How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘Prostitution’

Don’t Be a Working Girl

The prostitute is the only honest woman left in America.
Ti-Grace Atkinson

While there may be nothing intrinsically wrong with selling your body, there is something wrong in ending up in an exchange of sexuality for some sort of gain when the situation occurs unintentionally.

There’s something decidedly wrong in selling your body when you are not fully aware of what you are doing. You’re being exploited when you’re conned or manipulated into a “deal” you didn’t want to make.

There is something decidedly unwise, and perhaps wrong, in selling your body when the rewards are slight and the exchange is unnecessary. Such selling is usually not worth the price in terms of its psychological and emotional costs.

The well-known feminist, Ti-Grace Atkinson, undoubtedly overstates her case when she claims that the prostitute is the only honest woman in America. However, it is valid to observe that there are many women who don’t think of  themselves as working girls who are dishonest about the extent to which they use their sexuality for nonsexual reasons. If you find yourself in a situation where you end up having sex for reasons other than the anticipation of a good sexual experience, then you are in fact acting like a working girl.

Working Girls (2010 film)

Working Girls (2010 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Margaret Sanger pioneered the Planned Parenthood movement and fought for birth control to free women from the tyranny of pregnancy. However, she also fought for freedom from sexual coercion. Writing way back in 1917 when such sentiments were not usually expressed, she declared, “A mutual and satisfied sexual act is of great benefit to the average woman, the magnetism of it is health-giving. When it is not desired on the part of the woman and she has no response, it should not take place. This is an act of prostitution, and is degrading to the woman’s finer sensibility, all the marriage
certificates on earth to the contrary notwithstanding.”

What Sanger is talking about is nothing like rape in the usual and violent sense of the word. It’s nothing like prostitution in the stereotypical sense of streetwalkers standing under streetlights and taking on all comers. What Sanger refers to is the not uncommon practice of women going to bed as a result of feeling sexually intimidated.

Respectable women, who don’t think of themselves as working girls, may have sex for many nonsexy reasons: for protection, for a new diamond necklace, for drugs or a fix, for simple companionship. Many young women act like working girls without realizing it. And having accepted this role, they wonder why it is that under these conditions, they don’t enjoy sex very much. They’re not in helpless situations, yet they continue to use their sexuality as an informal medium of exchange. Or sometimes they continue to put out simply because they feel they don’t have a choice.

If a man asks you to have sex with him, you need not be offended, but neither need you be obliging. A working girl may have sex in the absence of desire and may be tactful and cheerful in putting up with men who are unappealing or who are simply inept lovers. As a non-working girl, you don’t have to, and you shouldn’t. If you don’t want to have sex, your negative reply should be as polite as possible but also firm and unambiguous. The absence of desire is in itself sufficient reason to decline.

The correct answer to continued pressure and harassment from someone you don’t feel passionate about is quite simple. “Harry, you’re a toad. I don’t sleep with toads!” But even if the Harry in question is a toad, nice girls are too considerate and nice to say so in quite those terms. They might even imply it and have Harry look so injured and tearful they then have to go to bed with him just to provide reassurance that he’s not a toad.

The correct answer may be that you would rather watch television. That the room is too hot or too cold, and you are too energized or too tired, and he’s too big or too small, too young or too old, too this or too that. In any case, the correct answer is simply, “No, thank you, I don’t want to.”

It’s fine to let yourself be seduced, if you decide that’s what you want to happen. It’s not so fine to let yourself be coerced by force or by emotional blackmail. It’s not so fine to let yourself be bribed by presents or trips or dinners or promises of introductions or other benefits. Real sexual freedom, instead of the ersatz kind, is the ability to say no for the simple reason that this particular person, at this particular time, is resistible. When responding to a man’s unwanted advances, Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the Single Girl, had this witty response, “You’re really lovely, but do you honestly suppose I can sleep with every man who asks me?”

If you pick a man because he really does understand pork-belly futures and he has the Swiss bank accounts to prove it, then you don’t have a right to complain that those are the only bellies he understands, and that he couldn’t find a clitoris even if he had a global positioning system at his disposal. If you want to enjoy your own sexuality, don’t be a working girl.

The Oldest Profession

It is a silly question to ask a prostitute why she does it. These are the highest paid “professional” women of America.
—Gail Sheehy, Hustling

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with selling your body. It is, after all, the oldest profession. And it is, after all, your body and you have a right to do with it what you will, including making some choices that others may think unpleasant or unwise.

There are a number of circumstances in which some or another variation of prostitution may be a rational choice. If you are young and powerless, if you are young and powerless and poor, then you use what you have. Eva Peron, who became a political icon in Argentina, was a major spokeswoman for los descamisados (the shirtless ones). She herself was born into a slum family and, it’s alleged, began her career as a teenage prostitute. Under such circumstances, when all that a woman has is an attractive body, it’s difficult to condemn her for doing the best she can with what she has.

Cropped screenshot of Marilyn Monroe from the ...

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On a less dramatic level, the trade-offs involved in sexual exchanges can be very useful. Using your sexuality for nonsexual goals is a question of individual choice and is often a legitimate way to get what you want. In Gentleman Prefer Blondes, Anita Loos quite rightly points out that “kissing your hand may make you feel very good, but a diamond is a girl’s best friend.” It’s more or less acceptable for nice girls to prefer men of wealth. While they may be considered gold diggers, they are also considered smart.

Granting sexual favors may not be necessary for survival, but it can be expedient. If the sex acts involved are at least not unpleasant, then having sex can be a convenient way of paying for dinner or of being nice or of exerting control or of creating a useful obligation.

If you want to get money from men, then there is no question about the kind of lover you should pick. Pick a rich one. The richer, the better. If you want to get favors from men, then there is no question about the kind of lover you should pick. Pick an influential one.

The exchange of sexuality for other favors can have important consequences. The legendary Hollywood “casting couch” is based on reality and has its equivalent in many other industries. Television celebrity Barbara Walters assures young women, “I didn’t get ahead by sleeping with people. Girls, take heart!” Perhaps she did not, but many have.

Many young women have come to realize that like Sally Stanford, the last grand “madam” in San Francisco who later became mayor of Sausalito, they too are “sitting on a fortune.” The folk wisdom is full of references to such exchanges, which don’t involve explicit prostitution but which do involve the trading of sex for nonsexual considerations.

It’s not only that one is advised to “go along in order to get along.” Women are also advised to “give head in order to get ahead,” and that happens at all levels. In a 1981 book The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, Irving Wallace reports that when Marilyn Monroe signed her first major contract, she is alleged to have exclaimed, “That’s the last cock I’ll have to suck.”

Tit for Tat: Sexuality and Exchange

The women who take husbands not out of love but out of greed, to get their bills paid, to get a fine house and clothes and jewels; the women who marry to get out of a tiresome job, or to get away from disagreeable relatives, or to avoid being called an old maid—these are whores in everything but name.
—Polly Adler, A House Is Not a Home

George Bernard Shaw, who was a master of one-liners, had a widely quoted conversation with a woman of note in which he asked if she would sleep with him for one million pounds. She said, “Of course.” “Well,” he said, “would you sleep with me for two pounds?” “Certainly not,” she said. “What kind of woman do you think I am?” “Madam,” said Shaw, “we have already established what kind of woman you are. We are merely haggling about the price.”

Cover of "Working Girls (Widescreen)"

If we define prostitution in terms of its minimum components, involving merely the performance of sexual acts motivated not by sexual desire but in exchange for some form of gain, then we cast a wide net. The impulse to go to bed, or to be taken to bed, is then based not on anticipation of joyous passion but on some other motive. The incentive may be as blatant as cold cash or as subtle as an improved chance for promotion, but it’s for something other than the sexual experience for its own sake.

One of the reasons it’s difficult to discuss prostitution objectively is that so many of the terms used to describe it are pejorative. Old-fashioned  terms like “tart” or “fallen women” or “harlot” sound strange in modern usage. The term “whore” is straightforward but very negative in tone. The terms “hooker” and “call girl” are less negative, but they refer to very specific kinds of activities.

The most neutral term is one now often used by prostitutes themselves, who refer to each other as “working girls” or “commercial sex workers.” By describing themselves as working girls, they convey the neutral attitude that prostitution is an industry like any other industry and that they are merely workers doing a different kind of work.

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