Friday, October 30, 2009

The Sex Industry: Prostitution, and "Whore-ism"

This is Part I of a two-part series about The Sex Industry. Stay tuned for Part II: Pornography.


This is a really controversial topic in general, and I want to make a few things clear before going into it:

What I am discussing in this post are philosophical ideas about the sex industry, theories about why the sex industry exists, what it means for US culture, for women and men, and as a result, whether or not it should, theoretically or ideally, continue.

What I am not discussing are legal consequences for sex workers; protection for sex workers if they are harassed, abused, or otherwise violated; or the legality of sex work of any kind.

First, I wanted to raise a general question:

What, exactly, is "whoreism"?

I first encountered the term on a blog. I think it was the Feminism 101 blog, but I haven't been able to find the reference when I sought it out. Googling has not helped. I've tried several different combinations of words and phrases, but have yet to find anything that explains in greater detail what I wonder about.

From what I can reasonably assume based on whatever it was that I read is that "whoreism" means the institutional and social oppression of women (or men, but not nearly as often) who receive money in exchange for sexual favors of any kind. The general vibe is that someone who could be described as a "whoreist" is someone who discriminates against someone because of their status as a sex worker. Sex worker could mean prostitute, stripper, phone sex operator, porn actor, etc.

What I don't understand is how, or why, this behavior or belief system would even have a name. Now, this is my understanding based on limited education on the matter, but I don't understand the concept. I will attempt to explain why I am unconvinced that this is an issue I should glance twice at:

For one thing, to decide that there is an oppressive discrimination that occurs against sex workers that is deserving of a movement would be comparable, to me, to saying that the male guy with glasses who loves video games is oppressed because people call him a "nerd."

I feel that this is different and, yes, less important, than issues such as sexism, homophobia, racism, to name only a few. If you are a black lesbian, for example, you are likely to be discriminated against because of several personal identifiers that are beyond your control. There is the chance for racism, sexism, and homophobia. You, as a black lesbian, have no control over the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, or your sex. Those three things all occurred naturally. For me to declare your race, sexual orientation, or your sex to be negative in any way would be legitimate oppressive discrimination.

Receiving money in exchange for sex is a decision. You are not born a prostitute, or come out of the womb doing sex work; you aren't forced to do it, and if you are, that is obviously a fucking terrible crime and punishable by law. But we're not talking about people who are born into sexual slavery. Point being, profiting monetarily from engaging in, or performing, sex acts is a choice that one makes.

While I believe that prostitution should be legal (for safety of everyone involved, and because it will happen regardless of what laws are in place, as we can obviously observe), I do not understand why I should pay any kind of attention to how positively I see this particular job, or care how a sex worker feels about my opinion of their job.

I work for a national bank that is run by rich, old white men who got Michele Bachmann in office. When I consider my ideal workplace, I do not think of my present employer, because our philosophies so greatly differ. I know that there are plenty of other people who would not choose to work for a national bank on principle and think less of me for choosing to do so. However, I need a paycheck, and this is what comes easiest to me now. I ignore the opinions of the people who think I shouldn't work at this bank, or at a bank at all, and I choose to continue working at the bank. I chose to apply there, I choose to continue my employment there. I like it well enough. I do not believe that there needs to be a shift in the way that our culture views my job. People are entitled to their opinions, and any one choice I make will never, ever please everyone who observes it. I was not born a check card fraud investigator; I made the decision to take a job as a fraud investigator and I continue to choose to keep that job. Meanwhile, some people like my haircut (the one that I chose to get) and some people don't. No one told me that my natural hair color (which I was born with and cannot choose or change) was inferior to the natural hair color of another person; they told me they're not really a fan of my new haircut.

Everyone's choices are open to being criticized. It's not only a fact of life; it's the natural order of things. There would be no need for choices if we were all programmed with code that allowed us to operate in the most highly efficient and pleasurable ways possible at all times.

So, why should I have sympathy for sex workers who are annoyed at being viewed as "slutty" or perpetuating an industry that's negative for all women and the way that all women are perceived? It's only my opinion of a job that someone chose to have, not a negative view of the person based on something that she cannot choose or change.

Whenever the sex industry, prostitution, pornography, etc. is brought to my attention, I tend to just shake my head and think something to the effect of, "to each their own." I figure, usually, that if people get off on something, if people want to do something, then why not? If it harms no one, then by all means, do what makes you happy. But I am having a hard time standing by that these days, and only when it comes to this particular topic.

Personally, I can see the appeal in being a sex worker. The money is good, and in the end, it's just another job, right? There are unenjoyable aspects of it, but they could be compared to being the one to clean the bathrooms of the gas station you work in instead of mopping the floors. Ultimately, there are things you hate and there are things you could do without. Everyone who works for a living can agree with that. People who don't work for a living could say the same thing, have the same benefits vs. drawbacks conversation.

Ultimately, when you look at the sex industry from the ant-farm perspective, one has to wonder why there are so vastly many more women and other oppressed minorities working in the industry than any other. How many straight white guys (who we can all reasonably agree are the most privileged class, generally speaking) do you know that regularly, for a living, engage in or perform sex acts on/with straight women in exchange for money?

Not many, if any at all, I'd venture to guess.

What's with the disparity? Why are more women the sex performers and not men? How come white, heterosexual, middle-class men not engaging in the lucrative world of sex work, specifically with hetero female clients? Engaging in sex acts for money is obviously a good decision if you want to make money. After all, people are willing to pay top dollar for discreet, anonymous sex.


Oh, right, because there is no demand for them. Heterosexual women, in a very general sense, are not collectively concerned with having sex to a great enough degree that we'd be willing to pay men for it in droves. Chippendales is practically a joke; hetero women only see male strippers for laughs. Hetero men, relative to hetero women, go to strip clubs constantly and maybe some laugh, but most experience a form a sexual gratification, and that the intent when the decision to go to a strip club is made.

I'm not a scientist, so this is just a general theory based on nearly-educated guesses and the joint I just smoked, so don't get too jumpy with me just yet.

We know that men and women have some biological differences, namely their naturally occurring hormone balance. Men generally have more testosterone than estrogen, women typically have more estrogen than testosterone. We also know that the two hormones have vastly different effects on bodies that they exist in, and on the sexual nature of these bodies. A very enlightening book to read on the differences between testosterone and estrogen is The Testosterone Files, by Max Wolf Velario, who wrote this memoir about the hormonal changes that occurred in his transition from female to male.

So we can reasonably agree that testosterone makes most men more interested in sex and more sexual beings than women, whose predominance of estrogen tends to lessen her sex drive or slows her desire for sex to a more gradual level, as opposed to the immediacy of male arousal and climax. These facts make it easy to agree that the lack of heterosexual male sex workers and the lack of demand for them, and the abundance of female sex workers and the constant demand for them are naturally occurring.

There is also evidence to suggest that testosterone makes a person more aggressive, physically and otherwise, which manifests in men more than women because men generally have higher levels of testosterone in their body than women

The only problem with this "natural occurrence" is that it put the sex worker at a disadvantage in all situations. The man is more powerful and in a position where he feels control over another's body. It isn't an iPod purchased for his pleasure, it's the use of a human being's body. Even if this isn't the way that the male client treats the sex worker, the potential for the power disparity is there, at all times.

I am going to make some vast assumptions now, and even knowing that they are vast and not to be representative of the entirety of sex workers, I am still going to say it, because I think it's a decent theory, if anything:

I would bet a great deal that no sex worker can honestly say that all her life, she's wanted to be a sex worker. Or that now that she's in the sex industry, she feels personally fulfilled. That she really and truly "loves her job." There are certainly people who do it because they see it as a great source of quick cash and even long-term income and the sex part isn't really such a big deal. But, I am highly suspect of any sex worker who would actually say that sex work is the only line of work that they would enjoy, and that there is no other job that they would like more.

Ultimately, here it is: I hate the idea of the sex industry. I hate what it does, what it looks like, and what it implies. I don't, however, think that sex work should be illegal or criminalized in any way. The reason for this is because real people are sex workers, and all real people deserve good health and need protection. Prostitution will not ever go away, and because it won't, sex workers need protection under the law the same way that construction workers are protected under the law. But? I wish it wasn't that way. I wish there wasn't a demand for sex work. It's idealistic, I know, but I don't see a positive in sex work that outweighs any negative, at all.

And, ultimately, sex work is still a choice, and therefore up for criticism, and not something that needs it's own social justice movement. That's just ridiculous.