The Sex Workers' Freshers Stall at my University; fresh?
Should we be outraged or should we be celebrating
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Should some things be sacred? Or is it OK that money can buy you anything.
I’m currently at the University of Sussex, and they, as well as Brighton University, had a sex workers' stall at their freshers event.
Interesting facts for you: 0.1% of the UK population are sex workers, but this figure is presumed to be far lower than the reality & one in 20 UK students have worked in the sex industry to fund their studies.
Swop, the charity who held the stalls, tweeted: 1 in 6 students does sex work or thinks about turning to sex work. We can help.
Being involved in sex work and THINKING about sex work are worlds apart. I would count in that stat of ‘thinking’ about sex work. I've nearly replied to the suspect Gumtree ads on many an occasion... But these were times in my life when I was lonely, poor-ish or maybe just drunk and bored, and horny?! I also did a lot of research into the market of panty selling, but it turns out to be a lot of hassle for not much gains, so too with being a phone sex operator; it takes up far too much time and commitment to get started. Anyway the point is, when I have considered some form of sexual activity in exchange for money, these have not been at my brightest and most joyous times in life.
I also nearly paid to have sex with a prostitute (well, the guy I was with was going to pay) but when we were in the car outside we had second thoughts about whether it was all too sleazy and whether we would perhaps just get robbed, so we left. Or possibly we sobered up slightly and were like ‘wait - wtf are we doing?!’
In her book ‘Slutever’, Karley Sciortino describes her experience of being a sex worker in various forms, including prostitution, and she eloquently describes her quiet (or actually loud I suppose) rage at the way people assume all sex workers are vulnerable ‘victims’ who need to be saved from themselves. Her point is that she got paid a shitload of money, to have sex with some men, when she would have probably been out having drunken, just as meaningless, one night stands and not getting paid (whilst instead doing a degrading waitress job for minimum wage) and that there are many educated, sane people actively choosing sex work and doing so very happily. And this it must be said is a pretty damn tempting argument for being a sex worker. (She does though point out her experience was one at top of the sex workers chain, with the highest gains and the least exploitation and is in no way representative of all sex workers - basically the ‘ideal’ scenario that most people are not privileged enough to get).
But before you buy some suspenders and make an online profile and wait for the money to roll in, wait to hear the other side.
Firstly, as Karley says herself, she was in an abusive relationship for a while, was also previously a drug addict (no judgement there though, me too) and also drinks far too much (again - likewise), she also worries about ever having a long lasting monogamous relationship because she is too hellbent on being totally sexually free, and happens to have been brought up in a sexually repressed religious family. I love her book and I have huge respect for her, but I’m just pointing out that this is someone who is often acting upon their FOMO and their addictions (because I recognise myself in a lot of what she says). But was she harmed by doing any of the things she did? No. She actually benefited in many ways. What she was doing on some occasions was enabling other people’s self-harm (including a guy that gets himself into financial difficulty because he gets turned on by giving women all his money). When she has qualms about getting paid for sex with men who are married; her experienced friend advises - ‘Don’t worry; if you weren’t doing it, someone else would be.’ Which, I think we can all agree is definitely not a way to live your life; because why not just do whatever the f*ck you want and have no moral obligations!? There will ALWAYS be someone who would do that sh*tty thing anyway (why bother to avoid buying plastic… why not steal a pensioners savings... etc).
In Melissa Febos’ book ‘Whip Smart’ she, another intelligent and admirable woman, describes her experiences as a highly paid and sought after dominatrix. And again, at first, it seems like a fairly fine way to earn money (if you don’t mind spending a lot of time being surrounded by piss when you and your gfs are weeing on your customers) (if you’ve ever worked in a club and had to clean up sick - I know what I would rather smell…) But eventually she concludes that there is a disconnect between the outwardly empowered strong personas of the dominatrixes she works with and their real life relationships that tend to leave them miserable, insecure and used. (She also eventually sought help for her drug and addiction problems).
So too it must be pointed out that a common theme of these tales is that of powerful wealthy men coming to them, usually cheating on their wives and wanting to be humiliated as a way of releasing tension and feeling powerless; in contrast to the immense power they have in their jobs.
My thoughts would be perhaps it would be better if all these wealthy men weren’t allowed to just do whatever the f*ck they wanted without judgement, because they can pay to, and that instead they took a long hard look at their lives; at the wives they are betraying and quite likely also at the high powered jobs they engage in that are exploiting resources and people across the world (not all of them, but many I’m sure).
In spite of all this, my examples are very narrow and there are many instances of the sex workers in these tales being a valid and valuable therapeutic outlet for their customers. In summary, what I have taken from my outsiders research is that sex work is something to be celebrated in some circumstances, but certainly not all.
People who bare their most private trials and triumphs deserve to be applauded, not slagged off. So while it may seem like I'm being critical of the two authors, I celebrate their honesty and they will no doubt be helping many people. Ultimately the choices they made led them to a place of satisfaction and self awareness, deeper than many people have, and their sex work was part of this. Besides, he who casts the first stone etc; when I was single I had teeerrible boundaries with men who weren't single, like, if the gf wasn't there, fuck 'em right? This attitude is something that I'm sincerely not proud of (can I blame it on being young?).
Karley’s point is that people shouldn’t be so patronising; that a lot of sex workers are simply being practical and not only that, are enjoying their jobs (and that perhaps the reason why we object to a lot of this stuff is simply because we’re scared that we’re missing out on the fun). But a distinction should be made surely, between for example the pornstar who is happy with their job and is creating potentially informative and entertaining art for people, vs the woman who sleeps with rich married men; who is not benefitting anyone apart from herself and the man (whilst he lies to his wife).
And where DO the older women stand in all of this? Men are incredibly visual creatures when it comes to being turned on and young women are incredibly beautiful. If older men can just buy younger women, wtf are older women supposed to do? Get a boobjob and shut the f up?! No thanks.
Furthermore, this has just been about the supposedly ‘glamorous’ end of it all, because of course there is a nasty, violent, non-consensual reality to some sex work.
So what about the University stalls; friend or foe?
If a university is saying look, we know how f*cking skint this is making you, why dont you sell your pussy? Then clearly, that’s a serious f*cking problem.
But it is better to have conversations out in the open. I must defend the charity involved because obviously they are doing a very good thing by trying to make sure sex workers are not exploited and they cannot avoid treading on the precarious edge of being supportive vs being encouraging.
18 is not the time to decide whether to take up any such career because you don’t have enough experience in your own long term sexual (money-free) relationships yet; and especially not when you’re in a new situation where you’re likely to be lonely.
I started having sex when I was 13 and at the time I was like pffft what is all the fuss about. At 17 I still hadn’t had an orgasm during sex but then by 18 I had and I would have classified myself as an Experienced-Empowered-Autonomous Sexual Person and if someone had told me 'they knew what was best for me' I would have wanted them to p*ss off. But I certainly lacked many important ‘autonomous’ skills; like knowing how to tell a guy I wasn’t enjoying something without worrying too much about offending him. Now I’m 24 I’m glad I never found out whether that prostitute’s pimp would have robbed us or not and I’m glad that I haven’t acted upon my sex work curiosities and that I don’t have a load of memories of weird men saying creepy sh*t to me.
Even more so in the USA it’s purported that sex work is how many women fund their studies, because why wouldn’t you do that, when you might be in another minimum wage job getting disrespected by your sh*tty customers on the table you’re waiting or being bullied by your c*nt of a boss and still ending up with mounting debts (american students have to pay back their $120,000 Uni fees as soon as they finish their studies, even if they are unemployed). But that is a serious problem with exploitation and inequality in their society - selling vaginas is not a way to fix that. Interestingly, their university fees are 3x higher than ours and their rate of sex workers is 3x higher than ours. And who, at the end of the day, is benefitting THE MOST from this whole setup? The super wealthy men; profiting from their exploitative businesses, and buying young pussy whenever they fancy it.
Ultimately, WHY does it matter if young people, or people in general, are being encouraged to sell their bodies, if they are not being HARMED?
My mum once said (a biased sample, clearly): “When you’re older and you have gone through more of life you have experienced a lot of loss, and those things that will always be yours become more precious and important..." Basically, if you’ve sold the very innermost part of you, then literally what do you have?
Nowadays in the UK we are fairly free from oppressive forms of religion, which is good, but losing a sense of some higher purpose or of anything sacred in life does not make us happy. We are slave to reason and intellect and in our culture anything can be reasoned to be totally fine if you cannot explicitly point to the harm being done; to ‘prove it’. But what about our gut instinct? Western culture is an abused and confused one with high levels of mental health problems. We are also losing our enjoyment from the simple things in life; staring at screens instead of enjoying the feel of the sun on our face. The more numbed you are; the more extreme sensations you need to be able to feel. The less important and special things are, the less enjoyable.
And of course we’re all thinking about selling ourselves when one of the most famous families in the world have essentially gotten there by being prostituted out by their mother (too harsh? Yes, but still). The rise of the Kardashian family is a sad thing to have witnessed and it saddens me even more that so many people encourage and enjoy the display. Whenever I flick over to their programme all I see are anxious, insecure girls being pressured by their mother to use their bodies to make more money.
That so many people actually aspire to be like this family is without a doubt, concerning.
Constantly seeking attention is not regarded as a good attribute to have, but now we’re all posting photos of our t*ts and arses for likes and no one is allowed to say - stop f*cking doing that - because then you would be infringing on their liberty and besides you would just be disregarded as a SQUARE. The abuse of power is also not regarded as a good attribute but when we as women, with the immense sexual power that we have over men, constantly abuse this power for attention; it is bad for the men, bad for us and bad for the other women we are implicitly competing with. But it’s so easy and so tempting! Everytime I go on Instagram, after a while I think, well… why don’t I put up a photo of me looking hot as sh*t, I’m sure it would encourage more people to go on my website... And occasionally I do, but often I don’t, because my gut tells me that it’s not a good thing for us all to be doing.
If sex isn’t special; what is, in life? This is not an argument against sex work, because some of it enables people to have incredibly special sexual experiences, but it is an argument against seeing sex (or anything remotely sexual) as a casual commodity that is no more valuable than a bit of fancy paper.
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