What’s so wrong with a little sex work?

We shouldn’t forget that legalizing something means you’ll get more of it.

This opinion piece poses an interesting response to the people arguing for legalizing sex work– of which, I am one.

I would argue that there is a difference between choosing sex work from a place of shame and desperation and choosing sex work from a place of knowing that it’s a good match for one’s interests and skill set.

Prostitution does not inherently commodify women’s or men’s bodies more than professional athletics, or acting, or hell, professional mime. It commodifies their compassion and hearts and conversation skills no more than therapy or teaching. It is no more soul-destroying than being a lawyer — far less in some cases.

I’ve meet a number of sex workers — and have two dear friends in sex work.  They are not victims or survivors (of anything more hostile than the occasional bad police work). They don’t lack self esteem — they’re empowered feminists who are proud of what they do.

One of them has a client who is a paraplegic who doesn’t leave the house.  Another has clients who are shy or don’t have the social skills to approach people for sex, but still have sexual desires.  Some clients are in town for business, or are just too busy to bother with all the complications that come with having a girlfriend or boyfriend.

I’ve known people who are clients too.  There are those who visit sex workers to learn new skills, to have a physical-only relationship with a person after their spouse or partner has become ill.  Some people are clear that they want sex, not a relationship.

What is wrong with that?


The author of the New York Post article also uses a slippery slope approach to argue that once sex work is made legal, everyone will want to do it.  There’ll be human sacrifice, cats and dogs living together…mass hysteria! (Thank you, Peter Venkman in my head.) The fear is that economically desperate and unemployed women will receive pressure to go into sex work…like they don’t already?

What is this romantic idea about empowerment through legal work, but not illegal work? Go to the nearest Target or McDonald’s and ask the workers there if they chose the job out of need and desperation or a recognition that it matches their skill set. Then ask them how empowering their work is, and if at the end of the day they feel fulfilled or maybe just a little degraded.

The author of the article then mentions all the organizations that are against Amnesty International’s position to decriminalize all aspects of professional, voluntary adult sex work, mentioning all the organizations that are against Amnesty International’s decision. In their own position paper, “Sex Workers’ Rights are Human Rights,” Amnesty International does describe this controversy and admits to being attacked from all sides when they first announced they’d be developing a group to protect the rights of sex workers.  It’s true.  This is a hugely controversial issue.  But you know who agrees with them?  Other reputable human rights organizations.  From that paper:

We would like to claim to be the first to address this issue.  But we are not. Other groups which support or are calling for the decriminalization of sex work include the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, International Labour Organization, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Foundations and Anti-Slavery International.

It’s true that sex work is dangerous. You know why? Because it’s illegal. Until it is legal sex workers will not come forward when they’ve been harmed outside of their negotiated contract for fear of retaliation. Until it is legal, the industry won’t be regulated for safety.

Until it is legal, law enforcement will still conflate powerful, self-respecting, often feminist sex workers with human trafficking victims. Charitable groups will waste their time trying save people who don’t want or need to be saved when they could instead be devoting their efforts to real human trafficking, slavery, and the institutionalized injustices which make real crime invisible.

Rape Culture in YA Literature

Steady yourselves, I’m going to recommend an article in Glamour magazine.

But first I want to talk about Veronica Mars. You remember Veronica Mars right? A TV show a few years back, it featured Kristen Bell as a high school girl who helped solve cases that came in to her Dad’s detective agency. But what sucked me in right away was her backstory.

Veronica Mars was a popular girl who went to a party and was drugged & raped … and didn’t know by whom. When she went to  law enforcement she was ridiculed by the sheriff (“Why don’t you go see the Wizard. Ask for a little backbone.”) Her boyfriend broke up with her. She lost her “friends” overnight. I found that to be … well, realistic.

When the show opens, it is a year after that event. She has become a wise-cracking tough girl with no friends. A girl with PTSD who nevertheless handles her aftermath with grace and a taser.

Though that may not ring quite as true with many of us survivors, it is my fantasy of how I handled things 30 years ago. This was back in 1984. There was no background or training about rape other than from the plots of 1970’s cop shows. Opening: woman walks through dark parking lot. Footsteps. She looks back and quickens her steps.  The following steps quicken.  She fumbles for her keys and runs for her car door.  A man in a mask puts a gloved hand around her mouth.  Cut to commercial.   That was rape.

But someone forcing sex on you in his apartment?  That was just a thing that happened. Unless you were a pristine virgin attacked by an absolute stranger in front of witnesses, you didn’t go to the police. You put up with it. You didn’t question it. There was no talk about consent culture or rape culture. No one recognized acquaintance rape as “real rape” back then.

I talked to my roommate, who told me the same thing had happened to her and shrugged. I talked to my parents, who sympathized and urged me to stay in school. I talked to someone in the counseling office who talked about rites of passage and growing up. And I talked to a friend who said “Everyone’s first time sucks.” I don’t resent any of those people. We just didn’t know. It did not occur to anyone that this was rape, least of all me. (Also, tasers weren’t commercially available until after 1994, but I digress.)

If the books mentioned in the Glamour article below had been around, maybe one person would have believed me. If I had read these books, I’d have had the tools to acknowledge what had happened. I don’t have a lot of regrets in life, but I do wish I’d known enough to prosecute this guy.  I’m sure I’m not alone in that regret. Still today, 68% of rapes are not reported, and 98% of rapists won’t spend a single night in jail.

Over three decades we’ve changed a lot, and that’s worth celebrating.  A young* person raped in someone else’s apartment today may still be slut-shamed or told that they’re making too big a deal out of it, but there are advocates all over the internet.  Like RAINN.org, where a survivor can start getting the support and information they need.  Or No More.org, which gives friends and family members the strategies to be supportive. Or 1in6, specifically created for the estimated 17% of sexual assault victims who are men.  As the conversations about date rape and rape culture come up, and consent culture gains advocates, sexual assaults have gone down about 49% since 1993.

And here’s a great thing:  today’s young adults are getting more of an education about what rape culture is, through media. Glamour’s article on YA Literature makes that clear. And it is here:


It’s my hope that today’s young adults will recognize rape as rape when it happens to them or their friends. Certainly counselors and administrators and law enforcement have more information about it. But we still have a long way to go. Even as you read this some shell-shocked teenager is being questioned by someone they trust who will fail them by asking what they were wearing, if they were drinking and if they really thought it was rape. “It can’t be real rape — you’re a boy,” they will be told. Or, “you went to his apartment willingly.”

 Call to action: promote consent culture by having conversations with the young people in your lives…and buy someone a book that will help them recognize rape when it happens to someone around them.

Radical Feminism and BDSM

I was raised by a radical feminist, and I consider myself a strong feminist and proponent of sexual freedom and an activist in the sex positive movement.  So I was startled to be asked “Why is that radical feminists have such an anti-BDSM stance?”

First, not all radical feminists *do* have an anti-BDSM stance, particularly within the BDSM community. I run into feminist women and men all the time who came to an understanding of their kinks & fetishes through a long and authentic personal journey that led them to understand that what they want and need sexually is fine in the context of the Sex Positive movement.

But for radical feminists who don’t have a good understanding of BDSM? Look, when read on the surface, all the cultural norms of male Dominant and female submissive relationships *look like* the cultural norms of oppressive, patriarchal culture.*

If you’re not familiar with most of the conventions of BDSM, it *appears* that males have power and females don’t in these relationships. Female submission in particular is problematic. When I was a child, women were still considered legally the property of their husbands in the majority of the states. If a woman was raped by her husband, it wasn’t rape. Only in my lifetime has that changed. To radical feminists — hell, to most non-kinky human beings — watching a man tie up and beat a woman is like watching a nightmare come true. Watching a woman agree to that is like watching a woman punish herself through her own choices, choose subjugation over freedom, and deny who she really is.

We can’t blame people who are not in the culture for not getting it. If you planted me on an island in the South Pacific, I’m sure there are lots of things I wouldn’t understand. If you winked, I might not understand if you were trying to cheat me, flirt with me, or make an alliance with me. If I went to France and you sold me a ticket to a ballet in Paris, I might go assuming that I had a seat, and be very surprised to find that the ticket I bought entitled me to sit on the stairs. Two fingers held up in a V by a male American soldier during World War II often meant victory; the same gesture made by a long-haired girl with flowers in her hair in 1967 meant peace.

There is so much of counter-culture that simply can’t be read from outside it. If you are in the BDSM community for a year, you start to understand concepts like “consent” and “negotation” and how important they are. You also learn to separate out the true Dominant or Sadist from the jerk who preys on women new to BDSM — the man who calls himself a top or a Dom but who is actually bent on real abuse. When you’ve been in the BDSM community for a year, you see a man tie up and beat a woman, and you understand that this is consensual, the woman has enthusiastically agreed to the scene (or sought it out), and even if it’s not your idea of a good time, you get that he and she are probably having a good time.

When you’ve been in the BDSM community for 10 years, you’ve come to understand it as a culture, or a collective of cultures with their own norms, and you understand that when you are watching a man tie up and beat a woman, you are watching a woman who has exercised her sexual freedom and her right of choice to seek out an intense sensation and a power dynamic that gives her an endorphin rush and gets her off. You understand that much of the power in that relationship comes from the woman giving her power to the man — and that she can take it back at any time.

If you are steeped in BDSM culture for a long time, that scene looks very different. You see power flowing between the two parties. You see the overt power — which looks like it is all the Dominant’s — and the covert power — which is the submissive’s to give over to the Dominant or not. You see, perhaps, the flow of the power as it waxes and wanes in a given scene. If you’re lucky, you see how much love that couple has for each other (if it’s that kind of relationship). And if you’re the very, very lucky submissive — as I am — maybe you’re the woman tied up on the St. Andrew’s cross participating in a deep ritual of love and trust (trust that’s reinforced again and again) that feels like nothing else in the world.

All power to the radical feminists who have their own deep culture and readings and interpretations of things. Just understand: it’s a different culture. And you can’t expect someone who is new to your country to understand what it means when you wink.

–Virginia Lore

* [I’m using the male D / female s construct because that’s the one that raises the most hackles in the feminist community. Female D / male s doesn’t seem to hit the same nerve.]

Gay Activism in the Non-Western World

This isn’t what LGBT life is like in the 75 countries where it is illegal to be gay.  But this is a look at the fact that activism wasn’t born in America, and there are many non-Western countries where LGBTs are living authentically and making a difference in their communities.

Jenni Chang and Lisa Dazols are a couple from San Francisco who bought a camera and a book about how to make a documentary and set off to meet gay activists in the non-Western world, activists they call the Supergays.  Despite the cute name, worth watching, if only for the examples of people climbing toward justice.  How do we get there from here?  These people have some good ideas.

Sex Worker (In)Justice

Two weeks ago France adopted the Nordic model of criminalizing sex work, which involves aggressively going after patrons of the workers. In countries where this model has been adopted, working conditions for sex workers have degraded significantly as the work hasbeen driven underground.

While feminist abolitionists celebrate the victory of the bill, the workers themselves are not happy.This kind of bill puts them in a more precarious and dangerous situation, both economically and physically.

Legalization of sex work, though, would allow for significant improvements in the working conditions of the world’s oldest profession.

Said Professor Pascal Vielle of the University of Louvain who also researched labour law at the ETUI (European Trade Union Institute):

“If this activity were subjected, just like any other, to the labour law, everyone would benefit. Both the worker and the employer would find themselves subjected to its rules, to the payment of social contributions, to contracts, and a whole range of rights could then be asserted.”

Human rights organizations agree. Among those organizations supporting the legalization of prostitution is Amnesty International.

What we want is a refocussing of laws to tackle acts of exploitation, abuse and trafficking – rather than catch-all offences that only criminalize and endanger sex workers. 

Other human rights organizations that support the legalization of sex work include the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, International Labour Organization, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Foundations and Anti-Slavery International.*


*according to Amnesty International. 




Green Party Labels Women “Non-men”

UK – In a stroke of irony, the far left-leaning Green Party of England  and Wales ended up bending a little too far recently when it called members of the young and feminist branches of the party “non-men,” according to this article by Breitbart.

Spokespeople for the party explained that it was an attempt to be inclusive of those who did not fit into a binary model of gender. However, as the backlash soon made clear, it was a mistake that some saw as taking the cause of feminist language back about 60 years.

“I am not non male,” Beatrix Campbell tweeted, “not cis woman, not a non lion, not a non bicycle, not a non fish and definitely non happy.”

The younger branch of the Green Party stated, “We currently use ‘non-male’ because this is inclusive other non-binary genders which have a place in our group”.

No group of people wants to be known by what they are not. I acknowledge that I’ve used the term “non-binary” as a short-hand to describe people as well as the term “gender”.  But we need better terms, UK Green Party. How ’bout we use “women” for women, whether by birth or identity? And perhaps say something like “all gender identities welcome” when recruiting at large?

[For the record, I think the term “cis” is useful as a way for allies of transgender people to denote themselves in some contexts.]

Rabbit Hole: Rape Culture – Teens

From  Bustle’s “5 Prom Traditions That Perpetuate Rape Culture“:

Bustle’s article looks primarily at prom traditions supporting the idea that young women are targets for young teenage men (who are painted as sexual predators).  Problematic are traditions like insisting that young woman dress conservatively at prom (because they are objects and therefore responsible for inviting rape if they dress provocatively); and the traditional Dad-threatening-prom-date trope that makes only males responsible for the sexual safety of teenage young women.

Cover of “Asking For It” by Louise O’Neill. Cover design by Kate Gaughran

According to one Kaiser Family Foundation study, one-third of boys and 23 percent of girls ages 15-17 feel pressure to have sex, and prom can exacerbate this. After-prom parties are often considered an opportunity for high schoolers to reach sexual milestones. This can lead students both to feel internal pressure and to put pressure on one another.

From  Psychology Today’s “Peer Pressure and Teen Sex“:

One in three boys ages 15-17 say they feel pressure to have sex,
often from male friends. Teen girls feel less pressure–only 23 percent
said they felt such coercion. Researchers questioned 1,854 subjects
between the ages of 13 and 24 in a national survey.

The study, released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, also found
that teens feel strong pressure to drink and try drugs. The study
findings show a need for sex education at a young age, say the study

From the SEICUS Fact Sheet in support of the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act:

The availability and quality of sexual health information and sexuality education varies drastically across the country. Less than half of all high schools and only 20% of middle schools in the U.S. provide all 16 of the CDC-identified topics critical to ensuring sexual health. (CDC) In addition, many young people face systemic barriers to accessing health information and services, resulting in persistent inequity and disparities. (CDC)

The data on disparities and disproportionate burden on young people continue to highlight the need for additional resources to serve young people most in need of sexual health education.

  • HIV infection rates are increasing among young people, particularly among young men who have sex with men (CDC) – young people under the age of 25 account for 1 in 5 new HIV infections. (CDC)
  • Half of the nearly 20 million estimated new STIs each year in the U.S. occur among people ages 15–24. (CDC)
  • Despite historically low unintended teen pregnancy and birth rates in the U.S., the country continues to have the highest rate of teen births among comparable countries. (UNICEF)
  • A devastating 10% of high school students report experiencing partner violence and/or sexual violence. (CDC)

Note: the CDC figure looks only at partner violence and sexual violence.  In terms of sexual assault of teens in general, the American Psychological Association reported in 2014 that 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls report having been sexually assaulted by age 18. (1)

  1. “Child Sexual Abuse: What Parents Should Know,” American Psychological Association. (http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/child-sexual-abuse.aspx) (February 19, 2014)