Harlots Parlour

The Sex Industry Blog

Notes from a Sex Industry Novice.

I was sent this piece to publish on Harlots by someone who describes herself as a sex Industry novice. Her name is Kate Gould, you can read more of her thoughts “HERE”
I liked this piece because it illustrates that even those who have prejudiced views about sex work, can, when they actually meet and interact with real sex workers, learn, at first hand, the reality of sex work as a job. Often, not only can such meetings change views but it can actually persuade people to become active within the sex worker rights movement in persuading others, that sex workers, are just ordinary people who deserve to be protected by the law, rather than persecuted by the law.

    Notes from a Sex Industry Novice

I’m a sex industry novice. I have no personal experience of working in it and know very few people who do. Not that I let that get in the way of forming opinions about it. I thought I had a progressive and feminist view: the industry, to me, was yet another example of women’s bodies being commodified and sold to men for profit, very little of which ever reached the women themselves. Stripping was objectification, prostitution was exploitation at best and rape at worst, and women in porn were treated as nothing more than three orifices and breasts horribly distended by implants. It wasn’t a moral judgement – I didn’t regard sex workers as some sort of lower species, but I did see them as victims of patriarchy, pimps, and an industry that violated their human rights and their bodies. It embarrasses me now that I had so simplistic and, frankly, patronising a view, but in some small defence, this is the way the sex industry is depicted in much of the mainstream media and abolitionist campaigns can be very persuasive. It fits with a certain stream of feminism that regards all forms of sex work as violence against women. Sex is supposed to be pleasurable, not a form of abuse. The life of a sex worker, we are told, is one of violence, rape, and terror. Sex workers are forced into prostitution by a drug habit, pimp or trafficker. This is a disturbing image. If you’re told that getting rid of the sex industry would end this, why wouldn’t you agree with it? And what better way to do it than to punish the abusers – the men who go to prostitutes? The Swedish Model, as it’s known, might have failed abysmally
(see Petra Östergren’s excellent critique at “HERE”1 for more details), but the ethos at its root – that, by making the purchase of sex illegal, the customers will disappear, leaving the sex workers to live happy, peaceful, unexploited lives – sounds like progress. Get the women out of prostitution and into fulfilling occupations. Scottish politician, Rhoda Grant, with her attempts to criminalise the purchase of sex in Scotland, is banging the same drum – all about exploitation and the assumption that no one in their right mind or with any alternative, would want to be a sex worker.

But ideology and reality are not the same thing. An obvious point, perhaps, but one that’s easy to forget. I sometimes do, anyway. Abuse and exploitation are bad, agreed, but so is the imposition of one’s own assumptions onto the lives of others. It’s far easier to just pass judgement, knowing little or nothing about the reality and to sign up to the organisations that sound like they’re doing something to better the lives of those working in the sex industry. I did that for a while. It made me feel like I was doing something to help my fellow woman.

Then I read Kate Holden’s In My Skin, a memoir of her time spent as a prostitute and heroin addict, and realised the issue was just a little more complicated than I’d assumed. Prostitution, as became apparent to Holden, as she moved from working on the streets to brothels, was a multi-faceted occupation, providing services that, often, had nothing to do with sex. Yes, there was sex, but there was company, intimacy, and conversation, too. Holden wasn’t in thrall to some bastard who’d beat her up if she didn’t have sex with enough clients; prostitution was her profession of choice. I’m embarrassed to say how old I was before I realised this was even possible, but it was more than old enough to know better. So, I read more, suddenly fascinated by the people who worked in this industry. I bought a stack of memoirs and autobiographies by sex workers, read interviews and found dozens of websites. What I found fascinated me, but it also pissed me off. The further I got from my one-dimensional view (“all forms of sex work are BAD and all sex workers are VICTIMS”), I realised that, though it may be defensible, it’s incomplete. There is much to condemn in the sex industry and I’m not about to argue that all those who say so are lying, because they’re not. But what they’re doing is showing only part of the picture. Sex work is a job done by people and, though a basic fact, this is what abolitionists and those who want to criminalise the purchase and/or sale of sex seem to forget. It isn’t done by drones to be pitied, rescued, and denied the right to freedom of thought and choice because they’re either deluded or incapable of forming, let alone voicing, an opinion, yet that is how those working in the industry are, frequently, assumed to be. Criminalising the purchase of sex doesn’t magically give sex workers a super life; it takes away their livelihood, forcing them out of their profession, and providing them with no alternative employment. Though this may be welcomed by some in the profession – nothing is ever completely bad for everyone – overall, it negatively impacts on their lives. (Again, see Petra Östergren’s excellent critique at “HERE”1 for more details

I decided I could either sit at my desk feeling pissed off about the fact that, in a sea of rhetoric, there seemed to be far more people arguing against sex workers than speaking for them, or I could try and do something to help. I looked for organisations that worked with sex workers and campaigned for their rights. So I arrived at SCOT-PEP (“HERE”), an organisation that does just that, enthusiastic but essentially clueless, and the realisation that the lofty voices in the ivory tower do very little to help those in the streets below.

About Douglas Fox

7 comments on “Notes from a Sex Industry Novice.

  1. Madam Becky
    27 July, 2012

    Thank you for this post. I have been vilified in the press on both sides of the Atlantic recently for speaking out on this subject and for saying that if (hypothetically) my daughter decided she would like a career as a sex worker I would support her and guide her into working safely and sensibly in the business.
    I have come across thousands of ladies in the past 20 years who have made their own decision for their own reasons to work in the sex industry. These are intelligent, focused women who know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it. To label these people as ‘victims’ takes away their power and voice, which I don’t think is a very feminist argument.

    Madam Becky

  2. pycraftsworld
    27 July, 2012

    Plenty of hypocrisy in people’s views in regard to this business and anyone who puts out an opposing voice gets shouted down. I like Maggie’s take on the issues http://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/bogeymen Interestingly if you understand astrology what we do is largely dictated by our time and date of birth and therefore condemning sex workers for what they do is pointless.

  3. marybysshe
    28 July, 2012

    I have generally given up on arguing with feminists about a womans right to have autonomy over her own body, so it was a pleasant surprise to read this.

  4. Douglas Fox
    28 July, 2012

    I have always had concerns that the idea of “choice” has become denigrated within the sex worker debate as something that sex workers either do not have, or at the very least, is limited. When I first became involved within activism I was shouted down by many so called colleagues who berated me for being classist and elitist by suggesting that sex workers had choices just like everyone else and actually, most of the time, the choice to go into sex work was a very valid choice, at that time, for that person.

    I certainly have no regrets about my choice to be a sex worker and the negativity I am subject to is because of others prejudices and not because of my work choice.

    In the context of feminism, choice, or perhaps the recognition of autonomy, in my mind, separates those who are real feminists and others who use feminism as a disguise for their moralist agenda. As I have noted before, the patriarchy remains strong, even if the language and context that justifies it has changed.

  5. mrsrobinsoninri
    29 July, 2012

    I love how this unfolded in her mind and her heart. Thanks so much for supporting sex worker rights, and feel free to join us on facebook in Coyote

  6. Kate Gould
    3 August, 2012

    Thank you so much everyone for your comments. I’m the author of the piece and am, hopefully, more educated about the industry now that I’ve found out more about the reality instead of going along with what I thought was a feminist (and, therefore, correct as far as I was concerned) view, but turned out to be an uninformed one, instead. The sex industry tends to be viewed, by those who know nothing or very little about it, as homogenised and uniform when, in fact, it is made up of individuals, all of whom have different experiences and opinions. Somehow this gets forgotten by many who purport to have good intentions and those for whom the sex industry is a scourge that should be abolished. In the midst of the theorising, sounding-off, and sensationalising, the sex workers themselves are, frequently, ignored.

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This entry was posted on 27 July, 2012 by in Uncategorized.
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