From the Archives: A Skeptic’s View of Love »« Greta in Boston and Cambridge, Oct. 22 and 23

More Thoughts on “Selling Your Body”

When I was a kid, I once asked my mother what a whore was. (I’d heard the word in the Simon & Garfunkel song “The Boxer.”) She said, with obvious discomfort, that it was “a woman who sold her body.” I found this entirely confusing: I pictured someone cutting off their arms and legs and selling them. I had no idea why anyone would want to buy someone else’s body parts — and I had no idea how you could earn a sustainable living that way. It seemed like a career with a very short arc.

I still find the phrase entirely confusing. It makes no sense.

Like I said in yesterday’s post: A prostitute is not someone who “sells their body.” A prostitute is someone who charges money for a service. As retired prostitute Carol Queen put it in my book Paying For it: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients, “We sex workers do not sell our bodies. We ask you to pay for our time.” (For that matter, a prostitute is also not necessarily a woman…. but that’s a rant for another time.)

There are people in the world with professions that you could consider “selling your body.” Egg donors; plasma donors; sperm donors. I used to hear rumors (no idea if they’re true) that some universities would pay you money if you bequeathed them your body for medical research after you died: that could certainly be considered “selling your body.”

But charging money for sex is no more “selling your body” than charging money for, say, physical therapy or massage, giving haircuts or giving manicures. There are lots of professions that charge money for time spent providing persona, hands-on services. We don’t say that these people are “selling their bodies.”

And if we don’t want to marginalize and dehumanize sex workers — and horribly confuse future generations of young Simon & Garfunkel fans — we should stop saying that this is what prostitutes are doing.

Comments

  1. Ally says

    Yeah, I always found the ‘selling your body’ definition to be really weird, too. Since when are people entirely defined by the way they have sex? Since when is sex literally integral to our physical presence? Prostitutes are paid to do something for someone, just like any other service. It involves your body, sure… like pretty much every other service out there, ever, unless you have some form of telekinesis, I can only suppose? (Actually, your mind is part of your body, too, isn’t it? Well, damn. It’s body all the way down.)

    I also find it weird that whenever I make this argument people seem to find it a good comeback to ask whether or not I would want to be a prostitute. Well, no…in much the same way I can not want to be a construction worker or football player or make-up artist without treating the people who are as though they are broken people who surely could only feel dead inside due to their occupation. Utterly bizarre.

  2. becca says

    I’m confused. If I sell blood as part of a research study, is that supposed to be marginalizing and dehumanizing?
    “Selling your body” isn’t marginalizing and dehumanizing because there’s anything wrong with literally selling bodyparts (particularly the ones that regenerate, or that you have excess of!), “selling your body” is marginalizing and dehumanizing because that’s how we consider sex work.

    While I’ll grant that it’s distinctly inaccurate to call it “selling your body” if one is a literal minded young Simon and Garfunkel fan, we could call sexwork “fancygoodtimeselling” and it would eventually be considered marginalizing and dehumanizing to do “fancygoodtimeselling”.
    I’m happy to call it sex work, or fancygoodtimeselling, or whatever you like, and maybe it will help, but I do think it doesn’t really get to the root of the problem.

  3. kosk11348 says

    Well, prostitutes are selling access to their bodies. They differ from hairdressers and masseuses in that they aren’t merely doing something to the client’s body, but allowing the client to do things to them. The nearest equivalent I can think of is probably competitive sports, were there is an implicit consent for mutual physicality. Or maybe a wet nurse would be the better equivalent.

  4. says

    But, but… how are we supposed to enjoy their services if we don’t dehumanize them first?!?!?!

    Seriously though, I’m with becca on this: whatever euphemism people choose for sex workers is dehumanizing BECAUSE it describes sex workers, not the other way around.

  5. barbarienne says

    Technically, they’re not being paid just for their time, but also for their expertise and skill; and as I understand it, the price varies by specific act as well.

    And according to Charlie Sheen–not that he’s any great authority on anything–he pays them so they will go away. That is, he pays for sex rather than picking up a one-night-stand groupie for free, because a professional sex worker won’t make a big deal out of it later.

    That strikes me as having a hard-nosed practicality. When one person is setting a price and the other is paying the cash, there’s no ambiguity about the romantic nature of the relationship.

  6. Greta Christina says

    To clarify: I’m not saying that changing the language will fix the problem. I’m saying that it’s symptomatic of it. And I’m saying it’s insulting to sex workers, and is a small piece of what perpetuates their marginalization.

    And no, I’m not saying that selling plasma is dehumanizing. :-) That’s kind of my point. Selling plasma is, literally, selling your body — or part of your body — but we don’t use the phrase “selling your body” to describe it.

  7. says

    Don’t forget laborers. How is someone ‘selling their body’ to be used for sex for a period of time different from, say, a painter ‘selling their body’ for a period of time?

  8. kraut says

    “Don’t forget laborers. How is someone ‘selling their body’ to be used for sex for a period of time different from, say, a painter ‘selling their body’ for a period of time?”

    Why is providing sexual service any different from any other labour? Check out how many workers die, actually selling their body, their brain. Check out the forestry industry, the chemical Industry, how many sell their bodies to have pain and suffering inflicted upon it by the workplace conditions, how many die from work related diseases.
    That is less objectionable than selling your services as a sex worker? Why is selling your body and your brain for dangerous work less objectionable than selling the services of among other things you vagina?
    And don’t give me that argument about “child prostitution”. That is simply child abuse.
    The argument sex workers are “forced” into the profession is another ridiculous argument that only somebody who never sold his body to do hard physical labour can advance.

    I never, growing up in Germany where prostitution is legal and regulated, looked down upon prostitutes as lesser beings.

    I find the north american approach to prostitution simply an abomination and idiotic.

  9. Jamie says

    I think Spencer is spot on. Often laborers spend 10 hour days in the blistering sun, doing nothing more than moving tons of rock and gravel from one part of a yard to another. I’ve spent plenty of time laboring, and no one has ever said I was selling my body. Why not?

    How is this any different from sex work? Laborers have a commodity (physical strength and a strong constitution) that the marketplace puts a price on, and people hire them to perform a task using that saleable commodity. This is NO DIFFERENT in any way from sex work – except that sex is still taboo, and manual labor is somehow viewed as intrinsically noble.

    I honestly can’t see the difference

  10. Rike says

    Actually, if you take “selling your body” serious, it would mean you sell it and the buyer owns it from then on. It looks to me that fundamental christian women come closer to selling their bodies when they get married (aren’t they the property of their husbands?) than any prostitute does.

  11. kraut says

    “Actually, if you take “selling your body” serious, it would mean you sell it and the buyer owns it from then on”

    Actually – as a wage slave the employer owns your body/brain for the agreed upon time to extract labour from it.
    Luckily in most instances unions were able to have laws enforced that at least protect that body to some extend from injury, disease or death. But exceptions shows that those laws can be and are broken.

  12. says

    I was going to make the same observation as Rike @10. If you get your body back at the end of the session, then you’re not selling it, you’re simply renting it out.

  13. says

    And I’d almost rather rent my body out for sex than work in a factory again. The pay is apparently better and if done correctly can’t be much more dangerous than some of the jobs I’ve had. Hell, it is hard to see it as being more dehumanizing than working 10-12 hours a day and only getting alternate Sundays off.

  14. Dunc says

    Since when are people entirely defined by the way they have sex? Since when is sex literally integral to our physical presence?

    To quote Twisty Faster: in the eyes of the patriarchy, women don’t have sex, women are sex.

  15. savoy47 says

    I think the reason prostitution is illegal is because women would have wound up with all the money and power long ago.

  16. jose says

    Please someone help me understand why prostitution exists.

    Isn’t sex the ultimately intimate relationship with another? To me the whole point of it is the personal connection. Even if it’s casual sex for fun. You don’t have to know the other person for years to get that kind of link (although it’s different if you do know the other). Just after doing it you don’t even have to talk to know what the other is thinking and feeling. It’s like a mind melding or maybe you’re communicating with your entire body instead of using just the usual bits (mouth, eyes…), I don’t know why that happens.

    Haven’t you noticed that you can actually feel when the other isn’t having much fun? Maybe s/he’s distracted or tired or busy or doesn’t really feel like it for whatever reason or doesn’t really like you. Sometimes they tell you “no, it’s fine”, but I’m not a pneumatic piston, thank you very much. If I’m not going to connect with you, I don’t see the point. Isn’t that the whole point?

    Now, this isn’t a black and white thing, there are many kinds of circumstances and I doubt the different signals (if that’s the word) can be quantified and put in a scale, but in my opinion there is definitely a correlation between bad sex and bad syntony with the other. And that’s why, in my opinion, the sex in a long term relationship is way better.

    But I’m reading here sex is a service to be provided. Like a thing, a good. I want a sex, you sell it to me, I take it, pay and go. Where’s the human link in that? Is that even sex? I guess you would sweat and be tired afterwards… it rather sounds like going to the gym, except you use a woman instead of a workout machine.

  17. kraut says

    “Isn’t sex the ultimately intimate relationship with another?”

    not necessarily. Although I never “hired” someone for sex. I still can imagine when without a partner to have need for sexual activity that is straight for my pleasure alone. And that is what I pay for, a professional service.
    Question: why the assumption that sex and relationship are congruent? This seems to me a christian concept more than anything else.

    “Where’s the human link in that? Is that even sex?”

    where is the human link in going to a good restaurant? I pay for a good meal, not for friendship with the cook. Why do I need a relationship with my doctor who operated my knees, a much more intimate procedure than sex? I don’t want to be friends with him, I want to be fixed.

    Although having a great marriage for the last fourty years, I cannot see that sex and relationship are directly linked.
    At least not for most of that part of the male population I know.
    Sex for money is more like masturbation with professional help.

  18. says

    Confirm. Here are some additional thoughts: “selling the body” is literally not correct, sure. But the information about prostitution is transmitted clear and very powerful. For me this is indication that we have a mere language optimisation and efficiency mechanism at work, which only secondly stigmatizes us, as long as we stay quiet/in the closet/being silenced and don’t educate others in the community, that we feel offended. Great that you and all the others of whore movement2.0 do it now via the net.

    One can interpret the criticised phrase, that just the word “with” was omitted or economized. That is what we do, we use our pimped body for marketing our (timely) services. We push our body or body pictures to the (now virtual) market places and make a deal by using or exploiting our own body, to create fantasies and longing to get contracts for our services, which some of us provide with lots of knowledge, artifice. We know this is a problem for the morally inclined or some fundamentalist feminists, but also can be for ourselves!

    Since it is a sort of trap, that we are our own boss, worker AND means of production and product at the same time. That is the taboo we break and possibly why we are punished by stigma and criminalisation! That transgression of traditional boundaries (public-private, money-sex) is to much for old style society.

    And it is why so many escorts have severe outplacement problems (some love their profession (and lifestyle:-) too much and are not schooled (or tough enough) to plan for the economic decline with age in a stigmatized, clandestine field with unprotected markets…). Hence the prostitution trap arises. Older flesh gets replaced by the demand for newer, younger flesh (migration;-). All that knows society and that sociological knowledge can also be derived from the phrase you and I are criticising.

    Here is a mother who solved the problem to explain it nicely: http://a6.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/260046_157721660967643_127583850648091_353872_8277573_n.jpg

    And here is some bits of wisdom on exit strategies (sex worker outplacement):
    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=294236380591113&set=o.310835971950

  19. jose says

    “I still can imagine when without a partner to have need for sexual activity that is straight for my pleasure alone.”

    I suppose that’s the key. It’s a twisted view of sex if you ask me. Why don’t people just masturbate if they have such a need for their pleasure alone? What’s the other person for?

    “Question: why the assumption that sex and relationship are congruent? This seems to me a christian concept more than anything else.”

    Far from it. As I said, “in my opinion there is definitely a correlation between bad sex and bad syntony with the other”. Doing it with a stranger is usually clunkier because you don’t know the sort of thing she likes so you have to talk a lot more and go a bit trial and error. This doesn’t happen with a regular girlfriend because you know each other and know very well how to read each other and how you like it. It’s not an assumption, it’s a conclusion.

    “where is the human link in going to a good restaurant? I pay for a good meal, not for friendship with the cook.”

    I happen to think sex is more like friendship than like a meal… a personal relationship as opposed to a product to trade. Now a question for you: does this idea of sex as a thing which women offer still apply in terms of real relationships? Do you think your wife is the one who has all the sex stored somewhere and then she gives it to you once in a while? You say “Sex for money is more like masturbation with professional help.” Does that mean that sex in general is masturbation with amateur help?

    Ugh. It’s awful.

  20. kraut says

    “I happen to think sex is more like friendship than like a meal… a personal relationship as opposed to a product to trade.”

    “Now a question for you: does this idea of sex as a thing which women offer still apply in terms of real relationships?”

    The difference – I see not necessarily a connection between sex and relationship, for you this seems to be mandatory.

    The relationship between me and my wife has less to do with sex than to do with friendship, loyalty, achieving goals together.
    Sex is a mutually enjoyed activity that helps to cement that relationship, but is not necessary to it.

    To develop that level of relationship took many years. In the beginning it was sexual attraction and the attraction of our personalities. Sex then was integral part of developing the relationship.
    Going back to the kitchen. Cooking a good meal for each other and serving it with “love” (a word I think is overrated almost to being meaningless) and enjoying it together can be as much an expression of our close relationship as sex.
    But I still can enjoy an excellent meal in an excellent restaurant without having that relationship to the cook.

    Your problem seems to be the unwillingness to acknowledge that sex can mean many things to different people and in different situations. And sex actually can destroy relationships.

    Having not had the experience of commodified sex, I however can still imagine that there is a relationship between the worker and client, as there is one between you and your doctor or your nurse, or anybody who takes care of your needs on a professional level. It is the feeling of receiving a good service for the money spend, and one of being grateful for this service that fulfilled a need.
    Why is taking care of a personal need by sex workers any different from any other professional services?
    That is one thing I cannot grasp.

  21. says

    Please someone help me understand why prostitution exists.

    Isn’t sex the ultimately intimate relationship with another? To me the whole point of it is the personal connection.

    jose @ #16: Prostitution exists because not everyone feels the same way about sex as you do. For many people, sex is a fun, pleasurable physical experience between living creatures. And that isn’t just true for sex work customers. Lots of people have casual, “just for fun” sex who don’t visit prostitutes. And for many people, sex can be both: they value the “intimate personal connection” kind of sex, but can also enjoy and appreciate the “just for fun” kind. The way you view sex is certainly a perfectly valid way of seeing it — but it’s not the only valid way of seeing it. Enjoying sex as simple fun pleasure is not, as you said in #19, a “twisted” view of sex. It’s just a different view of sex from yours. Please stop with the hostile judgments of other people’s consensual sexual choices, just because they’re different from your own.

    And in any case, you’re assuming that there can be no personal connection between a prostitute and a client. I can assure you that this is not the case. Lots of prostitutes and other sex workers like their clients — some of them, anyway — and experience a real connection with them. That’s just as true for sex workers as it is for other professionals. People pay doctors, therapists, hair stylists, etc. for their time — and can still have a genuine, caring connection with them. (In fact, that’s one of the central points of my book, “Paying For It: A Guide By Sex Workers For Their Clients.” Sex workers treat customers better if they like them — so the book tells you how to be a customer that sex workers like.)

  22. John says

    One aspect which I didn’t see mentioned above is physical labor which also carries significant health risks. Just a few jobs that come to mind are physical labor in the petroleum and chemical industry, jobs in factory farms, etc.

    When you exchange a salary for a decent chance of making it to old age through vastly increased rates of cancer and other illnesses, in my opinion, you have sold your body to an extent.

  23. Mel says

    I agree with kosk11348 @ #3. Farm/factory/other manual laborers may suffer bodily effects from their labor, but they are not being physically touched by another adult. I can’t think of any other job that is truly like prostitution in this way. The closest is wet nurse – which someone already mentioned – but being touched by an infant doesn’t seem like an equivalent category of touch. IMHO.

  24. Maria says

    I have to interject with a little experience here.

    Sex work is not selling your body, you still own your body, it’s more like renting it out along with your services.

    However, I cringe when people equate sex work with other services performed like hair dressing, labouring or the like. Sex work is very different.

    Sex is intimate. Having sex with a stranger, for money, is a very intimate thing to do.

    We live in a patriarchal society. Men mostly have power over women, and the vast majority of customers are men. There is a power dynamic here that is just silly to ignore.

    Furthermore the vast majority of sex workers have histories of sexual abuse. There is a reason for this. I never did meet a sex worker who did not have a history of abuse. Not one.

    If you have been sexually abused it’s easier to disconnect your mind from your body. The survival mechanism of disassociation is a useful and often necessary skill in sex work.

    Now I know Greta that you are very pro sex work as simply another lifestyle choice, but every time I see you make this view I have a real problem with it. For myself and all other women I spoke to in sex work we were there out of choice yes, but that choice did not occur in a vacuum. It was a choice borne from our experience of abuse.

    Sex work can have positive aspects, having people repeatedly tell you you’re beautiful is a boost. But overall, over time, I found it to be a dehumanising experience.

  25. scenario says

    I think the phrase selling her body fits in better with old style traditional marriage. When the law states that women lose the right to own property when they get married and society believes that it is ok for a husband to beat or even sometimes kill his wife, from a practical standpoint, the husband owns her.

  26. scenario says

    My question is why is it a dehumanizing experience? Is it a dehumanizing experience in other countries where prostitution has been legal for a long time and is considered a respectable job? Is it inherently dehumanizing or is it dehumanizing because the U.S. culture despises the job?

    I really don’t know if the experiences of women in other countries is the same as women in the U.S. Are there any studies that examine this?

  27. says

    Jose–

    Isn’t sex the ultimately intimate relationship with another?

    No, personally I think a good conversation over dinner is closer to the ultimate intimate relationship. Sex is fun, and sometimes intimate, but my best relationships had and have lots of talking. I had one relationship that was mostly sex (with some fighting), but it wasn’t very intimate. If your idea that sex is the “ultimately [sic] intimate relationship” were true, then that mostly-sex relationship I had should’ve been the most intimate. It was the least intimate.

    Granted, as Greta said, this is largely personal perspective, and not universal truth.

    Just after doing it you don’t even have to talk to know what the other is thinking and feeling

    I do. I can get some hints as to feelings from body language, but if I want to know what they’re thinking, I have to hear words. Perhaps I suck at body language?

    If I’m not going to connect with you, I don’t see the point. Isn’t that the whole point?

    No, it’s not. The point is different things at different times. Sometimes it’s just for fun. Sometimes it’s for procreation. Sometimes it’s for intimacy. When my aunt died, it was to remind myself that I still lived, and my wife still lived, and life would go on. Sometimes it’s for more than one thing at a time.

    But I’m reading here sex is a service to be provided. Like a thing, a good. I want a sex, you sell it to me, I take it, pay and go. Where’s the human link in that? Is that even sex?

    I work with developmentally disabled adults, providing a variety of services, dependent on the specific client. Among the somewhat more practical services (transportation, checkbook balancing, nutrition advice, homework assistance, etc) that I might be called on to provide, I also provide companionship, conversation, a shoulder to cry on, friendship, etc. There are boundaries that I maintain as part of being professional, and as part of my job description, but in some cases, I and my coworkers are the people our clients see the most, and the people they often have the most connection with. Tell me, should any connection that my clients feel with me be considered illusion, because I’m paid to provide my services? By your reasoning, couldn’t you say that my companionship is “like a thing, a good. I want a companion/friend/shoulder, you sell it to me, I take it, pay and go. Where’s the human link in that?” in a manner that implies I shouldn’t be doing this unless I do it for free?

    That, jose, would be twisted. The human link can be there, regardless of money involved.

    Why don’t people just masturbate if they have such a need for their pleasure alone? What’s the other person for?

    Because masturbation doesn’t provide all the different sensations that sex can. I can’t nibble on my own neck after all.

    Doing it with a stranger is usually clunkier because you don’t know the sort of thing she likes so you have to talk a lot more and go a bit trial and error.

    So? You might learn something new, and experience something that you never thought you would enjoy.

    I happen to think sex is more like friendship than like a meal… a personal relationship as opposed to a product to trade

    See my previous comments about my job. I get paid to provide friendship, and I’m glad I do.

  28. Maria says

    “My question is why is it a dehumanizing experience?”

    I found it to be dehumainsing because… it’s really complicated.

    When your sexuality is affected by abuse, as was mine and every single other working girl I got to know enough to ask, then sex work involves a mind / body disassociation as a survival mechanism and as a learned response. Repeatedly, over time, that continued disassociation gets reinforced and part of your humanity is affected.

    Sometimes some sex work can also be abusive. Some situations are abusive, and going into them you never can completely know how it’s going to turn out.

    It’s not an occupation you can be open about with most people, particularly family. So you tend to lead a double life. When people find out they tend to be very judgmental. That’s hard to deal with.

    And to be clear, I’m not American and I don’t live in the United States.

  29. says

    “I think the reason prostitution is illegal is because women would have wound up with all the money and power long ago.” – savoy47

    Truer words are rarely spoken.

  30. kraut says

    “Sometimes some sex work can also be abusive. Some situations are abusive, and going into them you never can completely know how it’s going to turn out.”

    Talk to a worker in the forestry industry, one of the most dangerous still, although the use of heavy machinery has gotten rid of some risks – but created others.
    What about a professional soldier? Abuse in training is par for the course, but I think their services – especially their obligation to serve almost any political master – is vastly overrated and a potential threat to any society, whereas I see prostitution to supply a sometimes essential service.

    I feel sorry for anybody coerced into any job they don’t like or feel threatened by, but prostitution is nothing special, there are jobs out there much more dangerous and children and adults are coerced into those any time of the day without much outcry from our society.

Leave a Reply