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Archive for November, 2010

Well you should see Polythene Pam
She’s so good-looking but she looks like a man
Well you should see her in drag dressed in her polythene bag
Yes you should see Polythene Pam
.  – John Lennon, “Polythene Pam”

I’ve mentioned Pam, the owner of the first escort service for which I ever worked, a number of times before, but today I’m going to talk about her in a bit more depth.  When I decided to officially start working as an escort I called a number of agencies and chose hers because I thought a female service owner would treat her escorts more fairly and properly than a male one; boy, was I naïve.  In her defense I must say that I truly believe that she originally wanted to do so, until the degradation inherent in chronic drug use induced an irreversible moral decay which eventually earned her the nickname “Pimp Mama” among the girls who had left her agency.

Pam was a pale-skinned, grossly obese dishwater blonde of roughly my age whom one could tell had probably been pretty ten years, 200 pounds and a whole lot of heroin ago.  She apparently entered The Life as a working girl right out of high school and had eventually built up a large and successful agency in her native state until she got into some mysterious difficulty with the federal government which resulted in the loss of her mansion, car and savings and resulted in her seeking a fresh start in New Orleans.  I’m not sure if she got off the junk in prison or merely as a result of her economic ruin, but apparently the weight had gone on after she dried up and apparently substituted food for dope in her addictive personality. I do not know for a fact that she did go to prison; she never said that she had and if her difficulties involved the IRS rather than the DEA the feds may have been satisfied with stealing everything she had. In any case, I sincerely doubt it had anything to do with her owning an escort service per se; in those pre-trafficking-hysteria days the feds didn’t give a damn about prostitution.  The only possible clue to the nature of the difficulty might be derived from the fact that she could not accept credit cards even though every other agency in town could.

There was one other difference between her agency and the others; she was the only one with a website, and she was determined to keep it that way.  Her computer geek boyfriend, who had set up the website for her, also managed to forge her a number of different identities on a popular escort review site and she spent literally hours every day writing good reviews for her employees and bad reviews for others; once the bad reviews began to be removed due to challenges from the girls, she then changed her strategy to starting ugly rumors instead.  One popular girl was said to be working with the DEA, another became HIV positive, another became a post-op transsexual and still another became a blackmail extortionist.  By late 2001 the other local agencies had essentially washed our hands of the internet entirely; Pam devoted so much time and effort to these shenanigans that it was simply not possible to beat her at her own game and besides, at that time it really wasn’t necessary in the New Orleans market.

She hadn’t always been that way; when I first met her in January of 2000 she was friendly, helpful and seemed genuinely concerned with the safety of her girls.  But what I did not know was that, under the influence of her boyfriend, she had recently replaced her older drug of choice with crack cocaine and was beginning to suffer from the mental breakdown that drug inevitably produces.  Even after she traded the crackhead geek for an old-time gangster she kept on the stuff, and he had no desire to discourage her because after getting out of prison (where he had served a number of years on racketeering charges) he could no longer operate an escort service of his own and therefore had to squeeze his new girlfriend for his beer and racetrack money.  By getting her all the dope and booze she wanted he kept her too sedated to notice money was disappearing, and when I suggested new accounting procedures to keep a tighter rein on the cash flow he started whispering things in her ear to turn her against me.  Since her behavior was rapidly degenerating from the combination of crack, liquor and a sleazy boyfriend I was on my way out anyway, and when she tried to force Marilyn back into a dangerous situation (as described in my column of August 27th) I quit for good.

I did not, however, break contact with a number of the girls, and so I was easily able to contact them once I got my own agency up and running a week or so later.  Since I obviously didn’t have the traffic Pam did for a long time, most of the girls kept working for her as well and so I got to hear about her increasingly bizarre, callous and controlling behavior.  Once she became known for abuses like repeatedly giving calls to less experienced girls after they had been rejected by more experienced ones as dangerous, it became more and more difficult for her to keep quality talent and that was when she started practicing the wholesale internet fraud I described earlier. By that point she was really becoming a dog in the manger; internet “hobbyists” tend to dislike dealing with agencies in the first place (because they’re more expensive and the girls are more carefully monitored), and Pam’s increasingly erratic behavior and decreasing quality of service made it more and more difficult for her to do business online.  It was at that point, I suspect, that she started her rumor mill under the philosophy that if she couldn’t get business from the internet, nobody would.

Around that time the other agencies started hearing horror stories from burned clients; she tolerated extortionists and other trash, and developed a reputation for practicing bait and switch (both Dawn and I had to threaten her with lawsuits to get her to stop using our pictures, and she continued to display April’s photos long after the poor soul had died).  Girls who had left her employ reported threats and coercion to take blatantly unsafe calls, rampant drug use in the office and an appalling lack of regard for girls’ safety.  One night she actually sent three girls in succession to what everyone else already knew to be a sting; I honestly have no idea what she believed she stood to gain by this.  By 2003 her agency had become little more than a bad joke, and the rest of us routinely warned new girls away from her; unfortunately, in a tourist town like New Orleans even a terrible agency can stay in business as long as it has some girls (no matter how substandard) to fill the calls, so she probably would have gone on cheating clients and risking girls’ lives and freedom indefinitely had she not been shut down by a federal drug raid in 2004.

The reason people like Pam can continue to victimize others unhindered is, of course, because our business is illegal.  If prostitution were decriminalized agencies like Pam’s would be reported to the Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce and other such entities and quickly drummed out of business.  But because the law prefers to demonize the honest whores along with the dishonest, people like Pam (and, alas, those who exploit naïve and frightened young girls with no one to turn to) who thrive in the darkness can continue to peddle their poison unhindered by any legal, professional or ethical restraints until they are finally destroyed by their own excesses…which may or may not ever happen.

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When you assume, you make an ass of “u” and me. –  Felix Unger, The Odd Couple

I was asked by Brandy Devereaux to take a look at this study by the Schapiro Group, a marketing research firm hired by a prohibitionist group which like so many others uses the excuse of  “child trafficking” to attack adult prostitution.  As I expected, I found a deeply flawed study which reaches the exact conclusions it was designed to reach; what was especially interesting about this one, though, was the absolute transparency of the bias and the egregiousness of its errors.  Like most prohibitionist propaganda this report (which you may want to at least skim before proceeding) disguises inconvenient truths by covering them with emotionally-loaded language, but this isn’t its only problem: that dubious distinction goes to the fact that its basic premise, that compensated sex with a girl slightly below 18 is more illegal than compensated sex with one of 18 or greater, is entirely false.  The age of consent in Georgia is 16, not 18, and since prostitution is illegal in Georgia anyhow it is no more illegal for a man to purchase services from a 16- or 17-year-old whore than it is to purchase them from an 18-, 36- or 72-year-old one.

No study whose design reflects a biased viewpoint can hope to be remotely scientific; this even applies to the “hard” sciences, and is exponentially more so in the social sciences.  But since most biases are unconscious, it usually takes an expert eye to find them hiding between the lines of the studies they engender.  That was not true in this case; the very first line sets out the bias quite clearly: “This report details a first-of-its-kind study to quantify, describe, and understand demand for CSEC [Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children] in Georgia.  It paints a clear picture of the adult men who exploit adolescent females by paying for sex with them.”  By incorrectly (and perhaps intentionally) claiming that some young women who are legally permitted to consent to sex in Georgia are underage, redefining adolescents as “children”, and assuming that transactional sex even with one legally entitled to give consent is intrinsically exploitative, the study abandons all pretense to objectivity from the very beginning.  The depth of the bias is further confirmed at the top of page 4:

The [Chicago] study looked primarily at psychological and life history determinants of the decision to purchase sex as an adult.  While this is valuable to examine, searching for individual “abnormalities” will always lead CSEC advocates astray; CSEC can only exist as a commercial enterprise if it is a sadly normal practice in our society.  The same can be said of prostitution broadly, and the results of the Chicago study bear this truth out.  Men who purchase sex tend to come from normal backgrounds and seem no more likely to suffer from apparent pathologies than the rest of the adult male population.  There simply appears to be no magic bullet in determining what individual qualities and experiences lead a man to purchase sex.  Prostitution is a societal problem, not an individual problem.

Prostitution in general is defined as a “problem”, and employment of a whore is assumed to be pathological despite the fact that 70% of men have done it at least once and 20% do it occasionally.  If a real scientist read a study which showed that prostitutes’ clients come from normal backgrounds and demonstrate no unusual psychological characteristics, he would conclude that they were indeed normal men.  But a biased sociologist reading the same report cannot accept those results and so hints darkly at hidden psychopathology.

It is clearly this bias which caused the designers of the study to miss the obvious age of consent issue, and thereby render their entire study completely useless.  While some of the girls involved in so-called “CSEC” are undoubtedly below 16, the study was not designed to determine how many men would have sex with a truly underage girl vs. how many with a girl who was merely below the age at which the study’s sponsors feel they should be allowed to consent.  The results are thus contaminated, because there is no way of knowing how the men might have responded differently had they believed the imaginary teen prostitute to be 15 rather than 16.  Another contaminating bias lies in the obvious inability of the researchers to separate the legal concept of competence from the psychological one.  I use the term “lawhead” to mean a person suffering from the delusion that laws define reality; to a lawhead, any person whom the law declares incompetent to decide something is actually incompetent to do so.  Thus, a lawhead truly believes (to borrow an analogy from regular reader Sailor Barsoom) that at midnight on his 18th birthday, a person says “Shazam!” and is instantly transformed from all-child to all-adult, from the equivalent of a 5-year-old to the equivalent of a 50-year-old.  Obviously this is absurd, but it is equally obvious that the sponsors essentially believe it.  Since they mistakenly believe any girl under 18 is not legally able to consent to sex, they also believe that such a girl is literally unable to consent; thus she must have been forced into prostitution and is therefore exploited.  This chain of dependent assumptions turns a mundane reality these people find uncomfortable (that some girls below 18 are both legally and practically able to consent to sex with adult men) into a lurid sex fantasy (that every single prostitute below the age of 18 is a helpless victim of “child traffickers”) which furthers their prohibitionist agenda.

The researchers placed fake escort ads in such venues as Craigslist and Backpage; the ads contained young girls posed and photographed so as to make them appear older.  We are not told how young the models were except that they were under 18; if all of them were 16 or 17 even the most minimal factual basis of the study collapses, and even if they were 14 or 15 they were still posed so as to make them appear (by the admission of the authors) 6-8 years older than their actual age.  In this lies another fatal flaw:  As I have said on several occasions, the most common request is “as young as possible”, and because of this escorts habitually lie about their ages.  Considering that even most amateur women do the same thing, it is both ridiculous and grossly insulting to the intelligence of the male population to presume that all men everywhere are so gullible as to believe every age figure they are given by women; I think it is much more likely that most men tend to ignore the age they are told and instead judge by appearance.  So even when (as described on page 11-12) the false “operators” implied to the men that the girl in the ad was under 18, we have no way of knowing whether the callers actually believed this claim or just assumed it was a provocative lie.  Since the age of consent in Georgia is 16, this allows a two-year “fudge factor” which makes it absolutely impossible to know if even a SINGLE caller actually believed he was going to hire a truly underage (15 or younger) girl; most may have believed they were actually going to meet with girls in their late teens or early twenties pretending to be 16 or 17.  But the study’s authors, ignorant as they are of the behavior of real prostitutes and disdainful as they are of the moral character of customers, presume the exact opposite:  That the men “knew” they would be hiring an underage girl and did not care.  The report states (page 1) “While many of the men who exploit these children are not seeking adolescent females per se, the study also shows that just under half are willing to pay for sex with a young female even when they know for sure she is an adolescent.”  In fact, as we have seen, they know nothing of the kind!

The final catastrophic error in this so-called “study” derives from the authors’ indulgence in the gross logical fallacy of assuming without evidence the total truth of their own beliefs, and then proceeding to extrapolate erroneous deductions from the false conditions they have designed.  Let me explain; the authors presume that not only are the great majority of prostitutes underage, but that they are all dominated or controlled by “traffickers” who prefer to “push” the younger girls for some reason.  We know that absolutely none of these assumptions is true, but the experiment reflects them:  the imaginary “traffickers” who control the imaginary underage prostitutes in their false ads prefer to only send older girls if the clients ask for them or specifically refuse the girl in the picture once they learn she may be under 18.  Based on the presumption that this fantasy reflects the real world, the authors then reach the wholly absurd conclusion that any man who does not specifically forbid an underage girl from virtually ANY online ad whatsoever will definitely end up with such a girl.  Based on this long chain of ridiculous assumptions they state “The numbers are staggering — 12,400 men each month in Georgia pay for sex with a young female, 7,200 of whom end up exploiting an adolescent female.”  This assertion is made on page 1 and repeated numerous times throughout the paper despite the fact that it is so unsupported as to constitute a flagrant lie.

I’ll leave you with a few more false and inflammatory statements from the report:

Our interviewer posed as an “operator”; a person who brokers the purchase of multiple females.

I guess a clinic receptionist “brokers the purchase of multiple doctors”, then?

This is a common situation for men who buy sex from females pictured on the internet.  Very often the phone is answered by an operator who can either connect the customer with the female pictured in the advertisement, or with a variety of other females as well.

Actually, it isn’t.  The vast majority of girls who advertise on Craigslist, Backpage and other such ad sites are independents who answer their own phones.

After all, how can an adult male have sex with a female and not know she is an adolescent?

Because as we all know, at midnight on “magic 18” a woman’s body changes instantly and totally from flat-chested and boy-hipped to curvaceous and fully adult.

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Why waste your life working for a few shillings a week in a scullery, eighteen hours a day, when a woman could earn a decent wage by selling her body instead? –  Emma Goldman

There were so many developments in hooker news last week that I honestly felt overwhelmed!  A number of them reflected the growing disparity between the official position taken by governments (especially police departments) and that held by the majority of the public.  A perfect example was this article, which many of you may have already seen; it concerns a severely deformed man arrested for trying to hire a prostitute.  Now, I’ve already discussed my philosophy about deformed or disabled men; very often we are their only means of obtaining sex since amateurs won’t even give them the time of day.  There are very few call girls who do not understand this, but I’ve often wondered how many people in the general public really grasp it.  Then I saw this discussion on The Agitator, and words cannot express how pleased I was to see so many people not simply critical of the police persecution of this unfortunate man, but actually angry at the fact that government power is abused to deny him and others like him access to one of the most basic of human pleasures.

I was similarly pleased to see this column on Jezebel; as I’ve mentioned before, the site tends to sit on the feminist fence, catering as often to neofeminists and other decrepit remnants of second-wave feminism as it does to third-wave feminism and to the voices of women who don’t consider themselves feminist in any way.  Thus, the site usually isn’t sex-work-positive enough for my tastes, so it’s especially good to see something like this there.  The commentary, however, is disappointing; it seems largely dominated by neofeminists, trafficking alarmists and advocates of the “Swedish model” rather than by intelligent, free-thinking women who prefer to control their own bodies rather than allowing the Nanny State to do it for them.  Considering that Jezebel caters to a largely female audience, I find that rather pathetic.

Until we as women present a unified front against collective ownership of our bodies, progress will be slow at best; ironically, most of the voices arguing that women are intelligent adults capable of making our own decisions are male!  But even sex workers can’t seem to unite; too many practitioners of legalized forms of whoredom (such as stripping, porn and phone sex work) are only too willing to throw the rest of us under the bus in order to avoid putting their own derrières out on a limb.  Case in point Capri Anderson, the porn starlet who was involved in the recent Charlie Sheen brouhaha.  Apparently, she thinks she’s better than her sisters; in an interview on Good Morning America she simpered that Sheen had called her a whore (if the shoe fits, honey…) and tried to cast her presence in his hotel room that night as somehow unmotivated by profit.  She also announced that she had filed a criminal complaint against him for “harassment in the second degree” (whatever that means) and was going to sue him for assault and false imprisonment.  Unsurprisingly, Sheen responded by beating her to the civil-court punch, filing a suit alleging fraud and attempted extortion which claimed that Anderson only filed charges after her million-dollar blackmail attempt had failed.

Shades of Karen Sypher!  Miss Anderson’s incredible greed, her denial of her own whoredom despite the fact that she is a porn actress who was paid $3500 to spend the night with a rich cokehead, her pretense that she is better than the rest of us despite her absolute and total lack of the most meager shred of the professional ethics adhered to even by the majority of hundred-dollar Backpage girls, and her stunning stupidity in announcing a lawsuit on national television before she actually filed it more than qualify her as the second inductee into my Hall of Shame, alongside the aforementioned Syfwhore.  Congratulations, Capri!  I hope you get everything you so richly deserve.

All justly-earned condemnation aside, Capricious had very little option other than denying her harlotry to the cops, since as everyone knows American law discriminates against women by classifying us as legally incompetent eternal children who are incapable of consenting to any form of sex except those from an approved list, and by criminalizing most means of making more money than men by doing things of which men are incapable.  Yet deluded neofeminists, religious fanatics and media outlets who are happy to lick the boots of cops and call it yummy cannot seem to understand why so many women resist being the chattel of the state.  Here’s a recent example from the Omaha, Nebraska ABC affiliate, in which cops admit their total impotence in halting online hooker ads (despite the much-ballyhooed censorship of Craigslist) and well-intentioned but delusional Salvation Army ladies express confusion about why their program to “help women get out of the cycle of prostitution” has only attracted two escorts despite their claims that escorting is just as dangerous as streetwalking.  If you really want to know the answer, Sister Mary, shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to explain it to you.

But while American authorities wring their hands and moan that they just can’t understand why so many women refuse to be told what to do by their “betters” and persist in eschewing dreadful, low-paid menial jobs under overbearing employers for lucrative, often-pleasant jobs in which they work for themselves, other countries have stopped pissing into the wind and instead embraced prostitution as both natural and lucrative for the state.  This recent article describes a new mega-brothel in Spain, conveniently located near the French border.  And while I and many other whores consider brothel work to undercut many of the reasons we entered The Life in the first place, other girls do not feel that way and should be free to work in brothels if they so choose, just as other women prefer to work for Denny’s rather than opening their own restaurants.  As we’ve discussed before on October 29th and November 1st, decriminalization in Europe hasn’t stopped pompous bureaucrats from attempting to undermine our rights, but that’s simply the nature of bureaucracy; neither power-hungry politicians nor lie-spewing prohibitionist fanatics can accomplish much to turn back the clock on us short of full-scale revolution.  And mega-brothels can only help to solidify our position; large and prominent businesses not only protect their own interests, but also enrich a number of other nearby and related businesses which will also devote money to stopping any attempts by control freaks to stop the gravy train.  The legal efforts of big, wealthy casinos generally tend to help little truck stops with slot machines and have made both crooked gambling dens and police persecution of back-room card games a thing of the past, and the legal efforts of big, wealthy brothels will also tend to assist small brothels and solitary practitioners of the trade.

But for right now, we in the US are still stuck with busybody control freaks trying to save us from ourselves.  Just as they managed to annoy Craigslist into self-censorship just to stop their braying, so Backpage is now beginning to crawfish; this email was sent to Backpage customers last Monday (November 22nd):

We have just completed an analysis of the site to determine what necessary changes should be made to better protect our communities.  As a result, Backpage.com has implemented new safety enhancements in the last few weeks as follows:

-Review of all new ads and images in the personals and mature sections of the site.
-Implementation of key word searches to quickly identify possible illegal advertising.
-The blocking of off site html images to block images that violate our site usage policy.
-Implementation of a new content policy to disallow nudity across the site.
-Enlisting of safety experts to help craft further safety strategies.

Please pay close attention to the posting rules on top of the posting form for more guidance.  With postings under review, you may also notice a 20 minute delay in your postings going live.  In addition, pics in your postings not meeting our new policy will be removed.

We believe changes like these will better protect our community.

Gee, thanks, guys; I’m sure all the escorts who advertise with you feel so much safer now that you’re cozying up to the cops to avoid bad publicity.

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Questions are never indiscreet, answers sometimes are. –  Oscar Wilde

In the commentary on my column of November 15th, regular reader Susan asked:  Maggie, perhaps you would like to do a science fiction anthology with sex work as a subject which we can all contribute? Well, I just thought that was a smashing idea so I volunteered to tackle the editing if we can get enough submissions.  Regular reader Sailor Barsoom was kind enough to send me information on publishing via Kindle, which turns out to be spectacularly easy so I think I’m officially ready to accept submissions now.

Stories can be either science fiction, fantasy or horror but one of the main characters must be a sex worker, preferably in a positive role; I am only accepting short stories, so submissions must not be longer than 7000 words.  Please copyright anything you send me by putting the date and your name at the end of the text document (I prefer Word format but can convert if necessary) and email them to me at maggiemcneill@earthlink.net with the word “anthology” in the subject line.  You may make as many submissions as you like.  Of the purchase price for each book, Amazon keeps 30% and I plan to donate 20% to SWOP or Desiree Alliance (maybe 10% to each).  I will keep 5% as my editorial fee, and the remaining 45% will be divided equally among the published stories (one share per story) regardless of length; I don’t want authors padding their stories just to inflate their word count, and this way each story will be as long or as short as it needs to be.  If you have any questions or suggestions, please use the same “anthology” subject line.  Don’t be shy, y’all; if you have a good idea but feel your ability to express it lacks finesse just write it up and your editor will happily assist you in polishing it.

So if the average age at which a woman enters prostitution isn’t really 13, what age is it?

An anomaly on several levels.

Good question!  A friend of mine who is still a working escort recently conducted a poll of 100 escorts who frequent a message board of which she is a member.  She asked at what age they started the trade, and her results were as follows:

Younger than 15: 3%
15-17: 11%
18-20: 13%
21-23: 18%
24-26: 16%
27-29: 10%
30-32: 10%
Older than 32: 19%

She polled the “older than 32” respondents separately and the average age for that category was 42; she estimated the average for the “under 15” category at 13.  Given these figures, the average age of entry into prostitution for American escorts is 26.46.

It’s difficult to know what percentage of all American prostitutes are escorts, but I would suspect 60% is a good guesstimate; with our standard 15% streetwalker estimate that would allow 25% in brothels and massage parlors.  Estimating the average age of streetwalkers is tricky; I’m going to be really generous and pretend that HALF of all streetwalkers are underage.  Now, by all reasonable estimates that’s much higher than the reality but I want to err on the side of caution.  Let’s presume adult streetwalkers enter at roughly the same times as escorts (average 26); what’s the average for underage girls?  Well, guess what; it still isn’t 13 even for them.  As explained in this analysis, it’s about 16.  If we average the two figures (26 for adult streetwalkers and 16 for underage) we arrive at an average streetwalker entry age of 21, a far cry from 13 even allowing HALF of streetwalkers are underage!  We have no stats on brothel or massage girls, so again I’m going to be incredibly generous to the liars and fanatics and estimate that the average for that group is the same as among streetwalkers, namely 21.  So let’s crunch the numbers:  if 60% start at an average age of 26 and 40% at an average age of 21, the average age at which American hookers enter the profession is 24, which I think everyone can agree is safely into the adult range.

I’m a nurse, and most of the women patients I’ve dealt with in the past who have had anal forced on them stated they couldn’t help but scream when it was happening to them. Some passed out from the experience and woke up after the fact.  Yet neither time you were raped did you do either.  How were you able to get through that?

Well, there’s a vast degree of difference between a hooker who is not remotely an anal virgin and an amateur who fights such an assault rather than bending with it like a willow.  To use an analogy a male might appreciate, your patients stood still and tried to resist punches in the jaw by brute force rather than rolling with them.  Also, some people scream as a reaction to shock; I tend to react with a sharp intake of breath instead.  With all due respect to those ladies, passing out during a violent assault, especially a sexual one, is a good way to get yourself killed.  In my humble (and experienced) opinion, fighting a rape is a good strategy only until actual penetration has been accomplished; at that point it’s best to relax as best one can so as to minimize physical injury and to keep as calm as possible during the ordeal so as to be able to think clearly to plan one’s survival and/or escape strategies.  Unless one is in a place where screaming may bring help, I would avoid it because it may anger the rapist and make him even more violent; rape is bad enough without being beaten or strangled as well.

During an encounter I’m sure sooner or later the condom broke during vigorous thrusting, did some clients “finish” inside you?  If so what did you do about it?

Yes, that happened twice in my career.  Since I had a hysterectomy at 28 I had no fear of pregnancy, but obviously any working girl who is still fertile should be on the pill just in case something like that does happen. Smart hookers don’t rely entirely on condoms for disease prevention, either; the condom is just the “safety net” if something slips through the other two layers of defense, which are 1) catering to a clientele who tend to be clean in the first place, and 2) careful visual checking as I’ve talked about before.  One of my two breakages was with a regular whom I believe saw me exclusively; he was more worried than I was afterward!  The other was just a typical call.  In both cases I douched like crazy with a strong vinegar solution as soon as I got home and then went to my gynecologist for testing; neither accident resulted in any problem.

I was reading in your blog recently that you really don’t desire to sleep with other men?  Doesn’t monogamy get kinda old  for a sexually liberated woman like yourself?

Nope.  As I said in my column of September 22nd, “my sexuality is almost entirely receptive; though I have no aversion to sex whatsoever, it’s pretty rare that I actually crave it.  In other words, if nobody propositions me I just tend to cruise along, not really thinking about sex or wanting it, yet if someone I find attractive or interesting or nice or generous approaches me for sex I tend to get interested quite easily unless there’s some reason I shouldn’t (in which case I can resist just as easily).  You might say my ‘on’ switch isn’t hard to find; it just isn’t equipped with an automatic setting.”  Obviously, cheating on a husband one loves is an act of epic stupidity, so I never allow the switch to go on with any man but him; besides, I’ve had enough stranger-sex for several lifetimes.  I must admit that I’m sometimes attracted to a pretty girl, but since my husband says that’s OK I make no effort to resist it when it happens.

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Prostitution in the towns is like the cesspool in the palace: take away the cesspool and the palace will become an unclean and evil-smelling place. –  St. Thomas Aquinas

Last week, there was some controversy over comments about prostitutes made by the Pope in a book-length published interview series, but the issue was clarified in a statement released by the Vatican on Tuesday (November 23rd).  The following is paraphrased from an AP release:

In a book released last week, Pope Benedict XVI said that condom use by people such as male prostitutes was a lesser evil since it indicated they were taking a step toward a more moral and responsible sexuality by aiming to protect their partners from a deadly infection.  His comments implied that he was referring primarily to homosexual sex, when condoms aren’t being used as a form of contraception, which the Vatican opposes.  But questions immediately arose about the Pope’s intent because the Italian translation of the book used the feminine for prostitute, whereas the original German used the masculine.

The Vatican spokesman, the Reverend Federico Lombardi, told reporters Tuesday that he asked the Pope whether he intended his comments to only apply to male prostitutes. Benedict replied that it really didn’t matter, that the important thing was the person in question took into consideration the life of the other, Lombardi said.  “I personally asked the Pope if there was a serious, important problem in the choice of the masculine over the feminine,” Lombardi said.  “He told me no.  The problem is this… It’s the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another with whom you have a relationship…this is if you’re a woman, a man, or a transsexual.  We’re at the same point,” Lombardi said.

The Pope is not justifying or condoning gay sex or heterosexual sex outside of a marriage, and elsewhere in the book he reaffirms the Vatican opposition to homosexual acts and artificial contraception and reaffirms the inviolability of marriage between man and woman.  But by broadening the condom comments to also apply to women, the Pope is saying that condom use in heterosexual relations is the lesser evil than passing HIV onto a partner – a significant shift for a pope who just last year said condoms only worsen the AIDS problem.

While the concept of lesser evils has long been a tenet of moral theology, the Pope’s book Light of the World — a series of interviews with a German journalist — was the first time any pope has ever publicly applied the theory to the scenario of condom use as a way to fight HIV transmission.  The comments have generated heated debate, mostly positive in places like Africa which has been devastated by AIDS and where the church has been criticized for its opposition to condom use.

If you would like some insider commentary on the story, you might try this column by  a Jesuit priest; it’s one of the few informed public opinions I’ve seen expressed on the issue since the story first broke last week.  Everyone else seemed to be more interested in using the initial statement as an excuse to either run around spouting silly anti-Catholic opinions or to praise Pope Benedict for moving the Church forward, when in fact neither is correct.  What the critics forget is that the Catholic Church is a monolithic, two-millennium old institution which is (unless I’m very much mistaken) the oldest continuous, centrally-directed international organization on Earth; one of the reasons it has lasted so long is that it changes only very slowly and methodically, but in our instant-gratification culture that is automatically considered a bad thing.  On the other hand, those who praise the Pope for changing with the times are really barking up the wrong tree; the Pope’s comments were only the end result of a long, slow process of doctrinal change which begun soon after AIDS was identified, and the Church’s de facto tolerance of prostitutes goes back to its earliest days.

St. Augustine wrote, “Suppress prostitution, and capricious lusts will overthrow society.”  This position was not unusual in his day; though priests and theologians were dealing in the ephemeral matters of soul and morality, most of them were also practical men who, unlike most modern legalistic idealists, recognized that human beings are imperfect and incapable of total adherence to any code of behavior.  So rather than setting up impossible standards which many if not most people would often fail to meet (as we do today), the Church fathers recognized the need for safety valves which would allow people to blow off steam and thereby avoid great wrongs and mortal sins by tolerating lesser wrongs and venial sins.  Unlike the later Protestant preachers who blasted even the smallest deviations from what they saw as “Godliness”, the Catholics encouraged temperate celebrations, turned a blind eye to vices like drinking and accepted prostitution as a lesser evil than rape and the seduction of otherwise-virtuous wives and daughters.  In the earliest times even priests were allowed concubines (called focarii, “hearth-girls), and until the 13th century whores were largely free to ply their trade everywhere in Christendom.  Even after that time, prostitution was still largely legal, but the position of the Church (and most governments) turned to tolerating the profession but attempting to redeem as many whores as possible by teaching them the “error of their ways”, sometimes forcibly by confining them to convents or “Magdalene homes”.

The reader must not make the mistake of believing that whores themselves were socially accepted in early Christian times; far from it.  They were condemned as sinners and sermons frequently warned men to stay away from them.  But because they served a necessary social function the Church basically advocated leaving their punishment to God and allowing them to serve as repositories for male sin; the quote from Aquinas which forms today’s epigram illustrates the attitude quite graphically.  The Church’s view of whores was thus exactly the same as the modern policy of “harm reduction” followed by the Netherlands and other cultures more enlightened than ours, which recognizes that the harm created by suppressing vices is usually greater than those created by allowing them.  By tolerating heroin use, for example, a government does not say that heroin is a wonderful thing which everyone should indulge in; rather, it recognizes that since people are going to do it anyway it’s better to give them clean needles and make sure the drug is relatively pure so addicts aren’t dropping dead in the gutter and spreading bloodborne diseases on their way there.

The Pope’s new comments on prostitutes merely follow this same longstanding philosophy in the Church.  Though Catholic dogma considers condom use a sin because condoms interfere with conception, prostitutes are already sinners and their use of condoms can therefore be permitted in order to prevent the greater evil of AIDS.  Just as the medieval Church condemned prostitutes yet allowed them to “live in sin” in order to prevent the greater evils of rape and fornication in the population as a whole, so Pope Benedict condemns prostitutes (especially homosexual ones) and yet advocates they use condoms so as to prevent the greater evil of AIDS in the general population.  For anyone familiar with Church history and procedure, this development was completely unsurprising either in its essence or in the amount of time it took to arrive.  But having said that, I must also say that I think it’s pretty sad that an ancient and hierarchical institution noted neither for its liberality nor its worldliness should be able to embrace the humane and realistic principle of harm reduction while a modern, pluralistic and ostensibly democratic nation with a long history of being in the forefront of civil rights seems bound and determined to oppose it.

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Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving comes to us out of the prehistoric dimness, universal to all ages and all faiths.  At whatever straws we must grasp, there is always a time for gratitude and new beginnings. –  J. Robert Moskin

In the United States today is Thanksgiving Day, a day originally established (as the name attests) to give thanks for what we have.  It is essentially a late harvest festival, a secularized American version of Samhain or Harvest Home, and like most harvest festivals in every place and time it is celebrated with a feast.  Unfortunately, as with so many traditions, the original meaning of the institution has become lost and in the minds of many the observance exists only for its own sake rather than for the purpose for which it was established.  Many Americans have even replaced the name of the holiday with a designation referencing the food which traditionally forms the center of the feast, so that the sublime “Thanksgiving” has become the jejune “Turkey Day”.  So, are we now going to start referring to Independence Day as “Hot Dog Day” or New Year’s Eve as “Booze Night”?  The very idea is asinine.  If you really want to set my teeth on edge, try greeting me with “Happy Turkey Day”; if any of you include it in a reply today, don’t be surprised if I edit it.  As if that’s not bad enough, the busiest shopping day of the year, the day after Thanksgiving (popularly called “Black Friday” because many retail businesses first turn a profit [“go into the black”] for the year on that day) has in many people’s minds actually supplanted the holiday in importance; I actually received several ads this past Monday with “Black Friday Week” in the heading.  That’s right, not “Thanksgiving Week”, but “Black Friday Week”.  Not a week to give thanks for what one does have, but a week to spend money one doesn’t have.  And that’s really sad.

My atheist readers may feel that the concept of thankfulness implies a higher power to be thankful to, but I would disagree; the concept is more than broad enough to include thankfulness to oneself and other members of one’s family, or thankfulness to one’s employer or customers or any other material beings who have contributed to one’s current prosperity.  Or, you may think of it as a time to “balance one’s books” and be glad for the assets.  Frankly, I can’t understand why a person who refuses to be thankful (in either a spiritual or practical sense) even bothers to celebrate the holiday at all; if you aren’t interested in the symbolic value of a feast, why have one?  You can indulge in gluttony any day of the year; why wait for November?  Sure, the turkeys are cheaper right now, but so what?  Buy one now, throw it in the deep-freeze and thaw it next June.  Having a feast today just because everyone else is doing it calls to mind something my mother (and I’m sure yours as well) used to say: “If everybody else jumped off of a bridge, would you do that too?”

The widespread American attitude that this is a day devoted to conspicuous consumption for its own sake was summed up for me last Thanksgiving by a shockingly clueless statement made by Jillian Michaels, a celebrity exercise guru who is one of the stars of a “reality” show entitled (appropriately enough) The Biggest Loser.  Though we don’t generally watch broadcast television, my husband enjoys viewing the coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (an American tradition with which our overseas friends may be familiar from the movie Miracle on 34th Street) while I slave over a hot stove all day long preparing turkey with cornbread stuffing, pumpkin and mince meat pies, candied yams, green bean casserole, homemade yeast rolls and a full appetizer tray including devilled eggs.  Actually, I’m not complaining; I really do enjoy the process of creating a feast and besides, my masochistic tendencies aren’t exactly a secret (I don’t get paid for writing this column every day, either).  But I digress.  On a trip into the living room to bring my beloved a glass of egg nog, I took advantage of a free moment to sit in his lap and cuddle for a few minutes.  And while we were doing so, my attention was diverted to the television by the voice of  a reporter interviewing Miss Michaels among the celebrity spectators looking for photo ops; I didn’t know who she was, but the reporter obligingly told me, then asked her if she had any advice for dieters on Thanksgiving.  She replied (not an exact quote but very damned close), “Have a little bit of everything today, and then just throw all those leftovers away!”  It must be nice to have so much money that one can afford to throw the lion’s share of a feast into the garbage, but I can’t imagine being so selfishly amoral as to actually do it.  How about this, Miss Biggest Loser:  If you don’t want leftovers, why not prepare less food?  Or better yet, buy the same amount of food, donate it to those who would just love to have your leftovers, and eat yourself a fucking salad.

A feast is a symbol; shared meals are among the oldest of human rituals and therefore IMHO not to be taken lightly or bastardized into mere excuses for gorging oneself.  I urge all of my American readers to really observe today’s holiday as it was meant to be observed; get together with people you love (whether family or friends) and enjoy each other’s company.  Think about all the good things you have and the progress you’ve made in the past year; if it has been a bad year for you take stock of what you still have and plan for the future.  If you have religious beliefs say an honest prayer of thanks to the Divine as you conceive Him, Her, Them or It, and if you don’t have such beliefs take a moment to meditate on your prosperity and recognize the good which has come to you from the actions of others.  And though today is a regular weekday for my readers in other countries, perhaps y’all might also take a moment today to be thankful and to appreciate what you have rather than worrying about what you lack.

Blessed Be!

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Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent. –  Roman proverb

I encountered this article via a link from the SWOP site, and saw something very interesting about it which I decided to illustrate via a little judicious alteration.  Read my modified version first:

A planned conference by sex workers, which was scheduled to start yesterday in Baltimore, was abruptly halted by the government, saying it was illegal. The conference was organized by the Committee for Women’s Sexual Autonomy, an international women’s rights organization with offices in Boston, and was to be held in a hotel in Baltimore.  Addressing journalists in Annapolis yesterday, Attorney General Douglas Gansler said the conference, which government learnt of on Wednesday, had attracted prostitutes from New England, Virginia and Pennsylvania. “Government reiterates its position that prostitution is a punishable offence. While it is true that we have had problems with enforcing the law, the government is determined to defend innocent children who very often fall victim to selfish as well as misguided individuals who are promoting prostitution,” Gansler said, adding he informed the hotel that it could be held liable as an accessory to the crime of human trafficking.  “Promotion of criminal acts under the claim of defense of one’s human rights is not one for this government.”

One of the officials of the organization, who refused to reveal her identity, only said: “If the meeting has been stopped, how can it continue?”  She added that she was not aware of the topic and the function of the conference.  Most sex workers in the United States, especially in cities, are less than 35 years old and join the sex trade due to different problems like poverty, unemployment and illiteracy.  Last year, participants discussed ways of protecting sex workers from HIV/AIDS amidst calls from the public to ban the meeting.

Not anything unusual, is it?  In fact, it’s pretty typical prohibitionist grandstanding, right?  Except for one thing:  It isn’t true as I presented it; I changed the places and names and rewrote one sentence slightly.  Here’s the original article; note the easy way American names fit into a story about a third-world country not exactly known for its stellar record on human rights.  Are you disgusted?  You certainly should be. Here is a list of all the countries in which prostitution is still illegal: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua, Azerbaijan, The Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belarus, Bhutan, Bosnia, Botswana, Brunei, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chad, China, Comoros, The Congo, Croatia, Djibouti, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritria, Fiji, French Guiana, Gabon, The Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Korea (both), Kuwait, Laos, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Macedonia, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauretania, Mauritius, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Nauru, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, The Philippines, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vietnam, Yemen and Zimbabwe.  Take a good look at it; with a couple of exceptions every country on the list is either a totalitarian state, a country only recently emerged from totalitarianism, a theocracy or near-theocracy, a postage stamp, a third-world shithole or some combination of two or more of those categories.

Is this the company you want our country to be in?  Apparently it’s the one our elected officials (and uneleted bureaucrats) want, and they’re working hard to make sure we look more and more like our comrades on the list all the time.  In order to more closely resemble China and Islamic theocracies we need much more stringent internet censorship, and as I reported on October 2nd and November 17th, our Congress is trying to enact a law which will establish exactly that.  This report appeared on the Techdirt website this past Thursday (November 18th):

This is hardly a surprise but, this morning (as previously  announced), the lame duck Senate Judiciary Committee  unanimously voted to move forward with censoring the internet via the COICA bill — despite a bunch of law professors explaining to them how this law is a clear violation of the First Amendment.  What’s really amazing is that many of the same Senators have been speaking out against internet censorship in other countries, yet they happily vote to approve it here because it’s seen as a way to make many of their largest campaign contributors happy.  There’s very little chance that the bill will actually get passed by the end of the term but, in the meantime, we figured it might be useful to highlight the 19 Senators who voted to censor the internet this morning:

Patrick J. Leahy — Vermont
Herb Kohl — Wisconsin
Jeff Sessions — Alabama
Dianne Feinstein — California
Orrin G. Hatch — Utah
Russ Feingold — Wisconsin
Chuck Grassley — Iowa
Arlen Specter — Pennsylvania
Jon Kyl — Arizona
Chuck Schumer — New York
Lindsey Graham — South Carolina
Dick Durbin — Illinois
John Cornyn — Texas
Benjamin L. Cardin — Maryland
Tom Coburn — Oklahoma
Sheldon Whitehouse — Rhode Island
Amy Klobuchar — Minnesota
Al Franken — Minnesota
Chris Coons — Delaware

This should be a list of shame.  You would think that our own elected officials would understand the First Amendment but, apparently, they have no problem turning the US into one of the small list of authoritarian countries that censors internet content it does not like (in this case, content some of its largest campaign contributors do not like).  We already have laws in place to deal with infringing content, so don’t buy the excuse that this law is about stopping infringement.  This law takes down entire websites based on the government’s say-so.  First Amendment protections make clear that if you are going to stop any specific speech, it has to be extremely specific speech.  This law has no such restrictions.  It’s really quite unfortunate that these 19 US Senators are the first American politicians to publicly vote in favor of censoring speech in America.

I feel constrained to point out that this list contains individuals from both of what Americans laughably refer to as “political parties”, and that some of these individuals call themselves “conservatives” while others pretend to be “liberals”; the truth, of course, is that they all belong to the Huge Bloated Government Party and their shared aim (it was a unanimous vote, remember) is the subjugation and thought control of the American people.  It’s too bad we whores can’t unify enough to buy ourselves a couple of politicians; with the natural lobbying abilities inherent in our profession I’m sure we could swing a number of the “undecideds” and then the prostitution laws would start dropping quicker than you can say “campaign contribution”.  Alas, we do not constitute a giant, faceless corporation with more money than God and therefore our opinions don’t count in the good old U$A.

“Freedom” used to mean something to Americans; politicians in every time and place have always tried to grab more power and suppress individual rights, but in the United States the people always resisted such attempts in the past.  Our culture has grown tired and indolent, resisting tyranny is hard work, and the average modern American would rather surrender his wallet, weapons, privacy, rights and balls to the “authorities” in return for the empty promise of “protection”.  He’s happy to go where he’s told to go, eat what he’s told to eat, watch what he’s allowed to watch and think what he’s told to think, and it does not seem to alarm him that his Uncle Sam is keeping company with a most unsavory crowd of late.  And considering the sort of mangy mutts he’s chosen to lie down with, I shudder to think of the sort of plague the inevitable fleas might be carrying.

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