I mean really come…
Last week a friend of mine got himself into a double page feature in Cosmopolitan magazine, the September 2017 issue in the article entitled ‘Would You Pay to Date These Men?’ (p.110). It was a great article in the sense it was refreshingly non-judgemental about men who offer their services as escorts and sex educators, for once written without too much scandalising, sleaze, or unrequited drama added just for effect. In fact, the very fact it stayed within the realms of ‘meet these guys, this is what they offer, and this is how I felt when I went on a date with them’, in an open minded and communicative way was the thing that struck me the most – I read it and felt a combination of ‘hey progress is being made’ elation, curiosity, sadness and a bit of rightfully placed anger. The anger and sadness came from the fact I knew that this article could not, and would not have had the same tenor had it been written about a female escort or sex industry worker.
Seani (pictured below with his partner Rosie (also a sex educator and sex worker) was nominated for, and won the Sex Worker Of The Year award in 2015, and it’s fair to say he is doing some great work around demystifying sex, bringing kink into the mainstream and perhaps more importantly, bringing conscious communication to all aspects of this work.
As it happens, in the same week I read this Cosmo article, I also listened to a podcast by Rosie on her ‘coming out as a sex worker’ journey (you can listen by clicking here) and I couldn’t help but be struck by some of the differences alongside recognising some commonalities. Let’s start with the commonalities….
- Coming out as a sex worker can be hard for any person, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or sexual preference. This is largely due to the fact that sex is still (FFS why?!!) such a taboo subject through much of our society and culture, and so therefore, publicly announcing that’s how you make a living can lose you friends, cost you work, and create stigma in many other areas of your life, especially if you have (for example) dependent children, family and relatives with more conservative values than you, or you happen live in a place where to be so public would be a serious threat to your wellbeing.
- There are no more commonalities…beyond CIS gender, racial profile or class based opportunity (or lack of it) creating communities of practice which therefore define the commonalities in that case.
So now we come to the striking differences. Imagine a mainstream magazine publishing an article entitled ‘would you pay to date these women?’ Immediately you can feel the frisson of tension in that right? Is this magazine condoning men paying for sex with women? Outrage! Are we saying it’s ok for a woman to sell sex? Never! Shall we judge that question by the merit of the women’s perceived beauty or bodies (to be fair the article did do a bit of that in the mens’ case too)?
In this instance however, here we are finding language like ‘debonair, dashing, open, relaxed, ripped, ‘expensive looking skin’ (really!), suave, brooding confidence, alluring’ etc, being used to describe the men who sell sex. Women on the other hand rely on something else entirely, namely tits and ass. To use adjectives like the above would probably make their online profiles appear dull to those seeking to hire them, or offensive to those reading an article like this who may be inclined to feel we are ‘glamorising’ the sale of sexual services to men, by women. Heaven forbid a woman can choose what the hell she wants to do with her body and her sexuality.
Now let me be crystal clear here, the sex industry is an industry riddled with problems, contradictions, injustices and corruption, oh….pretty much like most forms of work really! However, because it’s about the sale of sex, workers rights, judicial protection, equal opportunities and the like are brushed aside on the grounds that ‘well you’re asking for trouble if that’s what you do’ – and why is that? Because we’re still not over the blame culture that sees women’s clothing as a mitigating circumstance in sexual assault. Because we’re still not over the idea that a sexually confident women can be anything other than readily available to all and sundry regardless of her right to discerning choice. Because we still don’t understand the basic concept of informed adult consent, and because we are still so afraid of women’s sexual power.
And here is where it all gets a bit ‘conspiratorial’ – the idea of a society full of sexually liberated women, blazing a trial of equality in all aspects, still terrifies many people, and has become so internalised, it actually terrifies many of us women ourselves. How many of us have felt the shame of being open and out there with our sexual expression, dialogue and freedoms? I know I have. How many of us have been slut shamed or slut shamed another woman without even realising how we’re doing that? Fear of being judged, rejected, outcast….it’s a powerful inhibitor, and yet when we are able to fully own our sexual potency, to find our communities of support, to align with those who ‘get it’ and if they don’t, who are open to listening and don’t judge, then we really have the potential to free up so much energy in our lives.
I relish the day when an article like this one will be written about women; an article with no outrage, no salacious hypocrisy, and no violence inducing judgements. In the meantime, let’s keep talking, no let’s insist upon it. Let’s challenge injustice and inequality of the sexes and sexuality, for levelling the playing field can ultimately only serve everyone really. Men will be free to show their feelings and their vulnerabilities and women their strengths without being labelled ‘ball breakers’ (even that label implies a connection to sex!). Men will be free to allow their ability to receive more, women to take charge more and it’s not as if that very fact will define us after all, maybe it will just allow us to take a long, deep, sigh of relief. If the number of men who contact me asking for advice around confused sexuality is anything to go by, then it most certainly has the potential to do exactly that.
We’re born with it…so let’s live with it.