What is a wife and what is a harlot? What is a church and what is a theatre? Are they two and not one? Can they exist separate? Are not religion and politics the same thing? - William Blake, Jerusalem (plate 57)
Ever heard the expression “as nervous as a whore in church” (alternately “sweating like a whore in church”)? It is, of course, based on the bizarre but popular notion that sex (especially commercial sex) is somehow incompatible with religion, and that a hooker would therefore be nervous at a religious service. As with so many popular myths about prostitution, nothing could be farther from the truth; whores are morally indistinguishable from women in general, run the gamut from devout to atheistic, and have the same sorts of beliefs (or lack thereof) as other women. As we’ve discussed many times the earliest professional prostitutes were priestesses who worked in conjunction with temples, and despite the efforts of neofeminists to convince the world that they never existed and those of control freaks to persecute their modern successors for “crimes” against Christian sexual orthodoxy, they demonstrate that not everyone considers sex and religion to be incompatible. Nor are all religiously-minded harlots pagan; though many are, and many others practice syncretisms of Christianity and paganism, the majority practice whatever religion they were raised in just as so many others do.
Erroneous prejudices like this one can only survive in a climate of ignorance; exposed to the light of truth they tend to wither away. I know for a fact that many prostitutes are religious because as a whore myself I’ve had the opportunity to talk to and observe the behavior of dozens of my sisters. I have been asked to pray for them or their families on many occasions, and my operator Gilda (whose story I told one year ago today) did not feel her job as an escort service dispatcher in any way made her less of a Catholic. Even non-sex workers who take the time to talk to us often have their eyes opened; in a Christmas Eve essay on Huffington Post Rabbi Will Berkovitz told the story of an Italian priest who tried to avoid a group of streetwalkers who worked near his seminary:
The priest confessed he never spoke with the women, studiously avoided eye contact and did his best to never acknowledge their existence. But as is often the case, willed blindness only works for so long when proximity is coupled with repetition. And one day, while following his usual protocol of denial, the older prostitute dropped something as he was walking past. It bounced to a stop at his foot. Without thinking, the priest’s instinct toward kindness compelled him to pick up the thin wooden object, forcing the encounter he had so dutifully avoided for the past several months. ”It was a knitting needle,” he said, still sounding surprised. ”And out of curiosity, I asked her what she was making.” The woman responded, “I’m knitting a tapestry for the altar at my church. It is a gift for God.”
Tears welled up in the priest’s eyes as he recalled her response. ”In my desire to avoid her, I had never noticed the cloth in her hands. I never bothered to look. Never thought to ask her story. And here this woman was knitting a gift for God.” From that chance encounter he said, he began to learn her history. Her background. Her story. And yet the priest was reluctant to share his experience with his community despite its almost biblical power and impact.
Like the priest (before Fate took a hand), those who willfully avoid thinking of sex workers as “real people” by avoiding any actual interaction with us shield their minds from the truth and can therefore believe whatever ugly nonsense they choose to invent about our immorality, selfishness, unfitness to give charity, danger to “innocent children” or other forms of moral turpitude.
Whores aren’t the only targets of Judeo-Christian prudery, though; in fact, those who embrace such beliefs usually do more damage to themselves than to anyone else by burdening themselves with sexual guilt and convincing themselves that normal sexual impulses constitute an “addiction”. But though there are plenty of opportunists ready to capitalize on this sick view of human sexuality, there are others who make their living in exactly the opposite way: selling sex toys to (heterosexual, married) religious couples by packaging and advertising the products without the graphic pictures and tasteless text relied on by secular distributors, and pointing out that satisfying sexual relations strengthen marriages. And if entrepreneurs can sell dildos and whips to Christians, maybe there’s hope that they may one day return to the practical view of prostitution which characterized the medieval Church.