Sex Work: Rethinking the Job, Respecting the Workers by Colette Parent et. al. and Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work by Melissa Gira Grant are a few of my favourite books right now. Why? Well, you’re about to know.
To begin with, they make you question everything you think you know about prostitution. Is it the sex itself that is disgusting, ’cause whether you are sucking dick (I beg your pardon) for money or not, you are still sucking dick? Perhaps, it is the fact that money is often involved, but if you have sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend and they offer you money afterwards or buy you items that you request or do not request for, have you suddenly become a prostitute? Perhaps, it is the sleeping with many men/women aspect that is absolutely distasteful, but many people have sex with many men and/or women for free. As a matter of fact, they have more sex than sex workers themselves. So, what exactly about the job is out of the ordinary? Why then is sex work/prostitution criminalized in many places?
Playing the Whore briefly mentions how marriage boosts the sex trade, funnily enough. Many men and women get married and feel like they’re missing out on certain things, they feel terribly constrained by societal norms and standards, so they patronize sex workers. Many of them don’t get mistresses because they often anticipate some sort of commitment, and they (the engaged or married men and women) already have partners that they are committed to. A sex worker, on the other hand, would most likely not need any form of structured commitment, or expect their client to leave their wife or husband for them. You get the idea.
It is important to note that sex workers are not just prostitutes- pornography actors/models, strippers, escorts, massage-parlour girls, cam girls, and so on, are all sex workers, providing different kinds of sexual services. So, if you, as a married person, have ever watched a pornographic CD or visited any of the free/premium pornographic websites, perhaps, with your spouse, the aforementioned would include you. Haha!
The fact that people do not pay for their pornography contributes to the precariousness of the actor/model’s work. They get paid once for a scene and never again, they do not own the license to the video that is made, and for many years (or forever), the sex worker continues to please everyone for free, while getting terribly shamed/attacked for it.
Why would a person want to do sex work? Well, why would anyone want to work at all? People choose to work for money, for fame, for connections, for a sense of freedom and independence, and for pleasure. The same reasons apply to sex workers. A person does not need to be a sex worker to be involved in the sex trade- directors, light men, location managers, script writers, make-up artists, and so on, can be involved in the sex trade without performing sexual services.
Sex work is highly precarious, just like many other jobs. In pornography, for instance, if a worker is not constantly trying other sex-trade spheres, and doing new things, they could very quickly be forgotten. In stripping, there would always be someone with a bigger butt, or someone who can dance better. There’s competition and promotion all of the stuff you find in other work spheres in the sex industry.
The authors of the two books expose you to how the police dehumanize women, some men, members of the LGBTQ community, who are involved in sex work. They are abused more by the police than their clients in many parts of the world, even in the United States, and there are oral and written surveys and whatnot in the books to prove it. The police doesn’t come to the sex workers’ aid at all or quickly when they need help because they blame them for choosing to have sex for money in the first place. It is worse for transgender men and women; many members of the police force intentionally pick on them or try to break them for fun. It’s even worse in theoretically non-democratic countries. As the saying goes, “power destroys, absolute power destroys absolutely”.
Although straight men are involved in sex work too, young/old men who work as escorts for sugar mummies and such, or work as pornography actors/models, they are almost never viewed in the same light as women.
The authors don’t necessarily praise sex work itself or deem it a hundred percent wonderful because of the many risks that are involved- being abused by pimps and clients, the fact that a condom can slip off and the worker could get a disease and all that, exploitation, especially with non-independent sex workers, and so on- but they implore you to call off your old, tired ethics. Religion often forces people to see many things and many people condescendingly, especially the major world religions, but call it off, as far as consensual sex work is concerned.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “trafficking in persons is defined as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.” A person can be trafficked in their home country or across borders- farmers, live-in caregivers, and labourers are trafficked on a daily basis, not just prostitutes, which is terrible.
The face of the trafficked sex worker is often the face of the people who have willingly chosen to provide sexual services to other people for a living, especially in popular discourse and in the media, and it is quite unfair. If you must feel bad for anyone, feel bad for the factory workers who kill sentient animals inhumanly for a living, or for the McDonald’s worker who stands all day, working from 9 am-5 pm everyday for survival, basically, or for the person who moves stuff around all night (food, flowers, whatever needs to be moved in the respective company) in a cold room, shivering and struggling not to fall asleep. If you must save anyone from their work, save those workers. Nobody wants to do those jobs, and they are not necessarily more “respectable” than sex work in essence, but they do them for survival.
No? Are you convinced that there are people who really want to stand and act (like they really, ever so really care about the customers) at McDonald’s or Tim Hortons or one of the call-centers all day for survival? If you are, that a person has chosen to do sex work should not surprise or upset you either, should it?
The authors discuss the fact that sex work is not all about intercourse. It may involve acting and fulfilling fantasies. Many of the married men and women who patronize the industry can get all the intercourse they want from their spouses or boy/girlfriends if they have them; it’s not all about that.
They compare sex work to any other kind of job that requires the provision of a service; they mention that sex work is the world’s oldest profession. Sex workers may not always be victims, and they make us realize that.
Apparently, sex work is saving marriages; I didn’t even know that before I read the books. Basically, you don’t need to divorce your wife/husband, or be with someone else physically to be with someone else, whether through porn and cam sites or whatnot. You masturbate to another woman or man, for free sometimes, like I mentioned earlier, many times, through the mainstream sites, and you’re good. You love your wife/husband again, and you’re satisfied. You don’t think you’ve cheated on her/him, and you don’t feel as bad. Or, if your wife would not do anal or try something you read about or saw with you, whether or not it involves intercourse, you call upon your favourite strumpet to do them with you, and you go home, kiss your wife/husband, and enjoy your marriage again. Haha!
We love sex work when it’s on our screens. We love Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and all the stereotypes, especially when the prostitute (or any other sex worker) is portrayed as a strong, independent person in Hollywood movies. As soon as someone proudly describes herself as a prostitute or sex worker or stripper, we go “woah”. The woman of our dreams and fantasies now suddenly becomes a terrible, demonic or disgusting woman. At that moment, we suddenly detest prostitution and sex work.
The word “prostitute” itself is still considered very terrible, and many would sometimes use it as an insult to women who are not involved in sex work. Ashewo, which means prostitute, is used as an insult to women very often by misogynistic men in Nigeria, for instance.
If we don’t go “woah” with disgust, we begin to feel sorry for them- it wasn’t their choice, they were probably forced to join the trade, maybe they had a bad childhood, maybe they were abused. We really don’t care if they had a bad childhood whenever it’s time to jerk off. For some reason, we care so much about it when it’s time to discuss prostitution in public spaces; some people who have sex begin to look down on other people who have sex. Haha! It makes no sense.
Again, the authors don’t praise or glamourize sex work, it has its own challenges, just like any job- customers/clients may insult you, bosses may look down on you, you could slip and fall to death, or have your fingers sliced off by a machine at the flower factory where you work, someone might report you or leave you a bad review, to mention a few.
However, they did not fail to mention that making sex work illegal has contributed to the harm that sex workers suffer around the world. Sex work, mainly prostitution, is criminalized in many places, and just like any illegal job, the security of a person who is involved is often badly affected.
Sex workers are often harassed by the police for having condoms, and for that reason, many do not move around with condoms while soliciting for clients, so they won’t be charged for an offence. The clients may not have condoms, and so the sex worker is left with no choice but to have raw sex with them, many times, to their own detriment, and that of their clients, as far as the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases is concerned. The client may infect the sex worker. If the client or worker then becomes ill, the state spends money on them- money that would have been diverted to other things, if that situation was prevented, if the police had treated the sex worker with enough dignity and respect to let them have all the items they need for their work.
Those who have condoms hide them in their wigs and private parts to avoid being arrested; that’s inhumane.
There are grey areas in morality and societal standards, and it’s quite interesting. It’s okay to be in a pant and bra in a Victoria Secret’s collection [for money] but it’s not okay to wear just those on your Facebook profile. The society is highly hypocritical when it comes to the body and what is to be done with it.
I can’t possibly cover everything that was discussed in the books, so I’ll stop here. Some of the points that I have addressed are additions to the ones mentioned in the book. I barely covered the books; I could go on and on. A must-read for every feminist (especially second-wave feminists who tend to condemn sex work more than the third-wave feminists) or person who is interested in the facts regarding sex work, is what those books are. I read both books simultaneously.
THIS IS NOT A PAID REVIEW.