a group, are pretty happy to leave their desire for casual sex an un-formalized part of the dating process, and, perhaps, under-served.
posted by bswinburn at 8:36 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are norms in our society and if a person doesn't specifically state that they aren't following those norms it's up to them to state otherwise. i.e. My OKcupid says that my diet is "strictly anything", but I think a person reading it does not think, "Oh, so he may be open to eating human flesh, hamsters, and horse." As it happens I'm open to eating hamster and horse, not so much on the human flesh.

But that's a somewhat unusual exception to what's been set up, by the OKC community, as a more general question; the option "strictly anything" is set up as an option alongside "vegetarian" and "vegan", which leads one to believe, as an OKC member, that by selecting "anything," one is simply saying "no, I'm not vegetarian or vegan" as opposed to being a way of announcing "I'd eat chocolate-covered hamster balls if you offered them to me". That's the kind of detail that two people hammer out themselves in the process of feeling each other out.

The norm, as it appears to me, in our society is that people involved in dating are not looking for casual encounters. This belief of mine is bolstered by there being separate sections of websites for both behaviors on some websites (e.g. craigslist) or entire websites (e.g adult friend finder). And I don't think you need to go very far to find evidence that craigslist's causal encounters or adult friend finder are stigmatized.

Perhaps this is a semantic discussion after all; there seem to be many different definitions of "casual encounters" and maybe we're all using different ones. One person may mean "one-night stands" and another may mean "fuckbuddies only". That, too, is something that gets hammered out in the process of feeling each other out.

And -- and I know I said I was gonna drop it, but just this one last observation -- in my own experience on OKC, "casual sex" gets interpreted by too many people as "open to one-night stands." That isn't something I seek. But there's a lot of gray area between "actual dating" and "one-night stands," just like there's a lot of gray area between "not a vegetarian" and "would eat hamster".

But that's where the email discussion comes in, is in the feeling-out of the finer nuances of whether you're compatible for what each other's looking for. Provided, of course, a person wants to invest the few emails it takes to find that kind of thing out. If you don't even wanna invest that, then your problem is not that "you just crave human contact and so you have to pay for it." Your problem is that you crave human contact but you want a guaranteed route to getting it without any other getting-to-know-you factors. Which is fair.

But just admit that that's what your actual situation is, is my point, rather than saying it's just because you crave human contact in general.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:49 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


With the same disclaimers about anecdotes not equaling data, Rosie M. Banks' comment above more or less echoes my own about why I would never patronize a prostitute, regardless of how hard up I was.

I know that speaking of sex in terms of "conquests" is frowned upon in polite circles as well (and I'm not even sure if that is the right term anyway), but for me sex is a combination of sensual pleasure (the physical part) and equal part ego boost ("This woman actually agreed to get naked and have sex with me for fun!"). I can't imagine sex divorced from that aspect where instead you are essentially masturbating using somebody else's body.

Even ignoring the ethical issues surrounding prostitution which have been discussed ad nauseam in this thread, for me, the few moments of physical pleasure would simply not be worth the huge self-esteem hit of acknowledging that I've reached the point where the only women willing to have sex with me are those who are being paid for it. What was interesting to me about the interview is that the subject seemed to have made peace with this, which I just can't imagine personally.
posted by The Gooch at 8:58 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a dominant (in the BDSM sense) and since the ratio of sub males to dominant females is absurdly skewed, I've had a few offers to dominate guys for money. Sometimes absurd amounts of money, even though I'm not conventionally attractive. I've never done it, not because of some moral high ground but because I need to be attracted to that person, and I couldn't be attracted to someone who would pay for it. That is the only criteria - many of those men are otherwise interesting and conventionally physically attractive.

I understand the high demand for pro dominants; it is very, very difficult for a guy to get his fetishes fulfilled if they extend beyond a little slap-and-tickle. I don't have an answer for those guys. Celibacy is hard on anyone, but it must be much harder if you're ashamed of your desires, if you know you could get "regular" sex but you also know it will be unfulfilling.

But pro domination most definitely has a direct and deleterious effect on men, who bring those expectations into relationships with non-pro dominant females. They expect to be able to give me a laundry list of things they want. They expect me to dress in latex and heels and have a fully tricked-out dungeon (which we do, but only because of the handyman skills of my husband). My husband is repulsed by the idea of paying money for something so intimate (he literally has to trust his partner with his life) and that is absolutely a point in his favor.

I see pro dominants at social events, and while I'm superficially polite, I always feel conflicted. I want to be tolerant, I want to be supportive of their choices, but I also want them to stop fucking up mens' expectations for the rest of us.
posted by desjardins at 9:44 AM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Meatbomb: Your analogies with regard to amazon and driving cars and such nagged at me because I agree completely with your underlying point but thought the examples were too easily dismissed. I thought of what might be a better example: the diamond industry.

Right now there are people participating in this thread while wearing diamond jewelry or having purchased diamond jewelry for others. The diamond industry is a far greater evil and causes more human misery than sex trafficking in the United States. (I have no basis for comparison across the world as a whole but they are both great evils). Some of the people talking about how they cannot imagine how someone could visit a sex worker (which btw apparently snarking about in a humorous fashion is now deletion-worthy) are undoubtedly wearing diamonds or have bought diamonds.

Those people do not think about the slaves involved in getting that diamond to their fingers, the hacked off limbs, or the blood which soaks the ground virtually everywhere diamonds are harvested. And that's perfectly natural. And no, buying a "used" diamond doesn't exempt one from participation in this economy even if it soothes the conscience.

So, yeah, I think we should all be able to imagine how one can not think about the real downsides of an economy one participates in when those downsides are out of sight. Because it's nearly ubiquitous. Personally, I can't imagine wearing a diamond. But that's my line, and I do not judge others too harshly that it isn't theirs. Surely this level of empathy should be extended to those similar to the guy in this interview.

I say similar to because, yeah, he apparently knew for a fact those he visited trafficked workers which is beyond the pale, as opposed to there simply being the possibility of it having happened inadvertently. Which is more than can be said for diamonds where there is almost always blood on your hands along with the shiny rock.
posted by Justinian at 9:59 AM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Gooch: it's a "huge self-esteem hit [to acknowledge] that I've reached the point where the only women willing to have sex with me are those who are being paid for it." Yes, yes, yes. You've said in one sentence exactly how I and other women I know feel. I believe that there are more men who feel like this than there are ones who jump at the idea of patronizing a prostitute; especially if we disregard men who say "Oh yeah, I'd totally visit a hooker" in front of their friends for some macho credibility but would never in a million years follow through.

Likewise I think that many wealthy men who do have trophy wives feel conflicted as to whether these wives really love them for themselves, or would bail if the money ran out. Is that like paying for love? Yes, it is; maybe not exactly like paying for sex with a prostitute, but it is in the same category, albeit socially sanctioned and even encouraged.

If I go to a spa I don't feel like I'm paying for someone to love me. I'm paying to look good and feel relaxed in an impersonal way - I look for day spas through ratings on Yelp, but I most certainly don't choose my dates based on Yelp ratings!

Here's a thought: Would Max, or any other person who was willing to pay for sex, be comfortable with paying people to be his friend? Think about that for a minute. How many people would feel horrified and humiliated if they had to bribe people into hanging out with them and keep them company by paying them money? Look at all the people on AskMe who wonder if their friends would still be their friends if they didn't do all the giving in the relationship. Think of the kids in third grade (perhaps you were one) who had to bribe people with cookies or lunch money or homework help in order to get people to like them. Feel uncomfortable yet?

I realize that not everyone feels like I do, and many people feel that sex is more casual (in some ways) than friendship. But for me, sex and friendship go together like green eggs and ham. Just as I would feel terrible if I couldn't get friends unless I paid for them, I feel the same way about sex. (And if I couldn't get people to like me as a friend unless I bribed them, I'd go to therapy, stat, and figure out why that was and how to make real friends.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:13 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rosie M. Banks: " A high-end spa isn't about "sex" but about "pampering," which is something women are encouraged to do for themselves. When I go to a high-end spa it's not primarily for touch (though that is nice) but because for half a day or so I can live in my own sweet little relaxed and carefree world, detached from the everyday grind, and come out with dewy skin, smooth feet, and sweetly scented. I don't know that a sex worker offers a man the same experience - do sex workers give pedicures and face masks in a room scented with lavender and clary sage?"

Female sex workers don't do that specifically, because men don't crave the exact same kinds of pampering, obviously. However, men do pay for nonsexual pampering from sex workers.

The truly high-end call girls sometimes specify a minimum appointment length. No man hires them expecting to fuck for 3 hours straight. Instead, they are literal escorts: charming, witty conversationalists who treat their client as The Most Important Man On The Planet. That's pampering! Some are flown on trips with the man; obviously, again, they're acting as social escorts outside of the bedroom there, too.

But it happens at the lower end, too. Almost every "Asian massage parlor" you've ever noticed is, in fact, a whorehouse. However, most of them are very, very discreet about it. Some even have female customers who come in and get legitimate massages. And, even for regular male customers, who've gotten "happy endings" from the very same masseuse in the past (so she's knows for certain he's not working Vice), the sex will be preceded by a hot-water sponge bath on a table (truly one of the most sensual things I've ever experienced), time alone in a sauna, and a real, legitimately therapeutic massage. Or, at least, one that starts that way, and stays nonsexual for most of its duration.

If they then offered men manicures and pedicures, and maybe a BYO cigar bar (to avoid messy licensing issues)... Damn, that could make me a millionaire! (Who ends up with a prison record.)
posted by IAmBroom at 11:08 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I think men are more used to an unvarnished idea of sex-as-commodity" is a succinct way to put it. After all, sex is considered a man's just due once he's "made it" - power & money entitle one to sex. For instance, many may find Hugh Hefner slimy or laughable, but there are plenty who have envied his lifestyle all these years. I think if Hefner were a woman and the Bunnies were men, it would be simply laughable - the idea of a woman using her power & money for sex is basically a joke in this society; a man, though, it might be laughable but acceptable, even expected - a just reward.

This entitlement is a divide here - many men feel entitled to sex no matter what: they feel entitled to use women's bodies as masturbatory material, they feel entitled to use women for that ego boost, and more than some feel entitled to pay for access to a woman's body through the different types of sex work. I just don't think most women could flip that, because women are not brought up to feel entitled in that way (yes, in other ways, not this way).

I agree there are many other kinds of exploitation out there: Amazon warehouses, diamond mining, slaughterhouses, sweatshop labor for clothes, I could go on. None of us are perfect - we are complicit. I think the reason why sex work hits home particularly of all these types is because it rests so much on the simple fact of being a woman. Perhaps it's harder to identify with something you don't have personal experience with (being poor, hard labor, third-world country) or you don't see often or at all - but every woman has the personal experience of being a woman and probably at one point or another being considered available or usable because you're a woman, that's it, that's all. I think women don't like being confronted so baldly with the fact that many men are willing to use them in this way.
posted by flex at 11:24 AM on June 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


cairdeas: The difference is that the Amazon warehouse worker or the guy in the Mickey Mouse suit is not going to come home and blow his brains out because of the memories of being bodily violated by dozens of strangers. What a smarmy argument.

corb: Yeah? You sure about that?

I may be slightly bitter about this, because I used to work in a profession that has one of the highest rates of suicide. Every year, LITERALLY at least one of my friends from said profession kills themselves. I am not kidding about this or exaggerating in one bit.

This profession is not sex work, by the way. So yeah, maybe people won't blow their brains out because of the memory of being violated. But there are still an awful lot of people blowing their brains out because of the circumstances of their work.


I completely agree with you corb. Sex work is not the only profession that leaves a huge percentage of its workers with severe psychological trauma. I don't think there's anything wrong with likening sex work to one of those other professions. However that is different from saying it's like ANY other profession because they all have their downsides and could all give people some bad feelings at one point or another, and sometimes some people in those other professions could also be depressed or suicidal, etc.. That is different from comparing it to wearing a Mickey Mouse suit. I think doing that severely minimizes just how systematically traumatizing sex work is for such a huge percentage of people. And I think sometimes people minimize that on purpose.
posted by cairdeas at 12:30 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Even ignoring the ethical issues surrounding prostitution which have been discussed ad nauseam in this thread, for me, the few moments of physical pleasure would simply not be worth the huge self-esteem hit of acknowledging that I've reached the point where the only women willing to have sex with me are those who are being paid for it. What was interesting to me about the interview is that the subject seemed to have made peace with this, which I just can't imagine personally."

Much of the talk focuses on a stereotypical incel john, but that's not necessarily the norm. Most men who visit prostitutes have regular access to sex from a wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband. They're typically not "hungry for human touch," as much as they're looking for an affair in a box. When asked, male and female sex workers alike attest to having a predominantly married client base.
posted by Selena777 at 9:21 PM on June 12, 2012


Just because someone is married doesn't mean they're getting any.
posted by Athene at 9:31 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I find the power dynamics and social implications of male/female sex work very creepy. What to do about it? I don't know.
I do know that decriminalization leads to better outcomes and less trafficking and abuse (ie where I am, New Zealand*).

I have many gay male friends. I find it interesting, that in at least a sub-sector of that community, there's this interesting little eco-system/life-cycle, where several of my friends have been paid for sex when they were younger (early 20s etc), with older guys.
Interestingly, some of the older guys did the same when they were younger. So it's almost like there's this supportive cycle between young/hot older/richer, where, because you're in a closed social circle, no one is going to out you to your friends and family, and there's the acknowledgement that they might do the same when they're older, which makes it feel significantly... fairer?
Thing is, that just doesn't work for male/female dynamics. I kinda wish it did.
Women get stigmatized, there is no turn-about, etc etc etc.


Honestly, I don't see that much difference between paying for a massage and paying for sex, and I pay for massages. I'm not seeing myself as having the moral high-ground.
I do find it interesting that women's sexuality is often tied to the idea of being desired, and money not working for that, and I can see that being true for many women (perhaps I don't feel I have anything to prove there?).
See, in neither case are you paying for their body, you are paying for their professional attention.
In both cases I'd be pretty f'n horrified if it turned out the massage therapist was being exploited or abused. The John in the article is a total freaking douchebag, and no wonder he doesn't want to divorce, because if that's what he's like as a person, I shudder to think what he is like as a father and husband. I really, really hope his wife leaves, with the kids, for their sakes.

The only other problem, is because as a massage therapist you aren't expecting to receive pleasure from the arrangement, you aren't setting yourself up for a psychological response where you do not associate pleasure with sexual acts. Because that is quite common, and is a pretty high price to pay for sex work, and not, I feel, worth it. However, it looks as though good working conditions, and the ability to set your own boundaries really decreases the chances of that happening. Putting up with abuse, any kind of abuse, often leads to physical and emotional shut-down. It often happens with sexual harassment in other workplaces also, and that is the problematic aspect.



* Also, because prostitution is legal, all the 'massage parlours' basically rebranded as straight-up brothels.
At least massage therapists are a lot more able to work in peace without being asked if they do happy endings. :P
posted by Elysum at 11:04 PM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


The only other problem, is because as a massage therapist you aren't expecting to receive pleasure from the arrangement, you aren't setting yourself up for a psychological response where you do not associate pleasure with sexual acts. Because that is quite common, and is a pretty high price to pay for sex work, and not, I feel, worth it.

Curious - for you and others - do you find that your impressions are different of sex work that is currently legal (such as porn work) and sex work that is illegal (such as prostitution in many locations)? If so, why? If not, why not?
posted by corb at 4:17 AM on June 13, 2012


Slavery is already illegal. I don't see that this, or any other activity that consenting adults engage in behind closed doors, is society's business.

I think this is largely a moral issue for most. They want to control how, when, why, and with whom people have sex but they don't seem able to admit that to themselves. They think of the clientele of the industry as latent predators and the service providers as damaged sluts who let men rape them for money.



I think it needs to be legal so that everyone involved can have the protection of the law and can report actual wrongdoing without simultaneously confessing to a crime. Everything else is extra. I don't see the prostitution stigma any differently to the stigmatization of any other common but 'improper' sexual activity. If you've ever said the words 'Whatever two consenting adults want to do..' then this is another issue about which to say them. No one cares how it makes you feel. People want to do this. No one cares if you think people shouldn't want to do this. No one cares about your moral, religious, or spiritual convictions. These people should be protected and not criminalized and told they're worthless.

I mean, really. People talk about how terrible it is, but how much of that is because you fucking made it illegal like so many drugs? That you require people to buy and sell in the dark corners of the world outside of the protection of the law? You think yourself so good and charitable when you shit on people for being willing to have sex or wanting to have sex, when you think sex is natural, because you don't agree with their reasons?


Rant over, all this callous moralism makes me sick.
posted by TheKM at 7:57 AM on June 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Slavery is already illegal. I don't see that this, or any other activity that consenting adults engage in behind closed doors, is society's business.

Oh shit, that's right, it's already illegal, guys! Nobody would ever do something illegal to make money. That just wouldn't be very nice of them! And no way a multi-billion dollar illegal industry could get past our boys in blue!

I think it needs to be legal so that everyone involved can have the protection of the law and can report actual wrongdoing without simultaneously confessing to a crime.

I would absolutely love for sex workers to be fully protected. Legalization is not the panacea some people assume it is. This was discussed at length upthread.

If you've ever said the words 'Whatever two consenting adults want to do..' then this is another issue about which to say them.

Leaving aside the whole (enormous) problem of forced prostitution -- is it still consent if it is a drug addict desperate for money for drugs? Is it still consent if a woman's husband or partner has pressured her into it without "technically" forcing her? Is it still consent if it's a woman who doesn't have any other way to feed her kids? For all your purported concern about sex workers, it seems that you don't care at all about issues of consent and exploitation of society's most vulnerable people.

this callous moralism makes me sick.

It's really ironic that you say that, because I see your rant as being the callous moralism. Yes, you are the upholder of truth and freedom, and everyone who isn't absolutely gung-ho about prostitution is just someone who is afraid of sex and just wants to control other people's sex lives.

Meanwhile, I see the simplistic, uninformed opinions that you've presented here as willful denial, and your moralizing as a defense against having to give a shit about sex workers being harmed.
posted by cairdeas at 11:56 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Slavery is already illegal. I don't see that this, or any other activity that consenting adults engage in behind closed doors, is society's business.

Oh shit, that's right, it's already illegal, guys! Nobody would ever do something illegal to make money. That just wouldn't be very nice of them! And no way a multi-billion dollar illegal industry could get past our boys in blue!


I'm not sure you understood my point. When I said slavery was already illegal. I mean slavery is already recognized as harmful. When we talk about 'sexual slavery'. I perceive the wrong part as being the slavery, not the sex, nor the combination. So, in coming out against sexual slavery.. is it "I'm opposed to slavery, particularly when it's sexual.", "I'm opposed to sex, particularly when it's slavery.", or "I'm ambivalent about slavery, except when it's sexual?"

Leaving aside the whole (enormous) problem of forced prostitution -- is it still consent if it is a drug addict desperate for money for drugs? Is it still consent if a woman's husband or partner has pressured her into it without "technically" forcing her? Is it still consent if it's a woman who doesn't have any other way to feed her kids? For all your purported concern about sex workers, it seems that you don't care at all about issues of consent and exploitation of society's most vulnerable people.

You're talking about sex work specifically as though it's always a consequence of drug addiction and domestic abuse. You're genuinely confusing me. I think that you are asking me whether or not I agree with the statement "sex work is bad because drugs and slavery."?

I agree that drug addiction and slavery are harmful. I think that they are harmful no matter what they are combined with. The root problem is the desperation and exploitation though, not sex work itself. I see your viewpoint as equivalent to "sex is inherently problematic because rape is a common occurrence".

I think criminalizing people for what they do with their own bodies is harmful. I don't think decriminalization automatically negates the possibility of people being driven by exploitation and desperation, because people are forced to do otherwise legal things--either against their will or because it's the only option their circumstances allow--constantly anyway.

I mean, if we agree that slavery, rape, and drug abuse are problems... surely we can agree that they happen in every setting and only within sex work? I can see treating sex work as a specific target for remediation of those broad problems, but I don't see how painting the people whose welfare you are concerned for with the stigma of criminality and immorality helps them at all.



I mean, what changed? I'm sure you feel positively about a lot of products and services that are produced by coerced or desperate workers. I'm sure that your against the human suffering and not against the actual concepts of the products and services, and don't see suffering as a necessary component of their production. I'm also sure that when you have the option to purchase cruelty-free products and services you do so. So.. what exactly is the problem if it's not the sex?
posted by TheKM at 1:22 PM on June 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


Also, Cairdeas, when I responded to you I assumed that you weren't saying 'This shouldn't be allowed because people might be forced into it.' Afterwards it occured to me that that might be what you meant and I hope it isn't, but if it was.. what kind of basis is that to decide what people should and shouldn't be allowed to do? By that logic every possible activity should be proscribed.

I'm really assuming that's not what you or anyone else is saying.
posted by TheKM at 2:37 PM on June 13, 2012


but I don't see how painting the people whose welfare you are concerned for with the stigma of criminality and immorality helps them at all.

i think this thread is more about painting the people who employ the people whose welfare they are concerned with, with the stigma of criminality and immorality.
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:50 PM on June 13, 2012


But in that case, isn't the bad thing your feeling of unworthiness, rather than his feeling of entitlement?

No, it wasn't due to my feelings of unworthiness, it was due to out patriarchal society that taught me that my sexual desires were not a commodity, while teaching men the exact opposite.
posted by JLovebomb at 3:24 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also have a problem with the entitlement men feel about having their issues with celibacy addressed by others. I never imagined myself deserving of such attention even at a top dollar cost.
--
But in that case, isn't the bad thing your feeling of unworthiness, rather than his feeling of entitlement? Don't we want a world where more people can have their problems treated at a fair price, rather than fewer?
--
No, it wasn't due to my feelings of unworthiness, it was due to out patriarchal society that taught me that my sexual desires were not a commodity, while teaching men the exact opposite.


So are you saying sexual desires *should not* be satisfied in exchange for money? Or are you saying that more people should feel like they deserve to have their sexual desires satisfied, even if they have to pay for it?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:36 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


cairdeas: " is it still consent if it is a drug addict desperate for money for drugs? Is it still consent if a woman's husband or partner has pressured her into it without "technically" forcing her? Is it still consent if it's a woman who doesn't have any other way to feed her kids?"

In order:
Yes.
Huh?
Yes.

If a drug addict can't give consent when they do something to support their drug habit, then even employing them to sort envelopes becomes slavery for them.

Your second example is a meaningless piece of sophistry. "What if somebody totally forced them to do something, but not technically forced them to do something?" Give real examples, please.

And, obviously, if a woman "doesn't have any other way to feed her kids", the alternative is that her kids don't eat at all, so I'd say legal prostitution is still better than starving children. Do you disagree?

Just because you can imagine situations in which someone would end up working unpleasantly in a sex trade, is not justification for banning it. My imagination memory can describe a situation in which I've had to work for assholes in a terrible job, but I don't think those jobs should be made illegal.

For all your purported concern about sex workers, it seems that you don't care at all about issues of consent and exploitation of society's most vulnerable people.

Ironically, you're intent on shutting them out of a profitable income that they might be interested in pursuing.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:06 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea that someone can't consent to something because they need the money too badly. At that point most jobs would be considered slavery 'cause if people didn't have jobs they'd starve.
posted by Justinian at 6:14 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, wow.
I accidentally came across this, and it actually makes me ridiculously proud to be in NZ.

The 100+ pages of OSH (Occupational Safety and Health) Guidelines for Sex Workers:
http://www.osh.dol.govt.nz/order/catalogue/235.shtml

(And STIs, as well as counselling and medical care in cases of sexual abuse, are all covered by ACC (Accident Compensation etc) if standard OSH guidelines have been followed.)

Dammit. That makes me feel as patriotic as I've felt in months.


P.S. I largely agree with Justinian, although there is a point where that happens, which is why we have minimum wage, and unemployment benefits, because the social costs of living in a culture with job-slavery and indentured servitude = full of suck. But yeah, you can consent, and given the vast majority of sex workers do, suggesting they don't is... yet another way of taking away women's agency, which is exactly what we (I?) do not want to happen, in sex work or otherwise.
posted by Elysum at 11:36 PM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


TheKM: “I think this is largely a moral issue for most. They want to control how, when, why, and with whom people have sex but they don't seem able to admit that to themselves. They think of the clientele of the industry as latent predators and the service providers as damaged sluts who let men rape them for money.”

That's an awful lot of gross assumption about the motivations of those of us who are against prostitution and pornography.

You want a different take? I assume not, but here it is anyway:

Money destroys everything. Money has always destroyed everything. Money turns things that ought to be true and noble and great – music, art, education, sex – into soulless, vacuous shells which are for greed at best and coercive at worst. People ought to be free to make ridiculous mistakes like painting paintings purely for money or reading books purely for money, and prostitution especially ought to be legal because otherwise more people will get hurt, but I don't have to sit here and pretend those things aren't mistakes.

I like sex. Sex is totally awesome. I am bisexual myself, and am not shy about liking pretty much everything about sex. I like sexy pictures, and I think our society spends far too much time hiding sexuality. We live in a society that is insanely afraid of sex, that polices it and hunts it down and attempts to eliminate it at every turn; the fact that violence is more acceptable than sex to us is common knowledge, and yet in the face of this inanity we still act this way.

But you want to know the dramatic irony of this situation? People love to tell themselves that pornography and prostitution represent liberation from our society's fear of sex. What people don't see is that this feeling fits into an innovation that we Americans seized upon just after the 1960s and have carried over into every part of our lives, to the point where it is ubiquitous and inescapable. We Americans love cheap escapism, we love commodities that allows us to feel like we're liberated and revolutionary without the jarring experience of actual liberation. We love the $20 anarchy t-shirt, we love spending $100 on the box-set of the band that preached the end of capitalist society, we love paying fifteen bucks to see a movie about a revolution or a movement that removes the constraints of the monetary system. In short, more than any other society that has ever existed, we are experts at commotification, at making a profitable product out of anything – even things that are ostensibly supposed to be liberational.

Look at how it is with drugs. Lots of people love to tell themselves that, by buying illegal drugs, they're rebelling against societal dictates that tell them not to. In fact, their "rebellion" is actually planned for and expected by the power structures that keep drugs illegal. Drug traffickers want drugs to be illegal; this makes their commodity rarer and more profitable, and it culls the competition. And people who legislate against drugs are always secretly rooting for you to use more, so they can moan and cry about the 'epidemic' of drug use. The system plans and expects for the clientele of illegal enterprise.

It is precisely the same with pornography. The pornography industry makes a show of acting liberated, but it prefers that pornography is persecuted and is made shameful and considered worth hiding. Shame is the pornography industry's best tool. People who are ashamed of themselves are overcome by a feeling that they can't control themselves; they hide what they do, and this narrows more and more steadily the chances that they'll find sexual release anywhere but in the realm of pornography. Because of the money, the pornography industry has a vested interest in promoting shame and driving sexual activity underground where it can be commodified.

And it's the same with prostitution. The money is what destroys it; it pretends to be an act of sexual liberation, but in fact it only serves to cement the status quo and promote shame. I think people should be free to do what they want, as I said, but it should be clear what these things do in our society.

Justinian: “I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea that someone can't consent to something because they need the money too badly. At that point most jobs would be considered slavery 'cause if people didn't have jobs they'd starve.”

Most jobs should be considers slavery.

Besides, you're "deeply uncomfortable" because you're putting words in people's mouths that they have not said. I said that things done for money can be coercive; I did not say that people cannot or are not allowed to consent to such things. And it should be noted that I'm really just echoing what can be found in the interview that we were talking about here in the first place:

“With any other job, it would be ‘working an extra shift’ the doing more in order to buy shoes or pay for a vacation, but you’re also talking about another aspect of sex work: The part where one crosses lines drawn in the sand. At several points, I had disdain for certain acts, but when I felt trapped or needed rent or wanted those shoes, I crossed those self-imposed boundaries. The result was unexpected: It made me feel a stubborn and unspoken alliance with women I’d previously judged. But it also felt like a relapse of sorts.”

It's hard to deny that that is a part of the work. Yes, it's a part of all work to some extent. That emphatically does not mean it's a thing we should accept.
posted by koeselitz at 1:40 AM on June 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Besides, you're "deeply uncomfortable" because you're putting words in people's mouths that they have not said. I said that things done for money can be coerciv

That might be true if I had been replying to your comment, but since it was a quote from cairdeas I was talking about I couldn't have been putting words in your mouth. Admittedly I didn't include the quote from cairdeas in my comment, but since it was present in the one immediately preceding mine I thought it was implied. But I guess not.
posted by Justinian at 2:28 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, it's a part of all work to some extent. That emphatically does not mean it's a thing we should accept.

That depends on what you mean by "accept". So long as people want things (regardless of what those things may be) they will be willing to put in effort to get those things, and sometimes that effort will involve doing things they wouldn't otherwise want to do. Not wanting to accept that is like choosing not to accept that 2+2=4. It's completely implausible that we could ever eliminate the entire concept of "work" which is what you're basically suggesting.
posted by Justinian at 2:41 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just saw this Reddit discussion thread, not sure but might be some interesting comments.

"Have you ever had experience hiring an escort or prostitute? Any regrets, funny stories, etc.?"
posted by Meatbomb at 11:36 PM on June 16, 2012


OK, whoops... I take it all back, it is a typical Reddit thread, reader beware. :)
posted by Meatbomb at 11:56 PM on June 16, 2012


koeselitz: "TheKM: That's an awful lot of gross assumption about the motivations of those of us who are against prostitution and pornography.

...prostitution especially ought to be legal because otherwise more people will get hurt, but I don't have to sit here and pretend those things aren't mistakes.
...
I like sex. Sex is totally awesome. I am bisexual myself, and am not shy about liking pretty much everything about sex. I like sexy pictures, and I think our society spends far too much time hiding sexuality.
"

Your point is obscured by the contradictory positions you take along the way.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:24 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


IAmBroom, it's entirely possible for someone to be opposed to prostitution and mainstream pornography, but still enjoy erotic artwork like, say, shunga prints.

The definition of "pornography" isn't necessarily as broad as "pictures of naked people."

Also, people's sexuality is usually a lot more nuanced than "if you like sexy pictures then that must mean you like porn". I mean, hell, you accused me of "not getting the male libido" because I said I didn't get how a guy could use a prostitute's services but still be open to a woman hitting on him at a party. Your experience was different, you said; why is your experience "normal", but koeselitz's "contradictory"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:33 AM on June 18, 2012


EC, the pornography tie-in is weaker, admittedly, because everyone seems to have a different definition of what it is; but when koeselitz implies he/she is "against prostitution and pornography", and then states "prostitution especially ought to be legal", that is contradictory.

Not sure what your memories of my responses have to do with finding "I'm against prostitution - legalize it" a bit contradictory. Further, by noting that I thought it obscured koeselitz' points, I'm asking for a clearer statement.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:30 PM on June 18, 2012


Going to memail as this is quickly becoming a two-person discussion.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:36 PM on June 18, 2012


Empress, do you think that other people in this thread see a clear distinction between pornography and erotic art?
posted by Human Flesh at 6:36 AM on July 8, 2012


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