Sex Work and the Power of Choice


There’s a widely-held myth about sex work and sex workers: I ran into it again recently (don’t remember where, sorry), and I want to talk about it and eviscerate it.

The myth: Prostitutes and other sex workers can’t choose their customers. They have to have sex with anyone who offers to pay.

When you think about this for ten seconds, you should realize that it makes no sense. People in any other service profession can, and do, turn down customers they don’t want to work with. Therapists, car mechanics, gardeners, hair stylists, nannies… you name it. There are a few exceptions — emergency room doctors leap to mind — but for the most part, it’s understood that, as long as they’re obeying non-discrimination laws, service professionals reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. (My hair stylist has told me long, entertaining stories about clients she’s fired.) So it’s kind of weird to assume that sex workers would be the exception.

And in fact, if you talk with sex workers or read their writing, you’ll find out directly that this is nonsense. Plenty of prostitutes can, and do, turn down clients. They turn down clients who they think are dangerous, or who won’t respect their limits, or who they just find personally unpleasant. They turn down first- time clients; they say no to previous clients they’ve had bad experiences with; they fire long-term clients who are becoming difficult. I certainly did when I worked at the peep show: if I didn’t like a guy who came into one of the booths, I could dance for someone else instead, and if he was being exceptionally obnoxious, we could get him thrown out. And in my book, Paying For It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients (now out of print, but still available on Kindle), sex educator and retired prostitute Carol Queen talks at length about which customers she would and wouldn’t work with, and which ones she fired first when she was starting to get out of the business.

Yes, there are some sex workers for whom this isn’t true: ones who are in extreme dire financial straits, or ones who work for extremely abusive and exploitatative brothels. But it’s by no means an inherent part of the industry.

So why would people assume that it is?

There’s an excellent piece by Amanda Marcotte, Buyers and Sellers, that I think sheds some light on this. The gist: Our culture views female sexuality as a commodity, one that’s either owned by a husband/ father/ partner or is available to anyone with the right purchase price. Women with more valuable products — i.e., more attractive women — can ask for a higher price — a higher-status man with a better job, for instance. But men are assumed to be the choosers, and women are assumed to be the chosen. Marcotte says it better than I can, so I’ll quit summarizing and just quote her:

Dating advice tends to get gendered along these lines. When women aren’t getting any action, it’s pretty much standard to tell them to look at themselves and see if they’re charging too high a price for the product they have on offer. The advice from there is to either improve the quality of the product or lower the price. Granted, upbeat American society being what it is, most of the advice industry aimed at women is about improving the quality of the product.

But you definitely get your share of people griping that women are too full of themselves and think they deserve more than they do, i.e. that they charge too high a price for a crappy product. Advice to settle isn’t as rampant as advice to learn how to suck cock better and tighten those abs more, but it’s definitely out there. The assumption in a market view also is that the seller really has to sell, but the buyer has an option not to buy. Thus, in our heterosexual dating model, women are often cast as so desperate to get the man to sign on the dotted line and drive off with his new car-wife. Men are buyers, of course, and therefore are cast as hesitant to spend the money, and thus commitment is seen as a tense negotiation between a woman trying to move product and a man worried that he’s paying too much. Many conservatives warn that because women are willing to have sex outside of marriage now, that has made it all the much easier for men not to buy at all, much like the way that an avid bicyclist is probably going to be that much harder to sell a new car to.

Men’s sex and dating advice tends to be more on the grounds of being a better consumer. Pick-up artist books and websites aren’t interested in teaching men how to improve the product so more women want to buy. Seriously, PUA guides read like guides on buying a car—show up looking like money, demonstrate to the salesman that you fill out the checklist of requirements to get a car, talk down the price (which PUA guides suggest you do by insulting women, hoping the loss of esteem in their product will cause them to sell at a lower price), and you’re done. Actual improvement of one’s self is as strange an idea as suggesting that you have to have good character and a tight waistline to get a car. You just need to have the cash, the credit rating, and a solid ability to bargain.

And if this is true for ordinary women having non-commercial sex… it stands to reason that it would be ten times as true for women who are having commercial sex. After all, if, as Marcotte says, even women who aren’t sex workers “are assumed to be in a perpetual state of consent just as that gallon of milk at the store is assumed to be on sale for anyone who can cobble together the $5 to buy it,” how much more true would that be of women who are literally making sex into a commodity? How much more true would that be of women who are literally “selling their bodies”?

Except that prostitutes aren’t “selling their bodies.” That’s a horrible phrase, and everybody should please stop using it right now. Prostitutes do not sell their bodies — any more than car mechanics or gardeners or hair stylists. They charge money for a service. And like anyone else who charges money for a service, they can, and do, decide who they’re willing to provide that service to. They can decide which services they will and won’t provide — just like a car mechanic can decide that she’ll only work on foreign cars, or a hair stylist can decide that he won’t use products that were tested on animals. And they reserve the right to refuse service to anybody.

(P.S. It’s also the case that not all sex workers are women — a substantial minority are men, a fact that’s commonly overlooked in what passes for thinking about sex work — but that’s a rant for another time.)

Comments

  1. Captain Mike says

    “…what passes for thinking about sex work…”

    snort

    I think you could probably drop the “work” part of that sentence and still have it apply to most of the populace.

  2. says

    Thank you very much for this post! Sex workers have to deal with a lot of misconceptions that makes life even more difficult than it needs to be. I’m so glad to see this post on your blog.

    The mythology that sex workers don’t make conscious business decisions or set their own boundaries and preferences is part of what keeps them in danger of arrest and violence. The stigma of the mindless sexual slave helps maintain a criminal status around sex work.

    It’s also frustrating to hear the argument that all sex workers are financially coerced and wouldn’t be having sex for money if they didn’t desperately need the cash. Well, why do any of us go to work? Is Starbucks full of baristas who love making coffee so much that they would come in for 8 hours shifts everyday for free? Are people filing documents in corporate offices out of organizational altruism?

    It may be shocking to some, but having sex isn’t a horrible and tragic experience for everyone. Some of us enjoy it and open up shop because we have personalities that make it a viable career option for us.

    Ideally we all find a job that we don’t mind doing and find fulfilling in some way that allows us to have our needs met and spend time living our own lives. I was drawn to sex work because I don’t like having a boss. I enjoy setting my own schedule and my own terms. Sex work offered me the opportunity to pursue higher education, spend two months and one month volunteering in Africa and Haiti, develop my writing portfolio, and launch my own business.

    I wouldn’t have been able to do this in another line of work. Although there are tremendous downsides to a life in adult entertainment, I value my freedom and independence as well as a chance to save money and work on projects that are meaningful to me. I hope that someday, sex workers will be seen as the CEO’s of their own bodies and I hope that they will be able to access the justice system fairly when someone violates that.

  3. Clytia says

    This is really interesting, and I do completely agree. I’ve been working in the sex industry in New Zealand for a while now, where prostitution has been legal for a number of years, thanks to the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 (), which says, (among many other wonderful things): “Despite anything in a contract for the provision of commercial sexual services, a person may, at any time, refuse to provide, or to continue to provide, a commercial sexual service to any other person.”

    What I find interesting (and I’ve been thinking about this for a long time), you mention when you say about other service providers “as long as they’re obeying non-discrimination laws.” Now, I wonder if this applies to sex workers. NZ of course also has non-discrimination laws, but I’ve found discrimination in the sex industry to be rampant, racism especially. I’ve known workers to flatly refuse to see any clients of a particular race (they let their managers know, who are then left to tactfully inform the client that she’s too busy or something of the sort). I’ve found clients put into a box of whether they’re likely to be a “good” or “bad” client, based simply on their presumed race. This is really sad.
    However, I have also found that these prejudices are based on experience. Clients of a particular race tend to (there are, of course, exceptions, but they tend to be rare) behave in a more/less mysogonistic manner, be more/less respectful, smell bad/ok (even after a shower), etc. The reality of it makes me cringe, but I’m at a loss as to what to make of the situation.
    Of course, sex workers do and should, have a right to refuse any client on any grounds. But clients should have a right not to be discriminated against.

  4. says

    I like your overall debunking, but I think there is another myth that snuck through here:

    “Our culture views female sexuality as a commodity, one that’s either owned by a husband/ father/ partner”

    Time to unpack that invisible knapsack!

    In a society that had over 50% of children born OOW ( don’t have citation)last year, and 72% of AF-AM kids born to a single mother (NPR), maybe it’s time to revisit this myth?

    I mean, where does objectification begin and end? AT THE VAGINA, as soon as my head popped out–at least that’s the way I remember it;-)

    I think the maternal gaze certainly has something to do with the co-option and commodity of the body, don’t you?

  5. jose says

    About providing a service: I wonder why when people need friends they join a club or enrol in some class instead of hiring a friendtitute. I suppose we just have different ideas about what sex is.

  6. speedwell says

    Jose, my therapist was someone who I hired to be my friend for twelve sessions. I didn’t have another wise and capable friend who I trusted to listen closely, tell me the truth about myself, and be there for me when she promised she would. Trust and mutual working were the essence of the contract, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to work productively with her for the time I paid her for. And when the “job” was done, she let me know with great tact and honesty (“You’ve made great gains and I guess this will be our last session”). I respect her for herself and her business for itself.

    No, this isn’t sex, but you couldn’t say it wasn’t intimate.

  7. jose says

    You hired a friend?

    I must be an alien. I don’t understand anything any of you guys are saying.

  8. says

    Great post, this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I’ve noticed that some of those participating in Slutwalks in support of women’s right to say “No” are also the first to insist that women who are sex workers can’t say “No”. With sex workers (at least in some sectors) being at particularly high risk of rape, surely it’s their clients more than anyone else who need to get the message that “No” means “No”. Why do some feminists not only tolerate but actively reinforce the opposite message?

  9. julian says

    porn, don’t you have a bridge to be under?

    _______

    “However, I have also found that these prejudices are based on experience. Clients of a particular race tend to (there are, of course, exceptions, but they tend to be rare) behave in a more/less mysogonistic manner, be more/less respectful, smell bad/ok (even after a shower), etc. ” – Clytia

    Most people’s prejudice’s are in some way based on experience. An old neighbor of mine used to refuse to stop his cab for blacks. I asked him why and he said he knew two other cabbies who had ended beaten and mugged for that. He seemed genuinely afraid of that happening to him.

    But that was still very much racist of him. You can’t exclude a whole race because you’ve noticed issues with some. That’s unacceptable behavior even if you are looking out for your well being.

    I recognize that sex is a very intimate situation (you’re much more vulnerable to harm) but if we’re going to apply the anti-discrimination laws consistently then we can’t carve out this exception.

    Honestly, I don’t see why you have to say up front I refuse to sleep with, for example, asians. If there’s something that makes you afraid for your safety or them respecting your boundaries you can always turn them away after meeting them, can’t you? Or does it not work that way?

  10. John K. says

    Not being able to say no seems like the critical distinction between sex “worker” and sex “slave”.

    This weird rumor seems to run along the line of the “all female porn actresses are addicted to drugs” myth. Just another way to try and show pornography as always wrong.

  11. Mel says

    It may be politically and even socially unacceptable to “exclude a whole race because you’ve noticed issues with some” but it isn’t unreasonable. Especially when it comes to your personal well being and an act as intimate as sex – even if it is done as a business transaction.

    If a sex worker finds a race generally physically unappealing should s/he rely on her acting skills to keep him out of the know?

  12. Kagehi says

    Brothels? Maybe in Navada, or some other countries. What you *hear* about in the US are:

    1. Street walkers, which often don’t have much choices, due to their whole industry being run by pimps.

    2. A few places that “try” to open, now and then, only to get shut down. Its hardly clear if they did, or didn’t, pick clients, since the cops, media, and certainly politicians, don’t give a crap about anything but that it was happening.

    3. Actual abusive cases, including teen sex rings, and other basically “slave trade” type situations, which have been going on for decades, but which often everyone, including the cops, denied existing, because it would be damned inconvenient to admit that actually knowing who worked for places, instead of letting it run 100% under the table, might actually make this sort of crap less common.

    Outside of movies like Porkies, a few few TV shows, no one would even admit a brothel “could” exist in their town, and it would be shut down so fast it wouldn’t be funny, only to be replaced by some asshole, often with drug connections, telling his hoes that they damn well better ring in more money next time, even if they have to sleep with people that beat them.

    There are a whole host of stupid things surrounding the industry, even to the point where “escort services”, which is the sort of thing that does have “clients”, and “choice” are often simultaneously ignored, as not a problem, even as the real, and far more visible, problems are perpetuated, by the constant, and very real, possibility that “evidence” that sex work is going on would land those “escorts” in the same cell as some 14 year old teen, that got kidnapped a week ago, or some 40 year old, drug addicted, street walker, that hasn’t had *any* choices for decades, because, in both of the later cases, they are usually, literally, **owned** by someone.

    Its a bit like sex education, better to not do the right thing, and instead teach that its wrong, sick, and evil, and people should, “just say no”, however ineffective, and stupid, that is, than piss off conservatives, who just won’t stand for an *effective* solution to the problem, on “moral” grounds. Denial, and bullshit, is better than admitting there is a problem, and that the bullshit doesn’t solve it.

  13. Deb says

    I think this is interesting and generally agree.
    BUT, my window into sex work has been the sex work done by people who use injection drugs. And there’s a desperation to that work that militates against choice or self-determination. I don’t know enough about who is a sex worker and who isn’t — though I’ll download your book to my kindle in the hopes of finding out more — but I do know that when we were establishing “routes” for distributing sterile syringes, places where male and female sex workers hung out were often places where we could make connections with folks who were using as well as working. I heard too many stories of women (mostly) pushed out of moving cars, or beaten or robbed to quite believe that the problem was that they were making poor choices of customers. I suspect you won’t really disagree, but the devil is in the distribution of sex workers. What fraction of people who do sex work are in a good position to provide that service on their own terms and what fraction aren’t? At least we should make the distinction clearly, rather than as an aside.

  14. Megan says

    Except that prostitutes aren’t “selling their bodies.” That’s a horrible phrase, and everybody should please stop using it right now.

    Gawd, I hate that phrase so much. Thank you so much for putting this out there!

  15. Azkyroth says

    I wonder if it would help the stigma to refer to priests and chaplains as “sect workers?” Just getting people used to hearing a phrase that sounds like it…

  16. julian says

    not sure if this directed at me…

    If a sex worker finds a race generally physically unappealing should s/he rely on her acting skills to keep him out of the know?

    Attraction is a whole other issue. Clytia mentioned generally smelling bad and being misogynistic. That’s stereotyping a race based on maybe a couple bad experiences and then denying them services based on your prejudice.

    Of course, you don’t have to sleep with anyone you want. This is sex and not just the exchanging of goods so I’m not going to tell a prostitute who they can and cannot reject. If they don’t find black people attractive ok. If they have something against uncircumcised penises ok.

    But to specifically signal out a race based on nothing but prejudice strikes me as wrong even though I would never try to compel them to perform for someone they don’t want to.

  17. Eclectic says

    The whole issue of sex as something that women “have” and men “want”, and “good girls” can only be bought for high prices, while “cheap sluts” can be rented, and women should raise their prices while (as you write) pick-up artists try to talk down the price…

    I know it’s a horrible influence and leads to all sorts of unconscious sexism, but it’s so freaking pervasive that I don’t really know how to fight it off.

    Men’s magazines are full of advice on how to buy sex, and women’s magazines are full of advice on how to bid up the price… it’s just depressing.

    I just learned about the really cool 1972 album Free to Be… You and Me, a children’s album (and 1974 TV special) teaching equality of the sexes.

    Some of the videos are quite fantastic, and I’m sad that that fire to uproot sexism has died down so much. (“Boy Meets Girl” is Mel Brooks funny, while “Atalanta” is considerably more poignant.)

  18. Greta Christina says

    BUT, my window into sex work has been the sex work done by people who use injection drugs. And there’s a desperation to that work that militates against choice or self-determination.

    Deb @ #13: Yes, that is a real part of the sex industry. But it’s not the only part. There are also sex workers who get into the industry cheerfully and pro-actively and enjoy it thoroughly. And there are others who see it the way many of us see our jobs — as a job, with aspects they like and aspects they don’t, with less freedom than they might like but still with a fair degree of freedom.

    The point is this: There is nothing inherent about the very nature of prostitution or other sex work that makes sex workers unable to say No to customers. Any more than the fact that sneakers are often made by slave labor makes sneakers inherently exploitative or non-consensual.

    What fraction of people who do sex work are in a good position to provide that service on their own terms and what fraction aren’t?

    I don’t know the answer to that. Sex work is illegal in most of the world, which makes it hard to get accurate statistics about. What I do know is that the number of sex workers who provide that service on their own terms is not trivial. The more desperate/ less consenting elements are often the most visible, and they’re certainly the most visible in the media — but that doesn’t negate the experience of the many, many sex workers with different experience. (Also, if the sex workers you’re encountering are ones you’re meeting through syringe exchange — that’s obviously going to skew your sampling.)

  19. ariamezzo says

    For my final grade in Public Speaking we had a 2v2 debate. Me and my partner were in support of legalizing prostitution and I am so glad that my partner was a woman. I’m sure that helped our case a bit since our opposition kept arguing that the only reason why women (no mention of men) get into prostitution is because they’re kidnapped and blackmailed by pimps. We had a difficult time trying to argue in favor of prostitution while simultaneously explaining to our opponents and the audience that prostitution is completely different from sexual slavery and exploitation.

    In spite of our opponents’ bad argument (The Bible says prostitution is wrong! Would you want your kid growing up with street walkers and becoming one?) after the event 2/3 of the class were opposed to prostitution and 1/3 were in favor.

  20. Patrick says

    I think if you were to go up to someone who has made the argument you’re answering and say, “Why would a sex worker be any less free to refuse to have sex with someone than a barrista is free to refuse to serve someone coffee,” their answer wouldn’t be “Oh, I never thought of it that way.” It would be “exactly, that’s what worries me.” I don’t think people are worried that legalized sex work will result in women being chained to beds. I think they’re worried about the degree to which financial need should affect women’s decisions about sex.

    As for my own thoughts… I think legalized prostitution will have significant consequences for how we think about sex in a context of disparate power. I don’t think this issue tends to get much attention, but I think its a real one. If you decide that “have sex with this man or else you will lose your job to someone who will” is a legitimate thing to inflict on someone in one context (paid sex worker vs customer), it doesn’t necessarily mean that all coercive acts of that type must be legitimized in other contexts (factory worker vs boss)… but I think it will affect how we perceive them. Right now we treat the latter as being close to if not actually a form of rape by coercion. I don’t think that moral norm will continue if we legitimize doing exactly the same thing in other contexts.

  21. gwen says

    My cousin was prostituted from the time she was twelve. Her mother (my uncle’s exwife) pimped her out for drugs. My uncle tried everything, including pulling up stakes and moving across the country with her to get her away from her mother. He had legal custody and her best interests, but her mother fed her guilt and would entice her back to CA to continue to prostitute for her drugs. My cousin was hospitalized several times after horrific beatings from her johns. She was finally murdered at the age of 19 by one of her johns. Her murder was never solved, and the police never seemed to be interested in trying. My cousin Mildred, named for my mother was victimized by her mother, a woman who should have been her protector, her johns and ultimately the system which could not help her.

  22. Clytia says

    @Julian – #9 – I agree that it is completely rascist, but it isn’t based on just a few experiences, as some have said. It’s based on countless repeated experiences of a number of women I’ve spoken (and myself) over years. Women who have decided to give any new client the benefit of the doubt, but if he steps over a line, are quite able to kick him out, or if they didn’t like him (for whatever reason) can refuse to see him again. I understand, based on my own experiences and those of others, why some women have decided not to see a certain race of clients. But saying (or even thinking!) that makes me want to scream “no, no, no, that’s wrong, that’s racist, you can’t act on that kind of prejudice!!”

    But the reality is, you cannot judge someone on meeting them for a minute or two before you have to decide whether or not to see them. And yes, I know there are exceptions to the rule, but in my personal experience (of over three years, on and off), the exception has made up maybe 1%. It’s incredibly fucking racist, which I hate, but at the end of the day, I have to conclude that sex is different from other services. Sure, to some degree it’s all an act, but we can still choose who to have such intimate contact with, and can choose not to with any given client for whatever reason even a racist one. Which again, makes me cringe.

  23. Chas Warren says

    You aren’t arguing against a myth, you are arguing against a generalization. Some prostitutes and other sex workers CAN’T choose their customers, and they have to have sex with anyone who offers to pay. Fortunately — in the progressive West, at least — this is seldom true.

    It is disingenuous to say, “but it isn’t prostitution when no choice exists, it is exploitation.” Prostitution is what it is; an occupation in which sexual activity is exchanged for payment. Sometimes workers are exploited, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes prostitution is exploitative, sometimes it isn’t.

  24. Azkyroth says

    Chas:

    The myth being argued against is the idea that that exploitation is inherent in or specific to sex work.

  25. Chas Warren says

    @Azkyroth: Sorry, but I disagree. Christina clearly defined the myth she was refuting in the opening sentences of her article. Several hundred words later, in a preemptive rebuttal of the most common accusation against prostitution — she makes the point that exploitation is not an inherent part of the industry.

    This is correct, in the progressive West. It isn’t correct for the majority of prostitutes in Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, and many other countries where prostitution and exploitation are virtually synonymous.

    I’m an American who has spent years of his life living in Asia (starting in 1988), and I’ve witnessed this exploitation firsthand. The ethnicity of those exploited has changed (nowadays, for example, few South Korean prostitutes could be considered victims), but it is still primarily Americans, Germans, and Australians — with a smattering of other nationalities — paying women for sexual activity, women who can’t afford to say no.

    Incidentally, I’m not opposed to prostitution, I’m just opposed to its mis-characterization. For millions of women, prostitution is an occupation with hideous exploitation built into it.

  26. Lord Shplanington, Not A Frenchman says

    It really would be just ab-so-fucking-lutely wonderful if more people would realize that many/most of the problems that come with being a prostitute are more because it’s an illegal and generally socially unacceptable position than because it’s somehow inherently exploitative. It’s kind of like how prohibition suddenly created huge illicit markets and metric fucktons of gang violence centered around alcohol. Legalize prostitution, remove or at least lessen the social stigma associated with it, and suddenly we’ll have a Whore’s Guild to protect the interests of workin’ gals ‘n guys and all the pimps will have to get real jobs.

  27. Lord Shplanington, Not A Frenchman says

    @Chas #27

    You do not understand the meaning of “inherent”. Were it “inherent” then no prostitute would ever work unexploited.

  28. Greta Christina says

    It is disingenuous to say, “but it isn’t prostitution when no choice exists, it is exploitation.”

    Chas Warren @ #25: When did I say that? I didn’t say that. I don’t think it.

    Prostitution is what it is; an occupation in which sexual activity is exchanged for payment. Sometimes workers are exploited, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes prostitution is exploitative, sometimes it isn’t.

    That is, in fact, exactly my point. Why do you think you’re disagreeing with me?

  29. says

    In a country where prostitution is legal and a a brothel is a properly constituted business (taxable etc) I cannot see that denying clients on the basis of race (or gender)can be anything other than discriminatory. It’s bad enough that Churches in some countries enjoy immunity from discrimination laws without allowing it for brothels too.
    It is fair enough to fire a client for behavioural or personal hygeine reasons but in a society that presumeably thinks sex workers provide a socially useful service they would need to be subject to the same laws as any other service industry.
    What this means in practice to a sex worker’s ability to choose their clients I don’t know, but it could provide for some interesting lawsuits.

  30. says

    Chas Warren @ #25:

    …She makes the point that exploitation is not an inherent part of the industry.

    This is correct, in the progressive West. It isn’t correct for the majority of prostitutes in Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, and many other countries where prostitution and exploitation are virtually synonymous.

    Your arguments do not support the notion of exploitation being inherent to prostitution. Possible, obviously; common, maybe; ubiquitous, it seems in some places. But to say that it is inherent is to argue that prostitution simply cannot exist without exploitation. This is clearly false, and I think it is equally clear that we would all like to see the exploitation factor removed from prostitution wherever it exists. Sure you’ll agree that Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam would be better of if prostitutes were not exploited? If exploitation were inherent, that wouldn’t even be a coherent question for me to ask.

  31. gwen says

    My point is, you cannot generalize prostitution. You cannot assume it is always the woman/girl’s choice. Working as a nurse, I have seen many exploited teens and object to the newspapers calling them ‘child prostitutes’ when in fact, they are ‘prostituted children’ and victims of other adults. I have no problem with adults who want to be prostitutes, but I have a problem with feel good generalizations that all of the women (and men) are in it by choice. My cousin was a tragic example of this.

  32. Greta Christina says

    My point is, you cannot generalize prostitution. You cannot assume it is always the woman/girl’s choice.

    I’m not generalizing prostitution. I’m not saying that it always is the prostitute’s choice (whether female or male). I’m saying that it often is. Here’s they key phrase in what I said: “Yes, there are some sex workers for whom this isn’t true: ones who are in extreme dire financial straits, or ones who work for extremely abusive and exploitatative brothels. But it’s by no means an inherent part of the industry.”

    And I just realized that I misspelled “exploitative.” Oh, well.

  33. says

    The two views also have importantly different consequences. If you assume that prostitution is not inherently exploitative, but is sometimes incidentally so, then a rational course of action becomes to combat exploitative practices in prostitution, improving legal protection for sex workers, and so on.

    If, on the other hand, you assume that prostitution is inherently exploitative, it makes no logical sense to combat exploitation separately from prostitution; ergo it makes sense instead to combat prostitution as a whole.

    The latter seems like a more common legal practice, but from what I can tell ends up hurting sex workers by alienating them from the police, driving them into more dangerous situations, and reinforcing social stigmas that put them at greater risk of abuse.

  34. says

    Greta Christina @ #18

    Deb @ #13

    What fraction of people who do sex work are in a good position to provide that service on their own terms and what fraction aren’t?

    I don’t know the answer to that. Sex work is illegal in most of the world, which makes it hard to get accurate statistics about.

    I find it tempting to think that prostitutes working in exploitative circumstances can easily become overrepresented in both media and statistics. Street walkers, after all, can be found and polled with relative ease. Escorts who require pre-booked and verified appointments are probably harder to find in easily-surveyed numbers. Besides, since sex worker in exploitative circumstances are better news, more important to help, and so on, I suspect they get more press and attention both from people who genuinely want to help and from people who just want to write lurid headlines.

    This is not intended to detract from the plight of those who are exploited. Awful, awful things happen to these people (and the people who so exploit them deserve awful, awful things). I just think we should be cautious to assume that because exploitative prostitution exists, and is perhaps more visible than non-exploitative prostitution, it must therefore necessarily be more common. It does not, in fact, necessarily follow. And it’s hard for me to see how accurate statistics could be gathered.

  35. Quinapalus says

    Purely on the subject of the postscript: of course I knew that men do sex work too, but nothing brought that home to me like Kirk Read’s performances at Perverts Put Out, and I have you to thank for bringing that to my attention. SF Bay Area readers: next one’s in January. Come on out, it’s a blast!

  36. Ben says

    This makes a lot of sense internally, but I’m confused by something in the Marcotte article you quote. Since it’s somewhat important to the thesis I’d like to think aloud.

    “Men’s sex and dating advice tends to be more on the grounds of being a better consumer. Pick-up artist books and websites aren’t interested in teaching men how to improve the product so more women want to buy.”

    I think this is a very shallow and misleading description. Here’s what I believe is actually going on:

    “Men’s sex and dating advice tends to be more on the grounds of increasing the woman’s perception of the man’s value. Pick-up artist books and websites _are_ interested in teaching men how to better advertise the product so more women want to buy.”

    Note that in my rephrase, men’s sex and dating advice is virtually identical to women’s sex and dating advice. The confusion could stem from the fact that women and men are different?

    Namely, that when choosing mates, male and female tend to seek different things.

    “Women with more valuable products — i.e., more attractive women”

    …are probably going to be better at producing babies. So men look for mates who are likely to be young enough and healthy enough to be fertile and to survive childbirth. When a woman can’t get a date, it makes sense that the advice is “Try to look like you’re healthier (and ideally younger)”, because that’s what men look for.

    In contrast, women look for mates who are powerful enough to provide resources. When a man can’t get a date, it makes sense that the first line of advice is not “bulk up those pects”, but rather “Try to look like you’re high-status, a good provider, reliable…”. Pickup artistry for men involves trying to generate the social cues that women (or womens’ DNA) want to see. Having a nice body helps, but it’s vastly less important than good character. The WHOLE PREMISE of PUA is that you have to get the woman to choose you (“and here’s how…”).

    Male PUA is about trying to show off (or simulate) good character just as female PUA is about trying to show off (or simulate) a healthy body.

    As for who’s choosing, I really don’t get that, although perhaps I’m just not sufficiently culturally aware. Here’s what’s confusing me: sure, men are expected to pursue, so an ignorant observer from another planet might assume that the men are choosing. But women obviously choose (they just don’t put their egos on the line). In fact, I’ll argue that women are far choosier than men–and that men know this, and that any cultural “expectation” to the contrary must be universally recognised as a fantasy! A woman who “can’t get laid” generally means that she can’t get laid with anyone worthwhile, whereas a man may well honestly mean that he can’t get laid. So who is choosier?

    So I guess I’m saying that Marcotte’s piece and GC’s framing of it don’t make sense because everyone knows that women are at least as choosy as men. In fact, perhaps the fact that prostitutes are rumoured not to be choosy stems from the fact that amateurs are _so_very_very_ choosy: if women weren’t choosy, there would be no market for sex for money (at least until people start to wonder about the standard skill difference between untrained amateurs and highly trained professionals in any field…).

  37. Kagehi says

    Namely, that when choosing mates, male and female tend to seek different things.

    Actually, this may be a misnomer. Most studies on the subject are “self report”, so, things like, “How many lovers have you had.”, “what do you look for in a mate”, etc. tend to be exaggerated by men and women, either higher or lower, due to a perception that they need to give a “correct” answer. Studies conducted on cases like dating sites, or those goofy things where you sit at tables until a bell rings, show that the differences tend to vanish, when in a situation where all the stereotypical, self reporting, isn’t going on. While differences may exist, they are far narrower than they *seem* to be, based on studies where the people involved where responding based not on real reactions, rather than the preconceptions they have grown up with, which would otherwise tend to bias their statements.

    In short – Ask them, and you get one answer, observe them, and you get a completely different one.

  38. Ben says

    Kagehi:

    Oh? But enormous observed behavioural differences abound!

    “While differences may exist, they are far narrower than they *seem* to be, based on studies where the people involved where responding based not on real reactions, rather than the preconceptions they have grown up with, which would otherwise tend to bias their statements.”

    If what you say is true, I would expect the mean age difference of dating couples to be about 0. I would expect to see the mean wealth difference between dating couples at about 0. I would expect to see pickup artists of both genders using similar techniques. Why do I see so few rich older women dating hot but dumb younger men, while the converse seems to happen frequently? Why, on every OkCupid blog I’ve read, are there large differences between the observed contact/messaging patterns of men vs. women? Given that theory gives us “good” reasons for the behavioural differences _and_ the differences seem to me to be ubiquitous, I have a hard time believing your claim. Can you pass along some citations?

  39. Kagehi says

    Was going to say, no, I don’t, but, I think, at least some of these things are brought up in studies described in the book Quirkology – http://www.amazon.com/Quirkology-Discover-Truths-Small-Things/dp/0465090796. Seems there is a website dedicated to the same things too: http://richardwiseman.wordpress.com/quirkology-the-curious-science-of-everyday-life/

    Just to cover the ones you name though:

    Age difference – Based on real statistics, or self reported? Again, most studies rely on the later, the other being.. way harder to collect. The assumption though is, sadly, that the participants will be honest. The “quirk” in this case seems to be that they are not. Men are culturally expected to be a certain way, and end up exaggerating, women are expected to the the opposite, and will under report. The average, for example, of lovers per year, for both men any women, based on less indirect, self reported, data, seems to be 1-2. Men, in “most” studies where, I think.. 6? I don’t remember exactly. Women, 0-1, which is also statistically wrong.

    Pickup artists – The same place I found the above they also observed that *effective* pickups tended to be ones that women wrote. In other words, if you are a woman that wants to attract a guy, write one yourself. If you are a guy, that wants to attract a woman, have a woman write it. This is highly cultural, not gender linked. Some men do fairly well, but understand that the shit that they are *expected* to use to pick up women, or even describe themselves for a dating service, are mostly useless. Why? Because, it turns out, neither men *or* women, save for the stupid ones, fall for them.

    Older women + younger men – cultural. You don’t see it, because its flat out not acceptable, while the other is considered so, and the reason is generational bias about what is “proper”, or can be “overlooked”, not genetic.

    OkCupid – Again, see the issue above, about women being able to write better descriptions, and one assumes communications, than men, when trying to attract either sex. That men follow the same old patterns that they have seen other men use, and on TV, and in books, etc., doesn’t mean a genetic predisposition to that, it means they learn how to date from, mostly, their same sex friends, and the cultural ideal of how to do that, for men, is bloody stupid. It can be unlearned though. Now, you could argue that some predisposition to continuing to use the worst methods of communication possible exists, but how much of that is the cultural views of how they *should* act, and how much is genetic?

    In any case, the theory is, as I said, based on self reporting, and **does not take into account cultural bias**. That later part is a big problem. Since nearly every culture on the planet has arisen out of cultures that are biased against/for men and women acting in specific ways, how do you find a cultural “baseline” to test against, which doesn’t include that bias. And if you have no neutral group, or any way to effectively bias the others, so that your “neutral” becomes the normal population, you can hardly claim that you have run tests, or collected data, which is valid, outside of the existing bias. It would be like arguing that fish are inherently wet, because you couldn’t find any fish that where not in water.

    The specific claim, of “wetness” is a result of the state in which they exist, not their state out of water. All you are saying is, “Fish are wet, because they live in water.” It doesn’t follow that they live in water, because they are wet. Yet, this is precisely what “theory” about how men and women act has been treated. “Given existing conditions, men act such way, and women this other way.” But, the assumption, which cannot be derived logically from that, without some way to remove the variables, is being asserted that, “Men act like X, because they are X, while women act like Y, because they are Y, hence the *environment* we find them in.” I.e., “its wet, because fish live there.”

    Unless you eliminate the variables, and the biggest one of those is what they “say” versus what actually *works*, and they actually *do*, given real opportunity, you can’t derive a rule from it. And, in some cases, like the rich woman chasing a younger man, the simple reality is a) it probably happens more than we think, but they don’t marry them, b) they won’t tell you the truth about it, and c) there is a cultural bias against it, which likely overrides any inclination that they might otherwise have, in many cases. So.. figure out how to remove those variables *first*, then tell me what the actual genetic behavior is. Because, based on studies done “in the water”, as it where, you can’t get there from here.

  40. says

    How the heck did I miss this?

    Hrm.

    Anyway. It’s too bad Marcotte couldn’t have incorporated this sort of analysis in her post. Instead she marginalized sex workers in her argument right from the first paragraph. I didn’t take it well. And THEN she linked to prohibitionist research, making a swipe at men who visit prostitutes for no apparent reason. Didn’t take that well either. Don’t even get me started on the comments section over there. Yikes. It ended up being almost entirely about sex work and it was vicious.

  41. sweetcaroline997 says

    I have read the article and all of your comments. I think that many of us are brainwashed by the cult of multiculturalism, which prevents us from having the freedom to make our own choices/have our own opinions, and makes us feel guilty if our opinions do not coincide with imposed ideology.
    Stereotypes exist for a reason. Although it is often unfair, racial profiling has in many circumstances kept people safe. For example, in Israel, racial profiling for airport security is not questioned; it simply is and has kept their airport free from attacks for over 20 years.
    For people who watch the news regularly, every day you will see stories about violence against women, and perpetrators of certain ethnicities top the charts. It is not prudent to ignore this factor when your safety or your life is in the hands of a complete stranger.
    Sex work puts women at a much higher risk for violence and exploitation (I am referring to women who freely choose sex work). Her safety and well-being are more important than hurting people’s feelings.
    If an escort arrives at a client’s room and he doesn’t like her for racial reasons, does he not have the freedom to send her away? Why should it be different for the sex worker, if she doesn’t like him or want to be with him for whatever reason?
    Let’s face it: females are indoctrinated that it is “mean and against sanctioned feminine behaviour” to hurt someone’s feelings. We are constantly putting other’s feelings above our own needs. As a university student, I know so many young women who’ve gone on dates, and, when asked for sex, agreed only because she didn’t want to hurt his feelings and/or because women are easily manipulated into thinking that a man who is nice to her and buys her dinner is entitled to her body, which coincides with not hurting his feelings by saying no. Women need to wake up and learn to say no, and that it’s ok to be assertive-which is why modern feminism has transformed the word bitch into something positive-a woman who is assertive and not afraid to say no, to have an opinion, to stand up for herself, etc.
    Sex work is still sex, and every sex worker should not be made to feel like a hater because of her personal preferences regarding which clients she will and will not see, just like a client is free to choose which worker he would like to see.
    The reasons don’t have to be racial either. Women have strong intuition. If she doesn’t want to see someone for whatever reason she shouldn’t have to feel bad for it. Many clients are indirectly judgmental, some are unpleasant, some are jerks, some are not hygienic. It really doesn’t matter, we have the right to say no.
    (Sorry for referring to the workers as females, I don’t mean to sound sexist).
    I cannot comment on women who are forced into the industry via force, trafficking and enslavement. All I can say is that it is an atrocity and a crime against humanity for a client to see a worker if he feels she is in this situation; he is committing rape. I have read many accounts of men regarding this matter, their attitude of indifference clearly paves the way for the industry to keep blossoming and flourishing; they clearly feel that she is an object and not a real person. In my 3 years as an escort only one client has ever asked me if I was in the business by choice.
    When the world cup took place in Germany, it was on the news that thousands of trafficked sex workers had been shipped in to accomodate the tourism accompanying the event. It was on the news, human rights advocates and feminists were pleading with the public to have some compassion and refrain from visiting these unfortunate ladies. No one cared. The response to the media’s pleas were indifference and apathy. Why should we care was one commentator’s response that I specifically remember.
    If clients see us as objects-they clearly are since the very act of it all is the objectification of women-we should regard them as the same. To me they’re ATMs who do not deserve my respect and I hate all of my clients, even though most of them are nice, let’s not be stupid-the patriarchal-patrineal view of sex workers is mysogynistic as well as many many other negative things. Society’s views are shaped by the beliefs of men. Virtually all men have supported the industry in some way, whether through prositution, visiting exotic dancers, watching porn, etc. They create the demand, they are the cause, and then turn around and depict us as immoral/deserving of mistreatment and contempt. They are the hypocrites who’ve created the double standard and have done little to change it in order to keep their favoured positions (the negative focus on the workers and not the men-who are the root cause) and keep the status quo. Ok I can talk forever thank you for patiently tolerating my rant and I’m not sorry if I’ve offended anyone, because I speak the truth as it is. If female sex workers want to foolishly think these guys don’t trash talk you behind your back to their buddies then you are blind-men talk shit about ALL women, especially those who are not “respectable”- in a way that is deragatory, chauvinistic and mysogynistic. They don’t give a fuck about you. If they’re nice to you it’s because they want the GFE, preferrential treatment, extended free time, freebies, and/or free psychologist. It’s cleverly disguised as courtesy but is based on selfish gain.

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