Caring Professionals

Image by Imagery Majestic, courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Sometimes synchronicity (or coincidence if you prefer) helps me to make a point better than I could have made it myself.  Less than 24 hours after last week’s essay “Skin To Skin appeared, this story was carried in The Sun and several other newspapers:

Prostitutes have been invited to a care home to have sex with disabled residents — sparking an investigation by the council.  Hookers regularly go for “special visits” at Chaseley nursing home in Eastbourne, Sussex.  They meet residents in a special room and a red sock is put on the door handle so staff know not to disturb them.  Bosses say many physically and mentally disabled people have no other sexual outlet – and become so frustrated they often resort to GROPING staff…experts claim [access to sex is] a ”basic human right”…former manager Helena Barrow…said…“If we refused, we would not be delivering a holistic level of care.”  Mrs Barrow, who now manages another care home in…Sussex, insisted residents always paid for the call girls themselves…A spokesman for East Sussex County Council said the local authority had been unaware of Chaseley’s policy of inviting prostitutes on site and “did not welcome” the idea.  He said…“This has the potential to place vulnerable East Sussex residents at risk of exploitation and abuse.”

The Daily Mail’s coverage also included the false claim that sex workers spread disease.

First of all, I applaud the caring people at Chaseley and their willingness to recognize that disabled people have just as much right to physical intimacy as everyone else, and that this right is no more removed by their residence in a care institution than any of their other rights would be; most of the comments on the story were also positive and supportive.  The same cannot be said, I’m afraid, for the council, the newspaper (judging by the scare quotes around words like “therapeutic”) and a minority of the commenters, all of whom seem to believe that sex is not a need and that there is something lurid, amusing or even harmful about paying for sex.  The council spokesman would never claim that the nursing home itself presented a credible threat of “exploitation and abuse” to “vulnerable residents”, but he thinks nothing of making the same specious claim about sex work, which is every bit as much a caring profession as nursing is.

While it is completely true that many of those who enter sex work are only interested in money, the same could be said about those who attend medical school.  But this type of person will rarely be among the best in her profession, nor will she be the kind of practitioner who puts clients at ease and makes them feel that she genuinely cares about their welfare.  In the case of sex work, those who are purely motivated by money are generally less successful and leave the profession sooner than those who view it as a calling; I reckon the equivalent in the medical field probably goes into administration, research or other areas involving less direct contact with patients.

Those who feel drawn to the caring professions rather than simply settling for them, however, have many personality traits in common, and it shows in the considerable overlap between them.  In the years I had my escort agency no fewer than three registered nurses worked for me (either for extra money or during sabbatical), and there were also a number of practical nurses, nursing assistants and nursing students; I myself worked as a nurse’s aide for about a year in the interval between my two degrees.  I’ve also met or employed escorts who were studying medicine, veterinary medicine, psychology, physical therapy, radiology and social work, and spoken to more than one physician who did sex work while in university; in my experience, more sex workers have either worked in or studied some health-related field than any other area of expertise.  Furthermore, a large fraction of my clientele were medical doctors, and I’ve never had a health professional react poorly or irrationally to my divulging my profession to them (though I have heard some sex workers say otherwise, especially in countries with a very pronounced whore-stigma).

Obviously, part of the reason for this must be that health professionals are much more comfortable thinking about, talking about and dealing with aspects of our physical nature than many others might be; they are less likely to be embarrassed by sexuality, and more likely to view sexual matters dispassionately and non-judgmentally.  Also, health professionals and sex workers both are less likely to react strongly to biological factors that might disgust other people, and more able to put aside any revulsion or queasiness they do feel in order to get the job done.  And successful practitioners in both fields either innately know, or have learned through experience, how to maintain the delicate balance between caring enough about their clients to want to help them, and remaining professionally detached enough to do be able to do their jobs properly without emotional complications.  Good sex workers, like good health professionals, interact with their clients caringly, yet professionally; when they visit clients it is to take care of their needs, not to “exploit” them, “abuse” them or break up their relationships.  Yes, there are unethical sex workers, but the same could be said of physicians.  And when dealing with established members of either profession, one is no more likely to encounter improper behavior in the one than in the other.

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  • Kate commented on February 2, 2013 at 12:59

    As someone who has entered a care home on a paid arrangement, it is so refreshing to find someone who understand the stance in which I believe I represent. My client was in his early 30s, surrounded himself with images of hot women and obviously had a hi libido. He was crushed by his disability, having been born an able bodied person and felt he had little to live for.

    I hope that our short time together gave him something to hang on to and I made sure to let him know that I would be happy to see him again. We wished each other Happy Christmas via text and occasionally catch up, although he finds it hard to type and his carer has to help him.

    I believe I am a compassionate person, who easily empathises with people and I get great personal fulfilment in making others happy. What ever vocation or career I followed it would have to be ‘people’ based, but for the moment, this one suits me fine.

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve read so much negativity recently, I started to wonder if the world had a heart at all.

  • sandra kunanele commented on February 2, 2013 at 13:55

    Thank you for this thoughtful article, it does attempt to bring some balance to ann Tagonist’s point of view http://anntagonist.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/rape-is-a-human-right/#comment-32 — however, please don’t refer to her article and compare yours to hers as “more sane”. Your article would be much easier to take seriously if you were not comparing the healthcare field with sex work as if they were equally accessible fields of work. That is not a very ‘sane’ premise. For someone like me, having intimate knowledge of the wealth and gender inequalities that drive our choices in this country, such a comparison makes your message get lost in the ridiculous images that pop into my head. Read her message again, she is defending the rights of sex workers! You just aren’t listening because you must expand your world views to the other sex workers – the ones whose choices are more limited than what your experience seems to show. When any of us can follow our true calling, yes, sex workers should be a part of any ones’ health and fitness services such as masseuses and personal trainers are, but in the meantime, when a girl can’t freely choose between being a nurse/physician/masseuse or a prostitute in the same way – let’s stand together with the people that are fighting the same battles from their side of the globe. Listen more carefully – Antagonist is just removing the sugar-coat that makes the truth invisible to most.

  • I must respectfully disagree with you about her motives. The idea that sex work is “paid rape” and that even confined, disabled men desperate for human contact are “rapists” for the act of making a simple business deal, is divisive and repellent radical feminist rhetoric straight out of Sheila Jeffreys, with no redeeming motive whatsoever.

  • You’re very welcome, Kate. Until our societies (and American society is far worse than British on this subject) grow up and recognize that sex is a human need rather than an excuse for political struggle, we sex workers will have to continue to fight these bigoted attitudes, which nowadays are more often than not thinly disguised as “concern for our welfare” as though we were children.

  • sandra kunanele commented on February 2, 2013 at 15:20

    Maggie McNeill 1-OK, we can agree to disagree about her motives, as I don’t know her personally, I can only speak about my inferences. 2- you didn’t comment about what your article brings to the issue, ie your un-fitting comparison. 3- if ann Tagonist is using divisive language, which I agree is a problem to our point of joined interests, you must address that with unifying language, not add to unfruitful divisions. Further dividing in the struggle for human rights to all is the least useful thing we can do for any of our causes. 4- no one is treating YOU as a victim – you sound like a well-educated woman who chose freely from a life of privilege in suit or a life of privilege in the nude or however you do it – people who are speaking truth to power about sex-work more-often-than-not involving rape – is not being a bigot disguising anything as concern for YOUR welfare – they are concerned for the girls who don’t have the choices that have been available to you! Choices for sex workers should be real, not perceived. If you are a teen girl today, not YOU PERSONALLY MM., but ANY teen girl who really, really wanted or felt she needed to have a three figure income, do you MAGGIE McNeill trully believe you would currently have a choice between the profession of lawyer and sexual healer? Remember the question is about any girl, not just you. When you can honestly say yes, we can talk about the incorrectness of ANY sex-work being labeled as rape. Until then, since the high percentage of women and teens in the work are being raped, maybe not by the particular john, but by the society that didn’t let them choose, let us keep the label on rather than wiping away the label before we defeat the problem in itself.

  • sandra kunanele commented on February 2, 2013 at 15:37

    On a side note to be sure: thank you both Maggie McNeall & Kate for opening your hearts to the work that you do. I appreciate its importance from a very different perspective than the narrow vision presented by Chaseley’s defenders. It doesn’t seem to me from your words that you believe you do your work in those homes to prevent other women from being raped or molested. It seems to me you do your work because you believe, as I do, that sexuality is a highly important aspect of our being and needs care just as much as the rest of our basic human needs. Therefore, I urge you to take another look because I think you should be more upset at the Chaseley supporters for placing this point of view on your work, than at ann Tagonist for bringing light to the issues that make your work have the social stigma it currently carries.

    Also thank you for all you do publicly (like posting here) to liberate sexuality from the chains of this stupidly-moralistic society!

  • I’m afraid I must disagree with you there as well; there is considerable scientific evidence and theoretical support for rape being largely based in sexual desire, whatever other components it may have. The idea that rape has no sexual component and is based in “hate” or “power”, etc is political, not scientific. I invite you to look at the copious evidence I’ve amassed on my own site over the past three years, but I feel it only fair to warn you that it’s all based in fact and supportable evidence rather than in “feminist” rhetoric.

  • sandra kunanele commented on February 3, 2013 at 00:19

    I wish you were fairer to my spirit in coming to your conversation, and that you would not jump on the sexist divisive ban wagon to use ‘feminist’ as a dirty word.

  • That’s not what the scare quotes mean. I simply refuse to use the label “feminist” to describe a philosophy that casts women as the perpetual victims of men; that’s closer to fundamentalist Christian thought than it is to anything I would call feminism. Proper feminism views women as the equal of men, not their weak inferior who must be coddled and protected from our own choices.

  • eddiejc1 commented on February 4, 2013 at 10:46

    @sandra kunanele

    You are the type of person who would talk to 100 randomly picked sex workers, and if 99 told you that they are doing their job of their own free will and do not wish to be “rescued” that their views do not matter, but if the 100th person said they did not like their job you would highlight that person as a shining example of what is wrong with that line of work. You are not changing your views in view of the facts but selecting facts to match your views.

    “If you are a teen girl today, not YOU PERSONALLY MM., but ANY teen girl who really, really wanted or felt she needed to have a three figure income, do you MAGGIE McNeill trully believe you would currently have a choice between the profession of lawyer and sexual healer?”

    You do realize that there are young women going to law school who are turning to prostitution voluntarily as a means of paying for or defraying the costs of their education? It’s not a matter of being a prostitute OR becoming a lawyer, or as in Maggie’s case being a prostitute OR becoming a librarian.

  • Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Maggie. It’s good to see that some people get it.

    Unfortunately, some people do not.

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