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Is sex working ever 'acceptable'

(421 Posts)
neverthebride Fri 16-May-14 19:54:50

Hi everyone, this is my first post on this board so please be gentle (!) but I'd really appreciate some views.

I have a friend who is a sex worker. Very 'exclusive' kind of thing, earns a lot of money etc. I've known her for a long time but it's only recently that she's confided in me that that's how she earns her living.

I've known several sex workers in the past (I work in MH) and those people have been at the 'street level' and were invariably drug addicts and/or very damaged individuals who were abused in so many ways in their personal lives and as sex workers and would not have been sex workers if they felt they had other options.

My friend has apparently been doing sex work for a long time. She is highly educated, has no history of abuse in her life and seems to have made an informed choice to go into sex work as a 'business'. Her clients are big-spenders and she works in an environment where all possible safety precautions are taken. She does not do anything that she doesn't want to do and has made an enormous amount of money (which she admits she is 'addicted to').

I'm really torn on this issue which I didn't think I would be!. On one hand,I think HER experience might be positive but it's perpetuating the idea that sex and bodies are for sale and I absolutely disagree with that and know that the overwhelming experience of sex workers is just horrific.

On the other hand, I think she's an adult woman who's educated and informed and who am I (or anyone else for that matter) to say that she can't make the decision about what she does with her own body?.

I won't not be her friend because of her choices but I feel so uncomfortable with either of my thought processes. Help!

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 16-May-14 20:12:24

I think (with respect) that it's the wrong question. I'd ask, is paying for sex ever acceptable? IMO it's not. But I'm not about to judge women who sell sex and I think that stigma is a really unpleasant one.

I guess I can see you being uncomfortable if you reckon your mate is seeing the very 'good' end of things and you've seen the 'bad' end, but unless she's Brooke Magnanti and actually spends copious amounts of time promoting sex work, I don't see the issue.

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 16-May-14 20:12:59

(Plus, I reckon she may need you, and your experience, if things go pear shaped.)

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

neverthebride Fri 16-May-14 20:44:09

Thanks!. In no way does she promote what she does (in her normal life). I did feel it was up to her what she does if she's well, happy with it etc but there was a thread on AIBU a week ago or so where a woman was saying she is submissive to her DP as part of a BSDM relationship that they are both very happy with it and that's the type of relationship they have.

Several posters said it was against feminism because many more women HAVE to be submissive not through choice and choosing to do that was essentially betraying other women who have NO choice.

I felt very uncomfortable with the idea that women couldn't make individual choices because many other women don't have that choice but was also worried that sex work for example was in some way letting down the women that are trafficked/exploited/abused Hence my post.

Thank you!.

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 16-May-14 20:49:08

Oh, I vaguely glanced that that thread.

I thought the issue there was that the OP was saying she was being feminist when she was wanting to promise to obey her DH in her marriage vows. And people were saying the two weren't really compatible (which I do believe they're not).

I don't think selling sex is quite the same, though? I mean, I do get why you might feel quite uncomfortable about it, but I would be really nervous of making your friend feel judged. I mean, what happens if it does all go wrong? If (god forbid) she ends up in a situation that proves to be unsafe, or someone stigmatizes her for what she does (now or in the future)? She will need someone to talk to and she won't come to you if she thinks you are judging her.

neverthebride Fri 16-May-14 21:00:09

Oh, in no way would it come across that I was judging her. I think that's the reason she felt comfortable talking about it!. I just listened.

If I was worried that she was doing something she really didn't want to do, I would have said something but that really didn't seem to be the case. I've worked in an acute MH service long enough that nothing at all shocks me and I don't judge. Everyone has reasons for doing most things in life.

I am still a little confused about the BSDM thread though!.

wawuyura Fri 16-May-14 21:54:39

Men buying sex from women is never acceptable. Your friend is privileged and not representative of prostituted women.

after entering into prostitution, the average life expectancy drops to just 7 years.

The average age of entry into prostitution is 13 years

Up to 75% of women involved in prostitution began when they were under 18 years of age

These sad facts mean there are very few prostituted women over the age of 20 (because they will all have been killed by "johns" before then)

wawuyura Fri 16-May-14 21:56:59

And sadly, the privileged prostituted women tend to be the misinformed ignorant ones who advocate for decriminalization and agree with Am*esty.

ashworth Fri 16-May-14 21:58:24

Hi, it's my first post here and I signed up specifically when looking at this thread as I was (and I don't mean for this to be in the least bit patronising) so pleasantly surprised at such a lovely reaction to your friend sharing such sensitive information with you.

There's so much misinformation peddled by the media and by academics and politicians alike it's hard to know where to begin when unpacking such a complex and diverse subject! It's hard to undo a life times worth of stereotypes but I think in situations like this it's so important to pay attention to the language which we are using and to be distinct and clear what is meant by terms such as 'sex work', 'trafficking' and 'bodies for sale etc.'.

Firstly, I feel it's imperative to separate consensual adult sex workers from victims of abuse, exploitation and trafficking. The two are separate issues that sometimes overlap (abuse, exploitation and trafficking are much more prolific in agriculture and textiles for example) and conflating them only muddies the waters for sex workers as well as the victims of this abuse.

Abuse and sex trafficking are hideous crimes, they are not sex work.

I don't agree that the overwhelming experience of sex workers is horrific, although I definitely understand that your experience dealing with sex workers via your work in MH with street workers would most likely expose you to the most vunerable of women and would understandably colour your view. I in no way mean to undermne your experience but I must argue that you have met with a very narrow demographic of women who are in crisis though - I imagine the very nature of your work in MH wouldn't expose you to a representative view of sex workers.

I would also disagree with using language such as 'bodies for sale'. Sex work is a service whereby a workers permits (within agreed limits) what sex acts can be indulged in from him or her in a set amount of time. We wouldn't say a dancer was 'selling their feet' or an artist 'selling their hands' and I think that to have a sensible and rational conversation about sex work we should avoid such emotive language.

I understand why you feel torn but I would say your intuitive reaction to your friends honesty was the right one! As you said she is a smart and educated woman who knows what she is doing, and I believe that there are a heck of a lot more sex workers out there just like your friend but because they are working safely, sanely and discreetly there's no need for them to speak openly about a job that is on the receiving end of so much stigma.

There's definitely a myth that sex work is either wildly extravagant trysts in Mayfair or street work (I'm purposefully making no reference here to trafficking or abuse as it isn't sex work) - neither of these are true, however they normalised routines and lives of sex workers isn't the type of stuff to hit the media, it's kept discreet by the women who do it.

I think her experience is a positive one and I think a lot of sex workers experience is positive, they just aren't the ones we ever hear about. I'm really glad that you're friend has told you and it's been a positive experience for her. I really don't think you ought to feel compromised in your beliefs in any way. Hurray for you being a good ally to her!


wawuyura Fri 16-May-14 22:02:46

sex and work do not belong in the same sentence.

ashworth before you start posting on such a sensitive issue I suggest you do some research first. I recommend Melissa Farley or Rachel Moran.

Rachel Moran has survived prostitution and is more representative than belle de fucking jour

ashworth Fri 16-May-14 22:09:53

I don't believe that referring to sex workers as 'prostituted women' is at all helpful. In fact I think it's terribly derogatory and strips agency away from women and men involved in sex work. Autonomous adults who enter freely into sex work do so of their own accord.

Dear OP, I am aware that you are searching for answers to help resolve your conflict of feelings but please be aware when looking into the statistics that have been posted. Many organisations and groups that have an anti sex work stance are funded by organisations that have a moralistic view upon sex in general. Plus I've seen one of those links follow on to some work by Melissa Farley, a discredited academic (for starters see here

Furthermore the Amnesty AGM that was recently held in Scotland was an absolute triumph in promoting evidence based policy surrounding sex work - it looks at credible statistics and opts for an evidence based approach that reduces harm to sex workers. Whether your views are informed by moralistic tendencies or facts surely we can all agree that promoting safety for sex workers is better than purely ideological pursuits.

Dear OP I hope my comments above can help to inform you about your friends position and steer you away from sensationalise and moral interpretations of sex work - in a real world situation pure ideology can't help anyone.

wawuyura Fri 16-May-14 22:12:40

I don't believe referring to rape as "work" is helpful either

Custardo Fri 16-May-14 22:14:48

if she is highly educated, gets paid for sex , dosnt do what she doesnt want to do, is highly paid, and is in the right environment to enfore all this

then pm me her number - beucase she is extremely fortunate to have been in a position to have been able to have made an informed choice

SolidGoldBrass Fri 16-May-14 22:15:44

There is nothing inherently wrong with sex work. It's not a given that your friend will end up ill, addicted to drugs or traumatized; there are plenty of people who choose to take up sex work and find it an acceptable way of earning a living. It should always be freely entered into, safe and non-stigmatized (like any type of work).

I have friends who are or have been sex workers as well.

ashworth Fri 16-May-14 22:17:09

wawuyura I can see that we have very distinct opinions on this subject! That's totally fine - it'd be a boring world if we all agreed!

I don't think consensual sex between adults is rape, again that strips autonomy away not only from sex workers but all women (often the radical feminist line of thinking is one of "all penetration is rape", even outside of a consensual commercial transaction between adults).

I don't think these comments are useful to the OP though - I commented on this thread to help her possibly resolve some of her feelings about her friends recent confession to her by presenting some logical, unsensationalised arguments and points to consider.


Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ashworth Fri 16-May-14 22:20:17

Will do! I'm new here so apologies for slipping up on etiquette, just trying to help the OP. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.


Message withdrawn at poster's request.

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 16-May-14 23:03:08

I agree strongly with waw on this.

I think that there is something profoundly wrong with buying someone else's body, in the world we live in.

I admit, perhaps in some possible world where we didn't oppress each other, and bodily oppression wasn't central to other forms of oppression, it might be that buying someone's body was ok. I don't know. I don't really go for philosophical speculation because it's just not how my mind works. And, leaving that possibility aside, I think we do have to think about the world we actually live in. That makes me uncomfortable with terms like 'sex work'. I get why some people use them. I'm not going to tell a prostituted woman how to talk about herself. But in every other case, I'll go with what survivors I know say about it, and avoid those terms.

WhentheRed Sat 17-May-14 00:19:26

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

sahisej Sat 17-May-14 00:40:06

"The average age of entry into prostitution is 13 years

Up to 75% of women involved in prostitution began when they were under 18 years of age"

Then how come there are so many (thousands) of escorts in their 40s or older listed on escort directories?

Do those stats exclude escorts?

sahisej Sat 17-May-14 00:43:35

"They do not want to have sex. They want money. The money is used to overcome their lack of consent."

Practically EVERYONE who works in practically every job does it for money.

Do you think cleaners want to clean public toilets for the fun of it? Or do they do it for the money? Probably the money but they still made the choice to make money that way.

ashworth Sat 17-May-14 00:48:45

1) Prostitution is sex. Sex is shorthand for sexual intercourse which is agreed upon mutual grounds between the buyer and seller. Is a prostitute the only woman or man to have never received sexual gratification during sex? I doubt this. Also just because money is changing hands it doesn't rule out the possibility of gratification...

What robs women of their sexual agency is when other women try and police what they should and shouldn't do with their bodies. Wait, this robs them of their agency full stop.

2) Prostitution is consensual. Women have the choice to consent to sex with another consenting adult for payment. To deny their actions as consensual is again denying their agency.

3) Prostitution is work. Not all workers exchange a full set of legal obligitations with their employer - this is not a requisite of what is is "to work". Prostitution / sex work is by it's very nature a self - employed role therefore there is no employer to speak of...

Lastly, the issue of consent is never irrelevant to any kind of work whether a person is employed or self - employed. If a worker does not consent to do that work then they shouldn't have to.


I'm not a radical feminist. I'm liberal. I believe that women and men should be able to work safely, sanely and without stigma or moralising placed upon their work.

Penetration is not violence against women, or rape, whether or not money has changed hands between these consenting adults.

Consenting sex is not a crime.

Because a type of work involves sex it isn't somehow repugnant and 'special' to other services that a worker willingly undertakes.

Sex work is more than just penetrative sex. It can include this, it may not include this; either way the 'sex' in sex work encompasses more than the stuff of medical journals (domination etc.) and can't fit so neatly into a "men-do-this-to-women-it-is-bad" framework.

fluffymouse Sat 17-May-14 00:49:01

Wawuyura those stats are so shocking they don't seem believable.

Surely death is due to all factors including (I would think) drug OD and suicide?

Is this a subset of prostitutes?

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