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Silicon Valley's Other Entrepreneurs: Sex Workers
April 15, 2013 4:59 PM   Subscribe

In a quiet cafe outside San Francisco, "Josephine" -- a local prostitute -- arranges a collection of t-shirts across the table. They're emblazoned with phrases like "Winter is Coming" and "Geeks Make Better Lovers." She wears them in her online ads to catch the eye of the area's well-off engineers and programmers.
posted by bookman117 (119 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Stryker has a similar outlook. She's a comics fan with tattoos of molecules on her neck who considers herself a natural-born nerd, and is happy to "train" geeky clients on how to interact with those they're smitten with.

"You explain it to them in a way that's like a formula," she says. "Then they say 'ohhhh, math. It's math. Eventually if I plug these things into the formula, it will work.' I speak geek. It's a way we can communicate that they understand."


Umm...
posted by Apropos of Something at 5:03 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Who knew that when they want to keep an woman's voice anonymous, they speed it up instead of slowing it down. I mean, unless that was completely arbitrary, in which case it's too funny.
posted by phaedon at 5:13 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Let's go back to my place. We can add the bed, subtract out clothes, divide your legs, and multiple.
posted by Silvertree at 5:14 PM on April 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


Now the women are turning the tables. "I'm beta-testing a program right now, a national registry for sex workers," Josephine says. "I go in and put in information about my clients in a very discreet and very secure way."
Wow.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:15 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


(The show was originally called "This American Whore," until a dispute with NPR, which airs "This American Life," prompted a recent name change.)

Boooooo Ira Glass. Boooooo.
posted by Bwithh at 5:15 PM on April 15, 2013 [12 favorites]


Then they say 'ohhhh, math. It's math. Eventually if I plug these things into the formula, it will work.' I speak geek. It's a way we can communicate that they understand."

I did not know sex involved math and formulas.I am now intrigued.Please tell me more of these primitive mating rituals.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:30 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Good on 'em. I hope they continue to prosper and keep inventing ways to make sex work happier and safer for everyone (like a client database, holy shit, that is AWESOME.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 5:33 PM on April 15, 2013 [13 favorites]


Good gravy, is the next article going to be about the seduction.com guy's seminars using NLP? Because that was a hot mover for a bit. Seriously, you want a protip on getting laid? Ask how was the Person's day and be totally in the moment when you ask. Even if you don't get laid, you at least asked something potentially interesting.
posted by jadepearl at 5:35 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I felt like I had read this trend piece so many times; it turns out I had.

Sex sells, sex work is edgy, people love the idea of combining attractive women with nerdy guys, and so on. This is the basis of a few trend pieces a year, a few random sitcoms/reality shows, and so on. I suspect that the stories told in this piece carry the same accuracy and journalistic weight as Beauty and the Geek or Big Bang Theory, or whatever.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:38 PM on April 15, 2013 [20 favorites]


Winter is cumming. Loudly.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:43 PM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nothing new under the sun.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 5:46 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Winter is coming. Look busy.
posted by item at 6:03 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


"...you sell the strength of your arms when you dig a hole. Selling our bodies -- which everyone thinks of as this big scary thing -- anyone who has a job that requires labor does that."

Sigh. The oft-repeated refrain of the new sex worker. This has been bandied about so many times, it's beyond cliche. Neurochemistry offers an easy solution as to why it's not a valid argument. Because sex releases attachment chemicals and creates bonds.

I've always found the manual labour argument insulting to manual labourers. People dig holes because they need work. I spent one summer in California and picked a few things in a field. It is backbreaking work. I spent one summer in India and picked a few things in a field. It was again backbreaking work. Picking things is a hard job. Digging holes is a hard job. Those things literally consume the bodies of the people that do them. People who do those jobs typically do them because they have to, and there can be peace and honour in that. But I don't think pickers fall in love with baskets. And I don't think hole diggers fall in love with shovels. I think they need an income and have few other options.

Middle-class call girls justifying sex work as manual labour is missing the point. Especially the woman who works in social media by day, and as a sex worker at night. She's doing it because she wants to have a lifestyle. She is fundamentally altering her own brain chemistry by selling her body, and then justifying the act as innocuous. She's made her own decisions and we could talk about the mass media and it's influence on society, to the point where young women can justify selling their bodies and minds for luxuries. But that's not really that interesting, for her conditioning is very obvious. She wants things she cannot afford. Lots of awkward young men with lots of money. Boom. Modern-day hole digging.

The dangerous part of this patently crap thinking on prostitution is the message it sends to other young women in similar situations. That there is a social norm for this. It reminds of the bulimia and anorexia pseudo-normality. Young women who want to be thin see thin women utilising those techniques to achieve attractive body types and copy the activity to generate the result. There are significant consequences to these things, especially for young people, whether that's eating disorders or prostitution.

The justifications are really rationalisations. Prostitution has a very negative effect on self-perception, we know that. There are women who have no other option but prostitution, whether under threat of violence, or out of economic necessity. And that is very sad, and there are entire organisations set up to combat that type of exploitation. Nobody with a sister or a daughter would want to see them exploiting themselves sexually for money. And granted, there's heaps of power dynamics wrapped up there, so it's less about sex and more about power.

But it's not nearly the same manual labour or digging a hole. And these capable women with real economic options and opportunity who choose part-time prostitution because they want more money – when all of their fundamental needs are taken care of – just strike me as examples of some kind of a social failure. I don't know what that failure is, but I know that there is honourable work. And then there is greed. And hole-digging is honourable work. It's not great work, or glorious work, but it's not near prostitution for the sake of more disposable income.

These women can make their own choices, but they should at least have the courtesy not to paint the picture like it's an innocuous part-time job, when really there are much deeper risks to personal safety, health, and psychology involved. We can only hope that these vacant analogies do not inspire any other women to enter line of work so many around the world desperately seek to escape.
posted by nickrussell at 6:16 PM on April 15, 2013 [20 favorites]


She is fundamentally altering her own brain chemistry by selling her body, and then justifying the act as innocuous.

I'm honestly puzzled by this. Can you explain?
posted by Kitty Stardust at 6:21 PM on April 15, 2013 [12 favorites]


I did not know sex involved math and formulas.I am now intrigued.Please tell me more of these primitive mating rituals.

I think it's more that courtship, in an older, more ideal era, was made up of certain conventions to be followed. The Sexual Revolution and the Boomers changed all that, but if you approach finding a mate in a structured, iterative way, with "kaizen" constant improvement processes baked in, you can optimize the dating process and either get laid more often or find a life partner.

I think it makes sense, actually. If someone had actually told me about how to go on dates on high school...
posted by KokuRyu at 6:26 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


The justifications are really rationalisations. Prostitution has a very negative effect on self-perception, we know that.

Or we could accept that these women have agency and understand their own lives and minds...

I've been friendly with a few sex workers, and discussed their choices with them, and they were all pretty clear about why they did it -- it was the best money they felt they could earn, and some regretted it and some didn't, but they all asserted that they chose it, and I see no reason to think they were lying or deluded.

There are a lot of people trapped in prostitution, that's true. But pretending that some people who chose it are utterly oblivious to their own lives does not carry the moral weight you think it does....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:27 PM on April 15, 2013 [61 favorites]


She is fundamentally altering her own brain chemistry by selling her body, and then justifying the act as innocuous.

wha- ... what
posted by Avenger at 6:27 PM on April 15, 2013 [15 favorites]


These women can make their own choices, but they should at least have the courtesy not to paint the picture like it's an innocuous part-time job, when really there are much deeper risks to personal safety, health, and psychology involved.

I think you should leave the description of their job to them. They have every right to describe the job however they feel, without you telling them they're being "discourteous" for doing so. It's fine to say that their experience doesn't generalize to *all* sex workers' situations, but I doubt they would say it does.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 6:28 PM on April 15, 2013 [26 favorites]


These women can make their own choices, but they should at least have the courtesy not to paint the picture like it's an innocuous part-time job, when really there are much deeper risks to personal safety, health, and psychology involved.

A lot of men say this, and a lot of the same men go apeshit when anyone ventures to say the pornography industry might not be 100% innocuous - to its workers, to the psychology of its consumers, particularly adolescent boys, and so on. It'll be awesome when we can expand these serious questions to things that most men like and enjoy, rather than just things that "middle class girls" do.
posted by cairdeas at 6:40 PM on April 15, 2013 [22 favorites]


She is fundamentally altering her own brain chemistry by selling her body, and then justifying the act as innocuous.

I'm just going to go ahead and ask what a lot of people here are thinking:



Do you have a newsletter?
posted by found missing at 6:45 PM on April 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


nick russel,

This is something I have noticed a lot of people doing recently and it's really unsettling.

You are making moral judgements in the guise of science.

For example, "Neurochemistry offers an easy solution as to why it's not a valid argument. Because sex releases attachment chemicals and creates bonds"
is nonsense in context of the rest of the argument. Are we talking valence electrons, are we talking the strong force, the weak force? It then becomes clear later in the paragraph "manual labor is different from sex work because in sex work, you are crossing a moral line that you don't cross with ordinary manual labor" - which is a point that stands alone and you can start throwing out your categorical imperatives and deontology and argue about that crap all day, but the 'appeal to science' makes you appear to be engaging at a different level than you actually are - this is similar to people who say that underage drinking or child molestation are wrong because of 'brain development.' I don't need to quote a peer-reviewed study to make that judgement, I could quote the Bible in this context and it would be no more or no less valid for engaging the issue.
posted by Veritron at 6:48 PM on April 15, 2013 [58 favorites]


She is fundamentally altering her own brain chemistry by selling her body, and then justifying the act as innocuous.

Anybody who does a job with exciting moments releases epinephrine into their bloodstream, altering their brain chemistry. Anybody who does a job at night under artificial light alters their brain chemistry via melatonin. People who do jobs in the sun all day -- like hole diggers -- are being flooded with vitamin D.

And I assume that anybody who has sex on a regular basis is familiar with what sort of "attachment chemicals" they are experiencing, and what that does to them personally, in the same way that I assume that anybody who digs holes for a living knows what makes their backs and arms sore. And I am willing to assume that they are making an informed choice if they insist they are, and show no evidence to the contrary.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:48 PM on April 15, 2013 [48 favorites]


Yeah, I've heard a lot of arguments against sex work, and I find some of them compelling, but that argument from neurochemistry is probably the wackiest I've heard that didn't invoke the supernatural in some way.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:49 PM on April 15, 2013 [17 favorites]


> They help bring in a clientele she says she genuinely enjoys spending time with. In her off hours, she goes to cons, dabbles in programming, and watches Game of Thrones.

Laurie Siegel and Erika Fink may be great reporters but CNN's website is a piece of shit. It has been years since I clicked over there and I won't be returning any time soon.
posted by bukvich at 6:50 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


nickrussell: "She is fundamentally altering her own brain chemistry by selling her body, and then justifying the act as innocuous."

You're fundamentally altering your own brain chemistry by writing comments on MetaFilter.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:57 PM on April 15, 2013 [27 favorites]


cairdeas: "A lot of men say this, and a lot of the same men go apeshit when anyone ventures to say the pornography industry might not be 100% innocuous - to its workers, to the psychology of its consumers, particularly adolescent boys, and so on. It'll be awesome when we can expand these serious questions to things that most men like and enjoy, rather than just things that "middle class girls" do."

That's strange, in my experience, the same people who make these arguments against prostitution are the ones most likely to make similar arguments about how horrible the porn industry is.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:58 PM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


My brain chemistry was fundamentally altered after reading that comment and getting dumber. (swigs delicious, multidimensionally brain chemistry altering Diet Dr. Pepper)

Yeah my job has fucked with my emotions and long term health in so many ways, and don't let get me started on the coping mechanisms. But really that was some facile patronizing stuff up there. Of course there's a ton of sketchy shit that goes down in "sex work" as is the case for most professions that are made more dangerous through illegality, and then in general even legit companies exploit people and employ monsters to manage the workforce. I've heard that many other jobs also have bad sides and that desperate people can be exploited in many ways.
posted by lordaych at 7:14 PM on April 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


(IANASW, NTTAWWT. Just an IT guy employed by a PC with bizarre CG)
posted by lordaych at 7:17 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Argument from Pop-Neurology or Evolutionary Psych" is the atheist version of "God did it".
posted by Avenger at 7:20 PM on April 15, 2013 [24 favorites]


I don't know NickRussell, I think your argument is a little self-defeating, namely:

Picking things is a hard job. Digging holes is a hard job. Those things literally consume the bodies of the people that do them. People who do those jobs typically do them because they have to,

It could be argued that is the case for many, if not the majority of sex workers in one way or another. I don't really get the whole "peace and honour" stuff, and the neurochemistry stuff seems dangerously speculative to me.

I don't know, I feel like in that comment you are making moral judgment on sex workers in general and the featured women in particular, projecting singular and individual conceptions about love and attachment in a universal way, and also extrapolating a whole series of incidents and outcomes that you could not possibly know of or about, and paradoxically mythologising both sex work, manual labour, and human relationships in ways that don't really tally with reality as we know it.

I do think, more broadly, that western society's prurient fascination with upper/middle class sex workers is rich grounds for analysis. I sometimes feel that much of the writing on sex work is polarised between some kind of unrepresentative harlequin fantasy, or dire warnings penned by a hyperbolic Upton Sinclair wannabe.

I don't know if there's a middle ground, or if that ground even reflects the reality of sex work (I suspect not), but it's interesting, and I think somewhat unavoidable in a sector that is built on a lot of assumptions, fantasies, ideas about people, love, etc. Everybody has an interest or stake in it, at least indirectly, because it speaks so clearly to our own ideas about relationships, love, sex and not least work itself.

Pieces like this say more about us and our cultures attitudes towards these things than the women themselves in some ways, I think. I think a lot of discussion of sex work has trouble avoiding that - the women themselves, as they often end up doing in their jobs, become cosigns for other things in broader society. It's classic, complicated, objectification, I feel.
posted by smoke at 7:25 PM on April 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


Neurochemistry offers an easy solution as to why it's not a valid argument. Because sex releases attachment chemicals and creates bonds.

So does massage. So does grooming activity like cutting hair. So does causing people to laugh uproariously as a comedian does. Lots of jobs cause adrenaline rushes which alter your neurochemistry in significant ways. As others have said, you're putting a creamy nougat center of moral disapproval under a chocolate coating of science.

One could just as easily apply your opprobrium to, say, one night stands.
posted by Justinian at 7:37 PM on April 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Nickrussell, I can't remember the last time I've seen so much flawed logic in one comment. You have absolutely no idea what you're talking about.
posted by désoeuvrée at 7:39 PM on April 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


WidgetAlley: like a client database, holy shit, that is AWESOME.

Awesome for the cops/prosecutor, maybe.
posted by dr_dank at 7:40 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dunno, I think that nickrussell made a valid point about how this "trendification" of sex work is sort of.. I dunno, disrespectful?... of people who become sex workers out of neccessity.
posted by windykites at 8:11 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


How so?
posted by Justinian at 8:14 PM on April 15, 2013


Can another guy explain the morality of something that is overwhelmingly done by women for me again that was totally awesome and sciency
posted by scrump at 8:30 PM on April 15, 2013 [12 favorites]


Why not just do porn? Seems like a much safer way to make a living.
posted by bardic at 8:30 PM on April 15, 2013


I have no interest in morally judging prostitutes. Presumably they have people who actually care about them who will handle that for them without my assistance or interference. I am sure they provide vital services, helping ensure that otherwise lonely men get laid once in a while and don't go insane with violent frustration one day. And if they help make people feel better about whatever it is that's keeping them from getting affection of the non-cost-money kind, well, ok that's good too.

They deserve to have safe, clean working conditions just like anyone else, but just like anyone else there's not much glamorous about most kinds of fun activities when you stop doing them for love and start doing them for money. And I think that's where most of the moral revulsion comes from. Not because anyone cares about what they're doing to themselves (these women are strangers, and they're adults; what they do to their psyches and bodies is strictly their concern), and not because of the ick factor necessarily. But because they're doing for money what most people at least pretend to only do for money's opposite. Some of us are awesome at separating sex from any kind of affection, and some of us really suck at that and see them as inseparable.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:33 PM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think the tendency to look at the outliers that prove your socio-cultural point ("sex work is just like any other form of labour" or "we teach nerds/men how to be with women" and so on) is disingenuous. Particularly when it focuses on the middle class, professional, white women who are doing it to supplement their income, or some other form of choice that isn't actually down to subsistence. Because the majority of sex workers didn't choose it for fun, or because they didn't make enough in their white collar jobs. So when the focus (academic or otherwise) is purely on the outliers AND then attempt to make observations about that experience account for the majority without adjusting for things like other income, drug habits, prior abuse, current abuse, current drug habits, reason for starting sex work and so on, is really only working to try and gloss over why sex work, for the vast majority of sex workers across the world, is neither healthy nor a choice.

And that isn't even touching on the commodification of sex (personified in women and children usually) and the repercussions of that on women and children. Or the implication that without sex, men will turn into ravening violent beasts. That in and of itself is my aversion to a lot of the discussion around sex work.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:36 PM on April 15, 2013 [16 favorites]


Please don't let Nick Russel's weird derail distract you from the part of the article where she comes right out and says she teaches men to treat women as though they're interchangeable equations you get right to make sex fall out.
posted by Apropos of Something at 8:39 PM on April 15, 2013 [31 favorites]


make sex fall out

Really people, be careful what you wish for.
posted by benzenedream at 8:47 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Because the majority of sex workers didn't choose it for fun, or because they didn't make enough in their white collar jobs."

This. A hipster call-girl who could be doing something else with her life is not on the same spectrum as, say, the ten year-old sex slave in Cambodia.
posted by bardic at 8:49 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Apropos of Something, when you put it that way, sex sounds kind of like a puzzle treat ball. Which means nothing, but I am now enjoying the image of people rolling around giant balls incessantly to make naked people fall out.
posted by davejay at 8:52 PM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: Fundamentally altering your brain chemistry.
posted by pdq at 8:55 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


there's not much glamorous about most kinds of fun activities when you stop doing them for love and start doing them for money. And I think that's where most of the moral revulsion comes from.

I think that view really elides the importance of gender in this discussion, and the fact that sex work is overwhelmingly performed by women, to men; and the rich and varied history of how chauvinism has manifested itself around women and their bodies and sex, and controlling their bodies and their sexual habits etc etc.

I feel it's really ahistorical and almost wilfully missing a HUGE component of what underlies so much discussion about sex work. You really can't seriously talk about moral revulsion and sex work without considering the gender component - for women and men, alike, I might add, as the allusion to men turning into violent monsters without sex demonstrates.
posted by smoke at 8:59 PM on April 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Why not just do porn? Seems like a much safer way to make a living.

Money.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:59 PM on April 15, 2013


Please don't let Nick Russel's weird derail distract you from the part of the article where she comes right out and says she teaches men to treat women as though they're interchangeable equations you get right to make sex fall out.

This is pretty much every Woody Allen film ever made, though. And, in terms of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, perfectly damn understandable. The transient interactions of hooking up build up (in a normal adult trajectory) to intimacy, commitment, and either quarterly vacations in Hawaii or Thailand, or to paying for bunkbeds and hockey equipment for the rugrats.

It seems unreasonable to expect that these geek guys should be all chivalrous (and women should remain chaste) waiting for their True Love while the rest of the world, possessing decent social skills, spends their twenties hooking up and having sex.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:24 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


It seems unreasonable to expect that these geek guys should be all chivalrous (and women should remain chaste) waiting for their True Love while the rest of the world, possessing decent social skills, spends their twenties hooking up and having sex.

I was out on a first date last week with a woman. She's 29, she has a graduate degree, smart, made a reasonable living for herself. And, when I asked her what she liked to do in her spare time, she listed travel, and hanging out with her friends. With no irony. As though reeling off the Identity Property of Hobbies would let me know anything about her. And we both spent the next hour in this weird sort of awkward struggle: her to understand this strange, specific set of jokes it sounded like I was making, me to get out of her anything other than liking to go to restaurants and meet new people.

I don't think it was her fault. I honestly believe this person that I met has a lot more depth than that. But somewhere along the way, she learned that it was important or attractive or whatever to check off a set of good prospect boxes: works out, has jobs, likes going out. I for one am in this really elementary stage of learning what good prospect boxes I've been taught, and figuring out ways to break out of them. But one of the reasons I'm not good at that yet was that, for so long, I learned as the man, this woman's reaction to me had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with how good I was, where sex was some kind of magical win condition and anything else meant room for improvement.

Which is not to be all like woe is me. It's probably a lot worse for her. She's probably sat through tons of dates where the guys were just as dull, maybe worse. But the reason we'll both spend a considerable amount of time "chaste" (or, if you like, just not making real connections with people) is because we've both been taught these ridiculous straightjackets. I kind of suspect that the men and women who are better at that game than I am aren't really making stronger connections either.
posted by Apropos of Something at 9:43 PM on April 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


And, when I asked her what she liked to do in her spare time, she listed travel, and hanging out with her friends. With no irony. As though reeling off the Identity Property of Hobbies would let me know anything about her.

Wait, what?

Why didn't you ask her what she likes about travel? And where she goes, and what makes it worthwhile for her, what her favorite trip has been, what she's learned, what she still hopes to see, and why?

I mean why did this seem superficial to you? To me, this seemed like a conversational doorway she pointed out to you, that you could walk through to start finding out more about her, from that angle.

You can learn a lot about someone by just listening to them talk about places they've traveled to...

But somewhere along the way, she learned that it was important or attractive or whatever to check off a set of good prospect boxes: works out, has jobs, likes going out.

I think this might be projecting.
posted by cairdeas at 9:54 PM on April 15, 2013 [17 favorites]


KokuRyu: “It seems unreasonable to expect that these geek guys should be all chivalrous (and women should remain chaste) waiting for their True Love while the rest of the world, possessing decent social skills, spends their twenties hooking up and having sex.”

"And women should remain chaste" – but isn't that basically what the sex-work equation is demanding? Strictly speaking of the straight world for a moment, if you have (a) men who want to hook up; and (b) a small number of women sex workers who take those males as clients – then you're utterly neglecting (c) the class of women who want to hook up. The old patriarchal notion is that men like sex and find it easy, but women don't like sex and prefer to love the person they fuck. It's pretty clear now, I think, that that isn't true; but the prostitution model (men pay for sex because they want it more, and that takes the pressure off sex-disliking women) only bolsters the same patriarchal notion. We live in a world where hooking up could become an easier and more hassle-free cultural norm; prostitution destroys that process by encouraging the men on the side of the equation not to engage with that culture.

I think that's one positive argument against prostitution. If we picture an ideal society where sex is facilitated and made empowering to all, I believe we have to picture a world where sex is a free exchange between people who wish to engage in it, at the level of intimacy and partnership they're comfortable with. Prostitution is directly counter to that kind of society; it treats sex as a commodity which desiring men (almost exclusively) must purchase from (slightly less exclusively, but still) willing females.

I mean, there's an illustrative example here when we look at gay prostitution, I think; gay prostitution is, in many places and many ways today, mostly a milieu inhabited by those who demand the utmost discretion. In other words, it's a world where men who are ashamed of being gay (because they're politicians or preachers or married to women or whatever else) go to meet their sexual needs. Obviously this isn't always true, but among the people I've met who have experience here it seems to often be true; gay hookup culture has progressed to a point where, if you're willing to be clear that you're gay, or even if you're not willing to be publicly clear that you're gay but you're not deathly afraid that someone will find out, it's not terribly difficult to figure out ways to meet guys for sex.

(By the way, isn't it interesting how this is predicated on the fact that prostitution is illegal? When Ted Haggard went meth-crazy and paid a guy for fun buttsex, he could do it expecting discretion because there's the expectation that, since it's illegal, the prostitute will not reveal who you are no matter what. It turns out Ted Haggard was wrong. This is one reason I think it would be interesting to legalize prostitution – because the Ted Haggards of the world could no longer hold their partners ransom, in a sense, with the knowledge that what they did was illegal.)

So basically – it's clear that, in a lot of ways, I think prostitution is a fact of the old world, a "necessary evil" that the patriarchy accepted and even encouraged because it meant that there was a clandestine outlet for male sexual desire which kept women frustrated and which bolstered the status quo. I don't really believe it's actually a liberating thing. And I wonder if it might lose a good deal of its allure if it weren't part of that ransom equation I was talking about that provides a certain amount of a guarantee of discretion. Ironically, I have a feeling that legalizing prostitution might bring on its decline; and I don't have any problem with that, honestly.
posted by koeselitz at 9:55 PM on April 15, 2013 [18 favorites]


TL;DR – why can't those geek guys spend their twenties (thirties, forties, whatever) hooking up too? Why are chivalry and prostitution the only two options open to them, sex-wise?
posted by koeselitz at 9:59 PM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


I am not debating this, I have no idea or perspective on this, and I'm not 100% au courant with my neuroscience. I just wanted to mention that when nickrussel says "attachment chemicals" he may be referring to oxytocin, which does have particular attachment-related properties.

I have no idea if oxytocin applies here, just mentioning it for the sake of clarity.
posted by amtho at 10:01 PM on April 15, 2013


Why didn't you ask her what she likes about travel?

I did. I also asked her questions like what it was like to grow up where she grew up, and why she chose her job, and literally everything else I could think of. All dead ends. You can choose to assume I totally misread a set of body language, or you can assume that I had more perspective on it being there, that this one experience comports generally with several others I have, and that I introduce it as an illustrative point about why sexism stifles uniqueness, and why it doesn't help when someone makes money trading on the idea that all women should respond in the same way to the same stimuli.
posted by Apropos of Something at 10:01 PM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


I believe we have to picture a world where sex is a free exchange between people who wish to engage in it, at the level of intimacy and partnership they're comfortable with. Prostitution is directly counter to that kind of society

You simply cannot legislate utopia. To be truly free, people must be able to do whatever they want with their bodies. That includes the freedom to ingest whatever substances they wish and the ability to sell their labor, including sexual labor.
posted by Justinian at 10:10 PM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


I agree completely, Justinian. That was pretty much exactly what I was getting at in pointing out that the illegality of prostitution makes it so very attractive to people in positions where casual sex would cause a scandal: its illegality gives them a sort of little guarantee that the prostitute will be forced to stay silent no matter what, ensuring discretion. That forced silence bothers me a lot, as does the thing it facilitates: a patriarchy where leaders are afforded ways of exercising their own sexual desires without allowing others the same privilege.

Again, it may seem counter-intuitive, but that's why I believe the legalization of prostitution is the best step forward. In the long term, I hope and believe it'll lead to the decline of prostitution and the rise of freer sexual paradigms; but more pressingly it'll be an immediate escape from the ridiculous pressures of law and forced silence for hundreds of thousands of sex workers. That's something worth working and fighting for.
posted by koeselitz at 10:28 PM on April 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


This. A hipster call-girl who could be doing something else with her life is not on the same spectrum as, say, the ten year-old sex slave in Cambodia.

How are they not? It sounds to me like you just defined a spectrum of sex worker experience. (They're not similar or comparable, of course; they're opposite ends of the spectrum.)

It's important to remind ourselves that of course people who position themselves as advocates for a particular lifestyle are those who get the most benefit out of it at the least cost, and those are the people who will argue in favour of it the most strongly. For most, sex work is not a pleasant thing they do for a little extra spending cash. But just because others don't benefit as much, that doesn't invalidate the experiences of the ones who do.

CNN Money also writes a lot about entrepreneurs who found tech companies and become multimillionaires, and a lot less about code monkeys who work 80 hour weeks for worthless stock options and repetitive strain injuries. And the tech entrepreneurs seem pretty goddamn pleased with the tech industry.

There are societal changes we should make to reduce the number of people who have, for the lack of a better term, lousy jobs in the sex work industry. Little things like making prostitution legal and well-regulated; medium things like increasing the minimum wage and the social safety net; large things like smashing the patriarchy.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:31 PM on April 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


"And women should remain chaste" – but isn't that basically what the sex-work equation is demanding? Strictly speaking of the straight world for a moment, if you have (a) men who want to hook up; and (b) a small number of women sex workers who take those males as clients – then you're utterly neglecting (c) the class of women who want to hook up. The old patriarchal notion is that men like sex and find it easy, but women don't like sex and prefer to love the person they fuck.

I think I'm arguing the same point you are - women like to have sex. These guys are (theoretically, anyway) learning how to make themselves more presentable or whatever to have sex with women. I don't think it's slimy "player" behaviour either (there's that handbook or whatever about manipulating women, can't remember it).

Just because women also like to have sex doesn't mean they don't have any standards, or that there isn't a certain amount of etiquette that should be observed to get someone in the sack.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:39 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know about this theory that prostitution is the third leg of the patriarchy or whatever. How does its existence discourage women who want to hook up from hooking up? I'm genuinely curious-- I'm not versed in feminist theory.

It seems like prostitution will naturally arise in any human society for the simple reason that, on average, men have a higher libido than women and women are pickier about their sexual partners. Prostitution serves a useful purpose. Without it, some percentage of the male population would never or extremely rarely get laid.
posted by grahamsletter at 10:46 PM on April 15, 2013


on average, men have a higher libido than women and women are pickier about their sexual partners.

These are cultural constructs, not biological; so there's a pretty good start on some theories I would say.
posted by smoke at 10:50 PM on April 15, 2013 [12 favorites]


Cultural constructs? You say that so authoritatively as if it's a well-known fact. Any evidence?

Edit: never mind, didn't intend to be combative. In the context of feminist theory, I guess that's assumed.
posted by grahamsletter at 10:52 PM on April 15, 2013


Yeah, this is a paint-by-numbers article with sex in the headline. Nothing to see here folks, move along.
posted by LarryC at 11:07 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cultural constructs? You say that so authoritatively as if it's a well-known fact. Any evidence?

You understand that it used to be women who were considered to be the horny sex, right? Check out this Alternet article on the subject.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:21 PM on April 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


the part of the article where she comes right out and says she teaches men to treat women as though they're interchangeable equations you get right to make sex fall out.

I didn't get this from the article at all.
[Stryker] is happy to "train" geeky clients on how to interact with those they're smitten with.

"You explain it to them in a way that's like a formula," she says. "Then they say 'ohhhh, math. It's math. Eventually if I plug these things into the formula, it will work.' I speak geek. It's a way we can communicate that they understand."
Speaking as a girl who mostly hung out with geeky guys in my teens and twenties, I think there are plenty of guys who need some help with basic social and dating skills, not pickup-artist tactics. "Smitten with" implies much stronger sentiment than "hot for." "It will work" could just as easily refer to getting a serious girlfriend, as getting laid. The rules in the formula might include things like:
- listen when she's talking rather than just waiting to tell your own tangentially related story
- skip any seemingly neutral observations about her appearance (e.g. "Your shoes are so shiny" or "That's an interesting hairstyle" come off as negative even though they may not be intended that way)
- pay attention to how she's responding and alter your behavior accordingly. If she rolls her eyes when you get the door for her, don't rush to pull out her chair at the restaurant and insist on opening the car door for her, even if you've heard those things are romantic. Or, if she seems to enjoy that stuff, keep it up.

I mean, those are probably advanced levels of instruction. I've met guys who could get great use out of the simple advice "Don't interrupt in conversation" and "Don't approach for a kiss with your tongue already out of your mouth."

None of this touches on my general thoughts about prostitution. But it's probably easier for these guys to find a nerd-friendly prostitute than a guy like Hitch. The optimist in me hopes she's teaching them something better than negging.
posted by vytae at 11:53 PM on April 15, 2013 [11 favorites]


this Alternet article

Wow, that kind of shocked me. Culture is scary-powerful if it can override even the sex drive.

I was going to say something like "that explains the higher libido thing but in almost all animal species the males compete for the females, who are choosier" but then I found this other article and now I'm not sure. This wouldn't be the only way in which humans are different from most other animals.

Yeah, these articles come from people against evo psych, but evo psych comes with a 1m3 cube of salt, so I'm inclined to believe them.
posted by grahamsletter at 11:54 PM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, that's pretty much right, grahamsletter, and anthropology is filled with literally dozens of examples that are pretty much the opposite of how we assume things should be/evo psych/western norms, as well. Many cultures where women are perceived as having rapacious libidos, it's the men who are picky etc etc. The prevalence of these narratives in our current western setting is really a product of history and culture, and humans are nowhere near so homogenous as journo's and a lot of pop-science would have us believe.
posted by smoke at 12:01 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


on average, men have a higher libido than women and women are pickier about their sexual partners.

grahamsletter, you're actually the one coming in here putting forward an unsubstantiated theory 'so authoritatively as if it's a well-known fact' and not including any evidence. There is no biological basis for either of your assertions, they're cultural gender stereotypes at best and about as real as all such things (somewhat maybe in certain contexts, absolutely not universal). I don't know if you recognise that that is what you're doing or that the ideas you're postulating are also pretty sexist and harmful (and "In the context of feminist theory" is particularly dismissive in a way that is kind of rude), but you might want to hold back on spouting these ideas as if they are fact and maybe go do some research into the huge variety of human behavior that is normal.
posted by shelleycat at 12:34 AM on April 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Again, it may seem counter-intuitive, but that's why I believe the legalization of prostitution is the best step forward. In the long term, I hope and believe it'll lead to the decline of prostitution and the rise of freer sexual paradigms; but more pressingly it'll be an immediate escape from the ridiculous pressures of law and forced silence for hundreds of thousands of sex workers.

It would be interesting to see if this has happened. For example, New Zealand decriminalised prostitution not that many years ago and we have a reasonable social welfare safety net in general. I imagine there are people studying the effects it is having on our society, academics and government departments and probably church people etc too. Then there are countries like The Netherlands where it has been legal for a lot longer so comparisons of some type could be done. I don't know if legalising prostitution has had a positive effect on society in general, but I'm willing to bet money it's had a positive effect on the lives of at least a proportion of sex workers in those places which is a start.
posted by shelleycat at 12:42 AM on April 16, 2013


shelleycat: You're right, I lacked self-awareness when I just said that without any evidence. (although Western women are obviously pickier and Western men obviously do act like they have higher libidos. All probably caused by culture, mind you, which I now get but didn't when I wrote my previous comment).

And "in the context of feminist theory" is rude? What?
posted by grahamsletter at 12:58 AM on April 16, 2013


on average, men have a higher libido than women and women are pickier about their sexual partners.
There is no biological basis for either of your assertions, they're cultural gender stereotypes at best


Perhaps the former, but I think the latter is on firmer ground. I would be very surprised if women weren't pickier than men (all else being equal) because women have theoretically fewer opportunities to reproduce which are fundamentally more expensive. I do not think human society is culture all the way down.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 12:59 AM on April 16, 2013


Perhaps you could offer data, instead of evopsych just-so stories.

(Try to control for the fact that within rape culture women have ample reason to fear unknown men.)
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:05 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


anthropology is filled with literally dozens of examples that are pretty much the opposite of how we assume things should be/evo psych/western norms, as well. Many cultures where women are perceived as having rapacious libidos, it's the men who are picky etc etc.
Can you recommend any reading on this?
posted by astrofinch at 1:18 AM on April 16, 2013


"lousy jobs in the sex work industry"

Most prostitutes are forced into it by pimps or poverty. To imply that hipster call-girl and Cambodian child sex slave are somehow in solidarity with one another is, frankly, disgusting and moronic. Even the word "job" fails, because most female prostitutes don't really have a choice in the matter.

That's the problem here, really -- in a perfect world a person could sell his/her sexual services safely, without the threat of violence, and in a manner in which they keep all the money they make. I'd really like to live in this world myself but we never will. Meanwhile, IMO, stories of "positive" experiences with prostitution (told by the prostitutes) manage to provide cover for a whole range of negative shit like child prostitution and sex tourism.

So two wrongs don't make a right -- a San Francisco madam has every right to safety and security, but a lot of the prostitution- and porn-positive arguments fall apart for me once a relatively comfortable, middle-class (and let's be honest here, white) person tries to universalize his or her experience to all prostitutes/sex workers everywhere.
posted by bardic at 1:53 AM on April 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


There is afaik no evidence that a woman is "fundamentally altering her own brain chemistry by selling her body" or that "prostitution has a very negative effect on self-perception", at least not outside specific cultural contexts.

In truth, there is no shortage of women who wish to be promiscuous, but fear how men might miss behave when being rejected for or dumped from serious relationships. I'd expect any playing the "escore who doles out friendly dating advice after sex" actually desires non-committed non-monogamous sexual relationships. Yeah, maybe she'd want a more serious relationship too, but invariably she wants the variety more right now. So, if she wasn't employed as a prostitute, she'd find herself busy maintaining complicated friends-with-benefits relationships or something.

Conversely, any prostitute that disappears immediately after the act might be "on the clock" with a pimp. So perhaps we should more clearly define the terms hooker and escore. Just fyi, there are many jurisdictions that keep prostitution legal in some form or fashion, but almost all jurisdictions either make pimping illegal, ala France, or regulate the relationship between prostitute and brothel, ala Germany.

There are great bits in that NYT article, like :

"In speed dating, as in life, the social norm instructs women to sit in one place, waiting to be approached, while the men rotate tables. But in one study of speed-dating behavior, the evolutionary psychologists Eli J. Finkel and Paul W. Eastwick switched the “rotator” role. The men remained seated and the women rotated. By manipulating this component of the gender script, the researchers discovered that women became less selective — they behaved more like stereotypical men — while men were more selective and behaved more like stereotypical women. The mere act of physically approaching a potential romantic partner, they argued, engendered more favorable assessments of that person."

"In her study, when men and women considered offers of casual sex from famous people, or offers from close friends whom they were told were good in bed, the gender differences in acceptance of casual-sex proposals evaporated nearly to zero."


We recently got schooled that "the male sex drive is stronger than the female sex drive", but an enormous variance in sex drives remains unexplained by gender or afaik any biological feature and humans definitely learn their mating behavior.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:06 AM on April 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


This works. I got a regular client off twitter when I was swearing at jQuery there (my second job is web dev) and spent a happy hour thrashing him and then we had a good rant at my code.

Oh, it is my brain chemistry, and I know more about changing it (and my client's) then an outsider ever will.
posted by Mistress at 2:11 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can you recommend any reading on this?

Hmmm, not really I'm afraid - it's been a long time since studying undergraduate anthropology for me. Mefite member Spitbull is an anthropologist, and so is HuronBob I think - and is maybe Frowner as well? They might have some suggestions for you/us.
posted by smoke at 2:26 AM on April 16, 2013


Meanwhile, IMO, stories of "positive" experiences with prostitution (told by the prostitutes) manage to provide cover for a whole range of negative shit like child prostitution and sex tourism.
If a construction worker talks about how they enjoy building bridges, does that “provide cover for” the Burma Railway?
posted by aw_yiss at 2:28 AM on April 16, 2013


If a construction worker talks about how they enjoy building bridges, does that “provide cover for” the Burma Railway?

I feel like that's a pretty facile comparison. A better comparison would be, if most workers building bridges were slaves in appalling conditions, would stories about a small but high-profile minority working in good conditions be viewed as whitewashing?

I think they would be, by some. Whether they should be is a different question, but I think it's quite valid to point out that society has both a fascination with sex work, and a strong preference in hearing certain narratives about it that are not representative.
posted by smoke at 2:37 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel like that's a pretty facile comparison. A better comparison would be, if most workers building bridges were slaves in appalling conditions, would stories about a small but high-profile minority working in good conditions be viewed as whitewashing?
Still, the onus is on society to recognize that these are two different cases, right? It isn't the free and happy bridge-builder's responsibility to hush up about their experience and live their life in shame of what's happening to the others.
I think it's quite valid to point out that society has both a fascination with sex work, and a strong preference in hearing certain narratives about it
Here's where I think we're living in two different worlds. In my experience, the prevailing narrative about sex work is not that prostitutes have agency and are happy about what they do. It's that sex work is inherently shameful and innately coupled with nonconsent, and that anyone who allows themselves to be “used like that” is deeply damaged. And saying that all sex workers should be ashamed of what they do plays right into that narrative.
posted by aw_yiss at 3:40 AM on April 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Again, your comparison falls down because it isn't the sex workers choosing to write these stories -- it's much, much bigger than that.
posted by smoke at 4:32 AM on April 16, 2013


Still, the onus is on society to recognize that these are two different cases, right? It isn't the free and happy bridge-builder's responsibility to hush up about their experience and live their life in shame of what's happening to the others.

It's less that the happy ones should shut up and more that the media would way rather tell us about the happy ones and sort of elide over the reality that exists for most people in that line of work.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:42 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Can another guy explain the morality of something that is overwhelmingly done by women for me again that was totally awesome and sciency"

Yeah, but it's gonna cost ya.
posted by Eideteker at 6:21 AM on April 16, 2013


I was in Vegas for Comdex one time, and was talking to a hotel manager about how that geekfest compared to the other conventions they hosted. "None of these nerds gamble," he grumbled, "but they have to ship in coach-loads of extra hookers from LA."

We're going through an extended and by-no-means-finished change in sexual morality, at least in the society I belong to. When I was born, extramarital sex even with a permanent partner was still off-bounds for huge chunks of English working- and middle-class culture: my parents were both virgins when they married, and my mother has only recently relaxed the rule about unmarried couples who stay over being allowed to sleep in the same bed. Homosexuality was illegal and frequently prosecuted (again, my mother has become far more liberal in this respect over the past twenty years - she has been, in most other ways, a life-long iberal). At the same time, paedophilia has become far more demonised, pornography is normalising, and a whole raft of kink is turning into 'what some people do if they want'.

Something I find really intriguing is how Biblical these changes are. Without getting into the whole 'pornoi' discussion, it seems to me that a lot of the New Testament admonishments against sexual misbehaviour are against force and abuse, whether within marriage or in the tradition of sex-slaves/prostitution that was extant at the time. Roman prostitution could be pretty gruesome, and I have a hard time imagining what it must have been like living in a society where a very large pool of dispossessed and effectively rights-free people were used systematically and publicly for consequence-free gratification. We still do this, and how, but when it's uncovered it's punished severely - it's the public acceptance, I think, that fuelled a lot of Pauline outrage and condemnation.
posted by Devonian at 6:47 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mean, there's an illustrative example here when we look at gay prostitution, I think; gay prostitution is, in many places and many ways today, mostly a milieu inhabited by those who demand the utmost discretion. In other words, it's a world where men who are ashamed of being gay (because they're politicians or preachers or married to women or whatever else) go to meet their sexual needs. Obviously this isn't always true, but among the people I've met who have experience here it seems to often be true; gay hookup culture has progressed to a point where, if you're willing to be clear that you're gay, or even if you're not willing to be publicly clear that you're gay but you're not deathly afraid that someone will find out, it's not terribly difficult to figure out ways to meet guys for sex.

The thing is, this works really well for some people and not at all well for others. Guys who are young, confident, extroverted, socially successful and close to the physical ideal for some "type" (i.e. either skinny and muscular or a paragon of bearhood or...) have an easy time hooking up. Guys who are older, more introverted, more awkward or less conventionally attractive don't have such an easy time — even if they're way the hell out of the closet.

I think the real lesson that the gay hookup scene has for hetero dating is the opposite of the one you're suggesting. Even if we succeeded in erasing gender roles completely, or eliminating the idea that "good girls don't X," it still wouldn't be a Heinlein-style sexual utopia. There would still be people (of both sexes) not getting laid, or getting laid but feeling like it wasn't enough, or angry that they had to do more work than their peers in order to get laid. There would still be all sorts of frustration and resentment built up around those problems.

And we would still have the same social engineering puzzle we have now: "How do we channel and contain all that frustration? How do we keep it from turning into violence or exploitative behavior?" (I'm still talking about both sexes here.)

Of course we should still work for equality between the sexes, and for sexual autonomy (including the freedom to hook up for whoever wants it), for independent reasons. But I'm less confident that that would make prostitution lose its appeal.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 6:59 AM on April 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


(Scrolling down, I see that you're still in favor of legalization. And on that point at least we agree. In fact, I'm in favor of legalization precisely because I don't think we'll ever end demand for prostitution. To put it in crassly economic terms: when demand for a good is inelastic, trying to control it by cutting off the supply leads people to do really fucked up shit. Better to legalize it and regulate it.)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 6:59 AM on April 16, 2013


Isn't the media thrilled to talk about human trafficking, forced prostitution, etc.? It's ordinary poor people's lives the media hates discussing, including ordinary hookers who remain poor thanks to pimps. Imagine if their news stories inspired voters wished to spend money on welfare that might otherwise go for pork, that'd simply never do!

All societies have accepted that different tiers of prostitutes exist. In ancient times, the higher tiers were accorded legal privileges denied to married women, ala the Greek hetaera, and the lowest tiers were slaves. I've never witnessed modern escorts denying this class distinction, certainly not in ways that might "provide cover" for exploitation. Yet conversely, I've definitely witnessed those wishing to impose a puritanical morality try unsuccessfully to paint all prostitutes with the same brush though, ala talk about biochemistry and self-perception.

We should obviously let people earn money through prostitution, low level drug dealing, etc., but prevent exploitive practices, like pimping, territory conflicts, etc. Almost all European countries work this way already for prostitution. If anything, all the positive escort stories should focus our ire towards the pimps who exploit poor prostitutes.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:39 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just keep thinking that if prostitution were so wonderful, more men would be doing it.
posted by magstheaxe at 8:48 AM on April 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


The transient interactions of hooking up build up (in a normal adult trajectory) to intimacy, commitment, and either quarterly vacations in Hawaii or Thailand, or to paying for bunkbeds and hockey equipment for the rugrats.

Says who? Whether a hookup or series of same turns into a relationship or not is up to those involved. There is certainly plenty of evidence out there, in most people's lived experiences, that they don't have to.

I just keep thinking that if prostitution were so wonderful, more men would be doing it.

This thread pretty clearly demonstrates the stigma in the minds of many otherwise liberal people against prostitution, not to mention the stigma in the minds of less-liberal types. That's a lot of stigma. Add that to the need to be open to having male clients if you are a male prostitute, and you cut down the pool even further.

My only concern when it comes to prostitution is; is the worker there of his/her own free will and can the worker leave if she/he wishes without fear? If it meets those two criteria, then I really don't care if someone is doing it. If it doesn't, then we're in the realm of trafficking and it's a different ball game.

I don't really why it's harder to draw a line between self-chosen sex work and trafficking than between any kind of work and slavery. If we could clear away all our evo-psych weirdness and "ew!" reactions, we could maybe do so more effectively.
posted by emjaybee at 9:30 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


These guys are (theoretically, anyway) learning how to make themselves more presentable or whatever to have sex with women.

So it's the social-awkwardness, or even the non-neurotypical, version of a sex surrogate? Having known someone who was a single-sex educated geek, and had their first sexual experience with a prostitute in the belief that they would be able to both get 'sex' out of their system and demystify women a little, it makes some sense. (In the case of the person I knew - and with this not being anon there's little I feel comfortable saying - it didn't stop women from being a scary Other, so maybe not.)

Women can have as hard a time hooking up as men, particularly if they too are geeky - the wrong look, social awkwardness, not being fond of hanging around in nightclubs, not keen on sharing their bed and body with someone who can't make interesting small talk afterwards. (There was a lot of sex I didn't have in my teens and early twenties for some or all of the above reasons.) And I think, rightly or wrongly, women fear more for their safety when it comes to casual encounters or soliciting paid sex - we are taught from an early age that our short skirts and our dark alleys mean that it's our job to fight off rape, and if it happens, then maybe that's because we were asking for it. It is the prostitutes, not the punters, who generally concern themselves with mugging and beatings.
posted by mippy at 10:10 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]



She is fundamentally altering her own brain chemistry by selling her body, and then justifying the act as innocuous.


No more so than the johns are fundamentally altering their brain chemistry by seeking her services. Yet I note you don't mention them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:24 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I had a friend from high school who was alienated and socially awkward (dressed up as Adolf Hitler for the Halloween dance, collected Rhodesian and South African paramilitary uniforms etc) who decided to "lose his virginity" at the age of 21 or so with a prostitute he picked up off the street. It sounded like a pretty awful experience. I don't know what happened to him or if he ever became socialized enough to have a girlfriend or get married.

Presumably this friend of mine would have benefited from some sort of playbook to figure women out, but, then again, he was very stubborn and saw no real reason to conform and "present well".

I suppose he was profoundly damaged by the divorce of his own parents.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:28 AM on April 16, 2013


I disagree that women are pickier than men- I think that some women are pickier than some men, dependent on personality, what exactly they are looking for, and what they are bringing to the table. There are plenty of indiscriminate women (wrt the entire spectrum of sexual/romantic relationships from one night stands to marriage and all of the permutations of everything in-between), and plenty of very selective men; I've known both. I think that trying to polarize men and women this way is just inaccurate at best and sexist at worst. People have a multitude of reasons for the things that they do.

In fact, when reading about and recalling my own experience of hookup culture (esp young people), one thing that seems to stand out to me is how many females behave promiscuously or provocatively in order to try and make themselves more appealing and alluring to these very selective males. There's a strong sense that, in order to be "chosen", to be "good enough" to have a competitive advantage over other females, it's neccessary to be provocative and like it whether you like it or not. Of course this all ties in with patriarchy, rape culture etc. But I don't think the premise of women being pickier is correct.

The glamorization of something (prostitution) that is often done out of necessity bothers me for two reasons: one is my initial, visceral reaction of anger. It is the same anger I feel towards upper-middle class white left-wing "anarchist" students who bitch about the system and go dumpster diving even though they don't have to, and who act as though they're poor and their poverty is something cool and significant, when really it's just a game, and if they ever really need anything they go and get it from their parents. It seems disrespectful to me because they are making my life into a game, a phase, a project, and they are making my struggle into something that will not be taken seriously by the larger world, and I just want to shake them and say who do you think you are, how dare you, my life is not a game. my only personal encounters with the world of sex work have been frightening or tragic or depressingly mundane, and so my reaction is sort of similar. It's an emotional reaction and I don't think it should inform anyone's decision about visiting or becoming a sex worker, it's just how I feel about the position taken in these kinds of articles.

The other though is that I feel like this sort of thing is aimed at men who want to feel good about using these services and deny to themselves the type of exploitation that so often accompanies sex work.
posted by windykites at 10:38 AM on April 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I just keep thinking that if prostitution were so wonderful, more men would be doing it.

Yeah, where are all the midnight cowboys? *howls at the moon*

I think nobody should talk about sex work at all ever until they read 1) some real information about sex trafficking and 2) some sex work zines or compilations of writings by sex workers about their work. These are girls who have mostly chosen prostitution-- whether completely uncoerced or as a difficult financial decision-- and most of them are not 100% convinced that it's just a free choice just like other physical labor with no emotional consequences. I find it difficult to believe that all the men who pop up in these threads to claim that it's no big deal, just like any other exploitative labor, &c. really understand the nature of sex work and why it might feel hugely alienating in a way most labor does not.

This is a classic dialogue between two woman (one pro, one agin) where one woman is very honest about the positives and negatives of sex work while also thinking it shouldn't be outlawed. The other woman (against sex work) has very nuanced reasons why it should. I have a hard time coming down heavy on either side, because it's a complex issue, and actually hearing women talk about it (in a non-marketing, blog, podcast-y way) is so enlightening.

I don't feel like the justification for sex work should ever hinge on male need. Men are apparently needy motherfuckers, and the discussion about sex work should center around the sex workers themselves, the women (and men) who will be providing these services. If they didn't want to, then who cares about male "need"?


My perspective on prostitution is that it is paying to bring one's sexual fantasy to life. There's nothing wrong with that, but if it were about basic human touch, there are masseuses. If it were about human compassion and understanding, there are therapists. If it were about sexual gratification, there's masturbation, sex toys, pornography, and (shock) dating. (As well as bars and hookups.) Really, what you're paying for is to have another person obey your sexual impulses for a brief time--or to have sex with a more attractive woman than you otherwise could. I have a hard time seeing that as a fundamental need for anybody.

I mean, I vastly prefer sex to masturbation myself, but when I go without sex, I'm not going to die of it. I dated a man for awhile who had been functionally a virgin for over thirty years. He was socially awkward and not well-dressed. He had a lot of bitter ideas about women built up in his head. Would going to a prostitute have cured him of that? I mean, if so, how?

I don't think the demand is going to disappear, but I find all these justifications based on the "need" men have for women (how nice to always feel so needed!) just a reiteration of our culture's messages about the preeminence of the male sex drive, especially when the conversation is always about how much men need it and not what it's like to give it. And the women who cheerfully (marketing! do you not see the multiple messages about podcasts, blogs and careers in the above article) provide it, as a service to men who probably need real counseling more than a nice, fun prostitute.

The other though is that I feel like this sort of thing is aimed at men who want to feel good about using these services and deny to themselves the type of exploitation that so often accompanies sex work.

There is so much of this it's hard to take most male-centric discussions of (female) sex work seriously.

I do think legalization would *help* to end some of the more horrifying aspects of sex work (not end them, but mitigate them), but then I still think as a culture, we'd be fooling ourselves to say there are no residual issues left. As with porn, &c.

I will be honest-- if there were a legitimate, legalized, regulated, safe way for me to see a male prostitute for money, and I had money, I can't say I wouldn't do it. But when I consider even for an instant that those men might be forced into doing it, or that they feel unable to say no because they needed food for themselves or their children, my stomach turns. And I think you have to go a ways toward thinking you're entitled to sex (and that SOMEONE has to provide it) to desensitize yourself to those realities.

My thoughts on these issues are not always clear, but I find it quite terrible that usually when we hear from sex workers it's only because they're presenting pleasant, rosy, humanitarian ideas about the nature of sex work, which is only a sliver of the story. We let nurses talk about the grit and the grime while also saying they love their work-- why can't sex workers who like their career be just as honest? Why can we admit that putting a catheter up an old man's urethra might not be the highlight of the day-- but having sex with that same old guy when you don't really feel like it has to be a nurturing, precious experience?
posted by stoneandstar at 10:59 AM on April 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


Stoneandstar: As you yourself recognize in your comment, many if not all of the exploitative factors you're worried about are a result of prohibition rather than intrinsic to sex work. It's little different than the drug war. The law itself is creating the problems it purports to combat.

I don't feel like the justification for sex work should ever hinge on male need.

You're right. First, there shouldn't have to be justification. Freedom should be the default. But failing that, the justification is both female and male freedom to control their own bodies.
posted by Justinian at 11:12 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just don't agree that legalization would cure all the ills of the prostitution industry. And I think that just looking at the situation and saying "freedom" is ignoring the social imbalance between men and women. Legalizing prostitution would help, but it won't solve the problem.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:18 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I keep seeing this situation where women who agree that it should be legal (for the benefit of the sex workers) are told that they should be on the side of legalization, when they already are. There are plenty of reasons to support legalization while also disagreeing that prostitution is a social asset.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:24 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's true. I don't know if prostitution is a social asset any more than I know if legalizing drugs is a social asset. I just don't think that's the dispositive factor.
posted by Justinian at 11:25 AM on April 16, 2013


Well, that's why most of my comment wasn't about legality. I didn't ask any questions about legality that required a dispositive answer. I find the war on drugs abhorrent, but even if drugs are legalized, there will still be people who die due to drug use. And there will be people who make it their life's work to help those people. We will not be able to stop thinking about it as a society.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:30 AM on April 16, 2013


We're mostly in agreement then.
posted by Justinian at 11:54 AM on April 16, 2013


If it were about sexual gratification, there's masturbation, sex toys, pornography, and (shock) dating.

Consider the handicapped or disfigured. Some people are not able to masturbate as well as you or I (to be fair, no one can masturbate as well as I can).
posted by mrgrimm at 1:42 PM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't know about this theory that prostitution is the third leg of the patriarchy or whatever. How does its existence discourage women who want to hook up from hooking up?

If you are part of a fairly promiscuous or sexually focused sub culture, as I am, sex work makes everything much more complicated.

In my case, as a dominant female, I am constantly compared to professionals, favourably and unfavorably. An immense amount of annoyance is done by the fact that a dominatrix is used as the standard for any sort of F/m fun.

I fully support the right of people like Mistress to ply their trade, but it's a sub culture badly contaminated by the idea that it should be about male fantasies. If I'm not turning down people trying to give me money for sex work, I'm trying to avoid being cast into the whole ice bitch goth slut thing. I feel like this creates a negative feedback loop that chases women away from embracing their dominance outside of the client/service provider relationship model. Certainly even the non-pro blokes keep trying to aggressively court me with things like housework... something that service oriented femsubs just don't do to the same degree- they might clean house out of a service fetish, but they don't try to buy time and attention with a feather duster.

I'm alarmed, incidentally, that we are even contemplating the idea that we need to reward men with sex to stop them from becoming violent.
posted by Phalene at 3:24 PM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


people were used systematically and publicly for consequence-free gratification. We still do this, and how, but when it's uncovered it's punished severely 

I'm not a fan of Saint Paul, but maybe we could use a little outrage: it would be a trivial exercise to find women used in this way in any city in North America.

It's curious that a search for the term 'Sweden' in this thread comes up negative (though jeffburdges mentions Europe). In that country, purchase of sex is punished, but offering sex for money is not criminalized. A 70% drop is not elimination, but it is a goodly part of the way there.

My perspective on this is slowly changing from that of a anarcho-libertarianism (or something) towards an admission that, like slavery, prostitution is a fundamentally evil institution. It is not impossible to find at least a few examples of slaves who got something out of that situation: Plato was a slave for a short time, and still approved of the institution.

>My only concern when it comes to prostitution is; is the worker there of his/her own free will and can the worker leave if she/he wishes without fear?

It is apparently impossible to get statistics on the proportion of prostitutes who are not coerced in at least one, more likely several, ways. Nonetheless, it seems plain to me, from direct observation, that a majority of prostitutes in North America:

- work on the street, rather than through the classifieds
- are addicted to cocaine, heroin, meth, or a combination thereof
- started working as prostitutes at the age of 14-15, i.e. were raped as their introduction to this 'profession'.

How can we continue to support this?
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 6:16 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I'm beta-testing a program right now, a national registry for sex workers," Josephine says. "I go in and put in information about my clients in a very discreet and very secure way."

One of my best friends worked for a phone-sex company that had something like this, like, ten years ago.
posted by box at 6:22 PM on April 16, 2013


How can we continue to support this?

It seems plain to me, from direct observation, that a majority of people who sell drugs are in fact criminals.

Can you think of a reason why both of our observations might be true?
posted by Justinian at 7:41 PM on April 16, 2013


I think it's bizarre and somewhat telling that only one person in this thread has actual firsthand knowledge of what it's like to be a prostitute, and except for one comment, you all completely ignored her.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:06 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Telling in what way Afroblanco?
posted by smoke at 8:19 PM on April 16, 2013


That people would rather have the same old arguments about the same old tedious crap than actually discuss the OP.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:20 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dunno, I feel like there's been plenty of discussion about the OP. Mistress comment was a hasty one liner; I don't think a lack of commentary of it is indicative of much tbh.
posted by smoke at 8:23 PM on April 16, 2013


Yeah, I mean her comment would appear to support the position I have taken but I can recognize an anecdotal one liner when I see it. I wouldn't take seriously such a one liner on the other side of the issue so it would be hypocritical of me to point to this one.
posted by Justinian at 8:26 PM on April 16, 2013


Yeah, I don't know, I'm just seeing the same old crap you always see in these threads, blah blah blah gender norms blah blah blah men are hardwired blah blah blah social construct blah blah blah. The appearance of an actual prostitute was the only interesting part of this thread. I would have asked her for more detail, although I'm sure she's tuned out at this point.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:27 PM on April 16, 2013


Afroblanco, why do you assume that only one person in this thread has such experience? You have no way of knowing that for sure.
posted by windykites at 8:29 PM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I hear what you're saying, Afroblanco. It would certainly have been interesting to hear more.
posted by Justinian at 8:31 PM on April 16, 2013


>a majority of people who sell drugs are in fact criminals.

I'm not 100% clear on your point: is it that pimps are victims too? If that is your point, statistics are going to be even harder to find. Certainly, not all pimps of street prostitutes are addicts. And I don't think that justifies trafficking (as it is referred to in this thread).
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 8:53 PM on April 16, 2013


Ah. My point was that in both cases the law is creating the situation used to justify the law in the first place. People who sell drugs are often bad people because drugs are illegal, not because selling drugs intrinsically attracts bad folks. Similarly, many or most of the problems you list with prostitution is a direct result of it's illegality. So you are using a situation created by prohibition to justify that prohibition. It's a self fulfilling prophecy.
posted by Justinian at 9:55 PM on April 16, 2013


I don't think that legalizing prostitution would miraculously cause street prostitution to disappear here. I would love to see a change of this kind in the drug laws.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 6:17 AM on April 17, 2013


Sigh. The oft-repeated refrain of the new sex worker. This has been bandied about so many times, it's beyond cliche. Neurochemistry offers an easy solution as to why it's not a valid argument. Because sex releases attachment chemicals and creates bonds.
Pro-tip: You can pretty much ignore anything that comes after "neurochemistry offers an easy solution". Neurochemistry isn't easy.

People, almost all of them not actually neuroscientists, using "neurochemistry" to justify whatever bullshit social views they have is really pretty ridiculous.

As other people pointed out, it's just a 'science-y' sounding patina of b.s. over an obvious moral judgement. Also, everything you do alters your 'brain chemistry' in some way. And I think doing manual labor all day long is going to have a huge effect on your brain. You're probably going to get a lot of endorphins from the physical exercise, I would imagine.
We live in a world where hooking up could become an easier and more hassle-free cultural norm; prostitution destroys that process by encouraging the men on the side of the equation not to engage with that culture.
Prostitution is bad because it makes it harder for women to get laid?
I am not debating this, I have no idea or perspective on this, and I'm not 100% au courant with my neuroscience. I just wanted to mention that when nickrussel says "attachment chemicals" he may be referring to oxytocin, which does have particular attachment-related properties.
Oxytocin has an effect on your emotional response to things. It's not some chemical that magically makes you fall in love.
It is apparently impossible to get statistics on the proportion of prostitutes who are not coerced in at least one, more likely several, ways. Nonetheless, it seems plain to me, from direct observation, that a majority of prostitutes in North America:

- work on the street, rather than through the classifieds
- are addicted to cocaine, heroin, meth, or a combination thereof
- started working as prostitutes at the age of 14-15, i.e. were raped as their introduction to this 'profession'.
"Direct observation"? How exactly are you directly observing a statistically valid sample of 'north American' prostitutes? (And what does prostitution in Mexico have to do with prostitution in the US?). I've never even seen a single person who I knew was a prostitute.
Ah. My point was that in both cases the law is creating the situation used to justify the law in the first place. People who sell drugs are often bad people because drugs are illegal.
Obviously the only people who sell drugs are people who are breaking the law, and/or licensed pharmacists. I don't think you can make the jump to say they are "often bad people"
posted by delmoi at 8:26 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it's bizarre and somewhat telling that only one person in this thread has actual firsthand knowledge of what it's like to be a prostitute, and except for one comment, you all completely ignored her.

That claim is wrong. Also, there are lots of places people can read about what it's like to be a sex worker, as written by sex workers, without grilling someone in a thread-- making the choice to talk about sex work is not always an easy or obvious thing, so asking for more details is not always easy or obvious, either. I was also disappointed that no one was interested in the contribution though because I thought it drove home some important points about what it's actually like to do sex work, as opposed to sitting at home in your armchair thinking about how it's like all labor or whatever.

It seems in my experience that it's common for sex workers to begin to find men (in terms of the public) difficult to deal with; the bullshit seems much more obvious. Sometimes I wonder if men who are vociferously in favor of prostitution-as-social-good realize that. Maybe they do and they don't care. But women being paid to put up with male sexual dipshittery is not always so healing.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:21 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am very happy to be grilled about my job :)

I have been a lifestyle bdsm person since I was old enough to do so and have personal submissives, one male and one female, where there is no money involved. I love them dearly and the trust they put in me is awesome and an amazing rush.

I adore my job. It is so fun trying to attract clients, market myself and close deals. I love working in a close knit industry and training other male and female professionals, and I am very lucky that I have the capacity and opportunity to make intense and uplifting connections with my clients.

My previous jobs have involved web development, administration, grant writing, and politics. This is by far the most rewarding job I have ever had.
posted by Mistress at 2:32 PM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also @Phalene in my experience there are male and female service orientated submissives.... my male personal sub is better at domestic service and is far more reliable than the young lady... I think male subs may find when they access information online that the content pitched to them skews them towards commercial relationships. This is sad really for them. . I think that in a few years professional domination will be diminished, there are so many ladies in the public bdsm scene that are trying their hand at domming and loving it!
posted by Mistress at 2:36 PM on April 21, 2013


"there are so many ladies in the public bdsm scene that are trying their hand at domming and loving it!"

Paradoxically, one of the biggest barriers to us is also the barrage of solicitations and the tendency for professionals to be our spokespersons- being in demand makes it harder to find your own feet. I think, however, this is baggage that bleeds over from vanilla. But specifically when I set out to become a dom, there weren't many role models who weren't professionals, which as a woman left me going "welp, I'm also a masochist, but submission feels... odd."

I know there are female service subs. The difference is that they don't message you asking politely if they can do your laundry, and I'm not told, when I want kinkyfuntimes with a lady that I'm supposed to expect the woman will leap through hoops to prove her worthiness.

It's also profoundly weird that the biggest spokespeople that are representative of you are generally professionals. It's also a hard thing to tackle, since I don't think people in your (Mistress) role are the problem, but there's the idea that the apex of female dominance is getting paid, but since that tends to go towards being man-pleasing, rather that coming from a place of mutual negotiation...

Of course it's the issue that you are basically looking at being the Best At Sex/Relationships, and if you're not a medical professional or a relationship therapist, that leaves it a little hard to measure, and a professional dominant of any tenure and tenacity is usually heavily invested in the community.
posted by Phalene at 1:55 PM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


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