Cliterati columnist, Maggie McNeill, is a keen activist for sex worker rights. As an ex-courtesan, her campaigns are based on lived experience – and listening to people who are currently working in the industry. She has called on allies of sex workers to show their support on Friday 13th. As Maggie eloquently says on her site:
“The gay rights movement didn’t really take off until the friends and families of gay people got involved, and it’s the same for us; since only about 1% of Western women ever formally work as whores, we’re going to need a lot of help to make our voices heard. We need all the sex workers (such as strippers, dominatrices and porn actresses) whose fields aren’t currently criminalized, and the sugar babies and other women who have informally or indirectly taken money for sex at least once (which might be as high as 10% of all women). We need all of the men who hire us at least occasionally, which comes to about 20% of the adult male population. We need all of the women who recognize that cops can’t tell the difference between professionals and amateurs, and that laws which can be used to arrest us will also work to arrest you. We need all of those who love porn, polyamory, BDSM or kink, because even though policing of sex usually starts with harlots, it never stops with us. We need all of the public health and human rights experts who understand the necessity of decriminalization in light of their respective fields, all of the libertarians who recognize that governmental prohibition of consensual behavior is both indefensible and dangerous to individual liberty, and all of the feminists who recognize that a woman’s right to control her own body and make her own sexual and economic choices is the primary feminist issue. And we need all of the decent human beings who don’t fall into any of those categories, but are simply disgusted by the idea of armed thugs arresting, humiliating and ruining people for the “crime” of consensual sex.”
Cliterati is honoured to take part in such a worthwhile campaign. With this in mind, here is an extract from my new book, Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Women’s Sexual Fantasies, which examines whore stigma.
I shall be donating any affiliate money from the link in this piece to ESPLER, a project recommended by Maggie. ESPLER’s site explains, “ESPLER is a diverse community-based erotic service provider led group which seeks to empower the erotic community and advance sexual privacy rights through legal advocacy, education, and research. In our legal advocacy, we seek to create change through a combination of impact litigation, policy statements, and voicing our concerns for our community in political arenas. Through educational trainings and outreach, we will empower and capacity build to address discrimination of erotic service providers and the greater erotic community. Lastly, we strive to archive and rate much of the research which has been done by and of the sex worker community, and build on this history with research which seeks to be increasingly inclusive, respectful, and ultimately, relevant to the erotic service providers and the larger erotic community.”
ESPLER is currently raising funds for a court case – watch this video to find out more . They’re also having a fundraiser on Nov. 1st at the Fireside Lounge in Alameda from 8pm to midnight. Visit esplerp.org/ for more information.
Garden of Desires is inspired by My Secret Garden, and examines the evolution of female sexual fantasy over the last 40 years. Over 400 women submitted surveys, with a massively diverse range of themes explored. However, the surveys also revealed several insidious myths about sex that women found damaging. The epilogue of the book explores this, examining the most pervasive myths.
Myth #6: Women Do Not Pay for Sex
The Fantasy: Men are more sexual than women because they use sex workers. If women liked sex as much as men, they would use sex workers as much as men.
The Reality: While men may form the bulk of sex workers’ clients, it is women, not men, who form the bulk of sex toy (and erotic book) purchasers, suggesting that they have just as much need as men to satisfy their sexuality solo – and they’re happy to spend money on it too. Indeed, given the amount of money that women spend on massages, it could be argued that they are also happy to pay for sensual pleasure. However, our definition of penis-in-vagina sex as the only true sex allows us to assume that women are not willing to pay for it. If women were offered a ‘happy ending’ as part of a societally accepted massage, how many would take it? If you’ve seen the Sex and The City episode where Samantha is turned down by the male masseur who sexually services his other well-heeled female clients, you might be inclined to think that it might prove rather popular. Indeed, several women’s magazines have featured glowing articles about ‘yoni massage’ so perhaps it already is.
Maybe the real reason that women aren’t buying sex is that they’re scared of being judged – or, as yet, no one is selling the kind of sex that they’re prepared to pay for. Mia More says: ‘If you can now shop for sex toys without stigma, will it eventually be viable for a woman to pay another person for sex, and if so, could patriarchal society be inadvertently overturned in the process? The mind boggles!’
Of course, it could be that the real reason women don’t use sex workers is because they can get sex for free much more easily than men (in the main). Rather than being less sexual than men, women simply have more access to sex – and why spend money if you can get it for free?
The Risk: As well as reinforcing the virgin/whore myth, suggesting that men are more sexual than women, and that women need love as a non-optional side order with sex, this myth feeds into the idea that women are the passive receivers of sex rather than the possessors of their own sexual desires. It also reinforces the myth that sex is penis-in-vagina only. In combination, these myths help reinforce heteronormativity – along with all the usual damage that the virgin/whore myth brings, as already discussed at length.
The Solution: Regardless of whether women would use sex workers if they could do so without judgement, we need to remove the taboo surrounding sex work and stop shaming people for the job they choose to do. While capitalism exists, sexual services will be sold along with everything else, and doing so is no more wrong than any other form of labour, as long as it is entered into freely (as with any other job). Research has repeatedly shown that stigmatisation and criminalisation of sex work only increases harm to sex workers. Slut-shaming a sex worker is no more acceptable than slut-shaming any other woman.
Indeed, it could be argued that it is only when women stop judging other women as ‘whores’ – and start listening to each other instead – that we will finally smash the virgin/whore myth – which, as you may have worked out, is pretty pivotal to sexual liberation.
Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Female Sexual Fantasy is out now on Black Lace Books.