Another day, and yet another one of my peers is shaming clients and sex workers for uncovered oral. ‘You’re gonna get chlamydia’ she says, as a conventionally pretty girl on a very high, noble horse. I envy the privilege of that, of having that kind of mass appeal where I could get away with charging for silent missionary position and making rent anyway. Sounds relaxing.
When I started in the industry, there were many things I couldn’t imagine doing for money, but I never had to think much about it. The brothel where I started was pretty strict about what was and wasn’t allowed and that was fine. It was stock standard, really nothing out of the ordinary. I think a double ended dildo was the most mind blowing thing I’d seen by the time I had left (oh, how times have changed…). We were busy regardless and made good money, so that’s what I got comfortable with. Mind you, we were all young and pretty and didn’t really need to work hard to make our money. The brothel brought in the clients for us and as a high volume establishment, the men paid very little and were happy with whatever they got for the coin.
The independent game is different, we have to work so much harder with marketing and it’s lower volume, so we each make choices to appeal to the clients we want. I remember a time when I thought submissive services were dangerous to offer as a service - that they shouldn’t be offered because only dangerous men would want them. It embarrasses me to think of now, how small-minded I was, and now as someone who has explored and enjoyed submission, I know better than to question these services. If anything, kink clients have a more informed and lived experience of consent and boundaries than vanilla clients. But I had an education, not by reading books, not by getting a degree (I did, but it was much more boring), but through life experience and stepping outside my comfort zone. There’s a lot to be said about life experience here in regard to keeping an open mind.
I used to work in New Zealand, which has a massive shame culture associated with uncovered oral and sex in the industry. As a small country and a small community, it works, as you’d be ostracised if anyone found out you offered these things. People were literally afraid to ask - the guns were ready! I’m ashamed to say I used to be one of those annoying people. In a smaller economy, New Zealanders have a privilege really of never questioning that status quo, uncovered services are less expected because the community has enforced the rules. It’s small enough to do that to the market culture.
Then I moved to a bigger pond. The community is massive in Australia and most people are largely working on their own, trying to compete in a huge pond. The market forces are entirely different and uncovered oral is commonplace. I realised that in order to be competitive, many/most people are making choices every day on these matters to stay ahead in the game. My judgement fell away as I see even more conventionally attractive people struggle to compete - it really is a good example here of free market capitalism. If you don’t swim here, absolutely your business sinks. There’s a lot happening, and clients have a lot of choice, and services can be dictated by that to an extent. So we find our selves really analysing our choices and making risk assessments of our own, independent of hive minds and community pressure. It was a big wake up call for this naÏve kiwi, for sure.
After this realisation, I went back to my New Zealand peers, who still publicly shame these services, and I questioned them. Isn’t it wrong to treat our peers as uneducated victims? Isn’t that the exact same behaviour we resent from civilians about our job as a whole? This wasn’t Kansas any more, there is real privilege in setting out boundaries. As consenting adults, shouldn’t what’s happening behind closed doors be our own decision? My biggest belief in life as a whole really, is bodily autonomy. I believe that if people want to have sex for money, they should be able to. I believe if someone wants an abortion and the right to choose, they should be able to, and therefore I also believe that anyone mindfully consenting to sex should be able to do it without retribution. The government shouldn’t have any role in determining these things, only protecting them - they have no place in our bedrooms.
So this applies in my opinion to services in sex work. If someone makes the choice to forego barriers in this work, then I don’t think they should be punished. Access to information so people can make an informed choice is absolutely necessary, but giving them a criminal record, or ostracising them from the community support just shouldn’t happen. We don’t have to completely understand someone else’s choices to support the right for them to have them. I know I have to be a little careful here, I also don’t want to sound like I’m advocating for less barrier usage, I personally find condoms to be the most wonderful invention of our time, but I also want my peers who may feel differently to still feel welcomed in our community. I don’t believe that those who offer these services are uneducated at all, that would be to infantilise them. I believe they simply make choices according to what they desire or to reach their goals. I am not one to judge that, hell I’ve face enough judgement in my time, I’m not about to start dishing it out. There are many other things in the huge world of sex that I struggle to wrap my head around, but I don’t shame people for them.
After I went back to my peers in New Zealand with a different attitude, after assessing the situation in Australia, some actually finally felt able to confide in me that they’d offered services in New Zealand that are illegal or shamed there. It does happen, but everyone who does is too scared to talk about it. I find that to be a concerning and precarious position for sex workers to find themselves in. In an attempt to keep the industry ‘clean’, some of our most vulnerable workers are pushed to the fringe and feel they have no-one to talk to. It made me feel so sad that people had felt abandoned by the community because of things they chose to do in the bedroom that had nothing to do with anyone else. There is a division in the industry between the righteous and the privileged, and well, everyone else. Whether someone chooses to offer these services because they feel they have to in order to get custom, or whether it’s a choice because they like it - they still have a right to that choice. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their body and therefore their right to do so. Who are we to tell them they shouldn’t make a choice to pay rent? To make a choice that suits them? There are many pretty white girls with university degrees who harp on about ‘elitism’ and ‘whorearchy’ in the public eye who are still quick to shame the choices their peers make. I should know, I was one of them (‘pretty’ is used subjectively lol). It just doesn’t seem very feminist to me.
In feminism we don’t (want to) deny women abortions because they chose to have consensual unprotected sex. Choice is not a factor in deciding whether protections should be available to them. We want to protect their right to participate in sex and assist them with choices and support, and I feel that just because money changes hands shouldn’t change that. People take risks, we do not always understand them, we don’t always condone them but supporting the right to make those choices is important. Criminalising, ostracising, does nothing but harm to those who find themselves on the outside. I personally feel we need to be putting more emphasis on protecting the support system, promoting (not enforcing) testing, improving health practitioner’s attitudes towards sex workers, educating clients (easily the least informed group involved) and less on shaming people for their bedroom antics.
Now if you’re a client gleefully rubbing his hands together right now, I want to reiterate that this blog is all about worker’s choice and bodily autonomy - it’s not about you at all. I’m not saying to you that condoms aren’t recommended or that you should push your luck to get a service without protection. I’m advocating for the right for providers to choose. If a sex worker says no to your request for BBFS, they’re exercising their right to choose and that should be respected. You have a choice to, if someone doesn’t offer what you want, go somewhere else. Not pressure someone, not stealth them. You are owed no explanation for the choices we make in regard to our services. Be self responsible, educate yourself so you can make your own risk assessments and respect the choices of your sex partner, or find someone who is a better match. Safety goes beyond condoms, safety is in every party consenting, being self responsible, regular testing, and having a support network. So if you’re one of those clients who shames a sex worker for using condoms for oral, or you’re a sex worker who shames your peers for not, you’re each doing harm to the protections we need in our community to make our own choices in sex work, as consenting adults.