‘We Independent Women, Some Mistake Us For Whores’ – Why Prostitution Isn’t Okay.

By Lydia Snodin

Turn Off The Blue Light campaign poster
Image: turnoffthebluelight.ie

Voulez-vous couchez avec moi? No? Well there’s no need to be rude! After my first year of university my finances are in the worst shape they have ever been. So what can you do to earn a bit of extra money? Waiting tables, cleaning – or of course you could try having sex with people for money. I did the last one. LOL JK, I just extended my overdraft. I have however been trying to figure out exactly what I think about it. I have previously written what I thought were fairly innocuous articles that people on the internet (Tumblr) have taken offence to. If those pieces were me tentatively dipping my toes into the waters of controversy then this is my haphazard canon ball into a massive outdoor swimming pool full of disgruntled members of the general public.  I never could get the knack of gracefully diving in.

There have been two campaigns recently concerning fucking for cash. First came ‘Turn Off the Red Light’ aiming to stop sex trafficking and then there was ‘Turn Off the Blue Light’ promoting rights and protection for sex workers. Now, of course I want women to have rights and be protected (duh!) but the posters of the latter campaign read like the Lord Kitchener WWI recruitment posters: ‘WE NEED YOU (to suck cock)’. As much as a dominatrix would have brightened up our sixth form careers fair – she could have given out free mini whips instead of pens – I think this attitude to sex work is dangerous. So let’s delve into what I don’t like about prostitution:

Should we be able to pay for sex?

I have, with my limited knowledge of the subject at hand, taken it upon myself to watch not one, not two, not three BUT ALL FOUR series of Secret Diary of a Call Girl in order to immerse myself in the world of sex for pay and Billie Piper’s slightly odd face. Basically the show kind of sucks balls and doesn’t really say anything more insightful than ‘Billie Piper looks nice in nice clothes’. The look they seem to have gone for is disturbingly similar to that of the female lead singer of Dee-lite. Let me demonstrate:

Groove is in the whoooooorrre. Well, I laughed.
Lady Miss Kier (calurvillade.blogspot.co.uk) and Belle (tvtropes.org)

I found my problem was not primarily with those who sell their bodies but the men that buy them. NEWS FLASH: It’s not impossible to have sex with people if you’re not a complete dick about it. Indulging in prostitutes has never and will never be an indicator of a man who respects women. The married men who use prostitutes are using the idea of fake women who are always patient, fond of blow jobs and in the mood to escape from confronting the realities of a relationship. So what if you and your wife aren’t getting on at the moment; grow up and sort your relationship out like the adult you claim to be. Complaining about your wife’s failings in comparison to a prostitute is comparable to getting used to typing in ‘Motherlode’ on The Sims to get money but refusing to accept that in real life you have to get a job.

I do think all sorts of open and honest relationships can work but paying to fuck someone, whether you’re in a relationship or not, is despicable. All it does is provide a standard for women in relationships to be judged by, because the line between the fantasy of prostitution and the reality of sex has been blurred. When Belle’s clients are saying: ‘Oh my! That was amazing!’ you sort of think… ‘Well yeah… She was being paid you absolute muppet. She doesn’t like your cock, she likes your money.’ And I think it is this blurring of fantasy and reality that makes it such a successful industry; there are loads of sad men just wanting to have some sort of intimacy but stubbornly refusing to do the things to earn it.

The Real Belle Du Jour (Brooke Magnanti) and Billie Piper who played her.
Image: poptower.com

Is being a prostitute like any other job?

But isn’t pretending to enjoy sex with someone just like a cashier smiling at a customer and telling him to have a nice day? Well no actually, it’s another kettle of butt plugs altogether mate! Prostitutes are being portrayed as replacements for wives and girlfriends. This is because, if you weren’t aware, sex is usually an integral part of a relationship and a personal life, giving someone a receipt for their purchase at Subway is not. Selling sex to men escaping the realities of relationships only stands to confirm the ‘grin and bear it’ approach of women to sex.

If I were a prostitute, which as we have already covered I am not, I would feel that sleeping with married men was very very fucked up. I mean sure, in one episode Billie Piper’s Belle du Jour stops seeing a client because his wife found out about her and told him to sort his marriage out, but she doesn’t think twice unless the wife finds out. This is, if you really weren’t forced into it, a morally dubious, if not bankrupt way to make money. Nobody would defend someone cheating with a married man so is being paid to do it okay? Prostitutes who do that have betrayed the women in those relationships for cash and solely for the benefit of pathetic men.

Satine in Moulin Rouge from 2001. I am going to go cry in a corner about aging. (image: fanpix.net)

Is paying for sex actually a good way to explore your sexuality?

You may say: ‘People can explore fetishes in private in a way they otherwise couldn’t!’ Surely paying someone so they’ll keep schtum about you wanting to have hummus smeared on your chin whilst being read Philip Larkin is actually worse for openness about sex? Rather than retreating to ladies of the night people should be engaging in open and honest relationships and/or going to cool underground sex clubs with like minded individuals who aren’t being paid to pretend to enjoy it.

I saw one episode of Jerry Springer where a man chose to reveal to his wife (and me) that he liked dressing in women’s lingerie. He walked out sheepishly in a candy floss pink negligee trimmed with feathers and matching pink kitten heels whilst declaring his love for all things lace. The wife was absolutely horrified and disgusted; Jerry remarked, ‘The real crime here is that negligee doesn’t go with those heels!’ I think I forgot what point I was making… Oh yeah! Everyone should have the courage and honesty to share those things because we’re all a bit weird so it’s fine. Yeah? Yeah.

For Teh Lulz
(image: http://icanhascheezburger.com)

Something paying a lot isn’t a reason to do it!

‘But it pays loads and you get to have sex all the time! WIN WIN!’ When there is a lot of money in something, as we can see with the porn industry, people are attracted to it that otherwise wouldn’t have been. In the sex and indeed porn industry there is so much more potential for personal harm. I would argue that when you start as a prostitute you actually have no idea of the effect it will have on you and the exceptions to this do not disprove the majority’s suffering.

Louis Theroux’s documentaries on both the porn industry and prostitution (look ‘em up yourself!) illustrated to me the complication of using sex to make money. I can’t help but feel that the case of porn and the sex industry proves that doing sex is not just like any other job to most people. Apart from anything, this industry makes personal relationships very difficult and that’s a major part of your life to jeopardise. Think about how difficult a lot of people find drawing the line between casual sex and an actual relationship with feelings, spooning and grocery shopping at weekends. Let alone regularly screwing for cash.

In the 2003 documentary ‘Louis and the Brothel’ he travelled to a ‘house of ill repute’ in Nevada and I think I saw something happen that (as far as I am aware) has never occurred before or since in his time interviewing. One of the girls working at the brothel (Hayley) appeared to actually be developing feelings for him; possibly because he was the only person to take to the time to see her as a human being and talk to her without the eventual outcome being a blowjob. She began by trying to erotically massage a wonderfully awkward Louis but ended up talking in very serious terms about her alcoholism and wish to settle down. It was genuinely upsetting to watch her visible sadness as he left at the end as she called his girlfriend a ‘lucky bitch’.

Have a musical interlude of Louis Theroux dancing to Dee-lite’s Groove is the Heart in 1990 with Adam and Joe:

I have never in my life seen a happy hooker!

Last summer, I went on holiday to Berlin with a couple of friends (the only anecdote-worthy trip I have ever taken). At about eleven one night we found ourselves lost in what can only  be described as ‘The Red Light District’ of Berlin; they all wore skin tight leggings, high heeled plastic-y boots, tight tops and tiny jackets that were cut so as not to obscure the view of their ample fake breasts. And you thought the Odeon uniform was degrading. It appeared to be designed by a complete arsehole to make standing frozen to the bone on a street corner even more uncomfortable than it already was. I mean fine some people like dressing like that, but in conjunction with selling your body for sex it means something very specific.

That was the first time I had seen someone who sold their body for sex. She didn’t look happy or protected or empowered. From where she was standing, empowerment was an invisible dot on an invisible dot. I think that prostitution can sound ‘cool’ until you actually see it happening. It made me feel unbearably uncomfortable and that wasn’t because of ‘my archaic prejudices about sex’ or whatever bollocks is currently being spouted in the name of ‘liberation’. The real Belle Du Jour seems very self-assured (not to mention well educated) but that doesn’t mean prostitution lends itself to empowerment – I wonder how many women who have resorted to selling their bodies for cash are research scientists during the day. Strong women exist within all careers.

My most favourite prostitute of all, Inara from Firefly who is always angry at Malcolm Reynolds for something. (image: ugo.com)

As someone who spends quite a lot of time writing about the ol’ feminism, prostitution has proved to be a  particularly tough issue. Because feminism is about personal choice you could argue that if a woman chooses to do something then that must be okay, right? Isn’t a woman selecting prostitution like becoming the CEO of a multinational company? But I think the choice argument misses the point somewhat. Going into the sex industry isn’t sticking it to the man in perhaps the most literal sense of that phrase. The sex industry came from men’s sexual needs being serviced by women; being a prostitute is about as rebellious as writing articles for women’s magazines about this season’s hottest looks. Prostitution benefits men, and men alone. Yes women get money, but men get sex and women at their disposal – it is the ultimate power trip.

Women have a responsibility not to betray other women in the service of men. I really couldn’t care less whether the brothel is all-female run – is that supposed to make it empowering? In the mind of the buyer prostitutes are women. They aren’t two separate concepts; you’re paying for control over a gender. I don’t think you can say that prostitution doesn’t feed into the idea that all women are prostitutes just waiting to be fucked. I’m sorry to inform you that some things are more complicated than being sexually liberal. Ultimately, it is much easier for us to celebrate the things women should be able to do than stick our necks out and say when something just isn’t okay. Prostitution is one such case where the schtick you get for it isn’t nearly as bad as the consequences of not doing so.

When I feel guilty for making something serious I have to end with a lolcat. This time I found a plentiful supply of prostitution lolcats (who knew?!) so here is the hand selected best of the bunch:

(image: trollcats.com)