This is not a fun book, but it is an important one. Not that it’s a difficult read, mind you; it’s broken into five main sections and dozens of small, digestible chapters, and nearly every page has some sort of interesting or funny quote intended to illustrate the author’s points. It is, however, quite long and a lot of it may anger you; the author intended it to be browsed over weeks rather than plowed through in days. But if you are a thinking person who cares about liberty, read it you must; McWilliams not only discusses the history of society’s treatment of consensual crimes, but presents compelling legal, philosophical, moral, practical and economic reasons why government should abandon the practice of meddling in the personal affairs of individuals. Among the topics covered are prostitution, drug use, gambling, homosexuality, pornography and mandatory seat belt laws.
McWilliams was a bestselling author of self-help books who was probably drawn to this topic because of his homosexuality, and published Ain’t Nobody’s Business in 1993. But three years later, his interest in the topic became more than academic when he was diagnosed with both AIDS and cancer and needed marijuana to control the violent illness which resulted from his drug therapy. He became a medical marijuana activist who testified before the National Academy of Sciences and granted numerous media interviews about his personal experiences with the anti-emetic effects of marijuana, but just two weeks after publishing an article in Daily Variety (December 1997) in which he specifically stated that he used marijuana, a horde of heavily-armed DEA thugs invaded his house and stole his computer and files; he was arrested a few months later in July 1998. The charge was not possession of marijuana but being a “drug lord”; the rather convoluted rationale for this was that as the publisher of Prelude Press he had given an advance to an author for a book on medical marijuana, and that writer had used a portion of the advance to grow his own medical marijuana. Since Prelude Press was the source of the funds the man had used to finance his crop, that made McWilliams a “drug lord” and allowed the Feds to close down his company and seize virtually all of his assets.
Note that by this time California had already legalized medical marijuana, but the federal government decided to act in order to gag a persistent gadfly. One of the conditions of McWilliams’ bail was a weekly urine test, which he could not fail because his elderly mother had put up her house as property bond for his bail and the feds would steal it and throw her out into the street if her son were sent back to jail. So he was forced to be constantly ill and often threw up his medications; without them he quickly grew weaker and was soon wheelchair-bound. The federal judge refused to allow McWilliams or his attorney to mention his terminal illness, the fact that he used marijuana as medicine or the fact that he was permitted to do so under California law, but the kangaroo court which resulted was never finished because on June 14, 2000 McWilliams choked to death on his own vomit.
All or Nothing: A Short History of Abstinence in America by Jessica Warner
Throughout history there have been those who abstained from one vice or another, and religious devotees who abstained from all or most of them. But Protestant reformers like Martin Luther rejected the concept that anything should be abstained from completely as some Catholic religious orders practiced; instead, they preached the virtue of moderation. But less than two generations after Luther abstinence was back in fashion among the Puritans, and by the 18th century it became an inextricable part of evangelical Protestantism. Warner traces the development of the notion that moderation is undesirable, which caught on in America as it never could have in Europe because it was based in the sort of misguided optimism we’ve discussed before, the notion that man is perfectible. She shows how in the late 19th century abstinence went from a personal choice to a thing to be imposed upon society by force (i.e. prohibitionism), and how it eventually permeated American culture in general and led to modern excesses such as anti-sex laws, dietary fascism and the “War on Drugs”.
Aphrodite’s Trade by Lochlainn Seabrook
Thanks to its ambitious subtitle (“The Hidden History of Prostitution Unveiled”), its beautiful cover art (The Pearls of Aphrodite by Herbert Draper) and its endorsements from a number of luminaries in the prostitutes’ rights field, I was really looking forward to reading this book and was hoping to find in it a supplement to Nickie Roberts’ Whores In History (discussed below); alas, I was badly disappointed. Even now I wish I could recommend it to you; the author’s heart is in the right place and some of the points he makes are bang on target, but both content and execution are so critically flawed that I can’t in good conscience recommend it to anyone who isn’t A) already an expert in the field; B) an obsessive collector of all things whore-related, and C) able to find it cheap.
The book starts out strong with a presentation of the roots of prostitution in biology (such as we’ve discussed here before), and Seabrook even postulates a “prostitution gene” along the same lines as that suggested by Amanda Brooks. Furthermore, he points out that since marriage was made possible by human females evolving beyond estrus – essentially making ourselves sexually receptive all the time – that it is reasonable to state that marriage evolved from prostitution rather than alongside it; again, no quibbles here. But rather than stick to his strong point (which appears to be biology), Seabrook then wanders off into some very unconventional (and unsound) notions about history, describing as fact highly dubious New Age ideas about Neolithic social organization and portraying what he calls the “Patriarchal Takeover” as a monolithic event at a specific time, which it absolutely was not; what’s more, he can’t make up his mind about when it was supposed to have happened because he gives three different dates! And his notions of etymology are even worse; Seabrook appears to believe that because two words resemble each other they must be linguistically related, and the houses of cards he builds from these pseudo-cognates are quite remarkable.
The structure of the book is as flawed as its content; though externally it appears to be a typical small-format trade paperback of 256 pages, it is printed in a large type-face with excessive white space and the essay itself (I hesitate to call it a book) occupies only 75 of those pages; there follow several appendices (only two of which are arguably useful), then a 40-page bibliography and a 75-page index (printed with even more wasted space than the text). In the final analysis, this is basically a deeply-flawed 30-something page essay padded out to book size. Save your money and buy Whores In History instead.
Yes, I mean THE Bible. Those who only know it from Sunday School or Catechism lessons may not realize just how many of us can be found in the “Good Book”, often in neutral or even positive roles. I’m not going to mention the Mosaic prohibitions or the railings of dirty old prophets because those are no different from what one can hear from any politician or self-proclaimed champion of “morality” today. Rather, I want to give a quick overview of a few notable mentions. In Genesis 38, the patriarch Judah refuses to give his widowed daughter-in-law Tamar a son as required under the Levirate law, so the clever young woman disguises herself as a temple prostitute in order to trick him into doing his duty. In the book of Joshua (chapters 2-6) the harlot Rahab hides a pair of Hebrew spies from the searching troops of Jericho on condition that her family be spared in the coming massacre; she later married one of the Hebrews and became the ancestress of either several prophets or Jesus himself, depending on which scholars one chooses to believe. In 1 Kings 3:16-28, King Solomon pronounces his famous judgment over a baby which two prostitutes both claim as theirs. But these are but incidentals in comparison with Ezekiel 23, which contains the most sexually graphic parable in the entire Bible; it is the story of two harlot sisters whose activies are embellished by descriptions of the genitals and “emissions” of their customers. I can’t link it because the Terms and Conditions prohibit links to pornography, but I’m sure you can find it yourselves. Finally, of course, Jesus was well known for socializing with prostitutes, which is probably what gave rise to the persistent but apocryphal legend that Mary Magdalene was one of us.
Once the Japanese Empire started to expand in the 1930s, some 200,000 women (many of them Korean) were enslaved in Japanese military brothels; at first most were tricked into it, but later all pretense was dropped and they were simply abducted and forced into a life of abuse and degradation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the issue of comfort women was completely ignored at the Tokyo war crimes trials (these women were only whores, after all, even if they weren’t before the Japanese captured them) More shocking, however, is the fact that the Japanese government continues to deny the facts to this day, preferring to claim that the comfort women were all professional prostitutes who volunteered for the duty and were well-paid in spite of the fact that the surviving comfort women unanimously deny this and the fact that the claimed level of payment would have cost the Japanese treasury hundreds of millions of yen per month at a time it could not possibly afford such an expense. This is not an easy book to read; I’m not easily brought to tears, yet found myself weeping bitterly several times while reading it. This book should be required reading for all the silly asses who claim voluntary adult prostitution in a free society is equivalent to “sexual slavery”; I defy anyone who has read it to ever again compare the life of ANY Western sex worker with this abomination.
Cop To Call Girl by Norma Jean Almodovar
An expose of the rampant corruption in the LAPD by Almodovar, who worked as a cop for ten years before repenting and turning to an honest life as a whore; unfortunately, the injustice system tried to silence her by throwing her in jail for three years for a “crime” usually punished by a fine. Norma Jean’s not the most concise writer in the world (her true talent is as a sculptress) and she can be a bit repetitive at times, but this is still a good book for those who care about civil liberties and the whore’s rights movement, of which Norma Jean is an important leader. The Amazon.com entry is entertaining itself for the snooty, snarky Library Journal review written by a bluenose from Purdue, which as a former librarian I feel compelled to point out is not up to LJ‘s usual standards of objectivity.
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Though I had heard about this book before, I became interested in reading it through Satoshi Kanazawa’s discussion of the epilogue to its sequel; I really wanted to read Superfreakonomics, but it seemed silly not to read the first one first so that’s what I did, and I found it fascinating. Levitt is an economist who isn’t good at math and isn’t interested in analyzing the things one generally associates with economics, but instead wants to explore “the hidden side of everything”. What that “everything” entails is most easily demonstrated by telling you the names of the book’s six chapters: “What Do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have In Common?”, “How is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real-Estate Agents?”, “Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?”, “Where Have All the Criminals Gone?”, “What Makes a Perfect Parent?” and “Perfect Parenting Part II; or: Would a Roshanda By Any Other Name Smell As Sweet?” Need a bit more enticement? The star of chapter 3 is Sudhir Venkatesh, the answer to the title of chapter 4 is “Roe vs. Wade”, and chapter 2 (in combination with material from All or Nothing) provided the inspiration for “Circle”.
Friday by Robert A. Heinlein
Robert Heinlein had some very advanced ideas about sexuality; in Stranger in a Strange Land he even predicted the rise of “free love” a decade before it became popular. He speaks highly of whores in a number of his works, but perhaps none as much as in this one. The title character is a genetically engineered woman, an “artificial person” as her society terms it; like prostitutes in many past cultures she is therefore viewed as not fully human. Friday is a futuristic secret courier, and part of her training was in the art and science of harlotry; the means by which she survives a rape early in the book generated considerable controversy, but is not unlike my own method (relax and go with it if it’s inevitable because if you fight you may be hurt or even killed). Heinlein’s female characters are often based on his beloved wife Virginia, and Friday is no exception; they’re usually extremely intelligent, resourceful and competent, highly pragmatic and unrepentantly feminine (one critic called them “boy scouts with tits”). Apparently, many men see me as a living Heinlein character because I was on a number of occasions asked, “Have you ever read any Robert Heinlein?” or even specifically, “Have you ever read Friday?” I always considered it a high compliment.
The Happy Hooker by Xaviera Hollander
Though much of it seems tame almost 40 years later, the importance of this book cannot be overstated. Xaviera Hollander was among the first prostitutes to come forward to enlighten people about our profession, just as I and many others are still trying to do today. But unlike today, the conventional reading audience in 1972 was far more accepting of unconventional sexuality, and Hollander’s book became a best-seller. Does she pander to the masses by concentrating on the sex? Absolutely. Are some of her stories exaggerated? Undoubtedly. But that isn’t the point; the point is that a woman had the nerve to say “I am a prostitute, and I’m not degraded or miserable or drug-addicted or enslaved,” and the public of those far more enlightened times said, “OK, that’s cool.” The new edition of this book is a measure of how much times have changed; ten pages of material (including an experience with a German Shepherd which even shocked me when I first read this book in high school) have now been cut, and some of Hollander’s language and attitudes (such as her opinion of homosexual men) have been bowdlerized and/or rendered politically correct. This book was one of my first eye-openers, and still deserves to be read; however, I suggest you find a copy of the original edition in a (physical or online) used-book store rather than reading the whitewashed new edition.
Harmful To Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex by Judith Levine
There is almost nothing in this book that will be new to regular readers; Levine’s position is essentially identical to my own. She points out that only in America is sex in general and sex among legal minors in particular treated as pathological; that sexuality starts at an early age, surges at adolescence and develops throughout the teens rather than springing into existence at midnight on a person’s 18th birthday; that the suppression of teen sexuality is far more harmful than teen sex itself; that keeping kids in ignorance creates a whole host of problems which only barely exist in Europe; that the “predator panic” has caused grievous harm to society in general and kids in particular; that sexuality is natural and involuntary, and that sexual impulses cannot merely be ignored; that normal childhood behaviors, especially in boys, are now pathologized and even criminalized; etc, etc, etc. What makes the book worth reading is Levine’s backing up her points with exhaustive research, and providing numerous examples which you can be sure I’ll employ in future columns on the subject. As so often happens with books on sexual topics, the few negative reviews on Amazon actually serve as positive reviews to those who recognize them for what they are.
Heart of Gold by A.K. Smith
My experience with Heart of Gold was surprising; I was interested in it because of the subject matter and because I like the author’s blog, but I don’t generally care for detective novels and, though I’m not a technophobe, I fully admit to prejudice against e-books because (as you might suspect from my having been a librarian) I’m a bibliophile and I like the experience of reading a physical book with paper pages I can hold in my hands (I especially like the slightly-musty smell of old books). So when I sat down with it I intended to read just a chapter or two a night; well, that didn’t happen. I was drawn in almost immediately and found myself saying, “I’ll just read one more chapter” over and over again until I had finished half the book; I only stopped because it was almost one in the morning and I usually go to bed around midnight. The next day I started reading soon after posting my column, and didn’t stop until I was finished. Smith’s characters are interesting, her plotting is tight and she managed to keep me guessing as to which of the suspects was threatening the heroine and what his motive might be (I guessed wrong). Since (as I said previously) I’m not much of a reader of modern detective fiction, I can’t compare it to the work of well-known mystery authors, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and Smith managed to work in a good deal of detail about the realities of escorting in such a way that outsiders will learn some things about our lives without feeling preached to or distracted from the action. All in all this is a very good first novel, and I look forward to future works.
The Internet Escort’s Handbook, Book 1 (Basic Mental, Emotional and Physical Considerations in Escort Work) and The Internet Escort’s Handbook, Book 2: Advertising and Marketing (Successfully Creating and Selling Your Image Online) by Amanda Brooks
Some of you may recognize Amanda as a regular commenter on this blog, or as the author of After Hours (which is linked in the column on the right); she is an escort, sex worker rights activist and the author of these two books for the neophyte escort. If you are thinking of becoming an escort or have recently become an escort it might be a very good idea for you to pick up book one, and even if you’re a relatively experienced escort who wants to expand her business book two could be very enlightening to you. Don’t take my word for it; follow the links and read reviews and even excerpts from the books. If you decide to buy, you can order them right there from a link on the page. No, this is not a paid endorsement and I’m not getting a percentage; I honestly feel as though Amanda knows a lot more about the business end of escorting than I do and has thought longer and harder about how to increase business rather than just sort of following her instincts as I did, and thus would be a much better teacher for someone who really wants to succeed at it.
My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday
This was another groundbreaking book published at the height of the sexual revolution; it consists of Friday taking a metaphorical sledgehammer to the Madonna/whore duality by daring to publish the real sexual fantasies of real women (including students, housewives, professional women, and others across the spectrum) and thereby revealing the “whore” side of the average Madonna. Though some parts of the book seem tame by modern standards, others (such as fantasies about rape and animals) shock today’s repressed audiences more than they did the book’s original audience in 1972. Then, few sexual subjects were taboo; now, unfortunately, writing about such things can get one censored or even criminally prosecuted. Unlike The Happy Hooker, the newest edition of this one is not expurgated; take a look at the reviews on Amazon and you’ll get a feel for modern reactions to it. When I first read a used copy in 8th grade I found it terribly liberating because it helped me to understand that I wasn’t a “pervert”; I think it still has that power today, maybe even more so. In the early ’70s many people denied normal women even had sexual fantasies, but in 2010 lots of other people deny normal women have some of these fantasies in particular.
Paying For It: A Comic-strip Memoir About Being a John by Chester Brown
By the time I go to bed in the evening I am often so exhausted that I fall asleep over whatever book I’m trying to read, even if it’s something I like a lot (such as reprints of Silver Age sci-fi comics). But I had no such problem with Paying for It; I repeatedly found myself saying, “I’ll just read for a few more minutes,” and finished it in a very few days. If I had to sum up this book in a single word, it would be “sincere”; it’s an honest and frank illustrated journal of Brown’s experiences with Toronto hookers, starting with how he came to prefer paying for sex over the serial monogamy he had (like most people) previously practiced, and ending with his becoming a long-term regular of one exceptional lady and planning the book. Along the way he shares his thoughts, impressions, joys, concerns and misgivings, and also his conversations with friends who had internalized prohibitionist propaganda; he depicts several arguments, discussions and debates with them in comic form, and also includes 23 appendices in which he effectively refutes prohibitionist arguments. For me, the most fascinating aspect of the book was its revelation of the author’s internal monologue, which is presented so matter-of-factly that its honesty is irrefutable; it’s one thing for a client to say “this is what I was thinking” when speaking directly to me, and another thing entirely for him to share with the world even those thoughts which could be perceived as unflattering to himself. Though die-hard neofeminists will continue to believe that all clients are evil exploiters no matter what evidence is presented to them, I believe this book is powerful enough to sway many of those who are “on the fence” about the subject, and I really hope it gets the extensive exposure and brisk sales it deserves.
Paying for It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients by Greta Christina (editor)
I’ve never read this book (honestly, why would I?) but since it’s the only one of its kind and has good reviews I want to mention it. Besides, since it contains 30 essays by as many working girls (of all varieties), it can’t help but give a man a good idea of how to behave when hiring a girl.
A Renegade History of the United States by Thaddeus Russell
I first became aware of this book after reading Dr. Russell’s article “Why I Got Fired From Teaching American History” in the Huffington Post, and I was immediately intrigued by his statement, “I demonstrated that prostitutes, not feminists, won virtually all the freedoms that were denied to women but are now taken for granted.” So I sent him an email asking whether that statement was elaborated upon in the book, and was delighted when he responded almost immediately in the affirmative. Accordingly, I went out the next day and bought the book at Barnes & Noble, actually paying FULL PRICE for it; though my thrifty soul rebelled from the idea, I was so intrigued I just had to find out what he had to say. I was not disappointed; Dr. Russell’s premise is that our freedoms were not magnanimously “granted” by those in power nor earned by the “don’t make waves” middle class, but rather won by the outcasts who refused to conform to social norms…including, but not remotely limited to, prostitutes. Chapter 4 is entirely devoted to us, and other chapters cover the contributions of drinkers, slaves, various immigrant groups, lovers of “controversial” music and homosexuals.
Throughout the book, Russell refuses to toe the politically correct line on anything; he presents facts (many from primary sources) which self-professed “liberals” and “conservatives” alike would rather nobody knew, so it’s not at all surprising he was denied tenure and “let go” from his teaching position despite overwhelming protests from his students; after all, we can’t have young people learning facts that contradict the official view of history, now can we? Anyone interested in the conflict of the individual vs. the collective needs to read this, as does anyone interested in social history.
The term “groundbreaking” is regularly and carelessly thrown about in reviews on books which cover controversial topics, but in this case it is wholly accurate and entirely deserved. Regular readers are already familiar with Dr. Agustín, whose blog The Naked Anthropologist I have often quoted and linked, but what you may not realize is how much those of us fighting “sex trafficking” hysteria owe to her and especially to this book. She started studying the intersection of migration and sex work back when “human trafficking” still meant the smuggling of undocumented immigrants across international borders, and hers was among the first voices raised in protest when the moral panic around it went into high gear in 2004. Sex at the Margins doesn’t only challenge the mythology of millions of passive, helpless, exploited victims, but also clearly and thoroughly explains what is really going on with most of those labeled “trafficked”, how their actions are viewed through a sexist, racist and colonialist prism to interpret them as some kind of global disaster, and why it’s so important to listen to what migrants (in sex work or otherwise) have to say about their own experiences rather than forcing an ignorant, biased interpretation onto them. Furthermore, the book has not only helped many people (including me) to understand these phenomena, but has also given us the language to talk about it: for example, the term “rescue industry”, now a common one in sex worker rights discourse, was coined by Dr. Agustín and first widely disseminated herein.
The Sex Myth: Why Everything We’re Told is Wrong by Brooke Magnanti
Dr. Magnanti, as the big yellow sticker the publisher has pasted on the cover reminds us, had already published a number of books as Belle de Jour, the stage name she used as a London call girl while working on her PhD in Forensic Pathology. But this is her first written specifically as a scientist and statistician, and I hope it’s at least as successful as her previous books because she thoroughly and effectively debunks nine myths about sex (including “sex addiction”, “premature sexualization”, “negative secondary effects” and myths about porn, prostitution and “sex trafficking”). She does this not only by presenting facts and studies which disprove the myths, but also by demonstrating how the entire approach of those who create, define and spread them is designed not to discover the truth, but rather to promote a predetermined agenda by picking and choosing only those facts, pseudo-facts and opinions which can be made to fit the desired pattern and excluding the rest. Her writing is sharp, clever and compelling, and she has a gift for coining useful terms like “constellation maker” (one who chooses which data points to include in the desired “picture” just as the ancients chose which stars made up a constellation). Though she is generally more polite to the prohibitionists than I tend to be, let that not be mistaken for her being soft on them: she convincingly demonstrates that those who manufacture and define sex myths are fully aware of what they’re doing, and in fact her last chapter refutes the claim that prohibitionists are largely well-meaning, if deluded.
This collection of essays by working girls and proto-third-wave feminists was first published in 1987, a time when neofeminism had cemented its stranglehold on feminist discourse about sex work and it was nearly impossible for sex workers to be heard above the din of prohibitionist propaganda. The newer and considerably expanded 1998 edition only serves to embellish the book’s original message, which is completely anti-prohibitionist and highly critical of the lies and distortions promoted by the anti-sex feminist establishment to further its campaign against prostitution by marginalizing and harming prostitutes. As so often happens with books on this subject, the Amazon reviews are interesting in themselves; I was particularly amused by the one totally negative review, “Don’t Waste Your Money”, in which the reviewer simpered that “…the so-called “real” stories of sex workers do not at all seem authentic,” obviously because the prostitutes who wrote the essays weren’t all pathetic drug addicts who were raped as children.
This deeply researched, profusely illustrated volume is full of meticulous detail but is never dry; if you would like to know more about the laws, culture, houses, women, customers, musicians and other aspects of life in The District, this book is for you. And throughout, the author shows again and again that legalized prostitution is better for everyone both in and out of the trade on every level, from social to legal to economic; it should be required reading for anyone entering politics.
Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent by Harvey A. Silverglate
Regular reader Americanus sent me this book (via my Amazon wish list) after we discussed it in a comment thread, and I’m glad he did. I can’t say I enjoyed it because this isn’t the sort of book one enjoys; in fact, it’s the sort which makes one incredibly angry. But it’s because few Americans bother to educate themselves about these abuses that they’re allowed to go on. The book details the “perversion of federal criminal law into…a trap for the unwary honest citizen instead of a legitimate tool for protecting society”. Silverglate, a prominent criminal defense and civil rights lawyer, shows how federal law has been so expanded and at the same time made so vague, that the average American commits about three felonies every day without being aware that he has done so. Federal prosecutors out to make a name for themselves, maliciously attack political enemies or instill fear into entire groups will basically pick likely victims and then go “fishing” for laws they can credibly argue the victim committed. And despite the fact that they rarely have enough evidence to secure a conviction (if any at all), the cost of defending oneself against federal prosecution is so ruinously high and the possible sentences so terrifyingly long (measured in decades) that most victims fold and accept plea-bargains which usually involve suborned perjury against other intended victims (often but not always “bigger fish”). Worst of all, the necessity of proving mens rea (criminal intent) has basically been eliminated in federal courts; such intent is assumed and juries are routinely instructed that if the fact of the crime (the actus reus) is proven, they must vote for conviction whether they feel the accused intended to break the law or not.
Silverglate illustrates this growing tyranny with a number of cases (discussed in exhaustive detail) against medical professionals, brokers, accountants, criminal defense lawyers, journalists, merchants, artists, teachers, students and many others. And if you find my description of these persecutions disturbing, wait until you read the book.
Tickle My Tush by Sadie Allison
Dr. Sadie has released several previous manuals (covering subjects ranging from sex positions to toys) through her own imprint, Tickle Kitty, and in this new book promises “Mild-to-Wild Analplay Adventures for Everybody.” I must admit I had a little anxiety about reading it; though I have no hang-ups about my own bottom, “pegging” and prostate massage are just not my cup of tea. I needn’t have worried; though there’s plenty of information here, Dr. Sadie’s playful, light style presented it in a way calculated to reduce the squick-out factor to approximately nought. The book is a quick read, divided into chapters and short “subchapters” of two pages or less each, with plenty of illustrations; it’s designed to be perused by couples together, and to be easily consultable later. After a general overview she moves on to discuss safety, hygiene and anatomy before proceeding to topics arranged in order of increasing “wildness”, starting with massage of the butt cheeks and ending up with positions. One especially clever feature of the book is two different “FAQ” chapters, one at the beginning (the sort of questions asked by total neophytes) and the other at the end (the sort asked after reading the book or enjoying some experience with analplay). The only thing I didn’t care for was her use of “cute” words for the body parts and activities, but that’s just me; I totally understand that she was trying to avoid being clinical, and I think most readers will probably be much more comfortable with, for example, “o-ring” rather than “sphincter”.
The Meese Commission was the Reagan administration’s attempt to invent a legitimate excuse for suppressing porn, which at the time was beginning to explode due to the advent of home video; a hand-picked panel of anti-pornography crusaders (including “Focus On the Family” preacher James Dobson and Judith Becker, a former songwriter for Captain Kangaroo) was convened under Attorney General Edwin Meese and assigned to watch porn movies and read adult books. They stole and distorted the work of legitimate scientists (many of whom filed angry protests against the misuse of their research), inserted their own opinions as fact and ignored reams of data from the Scandinavian countries, yet still could find absolutely no evidence that porn was harmful in any way; this did not stop them from issuing a concluding statement which basically translates as “despite the fact that we couldn’t find any evidence to support it, we think porn is harmful anyway. So there.” I read this book when I was a librarian, and though the commission itself is now long-forgotten by the Great Unwashed, its story serves as a valuable object lesson of the lengths to which governments in general (and the United States government in particular) will go to suppress the sex trade. And though the Meese Commission failed and porn is here to stay, its tactics are alive and well in current government “studies” of the “inherent danger” of prostitution to society in general and women in particular.
Unrepentant Whore: The Collected Works of Scarlot Harlot by Carol Leigh
I don’t agree with everything Carol Leigh (aka Scarlot Harlot) says, but she has been one of the most active and important fighters for the rights of whores since the 1970s and a vociferous opponent of the anti-sex “feminists” since their first appearance. This book contains most of her writing, including an extensive insider’s overview of the sex worker rights movement in the ‘80s and ‘90s and essays on the harm done to women by the continued suppression of our profession. Scarlot is a performance artist, and a lot of her teaching is accomplished by a combination of shock and humor in the “underground comedy” tradition.
Vamps and Tramps by Camille Paglia
This isn’t her best work; that title would have to go to the monumental Sexual Personae, the only doctoral dissertation ever to make the bestseller list. But Paglia on a bad day is more entertaining and illuminating than most essayists at their best, and this collection includes an excellent argument in favor of the legalization of prostitution.
A Vindication of the Rights of Whores edited by Gail Pheterson
This volume, published in 1989, provides a snapshot of the whores’ rights movement of a quarter-century ago through essays from a number of different writers and almost five dozen contributors, including a number whose names you already know (such as Annie Sprinkle, Margo St. James and Norma Jean Almodovar). The second part of the book is comprised of a series of transcripts from the first and second World Whores’ Congresses (in 1985 and 1986), including the World Charter for Prostitutes’ Rights. I found the book especially interesting in two ways: First, it gives a window onto the very beginnings of “Third Wave” feminism by raising the issue of sexual self-determination and presenting a series of statements from feminists who attended the Second Congress and became convinced that their previous belief in prostitution as “exploitation” or “violence against women” was ignorant and incorrect. Second, it contains what may be the earliest published statement against “trafficking” mythology, considering that few people outside activism or feminism even knew what the term meant until a decade later: “The ICPR objects to policies which give women the status of children and which assume migration through prostitution among women to be always the result of force or deceit…”
Whores and Other Feminists by Jill Nagle (editor)
This is a collection of feminist essays by educated whores like Nina Hartley, Annie Sprinkle and Tracy Quan, interspersed with others from the rare sex-positive feminist academics who oppose the lies and puritanical censorship of the neofeminist majority. As with so many other books I’ve reviewed, the negative reviews on Amazon, coming as they do from indoctrinated neofeminists and Christian fundamentalists, are some of the best advertising this book could have; they should be printed on the dust jacket along with the raves!
Whores in History by Nickie Roberts
Everything I had read about prostitution and prostitutes appeared to have been written by men – the client class – mostly academics who claimed scholarly objectivity…Only fairly recently has the subject of prostitution been tackled by feminists, often of the radical/revolutionary tendency; women who have an anti-sex industry axe to grind. This statement from Roberts’ foreword presents the entire philosophy underlying her book: It is, and was from the beginning intended to be, the first scholarly examination of the history of prostitution written by someone who actually knows about the subject firsthand. Roberts is not a male scholar looking at the lives and stories and statistics and reports from a male (and therefore an outsider’s) perspective, nor a feminist scholar warping the truth through the distorted lens of misandrist anti-sex rhetoric, but a harlot-scholar writing about a subject she understands because she has lived it.
The study starts in prehistory and then moves from Ancient Greece to Rome to Medieval Europe, then on through the Renaissance and Age of Reason to the 19th and 20th centuries, culminating in a discussion of the origins of the sex worker rights movement. In each chapter she gives a general sketch of the social conditions of the time as they relate to women in general and whores specifically, then discusses historical events and important personalities (both historical whores and the men who hired them, wrote about them or tried to control them). Where statistics are available she presents them, though as you might expect this happens much more often in the chapters on the 19th and 20th centuries (just as in any other historical subject). Her research is exhaustive; the bibliography contains about 150 sources and every important fact and declaration in the 358-page text is carefully attributed. Though the author certainly expresses her own informed interpretation of the various events and trends, she never stoops to the neofeminist tactic of just making things up; all of her judgments are backed up with solid facts.
I cannot possibly overstate how valuable Whores In History has been to me in writing this blog; whenever I set out to do a column on people or events from a certain period in history I usually scan the chapter which discusses it so as to re-familiarize myself with it, and in many cases Roberts quotes from sources which are not readily available online. My copy resides in the bookshelf nearest my desk (when it isn’t on the desk), and bears the unmistakable signs of heavy usage and consultation. I highly recommend this important work to all my whore sisters, to all the men who love and/or support us, and to all those who are interested in the truth about a long-hidden aspect of women’s history. Used copies can be purchased on Amazon for literally pocket change, and it’s well worth the modest investment.
(A longer version of this review appeared in my column for June 19th, 2011).
You Will Die: The Burden of Modern Taboos by Robert Arthur
Rob Arthur defines a taboo as “a topic that a culture prevents its people from discussing freely,” and this book is based around the philosophy that “taboos are a burden on society…[and] hinder progress toward greater happiness.” Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows the truth of that statement: if it weren’t for the general ignorance about sex in general and sex work in particular, an ignorance maintained by sexual taboos, no reasonable person would accept laws against consensual sexual behavior and the ridiculous lies about the harms which supposedly result from sexuality would be widely recognized as the ravings of miserable prudes. Arthur also discusses taboos against drugs and bodily wastes, though the latter doesn’t get nearly as much space as sex and drugs because there is no vast, expensive and oppressive “War on Poo” whose chief result is human misery. In a sense, You Will Die is two books in one; it is written in a pleasant, conversational style and presents fascinating, often obscure facts in such a way as to make it a great pleasure read, but is both exhaustively researched and so extensively footnoted that it will make an important addition to my reference library.