This is our truth, tell us yours
As this post discusses consent it references rape, child abuse and pedophilia, but without any details, please exercise self-care.
Recently I wrote about consent, how it is about a conversation, not a mere yes/no question. As I said at the time my understanding and consideration of consent comes from my experiences as a survivor, submissive and sex worker. It is as a sex worker that I have the idea of being able to consent challenged the most, sometimes being returned to that state of a frightened child. This challenge does not come from clients, although of course some clients are abusive, since they are human beings and reflect the spectrum of human behaviour. No, the challenge to my right and ability to consent comes from other women, from swerfs and other feminists. They use terms like “prostituted women” and “rape for pay” because they, like my rapists and abuser do not believe they must have those vital conversations about consent.
There is another parallel with how people like Julie Bindel talk about sex work, and how rapists and especially child abusers treat people. Those opposed to sex work insist we cannot consent to sex because lust is missing from the conversation. (Although of course this is not always the case, I have orgasmed plenty of times with clients, but it is irrelevant to taking the booking.) The argument goes that because a sex worker does not desire the sex solely for the sake of sex, but for the other things the sex may bring, then they are not fully consenting. Basically that sex without lust is non consenting. If this is the case then lust, a physical bodily response to arousal indicates consent. This is an exceptionally dangerous argument. If you wander the web you can find the sort of publications PIE and NAMBLA put out in the 70s. (If you do this I really suggest you use tor). Like many survivors of childhood sexual abuse the question of why has occupied me, and I have wandered into those dark corners. Pedophile organizations argued that sex with children was consenting because of the physical arousal of the child. They, like those opposed to sex work, equate the response of the body to consent.
The fact a body can respond to physical stimulus, and yet the mind not consent shows us where consent actually lies. It is a rational act, divorced from any physical effects. The law in the UK actually considers this, both in its revision to the law on rape, which says someone intoxicated cannot consent, and in its protections of vulnerable people. There has been a case just today of a woman who was able to have sex, and indeed it can be inferred wanted the sex physically, but was judged to be unable to rationally consent to sex that might lead to pregnancy.
So consenting to sex is about a choice we make, with out minds, and it is assumed we must be capable of making that choice to consent. When we have severe learning difficulties, or are intoxicated it is presumed we cannot consent. Sex workers make that rational choice, decide to have sex because they want the money, just in the same way an asexual person may in order to bond with a partner, or a person trying to get pregnant may in order to be fertilized.
Swerfs try to counter this by arguing it is not a free choice, throwing terms like economic coercion around, as if sex workers are the only people who work to pay the rent and put food on the table. (To be fair, and it’s not often I want to be fair to swerfs most of them seem to have a rich husband at home or feed off the teet of academia rather than worrying about how to make it through to the end of the month.) If we return to the concept of sex being a rational choice though it is clear this covers the concept of economic coercion, and of other factors which may influence anyones decisions. No choice is made in a vacuum. There will be a number of factors pulling someone one way or another. Sex workers encounter this most bluntly when they take a booking they don’t want to do. It happens to all of us, we sense the client is slightly off, or we are not well, or too tired, or a million of other things that mean it is sex WORK not sex HOBBY. However because it is work we operate within exactly the same parameters as other people deciding whether to work of not. Can we afford a day off usually being the primary consideration. Simply because you go into work when you don’t want to does not make it slavery, taking a booking I don’t want to does not make it rape.
You have to be willing to accept I can make a rational choice, fully aware of the pressures on me under capitalist patriarchy, in order to accept I can choose to consent to sex which under non sex work circumstances I would not be having. At the heart of the swerf ideology is that by doing sex work I have shown myself to be incapable of rational choice. It is a circular argument that I hope needs no further explanation from me. When it comes to consent the only thing that matters is whether I have the capacity to judge the options I am presented with and chose between them. To use the fact someone chooses sex work as evidence they are not capable of consenting is to say that only certain choices are acceptable. Which is of course exactly what swerfs say. Their language may be one of prostituted women and rape, but their belief system is that the choice to do sex work is unacceptable, and we must be punished for making that choice.
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