Breaking the ice: A general reflection on attitudes on men who consume sex work

Anthony_K's picture

Before I begin my contribution, I'd like to thank Elizabeth for the honor of being a part of this long overdue discussion. At first, I was inclined to respectfully decline her offer, since my expertise involving sex work is restricted only to general interest in the professions as a sex-positive activist and a thinking sex radical and political Leftist who wants to integrate such values into a general Left/Progressive political program and theory. I have not solicited nor have otherwise been involved in sex work of any kind, though I am involved tangently through my cyberfriendships with many women who are active sex workers or sexual liberationists. However, Elizabeth convinced me that even I can make a positive contribution to the discussion, so I am here.

My initial inquiries for now will deal with the general attitudes towards men who use and consume different levels of sex work; including clients of prostitutes (often derided as "johns"), users of sexually explicit media (what is commonly named "pornography") and those who are regular consumers of other forms of sexual media like "phone sex", "cybersex" and sexually-oriented consumer items such as sex toys, vibrators, and other peraphenalia.

It is no surprise that the dominant cultural impressions of men who consume sexually-oriented media and products is generally seen as ranging from negative to down-right threatening; even though such goods are promoted to an extreme just as aggressively. Although much has been said about the "double standard" regarding sexual attitudes between women and men -- where male sexual attitudes are justified and accepted in a way that women's sexual attitudes are denied and constrained -- it is not acknowledged enough how much male sexual attitudes are often just as constrained and distorted as women's are. No one would deny, of course, the many restrictions and assumptions that women who deliberately seek to explore and enjoy sex for its own pleasure have to endure; but it is often assumed that men have a virtual carte blanche when it comes to sexual exploration.

These assumptions about men and their alleged licentuousness apply with special fury to the topic of sex work, in particularly men's consumption thereof. According to the more strident opponents of sex worker rights, men simply use sex work as they would use sex in general: as a tool of control over women; as a means of projecting their own sexual desires and wants onto women who would otherwise reject such desires as offensive and disgusting at best, and threatening and injurous at worst. The idea that men can actually seek sex for mutual pleasure, or that men are even entitled to seek personal pleasure at the hands of willing and able and consenting women, seems to get lost in the heated anger and loathing over sex as defined as male power over women.

And, unfortunately, not even active sex workers who make their living providing such sexual services to these men (and women, it should be noted) are immune to those negative stereotypes. Often, they are based on the actual experiences with abusive and offensive men who, thanks in large part to their internalization of all the negative stereotypes of women who are overtly sexual, do manage to treat them as nothing more than the reduction of "sluts" and 'whores" and "bitches" and "tramps". But, not all or even the majority of men who seek sexual services are motivated by as much woman-hatred or sex-hatred. Some simply seek sexual companionship which, for whatever reason, is denied them in their real-life relationships; others simply seek a warm body to get them through the day.

My first inquiry to the rest of the esteemed panel here (whether active sex worker, sex worker activist, or mere supporter of such) is this: How do we as sex-positive activists challenge the overall dominant cultural stereotypes of not only the women and men who actively participate in sexual commerce and sexual media, but also the women and men who happily and freely seek such services? Considering the impact of such anti-sex work activists as Melissa Farley, Kathleen Barry, Shelia Jefferys, Sam Berg, and other antiporn/antiprostitution activists in setting the agenda under a distinctively sex-negative foundation, how can such "sex-positive" sex worker activists challenge this restrictive paradigm with a more humane, realistic, and liberatory theory and practice.

I will leave you to think that over and await your response (and the rest of the festivities).

Again, thanks to Elizabeth for inviting me here to speak my peace as an outsider and strong supporter of sex-positive sex work activism.


Anthony Kennerson

The SmackDog Chronicles Blog