Pop journalists everywhere apparently got the same memo that decided that the first half of May was going to be dedicated to the age old discussion of female sexuality, “purity,” and whether any of it matters. From a self-righteous essay where the author feels threatened by her partner's ex-girlfriend, a dude’s preoccupation with his girlfriend’s sexual history, and why “female purity” is a fallacy, analytical discussions of female sexuality have been all over the popular internet publication circuit.
Folks in the sex industry (particularly escorts and entertainers) know better than anyone that being associated with any kind of promiscuity or openness about sexuality is automatic ammo for people who, even as adults, are uncomfortable with sexual expression that does not mimic their own. While the stigma against sex industry workers affects everyone involved regardless of gender, women disproportionately experience this unforgiving judgement.
We live in a world where James Deen is heralded as the mainstream modern darling of porn, but female adult performers are subject to constant ire. Men get high fives for getting laid, and women who enjoy casual sex get called “cum-dumpsters”. While Farrah Abraham may have had questionable motives for making a sex tape, most of the criticism she has received has been focused on how "nasty" she is because she decided to fuck a porn star on camera. People are morbidly fascinated with adult entertainers and providers because they are either glamorized, vilified, or blatantly pitied.
Even those who legally offer escort services continue to come up against social and professional ostracization: LinkedIn recently announced that brothel workers and escorts in places where their business is legal are not legitimate enough to be welcome on their site. Although it is far from surprising that legal sex workers run their business similarly to almost anyone else, the stigma around their work leads to accusations of desperation when they are merely trying to build a professional network.
Sex work is not seen as legitimate work largely because of the stigma against sexuality, particularly against female sexuality and ownership. These women are vilified for being “impure,” and for being willing to see their sexuality as a skill and tool rather than a bargaining chip in the pursuit of marriage. They are vilified for being able to not only flaunt this control, but to run a business around it. Sex work is pretty much the only industry in which women can (and do) make more than men.
The moralism only seems to extend to those who are explicit about turning the love/sex economy on its head: While "sugar daddy" sites are allowed to join LinkedIn, buy Google paid keywords and generally market these girls in any way they see fit, independent private entertainers and directories that promote private companions are banned from these services.
Deconstructing the stigma against the sex industry and recognizing its origins in slut-shaming is vital to fighting against a dangerous precedent about self-worth and consent. People like Pam Stenzel are widely promoting an ideology that leaves young folks uneducated about their bodies and how sex actually works for most consenting adults; Stenzel shames teenagers, particularly young women, for having a sexuality outside of one very specific, fairly rare social dynamic (sex and marriage with one person). This anti-sex rhetoric can contribute to the further victimization of sexual assault, rape, and sex trafficking victims by hammering home the idea that the abuse they have suffered renders them worthless.
This misinformation is so dangerous because it can drastically increase a person's vulnerability to disease, unwanted pregnancy, and low self-esteem. It fosters a space where identifying and speaking out about abuse is nearly impossible. It creates a world where victim-blaming is already a systemic issue and huge hurdle to holding predators responsible for their actions.
"We condition girls (explicitly! Not even covertly!) to believe that if they're not sexually attractive, they're nothing. They're garbage. They might as well not exist. We reinforce, over and over, that their attractiveness has an expiration date, so the only thing they can do is desperately leverage that attractiveness while they can.
If they resist that conditioning, we sexualize them against their will, and if they give in to that conditioning—or worse, if they are raped by a predator—we reveal the trap: Now you're a slut, and it's your fault. Now you're tainted. Now you're worse than nothing. Now you might as well not even cry out when your rapist takes you to the gas station in a wig and sunglasses."
The one salve for how exhausting it is to re-hash this conversation, no matter how obvious the answer may be (Hint: Treat women like people. Treat sex workers like people.), is that the tides seem to be changing. Commenters at xojane were unimpressed with this anonymous writer’s attitude toward other women, particularly women in the sex industry. Hannah, a commenter over at Em & Lo, spelled out the benefits of having a sexually experienced ladyfriend for the man who was overly concerned about what her history “meant”. Although West's piece received comments that range from active support to MRA drivel, West is constantly using Jezebel as a platform to speak on behalf of women (and does it well!).
Hopefully, this shift in the conversation means that soon, we won’t have to have it all all. Hopefully, it means that adults will be capable of having consenting relationships on their own terms, and that sexuality will not be the primary defining characteristic of any woman (or person!). Maybe this means that the lessons about objectification are getting through to the general population.
West summed it up best:
“So, Girls, Fuck All of It
If you want to. Or don't fuck any of it, if you don't want to. Fuck women. Fuck men. Fuck no one. Point is, you get to fuck what you like, when you like, and your worth is not determined by some golden ratio of extreme boner tantalization vs. minimal boner touching. BONERS ARE NOT THE BOSS OF YOU. You are the boss of you.”
She’s right. You are the boss of how you engage your sexuality and where you put your genitals. You are the sole arbiter of who you are and how you act. There are so many other important things that contribute to a person’s worth: intelligence, kindness, compassion, generosity, cleverness, humor. Sex is not one of them.
Once a person can be seen as more than how she performs her sexuality, the world will be a safer, better place. When the conversation stops being focused on an individual’s perceived value based on superficial factors, it can become focused on consent and safety. Let's end the reign of the opinionated boner! If you come across one who wants to be the boss of you, tell it to go fuck itself instead.