A Massage That Could Have Ended Happily

When Marcus Williams got a massage in Vietnam, he was faced with a hard choice—harder than he expected.

On a cruise several years ago, I arrived to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (formerly Saigon) with no organized touring plan. I was friendly with some of the crew and heard from those familiar with this port that the nearby Hotel Rex was a great place to get a massage. I’m a big fan of massages and have had the pleasure (and occasionally pain) of sampling massages all over the world. I don’t indulge my taste for massages near home as much as when I travel, because it can be an expensive habit. The Hotel Rex offered full-body massages for about a tenth of the shipboard rate, so I shuttled into town and found it as soon as guests were allowed to disembark.

I wasn’t the only person to make a beeline for the Hotel Rex, so it didn’t take long for the day’s massage appointments to get fully booked. I was in the first wave of people, though, so I didn’t have long to wait before it was my turn. In the waiting room, I noticed a blurb at the bottom of the price list that said, “Tips are at customer’s discretion. Therapists are not allowed to solicit tips.” Roger that.

A male attendant took me to the men’s changing area and gave me a robe and thin pair of no-fly shorts. After I put on the robe and shorts, I exited the changing area, and an attractive young Vietnamese woman was ready to escort me to the massage room. On the walk to the room, she put her arm through mine, which I took to be a local cultural thing. No big deal.

I was a little startled when she hopped up onto the table and sat straddled on my legs while she massaged my back and glutes, but I’ve had massages in exotic places before, so I was prepared to just go with the flow. No big deal.

The room for the massage was small and simple, with plain walls, a small table in one corner with a bottle of oil, and a regular massage table in the center. I took the robe off, left the shorts on, and laid on the table in the customary face-down position for getting massages started. The masseuse dripped some oil onto my backand started kneading and rubbing and palpating like masseuses do. A small towel was draped across my hips—also pretty standard for a massage. As she got to my lower back, she hitched her fingers into my shorts, pulled them down a bit, and massaged my glutes—a.k.a. my ass. I was a little startled when she hopped up onto the table and sat straddled on my legs while she massaged my back and glutes, but I’ve had massages in exotic places before, so I was prepared to just go with the flow. No big deal.

After some relaxing attention to the arms, back, and gluteal region, she dismounted the table and began to work on my legs. As she worked her way up from the bottom of my legs to the top, she hiked up the shorts a bit (giving me an idea of what a thong feels like) and after a minute or so said, “You not really need these,” so I went with the flow and let her pull them off. I’ve been naked for a massage before and recognize the distinction between sensual and sexual, so this development didn’t faze me. No big deal.

I’m used to a masseuse repositioning body parts for easier access or to execute some technique, so I offered no resistance to her molding of me, which included moving my legs slightly apart. The end result wasn’t a full spread eagle, but there was space between the legs all the way up to my crotch as she continued the massage. Feet felt good. Calves felt good. Upper legs felt good. Inner thigh felt—

Hello.

♦◊♦

OK, that little perineal nudge was out of the ordinary, even for an exotic massage. The touch didn’t linger there, but sure enough, those little nudges kept happening. The first time was kind of a shock, the second confirmed that the first time wasn’t an accident, and by the third and beyond (though I’m embarrassed to admit it) I was sort of accepting and happily anticipating those little nudges.

I’d had massages before, all around the world, so some surprises were expected. I had been walked on before, had my limbs yanked until I had to ask a masseuse to stop, been slathered in yogurt from head to toe, and scorched by hot water and rocks. I’d been massaged by both men and women, in a state of undress ranging from modestly clothed to completely nude. Every other time prior to this massage (not counting intimate massages while dating or married), the obvious erogenous zones were diligently avoided by the masseuse.

I tried thinking of football, but could only conjure up images of cheerleaders, so that wasn’t working.

In a massage context, I have few inhibitions about being touched by a relative stranger, but I nonetheless get embarrassed at the possibility of manifesting an undesired physiological response during the treatment. In other words, the last thing I want to happen is to get a hard-on. I imagine that masseuses are used to it happening, so I’d expect them to maintain a professional calm in the presence of an uninvited erection, but it’s still an embarrassing prospect. This fear was heretofore unrealized, but here I was lying on the table, being slightly pushed and swirled into the soft table through the natural motion of massage, and an attractive young woman was making repeated contact with my inner thighs, perineum, and even the region just slightly north of the perineum. I tried thinking of football, but could only conjure up images of cheerleaders, so that wasn’t working. The deal started to get a little big.

My mind was right there to help, though, kicking in with that theory of how masseuses are used to it happening, so I had nothing to be embarrassed about. Besides, I was still face down, so it wasn’t like I really had much to worry about, so just go with the flow, go with the flow, go with the flow.

“OK, you turn over now.”

Um … OK. This is fine. I’m used to turning over. Both sides always get worked for full-body massages. I’ve got the towel. If she notices any stirrings, so what. No need to be embarrassed. Even if I get embarrassed, she’s a total stranger. I’ll never see her again. No big deal. So she’s pulling up a stool right next to the table. So she’s propping one of her feet on the opposite thigh to get into the next massage position. No big deal. So she’s taking my arm and massaging it a bit, and happens to drop my arm such that my hand is resting on one of her thighs. No big deal. So I’m shivering a bit and she gives one of my nipples a little tweak. No big—

Hell yes, I want she massage it. But I couldn’t say that.

“You want me massage here?” she asked, laying her hand on my crotch and giving a little stroke through towel.

“I … uh … um … wha’s that?”

“I massage you here, make you feel good.”

“Umm … is that included?”

“You pay me money …”

“Well, I … um … you see …” At this point, she removed the towel, giggled at the stiff consequence of her recent touch, and wrapped her hand around it to give it a squeeze.

“You want I massage it? I not on salary, only make money on tips. I like make you feel good.”

Hell yes, I want she massage it. But I couldn’t say that. For all my willingness to go with the flow, this would amount to paying for something I’d never paid for before, and I knew I couldn’t break with that history without feeling lousy about it afterward. Getting my mouth to produce the words necessary to decline was no easy task, but I managed a rather stuttering refusal of her offer:

“Um … thank you … that’s very nice … but … well … I don’t even know you, and … I wasn’t really expecting that … uh … that’s not something I pay for … um … but thanks for asking.”

She wasn’t inclined to take “no” for an answer, and met each stuttering phrase with a look suggesting that the words I was choosing weren’t within her limited English vocabulary. Words that were in her vocabulary, however, included, “It’s OK, I like make you feel good,” and “Why? It no problem, I like it.”

I’d be lying if I said my resolve never wavered and that inviting squeeze was a tempting preview, but except for the fact that I didn’t exactly knock her hand away when she grasped my hard-on, I resisted her overtures and finally got her to accept my “N-n-no.” She finished out the massage with nice platonic attention to my arms, albeit with an expression on her face that suggested she was even more disappointed than I was. Not likely.

♦◊♦

There’s a part of me that wishes I had accepted the “happy ending”—I’m sure you can guess which part—but I don’t regret my choice. I was not disgusted by the offer, even though I hadn’t sought it out. Ultimately, though, I couldn’t shake my concerns that, despite her expressions of eagerness, maybe she didn’t really like offering complete strangers handjobs for money and maybe it wasn’t completely her choice. In theory, I don’t morally object to sex for money, as long as the person selling is completely willing and fairly compensated. In practice, I’ve read a lot more evidence of women being victimized by sex trade than benefitting from it, so in a massage parlor in Vietnam, my theoretical ideal was not met. Even if it had been, though, a handjob (or more) wouldn’t be as inviting if I didn’t feel selected for the privilege.

—Photo nicouze/Flickr

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About Marcus Williams

Marcus Williams writes what he knows, which is a lot about a little and not much about everything else.

Comments

  1. Fair enough. You weren’t comfortable with it, so you turned it down. Another person might’ve made a different choice, and there’s nothing wrong with it either way.

  2. SAwomensrightactivist says:

    I applaud your ability to resist in a tempting situation and being able to recognize that women in these establishments are often not there by choice. It IS wrong if you are contributing to the suffering of someone else.

    • I completely agree. You showed fantastic self control and kept to your ethics. Even women find it difficult to make wise decisions when the heat is on. By the way, even though the physical attention is pleasurable, non-consentual sexual contact is sexual assault, as far as I’m concerned. If you shouldn’t ever do it to a child you shouldn’t do it to any adult without their full concent at all times.

      • Marcus Williams says:

        I wouldn’t go so far as to say I felt sexually assaulted, but it’s an interesting point. If I had been receiving a massage from a man (as I have at other times), I doubt I’d have allowed more than one perineal nudge and while I wouldn’t have gotten violent about it, I would have stopped the escalation and might well have felt a little violated in the process. The touch wasn’t unpleasant, I just wasn’t comfortable crossing a line that would clearly be paying for a sexual act. (I don’t think of massages as sexual acts, though in the right kind of relationship, they can be.) I’m not entirely sure what I would have done if she hadn’t solicited a tip, and just started to go to town, because that would be a blurrier line since I didn’t pay with the promise or expectation of sexual activity. I’m glad it didn’t happen that way, because I’d probably see it the same way after the fact, but in the moment, it would have been even harder to decline.

        Thanks for your comments, Klara.

        • “If I had been receiving a massage from a man (as I have at other times), I doubt I’d have allowed more than one perineal nudge, I would have stopped the escalation and might well have felt a little violated in the process. ”

          See, no real need to bring up violence. Just as I, a gay man, wouldn’t have thought to mention a desire to knock the young lady’s head off had she squeezed me. Sometimes, it’s just polite to keep your irrational reactions to yourself.

          • Marcus Williams says:

            “See, no real need to bring up violence. Just as I, a gay man, wouldn’t have thought to mention a desire to knock the young lady’s head off had she squeezed me.”

            And I, a straight man, did not mention a desire to knock the head off a man if he had squeezed me, so you’re taking offense at the opposite of what I said. My point wasn’t about being violent or homophobic, but to acknowledge that if I hadn’t found the touch pleasurable in the first place, I could imagine feeling assaulted by it. It appears we both have our preferences about which sex we enjoy the touch of and would react with displeasure, but not violence, at being touched sexually by someone of our non-preferred sex. I think that makes us the same.

            If my “wouldn’t have gotten violent” comment offended you because you thought I was endorsing a violent reaction as the normal, healthy way to react, I apologize. I actually threw it in there because I thought it looked more homophobic without it. I’m used to some readers assuming actions or attitudes here because that’s “how men are”, unless I specifically disclaim them. Please excuse the overcompensation.

    • Women in these establishments are ALSO often there by choice. It’s not his responsability to go either way based on “what ifs”.

      Women are often forced into marriages. This is AT LEAST as common in many countries as women being forced into being a prostitute. I thus think we should not respect anyone’s marriage, if it involves a woman, because you never really know…. That means you should refuse to go to dinners, for example, where someone’s wife is present – especially if she had a hand in preparing them. After all, how can you know that she wasn’t forced into providing domestic services through the threat of violence?

      Also, you shouldn’t let your children engage in playdates with married women’s children, especially if it’s at her house. Again, you might be inadvertantly supporting her enslavement as a wife.

      I could go on, but I think that my point has been made. Historically speaking, ALL male/female interactions have had slavery as part of their history. To presume that only prostitution does this and thus needs some sort of moral attitude which isn’t applied to ALL male/female interactions is falsely moralistic in the extreme. I know from personal experience in dealing with prostitutes here in Brazil (a country that many Americans imagine as violent and slave-generating as Vietnam or any Asian nation) that many women seek out prostitution as a means of escape from abusive fathers and husbands. In close to ten years of research here, I’ve found dozens of female prostitutes in that category and not a single one who was forced into prostitution against her will.

      That doesn’t mean that such women don’t exist. I’m sure they do. But after interacting with thousands of prostitutes and interviewing hundreds, you’d think that at least one would have shown up by now.

      • You are ignorant if you think pimps aren’t involved in prostitution. Pimps don’t ask politely for compliance. Your scope also of what counts as consenting is frightening. Having no other option in life, having prostitution as the only escape from a more horrible existence… I wouldn’t count that as a meaningful choice.

        • Dear Ramie,

          Did I say pimps weren’t involved in prostitution?

          No, I did not say that.

          I DID say that – pimps or no pimps – many women are involved in the sex trade by choice.

          Furthermore, the term “pimp” is an accusation, not a reasonable sociological category. What is a “pimp”, exactly?

          By Brazilian law, a “pimp” is someone – anyone – who can be shown to make money or live off of a prostitute’s earnings. That has included, in the past, prostitutes husband’s or partners. Many men and women have been sent to jail here in Brazil simply for the crime of loving a sex worker because sharing a residence with one means that one was “living off of prostitute’s earnings”, classifying said person as a “pimp”.

          I have never seen a “pimp” in the sense that you’re probably thinking: i.e. a big, tough guy who keeps his “hos” in line through the constant threat and the occasional use of violence. That sort of pimp – while very common on fictional T.V. shows – is vanishingly rare on the ground here in Rio de Janeiro.

          Most “pimps” are the people who work in the brothels, the managers and owners, who extract close to 50% of the trick money from each of their workers. They don’t do this by threatening the women with violence: they do this by saying “If you’re going to work here, it’s a 50/50 split between you and us”.

          Why do women accept this? Because such places are generally more lucrative and certainly safer than turning tricks for oneself on the street corner. Security is at hand. Anonomity is at hand (after all, EVERYONE can see you on the street corner). The clientelle is concentrated. After dozens of interviews with terma and boate prostitutes, I’ve not heard one complaint of slavery or violence on the part of the owners and managers. In fact, many women have told me that the reason they work in these places is that they got tired of having to deal with the violence of random passersby on the street.

          Now, I suppose that you could imagine that the “pimps” and what-not are so massively powerful that they scare these women into never saying a word against them. That hypothesis doesn’t match really observed behavior, however, because when a woman DOES leave a house because – say – she fought with the owner, she’s quite open about criticizing him and the brothel she worked in. In fact, her insults tend to be a lot more creative than “pimp”. These women are thus not afraid to confront managers and owners when they feel their rights are being trampled and these sort of day-to-day tiffs are responsible for a lot of the turnover in Rio’s houses.

          So if you’re saying that the women don’t talk about the gross violence they endure because they are afraid of retaliation, you need to explain why they have no problem in calling the owner of a certain house a “real limp-dicked SoB and slimey exploitator” because he shorted them on the till, causing them to leave his employ. How is it that the violence only stops part of the complaints, but simultaneously let’s what Brazilians would consider “fightin’ words” be openly and honestly expressed?

          When women DO say that they don’t want to speak badly about their ex-employers, it’s for reasons very similar to the ones I bring up when people ask me about my old jobs as a professor. The women say “I don’t want to get a reputation as a difficult person or a bad worker, so I’d rather just let the matter lie. They gave me what I asked and I’m as happy as can be expected with the result.”

          So yeah, if by “pimp” we mean third parties involved in extracting surplus from prostitutes’ work, the sex industry is FULL of them.

          What one doesn’t find very often (I have yet to find one case) is the stereotypical pimp so beloved of the western entertainment media: the kind of Superfly tough guy who beats his “hos” into submission every night before bedtime and twice on Sundays. That guy is almost impossible to find.

          But the sex industry, like any other industry, is full of managers and owners of the means of production (in this case, hotels, brothels, termas and the like) and the workers have very complicated and often conflict-filled relationships with these people.

          None of that negates my main point above. The existence of managers and owners is endemic in capitalism, so a woman leaving a job as a checkout girl and entering a job as a “dancer” at a place like “Bertolucci’s” isn’t thinking “Hey, maybe I can ditch all bosses entirely”, she’s thinking “This job needs to be better than the last one”. And because sex work generally IS better than the last job she had – in terms of money earned, if nothing else – she generally reports she’s not going back to the “straight” economy unless she can find something even better.

          Occam’s Razor suggests that we look for the visible and objectively verifiable reasons why something occurs. I’m telling you prostitution works (in RdJ at least) according to reasons and rules that are clearly visible to anyone who bothers to look. One doesn’t need to postulate the existence of never-seen, all-dominating Superflies in order to explain the way the economy works. All the elements that are right there, up front, do an excellent job of explaining the situation.

  3. I would have assumed that “Full Body Massage” in Vietnam really meant FULL.

    I’m not sure how your theoretical ideal was not met in this case. She was willing and would do it for tips… so she would be fairly compensated.

    Of course she was disappointed… that’s what she does for a living and she didn’t make the sale

    • Marcus Williams says:

      As I alluded to in the article, I’ve had full-body massages in many different countries that never involved sexual acts, so nothing tipped me off that this one would be any different.

      My theoretical ideal is admittedly difficult to satisfy, because one of my assumptions is that even women coerced into prostitution can be very good at acting like they want to be there, so the appearance of willingness isn’t very compelling evidence to me. I didn’t ask how much “tip” it would cost, nor do I know if she’d have offered further upgrades from hand job to even more, but whatever that cost would have been given how cheap the massage was, I doubt it would have counted in my mind as “fairly compensated”. Finally, even if my theoretical ideal was satisfied and the rate sounded fair, that would only address my concerns about whether she was being exploited. As tempting as it was, I still didn’t like the idea of being offered a happy ending just because I happened to be the next guy in line for a cheap massage.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • Well said. Very respectful reply.

      • Very good reply indeed. Women who work in the sex industry are not generally successful if they can’t ACT like they’re into it. (Unless they are in a niche market.) Thank you for recognising that fact.

      • Also, you can bet that someone takes a cut of whatever cash you would give the masseuse for her services. Someone in the hotel is aware that many guests are getting the “full service”, or “old-fashioned”, as they say on South Park. Given that these services are probably illegal in Vietnam, the cut they take could be 50 or 75%.

    • Erasmus says:

      Yes, it means full and the very best bits are the scalp, eyebrows and eyelids. Transcendental moments.

  4. Sounds like you may have tipped her more, feeling guilty, than had she completed what she set out to do… I sympathize with your feelings of “I’ve never paid for it, not gonna start now”. I also sympathize with your internal conflict, I know I’d have played this out exactly the same way… with a little hesitation!

  5. Funny story and well-written.

    You weren’t comfortable with it so you didn’t accept. But the more important thing (at least to me) is that you also didn’t judge. Unlike SAwomensrightactivist a few comments above. I do believe in right and wrong, black and white to a certain extent. But when a woman is there by choice and willingly offering a service and a man willingly accepts said service for fair compensation, there is nothing wrong with that.

  6. @ Daddy Files: you make a pretty big assumption when you write “But when a woman is there by choice…” My question is how will you know for sure whether she is or isn’t there by choice? You don’t know her, or her personal history, or her economic circumstances, or her level of desperation etc. My point is that there are many unknowns. The fact that she smiles and appears to be willing is enough of proof for you of her “free” choice? It seems like a pretty low threshold to me.

    You also take a stab at SAwomensrightactivist for being judgmental, when you yourself are guilty of the same. The reason for Marcus Williams’ hesitation, discomfort and ultimate refusal of the happy ending service is well founded – because just as SAwomensrightactivist said, women in these establishments, whether in the 3rd world or 1st world countries, are not necessarily there by choice. So while in theory (and a perfect world) it may seem OK to pay for a service between two consenting adults, in practice (and our highly unfair and imperfect world), customers should think twice before obtaining their sexual gratification for money.

    • How do you know a wife at a dinner party is there by choice?

      When you respect a man’s wife as his wife – and seriously, folks, we do this hundreds of times a week without noticing it – how can you be sure that she’s not enslaved? I mean, unless you know everything about her – her personal and economic history – how can you be sure you’re not inadvertently supporting a violent relationship, simply because she smiles at you?

      ALL male/female relationships end up incorporating some degree of slavery and violence, in aggregate. If we were to take your advice to “think twice” seriously, kppk, then such advice should be applied to ALL forms of amle/female interaction.

      But I thnk that when you have thought twice and still can come up with no rational reason to suppose that someone’s being enslaved, you should give them the bennifit of the doubt and presume that they are not, in fact, slaves.

      • Holy moly false equivalency.

        • Why is it a false equivalency, Ramie?

          It is a solid bit of feminist understanding that “sex work” is not simply restricted to actual sexual labor, but all sorts of engendered labor as well.

          Slavery, of course, is a problem that arises all across the work world and one of the most traditional, widespread and persistent forms of slavery is the practice of “buying” wives. Hell, I’m looking at the “Gender Across Borders” website right now and their lead story today is about “buying wives” in South Africa:

          www dot genderacrossborders dot com /2011/10/28

          No feminist worth their salt denies this.

          So my question is quite simple: why must we worry about prostitution enslavement and yet are allowed to give a pass to all the other forms of enslavement – which are much larger in scope and more common – which underwrite our world?

          I have never seen a first world woman, for example, ask herself if the maids and cooks in the hotel where she stays when she comes to Rio are enslaved, even though that sort of thing is easily as common as sexual slavery.

          What I’m saying here is that there’s no false equivalency at all: if you think that sex work is the only thing that enslaves – or even the thing that most enslaves – and that sex work needs must equal prostitution, then you are very poorly informed regarding how slavery and prostitution work in our world.

          Again, my personal experience with this is in Brazil, but I also see “first world” anti-prostitution activists make the same blanket statements with regards to Brazil as they do to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. I know that they are widely off-base with regards to Brazil, so it seems logical to suppose that they are likewise wrong in their claims regarding other parts of the globe.

          I would agree that anyone who purchases sexual services should look long and hard at what they are doing to ensure to their satisfaction that they are not subsidizing slavery. I would add to that, however, that this procedure should be adopted ANY TIME you purchase services in the service economy, especially in the so-called third world.

          I don’t see prostitution as being a special case, especially after listening to dozens of women who’ve escaped brutal marriages and slave-like consitions in “straight” jobs to work as prostitutes.

          Things are a hell of a lot more complicated than you imagine, Ramie.

    • Daddy Files probably doesn’t care WHY she was there. As has been stated over and over again on this site, all these man care about is getting off. They taunt women who disagree with them as man-haters and they are too dumb to see that they are the types of men that women have every reason to hate. Yuck—so glad most men aren’t lime the ones in this community.

    • Erasmus says:

      A discovery, the women who don’t work in massage or prostituion often come from small towns. In small towns, employment prospects are poor and local men “expect” women to provide sex socially without any promise of marriage. . Employ as a masseur in a good city esyptablishment provides financial independence, a shot at education and support for the broader family. And the gangly body parts don’t come loaded with anxiety or guilt in this culture. What is it with Western culture? Some middle eastern cleric went phobic about “unclean” female genitalia 2 millenia ago and the angst stuck.

  7. @ Daddy Files – If you are going to respond to my comment above, please answer my question on how you’d suggest determining the free will of the person selling sexual services. Any further discussion on this subject is simply dancing around the issue.

    • kppk, I think that such a question can obviously be turned back on you: how do YOU determine the free will of the person who’s selling YOU services, whether these are sexual or not?

      In the last few years, it has become increasingly obvious that despite “sexual slavery’s” ability to mobalize the emotions and engender (literally) police repression, the vast majority of trafficking victims ARE NOT sex slaves but sim,ply workers.

      You obviously believe that you can determine who is and is not a slave when you buy services from service providers – if you don’t you’re probably being a hypocrite. So maybe you could give us a set of reasonable guidelines, hmm?

      And if you can’t, then I would suggest that you no longer buy ANYTHING made in the global marketplace, because slavery – or situations analogous to it – are quite common in manufacturing the world over.

      • 1. Err on the side of caution.

        2. Trafficking victims are by definition there without their consent. Many came with promises to do other types of work only to find out what the real deal was when they reached their destination.

        3. Just because something is done in manufacturing doesn’t mean it is right. Human trafficking for labor is also wrong.

        • 1. Agreed. However, that would mean that most first world tourists I know would have to adopt a much more cautious aprroach to tourism than is currently the case. For example, right now in Rio de Janeiro, our number one trafficking case involves a Guatemalan who was illegaly brought into the country to work as a slave on the remodleing of a building. What was the building going to be? A back-packers’ bed-and-breakfast – in nother words, exactly the sort of place that “hip, conscious” Europeans and Americans would frequent because they think it would be “helping the locals”.

          2. Actually, you’re wrong on this one: trafficking victims CAN give their consent and still be trafficked. This is straight-up Palermo Protocol and can be easily confirmed by looking up the PP. What classifies someone as a trafficking victim is movement to a job situation that is “analogous to slavery”.

          3. According to the stats I have for Brazil, the chances are about 150 to 1 that if you encounter a trafficking victim, they’ll have been trafficked for “straight” labor and not sex work. One would thus ask why people are so focused on prostitution when the question is trafficking.

  8. I’d think the only way you’d know if she was honestly in control of her services is if you knew she herself owned the massage company. If she’s an employee, you have no way of knowing if there is trafficking or coercion involved.
    Also, she was disappointed because she didn’t make the money, not because you said no to the handy J. I really doubt “me like” means that she likes that aspect. I could be wrong, I admit it. Maybe she really loves getting men off. I mean, I do, when it’s consensual and all that. But I figure she wanted the money or was being pushed to get the money.

    • I might add here that even if a woman or man is offering sexual services for profit without direct coercion from another doesn’t necessarily mean it is ethically acceptable to take the offer. People can be “groomed” into believing sexual acts are normal interactions and can even be enjoyed from infancy. They can be conditioned mentally and physically that such things are just done with no legal or ethical question or to believe their self worth is only found in satisfying others sexually or that it is acceptable to used sexually because they have no self worth. An adult who sells sexual services may be doing so from an unhealthy origin. Engaging sexually would further abuse and engrave the ill beliefs into the person’s mind.

      • Marcus Williams says:

        I believe sexual acts are normal interactions and can even be enjoyed.

        I think I get your point and agree with it, though. If “from infancy” meant by performing sexual acts on children and raising them to think all their only self-worth is through sex, then of course all that is horrible, damnable stuff. Strip away the abuse, though, and I think the ideal is for sex to be considered normal and enjoyable, and not at all a terrible thing to try to teach children. Be very clear, though, that I mean teaching that attitude and respect in non-sexual ways, not the abuse and sex-trafficking kind of stuff I think you meant in your comment. For example, I think kids being aware that Mommy and Daddy want and have sex can set a positive example about sexuality, but that doesn’t mean letting the kids watch or participate.

        • Agreed – sex is normal and healthy and should be enjoyed. But ridding ourselves of sexual shame doesn’t mean we don’t still desire privacy and intimacy in our sex lives, and sex being normal and healthy doesn’t mean the commodifying of bodies is normal and healthy. I think it’s important to parse these differences.

          • How does a prostitute commodify his or her body, LF?

            Last I looked, prostitutes sell their time and services – just like every other worker on the planet. They do not sell their bodies.

            • You are in a lot of denial.

            • You are unable to answer my question, apparently, and are resorting to ad hominems.

              I would really, truly like you take your best shot at answering my question, however: how is the sale of sexual services “selling one’s body” when the sale of any other kind of service isn’t?

            • Actually it isn’t literally “selling one’s body” any more than any kind of service. I would put it in even stronger terms than that, now that I think about it. I did give my best shot at answering it, down-thread.

            • Right.

              It’s service economy work. It’s selling one’s time doing certain services. Said services might be noxious to you and me, but then again, so is cleaning the toilets and mopping up the puke of drunken hotel guests as a maid and no one thinks the maid is a slave simply because she’s doing a shitty job.

            • Well I’m not one of those saying that I have a problem with prostitution because they might be slaves. If that was the case I have no business typing this on a computer, because there’s a pretty good chance that slave labor was used to make it.

            • No doubt.

              But where do you get this wierd and wholly unfounded notion that sex works to desensitize people? How is it that sex with a prostitute “desensitizes” a person in a way sex with a non-prostitute doesn’t?

    • I would agree with Julie here and underline the point that people should preferentially employ the services of self-employed sex professionals.

      I will also point out, however, Julie, that the current hysteria over sexual trafficking is making it very difficult for self-employed sex workers to make a living. Meanwhile, upscale pimping at clubs and what not is BOOMING.

  9. Mervyn Kaufman says:

    Your excellent piece brought back to mind an experience I had at a domestic hotel some years back, when the only massage appointment I could get was at 6:30 a.m., and the massage therapist turned out to be a woman. I’d never had that experience before and, I guess, was a bit concerned. She was good, and I felt very relaxed (in part because at that hour I was still half asleep!) but I did become concerned.
    I absolutely did NOT want to get hard. That never happened, though, as she suddenly began talking about herself…about how her mother thought she was a whore…how she had a low quotient of self-worth…about how she had to disguise what she did so people wouldn’t think ill of her. All the soothing uplight I’d experienced up to that moment vanished immediately, but on the bright side, no embarrassing hardon occurred, and I don’t recall leaving a tip.

    • Marcus Williams says:

      Thank you, Mervyn. Doesn’t all this remind you of that Seinfeld episode where George was so freaked out because, “It moved!”? I’m sure there are some people who like to chat during a massage, but I’m like you – I like it quiet so I can relax into it without trying to hold up my end of a conversation.

      There was one other massage in my life – by a pretty female masseuse – when I briefly got an unwanted erection. I don’t know if she noticed or not, but we both had the good manners not to say or do anything about it, so it went away and was no big deal.

  10. Hi Marcus,

    Very difficult for me to believe this tall tale. Sounds like you are trying to look good for the women who might be reading this “stuff”. You are in Saigon and you do not think that a massage will include a “happy ending”? Nuff Said!

    • I too was surprised that the writer did not think that a happy ending would be included considering where he was getting his massage. However – to call the writer a liar because he didn’t do what you’d expect a certain population to have done is unnecessary and completely speculative. Were you there in the room?

      • Marcus Williams says:

        If your expectations of Vietnamese culture are heavily influenced by having seen Full Metal Jacket and Miss Saigon, then I’m not surprised you won’t believe me, but my experience with massages in faraway places hadn’t led me to expect happy endings. I wasn’t shocked that such a thing was possible, but I hadn’t sought it out or been forewarned, so my surprise was genuine. I never believed the disclaimers in letters to Penthouse Forum, though, so I won’t hold it against you if you don’t believe mine. No big deal.

  11. Oh yeah! GREAT point about the tipping.

    If a person is working for an agency, the tip is a huge part of their profits. If there is, in fact, some sort of coercion going on, giving a nice tip is a great way of getting power directly into their hands.

    • Riiiight, because bosses never could just demand to see tips after the client leaves the room. You’re a sh*tty anthropologist, you can’t even think around very easy to conceive and likely scenarios.

      I think you mistake your career… it’s not anthropologist… It’s APOLOGIST.

      • Actually, Ramie, I’ve followed dozens of women along on what we call “programas” here in Brazil and I’ve never – not once – seen a situation in which a boss was waiting right outside the room for a client to finish.

        Here’s what happens in ALL the cases I’ve seen: the client finishes and the sex worker takes a shower and put themselves back in order. Then the worker leaves. There is PLENTY of time for the worker to sequester tips, if s/he needs to do that sort of thing.

        In a situation like the one described above by Marcus, presuming the woman had a boss, he’d be waiting for her in the lobby or – even more probably – outside the hotel. The most probable scenarior of all is that the boss or their security agent isn’t anywhere NEAR where the sex worker conducts the program. A call girl service makes no profits if it has to send a rent-a-thug out with each woman. Even a small-time pimp makes no money if he has to personally accompany each woman he supposedly “protects”.

        This, in fact, is the number one complaint of the call girls I have interviewed and accompanied: they complain that they pay for “protection” and do not, in fact, get it. If something goes wrong, they have to call the company’s rent a thug and wait until he arrives, by which time the person who’s attacked them has most probably gone.

        You seem to be imagining a sex industry where there’s a pimp and a thug for each sex worker, both waiting right outside the hotel room with the time, inclination and ability to give every sex worker a full-body cavity search after every single program.

        The sex industry doesn’t work that way in Brazil, Ramie and I dare say it doesn’t work that way anywhere else in the world. It’s simply not possible to work like that and generate a profit.

        Now, I”m sure that there are many would-be-pimps and hustlers who’ve read the same sort of purple literature about prostitution as the prohibitionist crowd and THINK – in the back of their little reptilian minds – that that’s the way they can run a business. Here in RdJ, such people tend to end up jailed or dead very quickly. Anyone who is actually making money off of the prostitution of others will simply say to the wo/men such scumbags work with “Hey, come work with me and we’ll drop a dime together on that fuckhead that’s your ‘boyfriend’. I’ll make sure you get 50% of all the tricks you turn AND I’ll give you back up.”

        Again, it’s not only easy to CONCEIVE of these scenarios, it’s quite easy to observe them being played out, again and again and again, on Copacabana and in Rio’s other zonas.

        What’s difficult to conceive of – and almost impossible to witness – is the kind of total control over sex workers by their bosses that you seem to imagine. If you’ve got some sort of solid ethnographic proof of a major sex tourtism scene being run the way you describe, I’d surely like to see it. All I can say is that that’s not what happens here in Rio.

        And notice how I was able to discuss this with you without insulting you. Isn’t it nice when we can have polite discussions about sex work without throwing all sorts of ad hominems about?

      • Yep.

        • Yeah, LF. I have to admit that it IS interesting what gets considered to be an “ad hominem” around here these days.

          If I say, for example, that a certain ex-corporate lawyer has no scientific training in the fields she claims expert knowledge of (sexual and evolutionary biology) and that she consequently misreads and mis-cites many of the scientific papers which she profers up as “proof” of her affirmations, why that’s a horrible ad hominem!

          Meanwhile, Ramie can call me a “shitty anthropologist” and hell, that’s all just fun and games, part of the normal give and take of informed opinion here on TGMPM.

          One could be forgiven for suspecting that some sort of ideological filter was at work here.

  12. Here’s my problem with a lot of the posts above, the ones which say “You shouldn’t have sex with a prostitute in the (so-called) third world because you don’t know if she’s a slave or not”.

    Let me start out by saying that, as an anthropologist, I have been studying sex work in Rio de Janeiro, the western hemisphere’s premier sexual tourism destination for almost a decade now. Most of the women I have interviewed see sex work as a LIBERATORY option when faced with other, “normal”, work which doesn’t pay a survival wage.

    Our tourism industry is based upon the exploitation of legions of underpaid workers. Every time you come down here, you – the first world tourist – are exploiting the labor of folks who are working for you and make a starvation wage. In fact, LABOR SLAVERY is a far bigger problem in Brazil than sexual slavery: 76,000 cases revealed by our police last time I check versus 500 cases of sexual slavery – even though 95% of the repression budget is dedicated to fighting sexual slavery. Many’s the time I’ve had prostitutes tell me “I work as a prostitute because I don’t want to be a slave. Being a maid, fingernail painter, wife, or checkout counter girl – now THAT’S slavery in Brazil!”

    And yet I have never – but EVER – seen a “concerned” first world woman turn down a free or very cheap trip to Rio de Janeiro or Salvador da Bahia to attend, say, a conference on gender issues because they were afraid that the hotel they would be placed in employed hyperexploited female labor.

    So…. Please. Just please.

    Unless you’re willing to engage with labor exploitation in a place like Brazil in ALL its manifold aspects, don’t regurgitate ethnocentric, uninformed prostitute-phobic theories of “sex work slavery” over us. It’s falsely moralistic and extremely unfair to the men and women who DO CHOOSE to work as sex workers in order to escape from other forms of labor exploitation and who are now being jailed and tortured by police due to the well-meaning “anti-trafficking” measures first world folks support and pay for. First worlders, I should point out, who usually don’t even speak the languages of the countries they are involved with, let alone understand their histories or the history of gender relations in said countries.

    Thus endeth the rant.

    • Well, a young woman in the U.S. could earn a lot more money by working as a prostitute than getting a job at the local fast food joint. If she comes from an abusive family, this may seem like the better option, but let’s not pretend its objectively a healthy career choice.

      I know a guy who travels to Third World countries a lot and frequently visits brothels. He doesn’t have sex with the women – he pays them their asking price plus a good sized tip and then just sits and talks with her.

      • Define “healthy career choice”, LF. Who gets to set the limits as to what’s healthy and what’s not? My current career choice has me on several different kinds of blood pressure and sleep medication meds. It also requires me to daily take actions that put my life at risk (i.e. biking from class to class through deadly rush hour traffick). And yet I’m sure that most people would call being a university professor a more “healthy” option than being a prostitute, simply based on their presumptions and prejudices alone.

        And don’t you think you are just being a slight bit prejudiced against prostitutes when you presume that the main reason a woman would choose to work for ten times the minimum wage in the sex industry is because she was abused as a child?

        There are NO reputable scientific studies that I know of which show that prostitutes, as a whole, have been more or less abused than women in general. The few studies out there have cherry-picked their informants from non-random populations and have not compared their results with control populations. Until that sort of thing occurs, we can say very little about this issue that isn’t simply the result of preduices or bigotry. (If anyone knows of any studies which show differently, please feel free to post them, but please: no Melissa Farley. Her work has been quite thoroughly debunked, thank you.)

        I will say, however, that in my country, Brazil, a recent WHO study which used very good methodology came up with an interesting result: 30% of Brazilian women in general have been abused by their fathers, partners or male relatives.

        With stats like that, it’s hard to say that prostitutes represent an unusual population in terms of their exposure to abuse prior to becoming prostitutes.

        • Well that is what I was referring to. You were the one who said that many women in Brazil become prostitutes to escape an abusive family. Given the choice between those two things, I can see why many would prefer prostitution, and I respect their right to make that choice. But let’s be honest – neither choice is good. And obviously, you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth when you claim that, on one hand, abuse isn’t any more of a factor in prostitutes than the general population and then, on the other, cite the high rate of female abuse in Brazil. It is a big factor.

          And yes, many people are in careers that are physically or emotionally unhealthy for them. And really, that’s fine if they aren’t forced into it. People who are truly passionate about their careers will go through anything to pursue and succeed at them, even to the detriment of their health, and that’s fine. That’s the stuff of life. You mention your current career “choice” – that’s the key word. To imply that a woman in Brazil has as many choices of career as you do is laughable.

          Of course, there are many people (both men and women) in the developing world and even the developed world who have very few career choices, and whose bodies and souls are wrecked from being exploited (whether by prostitution, hard labor, etc.) I would hope that progress means we can move away from that, however gradually. Believe me, I think that a man forced into a hard labor job or conscripted to be a soldier and get shot at and possibly maimed or killed, is just as exploitive a position as being a prostitute or female slave. And yes, hopefully anyone forced into it can find some honor and dignity in their lives and be proud of their resourcefulness in surviving the best they could with very little. Certainly that should extend to prostitutes.

          But let’s not take it a step further and call prostitution any kind of objectively good career choice. It’s insulting. It’s like a dictator who puts men to work at the most dehumanizing hard-labor jobs, exposed to all sorts of toxic substances and putting their lives and health at risk every day, and tries to dress it up by telling the men they’re a credit to society and doing honor to the state. It’s bullshit, and of course there are ulterior motives for saying it. No human being would really choose to have a job like that.

          • Actually, what I said is that many women become prostitutes to escape abusive situations which may include family but which are more typically work-related.

            I wasn’t making the claim, as you seem to be doing, that prostitutes have suffered more abuse than women involved in other sorts of work. Of course, if that’s not your claim, then we are on the same page.

            I’m not “talking out of both sides of my mouth here”. Let me break it down: women, in general, are abused in Brazil. There’s thus some question in my mind as to the causal linkages between abuse and prostitution. What we’d need to do is conduct a randomly sampled study with a large population of prostitutes of all kinds and a large control population and see what gets turned up. As far as I know, nothing like that has EVER been done and, until it is, we’re running a huge risk of naturalizing our prejudices regarding prostitution.

            This is a bit like the old saw about how tomatoes cause murder because, if you break it down, you’ll find that something like 95% of the murderers in the U.S. ate tomatoes at least once in the week before they committed a murder.

            If abuse of women is endemic in a culture, then we shouldn’t be surprised to find that women engaged in prostitution report a lot of abuse in their personal histories. If you want to make a causal argument, you’ll need to show that prostitutes suffered far more and worse abuse, on average, than non-prostitutes before entering the sex industry. Furthermore, such a study should be cross-cultural.

            No such study has been done, however.

            My personal, annecdotal view, based on my interactions with hundreds of Brazilian prostitutes, is that whatever abuse a woman suffered before becoming a prostitute, the stigmatization of the trade virtually ensures she’ll suffer more abuse AFTER becoming a prostitute. And the people who are pointed out most consistently as abusers to me aren’t clients, but the police and “maniacs” in the general population.

            I am thus full-square against the stigmatization of prostitutes. The view that prostitutes are agencyless victims, promoted by many prohibitionists who’ve never set one foot inside a brothel or talked to a prostitute outside of a highly controlled institutional environment, is incredibly stigmatizing and should be eschewed at all costs.

            “That’s the stuff of life. You mention your current career “choice” – that’s the key word. To imply that a woman in Brazil has as many choices of career as you do is laughable.”

            My black Brazilian wife and co-researcher, Dra. Ana Paula da Silva, would probably say that you’re ignoring the concrete reality of many Brazilian women in favor of constructing an ideal typification which is so vague that it borders on a stereotype. I’ll just say that I’m in a very female-dominated profession and that most of my colleagues are, in fact, Brazilian women, so apparently at least some of these women have as many choices as I do, if not more. Apparently, there are many different KINDS of Brazilian women.

            Now, I’ll fully agree that I’ve had better life chances than most lower-class women in Brazil, but that in and of itself is no reason to believe that such women are completely stripped of any autonomy whatsoever and thus cannot make choices. All the women I’ve talked to in the sex industry so far report choosing that option over the others in their horizon of possibilities and yes, all those options stink. Eliminating prostitution and believing that the other extant options can take care of these womens’ needs, however, is falsely moralistic and utopian. What needs to be done is to provide these women with options for BETTER jobs. You’ll get exactly nowhere if – like most prohibitionists – you think training prostitutes as maids and hairdressers will provide them with a career choice that meets their economic needs and ambitions.

            As for calling prostitution “an objectively good career choice”, I eschew making the sort of moral judgements that would be involved in calling it anything of the kind – or in calling it a BAD career choice. As an anthropologist, my job is to properly explain why acting in this way is a logical thing for many women and men. What I have found it in doing my research is that the commonly held idea that these people are enslaved and have no meaningful choices in their lives is an ignorant and ethnocentric assessment, generally made by folks who can’t talk to them and wouldn’t be bothered to even if they could.

            I think that it’s an act of INCREDIBLE symbolic violence to ignore what Brazilian sex workers actually say about their lives because one has a global theory about prostitution. When one actually talks and listens to these people, one quickly learns that they have made choices and that those choices are very significant TO THEM, even if they don’t seem so important when judged by one’s own scale of values.

            “No human being would really choose to have a job like that.”

            I can introduce you to dozens upon dozens who have. What is more insulting to them? My position that they should be listened to and taken seriously? Or your position that you know everything about this women and can judge for them what is good and bad, worse and better, even though you can’t even speak their language?

            “Empowerment” means giving people in situations of oppression the power to make the changes in their lives that THEY want. This seems to hold true for every “oppressed minority” out there except sex workers. When we get to sex workers, “empowerment” always inevitably seems to mean “make them change the way I want them to change”.

            Here are the issues that concern Rio’s sex workers first and foremost:

            1) Police harassment.
            2) Violence directed against them on the streets.
            3) Lack of respect from civil society.
            4) Lack of ability to legally petition for improved working conditions because prostitution, while not illegal, is also technically not legal.
            5) Lack of a clear retirement path.
            6) Rip-offs on the part of clients.

            Almost every pro I’ve ever interviewed wants to get out of the industry, but hardly any of them are willing to work in the conditions and salary levels provided by “straight” employment..

            To give you an idea, many of the women I interview make as much money as I do as a university professor without ever having completed high school, let alone college. When you tell such women “Hey, I can get you a job as a maid or a counter girl”, it means nothing to them. You need to get them a job that pays a professional salary.

            What I’d love to do is offer directed university scholarships to sex workers. That, however, is impossible because of the stigmatization of sex work and the falsely moral conclusion that sex workers are somehow “inferior people” instead of rational decision makers.

            • Well then let me qualify: I am certainly NOT implying that sex workers are inferior people instead of rational decision makers. I think this is the money statement right here:

              ‘Almost every pro I’ve ever interviewed wants to get out of the industry, but hardly any of them are willing to work in the conditions and salary levels provided by “straight” employment..’

              And that is completely understandable. I know people (mostly men) who come from poor inner city backgrounds and don’t have many choices in terms of education or anything beyond a minimum wage job, so they start dealing drugs. The smarter among them deal drugs to pay their way through college and then go into “legit” careers. Is this a rational choice? Definitely. Is it understandable? Definitely. Can I really fault anyone for making this choice, and does it make them an inferior person? Nope – certainly no more than a corporate CEO who makes decisions that destroy the environment or dehumanize workers in order to “get ahead.” And I feel the same way about prostitutes. People do what they have to do given what they have, and that doesn’t necessarily make them bad people. I get that.

              But no one who has REAL options (as opposed to the horrible array of them that most people have) chooses to become a sex worker or a drug dealer. As you say, most of the sex workers you interviewed want to get out of the business. It is a business that people get into only when their other options are as bad or worse. So I think it’s perfectly fair to say I don’t stigmatize prostitutes but I do stigmatize prostitution. No sane, loving parent who had the means to give their child options in life would encourage their child to become a drug dealer, a chemical plant worker or a prostitute. Of course I’m not naive and I realize that most people’s options are limited, and therefore I respect their choices and their dignity. But I don’t want to confuse that with endorsement of the trade. Frankly, I’ve seen quite a few men take up your position as a way to relieve their own guilt – there are men who’ve been to see prostitutes, who watch porn or go to strip clubs and they’ve convinced themselves that these women really love what they’re doing. “But she SAYS she does” or “she can’t possibly be faking those orgasms” being a couple of oft repeated lines. Well of course, genius – her success depends on being able to convince you of that. And for both the sex worker and the customer, y’know… whatever gets you through the night. But let’s be honest and agree that commodification of women’s bodies, in the big picture, is not a good thing.

            • It’s funny that you should mention “REAL options”, LF, because what you really mean are “hypothetical options in an idealized world in which we do not live”.

              REAL – as in actually occurring” – options for most of the women I deal with means:

              1) Marriage to a working class guy and life as a housewife-cum-underemployed temp worker.
              2) Living with one’s family and working in the pink-collar ghetto, being paid far less than a subsistence wage.
              3) Working as a sex worker.

              Of the three options, only the third gives some hope for social mobility and climbing the class ladder. Given this, the real question for me is why don’t more people do sex work?

              Yes, most of the sex workers I interview want out of the business. But you know what? Most of the teachers, cops, tourism industry workers, maids, and whatnot that I know ALSO want out of the business. Prostitutes aren’t alone in this desire. Jobs, in general, suck. Pros stay in theirs’ not because they are enslaved, but because there are little to no options out there for employment which pays them as much. This is PRECISELY the same reason why I stay employed as a professor and, I’d hazard, why you stay at your job, whatever it might be.

              By the way, there is no logical way that one can stigmatize a trade but not the people who engage in the trade. What you’re saying sounds to me something like this: “I’m willing to pity prostitutes but I’m not willing to empower them unless they decide to do what I would do in their situatiuon which is to leave sex work”. That’s a bit like a born-again Christian telling a gay man that “he loves the sinner, but can’t stand the sin” [roll eyes].

              You need to LISTEN to what prostitutes tell you and help them do what THEY want, not what you think they SHOULD want. And while most prostitutes do indeed want to leave the job they have, unless you can give them comparable wages at other sort of work, they aren’t going to. So this whole thing about “REAL options” which you’re on about (meaning completely hypothetical options which would only be offered up after a thoroughgoing revolution in the industrial-capitalist system) is all so much horseshit to most prostitutes and they’d laugh in your face were you to suggest to them in any situation in which you weren’t backed up by the power of the police.

              What prostitutes REALLY say is that they need something practical NOW, not after the Glorious Revolution. And that means concrete help with the six issues I listed above, not abstract pity and promises that, somehow, you’ll get them “REAL options” when – if we were being truthful – you’re probably a stone’s toss away from unemployment yourself.

              That attitude, LF, is kind of like that of someone who says “I won’t help striking workers organize for better conditions because what they REALLY need is a socialist revolution that’ll put them in power as the ruling class.” Or “I won’t support battered women’s shelters because what we REALLY need is an end to the patriarchical system of male domination and anything else is pallitative.”

              And, of course, all this ignores one salient but completely true fact: a significant minority of the sex workers I know say they LIKE their work. Their main gripe is that they are not appreciated for what they do. So even if we were to give everyone their dream jobs and people were just hunky-dory with their careers, there’s still going to be a small but significant number of people who like sex work and perfer it over other careers.

              So much for “REAL options”.

              “No sane, loving parent who had the means to give their child options in life would encourage their child to become a drug dealer, a chemical plant worker or a prostitute.”

              Yeah, or a teacher. Lord knows my mom did everything she could to disuade me, and look where I am now.

              Oh, by the way, nice oblique attempt at implying that I’m involved in sex worker studies because I am a john. In fact, I am an ex-sex worker. Although I spent vanishingly little time in the trade myself, I got to know it VERY well because many people I love, who were close to me, were also sex workers.

              Given that you seem to feel that you have the right to psychoanalyze men who support prostitution, let me give you my personal observation about women who think prostitution is horrible and should be banned…

              Generally, such women have never talked to a prostitute outside of an institutional environment where the prostitute was completely under the control of police or social workers; they’ve never been inside a brothel or a strip joint, let alone observed what goes on in one; their views regarding how prostitution works are far more informed by Hollywood and moralism than anything like an engagement with the reality of the sex industry. And, in spite of the fact that they have no practical or experiential basis for dealing with sex workers, such women firmly believe that they know what’s best for them.

              To my mind, such women are unconsciously holding to the “good girl / bad girl” paradigm they were taught as children and believe that the only way to “save” prostitutes is to get them to be “good girls” like themselves. This sort of behavior has a loooooooooong tradition in the west and is properly called “saving fallen women”.

              Barroom psychology is cheap in this sort of debate, LF, and if you don’t want it applied to yourself, then I suggest that you do others the favor of not trying to apply your theories to them.

              I do find it funny, however (in a grim way), that prohibitionists spend so much time worrying about “slavery” but aren’t at all willing to deal with the one solid fact that any prostitute will tell them about, should they choose to ask: clients are generally not the people who abuse sex workers – police and “good citizens” are. I dpn’t know a single prostitute who has ever been “enslaved”, but I know plenty – the majority, in fact – who’ve spent time in cages, courtesy of the police, often suffering torture and rape at the cops’ hands.

              This is so notorious a fact that practically every mass murderer who’s every preyed on sex workers has registered surprise when caught because he thought he was doing society a service by killing off “the whores”. As the Yorkshire Strangler was once reputed to say “I thought I was doing you police a favor!”

              As for the comodification of bodies… The idea that a prostitute “sells her body” is absolutely ridiculous and goes straight back to some astronomically stupid rhetoric originally promulgated by Kant and repeated ad nauseaum by McKinnon, Dworkin and their followers without even the slightest bit of logical reflection.

              Even a small amount of time spent with actual prostitutes will show you quite clearly what they sell: sexual services, not their body. Neither they nor anyone else involved (presuming sanity) believes that a client has a right to do what he likes with a prostitutes’ body simply because s/he’s agreed to have sex. The small minority of people who DO believe that are properly labled “maniacs” by the women I work with.

              So I find it very funny that people who claim to respect prostitutes as human beings (but not their profession) end up repeating one of the main lies about prostitution utilized by people like the Yorkshire Strangler to justify their predations. Prostitutes don’t sell or commodify their bodies. Just ask any prostitute. They perform certain services for cash, just like you and me.

              Just like, in fact, all workers do.

              Frederich Engels pointed this out back in 1860 or so. Emma Goldman repeated the point in 1910. Why it hasn’t yet sunk into the heads of the critics of prostitution – who still go with the same old Christian moralist saw of “selling bodies” – is quite beyond me.

            • Wow… so many false presumptions, so much denial, so little time.

              “By the way, there is no logical way that one can stigmatize a trade but not the people who engage in the trade. What you’re saying sounds to me something like this: “I’m willing to pity prostitutes but I’m not willing to empower them unless they decide to do what I would do in their situatiuon which is to leave sex work”.”

              Please show me where I ever said I’m not willing to empower them unless they decide to leave sex work.

              Of course there’s a way to stigmatize the trade but not the people who engage in it. I completely understand (as I’ve already said) that in the real world, most people don’t have the opportunity to make more empowered choices, and that prostitution is a more attractive option to them than the rest. That doesn’t mean it’s a good profession. Neither is being a laborer at a chemical plant that spews toxic crap into the air and water, subjecting the general public and the environment to a myriad of health problems, the brunt of which are borne by workers. That doesn’t mean I think the workers are bad people or that I wouldn’t do what I could to empower them with more choices. My criticism is not of the worker but of the system that allows their condition to continue. It’s that simple.

              I also was not trying to psychoanalyze you personally, which I don’t presume to do since I know very little about you – I said that I have heard a number of men use arguments like yours to alleviate their guilt. This is one of many side effects of a culture that fosters prostitution. Again I feel similarly about people trying to justify other abuses of labor or the environment. I can understand the practical reasons why they do what they do, but let’s not mistake that for “good.” We all do things we’re not proud of, for various reasons, and oftentimes we did the best we could under the circumstances, but let’s not confuse that with something to be proud of.

              I’ll have to come back later to the question of commodifying people’s bodies. I think you know as well as I do that a sex worker isn’t simply selling time and services, because sex has a deeper implication for most of us than that. But I’ll get into that more when I have more time.

            • LF, this line of yours is very much “hate the sin, not the sinner”, is it not? If you can show me how it isn’t, I’d be much obliged.

              Likewise, if you can show me concretely how one can stigmatize the job and not the worker, again, that would be very enlightening.

              So far, you just make these claims and let them hang in the air as rhetorical devices. For the life of me, I can’t see how they could ever be pragmatically implemented.

              Regarding pyschoanalysis, again, if it comes down to that, I’m not trying to psychoanalyze you, I’ve just heard many arguments like yours, used by women who want to “save” their fallen sisters and who are very uncomfortable with things sexual themselves.

              You seem to have a very ethnocentric and essentially protestant notion of “good” as some sort of absolute value which can be easily ascertained by any rational person. I think it’s incredibly naive to approach something as complex as prostitution from that sort of dualistic moral standpoint.

              As for sex and comodification, no, I do not “know” anything of the sort. It seems to me that what you do is make a lot of presumptions which – so far – are not backed up by proof or logic. You then become shocked that someone doesn’t agree with those persumptions.

              I must admit, however, that I’m looking forward to you trying to explain how prostituion is “really” selling the body in way that, say, working in a factory isn’t.

            • Also, I can assure you that I have talked to prostitutes and strippers, and have simply come to different conclusions than you have. And I certainly don’t know why in the world you would quote Engels to make your point. He was the epitome of a conflicted sexist. He actually condemned prostitution as “the most tangible exploitation – one directly attacking the physical body – of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie”. But then he used prostitutes regularly himself. And of course the Communist Manifesto with all its claptrap about the “Community of Women” is pure puerile male fantasy in disguise.

              Just because a woman might feel differently about sex and its effect on her body and psyche than you do doesn’t mean she’s a “Christian moralist.”

            • Really? Where have you talked to them and under what circumstances? For how long? Have you ever talked to them in a situation where they have the power to tell you to shut up and quit bugging them?

              Why would I quote Engels? Because “The Origin of Family, Private Property and the State” has some very succinct points to make about prostitution – to wit, the prostitute is a worker and the wife a slave. This text has been very fundamental to feminist thought and to liberationist thought, in general. It’s required reading in most Women’s Studies 101 courses. And yet somehow Engels’ main point on prostitution doesn’t manage to break through most people’s early moral training…

              As for your thoughts on sex and its effect on your mind and body, I’m not reacting to them because you are a woman: I’m reacting to them because up to now, you haven’t said a thing about sex and its effect on the mind and body that couldn’t come out of the mouth of a traditional Christian moralist. Perhaps not the Bible-thumping evangelical types, mind you, but you’re right on track in following the 19th century liberal New England Christian women who believed prostitution to be a concrete evil and who – like you (so far) – had no arguments other than the strictly moral to back their point up.

              I should also remind you, LF, that I’m not the one who brought up gender and how it supposedly affects our thoughts on prostitution: you did.

            • Let me ask you something before responding to this: what does “morality” mean to you?

            • Please see my reply on morality below, LF.

            • I should point out, by the way, LF, that so far, all of your positions on prostitution have been strictly moral and resort, in last analysis, to common prejudice: “No one wants their daughter to grow up to be a prostitute”; “Prostitution is not good”; “No one could ever want to be a prostitute” and other like statements.

              You have yet to logically explain to me why prostitution isqualitatively different than any other type of work and THAT’S the explanation I’m looking for, from an honest and thinking prohibitionist.

              I have not yet encountered anyone who could give me such an explanation, which leads me to suspect that there ISN’T ANY and that this “prostitution is selling your body and is bad” stuff is simply knee-jerk moralism.

              I’d be happy to be proven wrong, however. It’s disturbing to me that this sort of belief – which is responsible for the death, injury and imprisonment of millions of sex workers every year – is just hanging there in space, apparently rooted in nothing but common prejudice and the philosophical musings of an 80-year-old German virgin (Kant), translated by two North American women (Dworkin and McKinnon) who had SERIOUS issues with sex in general.

              So take your best shot and explain the logic of your position to me (better do it below, though, or we’ll have a hell of a time keeping a coherent copnversation going).

  13. You should have took it
    Your refusal doesn’t free her from her job
    and there is no telling if she is even there against her will
    Everyone thinks they’re Captain Save-A-Ho

  14. Marcus Williams says:

    There have been a lot of comments about what tip I left, didn’t leave, or should have left, after declining the happy ending. This happened several years ago, so I don’t honestly remember either the up-front cost or the amount of tip I left, but I’m sure I tipped, and when I’ve been in places where the massages come very cheap, I tip like the lucky first-world traveler that I am, not just 15-20%.

    Also, I acted according to my conscience, but I wasn’t operating under any illusion that I was somehow saving or helping this woman by refusing. I was a tourist in search of a massage, not an undercover activist looking to blow the lid off of the sex trade in Vietnam. But hypothetically, if she was fully self-employed and enjoyed making her living that way, I still didn’t want the service because of the “ick” factor. I don’t mean, “Ick, she’s a bad person,” but more like finding it a big turn-off that if I’m the 1pm appt., maybe that same hand already jerked off a half dozen guys before me that day. I won’t deny that the touches up until she offered the happy ending felt good, but like I mentioned earlier, I like to feel chosen when it comes to being offered sexual acts. Being the next paying customer in line didn’t give me that feeling.

    Thanks for the comments.

  15. Extra! Berlusconi named in U.S. TIP report!!!

    http:// gawker.com/5854622/ berlusconi-named-in-human-trafficking-report

    Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha… (gasp)… ahahahahahahahahahahaha.

    Oh, my. Good thing governments are cracking down on this “trafficking in persons” thing, neh?

  16. Dear LF,

    Sorry for responding here. I think we overran the buffers up there.

    To me, morality means the basis for ascription of rightness or wrongness to phenomena in the world. “False morality” would be an understanding of such things that would be logically inconsistent with its own premises (such as a so-called Christian who believes in killing one’s ideological enemies en masse).

    Most morality is based upon a priori premises.

    In this case, the moral position would be that prostitution is wrong, strito sensu, without any logic to back that up. This is the stance Kant takes and it has been the stance that a good part of North American feminism has taken, following Dworkin and McKinnon, who updated Kant’s position on prostitution by expanding it to cover all forms of heterosexuality actually ocurring under patriarchical capitalism.

    Kant says that while contracting one’s body to perform certain services is completely fine, one cannot ever morally sell one’s body. I’m fine with that, as far as that goes. However, Kant then takes a trip into Wonderland when he makes the wholly a priori distinction that contracting one’s body to perform sexual services is, in fact, SELLING one’s body. He does not back this up with any argument whatsoever: it’s completely and wholly an a priori statement.

    Ever since Kant, most westerners have called prostitution “selling one’s body”. I simply can’t see the logical reason, however, why using one’s hand to work a lever in a factory is “work” and a sale of time and services while using the same hand to masturbate a human being all of a sudden becomes “selling one’s body”, not-work and a crime against humanity.

    If you could explain this distinction to me, I would be very thankfull. So far, no one has been able to.

    • Well I don’t want this to turn into a semantic argument and lose the point, so first of all, I’ll agree with you that prostitution is not literally “selling one’s body” any more than a factory worker is. Rather, it’s the act of sex itself that is different from other forms of “labor.”

      I’ve read Engels’ text and, in so many words, I think his views of prostitution and marriage are full of crap, and it disturbs me greatly that feminists have adopted it. What Marx and Engels did was actually the same thing that Ayn Rand later did in her condemnation of Marx and Engels: human empathy and emotions are completely left out of the picture. Ideas about marriage and prostitution are based solely on economic status and utility, as if that’s the only reason anyone chooses to do anything.

      A woman who doesn’t earn money is not a “slave” if she loves her husband and is fulfilled by the role of wife and mother. Her worth in that role is not calculated by how much money she earns. A prostitute may be a “worker” which supposedly elevates her above a wife, but if sex with strangers all day long decreases her chance of ever enjoying any real intimacy due to desensitization – which is certainly something that happens, just as it does to men who watch too much porn, use prostitutes too often, etc. – then she may in fact prefer to accept a lower status job for a chance at finding fulfillment in a more intimate and trusting relationship, and perhaps motherhood. Yes, people can still enjoy fulfilling relationships even if they are of low economic status. It’s a gamble (because she could easily still end up with a husband who’s an asshole), but so is becoming a prostitute. Making more money and having social mobility aren’t the only drivers of human motivation. Again, I respect someone’s right to make that choice, but you said your only question after a calculated review of “the facts” was why there aren’t more sex workers. Well there is your answer, and I’m profoundly sorry that I needed to explain this.

      The reason I brought gender into this discussion is because these words I’m “introducing” – empathy, emotion, intimacy, love, trust, fulfillment – are generally considered to be something that only women talk about. And not coincidentally, they are ideas that are considered subservient to utility, logic, and economy – the terms by which men tend to define things. I’m not saying this is a “biological imperative” – it’s definitely social conditioning. And it is, unfortunately, common to nearly all cultures because of men’s traditional roles as hunters, warriors, doers of work that requires them to shut down emotionally. Utilitarian concerns are not inherently superior to qualities such as empathy and intimacy – it just means the latter are usually hidden, and their importance and role in our survival denied. The now popular view that “romantic love” is some kind of new idea is BS. It has always existed as a concept, and sometimes in reality, but subjugated to more utilitarian concerns.

      So I reject the idea that adopting a traditionally male-centric view of sexuality is any kind of empowering choice for women (or men). Marx and Engels’ chilling, callous view of the family and the suggestion that it be eliminated and children raised by the state is not empowering to anybody. Instead it ignores all sorts of fundamental elements of humanity, out of some supposed clear-eyed utilitarian logic. Ayn Rand, ironically, did exactly the same thing. Children had no place in her world, nor did empathy or finding fulfillment in any pursuit that couldn’t be quantified and commodified.

      It’s obvious that both women and men experience an emotional component to sex – it’s just that men often try to deny it. As you mentioned in a different thread, plenty of men who use prostitutes and claim they’re not getting enough “sex” at home have to pop Viagra like it’s going out of style. I don’t believe (and neither, I gathered, do you) it’s merely physical release they’re looking for. They don’t want someone to just “pull a lever.” But since sex is historically one of the few ways that men have been allowed to express themselves, they often can’t really define what it is they’re looking for from sexual encounters. They are reluctant to use words like empathy, trust, intimacy, other than in certain “enlightened” circles. I believe these are words that need to stay in our vocabulary and grow stronger, regardless of one’s culture or economic status, and I believe that any conversation about empowering women (and men too) certainly needs to include these words, or we risk becoming entirely dehumanized.

      We can rail against religion all we like, and for good reason, but the reason religion has such a strong hold on people is precisely because it addresses these core parts of humanity that can’t be described in utilitarian terms. That’s why sex is given “special status” in all religions, and it’s not ALL because of the subjugation of women as property. If we’re going to reject religion, then we still need a way to define morality and ethics around something other than pure empirical logiic, such as: sex is not just pulling a lever. It is a conduit for something far greater which should not be commodified.. I could go on with empirical data about touch and orgasm releasing pair-bonding chemicals that strengthen trust and intimacy, and the damaging effects that result from repeated denial of bonding (similar to severe depression experienced by women and especially babies when they are separated shortly after birth), but I won’t bother. It would only degrade the conversation to a bunch of reductionist crap again, which is exactly what I’ve been saying we don’t need any more of in conversations about sexuality.

      • OK, thanks for the attempt at an explanation. It seems to boil down to this: “I believe that my emotions are transhuman constants and I believe that sex work would harm my emotions, even though I’ve never tried it myself. Thus, I must conclude that sex work is harmful to all people.”

        Like I said, it’s pure moralism.

        First of all, however, I should explain that this isn’t a purely semantic excercise for me, not by a long shot. Not when prohibitionists use phrases like “selling one’s body” as if their content were obvious to everyone and then equating prostitution with slavery simply based upon the semantic and rhetorical game that it’s, of course, “selling one’s body”. Real men and women end up in police cages being beaten because of this little “semantic” point and thus, to me, it goes far beyond the realm of semantics and into the realm of public policy.

        Regarding your critique of Engels, it’s valid enough as far as it goes. However, it is incorrect that Engels leaves human emotions “out of the picture”: human emotions, to him and Marx, are produced in a dialectic with the means of production. Their position is properly this: no human emotion can be understood outside of its concrete conditions in the world and those conditions are mostly constructed around how we provide for our physical survival. I disagree with Marx and Engels on numerous points, but I see no reason to charge them with ignoring emotions. They simply don’t see emotions as existing, a priori, outside their social construction.

        You have to admit that, whatever you personally like, social ideals regarding marriage and prostituion ARE INDEED largely based on economics. Engels and Marx hit that one square on the nose.

        Engels’ point about wives’ slavery has nothing at all to do with how much money wives earn, but rather with where they were situated within the sociopolitical and economic structure of Europe in the 1870s – that is, as the economic and social dependents of their fathers or husbands. “Fulfillment” also has nothing to do with the situation as Engels isn’t attempting to measure the psychological benefits of being a wife and a mother, but rather where such a woman stands in the socio-economic scheme of things.

        Furthermore, Engels’ point that prostitutes are workers isn’t meant to “elevate” prostitutes above wives: it’s simply meant to show that a prostitute generally has a clearer view of how society considers her role, qua woman, than a wife. A prostitute is thus more likely to gain consciousness of her class (and remember that Engels considered gender to be the primordial class split) than a wife. She thus might be more revolutionary and politically relevant than a wife, but that isn’t translated by Engels into some sort of moral heirarchy where she’s “better” or “more elevated” than a wife.

        I think your main problem here is that you’re trying to read Marx and Engels as if they were writing some sort of psychological text when, in fact, they are writing a SOCIOLOGICAL text. They two of them have nothing at all to say about “intimacy” or “fulfillment” or “happiness” and they certainly aren’t trying to give an individual a blueprint for life: they were interested in explaining the overall thrust of historical evolution and that they do fairly well. Although I have a boatload of problems with Marxism, not one of them has to do with the idea that “Marxism simply doesn’t take human happiness into account”. That’s rather like complaining that Christianity hasn’t yet given us a perfect book-keeping system or an adequate account of nuclear fusion.

        As far as your answer… Let me see if I get this straight:

        1) First of all, you seem to think that more sex necessarily decreases sexual sensitivity, a notion which is not conclusively supported ANYWHERE in the medical literature. (And believe me, I read through all of Marnia Robinson’s links to “scientific” papers on this point and if that’s all there is that’s out there, the evidence is spotty and poor, indeed).

        2) You then presume that prostitutes spend all their days involved in sexual activity, something which most prostitutes I know only WISH would happen. Many prostitutes I know are very lucky if they get five tricks a day, each of those tricks being 15 minutes long, at most. Others might get one or two tricks a week, lasting an hour or so. Now, I don’t know what empirical data you think you have, but aa couple of hours of sexual activity a week is hardly excessive from a biological standpoint and is CERTAINLY not going to burn out the average person’s capacity for pleasure. Now yeah, there are prostitutes that turn a hell of a lot of tricks. But the point here is that prostitution is HUGELY varied and you seem to be trying to cast it as one long f uck fest. It most certainly is not in most cases.

        3) Finally, you claim that somehow, all this will tend to cause a woman to drop out of prostitution and find a nice husband. In fact, many prostitutes I know ARE MARRIED, something which seems wholly beyond your conception of them. Many others marry and get divorced. But most only start looking to “settle down” when it becomes clear that staying in the sex trade is no longer the money maker it once was, due to age. Even then, most of these women look for a man who’s at least bringing something to the table, economically speaking. The most commonly reported thing I hear from prostitutes about how their job has affected their sex life is this: “I no longer naively trust men. I know EXACTLY what my company is worth and I’m not going to be staying with a guy who treats me like shit just because I’m his wife. If a man wants to be with me, then he better step up to the plate and do his part.”

        My question, by the way, was not “why aren’t there more sex workers”? It was “why do you think that sex work is so completely qualitatively different from other work”?

        Regarding your views on emotions, human evolution, men’s roles and whatnot…

        Lord.

        Here’s a question, LF: do you ever bother to read what anthropologists have written about other cultures? Margaret Meade, say (just to give one example that’s highly accessible)? Because there is no necessary link to being a man, being a hunter or warrior and being emotionally unavailable. Most men for most of human history were farmers, not warriors or hunters. And if we go by how men act in the pre-agrarian societies on Earth today, there’s absolutely no reason to assume, at all, that pre-historic hunter types were the big, stoic, emotion-repressing males you make them out to be. I’d love to take you to visit some Amazonian groups I know for a couple of weeks or so. Where do you come up with this idea that hunters are emotionally repressed? By watching American men going deer hunting? :D

        The fact of the matter is this: all of the emotions you seem to believe are transhuman constants are in fact socio-cultural constructs. Sure, “happiness” is a human thing. How we get happy, why, how we express it, to whom, when and where… ALL of that is determined by culture. What makes you happy is most definitely NOT what makes other people happy. What you consider to be “intimate” is NOT what other people consider to be intimate. And all of this goes TRIPPLE when it comes to sex. Sexual behavior among humans is INCREDIBLY variable. It is not subject to a handful of rules.

        It seems to me that you are really heavy into ethnocentrism: the belief that the norms you’ve grown up with are, in fact, the norms of any right-thinking human being.

        LF, anthropology and ethnography have proven that this just ain’t so. They proved that in the late 19th century and have re-proven it every decade since then. The fact that you choose to ignore those two sciences and what they’ve manifestly discovered, again and again, doesn’t make their discoveries any less real. There IS NO human cultural constant when it comes to things like “empathy, emotion, intimacy, love, trust, fulfillment “. Even if we were to come to some sort of agreement as to what these words mean (and I’ll point out to you that the meaning of every one of them is bitterly and repeatedly contested in the pages of this very magazine – so much for their transhuman comprehensability), there is no proof at all that the ways men and women react to these things is constant across history and across cultures.

        And no, romantic love is CERTAINLY not a transhuman, transhistorical construct. Some sort of notion of love MIGHT be – if we were to define “love” very widely – but the idea that a given human needs must find their perfect, monogamous pair-mate in another, singular human being is an idea of very recent origin. The Romans – hell, even the medieval English – would laugh their socks off if you told them abotut romantic love.

        “Marx and Engels’ chilling, callous view of the family and the suggestion that it be eliminated and children raised by the state is not empowering to anybody.”

        LF, I’ll send fifty U.S. dollars to the charity of your choice if you can show me where Marx and Engels say that children should be raised by the State. I think that you don’t have the slightest clue about what those guys were talking about. You certainly seem to confuse their words with popular anti-communist American readings of their words. You also seem to think that they were writing a treatise on human psychology when, in fact, they were trying to show that how humans act IN AGGREGATE is not simply the human psyche writ large.

        “It’s obvious that both women and men experience an emotional component to sex – it’s just that men often try to deny it. As you mentioned in a different thread, plenty of men who use prostitutes and claim they’re not getting enough “sex” at home have to pop Viagra like it’s going out of style. I don’t believe (and neither, I gathered, do you) it’s merely physical release they’re looking for.”

        Here’s where we disagree: you think those mongers are seeking some deep emotional experience when they are having sex. I happen to think that they are engaged in a very particular performance of what they consider to be masculinity. They aren’t so much looking for pleasure or physical release as they are looking to affirm to themselves and their monger buddies that they are three-balled he-men. And no, I don’t happen to think that that particular sort of monger (and there are many kinds) is a good example of men in general.

        Reading your comments in their entirety, I am again struck by the fact that your opposition to prostitution is all based upon moral beliefs, so I presume you will no longer be offended when I lable your position as “essentially moralistic in nature”.

        Again, I’m looking for some LOGICAL rock onto which these beliefs can be anchored. Not because I’m an emotionless, repressed kinda guy who only believes in logic, mind you, but because I do not feel that anyone’s moral beliefs SHOULD DEFINE THE LAWS AND PRACTICES OF A DEMOCRACY THAT RESPECTS HUMAN DIVERSITY. I don’t think we should believe that prostitution is a bad thing just because you happen to feel that way. For the record, I don’t think we should believe that prostitution is a GOOD thing, either, just because people may have moral beliefs to that effect. I think that we should stop looking at it as an essentially moral concept and try to see it for what it REALLY is: work for money. Period.

        If your moralistic approach to prostitution had done ONE THING – just one, LF – to make sex workers’ lives better, then I’d say you might have a point. Instead, moralism has been at the root of almost every violence and injustice which has plagues sex workers. For heaven’s sake, LF, the current U.S. laws regarding sex work are profoundly, completely moralistic and they niether aid sex workers, nor stop sex work!!!

        Given that, I’m surprised that you have the chutzpah to claim that the only way to look at prostitution is through a moralistic lens.

        Bullshit, I say.

        • [Btw, that “bullshit” isn’t directed at you as a person, so please don’t take it that way. It’s directed at the idea that morals needs must rule over logic and concern for human rights when it comes to prostitution. I realize that this isn’t entirely what you’re saying and appologize for the gruffness. It’s almost 4AM here in Rio, I’ve been up all night, translating and TGMPM doesn’t allow one to edit posts once they are sent.]

          :)

        • Well I am afraid we aren’t going to be able to have any kind of constructive conversation, given that you keep insisting on putting words in my mouth that I didn’t say, thoughts in my head that I don’t think, ignoring everything I say that doesn’t fit your assumptions, and presuming I haven’t studied any anthropology or talked to anyone in other countries just because I draw different conclusions than you do.

          Probably most pointedly, please show me where I’ve ever said that “morals must rule over logic and concern for human rights.” Where have I said that I want my views to dictate laws and policies? Nowhere.

          You also seem unable to budge from your wack assumption that I’m somehow stuck in Christian sexual mores, that I’m “hating the sin and not the sinner” or “don’t want my daughter to be a prostitute.” All these loaded terms that are religious in origin, completely ignoring the fact that I’ve given several examples of OTHER types of jobs I wouldn’t want anyone I cared about to end up doing, and there are many more I haven’t named. News flash: one doesn’t have to be a Puritan to hold the opinion that some job choices may be physically and/or psychologically damaging. This doesn’t mean I would tell someone who freely chose to do a job, especially someone of a different culture, that they don’t really feel the way they feel and they must instead feel as I do.

          You say that “As an anthropologist, my job is to properly explain why acting in this way is a logical thing for many women and men,” when I’ve already said multiple times that I AGREE with this. I understand perfectly well why it makes sense for some people to make that choice, and I don’t think they deserve to be vilified for it, and I am all for empowering them with more choices. You apparently agree with this since you support things like giving them university scholarships, but if I suggested this, you would probably accuse me of puritanically suggesting that they leave the sex trade. :D I also mentioned in my very first post a friend of mine who frequents brothels in Third World countries (a research scientist, maybe not coincidentally) but doesn’t actually have sex with the women. This is a way of empowering prostitutes while not compromising any of his own moral/ethical beliefs. You completely ignored this.

          No one is devoid of morals and ethics, and they do inform our decisions. You don’t get to discount them just because we can’t and shouldn’t get everyone in the world to agree on a single set of morals, which would be impossible. And I don’t get to impose my morals on everyone in the world. Neither do you. This hardly seems like news to me.

          I will have to get back to you on the other stuff when I have more time. I read the articles that you linked, but the first one, again, was nothing new to me and the second was only marginally relevant to what I was talking about and not particularly backed up by anything either – it’s her opinion and she’s entitled to it, but I don’t find much of it very relevant to anything that I believe.

          • Where I’m not understanding your argument, LF, is when you claim that your emotions give you some sort of basis with which to deal with prostitution, that said emotions are universal human constants and yet you don’t feel that this is a moral position.

            Any argument based on ineffable a prioris is ultimately a moral argument. It might be based on religion or moral philosophy, but moralist it remains. You’re grounding said moralism in your belief in the healing powers of emotion rather than your belief in some invisible dude in the sky or some set of ethical laws of behavior, but a priori and thus moralist the argument remains.

            Why is this bad? Well, we’re talking about public policy regarding prostitution, are we not? I believe that the historical record is quite clear: for the past century or so, moralism has been the basis of public policy with regards to prostitution and the laws and policies it has promulgated have made matters much, much worse. Moralism has had a piss-poor track record when it comes to defining public policy with regards to the sale of sex.

            You are entitled to your moral opinions, sure. My point is that if what we’re really concerned about is human rights, the time has come to quit playing around with this morals stuff and look at the problem logically. Logic couldn’t do a worse job as a basis for public policy in this matter than moralism has done over the past century.

            With regards to “empowerment”, it fundamentally means letting other people speak for themselves on those issues which most affect them. I do not believe that it is “empowering”, for example, to give prostitutes scholarships on the understanding that they get the money only if they leave prostitution. (IIRC, that’s what a certain Colorado-based anti-prostitution and teen intervention organization does.)

            If you want to talk true empowerment, you give people resources and LET THEM DECIDE FOR THEMSELVES what they’ll do. And maybe I might be reading you wrong here, but I’m guessing that you’d be totally cool working with an organization that pays people to stop being prostitutes and go to school, whereas I would only work with an organization that gives prostitutes scholarships and which stays the hell out of the rest of their lives.

            I think that’s our main difference on “distributing scholarships”, LF, unless I’m greatly mistaken.

            Regarding your friend the research scientist “who frequents brothels in Third World countries but doesn’t actually have sex with the women”, I ignored the story earlier because it seems to me that the only possible reason for mentioning it is to insinuate that I’m somehow different than your friend and, were that the case, it would be very, very unfortunate.

            After all, why tell me this story as if it were some sort of piece of news unless you thought I was operating in a different manner from your researcher friend? But then I thought, “Nah, I’m probably reading too much into that there. Best let it slide. Surely LF knows that it’s against every ethical rule in the social sciences to have sex with one’s informants, so she probably brought that up just to indicate that she has some idea about what I’m dealing with.”

            Unfortunately, it seems that you believe that I am operating in a different fashion from your researcher friend as you feel the need to educate me regarding his style of field work and feel that I should offer some sort of comment on it, as if it were anything but the absolute norm for my discipline. This is somewhat insulting, LF, because what you seem to be stating, in a ’round about way, is that you think I’m having sex with my informants. This is the sort of thing that borders on actionable slander in the ethical world I live and work in, so I think we should both be very careful here because you should understand the risks involved to an anthropologist’s professional reputation should such slander be bandied around regarding him or her (and note that I’m posting here under my real name).

            Some of the people commenting above seem to suffer from a very common prejudice: they believe that anyone who studies prostitution and who doesn’t find it morally repulsive needs must be a john. As I’ve mentioned above, I worked in the sex trade myself for a short period of time, many moons ago, as a stripper and have many people near and dear to me who have worked as strippers, prostitutes, sex phone atendants and the like. The sex trade is built on selling people certain illusions. Said illusions simply don’t work for me because I know very well how they’re concocted. So even if I were so unethical as to toss every rule of ethnographic fieldwork out the window and say “Heeeeeeeey, why not have sex with my informants?”, I wouldn’t be plopping down cash for sex, LF, because magicians aren’t impressed by magic shows and clowns don’t find the circus to be a laff riot.

            Let’s make that crystal clear for the tl;dr crew: I do not have sex with the people I study, nor have I ever paid for sex with anyone. To imply that I am screwing my informants is a gross slander against my name as a researcher and, were such an accusation ever said to my face or put in print, I’d have no problem whatsoever suing the author and I’m pretty sure such a suit would have be very well received by almost any court in the Americas. (This warning isn’t so much directed to you as it is to certain commentators above.)

            • Good Lord, you are seriously paranoid.

              First of all, yes you are grossly mistaken about my positions. I would happily support an organization that gives resources such as scholarships to prostitutes, whether or not they left the trade, and I don’t know where you would get the idea that I think otherwise except via your own personal prejudices.

              Second, I wasn’t aware we were talking about public policy. We’re discussing an article written by a guy who had an offer of a “happy ending” and felt personally conflicted about it. This is about human beings and their ethics and where those ethics conflict with normal sexual desire, and that’s the context in which my comments were made. My interest is mainly in the psychological effects of prostitution on ordinary people – both the prostitutes and the people who frequent them. I don’t know when you decided it was your personal soapbox for talking about public policy – not that it should be a taboo topic in this thread, it’s certainly an interesting offshoot discussion – but it takes an extraordinary level of “chutzpah” (and that’s the kindest word I can think of) to bring your personal pet issue into a broader discussion and then interpret everything I’ve said to mean that I’d like my own ethics to be the law of the world. Please take a step back and get a little perspective here.

              Second, I never implied anything about you having sex with your informants! :D My gawd. My researcher friend is a physicist – he’s not studying sex workers. He just goes to brothels as a tourist, when he travels, and just talks to the prostitutes for his money instead of having sex with them. I mentioned it as a suggestion to other people like Marcus who might be in conflict about this issue – who would like to help empower prostitutes but don’t want to compromise their personal ethics by actually having sex with one. It helps the worker, it’s non judgmental and my friend gets to hear someone’s story and get to know them as a person, and she gets to have someone listen to and care about HER for a change, with no other motive at all. I was attempting to demonstrate that someone can have a moral problem with prostitution in general and yet still be able to do the right thing when it comes to human rights, but this idea is apparently beyond you, instead getting parsed as “me implying you’re having sex with your informants”. :D

              I’ll say this much for this exchange – it certainly tops most of them for bizarreness!

            • Not paranoid, LF, just realistic.

              Look at the reactions I’m getting here: there are people calling me shitty, Becca thinks I’m a grand appologist for Teh Patriarchy, a couple of other folks have flat-out claimed I’m doing this because I must be a john…

              I’m VERY clear about what the stigmatizing power of prostitution is. Hell, here in Brazil we even have a law against “defending prostitution”. I fully expect to be busted for that some day.

              So yeah, given that so many people think that only a perverse woman-hater and exploiter could actually try to comprehend prostitution as work, I’m very, very sensitive to the fact that people will probably try wierd, net-based reputation attacks. I had something similar happen to me because of my comments on a race and biology board. For the better part of two months, some idiot was spamming everywhere he could (including here) that I was a viscious racist.

              You need to be a tad paranoid when you start defending prostitution as work, LF, because it’s no illusion: people DO hate you and ARE out to get you. Just ask Laura Agustín. :D

              Regarding scholarships, you’re not looking at what I said.

              I’m sure you’d happily give scholarships to women whether they left the trade or not, but the key question to me is would you work with an organization that gave scholarships to prostitutes ONLY IF they left the trade?

              Because, you see, I wouldn’t.

              That’s where I think our difference lies, again, unless I’m mistaken.

              As for public policy… LF, this is ALL about public policy. Please! People are accusing Marcus of supporting slavery, trafficking, whatever… These are all hot-button issues being manipulated by a series of actors on the national and international level and which are being transformed into laws and repression policies. You may not want to see how this sort of moral knee-jerking is affecting people out in the street, but it most certainly is. People hear “prostitution” and think “trafficking” and thus are happy to give the police a blank check to do whatever they want in the name of “repressing the exploitation of women”.

              Discussions about prostitution are ALWAYS about public policy. It’s inevitable, when prostitution is cast by so many people as a synonym of slavery.

              With regards to soapboxes… LF, this is a comments thread. These things can run into the thousands. You and me chatting away here blocks nobody else, at all, from chiming in or even starting a completely different thread. My voice drowns out precisely nobody. If I was filling the thread with nonsense and gibberish and preventing other people from communicating with each other, you might have a point, but the worst you can accuse me of is being longwinded.

              And, again, when people are talking about prostitution in the current global climate and start bringing in accusations of “trafficking” and “slavery”, we are automatically in public policy land as those sorts of accusations move legal mountains in the world today. The only question becomes whether or not people realize that fact.

              I don’t think you feel that your own ethics should be the law of the world, by the way. I DO think you feel that prostitution should be treated as a moral and ethical issue. I beg to differ. As I’ve said above, treating it as such has not helped us at all during the past century.

              Ahn. I understand your point about your researcher friend better now. I THOUGHT that was what your were saying originally, but when you pushed me to respond to it, as if what your friend does is something new and extraordinary, I began to wonder what the deal was.

              LF, what your friend does is basically what we anthros call “ethnographic fieldwork” – well, OK, there’s a hell of a lot more methodology involved, but that’s basically it. Participant observation. The only difference between what he does and what I do is that I have an agenda full of questions and I do what I do systematically. So when you started pointing this out as some sort of surprising behavior, I took it to mean that you were making some arch comment about my methodology. You’ll notice that Ramie (IIRC) has already implied that I sleep with my informants. This is a common accusation directed against people who do sexual sociology in general. So no, my reaction is not such bizarre behavior when you look at it from my point of view.

      • Dear LF,

        You might want to take five minutes and read this bit by Laura Agustin, as it pretty well encapsulates this back-and-forth we’re having here:

        http://www dot lauraagustin dot com/irresponsible-talk-on-sex-work-gender-equality-sex-tourism-and-state-feminism

      • Oh, this one by Laura is pretty good, too. I think it directly addresses your belief that the problems we’re dealing with are rooted in male sexuality. I know it’s a pain to be setting up links like this and asking people to read them, but Agustin’s points reflect my views:

        http://www dot lauraagustin dot com /the-bad-vibrations-of-anatomical-fundamentalism-world-gender-war

    • Re: your request for explanation for WHY prostitution IS selling one’s body and NOT simply selling a service.

      Thaddeus Gregory Blanchette – what you’re missing is your analysis of prostitution is the recognition of power differences between the parties involved. I’ll refer to well-known feminist scholars in this area that you, as a self-proclaimed academic, should have been well aware of.

      An individual’s sex cannot be separated from their personhood without harm to the self.

      Take a moment to process that.

      For more information, avail yourself to Mary Lucille Sullivan’s book, Making Sex Work. A Failed Experiment with Legalized Prostitution, 2007 (page 32), and Carole Pateman’s, The Sexual Contract, 1988.

      Although there is a recognition that “the body of a woman and sexual access to that body is the subject of contract” (Sullivan 2007 32; Pateman 203), prostitution cannot be “understood as a clearly negotiated contract between two equal parties for a service” (32). This is because, “the body is not a neutral object that men purchase” (32). Rather, “as a prostituted woman sells her womanhood, she sells something that is integral to her identity and self” (32).

      THAT’S WHY.

      Thus, at its heart, prostitution is not simply selling a service – that’s a way TOO SIMPLISTIC way to look at it. THE PRACTICE OF PROSTITUTION IS INEHERENTLY NOT NEUTRAL – it is based on inequality and on one party’s giving away access to their body to another person for money.

      And please don’t start telling me that a prostituted person has control. With the exception of a minority of cases, this is not true. Most people involved in prostitution are not self-employed. In the majority of cases, what the customer wants is what the customer gets. Thus, prostituted people have to put up with all kinds of degrading activities in order to make a living. Let’s not abstract ourselves and for a moment TRY to imagine what that must be like. Having sex with 10-15 clients a day??? Is that JUST PERFORMING A SERVICE? Are you saying there is NO IMPACT WHATSOEVER on one’s personal self-worth? Psyche? Human dignity?? How does having sex with 10-15 strangers even come close to compare with someone cleaning toilets as a maid, or working as a cashier at a store, or working as a secretary??? Are you seriously trying to say they are all just services with equal impact on the individual self-worth?

      There are more authors that I can refer you to for ample AND reliable research evidence of the extensive list of negative effects on the person who sell their bodies. Just ask.

      Then again, as an academic, who claims to have 10 years of specialization in this area, I am surprised you act on this forum like you got NO CLUE.

  17. Basically, TGB, you’re a staunch proponent of patriarchy, male ownership of women’s bodies: Madonna or Whore, ladies, take your pick. Yes, sometimes in certain countries and circumstances that is the only “choice” women have but instead of defending a soul-destroying institution why don’t you work towards changing it–support education and more options for girls and women– instead of propping it up and sustaining it?

    • “Staunch proponent of the patriarchy”…?

      Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

      Becca, if you have any good, concrete suggestions for generating, oh, say, 2 million women-friendly, professional-salary-paying jobs in Brazil, hey, I’m all ears. I would LOVE to give people jobs that are not soul-destroying. Unfortunately, that isn’t what’s on the list of possibilities for most of these women right now. Being a maid in this country and making USD 300 a month is easily as soul destroying as being a prostitute and making USD 3000 a month. Then again, what do I know? I’m only repeating what dozens upon dozens of Brazilian prostitutes have told me and surely THEY don’t know the basic coordinates of their lives as well as you do, so I’ll bow to your expertise.

      If you could have your plan for the encouragement of non-soul-destroying women’s work on my desk by next week Friday, it would be a big help as I’ll be able to bring it up for discussion at the national meeting regarding our Brazil’s second anti-trafficking plan. People will be so thrilled to find out that you’ve solved the prostitution issue for us! I can’t wait to break the news!

      What a relief!

      However, until you figure out how to give Brazilian women the economic solution to all their woes, can we at least agree that women working in the sex trade shouldn’t be subject to arrest, harassment and brutality simply because of the work that they do?

      Thanks.

  18. I’m quite interested in reading those links you offered. I have issues with Marx, but I do think you did a very good job of clarifying several points. My position on sex work is conflicted, at best, but I don’t think stigmatizing is a good thing at all. I have many friends and colleagues in the sex work and sex image (porn) industry. I listen to them and try to believe that their experience is valid and honest.

    My issue is more to do with the idea of “industry” and industrializing pleasure. I’m not nearly up to speed enough on my economic sociology to debate, but I find something inherently offensive about it, not that people want sex or that people like to watch sex, but the way it is churned out. I’m also offended by McDonalds.

    Great food (pun intended) for thought.

    • Yeah, I’m offended by McDonalds, too and I hear you about the industrialization of pleasure, Julie. Unfortunately, that particular cow got out of the corral centuries ago and has long been eaten by coyotes. Like it or not, pleasure has become very industrialized. I personally don’t see how repressing prostitution will bring us back the good old days, so I come down on the side of the fence that says putting prostitutes and their clients in cages is not a good idea.

      I’m glad the Marx stuff was useful to you. Usually, theory freaks people out as it’s tl;dr. :D

      • It was. I think theory is important and I think real world stuff is important. It’s good to have a bit of both. I’m just not academically focused enough to wrestle with it as fully as you are doing, but I appreciate seeing it here. I like to witness critical thinking at play. I don’t dismiss the power of feelings though, as those feelings are built by our exposure to culture and morality lessons.
        Prostitution is a very very fraught topic. It’s something that hits both men and women hard and in very different ways. I know I have a lot of fear around it, even with my exposure to working professionals.
        Someone brought up Inara from Firefly/Serenity in a different thread as an example of what courtesan/companionship could look like in a different world. Being able to be a client of a sexual professional was something of achievement, not dirty. If sex was viewed differently, perhaps prostitution would be as well. Since sex in Western Judeo Christian cultures is seen as sinful in many ways, why wouldn’t prostitution also be seen as a low form of human connection, instead of a gift of great service to the client?
        Those are just mental games I play, but in the real world it’s not so simple.

        • Don’t get me wrong, Julie: I don’t dismiss the power of feelings. I jkust don’t think they are an appropriate base for public policy regarding prostitution.

          I’m hoping that we can at least get the prostitute up to the social status of hairdresser or maid before the decade’s out. I think all the current hysteria over trafficking and the lies that are being told about it is going to generate one hell of a backlash.

  19. Sounds like if it was free you would have gone for it. Payment was a psychological block. Not so sure it was about respecting the woman being in a one down situation where she needs to do sexual acts for money. Doesn’t sound like it was about the woman at all. Not impressed that you are so “ethical.” Was a stimulating story to read though.

    ~ J

    • Marcus Williams says:

      Free would not be asking for money in exchange for a sexual act, so that would have been a different decision. I’ve said as much in previous comments. I’ve also said that my decision was not only “about the woman”. That factored in to the extent prostitution was involved, but my decision was also about myself, and weighing the pleasant touch that tempted me against my usual standards for wanting to engage in a sexual act with someone.

      This and other comments play to the stereotype that all men want all the time is sex, and real men never turn it down. If they say they did, they must be leaving out part of the story because that just doesn’t happen. Well, it happens. I want sex a lot, but I don’t just stick my dick in any available opening, whether that’s a hand I can buy in Vietnam, or a “glory hole” in a sex store somewhere. (I’ve never seen a real glory hole before, so maybe they’re the stuff of pornographic urban legend, but if they’re real, they wouldn’t meet my standards.) Those standards entail more than opportunity—I have to want it, I have to believe she wants it, and I have to believe it won’t involve a reckless disregard for health risks. If any of those prerequisites are missing, it doesn’t feel right to me, free or not.

      • Uncle Elmer says:

        You’re a laff riot Marcus.

        You don’t want her massaging your dick because she has done it to several other men that day, but don’t have a problem with her using those same hands to massage your face.

        You are advised to avoid massage completely so you don’t go through all this emotional turmoil.

      • Marcus, you seem to make a distinction here that, when manipulated by prostitutes in Copacabana, leads to millions of dollars in sex work and uncounted broken hearts every year here in Rio de Janeiro.

        You seem to believe that there’s a clear-cut distinction between “free sex” and “paid sex”.

        In my experience, that’s not true at all.

        In fact, given a slow night here in Rio, many sex workers, when faced with a client like you, will say “Oh, but who said I wanted you to pay…?”

        This is magic on the male ego. I mean, if a prostitute is willing to give a guy a freebie, then DAMN! It must really be honest attraction because prostitutes NEVER have sex unless it’s for pay. Right? RIGHT?

        Prostitutes, however, are normal people like you and me and most of them have a life outside of the sex trade. Giving you a freebie doesn’t mean they lose anything at all – other than their time and the chance to find a paying client. (As we say here in Brazil, “Wash it and it’s good as new!”) But if it’s a rainy night here in Rio and nobody’s in the bars, hell, a freebie will at least get a sex worker a nice bed in a 4 star hotel and a free breakfast in the morning, instead of a two hour bus ride out to their home in Campo Grande.

        Odds are, also, that the guy who gets this freebie is going to start treating the sex worker, at least partially, as his girlfriend. And every prostitute I’ve ever interviewed on Copa is clear about one point: you make far more money as a girlfriend than as a prostitute. The difference is that girlfriends usually receive in goods and services, but not in cash. However, if your “boyfriend” doesn’t know Portuguese and can’t find his way around town without your help, nothing prevents you from being with him AND occasionally turning tricks.

        It’s very likely that, before the guy leaves Rio, he’ll be at least halfway in love with the sex worker and will have spent something on the order of several thousand dollars on her company. He may even go home and start sending her cash to help “save” her from her degrading life as a prostitute.

        Among English-speaking sex tourists, this is called “pulling a Madam Butterfly” or “thinking you are Captain Saveaho”. Among the women and men working the sex tourism scene, it’s called “finding yourself a Santa Claus” (because gifts just rain down from the sky for you).

        The emotional and economic politics of sex work in places like Brazil, Thailand and Vietnam are much, much more complex than simply “If she does it for free, she’s a ‘normal’ girl and if she charges she’s a w hore.”

        • Marcus Williams says:

          You seem to believe that there’s a clear-cut distinction between “free sex” and “paid sex”.

          I don’t think it’s always clear-cut, as your examples illustrate cases where it isn’t. In the case of this story, it was clear-cut, so I didn’t have to get very nuanced in my reasoning.

  20. You realize we’re talking about a handjob here right? Wow. Verdict: Protestant prudes, the lot of you.

    I think my work here is done.

  21. A Full Body massage in Vietnam includes the FULL body. It is expected. All this holier than tho attitude is laughable. It is just a HJ for cying out loud. A massage with a nice ending from a pretty massuesse for a reasonable tip hurts nobody.

    Next time get the full treatment, and don’t write an article.

    • I don’t remember any holy part. No holey part, either. At any rate, I didn’t travel to Vietnam as a sex tourist. It was one stop on a trip that included many countries, and I had the pleasure (and occasional pain) of receiving massages in many of those places. Many were described as “full body” and that’s all they were, in the completely non-sexual sense. If I’d heard a bunch of massage stories about Vietnam, perhaps my expectations would have been different, but to me, it was just another massage in a foreign country, with no reason to expect different until it took a different turn from any other I had received. It did not fill me with moral outrage or disgust for the woman or other customers – it just wasn’t my thing so I said no. I’m pretty sure men are allowed to turn down HJ’s, right?

    • Skull Bearer says:

      The guy said no because he wasn’t comfortable with it, why is his consent irrelevant?

  22. consider yourself very lucky not to have accepted any extra services as you would have surely gone home with an lifelong std.

    • It’s amazing how many things can be wrong in just one short comment. There’s the way STD’s are transmitted, how many “lifelong std’s” can be transmitted via hand job, and perhaps most troubling, the assumption that the masseuse was some kind of std-infested [fill in slur for prostitute here].

      I don’t regret my decision, but the reasons I declined did not include thinking she was a disgusting human for having offered.

  23. @ Nitro:
    stick shaking doesn’t cause STD… go back to school for some more biology classes..!

  24. Did you tip her anyway? Because she doesn’t get paid?

  25. It is great post.T hank you so much.

  26. Erasmus says:

    Well written article, perfectly captured the Western view of these things in pagan lands free of judaeo- christian angst about women and sexual response.

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