Thursday, April 25, 2013

Living Dolls and The Sex Myth

I am reading two books on the same subjects; prostitution, erotic dancing and pornography. Natasha Walter has written Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism. Dr Brooke Magnanti  has written The Sex Myth: Why Everything We're Told Is Wrong. Natasha Walter is a feminist and has a negative view of prostitution etc. Dr Magnanti has been a sex worker (known as Belle de Jour) and is an expert in statistical analysis.

Natasha Walter writes that the number of sexual assaults increased in Camden Town in London after lap-dancing clubs opened. Dr Magnanti has shown in that this research (done by the Lilith Project) is false. She devotes the whole of Chapter 4 of her book to showing how poor the Lilith Project research is.

Other 'facts' in Living Dolls are:-
  • two-thirds of prostitutes have been assaulted by clients
  • 85% of prostitutes reported physical abuse in the family
  • 45% reported familial sexual abuse
  • a majority of prostitutes involved before age of 16 or 17
  • all have a problem with alcohol misuse
  • majority used hard drugs
These 'facts' seem to be about prostitutes in general. She then goes on to mention street prostitutes specifically. She writes that 96% of street prostitutes in Merseyside are using heroin and 81% using crack, 84% of these gave their reason for entering prostitution as getting money for drugs. I can well believe that this is true for street prostitutes - my experience is that when the police crack down on street prostitution it's only the drug addicts who keep on doing it. Before a crack down half of them are not addicts and eventually even the addicts give up - there is next to no street prostitution in London today.

All these figures are to set us up for her conclusion that prostitution isn't a real choice and therefore it is acceptable to take that choice away from women.
"Despite the fact that they have not necessarily been forced into this work, these women are not exempt from levels of abuse that make a mockery of the normalisation of prostitution."
She then goes on to write that 6 prostitutes are murdered every year. She doesn't write that no prostitutes are killed in New Zealand or the Netherlands*. She doesn't write that the reason prostitutes get killed in Britain in because people like her stand in the way of simple changes in the law that would make women a lot safer and probably remove the threat of death altogether.

The figures of 85% of prostitutes reporting physical abuse in the family and 45% reporting familial sexual abuse are dealt with by Dr Magnanti in Chapter 8. The research was the result of a handful of interviews, no control group, and is statistically pointless.

Walter writes in Living Dolls that she met and talked to a prostitute she calls Angela. Angela used words like 'dissociate' and 'psyche'. This reminded me of an article I read in the Guardian a few years ago by Emine Saner: 'You're consenting to being raped for money'. Saner wrote that she met and talked to a prostitute she called Karen. Karen also used these words. "You have to learn to dissociate your body from your mind which is dangerous for your psyche."

Could Angela and Karen be the same person? Angela in Living Dolls said "Basically you've consented to being raped sometimes for money". Karen in the Saner article said "Basically you've consented to being raped for money". Other things tie up in the two accounts. So who is Angela/Karen?

I did consider the possibility that she is a fantasist or someone like Valerie Lempereur who under the name Patricia Perquin wrote a book claiming to show the life of a Dutch prostitute in Amsterdam. Only it was a fabrication. Right-wing politicians used this book to push through changes in legislation restricting prostitution (just as feminist groups have been using the false statistic about Camden lap-dancing clubs to change the law to try and stop more clubs opening). Or perhaps Angela/Karen is a radical feminist (or a religious fundamentalist) who makes up stuff because she thinks she is helping the anti-prostitution cause. She is certainly a mouthpiece for feminist concepts such as dissociation.

When I re-read the Saner article carefully I realised that there was a lot of information that Karen has given about her career as a prostitute that Walter hasn't mentioned at all. Karen said that she's not a drug addict, she uses her earnings to save for her pension as well as pay her bills, she only needs to see five men per week to get enough money and the most men she has seen in one day is three. She gets paid £130 per hour (it used to be £170 till Eastern Europeans pushed prices down), has earned £1,500 in one sex session, and never has unprotected sex. When asked if she has experienced violence she answered 'Nearly' and refuses to see a man for a second time if she finds him physically unattractive.

It seems that Angela/Karen is more like Belle de Jour than Natasha Walter would like us to know. So I'm inclined to believe that Angela/Karen isn't a fabrication, if she'd wanted to make it all up to further the anti-prostitution cause then she could have made a better job of it.

Angela said that men sometimes asked if they could tie her up or gag her. Some also asked to have a threesome. It appears Angela didn't comply with these requests, yet she uses these as evidence that prostitution is becoming more violent.

Walter mentions the genre of books that include The Intimate Confessions of a London Call Girl by Belle de Jour and Confessions of a Working Girl by Miss S. She dismisses the former but regards the latter as gospel truth. Miss S wrote that she continued to work in a brothel despite having a damaged, swollen and bleeding vagina.

She writes about PunterNet reviews and picks out some of the worst of them, using them as examples of what punters really think about sex workers. The reviews that she uses however are not representative of PunterNet reviews generally.

So what does the chapter in her book about prostitution add up to? Some statistics that might have been true of drug-addicted street prostitutes at one time, used to suggest that this is the reality of prostitution. The musings of Angela/Karen about her injured psyche (but nothing about her career as a prostitute because that would contradict the dodgy statistics). An unreliable paperback memoir. And some unrepresentative PunterNet reports. Not much really, is it?

It seems that what Natasha Walter is really bothered about is what she calls 'unemotional sex' or 'sex without much emotional engagement'. Lust is an emotion, but the emotion that she's thinking about is intimacy. She seems to think that sex without intimacy is degrading. As Angela said in Living Dolls: "All this push to get women to buy into porn and it's values - it's turning all women into paid or unpaid sex workers." As Karen said in the Saner article: "I believe there is a conspiracy to turn women into readily accessible semen receptacles." Natasha Walter is worried about 'The Return of Sexism'. I'm more worried about the return of Puritanism.

A woman can't consent to being raped. That's a contradiction in terms. It seems that the phrase 'Basically you've consented to being raped sometimes for money' was used by Angela only in the context of men asking to tie her up and gag her, perhaps because they wanted to enact a rape fantasy. She didn't think that all sex work is rape, although that makes a good headline for an article. Similarly, if you're a sex worker then you are paid for sex. There is no such thing as an unpaid sex worker.

What you get from reading Living Dolls is the idea that if a woman has sex without emotions/intimacy/commitment then she might just as well be a prostitute. The idea is that women don't really want promiscuous sex as fun, that it's only pressure from men or porn culture that makes women want to do it. That seems to me not only wrong but old fashioned and regressive. I don't have a problem with people wanting commitment, but it's not right for them to try and force it on the rest of us.

*since writing this I realize that four sex workers have been killed in New Zealand

Monday, April 22, 2013

Chinese sex workers

Like a lot of people these days I have recently experienced a drastic reduction in my income. So it's going to be fewer trips to Soho and Chinatown, and more trips to my local library. I am reading a couple of interesting books at the moment, The Sex Myth by Dr Brooke Magnanti and Living Dolls by Natasha Walter. They're quite interesting to read together because both books deal partly with the facts about sex work but from different perspectives. I will leave them for my next post though.

I was going to post on this blog about my experiences of sex work, because I think that's what most of my readers are interested in, and put anything else on the pages of the blog. Any information from the media or opinions I have about prostitution I tried to restrict to these pages. Now that I'm not going to have so many of these experiences, there will be more posts about information and opinions.

I have had some interesting experiences in the past couple of months however. I have been tempted to explore the world of Chinese massage in Goodge Street and the surrounding area. There are Chinese medical establishments all over London offering Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture and massage. At most of these places if a man chooses massage he might be offered a sexual service, usually masturbation to orgasm. I have tried many of these places in Soho and Chinatown, and more recently in Goodge Street and nearby.

I saw a lovely girl who I had seen before and wanted to see again. She hitched up her top so that I could feel her breasts but I was more interested in below the waist. At one point I was sitting up on the massage couch and I had her shorts and knickers down. I was touching her bum with my left hand and her pussy with my right hand while she was wanking me, her pretty face just a few inches from mine.

I went to a different place and saw a very pretty girl who offered a limited service, just a 'happy ending', but it was still a wonderful experience. Part of the pleasure of going to these places is that you might be able to persuade a nice girl to go further than she does with most customers. If you're a regular customer, are generous, and make her laugh and feel at ease, who knows what she might do for you. One fantasy I have is persuading a pretty Chinese girl to suck my cock and her trying but giggling too much and not being able to, to begin with. The idea of her leaning forward with her mouth open but then collapsing in giggles is an appealing one.

Also I saw a slightly older and less pretty woman who was very raunchy. I got her shorts and knickers down, and then she took them off. She put one foot up on the massage couch and started wanking herself. I put the end of my finger in her vagina while she was doing it and she orgasmed, or seemed to. Afterwards she told me not to tell anyone. That's why I'm not using any names, or even which establishment. I don't think they would like that. They are nice girls and I wouldn't want to do anything to cause problems for them.

These places are not such good value for money as other places, such as the Soho walk ups, but they are clean and discreet and offer a nice little sexual adventure.

So I was interested when recently in the Guardian there was an article about Chinese sex workers. The brothel worker: 'I regret not working in the sex trade as soon as I got here' Posing as a maid, Hsiao-Hung Pai infiltrated the murky world of the UK sex trade and spoke to some of the migrant mothers desperately working to send money home to their families Lots of Chinese women come to Britain on a visa but overstay. They work illegally in low-paid jobs such as catering. After working a couple of years they find out about sex work. Those that try it tend to say they wish that they had found out about it years ago.

Overall, the article was positive about Chinese brothels. There were a few negative points though. The 'madam' of the brothel was verbally abusive. They work very long hours. Occasionally some men try to take the condom off, putting them at risk of an STD. They were expected to offer oral sex without a condom, but not penetrative sex without a condom.

What I believe is that sex workers should be able to set up on their own without the need for a 'pimp' or 'madam'. Then they won't get the verbal abuse and don't have to hand over half of their earnings. I know there are reasons why this might not be so easy, but I have dealt with these issues in another part of this blog.

I don't think there are that many Chinese women working in brothels. There are none in Soho and Chinatown, as far as I can tell. There are however lots of Chinese women who offer a limited sexual service working in the Chinese medical establishments. There are one or two of these places that are not much more than a brothel. Most offer some kind of sexual service. Some offer nothing sexual at all.

At one place I went to there was one woman who did nothing sexual at all, not even masturbation to orgasm. Another woman offered this but nothing more. Another one offered oral sex and nudity as well as masturbation. Someone said she has full penetrative sex too.

It seems that Chinese women have an option that others such as Eastern Europeans do not have. They could work in a brothel, like the women in the article, or they could do massage with a 'happy ending'. If they don't want to do even that they can just do massage, or if they're prepared to do more - for the right customer - they can earn quite a bit. So the reality is different from what many people believe, that they do not have many options.

Some people don't like the term 'sex worker'. They say it would be better to use the word prostitute. I think 'sex worker' is a useful term because it includes women who offer massage and masturbation to orgasm but don't offer penetrative sex. Perhaps it includes strippers and erotic dancers too.