I hadn’t really intended this blog to become the “busting myths about sex work” site. But comments in my recent posts about sex work have been bringing a barrage of myths and generalizations about it, so I’m taking a little time to shoot them down.
Today’s myth: Sex work is always an impersonal, entirely commercial interaction: an exchange of physical pleasure for money, with no emotion, caring, or human connection. It was recently expressed in my blog by jose, who wrote:
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.
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.
Okay. First of all, jose: 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 commented later in the thread, a “twisted” view of sex. It’s just a different view of sex from yours. Do you really think your personal experience of sex is the only possible one, or the only valid one? Hey, I don’t like broccoli — but I don’t sit in pissy judgement of people who do.
But more to the point for today’s myth:
You’re assuming that there can be no personal connection between a prostitute and a client. And that is just flatly not the case. Lots of prostitutes and other sex workers like their clients — some of them, anyway — and experience a real connection with them. They enjoy the sex, and experience it as not only a physical pleasure, but an emotional one. This isn’t universally true for all sex workers — but it’s often true for many of them. And it happens more often with regular customers — but it can also happen with first-time or one-time customers.
When you think about it carefully, this myth makes no sense. Think about other professionals. If you see a therapist, do you assume that the connection between you isn’t real because you’re paying for their time? What about your doctor? Heck, what about your hair stylist, or the barrista you chat with every day at the cafe? People can offer a professional service — and still enjoy providing that service, and feel a genuine, caring connection with the people they’re providing it for. And that goes for sex as well.
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 will like. And the book is filled with stories from sex workers — prostitutes, but also professional dominants, strippers, phone sex workers, and more — who tell about customers they genuinely liked and felt real intimacy with. I’m one of them: I never worked as a prostitute, but I worked as a stripper, and I had customers I felt a strong connection with, and deeply enjoyed dancing for, and who I remember fondly to this day. And in fact, many prostitutes say that much of what their customers want is not so much the sex, but the conversation, and the cuddling, and the other not- specifically- sexual forms of connection and intimacy.
So knock it off with the judgment, okay? If paying for sex isn’t for you, then it isn’t for you. But the way you view sex is not the only possible one, and it’s not the only valuable one. Please stop with the hostile judgments of other people’s consensual sexual choices, just because they’re different from your own. Thanks.