It’s been four months since we did this, but Hy and I are back, with two more dissolutes. We have one notable change this go-round. We no longer aspire to publishing our picks for you on the first Monday of the month. We just are too busy with, you know, life. So instead of establishing a regular schedule that can make us feel bad for missing it, we are aiming for occasional posts – when the mood strikes.
And, lucky for you, the mood has struck.
N’s Pick: Cande – The Secret Diary of an Online Stripper – on paying for sex
Cande, who writes one of the few blogs I follow, has posted a couple of times recently on the behavior of men, some of whom are her friends, with respect to sex tourism and commercial sex/sex work/prostitution.
I’ve written a lot on commercial sex, but I had a strong reaction to several bits of her recent posts, and my response was a little more than fits in a typical blog post comment. Cande has seen much of what I write here. We’ve had a really good, robust conversation behind the scenes in the lead-up to my posting this. So please don’t read any of what I write here as in any way suggesting I don’t think highly of Cande. I do. Sometimes I disagree with her, but mostly, I’ve just been impressed with her willingness to consider alternate ways of thinking about things.
First, her posts:
1) this one, in which she described some friends of hers who recently went to Budapest on a sex tourism jaunt, and
2) this one, in which she revisited some of the things she previously had said/thought, and wrote a bit more about prostitution in general.
I think the best way for me to do this is simply to quote her, and then to offer my response, but before I do that, a thought on the set-up: in my life, the vast majority of sex workers I’ve paid for sex, I’ve paid on my own, outside of a social context (and in a fairly shame-ridden context). There are exceptions. I have, on a couple of occasions, had “erotic massages” with a date. I have brought dates to strip clubs. And I’ve been to bachelor parties in strip clubs. (My own bachelor party, a co-ed affair, featured a stop at a strip club.) But in general, my relationship to commercial sex work is a highly personal one. When I’ve paid for sex, I’ve been paying for a highly personal experience, not one that I’m enthusiastic about sharing with others. And I’ve done it in the United States, almost exclusively. Not in Europe. Not in the developing world. Where, I imagine, things are likely very different. And even here in the U.S., I have the sense that the sex work industry really isn’t one place – it’s lots of places, with lots of different types of things going on. I find that I can rarely go wrong by imagining that things might be more complex than I imagine….
The thought of joining hands with five friends and heading off to [insert destination here] for the explicit purpose of procuring sex is unthinkable to be. Not unthinkable in a judgmental way. It’s simply not something I’d ever do. It just doesn’t appeal. So I start from there. What she’s talking about her “friend” having done is wholly unfamiliar to me. And, if I’m honest, it’s pretty distasteful to me. Not so much because of the transactions and actions, but because of the un-self-conscious importation of it into the social sphere where it just feels a bit… icky… to me.
Now, on to the quotations:
“The whole story had me disappointed in men. I found it rather nasty and off putting to be honest.”
Disappointed in men? This was six men. If they had been six black men, would you have been disappointed in blacks? I don’t mean to be harsh, but how can you extend whatever judgment you feel of these six louts to my entire gender? (I’m not often a defender of my gender. We do a lot of bad shit. But this feels to me unfair/wrong. Or at least, not quite as thoughtful as I might like.)
[As I wrote above, I showed Cande this before posting it here, and she had some thoughts on it. I expect she may expand on them further over at her site. I don’t want to characterize them here, but suffice it to say, I think that, for the most part, she agrees with my point.]
“These guys had even looked into paying professionals for sex, but when they got wind of prices he said they were much too high, somewhere around 300 euros. 300 euros doesn’t sound like a lot to me.”
My experience as a consumer of commercial sex services was that, as with anything, there are different products at different price points. I have a good friend who had some behaviors similar to mine once upon a time, but his tastes brought him to Asian massage parlors, where the cost was a quarter or even less what I paid in the “college- and grad-student” parlors.
My tastes in sex (as in Scotch) tend to run to the expensive. But the truth is, the product is different. There are some sex workers who probably don’t make 300 euros in a night. And there are others who make more than that in each encounter. I have the sense that what you mean when you say “300 euros doesn’t sound like a lot to me…” has a predicate to it that’s unspoken, “… for what this poor woman is doing to herself/giving up/giving away.” I’m not defending these guys. They sound a bit like louts. (If I did go on a sex tourism jaunt, I sure as hell wouldn’t talk about it with female coworker acquaintances I barely know.)
But I wonder a bit about the construction of sex work you have that says that 300 euros doesn’t sound like a lot. Many (most) white-collar professionals earn less than 300 euros per hour (or per two hours, or per job, or whatever). Is it possible you’re contributing to the stigmatizing of sex work/ers by the internal conception you have of the job, of how distasteful/unpleasant/unfortunate you imagine it to be? In other words, 300 euros is a LOT. It may not be enough for you to consider having sex for it. But it is, objectively, a lot as an hourly wage.
“The price thing especially bothers me because I know that 90% of the girls here are imported on false pretense and they have a whole organization who takes most of the money they earn.”
Um, huh? You “know” that? Which parts of it do you know? 90%? False pretense? Whole organization? Most of the money?
How do you know that?
Here, I refer you to Maggie McNeill, the Honest Courtesan, a former prostitute who has written extensively on “sex trafficking.” She argues, persuasively, I think, that the vast majority of “sex trafficking” is simply “economic migration,” but for people migrating to engage in sex work.
To be clear, I’m not saying that there aren’t women who are victims of exploitation. Surely there must be. But the way we tend to think, and talk, about sex work, and economic migration associated with it, and the organizational structures that support it, has a lot more to do with our biases about sex work and sex workers than it does to do with the way the world actually works.
Incidentally, in all of my years as a CPOS, with the hundreds (literally) of women I saw, I sincerely doubt that I ever saw a woman who was “imported on false pretense,” or who was working for “a whole organization who takes most of the money.” I don’t think this is naivete. My friend who frequented Asian massage parlors surely had a different experience than did I. But it’s a mistake to generalize. Sex work is an industry, and it’s hardly monolithic.
One note here: I have the sense that sex trafficking – to the extent that’s a thing – and economic migration associated with sex work probably look very different in different parts of the world, and from different parts of the world. Just as economic migration associated with any form of work looks different in different places. My knowledge is limited to my experience. I don’t pretend to global knowledge here.
“If I had to choose between the bf falling in love with another woman and cheating on me that way, or him going and having sex with a prostitute, I’d likely be more upset about the prostitute. Especially if I put it onto equal ground saying unprotected sex in both cases”
I find this fascinating. Obviously, it’s Cande’s truth. But I’m so curious about why? What is it about “going and having sex with a prostitute” that’s worse than “falling in love with another woman”? This suggests to me that there’s almost a sense of taint, of pollution, that’s associated with the act of paying (a whore) for sex. Not that there’s anything wrong with having such a sense – there may well be, in Cande’s mind. But it’s intriguing to me.
And what is it about “unprotected” sex with a prostitute (as opposed to with a non-prostitute) that’s so disturbing? Again, see Maggie McNeill for statistics on sexually transmitted infections and prostitutes, but my own sense is that prostitutes in general – allowing for exceptions at the very bottom of the sex work food chain – are probably more diligent about safer practices than are sex amateurs. Certainly,
Once again, I wonder if there’s not something… dirty… to Cande about paying for sex. And something dirty about the people whom one pays for sex. And I wonder if what Cande’s really saying is that she’d be pissed off if her boyfriend exposed her to the taint transmitted by an unclean whore, more pissed off than she’d be if he exposed her to the risk transmitted by a non-whore affair.
In Cande’s and my discussion via e-mail, I wrote this to her:
One final thought about “cleanliness.” I think that we think a bit… magically… about sex. Some of this is biological. When women have sex with men, they’re allowing another human into their body. But. It’s not at all clear to me that having sex with a man is, necessarily, “dirtier” (or riskier, or whatever) than shaking hands. Hear me out: which interaction do you think transmits more germs, more diseases? In absolute terms? In relative terms? In my experience, sex is a relatively “clean” endeavor. Particularly, I should say, with sex workers. The sex workers I’ve had sex with had, as a rule, showered more recently than the non-sex workers I’ve had sex with. They used condoms more reliably. … [I]t seems to me like now we’re talking about something other than simple cleanliness or dirtiness, but more like “pollution/taint.” A shower, after all, cleans a cock nicely. And if disease is your concern, there are lots of ways of addressing that concern.
I think, really, what you mean is that a woman who’s been paid to have sex with men (and btw, I think many sex workers haven’t had sex with “hundreds” of men) is “dirty” in a way someone who hasn’t isn’t. And there’s something about the way in which she’s “dirty” that “rubs off” on guys who put their dicks in her.
I don’t think we’re talking about germs, or disease, here. I think we’re talking about purity, about moral valence. And while, of course, you’re free to think that way, it’s always interesting to me when smart people think in terms of “cooties,” of a sort of magical transmission of moral valence.
“What I don’t get though is why men feel the need to resort to it. Don’t get me wrong, I get it on some level but on another I just don’t. It’s like men have absolutely no control over their sexual urges. But they do. I’ve seen it…. Are men totally incapable of dealing with their urges in any other way?”
This last question is interesting, as it proceeds from the presumption that “any other way” would be preferable to paying for sex. I had ongoing relationships with women I paid, women I got to know, to like, to care a bit about. Relationships that had far more depth than, say, a one-night-stand achieved with much uncertainty at the end of a long evening of judgment-impairing drinking. I’m not really defending paying for sex. I’m explaining how what Cande wrote struck me as wrong.
I think that many men don’t “feel the need to resort to it.” They choose to resort to it. (I wasn’t, I should say, one of these men. I was a man who did feel the need to resort to it, and it was because of the shame associated with this that I would keep it so far from my social life.) But most men, I think, don’t pay prostitutes to fuck them out of desperation or “need.” Particularly not “sex tourist” men. I think you’re seeing something else in their behavior –maybe a desire to use their relative wealth and power to provide them with pleasurable sexual experiences. Or maybe a desire to exert greater control over their sexual experiences than “any other way” might provide them.
All of which begs the big question as far as I’m concerned: Cande, what’s wrong with paying a prostitute for sex?
I dig Cande’s space, I like her non-North American or Western-ness and I like her candor. I got lost on several of her more recent posts and I really dig her. I just love it when people put themselves on paper!
In regards to this topic in particular, I think N. is drilling down much further than I would’ve had I read it on my own. The first thing I thought about was that the BF needed to wrap it up and not be a fucking dick about unprotected sex. WTF, man??
As far as her belief that she’d be at more risk with a prostitute, it’s not unfair to assume that a sex worker might have more opportunities for an STD to break through her safe sex defenses than one who doesn’t have sex for a living. In any case, I get that. And as far as how she’d rate falling in love with a woman vs fucking a prostitute… well, she and the BF have some serious issues. I dunno… I automatically assumed that it’s much deeper than it appears.
Cande’s critiques of her friend also seems appropriate to me. My jaw would be on the floor to learn that someone went with a group to another country to stick it in to someone else. What? Can’t get any prostitutes Stateside?? Of course I’m speaking from an American perspective where traveling abroad is a huge endeavor. Obviously in Europe and the Middle East it’s a lot easier, but the point remains that her friend spoke of the entire trip like he went on a themed retreat, like to a roller coaster park or something. He bitched about the cost of the rides. No woman wants to hear of other women being reduced to the dollar amount they charge for being fucked. It’s just fucking rude because she isn’t just a ride. Comparatively, I also wouldn’t want to hear anyone bitch about the price of their interior designer, either. You get what you pay for and the one providing the service gets to set the cost, period. Get over it.
There are so many points “to take up” with the post in regards to sex-work and biases and such that it’s not really worth it. I mean, she wrote from the heart, and as a woman I get it. I don’t think she’s at all wrong to feel distaste at her friend’s idea of a great vacation idea and I can see why she’d look at dudes in general and scratch her head at their choices. Certainly doesn’t mean she thinks all men are dipshits, just her friend, right?
Hy’s pick: Cara Thereon
My original hope for Two More Dissolutes was to bring my readers someone as yet unfamiliar, but what I’ve found is that I have my haunts and I stick to them. I thought that listing them in my Dissolutes tab was good enough, or even my sidebar called More Dissolutes, but it’s not. Y’all are still missing out on some of my favorite writers and one in particular, Cara Thereon.
As Cara will tell you herself, she’s a shy person in real life and uses the internet as a tool to open up and push her boundaries. For the past 10 years she’s been honing her writing skills in one form or another and when I first “met” her online, she had a different pseudonym and a different blog name. The content has always been stellar no matter what nom de plume tops the page. I was instantly drawn to the fragility she inadvertently let bleed through her personal posts and titillated by her vibrant fiction. She is an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, inside a mystery and I’m happy to count her among my favorite writers.
I don’t typically read erotic fiction, or even erotica, believe it or not, but Cara inspires me to plug in to whatever it is she writes. She’s passionate, intelligent, sexy and thoughtful. As with any blog I read, I much prefer the personal anecdotes — such as her Obscure Blog post — but still adore her flash fictions, such as her Stories I Create on the Train series (click here and scroll down to suggested posts for all the links).
Most recently she published an “unedited sketch” as she calls them and blew me the fuck away. I couldn’t tell what I was reading; it put me on edge, made me feel off balance, turned on. It was fluidly jagged, brusque, deep.
Here’s an exerpt:
But I watch him in the moonlight. Watch the play of pleasure on his face, watch the controlled thrusts into my body, watch the way he holds me down. I watch every move, my body all his, my mind far off.
His face becomes familiar to me in that time. I know him by the end. I’ll have memories of the feel of him inside me, the shape of his body, and his scent lingering beneath the smell of sex.
So please, if you haven’t already, make Cara a regular part of your reading repertoire.
I’m a big fan of Cara, too. I linked to her as recently as a month ago, and I read her religiously. (I have a list of about ten-fifteen blogs of which I read each entry; hers is one. Honestly, I’m not sure why she’s not on my blogroll – I really should fix that.)
I’m with Hy – I prefer the posts in which Cara writes explicitly about herself, rather than the ones in which she writes explicitly about sex, actual or fantasized. Cara is vulnerable, and self-disclosing, and raw, and she trusts us readers with her insecurities and rawness, and it’s awesome to behold.
She’s a terrific, fluid, elegant writer, but what I really like on her blog is her exploration of her discomfort, and pain, and anxiety, and uncertainty, and loneliness. Not in a schadenfreude way – in a “she makes me care, and interested” way.
Definitely check her out.