Friday, August 09, 2013

Real People and Sex

EDITED: Edited for correct and current use of language on 9 March 2015, thanks to the followers and admins at One Billon Rising Australia.

The most important thing to acknowledge is that even when trying to argue that we think about sex in an unhealthy manner, I used words that encouraged the same unhealthy attitude. It's all around us, this language that judges only one person in the multi-person act of sex.

The second thing to acknowledge is that eighteen months of reading a lot of women's writing from all over the world, and eighteen months of a lot of experience with and thinking about sex, does tend to change a woman! For example, my first mainstream publication, all about sexual practice, that you can read right here.

I had a very illuminating conversation a few weeks ago with a friend in which we discussed a character in a play. The character was a prostitute sex worker and the action for her character in the narrative revolved around her picking up a client in a public space in front of her boyfriend, who worked in a non-prostitution sex work job in that public space. The boyfriend was unhappy with her engaging in prostitution sex work, but the character believed that he should accept the situation because she loved him. My friend had been discussing the play with other people, and the men in the discussion had suggested the character could have been changed to a stripper, because, as I understand from the retelling:
1. The men discussing the scene personally wouldn't be comfortable with their partners being prostitutes sex workers, although they acknowledged some men would
2. The men discussing the scene would personally find it difficult to overcome feelings of sexual jealousy and probably couldn't date a prostitute sex worker
3. The men discussing the scene would personally feel that prostitutes sex workers with boyfriends would probably make some audience members feel uncomfortable if the boyfriend is unhappy with the arrangement
4. The men discussing the scene would personally feel that suggesting that every man should be comfortable with dating a prostitute sex worker (as long as she loves him) is a nice idea, but unlikely to persuade everyone
What intrigued me in the anecdote was the personal opinions of the men in the discussion highlighting the social assumption that there was a difference between the morality of person providing the sexual service and the morality of the general population that provided the customers for such a service. It always intrigues me that any person can hold themselves aloof from one aspect of securing sex when they participate wholeheartedly in others. Whether you secure sex at a brothel from a sex worker for cash, or secure it in a club with drinks and inane chat, or secure it with an economic partnership under social convention and law, that is your decision, right? But all those transactions are sex for money, no matter who is paying whom, how many people are in the transaction, how the money is transferred and how many times the transaction is carried out.

[I am personally not a drinker, so my own social prejudice is against anyone who thinks they can secure my sexual consent with alcoholic beverages. You can only TRY to buy my sexual consent with books, baby. But, truthfully, it is probably better not to try and influence my consent by economic means at all!]

This separation of sexual provider and customer by perceived morality is problematic simply because the negative morality is projected onto the provider by the population that supplies the customers. This results in my two least favourite prevalent social concepts; that prostitutes sex workers aren’t real people from the real world with partners/families/friends who love them and that the people who pay for sex with prostitutes sex workers aren’t real people from the real world with partners/families/friends that love them.

According to separate moralities, prostitutes sex workers have a job that somehow takes them out of the mainstream into an invisible world where no realities like loving partners/families/friends, respect and the legal right to life and safety apply to them. And then there is the accompanying and startling concept that people who pay prostitutes sex workers for sex exist only in that invisible world, and not in the mainstream one with loving partners/families/friends and the appropriate open acceptance of the transaction they just sought.

Through my own life experience I have always considered prostitution sex work – both provider and customer – to be very much in the real world. That is because I experienced the realities of both customers and providers of prostitution sex work from the age of seventeen. For three years I walked past the brothel building at the end of our street to get to my favourite coffee strip and to my jobs, so I was familiar with the family station wagons and SVUs with one or two baby seats in them parked outside the brothel building, or parked on side roads with steamed up windows and two people in them. At seventeen that was a pretty quick lesson in the reality of the customers of prostitution sex work, and it never really surprised me because, well, everyone likes to have sex, right? It really is none of my business how you secure your sex life!

In those jobs I passed the brothel building to get to, I encountered the providers of the services of prostitution sex work as workmates and customers. I met high-level prostitution sex work administrators who provided me with the best joke to silence a man and juicy inside gossip on the academic study of prostitution sex work, and I met high-class escorts sex workers with partners. I met streetwalkers sex workers who had gone to my school who recognised me and bought lollies for me to give to my sister because my sister had been nice to them in school, and I met sex workers in the brothels in their workplace when I begged my boss to let me deliver the standing weekly “Pizza to the Brothel” order. I went on to work in an industry in which almost every site had at least one, if not two tanned and muscled strippers operating the machinery.

[My favourite evening of networking was on a boat for a Civil Engineering company with the top self-employed landscapers in Perth - and half of them were strippers or ex-strippers. They were really lovely, easy on the eyes and I enjoyed our open and frank discussion of the industry of selling sex in all its permutations.]

This matter-of-fact experience of sex for money only became complicated for me when I encountered a world that morally discussed prostitution sex work as if it was a closed system outside of the mainstream that rightfully traps the providers as sexual objects in violence, illegality and isolation and rightfully allows the customers to be sexual subjects that pretend they never entered that world. It makes no sense to me; prostitution sex work providers are not providing sex services to each other but to customers, they don’t pass the cash around to each other but receive it from customers. In addition, they don’t murder each other, abuse each other and pass laws to make themselves illegal; people who exploit providers or claim they are not part of the prostitution sex work system do that.

Prostitution Sex work only exists because lots of customers come into the system each night with large amounts of money and pay for sex so regularly that it is a lucrative industry for those providers or their exploiters. And these customers are real people, real people from the mainstream with money and time and the wish to secure sex for cash payment, albeit real people who do not acknowledge the transaction they seek. Real people abuse providers, real people murder providers, real people legislate against providers and real people morally ostracise providers and the prostitution sex work system with the myth that they don’t pay money into the system and neither does anyone they know.

Prostitution Sex workers murdered or abused, sex trafficking, prostitution laws, pornography, rape culture, victim blaming, street harassment and plain old sexual prudishness is a complicated area to discuss. And I personally think it is only complicated by this bizarre moral differentiation between the two worlds of sexual object and sexual subject. The moment the sexual subject is acknowledged to be a moral inhabitant of the real world, with all the real world moral realities of social responsibility and legal accountability, the sexual object will be morally free to be the sexual subject not just in their own life, but in the real world. And then we have a chance to talk about sex as if it is a real activity that everyone engages in, and we can actually talk about the problems that are inevitable when more than one person gets together in a room.

Oh, and just to be clear, watching or paying for your first stripper is last time you can morally claim you have never paid money into the supposedly closed and invisible system of sex for money. Strippers are not prostitutes sex workers of course, but they do sell sex for money, even if it is non-contact sex. So from your first stripper onwards, I hope everyone adults the hell up and learns to treat everyone like a sexual subject, not a sexual object, and everyone does their bit to discuss sex like a real human and not an invisible human.
Abuse in the area of sex for cash:
Prostitution Survivors
Abuse in the area of sex for alcohol or chat:
Naming Street Harrassment
Abuse in the area of sex for economic partnership:
Intimate Partner Violence

Changing the law to reduce abuse in the area of sex for cash:
Prostitution Sex Work Laws
Changing attitudes in the area of sex for alcohol or chat:
Encouraging Consent Culture
Modeling Consent Culture
Stopping Rape Culture
And, for fun (although it is a long read - Dating tips for everyone (although she frames it for male feminists)
Changing the law to reduce abuse in the areas of sex for economic partnership:
UN Women
The Girl Effect
Half the Sky
The Language That Kills
If in everyday language we can talk of drunk drivers, burglars and arsonists without restriction, but not abusers without excuses, is there any wonder there is an epidemic of criminal violence in domestic and intimate relationships? As a society we must change the words we use to reflect crimes of violence back on the perpetrator.
The C Word
Why is it the ultimate insult for anyone, male or female? Because it speaks about the least desirable, the most unwanted, the ultimate source of fear: the vagina. It’s not enough to liken someone to a woman as a whole; the reference must be to what is biologically perhaps the most identifying aspect of being a woman, her very essence summed up in a body part. To a large proportion of men, the vagina is at best a mystery, at worst, a source of disgust. To have linked the most vulgar word in the English language to the most essential part of femininity is no mean feat.

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