Not every woman is a prostitute, but prostitution is the natural apotheosis of the feminine attitude. - Georges Bataille
One of the most important aspects of the fight for sex worker rights is pointing out that prostitution is not only normal and natural, but that it exists on a continuum with other female behavior. While it’s not entirely accurate to say “all women are whores”, it is accurate to say that there is no clear line delineating prostitution from other female sexuality. A minority of women never do anything which even remotely resembles transactional sex, and a minority are professionals, and a huge majority occupy the immense grey area between those two extremes, occasionally or frequently trading sex for money or other things they desire, whether with strangers or employers or friends or boyfriends or lovers. It is precisely because there is no foolproof way to separate prostitution from other sex acts that police must lie and manufacture bogus “evidence”, and also the reason why women who do not consider themselves prostitutes need to be just as opposed to the criminalization of our trade as we are. If you’re sexually active with a man or men to whom you aren’t married and want to know what a prostitute looks like to police and prosecutors, look in the mirror.
In my column of one year ago today I mentioned that, though ignorant people and even some clients buy into the Hollywood hooker stereotype, Camille Paglia had it right when she wrote “The most successful prostitutes are invisible, because the sign of a prostitute’s success is her absolute blending with the environment.” Because we really aren’t different from other women, the only time we don’t blend in is when we choose not to. Streetwalkers often dress to attract attention as a form of advertisement, but criminalization makes this dangerous and the internet makes it unnecessary. Yet even some whores believe that being a prostitute means wearing garish outfits, standing under lampposts, being indiscriminate in one’s selection of clients or exceeding some arbitrary number of them, and because they don’t do these things they deny that their means of obtaining income qualifies as prostitution. A July 29th article at Huffington Post interviewed several such women; they’re “sugar babies”, low-volume unprofessional whores who prefer long-term arrangements. Some of them are university coeds hoping to defray expenses and avoid onerous student loan burdens; others are career girls who don’t make nearly enough to support themselves as they would like to be supported. And all of them are prostitutes, though many of them deny it.
The article goes into great detail about what its author, Amanda Fairbanks, prefers to call the “sugar baby phenomenon”, and though she does admit that this sort of relationship has existed since time immemorial and that the only new wrinkle is the rise of websites which make them easier to arrange, she still seems unable to resist using asinine phrases like “selling themselves” (as though ownership changed hands) and “thinly veiled digital bordello”. Like police, legislators, neofeminists, moralists and even many sugar babies and daddies, Fairbanks just doesn’t seem to be able to wrap her mind around the fact that the only important differences between formal prostitution and many, probably most, male-female relationships are duration, honesty and professional ethics. She interviews a lawyer who harrumphs about sugar baby arrangements not being “direct exchanges” and therefore not prostitution, ignoring the fact that most high-end escort transactions are no more direct. She labels as “stark” findings that 17% of British coeds, 33% of German ones and 30% of French ones say they would be willing to do sex work to pay for their education, and quotes a female Kingston University professor who moans that “arrangement-seeking websites are but another invitation for rich men to abuse young, vulnerable women” and laments that today’s young women “were raised to believed that their sexuality isn’t something to be afraid of.” Women who aren’t afraid of sex and refuse to be burdened with crushing debt due to arbitrary restrictions? The horror!
Not all of Fairbanks’ interviewees are delusional, though; she spoke to Ronald Weitzer (whose studies I’ve linked on a number of occasions), and he pointed out not only that sugar daddy arrangements are indeed prostitution, but also that many sugar babies would find that life hard to walk away from later: “The more you make, the harder it becomes to transition away from,” says Weitzer, “just like high-end sex workers anywhere.” And Barb Brents of University of Nevada, Las Vegas, concurs with my analysis: she says that escorts and brothel girls “…tend to be from working-class or middle-class backgrounds, but a good number are from upper-class families, too,” and adds that women often turn to sex work when they’re unable to make ends meet. “When people think about sex work, they think of a poor, drug-addicted woman living in the street with a pimp, down on their luck,” says Brents…”In reality, the culture is exceedingly diverse and college students using these sites are but another example of this kind of diversity…These college women [don’t] see themselves as sex workers, but women doing straight-up prostitution often don’t see themselves that way either…Drawing that line and making that distinction may be necessary psychologically, but in material facts it’s quite a blurry line.”
But though a few of the sugar babies to whom Fairbanks spoke were honest about their trade, the majority were not; one particularly self-deluded young woman called “Jennifer” said,
I’m not a whore. Whores are paid by the hour, can have a high volume of clients in a given day, and it’s based on money, not on who the individual actually is. There’s no feeling involved and the entire interaction revolves around a sexual act…My situation is different in a number of different ways. First of all, I don’t engage with a high volume of people, instead choosing one or two men I actually like spending time with and have decided to develop a friendship with them. And while sex is involved, the focus is on providing friendship. It’s not only about getting paid.
It would be difficult to pack more fallacies and rationalizations into one paragraph than “Jennifer” has managed here; I won’t break it down, but I suggest she A) talk to a couple of escorts, and B) read about courtesans like Aspasia and Madame de Pompadour, who restricted themselves to one client for many, many years. In the end, these young women are only fooling themselves; their clients know exactly what they are, and by choosing the path of self-delusion they sell themselves very short: the average one interviewed got only $500 for an entire night, while most escorts make that in two hours or less. And Miss “I’m not a whore” took home a paltry $1000 for an entire weekend.