In her reply to a man who wrote in asking for advice on his "addiction" to brothel sex, Pamela Stephenson Connolly failed to challenge any of his beliefs about prostitution or the sex industry. Her reply gave the impression that paying for sex is as unproblematic as buying a car or eating in a restaurant. She did not question his obvious belief that sex is a right – something that all men are automatically entitled to. She did not challenge him on his use of the word "hooked" as a justification for his continued use of women in prostitution, even though it looks to me very much like a choice rather than an addiction (he says he is "unlikely to give it up because [he has] great sex").
Stephenson could have mentioned the grim realities of the sex trade. Instead, she portrayed it as a job like any other, when she wrote, "Many sex workers are very good at their job." The reality is that more often than not the women would rather do any job than give blowjobs for money. Aside from a few exceptions, those involved in prostitution are treated as disposable, often coming from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds involving sexual abuse and social exclusion. Normalisation of prostitution results in a general view that men can’t help what they do and somehow "need" sex.
In giving such advice, Stephenson Connolly has betrayed the women in prostitution. I am not sure whether she would identify as a feminist but she surely realises that prostitution is both the cause and consequence of inequality between men and women. As long as men can buy women’s bodies we can never be equal. Instead she perpetuates the view of prostitution as a service industry by writing, "Some like to engage in a financial contract rather than negotiate via ‘dinner’ or ‘a movie’."
Prostitutes are routinely seen as different from other women and Stephenson did not challenge this prejudice. A punter told me when I asked him why he paid for sex, rather than finding a girlfriend: "They are girls no one else wants to marry. So they work for sex. No one wants their wife to be a prostitute." Charming.
Surely readers find the sex industry’s terrible treatment of its "workers" and the fact that women in brothels are marketed like any other merchandise abhorrent? Those of us who believe in social equality need to ask why so many of us defend prostitution and the rights of individual men to pay for sex.
One argument increasingly used by pimps and sex industry apologists is that a number of punters are disabled and unable to have sex the usual way. TLC Trust, a pro-sex industry campaigning organisation, is demanding one wheelchair-accessible brothel in every city "to meet the demand", and that hospice wards should have provision for visiting sex workers. TLC even uses the example of wounded soldiers to call for an "NHS" approach to the sex industry. "It would be a sad injustice," its website reads, "if service personnel such as soldiers badly wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan were banned from the help they receive from sex workers." When one punter told me he believed, "If men could get it [prostitution] on the NHS, if they are disabled, it would prevent them from raping," I found myself wondering how on earth men such as him came to believe that all men are potential rapists, when it was supposed to be radical feminists such as myself who propagate this? The majority of men do not pay for sex. And it’s offensive to people with disabilities to assume they cannot find a partner. Those who do pay for sex need to be educated about the harm it is causing the women, and society in general.
"Next time you’re with a sex worker, ask her for some pointers," concludes Stephenson Connolly. Does she really think women having to service punters for a living concern themselves with teaching men how to give pleasure to women? They want to get it over with as quickly as possible and learn how to fake enjoyment rather than actually achieving it. Prostitution is a nasty business.
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