The Sex Trade Fallacy

As a young feminist, I’ve been struggling with the sex industry for a while, and avoiding taking stances on things that I don’t feel I have a concrete enough opinion or enough information to really make an informed decision on. For example, my jury is still out on porn. Up until this evening, my jury was on the fence on prostitution–I had a gut instinct that I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t argue WHY, exactly, I didn’t like it, and I couldn’t put my finger on why legalization and legislation didn’t satisfy me.

I’m currently reading Sexual Politics, by Kate Millett. I am so in love. I’ve been flying through it as fast as I can on my commute to and from work, and any moment in between (I do most of my reading on the T). Originally published in 1969, the contents are still remarkably relevant to contemporary issues. That says something to Millett’s writing, but also something unfortunate about how much progress (or lack thereof) has been made these 40 years.

So we come to the topic of prostitution. One of the leading arguments that has been leveled against me when I enter into “the prostitution talk” with some confident, red-blooded American boy is that prostitution isn’t degrading–it’s liberating to women, because they get to take control of their sexuality (I have great first dinner conversations, let me tell you). At this point, they usually bring out the argument of having a friend of a friend or something who is a stripper and will vouch for this.

A) Experience is not monolithic. Just because Cherry Pie or whoever thinks stripping is, like, totally bitchin’ doesn’t mean that everyone in the sex trade has the same experience. (In a contrary vein, however, often marginalized groups WILL identify a degree of pride with their identity, in order to keep themselves from being completely destroyed. Just look at marginalized ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Hookers can do that too, you know.)

B) Forgive me, but I’m going to call your friend potentially misguided. She has most likely just bought into the sex trade fallacy.

Basically, prostitution is generally not sexually satisfying for the women performing the act. (For further evidence just look to Taylor’s Syndrome, “a painful chronic congestion in the pelvic area” due to a long duration of sexual arousal without release (Millett 117), aka “blue balls,” if you will, and it’s common amongst female prostitutes.) Thus, it’s hard to argue that it’s sexually liberating, as they are not gaining anything sexually out of the transaction–it is falsely liberating in that it removes the pretenses out of male/female interactions when the male is seeking purely sex. There is no subterfuge or games or whatever. In a society where a woman is ascribed value as a sex object, to actually BECOME that which she has always been (simply between the lines, rather than directly) and have it be her surface designation rather than unspoken can SEEM liberating, as she has removed the falsehoods from the surface. However, she is still ultimately in a role of sexual object and, if you will, receptacle. Furthermore, so long as we are measuring a woman’s value on her physical appearance, so too will she then measure her worth in how “successful” she is as a prostitute, thus winding up trapped in the cycle. Therefore, in order to become a prostitute, a woman needs to internalize the idea that her only worth to offer is her body and that her value is in her appearance (notions that are constantly reinforced in our culture already, she need only take them to the next level). By finding the experience liberating, one might argue that a woman is actually falling for the patriarchal concept, hook, line, and sinker, and subscribing to the newsletter.

I am reminded of that line of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex that so resonated with me: “One is not born but becomes a woman.”

The next argument that inevitably gets thrown at me is that men have greater sexual needs and desires compared to women, so prostitution is natural, as men must have their needs fulfilled somehow (why can’t men satisfy their own needs?). In short, this simply isn’t true.

In long, “all of the best scientific evidence today unmistakably tends toward the conclusion that the female possess, biologically and inherently, a far greater capacity for sexuality than the male, both as to frequency of coitus, and as to frequency of orgasm in coition.” (Millett 116) Basically, ladies have it good. As Masters and Johnson (cited in Millett) observed in a study, women are capable of multiple orgasms in rapid succession, each being comparable to getting a hard on, using it, and then going limp again were she a dude–all that can be done several times in a minute or two. Man, vaginas are COOL.

Anyways, gals are capable of doing it more and liking it more–so why isn’t there a huge demand for platoons of male prostitutes to service us ladies? Simply, because prostitution is a transaction, involving purchasing and temporarily owning, a person’s body, something that women do not have the authority to do. Furthermore, in our cultural consciousness, men are expected and encouraged to be promiscuous, whereas women are expected and encouraged to be as frigid as possible (let me once again plug He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut) and through the incredibly pervasive attitude of sexual shaming, this is internalized and indoctrinated at a young age. That kind of mental programming can lay a serious smackdown on a girl’s biology, and anything it doesn’t successfully smother can be knocked down with fear and guilt (Victorian women, anyone?).  So our culture pretty much decimates female sexuality, or perverts into someone’s fetish, and then props up the idea that men need more sex and therefore prostitutes are necessary.

I’m not sure how coherent this was–I wrote this frantically by hand earlier tonight in a mild haze because the caffeine from my diet pepsi hadn’t kicked in yet–but hopefully it is readable, and will inspire some thoughts and/or discussion.

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04/09/2009. Tags: , , . Uncategorized.

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