Mark Twain’s witticism about statistics being the worst kind of lies is too familiar to need repeating. But while in his time it may have been a bit of an exaggeration for humorous effect, in ours it has become a plain fact. Ideologues who wish to lie convincingly have learned that fake “statistics” are very good at persuading the mathematically-illiterate to embrace ideas they’re already predisposed to believe. That goes double when the subject is sex and quadruple when the subject is sex work; it seems that no figure, no matter how outlandish nor how blatantly in defiance of the laws of logic, psychology and physiology, is unbelievable to the average person as long as it serves to advance the narrative that sex is dirty and harmful, and that anyone involved in the sex industry must be either a victim or a villain.
If the subject were anything else, journalists (and perhaps even some politicians) faced with extreme claims involving many millions of people would almost certainly seek input from actual experts in the field. But due to the powerful and entrenched cultural stigmas surrounding sex, very few with the power to influence public opinion ever bother to consult sex workers about our own profession. And while there are many ethical academics who have produced a great deal of methodologically-sound research on sex work and sex in general, there are also many unethical ones who don’t hesitate to craft bogus “studies” especially designed to produce false results intended to uphold an anti-sex agenda; how is a person with experience in neither science nor the sex industry to tell the difference? That’s why social media have been such important tools in the advancement of sex workers’ rights; they have allowed sex workers to speak for ourselves despite the opposition of those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Blogs and Twitter in particular have provided sex workers with a platform from which we can speak directly to the public, sharing our experiences and debunking the damned lies used by prohibitionists to raise and maintain public support for the criminalization of our work, lives and associates.
Unfortunately, the members of anti-sex crowd aren’t stupid; they can use social media as well, and they’re backed by authoritarian individuals, organizations and governments with very deep pockets. In the past 20 years an entire industry has grown up around convincing the voters that the sex workers who speak so eloquently about the harms done by criminalization are either lying, mentally ill, a tiny and unrepresentative minority, or all three. And one of their chief means of accomplishing this is the generation and dissemination of false “facts” and unsupported “theories”. In the face of this assault, sex workers and ethical academics are faced with the daunting double task of not only getting the truth out, but also of debunking the myths and bogus statistics with which the prohibitionists hope to confuse and bamboozle those who don’t have inside knowledge that comes from either deep study or lived experience.
And that’s why this book is so incredibly important. Dr. Brooke Magnanti is not only a former sex worker and an experienced activist with a broad, deep knowledge of the subject matter; she is also a trained scientist who can explain exactly how the anti-sex industry plays fast-and-loose with figures to make their lurid fantasies about sex, porn and sex work seem like sober facts in the eyes of those who don’t know any better. And Dr. Magnanti has one more important credential: she’s an engaging writer whose award-winning blog on her time as the London call girl Belle de Jour inspired several books and a hit television series, Secret Diary of a Call Girl. So even if math isn’t your strong point, fear not; this book is written with the same style and wit that have made her a popular writer for over a decade, and strips away the dangerous nonsense the modern-day Puritans have used to cloak their moralistic crusade in the veneer of science.