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.