This essay first appeared on Cliterati on January 31st; I have modified it only slightly so as to fit the format of this blog.
Sometimes synchronicity (or coincidence if you prefer) helps me to make a point better than I could have made it myself. Less than 24 hours after yesterday’s essay “Skin To Skin” first appeared in Cliterati, this story was carried in The Sun and several other newspapers:
Prostitutes have been invited to a care home to have sex with disabled residents — sparking an investigation by the council. Hookers regularly go for “special visits” at Chaseley nursing home in Eastbourne, Sussex. They meet residents in a special room and a red sock is put on the door handle so staff know not to disturb them. Bosses say many physically and mentally disabled people have no other sexual outlet – and become so frustrated they often resort to GROPING staff…experts claim [access to sex is] a ”basic human right”…former manager Helena Barrow…said…“If we refused, we would not be delivering a holistic level of care.” Mrs Barrow, who now manages another care home in…Sussex, insisted residents always paid for the call girls themselves…A spokesman for East Sussex County Council said the local authority had been unaware of Chaseley’s policy of inviting prostitutes on site and “did not welcome” the idea. He said…“This has the potential to place vulnerable East Sussex residents at risk of exploitation and abuse.”
The Daily Mail’s version also included the myth that sex workers spread disease.
First of all, I applaud the caring people at Chaseley and their willingness to recognize that disabled people have just as much right to physical intimacy as everyone else, and that this right is no more removed by their residence in a care institution than any of their other rights would be; most of the comments on the story were also positive and supportive. The same cannot be said, I’m afraid, for the council, the newspaper (judging by the scare quotes around words like “therapeutic”) and a minority of the commenters, all of whom seem to believe that sex is not a need and that there is something lurid, amusing or even harmful about paying for sex. The council spokesman would never claim that the nursing home itself presented a credible threat of “exploitation and abuse” to “vulnerable residents”, but he thinks nothing of making the same specious claim about sex work, which is every bit as much a caring profession as nursing is.
While it is completely true that many of those who enter sex work are only interested in money, the same could be said about those who attend medical school. But this type of person will rarely be among the best in her profession, nor will she be the kind of practitioner who puts clients at ease and makes them feel that she genuinely cares about their welfare. In the case of sex work, those who are purely motivated by money are generally less successful and leave the profession sooner than those who view it as a calling; I reckon the equivalent in the medical field probably goes into administration, research or other areas involving less direct contact with patients. Those who feel drawn to the caring professions rather than simply settling for them, however, have many personality traits in common, and it shows in the considerable overlap between them. In the years I had my escort agency no fewer than three registered nurses worked for me (either for extra money or during sabbatical), and there were also a number of practical nurses, nursing assistants and nursing students; I myself worked as a nurse’s aide for about a year in the interval between my two degrees. I’ve also met or employed escorts who were studying medicine, veterinary medicine, psychology, physical therapy, radiology and social work, and spoken to more than one physician who did sex work while in university; in my experience, more sex workers have either worked in or studied some health-related field than any other area of expertise. Furthermore, a large fraction of my clientele were medical doctors, and I’ve never had a health professional react poorly or irrationally to my divulging my profession to them (though I have heard some sex workers say otherwise, especially in countries with a very pronounced whore-stigma).
Obviously, part of the reason for this must be that health professionals are much more comfortable thinking about, talking about and dealing with aspects of our physical nature than many others might be; they are less likely to be embarrassed by sexuality, and more likely to view sexual matters dispassionately and non-judgmentally. Also, health professionals and sex workers both are less likely to react strongly to biological factors that might disgust other people, and more able to put aside any revulsion or queasiness they do feel in order to get the job done. And successful practitioners in both fields either innately know, or have learned through experience, how to maintain the delicate balance between caring enough about their clients to want to help them, and remaining professionally detached enough to do be able to do their jobs properly without emotional complications. Good sex workers, like good health professionals, interact with their clients caringly, yet professionally; when they visit clients it is to take care of their needs, not to “exploit” them, “abuse” them or break up their relationships. Yes, there are unethical sex workers, but the same could be said of physicians. And when dealing with established members of either profession, one is no more likely to encounter improper behavior in the one than in the other.