Interview with a John.

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It’s not often that you hear from the men who pay for sex. This is a long, but informative interview. The following are some snippets. I highly recommend you read the whole thing (here).

From The Rumpus:

Paying to Play: Interview with a John
By Antonia Crane

To use a tennis analogy, I played all four corners in an attempt to interview clients. I hit up escort friends of mine with long-terms regulars, old clients who were articulate and thoughtful and guys I’d never met who had contacted me with sex work-related questions. I figured the client viewpoint—the missing piece, would be easy to obtain. After all, I’d had many a deep and intimate conversation with clients about sex workers and the negative way that clients were viewed in our culture. They openly shared their feelings about paying for it—what it meant culturally and what it felt like in the context of their lives. Men who thought of themselves as powerful came to me stripped of their routine status and its burdensome accessories. They wanted to tell their secrets. They’d crawled up my stairs in marabou slippers and a pink spandex thong, glided around my pole in the living room. They wanted to share their innermost desires and act them out. But, when I sent along my questions, I was met with silence.

I guess I was supposed to disappear in a puff of stripper-smoke. I guess they were put off by my confrontational, searing inquiries. It was one thing to tell me stories about their cancer-stricken wives and college-bound daughters while I listened in a fishnet bra by the paid hour. It was another to type their story in print. I was told my questions were too “hard.” The irony is not lost on me. I’d nearly given up when Max finally responded. He agreed to do the interview if it were 100% anonymous. I thought of the NY broker wearing my dress in my living room, red-faced and trembling with terror at the thought of giving up control. I remembered telling him “Stand up.” I held his damp chin in my gloved hand and said to him, “You’re safe here.” This was one of those moments. Max’s gentle courage was by turns surprising and tender as he flipped from sex worker to client. I was inspired by his vulnerability. I hope you are too.

The Rumpus: Growing up, what messages did you receive from your family about sex workers?

Max: Even though my home town is known for vices of various kinds, I can’t say I was ever aware of sex work going on in the 70’s, other than seeing strip clubs from the outside. I certainly never saw any prostitutes, or if I did, I didn’t know that’s what they were doing. My father was a sailor and spent long periods of time stationed overseas, and in recent years I’ve learned that he used to have relationships with women when he was stationed there, some of which involved financial arrangements. Some day I hope to get up the nerve to ask him more about it.

[…]

Rumpus: Tell me about your most positive and negative experiences you had with hiring women for sex acts/entertainment/ lap dances.

Max: The most positive experiences were always ones where there was a real emotional connection, where the sex part of the relationship took a back seat to just talking.

I remember one night going to a strip club. It was late on a Friday night, and I hate Fridays in clubs. It’s always really crowded and loud, everybody’s drunk, there are frat boys and bachelor parties, the girls are all making tons of money and you can’t really talk to anybody. But I was bored, and lonely, so I went, and this dancer that I had not seen in a year or two recognized me across the room and ran up and practically jumped in my lap. We were both sober by this point in our lives, and we just talked. For four hours. She was sick of the business— didn’t feel like working, I didn’t really want a lap dance anyway, and we just sat and talked until the club closed at 4am (about marriage and boyfriends and school and careers and music and life). It was just nice. Especially when you’re a socially awkward guy who has trouble talking to people and meeting people, you don’t drink any more so your old social life is dead, being able to sit and have an intense conversation with a really pretty girl all night is a precious thing. And there was really no other way I could see that ever happening. I couldn’t talk that way with my wife any more. I didn’t have any friends. I couldn’t meet a “civilian” girl somewhere, because I was married and unavailable. This was what I had, this was a rare moment, and I took it.

Rumpus: That reminds me of good nights I’ve had in clubs on Bourbon Street. During the Occupy movement, I remember sitting at a table with a group of guys discussing politics and education—just having a brilliant conversation for hours and enjoying that I was sober and sane and speaking to smart, engaging guys from various states with letters after their names. They paid me for some dances but it was secondary to the fun discourse at the table.

Max: The negative experiences were usually when I found myself in a situation where I felt I was doing something wrong, dangerous or exploitative. I think my situation is not uncommon, and I think most of us do not want to hurt anybody. Not wanting to participate in anything that’s harmful, that’s wrong, that’s cruel. But like a lot of other industries, both black-market ones like drugs or gambling and legit industries like food processing or farming, there are abuses. And so you go into it navigating through the abuses.

You’re in this for a connection. Physical—but also emotional. And a shadow of the dark side of sex work kind of hovers around in the background.

It’s like with drug use. You just smoke pot once in a while, and then one day you find yourself buying a little more weight, from a guy who’s got a gun in his car, and you realize there is this whole other big scary reality behind the little bit that you can see.

[…]

Rumpus: What is the thing you are most ashamed of? Afraid to tell me?

Max: I think the thing I am most ashamed of is that I’ve been to Asian massage parlors. These are places with women who are very recent immigrants from China and Southeast Asia, and for a fixed door fee you can get a massage, and for a fixed “tip” you can have sex. On the one hand, it’s convenient; it’s cheaper than a typical escort and you don’t have to make an appointment in advance or have your references screened by the woman. You just show up. On the other hand, the sex is often not that great.

And call me naive, but what I discovered after a couple of trips to these places is that many of these women are victims of sex trafficking. They’re imported into the country under the ruse of getting a good American job, and then their handlers make them work off their exorbitant “travel fees” in the sex spas before they are cut loose. And even after they work off their debt, often they just return to the sex industry, because they lack skills, they lack a verifiable work history, they don’t speak very good English, and the sex work is what they know and it becomes, in a way, easy money.

Thing is, they are not glassy-eyed robot slaves sobbing under their oppressor like you see in movies about this kind of thing. They’re funny, they’re charming, they’re nice to you. And they’re very much in control as far as the sex goes: they set fierce limits about what is and is not allowed, and are usually much stricter about condom use for every act than regular escorts.

[…]

Rumpus: Do you think that any of the women you hired felt degraded or exploited? Did you? Do you think the women you hired considered themselves feminists? Do you think they considered themselves victims?

Max: Other than the women in the massage parlors I visited, I honestly don’t believe that most of the women doing this felt degraded. The ones that were escorts who didn’t have pimps, didn’t have drug problems, and weren’t trafficked, I honestly believe that they chose their profession about as much as any of us choose our profession. I don’t think they feel any more exploited than all of us workers feel exploited. We all have to work to live, and most of us would rather be doing something else.

Many years after my first blowjob-for-money experience, I went through a bi-curious phase and I guess I have to say now that I’m really a bisexual who leans hetero. Speaking only for myself, if my only two choices were becoming a warehouse picker for Amazon for $10 an hour, or sucking dicks ten times a day for $50 bucks a pop, I’d buy me some kneepads. Somebody can point to, say, a fellatio porn scene where the guy is rough on the girl and calls her names, and say that it’s inherently degrading, and my argument would be that it’s only inherently degrading if the girl doesn’t want to do it. I mean, I’ve had it done to me. I thought it was a blast. And I didn’t even get paid.

I really don’t know whether they considered themselves feminists. Do people even talk that way, outside of literary and political forums? We didn’t talk about it, specifically, although I imagine many of them did, and some of them didn’t, for the same reasons that non-sex workers do or do not.

Rumpus: What did you get out of your experiences with sex workers? How did you feel afterwards?

Max: Seeing women for money, made me a little less sad. It was a brief respite from loneliness, from my skin being hungry for human touch the way a drowning person is starving for oxygen.

[…]

Rumpus: If you think sex work is humiliating, how is sex work more humiliating than, say, working at Wal-Mart?

Max: I don’t think sex work is humiliating in and of itself, I think society makes it humiliating. You want humiliating? Try cleaning vomit-filled toilets in a frat bar on a Friday night. Try mopping floors for a person who spent more on their car than you will earn all year. Try being lectured in public by a man ten years younger than you because you poured his wine wrong.

Next time you’re in a fast food drive-thru at 2am on the way home from some bar, look through the window at the people in the kitchen, see how they are spending their Friday nights for minimum wage, and think about humiliation. Read about chicken-processing plants, Amazon warehouses. There are a million humiliating ways to make a living in this capitalist world we live in. At least escorting takes place in private.

Rumpus: Why do you think people react so strongly against sex work?

Max: It’s a combination of things.

First is the conflating of the worst abuses of sex work with all of sex work. A drug addicted single mom being pimped and beaten and coerced to walk the streets is a horrific and inhumane thing, but it’s the extreme end of the scale. It’s not inherent to sex work that it be done that way, any more than it’s inherent to casual drug use that drug cartels have to leave dozens of beheaded bodies by the side of the road every week. Otherwise everybody who laughed about smoking up on 4/20 has an awful lot of blood on their hands.

Also, people react very strongly against sex— or at least against sex done in a way that they disapprove of. People are going to say that sex work was created by the patriarchy, to serve the patriarchy, that it commodities women, treats them as objects to be bought and sold. I don’t agree. To believe that, you have to believe that all of these women lack agency, lack any will at all. That’s not been my experience. I’ve never “bought” a woman, any more than I’ve “bought” a guy to mow my lawn or “bought” a barista to make coffee.

 

 

 

Results of CIHR-funded research on sex work in Canada.

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From Maclean’s, in its entirety:

First national study sheds new light on sex work in Canada
Rachel Browne talks to researchers behind five-year study
by Rachel Browne

Earlier this year, Justice Minister Peter MacKay promised that Bill C-36 would eradicate prostitution in Canada and protect the most vulnerable in the sex industry by “going after the perpetrators, the perverts, those who are consumers of this degrading practice.” Despite criticism and repeated calls for the bill to be withdrawn, it will likely become law before the government’s December deadline.

Sex workers are concerned for their future. And while the bill’s opponents voiced their concerns even before it was tabled, they haven’t had much influence on it.

Researchers from around the world are in Ottawa this week to hear findings from the first national study on Canada’s sex industry that seriously undermine the bill’s assumptions that most people who sell sex are victims and those who buy sex are fiends. While the study is unlikely to influence the new legislation, it provides rare insight into the lives of Canadians who buy and sex sell. It also adds to the body of evidence available for the inevitable Charter challenge.

“Sex workers are average Canadians. They’re Caucasian, in their 30s and 40s, and have education and training outside of high school. Most of them don’t feel exploited, they don’t see buyers as oppressors,” the study’s lead author Cecilia Benoit, a researcher at the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia, told Maclean’s. “They’re not weird, unusual people. They are people trying to do the best they can with the tools they have to live their lives.”

The five-year study began in 2011 and is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Researchers interviewed 218 sex workers, 1,252 clients, 30 spouses or intimate partners of sex workers, 61 managers of escort or massage businesses, and 80 law enforcement officials. The interviewees were from six cities: St. John’s, N.L., Montreal, Kitchener, Ont., Fort McMurray, Alta., and Victoria.

Throughout the justice committee hearings on Bill C-36 in July, the bill’s supporters claimed the average age of entry into the sex industry is between 14 and 16. For the sex workers in this study, the average age was 24; 29 per cent of the sex workers interviewed said they had engaged in sex work before they turned 19. And while 43 per cent of the sex workers said they were satisfied with their work and 82 per cent felt appropriately rewarded, about one third of those surveyed reported having negative childhood experiences, and the same number grew up in foster care or other child services. The research team plans to examine the link between childhood abuse and the sex industry.

Benoit, who has spent decades researching the sex industry, says she was struck by the interviews she and her husband, fellow researcher Mikael Jansson, did together with the sex workers and their spouses or partners. “I realized just how similar they were to us,” she says. “They were dealing with the constraints of life, trying to support each other.” More than half of the sex workers in the study were in “significant intimate relationships,” and 59 of them were married or living in common-law marriages. Almost half the clients reported being married or in a common-law marriage with a non-sex worker.

Many of the interviews were conducted shortly after the Supreme Court struck down the criminal code provisions on prostitution last year. “People in the industry felt a little bit more at ease then, [and] open to tell us what they were doing,” says Benoit. She’s worried the new laws criminalizing buyers and advertising will push swaths of the industry underground. “It will be harder for clients to help anyone they see being victimized, because it will be illegal. The same with managers in the industry,” she says. “I’m a bit sad about what is going to happen.”

Canadians should also be worried that C-36 makes sex workers targets, says Chris Atchison, a sociologist from the University of Victoria who contributed to the study. “We see exacerbation of conflict and unsafe sex practices when we force people to engage in hostile, criminalized climates,” he says. Clients, or “johns,” in Canada represent all strata of life, so when we adhere to stereotypes, it ignores the diversity of the population and glosses over the bad apples, he says. And the small number of people who prey on the vulnerable in the sex industry will have greater cover, because johns won’t be willing to divulge their anonymity once it becomes illegal to buy sex. “People who are raping and murdering sex workers, they’re not clients,” Atchison says. “Nobody murders a sex worker and then puts $500 down on her corpse.”

Jean McDonald, director of sex-worker support group Maggie’s Toronto, says although C-36 is very similar to the provisions struck down by Bedford, her group is coming up with new ways to navigate the changing industry. She’s also confident some police forces will continue to leave sex workers and their clients alone. “There are some police services, such as in Peterborough, Ont., who, for the last 10 years, have made a point of having a policy of non-enforcement of prostitution laws,” she says. “There is that shimmer of hope I have.”

This is reflected in the report, which finds that police and municipal approaches to sex workers and johns are highly inconsistent across the country. Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson applauds Bill C-36, for example, whereas Victoria police officers shy away from arresting those engaging in prostitution. The Victoria municipal council recently passed a resolution urging the federal government to abandon C-36. One Montreal police officer told report authors that his force focuses instead on “other crimes that are more serious, such as the trafficking of crack cocaine and the trafficking of firearms.”

Even if prostitution were decriminalized, which the report authors and those interviewed say ought to happen, Benoit says that wouldn’t be enough to make the lives of those in the industry better. “We need societal change, not just at the federal level. We need to change at a more personal level by examining our attitudes and how we discriminate against people,” she says.

Pornhub: The impact of 50 Shades of Grey on porn searches.

Pornhub, one of the huge porn aggregator tube sites, has its own research wing (how nerdy!). They analyze search data, and some of it gets reported on Pornhub Insights (check it out here). A recent project examined the impact of 50 Shades of Grey on porn searches. Here’s what they found (in its entirety):

50 Shades of Pornhub

Cinema has come to affect our lives and views in real and meaningful ways. For instance, after the release of the film Sideways, Merlot became more difficult to move off of shelves while Pinot Noir enjoyed a 16% spike in sales. Deer hunting decreased by nearly half for a few years after Bambi. In the same vein, the recent release of the film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey has been shaking things up over here at Pornhub. Specifically, people are getting freakier in their pornographic preferences and we’ve got the data to prove it.

Not So Grey Area

There’s no real debate here; since the now infamous film was released overValentine’s Day weekend, BDSM related searches have seen a significant increase on Pornhub. The charts below trace BDSM related searches during the days leading up to and then immediately following the film’s February 13th release date. When comparing this activity in the US to the rest of the world as well as to women versus men, the specific traffic patterns follow the same general rises and falls, with a few exceptions. Overall, it seems that the press tour leading up to the premiere helped things along a little, with a decent increase in BDSM searches having been observed the weekend before, over the 6th through the 8th of February.

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The 13th marks the real threshold though, with searches for words like ‘submission,’ ‘spank,’ and ‘bondage’ among others, increasing in the US by over 20% and by nearly 40% in women. Suffice it to say, our female users have definitely been channeling their inner Anastasia Steele’s.

Handcuffs and Flogging and Whipe, Oh My!

Now for a look at which specific search terms Pornhub users have been employing to access their new favorite kind of content. Here, action words like ‘submission’ and  ‘dominate,’ top the chart, both having increased in the range of about 50% in searches since the movie premiere. Other tools of the trade type terms like ‘whip,’ ‘master,’ and ‘leather’ all also saw some notable spikes in search activity during this time. According to some research by our friends over at Refinery29, these last 3 words are interestingly some of the most used throughout the 50 Shades novel as well.

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Femme Domination

It’s no secret that the intended audience of both the novel and subsequent film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey is women. Touted for a while now as ‘mommy porn,’ it seems that after having experienced the film women are now looking to have a red room experience of their own, at least according to these numbers. In this last chart, the Pornhub statisticians have whipped up this impressive list of which kinky terms women are more likely to search for than men, proving some dominating female tendencies. Following the release of the 50 Shades film, women appear to be more curious about most BDSM terms, searching upwards of 200% more for certain terms in some cases than prior to the release date. Men have been exploring these new waters as well, with increases closer to the range of 20% having been observed with these same terms. Again, action words like ‘submission,’ ‘dominate,’ and ‘spanking’ all skyrocketed by 150-220% by female Pornhub viewers. Suffice it to say, the desire for less vanilla type videos is strong among the ladies – the only thing we can’t say for sure is which side of the paddle they’d prefer to be on.

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March 25th class update – Sex Work Panel.

As discussed in class, this week will be the Sex Work Panel!

We will be joined by a panel of expert sex work advocates and educators who will be sharing their stories and advocacy work. It would be excellent to have some questions prepared for them. Also, please feel free to invite friends along, if you think they might be interested.

The panel will be presenting some slides to go along with their talk. Some of the slides may be made available on the blog. The panel discussion will take up the entire class time.

IMPORTANT: IT YOU ARE ATTENDING, DON’T PACK UP YOUR BAGS AND LEAVE BEFORE THE PANEL IS OVER – IT’S EXTREMELY RUDE. The panelists are attending as our guests, so show them the respect that they deserve.