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ysabel
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May 2011
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Ys [userpic]

I am very pro-sex (yeah, I know, all of you are going, Duh!) and, at least in theory, pro-legalized-prostitution. I also believe that prostitution as it currently stands is very harmful, but I'd had a lot of trouble sorting out how to make that concrete, because it's not just that it's illegal.

ginmar posted on the subject, and her post and the threads therein did a lot to help put words to many of the issues I have. I particularly liked the idea of decriminalization and making buying illegal but selling legal, so that the focus is on the ones abusing the power. The discussion also gelled my frustration with the fact, IMNSHO, that with our current culture and its fucked-up assumptions about sex and gender, it's probably not possible to sell sex without it being generally societally harmful (and even if it is possible, it requires such odd exception situations that they're pretty much down in the noise anyway).

But I also got into a conversation about whether it's possible to sell services that happen to include sex, in the ideal case, without getting into that harmful reinforcement of Bad Things™ or commoditizing sexual access to women's bodies. Such a discussion doesn't address the larger issues (and can in fact distract from and derail discussion of them), and is really more about philosophy in general than about real issues, of course. So I wanted to bring some of the philosophy parts over here...and incidentally indulge my curiousity as to what folks reading me think.

Is sex fundamentally different than other services, even in an ideal world? I would argue no, and (to quote myself from over there), here's the gist of my argument:

From a personal perspective, I don't see [such] services as any different than the idea that I periodically pay a good friend of mine (with whom I spend other time doing things together) who also happens to be a licensed massage therapist to massage my body and help me get rid of muscle knots and the like. Assuming that I liked/trusted [said person] enough to be willing to let her that close to me, then in both cases I'm paying someone I like and/or trust to do something for me that involves no small amount of work on their part.

As far as I can tell, though, that sort of exchange is nothing like what prostitution normally looks like. I'm talking about paying for someone's time and effort, not paying for "sex" or for access to their body or what have you. And, significantly, I can pay someone of any gender for their time and effort; it doesn't require any particular anatomy, just my trust and their willingness to do the work I'm wanting to pay for.
To me, there is a big difference to paying for someone's time and effort and paying for access to someone's body, and I would assert that prostitution as it currently stands is generally the latter. But I would also assert that it's possible, in an ideal world, for the former to include sex. Do you agree? Why or why not?

And yes, this is really just the philosophical bits, the things that are in your worldview inherent to services, economic transactions and sex independent of cultural hangups.

Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Comments

Overall, I think you're describing something much closer to the ideal than what I believe really happens in most prostitution transactions. Go read through ginmar's post and possibly some of the threads under it; for various reasons I think she's got the normative case pegged.

I would also argue that the scenario you describe doesn't necessarily look like a typical service transaction.

I've had that pointed out over there as well. It is what a normal service transaction involves in my world, though. I'm fairly picky about who I allow to touch me/get physically close to me. (Which isn't to say that there aren't lots of people who can meet my requirements or that I'm not touchy-feely, but that I do require a certain level of intimacy for that.)

I don't understand the notion that it dehumanizes women to be paid for sex.

That's not the assertion, IMHO. It dehumanizes women to be dehumanized by men who treat them as just an object to fuck; prostitution as it normally happens is just one example of that dynamic. (Seriously, this is way better covered over in ginmar's journal.)

The question I wanted to ask was, "If you could remove the sexism and dehumanization from the picture, is there still an issue with selling sexual services?" I don't believe the sexism and dehumanization is inherent or that would be a nonsensical question in the first place. (I believe the answer is "no", btw, but I don't think it's necessarily that simple, either.)

What does prostitution look like to you, then?

To grab the paragraph after the one I quoted:

Most prostitution is some man paying some woman to let him stick his dick in her snatch. I put it that crudely because, as far as I can tell, it's the only way to be accurate. Notice the difference in who's active and who has the power and the lack of any real requirement for (mutual) trust, respect or friendship.
Performing specific sex acts is skilled labour of sorts, not a passive access-acceptance. I honestly don't understand why you would consider prostitution not to be paying for time and effort.

Because I don't believe that most prostitution is about performing specific sex acts. (See above.) It should be, but I don't believe that it usually is.

In the most generic sense, it doesn't.

However, some of the things you've listed (massage, medical treatment, house cleaning, hair cutting) do involve either touching me or getting physically close to me. And for those things, I tend to need to hold those providers to a higher standard, or I don't end up getting service that I'm comfortable with. That's all I was getting at.

Unrelated

I don't recall if I've asked this yet. I know I've thought it several times, at least...

Way back when, I knew a D! on, IIRC, alt.sex.bondage and related places. I don't suppose this is the same dbang? *grin*

I have had fantasies of being a prostitute all my life, not because I want to be degraded, although I do identify as submissive and don't mind a little humiliation with my sexy breakfast, but because I love to see people, particularly men, transformed in the act of love. I love to give that to people. Sometimes I've done it at the wrong times or for the wrong people (haven't we all?), and sometimes I've done it more for myself than for them, but I always come back to appreciating it for that transformation. I think in another kind of world, I would have made a very good and honest prostitute.

But a few summers ago, I was out of work. Someone had suggested that I would make a good phone sex operator, so I signed up for call-in service and spent a few hours on the phones. There were a couple of good experiences, but most of it was disappointing. I did not take the job thinking I was going to get off all the time, or even a little of the time. I thought I could give people something valuable with my voice and the power of my storytelling. Instead, I got complaints that I didn't talk dirty enough, that I didn't describe myself dishonestly enough, that kind of thing. I found myself reluctant to all in, even though I'd made a schedule and expected to be on the phones 2-5 hours a day. Eventually I just stopped, because my heart wasn't in it. I felt somehow, for all my pro-sex-industry beliefs and talk, ashamed of what I was doing.

I've often wondered, after the fact, if it was just me wimping out, or if I could have done better if it had felt more like a job and less like a dirty secret.

I do wish there were a different general view of the sex industry, and I like your idea that including the possibility of sex with other valued services might be one way to do it. I wish that sex were not fundamentally different from other services. Then, it might be possible for smart, articulate, witty, moms (like me) to make a living at one of the things we're best at! :)

just my .05...

> I've often wondered, after the fact, if it was just me wimping out, or if I could have done better if it had felt more like a job and less like a dirty secret.


*You*, it seems like, were doing *fine*. It just appears that, stepping into it as new as you were, you weren't fully wrapped around the concept that it's a buyer's market; and "most" people seem to want the same generic stylized concepts of their fantasy body-shape or whatever they were preferring in terms of storytelling. You probably did a very creative and fantastic job; the customers probably wanted something that they had in mind, were probably longtime callers, and had their "meal du jour" in mind. You said:

> I found myself reluctant to all in

..It might have been difficult for you to constantly not "be yourself", that is, to take the conversation in the direction you wanted; versus just being a "tool" that the caller can direct, or at their worst, use or manipulate like an object [thus objectification] and have you do what they wish like an animate doll.

I don't know -- I might be completely far far off on this, it's just some thoughts I had while reading...thanks for sharing.

Charlie Sheen once said he paid for sex not for the sex (which he could get anyway) but for the woman to not expect anything more from him. The appeal for me would be that the male prostitute couldn't tell me later that I was "too sexually demanding" at some later date. Though that hardly matters. I'm "too everything" at some point. I've been "too smart, too critical, too active, too confusing, too dedicated..." just once I'd like someone to break up with me by saying I'm not enough of something. OK, I got off subject.

In order for prostutution to be OK, the person can't be "selling their body" but rather "selling a service." Maybe then, they would be respected for that service, and the skillset they bring to it, rather than denegraded.

Okay, I've gone over and read the original post.

I have to say...even if I believe everything she wrote (which I don't; she goes on and on about why men do what they do and how they feel without presenting a shred of evidence)...even if it is all true, I still fail to see an argument for why it should be illegal to purchase sexual services. There are lots of things out there whose existence is a sign of something unpleasant about society (boob jobs? manicures? daycares?) but making it illegal to buy those services doesn't change the society.

I think people have a right to purchase sex for the same reason I think they have a right to yodel while they knit pink acrylic toilet paper cozies: because it is none of anyone's business if they do, as unpleasant as both yodeling and toilet paper cozies are to any right-thinking person.

Unless you can make some compelling argument about how someone is getting harmed in a direct way (not some vagueness about "reinforcing gender inequities" or something) by any service transaction, I don't find a compelling argument for that service transaction to be illegal.

Just don't send me the toilet paper cozies.

Unless you can make some compelling argument about how someone is getting harmed in a direct way...

...

I'm not sure how to respond to this. I suppose I could try to dig up specific references/statistics about the number of women harmed in direct, obvious ways by prostitution as it stands today. Poverty, violence, abuse and inequal treatment by the law are the status quo as I understand it. Frankly, though, I'm stunned that there's any dispute on that subject.

Or perhaps you're trying to dispute something else at the moment and I'm not getting it?

I'm still talking philosophy, not logistics or the way things are.

I interpret what you are saying as "because we live in a misogynistic society, the men who go to prostitutes do so because they think of women as sexual meat" (roughly paraphrased), therefore it should be illegal to go to prostitutes. However, if we could make the society non-misogynistic, and therefore have the transaction be without the overlay of women-as-meat, THEN prostitution should be legal because it is just like buying other services."

I'm arguing with the first half of the argument: that because prostitution exists in a culture of misogyny, THEREFORE it should be illegal. I'm arguing that EVEN in a current culture of misogyny, EVEN if johns see women as meat, that per se is not a good reason to make/keep prostitution illegal, because the mere fact of exchanging money for sex, regardless of the motives, is not inherently harmful to either party in the transaction or third parties.

Now, if we want to look at prostitution in the real world (rather than arguing philosophy of law, which is what I was doing), I will agree that lots of women are getting harmed -- by violent johns, by johns who share diseases, by controlling and abusive pimps, by controlling and abusive cops, etc. But I think most of that harm is a by-product of the fact that prostitution is illegal. If it were legal, protections could be put in place; unions could be formed; pimps would evaporate; cops would not be part of the process. Even without fundamentally changing the sexism in society, even with the motives your friend believes johns have...even with our real-life world still intact, the harm from prostitution would be greatly diminished if it were legalized and regulated. Even in a culture of misogyny and sexism, I do not find a compelling argument against legal prostitution.

(And yes, I'm the D! from a.s.b days. That was a long time ago, you have a good memory! Did you have a different name then? Yours is not familiar to me...)

...therefore it should be illegal to go to prostitutes.

This is a stronger statement than I'm attempting to make.

Even without fundamentally changing the sexism in society, even with the motives your friend believes johns have...even with our real-life world still intact, the harm from prostitution would be greatly diminished if it were legalized and regulated.

No argument with this particular bit. I don't believe that the harm fundamentally stems from the illegality; I do believe the illegality makes the existing harm far, far worse.

I think the question ginmar is getting at is something like, "What about that root harm?"

Look at the current situation — sure, it's illegal for both sides of the transaction, but who bears the brunt of the harm of the illegality? That's not because it's illegal, that's an indication of something else underneath. (One might argue that "underneath" is far too gentle a term.)

Even in a culture of misogyny and sexism, I do not find a compelling argument against legal prostitution.

So here's a question for you. Let's say that someone wants to sell the service of letting their clients beat the crap out of them. Normally, assault and battery is illegal because of the harm to the subject of the violence.

The libertarian in me says, "None of my business." The cynic says, "Serves 'em right, whatever they get."

But some other part has to wonder about whether maybe something should be done (and I'm not saying what) about people who would buy such a service. If they feel a need to beat the crap out of a living human being instead of finding some other way to channel those impulses, then are they a threat to the people around them who aren't selling such services? (Whether making such things illegal is an effective solution is a whole 'nother arguement, and I'd argue that statutory means are the wrong approach...but so is ignoring the issue.)

This analogy doesn't work if you believe that prostitution, as it stands today, is usually about selling sexual services. But if you believe it's about commoditization of the woman's body? Somewhat more so.

This is part of why I've written some about the whole 'service' thing and probably will write more about it.

And yes, I'm the D! from a.s.b days. That was a long time ago, you have a good memory! Did you have a different name then? Yours is not familiar to me...

Certainly I wasn't using Ysabel. On rec.moto I used "Deb Parks" a lot (Parks is my second middle name) but I don't recall exactly what I used on a.s.b. at the time. I suspect mostly just 'Deb', might've been 'Deb Hooker' (my actual last name...). (deb at colorado dot edu for most of the time I was active on Usenet, IIRC.) It's possible there were posts from before when I switched things over and was still using 'Devin' but I don't recall any more.

I found some old D! and STella posts poking around on Google News, which conjured fond memories. *grin*

Sorry it's taken me so long to get to this, but I wanted to give it more thought than I had time to last night.

But I also got into a conversation about whether it's possible to sell services that happen to include sex, in the ideal case, without getting into that harmful reinforcement of Bad Things™ or commoditizing sexual access to women's bodies.

Which leaves me wondering how one does commoditize sex acts without commoditizing the provider's body, unless the provider is active rather than passive. The provider, then, has to be performing the service for/on the consumer, no? Which would seem to rule out some forms of sexual services.

The difference between a physician, masseuse, barber, whatever, and many sex acts would be that the former are actively performing a service on the body of the consumer.

Which leads me back to the example that came up about psychiatrists, because in talk therapy, at least some forms, active/passive is less clear... but, even then there is a very clearly defined boundary between physician/patient that the doctor ought to be keeping the patient aware of.

Not that this can't happen if one is providing sexual services, but it seems like it would be difficult, and again, might rule out certain services.

Is sex fundamentally different than other services, even in an ideal world?

Abstracted far enough, from the right perspective, anything can appear extremely similar to anything else. What is the scope/context/scale/perspective of this ideal world?

But more directly, well, what is similar between various services of the category that "sex work" would be placed into, and what is different among them? For that matter, what other work would it be like in this ideal world?

Also, regardless of the motivations/professionalism/whatever of the provider, this world needs to assume that consumers aren't SEEKING commoditization of the provider's body.

But I would also assert that it's possible, in an ideal world, for the former to include sex. Do you agree? Why or why not?

No, but I'm still hashing out why at this point, but it's got to do with the questions and responses above.

The provider, then, has to be performing the service for/on the consumer, no? Which would seem to rule out some forms of sexual services.

Yes. There's a reason why I've tried to distinguish between the concept of selling sexual services and selling access to a body. I see them as having a philosophical difference.

What is the scope/context/scale/perspective of this ideal world?

A) A world where there are not gender-based power imbalances.
B) A world where people do not see sex as necessarily somehow different than any other bodily function.

I'm not trying to address issues of classist exploitation of workers, for example; I'm just trying to, for the philosophical discussion, eliminate things like 'it's inherently degrading because SEX IS EVIL' and the whole women-as-meat sorts of things. (Wouldn't it be nice if it were that easy?)

...this world needs to assume that consumers aren't SEEKING commoditization of the provider's body.

Agreed. I raised an analogy of selling beating the crap out of someone up above, talking to dbang. If the service being sold is, "You get to harm someone," that seems to me to have some fundamental issues other than what I'm talking about. (And I think that that's essentially what most prostitution boils down to right now; thus the whole distinction of sexual services, if that makes any sense.)

I don't think that sex is inherently harmful, but I don't think that sex-as-I-see-it is what's usually being purchased in prostitution transactions today. (Hell, I don't think sex-as-I-see-it is what usually happens between most people who claim to be having sex, but that's a whole 'nother thing again. *grin*)

Yes. There's a reason why I've tried to distinguish between the concept of selling sexual services and selling access to a body. I see them as having a philosophical difference.

Well, without generating a specific list of sex acts, what sort of sexual services can be sold without crossing that line?

A) A world where there are not gender-based power imbalances.

Definitely.

B) A world where people do not see sex as necessarily somehow different than any other bodily function.

At risk of sounding obtuse: there are a lot of different bodily functions that have different... well, they're treated differently. I think sex gets some of the worst treatment, but the rest aren't all treated equally or close to. And, of course, every single thing any human ever does is essentially a "bodily function" to some degree or other, so it'd be good to set a boundary on this, for sake of discussion.

I'm just trying to, for the philosophical discussion, eliminate things like 'it's inherently degrading because SEX IS EVIL' and the whole women-as-meat sorts of things. (Wouldn't it be nice if it were that easy?)

For my part, any unease with prostitution does not stem from a feeling that sex is somehow bad, or even special/sacred and in need of being put on a pedastal, or the fact that so many others may think one or the other (simply put: fuck 'em! ;p).

(And I think that that's essentially what most prostitution boils down to right now; thus the whole distinction of sexual services, if that makes any sense.)

I think I get where you're going, here. I'm to the point where I'm thinking that, hypothetically, there could be a place for sale of sexual services in an 'ideal world' scenario, but even in such a world the types of services / sex acts up for sale and the entire practice/profession would be radically different from prostitution as it is practiced today, even in many of the exception cases.

I don't think that sex is inherently harmful, but I don't think that sex-as-I-see-it is what's usually being purchased in prostitution transactions today.

I don't, and I don't think that was a major factor in the post that started this all off, think sex is harmful. I was positing that the sale of sex is harmful, perhaps inherently so. Just at the moment, I'm leaning toward thinking more that, if not all, at least some sex acts and/or the sale under certain circumstances is harmful, perhaps inherently so.

Even so, one could never rightly call the sort of thing I'd see as okay in an ideal world "prostitution". Possibly also not sex, but that's a stretch.

Even so, one could never rightly call the sort of thing I'd see as okay in an ideal world "prostitution".

I think that's likely true, though some of that is just that "prostitution" has such baggage associated.

Possibly also not sex, but that's a stretch.

I could (I think) argue that most of what I think is healthy sexual interaction (and thus could possibly qualify as a reasonable service to sell in my worldview) doesn't qualify as sex under current cultural definitions. *grin*

The way mainstream American culture looks at quote sex unquote drives me up the wall, in so very many ways. It seems to me like many of the assumptions about sex roles and the appropriateness of violence against women and so forth are all built right in to the word "sex" in the minds of most people. That's really depressing to me.

...hypothetically, there could be a place for sale of sexual services in an 'ideal world' scenario, but even in such a world the types of services / sex acts up for sale and the entire practice/profession would be radically different from prostitution as it is practiced today, even in many of the exception cases.

No argument from me there. Then again, I think that most of the things that wouldn't qualify also don't qualify as healthy sexual interaction even when it's free...and the rest, if you sold them, would be lies (to risu's points over on ginmar's journal).

I think sex gets some of the worst treatment, but the rest aren't all treated equally or close to.

Not arguing that they do, just that they should, IMHO.

And, of course, every single thing any human ever does is essentially a "bodily function" to some degree or other, so it'd be good to set a boundary on this, for sake of discussion.

A not unreasonable point, I suppose. I am saying, then, specifically, that I don't consider sex any different than breathing, eating or defecating (wait, I know how that's usually meant...let me finish! *grin*). I do include masturbation in "sex" in that sentence, though; there is certainly no inherent right to have someone else participate in any of those functions. (I'm not sure I believe there's any inherent right to any of those functions, but I definitely think that the whole "pursuit of life, liberty and happiness" is the right general expression.)

I'm certainly not including 'beating the crap out of someone' in that bodily functions thing.

Now, the obvious answer to why sex is different is that one won't die if one doesn't occasionally have some form of sex (masturbation included, remember). I would argue that it's possible to go a short while without oxygen, a somewhat longer while without water, and quite a bit longer without food. These are different levels of immediacy of need, not qualitatively different.

Sex stimulates the production of endorphins and other neurotransmitters, and the human body is certainly evolved to need that kick periodically. It's unhealthy to deny that need entirely, just as it's unhealthy to deny entirely the need for, say, food. You can eat things the body wasn't really set up to normally digest, and you can find other ways to get some of those neurochemical kicks in the butt as well.

I see these as also differences in immediacy, not qualitatively different.

(There are, of course, exceptions. Some people can do without sex entirely. Some people can also do without sleep entirely, without suffering the normal ill effects. As far as I can see, they're the exception rather than the rule. Admittedly, I don't know of anyone who can do without oxygen, but hey, it's not a perfect analogy. *grin*)

But, just so it's clear...I don't think that obligates anyone else to participate. Regardless of the gender or lack thereof of either party. Nor do I think that this need is somehow unique to men. (Yeah, right.)

By way of analogy, I could totally buy that some people need strenuous physical exertion to be mentally healthy and balanced. (I'm inclined to say I fall into that group — I tend to feel crappy when I don't do some sort of exercise after a while.) That doesn't mean it's okay for them to get it by periodically beating the crap out of someone.