In Dutch we have a saying “unknown is unloved”, you can’t love what you don’t know. It’s easier to negatively judge a group of people when they are nothing but ‘others’, a group of ‘they’ who are different from us. That’s why visibility is so important when you’re fighting for human rights. When you personally know a gay person it becomes harder to be anti-gay and homosexuals coming out of the closet was an important part of the LGBT movement. I’m completely open about the fact that I am a kinky, polyamorous bisexual because I think it has a positive impact on the emancipation of people who fall outside the heterosexual, monogamous vanilla norm. Outspoken sex workers force others to accept that prostitutes, not victims of trafficking or coercion, but actual sex workers with opinions and choices who demand some basic respect for their autonomy in fact exist. It makes it harder to treat us, the sexual ‘others’, as non-human concepts to theorise about, and instead it gives us a face, a humanity.
That’s why I was so happy to read the guest column by Hugo on Maggie McNeill’s blog. Clients of sex workers are perhaps the most stigmatised and misunderstood people in the entire sex work debate. When you hear people talk about clients of sex workers, they are often portrayed as horrible abusers who don’t care if a woman is crying and bruised if it means they pay a few dollars less for her body. It’s that disgusting stigma that’s behind a lot of the trafficking-rhetoric, the idea that most clients could not care less about her well-being and that there is in fact a big market for abused, tattooed, caged and malnourished girls.
But the fact is that a lot of men pay for sex. There are many sex workers, they all have multiple clients and assuming those clients are not rich enough to see all sex workers, there are more clients than prostitutes. We know that true psychopaths, people with anti-social personality disorder who enjoy the suffering of others, are thankfully extremely rare. So it logically follows that most clients are normal, normal men buy sex.
And they seem to want to buy sex. The filthy fantasy of evil men enjoying the purchase of women’s bodies exists mostly in anti-prostitution activists’ heads. In reality, normal men want to buy a sexual service, a sexual experience with a provider who chose the profession out of their own free will. They are looking for a professional service for all kinds of reasons. Because they are in a sexless marriage but do not want to start an affair. Because they have a certain kink. Because they have no other way of arranging sexuality in their lives. Because casual sex is a turn on, because of the novelty and new experiences it brings. Because they want to have sex with an attractive woman. But not because they want to ‘buy a body’ on a ‘flesh market’, and they certainly would not want a crying, bleeding woman who is chained and abused (unless that’s her kink and they all consent, obviously).
I can’t even count how many women I know who would like to do sex work but are too afraid of the consequences, the stigma, the discrimination, the violence against sex workers by state and police. None are afraid of the clients, and no sex worker I know reports clients as being the biggest problem. Instead, it’s always the rescuers, the police and the state who seem to do them the most harm and show true disrespect.
The clients? They’re just normal guys who buy sex.