This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. Note: The piece doesn’t talk about my personal sex life per se, but it makes a couple of oblique passing references to it. Family members and others who don’t want to read about my sex life, use your own judgment on this one.
It was a letter to Savage Love that made me think of it. As it so often is.
The inquisitor had a fetish for being shampooed; didn’t know how to find a female partner who would play along; and had been trying — unsuccessfully — to pay hair salons to give him the pleasure. Dan’s response (apart from “Get some social skills”) was, I thought, very sensible:
Find a sex worker.
It’s advice I think a lot of sexually dissatisfied people would benefit from. If there’s a special kind of sex that you really love and haven’t been able to find — or there isn’t, but you’re just not getting laid at the moment — paying a professional would seem, if you can afford it, to be a fairly obvious solution.
But it’s also advice that a lot of people reject out of hand. Not only do they reject it — they’re offended at the very suggestion. “I’m not going to pay for it.” “What kind of loser has to pay for it?”
Part of it is a moral issue. Many people believe that prostitution, even among completely consenting adults, is immoral on the face of it. And part of it is an understandable emotional barrier: if what you want is not just sex but sex with someone who loves you and vice versa, then a pro isn’t going to do the trick. (Sorry for the pun.)
But for plenty of people, it seems to be simply a matter of pride. Being able to get a sex partner is proof of manliness, womanliness, coolness, evolutionary fitness, whatever. If you “have to pay for it,” it means you can’t get it on your own, which de facto makes you a loser.
Let me use an analogy I stole from Carol Queen (conflict of interest alert: she wrote about it in my book Paying For It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients).
Does paying a restaurant to feed you a meal make you a loser? Whether you eat out every night or only do it as an occasional treat; whether you’re looking for a special meal you can’t get elsewhere or simply want the convenience of getting dinner without any hassle… does it make you a loser? A pathetic nobody who can only get fed if he pays someone to do it?
You can argue that sex is different. But food — especially providing other people with food, and the experience of cooking and/or eating together — is a powerful, complex, culturally rich experience that’s loaded with emotional implications. And yet we have no shame at all about paying for it.
Come to think of it, I could easily imagine an alternate reality in which paying for sex is an openly practiced, completely accepted part of the economy and the culture… but paying for food is considered shameful at best and immoral at worst, an illegal black market economy in which the providers, no matter how skillful they are at their craft, are defamed, marginalized criminals, and the customers are mocked into thinking there’s something sordid and pathetic about what they do.
“I’m not going to pay someone to cook for me. What kind of loser has to pay for a meal?”
If that doesn’t make sense when it comes to food, then why does it make sense when it comes to sex?
If you don’t want to see a sex worker, of course you shouldn’t see a sex worker. Not everyone likes going to restaurants, either. But I’ve never understood the sex-positive attitude that embraces and celebrates sex workers while still looking down on their customers. There are lots of reasons people pay for sex — they’re partial to a particular kind of sex that not many people enjoy, they’re in a place in their lives where a relationship isn’t a good idea, their dating life is in a dry spell, they enjoy a variety of partners, etc. It doesn’t make them losers. If you’ve ever paid for sex, or if you pay for sex now, there’s no reason to think that it makes you a loser. And if you’ve never paid for sex, thereâs no reason to think that it’ll make you a loser if you decide to try it out.