Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
You may think there is a man lurking behind this article but you have to take my word for it: I’m a woman and I have paid for sex. My decision, my choice.
I’m not a middle-aged power executive paying for a male escort, nor a girlfriend pressured into acting out her boyfriend’s fantasy. Actually, I’m a 20-something professional who suggested to my then boyfriend that he might like to try a ‘threesome’. You could say I’m bisexual (though it’s not so simple – no boxes, labels or easy definitions define my sexuality). And this wasn’t my first time – though it was my first time paying for it.
Against the usual stereotype my boyfriend was the insecure one, afraid I might leave him for the female party. So we finally agreed on hiring a sex worker. It was not an easy decision but I think it should have been.
Irrational panic, moralising, believing all sex workers are ‘victims’ and conflating trafficking and abuse with prostitution per se does nothing to address or help people forced into sex work. Exploitation and trafficking are about exploitation and trafficking not the act of paying for sex.
These strands need to be untangled before we can honestly debate and challenge our preconceptions and understand what is really behind our unease about paying for sex – or even just sex in general – as well as working with sex workers as equals to protect their rights and honour their choices.
We need to legalise prostitution, recognise sex workers’ rights and acknowledge that exploitation and abuse are part of this particular occupation’s hazards. And as with every occupation there is even more exploitation unless there is legal protection. We don’t criminalise the entire building industry to stop the rogue builder who exploits and endangers illegal workers. What’s the difference?
So, armed with a list of requirements and preferences just like any careful consumer looking to hire someone for a particular service, I began looking for the ‘right for me’ (and yes, I know, rather selfishly less so for him) sex worker. I wasn’t buying her soul, her mind, body or her life – just her participation. I wanted a sexy, assertive woman who was working for herself and who had made a positive, informed decision to be a sex worker.
My concerns were also the same as when you buy any service to ensure it lives up to expectations. It’s a lot of money for a one-time, one-night purchase and you don’t want to feel short-changed. I wanted to avoid even the remotest possibility of exploitation, so I was looking at the upper end of the market.
There are a lot worse ways to earn £500 (plus expenses) for three hours work, which is what I ended up paying. And if you follow the (il)logic of why all sex work is demeaning, then so too is any work – we all prostitute ourselves for a living. What about a soldier’s body? Or a miner’s? And what, for that matter, is the difference between a surrogate sex therapist and a prostitute? No, there isn’t a punch line.
A person’s worth is much more than the sum of what they do for a living. So why stereotype all sex workers as abused and exploited? Is it not the case that for many women sex work offers a rational ‘career choice’, that they do it because they can earn good money from it, because they are good at it, because it’s a better option than the alternatives that are open to them – even, goddamit, that some of them enjoy it?
It was important for me for all of us to have fun – and to like the person as well as find her attractive. Sex is infinitely better when mutually pleasurable and has at least respect and affection involved, and it was much harder to reconcile this fact with what I was doing than the simple act of paying for it. What the client may want is not what they will get if it means intimacy or reciprocity of feeling because, rightly so, this is controlled by the sex worker. I remember once reading an interview with a sex worker who said something along the lines of the punter might briefly ‘have my cunt but he doesn’t have me’.
Nonetheless, sex with or without love should be fun and guilt free. Why should simply putting money on the table turn a good thing into a bad thing? We don’t believe that only food provided freely and with love is enjoyable: why make such distinctions over sex? I’ve had great sex without love and lousy sex with love. It doesn’t devalue the other person in acknowledging this – sex is only one part of any relationship, not its be all and end all. Similarly, why should paying for sex devalue the person you are paying?
Sex can be just sex, with or without payment. We can attach any meaning we want but it’s hypocritical to deny that these ‘values’ are relative and subjective. There are plenty of reasons for paying for sex – in my case to ameliorate a boyfriend’s anxieties that I preferred women (unfounded as I actually left him not long afterwards for another man).
An interesting twist in this experience for me was that a couple of the sex workers I contacted were concerned that perhaps I was the exploited one. Was I ‘as up for it as my partner’? Yes, I could assure them: this was an equal decision, indeed more to do with me and my desires than him.
Would I pay for sex again? Probably not. But not because I think it’s wrong – it was a unique set of circumstances – and of course the best things in life are free.
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency