Becoming a Sex Worker – The Benign

How do people get involved in sex work? Entry ranges from the benign to the brutal. Unfortunately, the brutal is much more common. Today let’s look at the not-so-bad side.

Some sex workers are empowered enough to write a post on Daily KosJonathan says it was an accident. He had been working as a research chemist for a major corporation when a person he was dating asked if he’d be interested in doing a “spanking video.” No brainer. Sure! He’s never officially escorted or hooked, but some married couples he’s “double dated” have left him money, and several others have bought him things he could in not afford, himself. Jonathan is in charge of his life and seems to be fine with his choices.

Here’s another “accident.” A young woman I’ll call “Trina” describes herself as an average looking blonde cheerleader from the upper-middle-class. She has never been abused. But she does know a record promoter named Jesse who one day asked if she could pick up a client and show him around since he was in a bind. He offered her money to buy the client dinner and go dancing. She could keep whatever money was left over. Trina made $70 and had fun so she agreed to help out several more times. Eventually some of the clients wanted sex. She refused and asked Jesse what do. He told her to do whatever she wanted. When she didn’t put out, though, Jesse limited her dates. Then one night an attractive 40-year-old offered her $500 for sex. She said no. But he kept upping the price until he reached $1000. As she recalled,

My initial thought was to slap the crap out of him, however, the things I could do with $1000 cash. It wasn’t hard. No commitments, no future to worry about, and no love to get in the way.

And it wasn’t as bad as she’d expected, so she kept doing it and made over $10,000 in four months. So Trina continued the work, but only when she found a man attractive.

Still, she wants to quit escorting when she graduates from college and live a normal life that she can share with friends and family, and make an “honest” living.

Trina is a more privileged call girl. Let’s turn to the street hookers who sometimes get involved by “drifting” into it. They might start with casual sex at a young age and eventually be offered money. Sometimes it makes sense to them to take it. As one girl explained:

I was going to school and I wanted to go to the dance after. I needed new clothes. So I went out at 10 o’clock and home by 12. I had three tricks the first time, and $15 for every trick.

After the first few times, the girls spend the next few months ambivalent about becoming prostitutes. Instead, they try to think of what they’re doing as “normal.” One girl thought of herself as, “just walking.” And a guy makes an offer. Well, it’s only normal to take the money, right?

Some eventually build their lives and identities around prostitution and stop telling themselves their behavior is “normal.” Instead, they see themselves as “helping.” They are “helping” wives by giving their husbands a sexual outlet that reduces tension in their marriages. Or they see themselves as preventing rape, for instance.

The women and men I have just described got into prostitution voluntarily. And none of them had to deal with violent pimps. In fact, contrary to popular belief, prostitutes don’t actually need pimps, who are, generally speaking, completely useless.

Next week I’ll talk about the brutal side of becoming a sex worker, which appears to be far more common.

Other Posts on BroadBlogs
David Beckham’s Sex Sells
Men Watch Porn, Women Read Romance. Why?
Women Want Casual Sex? Yes and No

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on February 8, 2017, in sex and sexuality and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Interesting you chose American Gigolo as your pic where Richard Gere is living the high life with expensive Mercedes SL cars, expensive watches and fancy restaurants.

    Anyway, not sure where you are going with this, but the surveys of prostitutes in my part of the world seems to indicate they are on the whole pretty normal and well adjusted. If that’s not the most common in your part of the world I’m guessing that’s because of an oppressive legal framework.

    • I chose Richard Gere because, in this role, he is one of the most famous prostitutes who has actually chosen the profession. And I get tired of always portraying women as “the prostitute” (even though statistically that is much more common).

      Statistics on the percentage of prostitutes who are there involuntarily is difficult to discover when prostitution is illegal. And yes, decriminalization of prostituting oneself — while criminalizing pimps and John’s — appears to be the best route to ending sex trafficking.

  2. Don’t know what I think of legalizing prostitution. I don’t have any moral objection to it but there seems to be a lot of potential for abuse. More or less than there is now? I don’t know.

    • Just legalizing it seems to make things worse based on Amsterdam where sex traffickers come in below market and don’t have to worry so much about police.

      Sweden decriminalizes prostitution but makes it illegal to pimp or buy sex, which does seem to help with ending trafficking.

      • Amazing that based on the data point (supposedly) of one small country and based on the principle that women (and men) shouldn’t have control of their own bodies, you advocate banning men paying for sex.

        If it proves anything, it just proves that in an area where there is free movement of people between 2 countries which are an hours flight away, but with radically different legal environments for a profession, those in that profession will flock to the sympathetic legal environment. Now if all of Europe had the same legal environment you’d probably see Sweden’s system collapse as the cost benefit of doing business in Sweden compared to neighbouring jurisdictions would change radically.

      • Different countries have tried different ways of getting rid of sex trafficking and Sweden seems to have the most effective solution which is, as I said, decriminalizing prostitution but criminalizing pimps and John’s. That way prostitutes can feel safe going to the police. And it doesn’t create a parallel underground System of trafficking.

        If I have to make a choice between girls being imprisoned and tortured with trafficking versus men not getting sex with a prostitute, I look at where the greater harm is. Not getting sex isn’t nearly as bad as being imprisoned and tortured. So I am for the Swedish solution: decriminalize prostitution and criminalize the pimps in the Johns.

  3. The benign side is there, but as you’ve said, the brutal side is the common one. Not every sex worker has the power or independence to operate on their own.

  4. “American Gigolo” and “Pretty Woman”, I suspect are Hollywood fantasies. I hope people engaged in this type of activity find happiness but I’m not optimistic for them in the long run.

  5. There are hardly any male prostitutes. How many women would be interested in paying for having sex with a strange man?
    There may be some high end male escorts but they are more actually escorts for rich older women than prostitutes.
    And most male escorts have to accept men as clients or else they are out of business.
    It’s men (straight or gay) who are willing to have sex with strangers.

    Besides, there are some blur lines about prostitution.
    If a guy offers money to a woman for sex then that’s prostitution.
    What if a man has sex with a woman and instead of giving her money, he buys her an apartment or a car or jewelry or a fancy dinner?
    Is that still prostitution?

    • If the reason for having sex is material gain then that sounds like prostitution to me.

      A lot goes into the fact that there are many more female prostitutes. Punishment of female sexuality, which makes women both reluctant to have sex and picky when they do. And which makes them less interested in sex generally speaking. Objectification leaves women often thinking about how they look and worried whether they are behaving “right,” instead of enjoying themselves, which makes sexuality less appealing. The world is filled with sexual stimulation for men, much more than for women. And men’s sex drive is constantly high and strong, Which makes them less susceptible to repressing forces that lower their desire — and they face much less punishment, anyway. And, men have sex drive that is constantly high and strong.

  6. I believe the main problem with the prostitution and particular the prostitution for hookers is not only the act in itself. However it’s the whole industry behind it too. By saying that prostitution is “normal” it set a form of a social norm that says that we accept prostitution. Another reason is that people who might not want to have random sex or want to become a prostitute feels the pressure to say that it’s okay, when it’s not. I really don’t want the society to change in that direction.

    • I think the main problem is women taking a job that is actually really hard on most of them — and worse, that many women and girls are forced into this sort of work.

      Thank you for your thoughts on this.

      • Since nearly half the workforce are females but they represent only 8% of work related deaths, mightn’t your sympathies be better directed elsewhere? The hardest jobs are taxi driver, construction, truck driver, messenger, farm worker, electrician, public transport, welfare aid and police. Prostitute doesn’t make the list.

      • No one is forced to work in those professions. On the other hand, people are forced into prostitution. That’s the problem.

    • Why do you feel as if what other people are doing requires you to respond at all, let alone to respond in approval? Does the existence of a mosque in your city force you to approve of Sharia law? Does a Republican convention at the town hall force you to endorse Donald Trump?

  7. Until the 1960s, attitudes toward prostitution were based on Judeo-Christian views of immorality. Researchers have recently attempted to separate moral issues from the reality of prostitution. The rationale for its continued illegal status in the U.S. rests on three assumptions: 1) prostitution is linked to organized crime; 2) prostitution is responsible for much ancillary crime; and 3) prostitution is the cause of an increase in venereal disease. These assumptions are now in question. Furthermore, strong arguments have been made in support of legalizing prostitution. Decriminalization would free the courts and police from handling victimless crime, allowing these forces more time to deal with serious violent crime. The issue of prostitution has been partially resolved through decriminalization and tolerance. The U.S. remains one of the few countries with laws against prostitution. In other nations, criminal laws seek instead to deal with the social problems of prostitution through control of public solicitation and restriction of those who would exploit prostitutes.

    The journal article by Jolin, 1994, examines issues surrounding the criminalization of prostitution. Prostitutes solicit and accept payment in exchange for sexual favors. This form of income is despised by many because it is regarded as an act performed merely to satisfy an animal lust. It is also considered to be void of any emotional commitment. Decriminalization of prostitution may introduce regulation of health care, taxes and business code standards for those choosing to work in this profession but, it opens the door to increased inequality and exploitation of persons in society. Prostitution can cause sexually transmitting diseases, including HIV, and is associated with drug use. Society does not need more of these types of activities. Also, society does not need more cases of physical abuse and assault, which are also associated with prostitution.

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