This essay first appeared in Cliterati on September 15th; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.
What, you didn’t know that sex produced radiation? It’s true! Adult sexual activity is so dangerous to the “purity” and “innocence” of “children” (sorry for all the scare quotes) that any adult who has sex should be kept away from all children at all times. Sex rays, you see, induce the dreaded “premature sexualization”, without which “we would all grow up in a blissful, chaste state and never, ever, ever be interested in dirty, nasty sex”. The dirtier and more “illicit” the sex, the more intense the sex rays: regular missionary-position marital sex conducted once per month or so while the wife looks at the ceiling and thinks of England produces such a low concentration that ordinary walls can stop them, but BDSM and swinging emit concentrations that can contaminate surrounding objects, and sex work produces such intense levels that sex workers cannot be allowed near children ever again for the rest of their lives. Even objects we handle (including money and virtual objects such as emails) must be kept far away from “children” (including young adults), and the danger is so great that kids inadvertently exposed to the dreaded rays must be quarantined from other kids.
Obviously, if people really believed this nonsense, they’d demand their own children be taken away and placed in the care of nuns. But they certainly act as though it were true, to the point that (especially in the US) terms like “family-friendly” are euphemisms for “totally sexless”. If any openly-sexual person (especially a sex worker) has anything at all to do with children, or even non-child-related sacred cows like breast cancer research, you can bet there will be a hue and cry in which words like “disgusting”, “inappropriate” and “creepy” will figure prominently. Sex workers often have their children abducted from them by prohibitionist regimes on the grounds that having consensual sex makes them “unfit parents”; the children are then handed over to either abusive spouses (as in both the linked cases) or sexually abusive “foster parents”.
Nor is it only fundamentalist Christians, repressed bureaucrats and the gullible, hysteria-prone masses who practice this anti-sex bigotry; some people who pretend to be educated and might even call themselves “sex-positive” are right along with them. Take the staff of Jezebel, for example; though they proclaim themselves “feminists” and even adopt some sex-positive trappings such as enthusiasm for sex toys and (some) porn, in reality they feel a deep ambivalence for sex workers which bursts forth every so often. I once wrote that “I think of them as something like a gaggle of debutantes volunteering at the local homeless shelter because they think it’s the right thing to do, but unable to really disguise their disgust for the ‘icky people’.” Here’s a recent example in which writer Tracie Morrissey’s belief in “sex rays” is blatantly obvious:
…Farrah Abraham tweeted a link to her Amazon wish list, asking fans to purchase her more than $13,000 worth of gifts—and they did. Now the reality star/“sex tape” star has replenished her list, asking for some more furniture, kitchen appliances, and odds and ends for her home…Creating an Amazon wish list is a common practice among porn stars, strippers, and escorts…[Abraham’s list includes]…clothes…dining room furniture…a laptop…a sleeper sofa, a juicer, a Pyrex measuring cup, etc. The saddest thing of all though, is her request for a $52 crib mattress and $12 mattress cover. It’s like, either keep your kid out of your weird sugar daddy arrangements or at the very least, get her the good, expensive shit.
You know who else has Amazon wish lists? Lots of people. And you know who else gets gifts from strangers who admire their work? Many, many entertainers and celebrities, including relatively minor ones like yours truly. So, if Penn and Teller get a present from a fan, is it a “weird sugar daddy arrangement”? Or is it only female entertainers? If someone sends Neil Gaiman a gift to thank him for the pleasure he gave the sender, is that “creepy” and “bizarre” as Mamamia opined (“Who would actually fork out their hard-earned cash for such a thing? Does it make people feel good about themselves?”), or is that only reserved for female writers like Maggie McNeill? Because, O ye Jezzies and MMs, this is beginning to look awfully…well, sexist. Perhaps this is a Madonna/whore thing? Is it only because Abraham currently does sex work that this is somehow suspect, and therefore I’m in the clear? Or does my having sold sex in the past eternally condemn my Amazon Wishlist to skeeviness in the eyes of those who write for blogs like Jezebel and Mamamia, even if the readers who send me nice things have never seen me have sex? Both websites seem to take issue with the fact that some wish list items are inexpensive; do they think the fun of gift-giving should only be reserved for the affluent? Or is this somehow intermingled with sex work in their minds, so that an economical present somehow equates to cheap sex? One would think, considering their rather insulting belief that a woman’s sexual skills aren’t worth paying for, that they would be less offended by the cheap gifts than the expensive ones, but that would require at least the rudiments of rational thought. And that, I’m afraid, is something in very short supply in the brain of anyone who believes in anything as ludicrous as sex rays.