Tag Archives: sex work

Helping Victims? Nope, Just Helping Themselves

Many anti-prostitution activists claim they are against prostitution because it victimises women. In their eyes decriminalised sex work would increase forced prostitution and human trafficking, so they feel that the whole sex trade should be stopped. Even women who say they choose sex work are seen as victims of an unjust system, and anti-prostitution activists feel that women who ‘choose’ sex work should be helped by getting them out of poverty, providing proper health care and making other employment options available to them. They’re about helping victims.

Or so they claim.

It’s good money, fighting sex work. Rescue organisations are amazingly well-funded, activists are flown all over the world to speak and it’s a great boost for your career when you were involved in a women’s rights organisation. The salaries are good. Very good.

But I don’t know of any other industry that is so hostile towards to people they claim to want to help. They out sex workers in countries where the sex worker can go to jail for what they did. They tell prostitutes to be silent and actively bully and threaten them when they’re not. They want rich white actresses to speak for whores because actual sex workers are too privileged (wish I made that one up..).

But the worst thing?

They refuse to help actual victims. We’re not sure where they are spending all that money, but it’s not on helping victims in the sex industry.

Sex workers have often contacted rescue organisations and anti-prostitution activists who claim to want to help victims for actual help, but never got any response. Instead, it’s often the sex worker community that actually helps those in need, arrange money, housing, legal aid and other necessities. While at the same time receiving threats, verbal violence and abuse from ‘rescuers’.

I think this is important to realise. Rescuers will often frame it as if they want to help victims while pro-sex work activists just care about themselves and their money, but the opposite is true. For sex workers, it’s their lives, their safety. It’s anti-prostitution activists who profit from the fight against whores.

 

Weitzer and Prostitution Research

Ronald-WeitzerWeitzer, R. (2005) New directions in research on prostitution. Crime, Law and Social Change, 43, 211-235.

Ronald Weitzer is one of the biggest names in sex work research, and his article ‘New directions in research on prostitution‘ from 2005 is one that is very often cited in sex work debates. He’s published quite an impressive collection of books, studies and articles actually. Really cool. Oh and he works as a professor at George Washington University. Imagine having him as a teacher, how awesome would that be.

Anyway, a little information on scientific publications. Some articles report on a specific study done by that researcher. For example, last week I discussed the article by Wismeijer where the research team itself had contacted research subjects, administered tests and interpreted the data, and the article intends to present those findings to the world. But that’s not the only type of article that gets published in scientific journals. Another type of article is the review article, which does not cover original research but instead tries to make sense of a whole collection of already published articles. This is good for a variety of reasons:

  • It gives you a good summary of a lot of what we know about that topic at that time. Say, for example, I want to know the latest developments in the research on panic disorders. By reading a review article I get a good sense of what’s been found, and because scientists cite their sources I can look up the details if I want to.
  • It helps figure out of certain aspects of a topic are under-represented in research. By looking at lots of studies done on a topic and putting it all together it’s easier to see what knowledge we’re still missing.
  • It helps build a more coherent theory on that topic. It’s great when a single study finds that of the 20 sex workers interviewed in that study 18 like their job, but combine that with all the other studies and we might get a more holistic and nuanced idea of the realities of sex work.

So Ronald Weitzer begins by explaining why the dominant theory on sex work, radical feminism, is inadequate. Radical feminism starts with an obvious anti-prostitution agenda, which defines all forms of sex work as sexual violence. You can’t really investigate if sex work is violence if you consider all sex work violence because then obviously you’re going to find sexual violence because that’s how you define sex work and you’re not exactly investigating anything now are you. Other problems with this theory is that it is blind to any variation in prostitution experiences, it’s completely a-historic and makes generalising, essentialist claims that are not at all supported by evidence. It denies any agency of sex workers except when they leave the sex industry and uses a language that does not seem to be fitting. For example, radical feminists use the term ‘prostituted woman’ when prostitutes almost unanimously prefer ‘sex worker’. We need a more sophisticated, comprehensive model of prostitution.

Variation in prostitution

Almost all research is done on the least prevalent form of prostitution: street prostitution. These findings are then often generalised to all forms of sex work and that’s a bit of a problem, because it seems the prostitution market is very segmented between indoor and outdoor workers.

Of indoor workers:

  • 1% were beaten. Yes. One percent.
  • 2% were raped (compare that to the average population..)
  • 30% of call girls received a non-sexual massage from their most recent customer
  • indoor workers had the same physical health, self-esteem, mental health, and quality of their social networks as non-sex worker women
  • 97% report an increase in self-esteem since starting sex work
  • 75% feel their lives have improved after beginning sex work

And the list of wonderful happy findings goes on and on. But street-based sex workers, especially when they have drug-related problems, aren’t doing as well. And that’s an important finding, because that means that we have to figure out what’s going on with street workers. It’s obviously not the sex work itself that’s doing the harm, so how can we understand these findings in a broader context?

Male and transgender prostitution

Almost all research is done on female prostitutes, while male and transgender sex workers are often overlooked. What research so far suggests:

  • men are often involved in prostitution in a more sporadic and transitory way
  • men seem to be less likely to be coerced or forced into prostitution than women
  • male workers can view their work as another form of recreational sex, and seem to experience more sexual gratification from their work
  • male workers are less likely to be harassed or arrested by police than female workers, partly because of police homophobia which tends to discourage contact with male workers
  • transgender workers face greater difficulties than cis-male or even cis-female workers
  • transgender workers do not differ from cis-male and cis-female workers in their level of satisfaction with the work
  • prostitution often gives transgender workers “a sense of personal worth, self-confidence, and self-esteem”

Customers

Customers are by far the largest group in the sex work industry, but are rarely studied. Research so far has suggested:

  • customers wish to buy a sexual service.
  • they look for providers who are friendly, conversational, kiss and cuddle, with elements of romance and intimacy. Not just mechanical sex.
  • arrested customers often feel that visiting prostitutes has caused them troubles and report that they didn’t enjoy sex with prostitutes. Arrested customers, yes.
  • a majority of customers hold the same sort of beliefs the general public holds about prostitution: that prostitutes have pimps, don’t like men and don’t like their work
  • 8% would approve of their daughter becoming a prostitute
  • we know seriously next to nothing about female customers. As in, shockingly little. But we do know they exist.

Managers

Not all prostitution is organised by third parties, for example independent escorts and street workers often work by themselves. But a lot of sex workers do have someone who has some control over their work and extracts some of their earnings, they have some form of management. People familiar with the sex industry will probably think of (often female) managers of brothels, but there’s hardly any research on these managers and the little we have is usually done on (often incarcerated) street-level management, a.k.a. pimps.

This is not covered in the article, but it’s important to note that the term ‘pimp’ is an extremely stereotypical and racist term. We all ‘know’ what a pimp is: a black man with lots of bling bling who beats his ‘bitches’ when they don’t make enough money. Research mirrors this.

Studies so far suggest that street-level management (pimps) are often abusive towards workers. They offer very little protection, but become violent when one of their workers talk to another pimp. On the other hand, findings suggest that indoor workers are often very happy with their management. There is very little known about sex trafficking, partly because trafficking and voluntary migration to do sex work are so often lumped together.

Much more research is needed on the dynamics of recruitment, socialization, surveillance, exploitation, coercion, and trafficking. Such findings will help to provide a more elaborate model of varying power relations in prostitution, ranging from those types where workers experience extreme domination by managers to those where workers experience little exploitation and no coercion. (page 229)

Conclusion

Almost all research has been done on female street workers, arguably one of the absolute smallest groups in the sex industry. This has resulted in a distorted and unbalanced picture. We need more research on indoor workers, male and transgender workers, customers and managers.

Additional research in these areas will also have important theoretical implications, allowing for the development of more sophisticated theories that avoid the pitfalls of one-dimensional perspectives like radical feminism.

Weitzer, R. (2005) New directions in research on prostitution. Crime, Law and Social Change, 43, 211-235.

I can’t even…

Sometimes you read stuff and you just, you can’t even… So in case you were wondering if end-demand laws, criminalisation of clients of sex workers and other ‘Nordic Model’ stuff is to protect women? Yeah. No.

“We don’t want to make life safe for prostitutes, we want to do away with prostitution.”
Senator Donald Plett at a hearing on whether or not Canada should criminalise clients of sex workers.

“Of course the law has negative consequences for women in prostitution but that’s also some of the effect that we want to achieve with the law.”
– Sweden’s trafficking unit head Ann Martin on their laws criminalising clients of sex workers.

From the Web

So Amnesty International has voted to back decriminalisation of sex work! The foundation is that countries “review and repeal laws that make those who sell sex vulnerable to human rights violations”. Beautiful. It’s such good news for sex workers’ rights and human rights in general. Some really good articles have been published so I’m just going to link to some and say “YAY!” a little more. I love that Amnesty had the courage to (finally) take a stand on this.

Melissa Gira Grant wrote a good piece for The Nation on the now accepted proposal by Amnesty International. It’s an easy to read article, packed with relevant information and links to resources.

Juniper Fitzgerald over at Tits and Sass wrote about the ridiculous and offensive celebrity response to the Amnesty proposal. I mean what the hell was that. “Sex workers who can speak for themselves are too privileged to speak for themselves, so let me speak for them all”.

Mistress Matisse wrote a fact-packed response to another bad article, and it’s just like, everything you need to know about sex work. That good.

Plenty to read, but first, CELEBRATE!

Sex workers rights: we’re winning

The Dutch political party VVD is getting on board with sex workers rights! In Amsterdam they have proposed a new initiative to improve the freedom and independence of prostitutes and although I’m sure it’s not perfect, it’s obvious politicians are realising sex workers need rights, not rescue. I’ve been very happy with some other parties in the Netherlands too, D66 is being awesome, GroenLinks is doing well, it’s good.

Some quotes from the proposal:

  • Prostitutes, like other entrepreneurs, want a government that facilitates and supports them in their entrepreneurship.
  • Since the legalisation of prostitution, sex workers and proprietors deal with laws and regulations intended to combat abuses such as exploitation and forced work. These rules can be obstructive for prostitutes who work out of their free will. A recent poll by the Prostitution Information Centre shows sex workers don’t desire supervision from the city. These urges to control are being experienced as emotionally taxing, exaggerated and a violation of privacy. Focus on exploitation and forced prostitution is unnecessarily stigmatising for sex workers.
  • Closing windows does not contribute to a safe working environment for sex workers.
  • VVD believes people who want to work as prostitutes should be enabled to do so independently.

This is good stuff. The proposal is not perfect and the whole situation in the Netherlands is still a mess, but it really seems people are starting to get that sex workers need more rights, not fewer rights. The human trafficking hype is starting to crumble, evil rescue organisations are being seen for what they are, and although we often take steps back, in the long run we’re moving in the right direction.

It’s so frustrating sometimes when you’re dealing with real anti’s. When they lie about facts, when they accuse you of believing forced prostitution is fine, when they tell others you don’t even exist. Sometimes you just need to shut down the internet and let it go, or go full snark on some lying bastard who will gladly sacrifice sex workers’ well-being and safety for his own agenda. When you’re in the middle of (online) activism you get in contact with a lot of the most extreme whorehaters and anti-sex work activists.

So I think it’s important to remember.. we’re winning. Human rights are winning.

Inside Australia’s Largest Brothel

I think this is a really lovely video, Inside Australia’s largest brothel. It seems sex workers can sometimes become defensive about their jobs because there is already so much negativity and stereotyping, so I enjoyed hearing these women talk about the negative sides of their job in such an open way. The interviewer obviously did something right :). Also, it shows yet again that men don’t “buy a piece of meat” or “a hole to fuck” but instead are looking for a connection, intimacy and to be accepted and seen. Australia has regulated sex work in most states which seems to work quite well – I’m hearing a lot of positive stories from working women here. Punishing consensual sex between adult simply should not be an option.

Understanding Prohibitionists

Getting into discussions with people who oppose sex workers’ rights can be absolutely draining. Most of us on the pro-side are sex workers or are close to sex workers, so these topics concern our own lives, our safety, the wellbeing of our loved ones. It causes an emotional reaction when something that basic is being attacked.

But not all prohibitionists, or ‘anti’s’, are alike. When I was younger I thought it was quite intuitive that a person can consent to commercial sex, and people around me generally seemed to believe that if a person really wanted to be a prostitute, more power to her. But I also believed, like the people around me, that very few women would want to have sex with ugly strangers. Surely most got into the business because they had no other choice. Like many people in my social circle I used to believe most whores needed help, financial or health-wise. The image I had was that of a drug-addicted sad person in a little unkempt flat. Except the few glamorous high-class escorts of course, whom intrigued me to no end. I used to believe most sex workers were of lower social-economic status which meant ‘my class’ had responsibilities to protect them. I used to believe that most sex workers preferred to get out of the business and would accept a nice little job with a cute little salary in a factory or in a service position if it were offered to them. Based on all these ideas I believed in a help-based approach, those few happy hookers we should leave alone, but healthcare and exit-programmes needed to be our first priority. Prostitutes were vulnerable women who needed our help.

Contact with actual sex workers challenged those arrogant assumptions like a motherfucker, obviously.

The Neutrals

Most anti’s are not truly anti’s, but rather neutrals who base their opinions on wrong information. Just like I did. And I think that as activists these neutrals should be our primary audience, because when they are confronted with enough facts that conflict their beliefs, they change their minds. They become allies.

The biggest problem when talking to neutrals is a process called cognitive dissonance reduction. We all want to believe we are reasonable people who base their opinions on good information. So when we’re told our actions were based on lies and myths and actually harmed the people we meant to help, that causes cognitive dissonance: it conflicts with what we believe about ourselves. To reduce this dissonance we can do three things. We can change our first belief (“seems I’m not such a good, reasonable person after all”), reject the conflicting belief (“Everyone knows most whores are unhappy, you’re wrong”) or find a way to reconcile the two beliefs (“Even good, reasonable people are sometimes mistaken. I guess I was wrong”). The last option is a bit of a blow to our ego, it’s a very vulnerable thing to do. A non-hostile enviroment where you don’t feel personally attacked makes it a lot easier to admit your mistakes.

We’re told a lot of lies about sex, women and sex work. The idea of sex workers’ agency itself challenges some of our culture’s most basic beliefs. So naturally it causes a lot of resistance when those beliefs are brought into question, nobody likes to change their opinion on what they had always believed to be true. But at the same time we do process new information, and we are capable of changing our minds.

In contrast to the name, some neutrals can sound convincingly anti. They’ll repeat the lies and myths and advocate for harmful and discriminatory laws, they might be in favour of the Nordic Model or write horrible articles. But beneath all of that are no real convictions, it’s just fluff.

Neutrals benefit from correct information and contact with actual sex workers. My partner was a pro-leaning neutral when I met him, he had never met a sex worker and didn’t know too much about the subject. All it took was a little bit of information and some socialising with the sex workers in my social circle to turn him into a full-blown sex workers’ rights supporter. I talked to a devout young Christian woman a couple of months ago whose church donated to a rescue organisation. I made sure not to make her feel attacked as I punched her in the brain with information about trafficking, the rescue industry, sex workers’ rights and problems around prostitution, and she changed her mind. The same people who think Jojanneke’s deceitful documentary was insightful will also consider what actual sex workers have to say. That’s why visibility is so important, and why PROUD and many other organisations are doing such a fucking great job. Neutrals can be reached, they change their minds and become allies.

The Bad Guys

But not all anti’s are honestly mistaken. Sex workers are a vulnerable group of people with very little protection, and it attracts bad guys like vulchers to a wounded animal. Amsterdam mayor v/d Laan isn’t closing workplaces for prostitutes because he believes it helps them, he knows perfectly well he’s sacrificing sex workers’ rights and safety for financial and political gains. He doesn’t care. I respected Felicia Anna for speaking to him, and I think her words will have an impact on some of the neutrals that saw the video. But the mayor doesn’t listen, because he already knows he’s harming whores. He believes he can get away with it. The rescue industry became a million-dollar business when people figured out they could freely abduct prostitutes and keep them as slaves if they call it ‘help’. People like Somaly Mam know perfectly well they are lying, and they make a profit off of the abuse of sex workers. They get way with it because neutrals don’t know better and believe the lies. The producers and host of the tv-show “8 Minutes” fully understand they contribute nothing of value to sex workers’ lives. They thought they could use prostitutes for free, abuse and humiliate them for their profit, and they did it because it’s good money. Bad Guys are against sex workers’ rights because they appreciate the opportunities to exploit the vulnerable.

(8 minutes didn’t get away with it though. Sex workers made noise and the show got cancelled! Here’s a picture of the awesome Mistress Matisse celebrating).


It’s no use trying to reason with Bad Guys, because they already understand. They know very well indeed that sex workers are harmed and only rights can stop the wrongs. They just don’t give a shit.

The Fetishists

Reading texts by certain anti-prostitution activists can become a bit awkward when you start to notice it reads like erotica. It’s common knowledge among psychologists and sexologists that many people get aroused by taboo subjects, sex isn’t just sweetness and light and roses. Some people find a healthy way to express these darker aspects of sexuality, kinksters for example are well-known for bringing these fantasies to the surface and acting on them in a consensual, conscious way. But when someone is taught not to recognise these urges, told sex should always be ‘making love’ and to deny any agressive, perverse sexual impulse they feel, it sometimes finds.. well, inappropriate ways of expression.

It’s important to note that all of us are a bit inappropriate when it comes to the suffering of others. There’s a reason why books and magazines so often describe rape, child abuse, assault and other forms of sexual violence in such a detailed and emotional way, readers seem to find it strangely pleasurable to feel horrified and want to know every dirty aspect of it. There’s a Dutch magazine called Panorama that intelligently combines horrific stories of abductions, murders and other shocking events with photo’s of sexy women, because they understand the physical excitement of reading about others’ misery is very much like physical arousal. I don’t necessarily believe this is wrong, but we need to draw the line when our perving becomes harmful to others.

“But didn’t you hear about this girl in Berlin the other day? She had been trafficked when she was only 11 years old, in her first year alone she was raped by up to 12 men a day. She was rarely allowed to shower and would have sperm in and on her as she slept. They raped her with huge objects too, sometimes even..”
“Look I understand, but criminalisation of adult sex work would not have helped her. Sex workers’ rights actually….”
“Did you not hear me? Three penisses! At the same time! They’d rape her as she was crying just imagine the sperm and…”

Not okay. Fetishists are hard to reach because they are so caught up in their perverted fantasies of powerful men, global gangs and white, young, innocent women who are shipped around and abused daily. When confronted with facts they simply start repeating their detailed fictional sex stories. They stalk the Red Lights District and ask prostitutes inappropriate questions about their sex life. You can often see them become a bit flushed, red moist lips slightly parted, a feverish look in their eyes. It freaks me out. Don’t involve me in your sexuality without my consent please. And don’t deny sex workers their rights because the idea that they are forced turns you on.

The Fantasist

The Fantasist is the less pervy version of the fetishists. It’s those people who will tell such obviously falls stories that you have to wonder if they believe it. They get something out of their myths of bad men and powerless girls, and seem to have somewhat lost touch with reality. They ‘cherry pick’ research to find upsetting details, repeat the most gruesome stories, get angry when confronted with more nuanced views, ignore actual sex workers and quote statistics that logically cannot be true. But even after you’ve explained that it’s not possible that three million young girls are trafficked each year, the average age of entry into prostitution is 13 and average age of death 32, even after you show them the basic math, they go “lalalala” and continue repeating it. The myth means too much to them.

They are different from the fetishist in that they don’t seem to be creaming their panties as they’re talking, but they often do get that feverish look in their eyes. It’s like talking to someone who has lost themselves in fearful extremist religion, or with some other very strange belief like thinking they can move objects with their mind. The fact that nothing is moving just does not register. Facts do not come through.

I was a bit shocked to see Renate v/d Zee embarrass herself on television by quoting obviously false statistics, but even more shocked when I realised that she had indeed read these reports, read all these findings that contradict her beliefs, and then managed to not let it sink in but instead completely reverse the findings in her head, and then quote those on national television as if she didn’t realise she had twisted it all around. That’s scary.

The Fundie Anti’s

The Fundie Anti opposes sex work because of an understanding of how the sex industry works. They are different from the Neutrals in that they sometimes know quite a lot about prostitution, but interpret this information within a theoretical framework in which sex work is wrong by definition.

The Sexist Fundie believes that no woman could possibly want to do sex work, that male sexuality in inherently aggressive and that we need laws to restrict this violence. More often than not the reasoning is quite childish (“I’m a woman and don’t want to do sex work so no woman would want to do sex work”) and contains hateful assumptions about men (“you know how they are, they just want a hole to dump their seed in, they don’t care“). These are the Anti’s who will claim that there is in fact a big market for crying malnourished sex slaves, because obviously men don’t care about the women they fuck as long as they get to fuck her.

The Religious Fundie believes that sex work goes against God’s devine will. Prostitution is not how God intended sexuality to be like. A woman should value her sexual ‘purity’ and only give away her sex to a man who will pay her in the desired currency: love and commitment, not money. Religious Fundies usually seem to mean somewhat well – they truly believe it is naturally harmful for a woman to have sex outside of a committed relationship and socially harmful in that no man would want a ‘used’ woman so what will her future be like without a husband and kids, and isn’t that what every woman desires? Other Religious Fundies become vile and wish to punish those dirty, disobedient whores. Punish them until they submit to my, I mean God’s will! The male Religious Fundie Anti will sometimes let truly medieval statements slip: “do we wish to allow our women to prostitute themselves? Is that what we want for our daughters and wives?”.

The Marxist/RadFem Fundie believes prostitution must be understood within a context of various forms of oppression. I actually find this line of thinking quite interesting, although I have to admit that I don’t know enough to give a good summary of their beliefs and would urge readers to research more before judging. I’m discussing the two together because they have many similarities, but I understand there are differences. According to the Marxist/RadFem the practice of the selling of sex is a result of the systematic oppression of women within a capitalist society, intersecting with other forms of opression. According to them, in an egalitarian society sex work would not exist. These Anti’s are often in favour of the Swedish/Nordic Model (criminalising the clients of sex workers). The oppressed should not be punished for their oppression, they say, instead the oppressor must be stopped from oppressing: men should be stopped from exploiting women by buying sex from them.

I don’t disagree with Maxist theories entirely. But my intuition tells me your reasoning must be wrong when the ruling class tells the oppressed to be silent. Rich white men telling poor coloured women they know what’s good for them is icky. Something’s off when the ruling class tells the oppressed “you think you want labour rights, but you don’t. It’s part of a bigger picture that you don’t understand, only I as an educated rich person do. Trust me. You want us to make your job more dangerous by criminalising clients. It will be better in the long run, you don’t understand, so shush now, no need to organise or speak for yourselves, we’ve got it covered.” Oppression should not be fought by taking away the labour rights and human rights of the opressed. If sex workers are really the victim of an unjust system of oppression, we should give them the power back. Listen to them. Respect they might know best what they need.

These are caricatures, I understand. But I think it helps to know who you’re arguing with. The Idealists and Bad Guys are often lost causes, but the Neutrals can be reasoned with. Information and visibility help with that. Sex workers and their allies are winning the fight for prostitutes’ rights and safety, not even Anti’s can stop that.

From the Web

The Netherlands fucks up a lot when it comes to racism. We don’t have the same cultural bruises as the United States, and because we like to think we’re tolerant and open-minded we’re even less likely to consider whether we hold racist ideas and traditions. The whole Black Pete disgrace is just one of many examples. Last week the Dutch magazine Viva, which targets young adult women as their audience, published a deeply racist article on why you should want to date a black man. Not only was a filled to the brim with prejudice and stereotypes (“he’s passionate! He can dance! He has a big penis!”), the underlying assumption was that we, the audience, are white. His dark skin would contrast nicely with ours. We’d learn something from his culture. Our kids would be what the Dutch call “halfbloods” (I’m not joking). Thankfully there was so much backlash that the article was quickly removed from the website, but I think it really showed how unaware we still are about race.

The Dutch ‘feminist’ magazine Opzij also fucked up again. After allowing Jojanneke a platform for her lies about prostitution and denying sex workers a platform to have their stories heard (instead they asked another non-sex worker to speak for the upset whores) they now published the following headline: “The Islam of IS justifies sex slaves, prostitution and paedophilia“. Yes, nice of you to lump those together, Opzij. Thanks.

Instead they could have reported about this study, but they didn’t. Nobody did. Because listening to sex workers themselves isn’t as exciting as erotic fiction about whores.

They could have reported about the continuing harassment of and spying on sex workers, but nope.

You shouldn’t study sex work, but perhaps you shouldn’t publish about it either unless you recognise sex workers as humans, your words benefit sex workers and you can give something back.

To end on a happier note, here’s a photo of a kangaroo having a blast scratching his balls.

2015-04-14 12.33.15

 

Free Sex

 

The idea that sex is something a woman gives to a man, and a man takes from a woman, is of course very problematic. But when we’re talking about sex work it is often suggested that a sex worker does what a non-sex worker does for free, and I could not disagree more. Some even call non-sex workers ‘amateurs’ and say they can’t understand why you’d have sex for free if you can get paid for it. I find it offensive. Sex work is not the paid version of sex.

There is a reason it’s called sex work: you are providing a service, a sexual experience, it’s about them and not you. When you have sex it’s about both of your sexual needs and desires, when you do sex work it’s primarily theirs. That doesn’t mean you can’t have great sex when you work, but the primary focus is on their desires.

I see many similarities between sex work and therapy. Both are very intimate on a psychological level, but constrained by time and place. When I’m with a patient I open my head and heart to them, I focus my empathy on them and let them in. Sex workers do the same thing, create an emotional connection, get into their head and their feelings. I often feel genuine affection for my patients, and sex workers for their clients. Both are a paid relationship, and are temporary. I wouldn’t listen to them for 45 minutes if I didn’t get paid to do it, a sex worker would not meet a client for a session if there was no money involved. Both are one-sided interactions: my therapeutic relationship is not about me and my emotional needs. It’s about them and what I can provide for them. That does not mean I don’t enjoy our contact, I often do, and I don’t cross any boundaries I don’t feel comfortable with. In sex work it’s the same, it’s not about you, it’s about them, although you can enjoy being with your client and always protect your boundaries, the interaction is about them. It’s a form of paid intimacy, and I love that I’m being paid to share something like that with others :).

But a good friend is not an amateur therapist. Listening to a loved one is not the ‘free’ version of what I do for a living, when I patiently support a friend through a rough patch I’m not ‘giving it away for free’.

Sex work, like therapy work, is an actual job with skills and responsibilities, not just a paid version of what everyone else gives away for free.

Sex work is work.

Normal Men Buy Sex

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.

I want to thank Hugo and other clients who are brave enough to tell their story.