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Money for Sex: A Double-Standard


I recently had a conversion with a friend about the idea of exchanging money for sex–what one would also describe as sex work, or prostitution (though the latter word is not at all preferred).

The question became whether I, personally, would entertain the notion of being paid for sex. Well, why not? It’s something I enjoy anyway. It’s not something I would ever ask to paid for, and I don’t see why I would accept money from a friend or romantic partner, but I’m not totally against the idea.

More importantly, though, is that in thinking about it, I realized I wouldn’t feel any stigma or shame in it. It’s “just sex.” What difference does a little money make to it?

My friend, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly so nonchalant about it. Does accepting money for sex make you a prostitute? Does it make you cheap? A whore? A bad person? Is it unseemly? Is it wrong? Do women in general have to make these calculations when considering it, even in the hypothetical?

It struck me as an obvious double-standard, similar to other double-standards in how men and women relate to one another, romantically and sexually. The cliches are so well-worn there’s hardly a reason to spell them out. The basics are quite simple, anyway: men who have lots of sex are good and praiseworthy; women who have lots of sex are bad and shameful. It’s also not a coincidence that sex work–done overwhelmingly by women–is largely criminalized. It’s a form of agency that a patriarchal society can’t allow women to have. If sex is valuable, then we can’t have women getting paid for it, can we? And on top of flat-out criminalizing it, it is made taboo and undesirable. “Good” women would never think of being sex workers, because it is “degrading.” But a man who could swing it as a career would be the man, wouldn’t he? In fact, to the extent male sex workers are the targets of law enforcement operations, the government prefers to only go after gay men, even with no evidence of coercion or serious criminal activity. Heteronormativity is just as crucial to patriarchy as misogyny, after all. But where are the massive stings against straight gigolos? You don’t hear about them because they aren’t happening, whereas rounding up women remotely suspected of sex work is so routine it goes virtually unremarked.

I have remarked on sex work before and my stance now is the same as before: it should be decriminalized, then regulated sensibly for the safety and protection of workers as one would do in any line of work. In addition, the prospect of a woman performing sex work, for any reason of her choosing, and regardless of the compensation involved, should not be stigmatized. Private individuals exchange goods, services, and money all the time. What makes this one so special? Why must sex work be singled out? I’ve never seen any compelling reasons for that, and the paradoxical standards involve smack of typical patriarchal nonsense.

Photo by Joi