This is our truth, tell us yours
There’s a reason why I don’t usually write about sex work on here. It’s not my field of expertise.
However, the demand for sex work comes predominantly, although not exclusively, from men, and being a man is something in which I have a little expertise. I also value, as friends, anumber of sex workers who are strongly opposed to the idea that will be considered by the Home Affairs Select Committee today, that, somehow, the world will be a better place if only sex work could be criminalized out of existence. Jem has written repeatedly, passionately,and with style about sex work. As Jem’s friend, it’s my job to tackle the issue from the perspective of a man.
First and foremost, it has to be said that in the gig economy, the idea that there are services that should not be provided for moral reasons when the actions involved are not, in and of themselves, illegal is, to say the least, a little odd. In a world where work is increasingly becoming scarce, the gig economy of providing services is the only way some people will makea living in the future, so prohibiting the provision of legal services on moral grounds is, to say the least, a little odd.
Anyway, sex work. I learned from some of the first feminists I spoke to that work isn’t just what horny handed sons of toil do. They taught me, with far more patience than my younger self deserved that the women who cooked and cleaned while men worked in factories weren’t just pinafored philanthropists carrying out a labour of love, but were actually engaged in an economic activity indistinguishable from work. Work does not just produce items of value; it may be about performing a service that others value. If they’re willing to pay for that service, and you wouldn’t do it otherwise, you’re a worker. If not, you’re unemployed.
So is sex work work?
I am a lucky man in some regards. I get to see the difference between a sex worker and a sexually active adult close at hand. Jemima has sex with me not because she is being paid, but because it satisfies a need in her. For her customers, this is not the case. She has sex with them because she can perform a service for them that they are willing to pay for. The sex would not happen without that transaction.
So how can you say sex isn’t work, or can’t be an activity that can be monetized just like doijng my ironing or cleaning, or walking my dog when I’m working late?
I don’t know. Genuinely.
Some of my time is spent listening to people. Just listening. It fulfils a need for them, and in the process I deploy a few skills, a few tricks that make sure they feel they’ve had their money’s worth. All the while I’m doing it I have one eye on the clock – they’re entitled to what they’ve paid for, and not a moment more. Is that work? I can’t distinguish it, in some ways, from having sex for money – except that it’s safer, generally cleaner, and valued by middle class moralists in a way they don’t value prostitutes.
Anyway, here is where we are. Some feminists believe, and assert, that sex work isn’t work, and have no evidence. I believe, arguing by analogy, that sex work is work, and by extension, that feminists should recognise that because so much of the work women do in enabling their families is similarly devalued and ignored. Incidentally, I generally shy away from telling feminists what they should believe, since I’m not one, but think it’s perfectly reasonable to point out that they may be guilty of hypocrisy if they don’t apply the same principles consistently.
Will moralizing about sex work and the need to end demand actually end demand?
Incidentally, a little word here about the inevitable game of buzzword bingo that needs to be played at the evidence stage of the Select Committtee today. As soon as someone mentions under age sex workers, just remember, that anyone having sex with an under age sex worker is already criminalized. As soon as someone mentions trafficked sexworkers, just remember, people trafficking is already criminalized. As soon as anyone mentions violence against sex workers, just remember, that violence is already criminalized. If someone mentions pimps, just remmeber, being a pimp is already criminalized. Going well, isn’t it?
The war on drugs is going well isn’t it?
Kerb crawling legislation really works doesn’t it?
I’m sorry if that seems like a cheap rhetorical trick, but that’s the reality. We have tried to end the abuse of heroin by making it illegal to own or supply the stuff, and it hasn’t worked. The demand is still there. Every time the police come round and nick Chantelle who lives in the next street to me for shoplifting to feed her habit, they are rebutting theend demand argument far more concisely than I’ve managed. Successive Home Secretaries have believed that the problem isn’t the concept of criminalizing drugs, it’s been that they haven’t tried hard enough. So they’ve tried harder, and the war on drugs rolls on, with new junkies emerging to fill the gaps left by the ones who die or decide to give up.
Over the last 50 years we’ve tried various routes to limit prostitution. We’ve had new offences around soliciting, to try and police the behaviour of the prostitutes, and we’ve had new laws on kerb crawling to police the worst behaviour of the punters.
The demand persists.
Repeat after me. The demand persists. You cannot legislate it out of existence, and you can’t wish it away. Believing that you can leads only to that maelstrom that turns well intentioned liberals into the worst of authoritarians, convinced as they are that something they believe to be wrong can be made right if only they can give the police one more power, one more lever to pull or one more fetter to bind the folk devils they wish to constrain.
Abolishing the autonomy of individual men and women, their right to choose to make economic transactions that we might not like, on the basis of our moral objections is always dubious. Doing it when all the analogous evidence suggests it won’t work isn’t just dubious, it’s self deception of the worst, narcissistic kind.