This is our truth, tell us yours
In western society for most of the past 2000 years sex has been determined to be a transaction between a married cis het couple. This transaction was predicated on two assumptions, that marriage provided perpetual and continuous consent from the woman, and that in return she was determined worthy of protection. It was a transaction very often arranged by families, rather than the people involved, and generally policed by social convention rather than the law. One of the clearest examples of the transactional nature of sex historically is in the case of Lady Worsely, who, was determined to have so reduced her “value” through extramarital sex that upon divorce her husband was awarded the token compensation of one penny.
We like to believe we live in enlightened times, but wander mumsnet, or even just drink a few lambrinis with the right group of women and transactional sex is still the basis of many relationships. Men are rewarded with blow jobs for good behaviour, and sex is seen as something points need to be earned for. Of course generally is is cis women who have come off worst in this transaction, since marital rape is still so often not seen as rape. We still carry the idea that the marriage contract contains within it a clause which reads “thou shalt forever more consent to sex with this man”. Incidentally another reason why the whole institution of marriage is flawed, and should never have been seen as the end goal for LG organisations and campaigns.
The persistence of the nature of transactional sex is part of why, I believe, that so many women are harsher towards sex work than men (as this poll reports) The attitude of “if he puts up the shelves he gets a blow job” may seem alien to those who hang out in queer, sex positive, or affirmative consent circles, newsflash, most people don’t, most women don’t. It might seem an old fashioned view, it need not necessarily be conscious, but it exists (at least in my anecdotal experience) Combined with the idea that you follow the rules, and therefore deserve the never arriving award patriarchy promised, it is a powerful motivation to attack sex workers, and the fight for rights.
When you have a commodity that to you has a certain value, it will be perceived as a threat if others offer that same commodity for a different value. When you read the comments of many women, it is clear that sex workers are seen as a threat. My thought is that we are seen to devalue the transactional sex they have to offer, or, to put it another way, why would a man put up the shelves in exchange for a blow job when he can pay me straight cash for it?
Of course a lot of sex in different contexts is transactional, not just that between sex workers and clients, or cis het husband and wife. You could argue, if you wanted to, that all sex is transactional. When I meet Carter for example, I know submission leads to orgasms, its a contract, although not in the high protocol sense. However within BDSM, and certain other contexts, the transaction is explicit. The unnunaced venom of so many women towards sex workers is rooted in the unconscious nature of the contract. Be a good girl, obey the rules of patriarchy, offer sex ( in the straightened context that patriarchy allows any woman agency over their sexual activity) only within the transactions that have been predetermined as acceptable. So sex in exchange for a meal and drinks is an acceptable transaction, as is sex because its a special occasion, a reward, or well done, but not in exchange for the price of the meal or for financial reward. Thus sex workers are seen to not only be breaking rules women delude themselves into believing will protect them (newflash, they won;t) but we are also a threat to the acceptable commodification of sex. For make no mistake, sex is, has, and probably, always will be commodified. Its a tool of patriarchy to encourage unconscious commodification however. Once people realise the actual value of an object, or transaction they can no longer be fooled into conforming. Sadly we seem a long way from the day when women who trade sex within marriage realise they are the ones undervaluing what they have to offer.