Ask Surly Amy and Sophie: Is Sex Work Anti-Feminist?

What is the rational, skeptical stance in the feminism vs sex work debate? See further:

Can one be feminist and still see a rational buck to be made from selling a service with constant demand, if it means using your body to do so?

I’d love to see a Surly Amy / Skepchick response to this.


Dear Charlene,

As far as I’m concerned, I see no problem with adult, empowered feminists being involved in sex work as long as it is their choice to do so, the work doesn’t degrade them and they are in charge of what they do and what they do not do. It seems to me that women completely in charge of their own bodies and their sexuality would help break the stigma that women hate sex, that sex is a sin or that women are somehow victimized by the act of sex itself.

I am not an authority on this topic. I do however, know someone who is!

I contacted a good friend of the Skepchicks, Sophie Hirschfeld.

Sophie is the writer on the popular sex and science blog and she herself is a sex worker, a peer counselor and President of the Eastern Washington Sex Workers Project. She works in and has worked in a variety of branches of the adult industry from erotic texting to webcam to dominatrix work and many others in between. Her current work includes webcam, phone sex and dominatrix work.

I asked Sophie to give her perspective on the above question:

Assuming that the person asking the question is defining feminism as the seeking of rights equal to those of men (or any other gender, if you would like to acknowledge that sex isn’t a dichotomy), then of course one can still be a feminist. Feminism is an ambiguously defined term, though, so trying to give a clear answer to their question is a bit tougher. As you know, I’m very big on human rights issues, and I actually see gaining more rights for those in the sex industry as a step toward progress in the women’s rights movement. How can we say that we are truly free, sexually, if we don’t even have enough ownership of our own genitals to be able to sell entertainment with them?

There are a few things I think are important to acknowledge based on how this question was asked. One thing that has plagued the progress of gaining rights for sex workers is how people see sex work. People never tell you that if you’re using your arms to bake a cake, that you’re selling your body when you’re hired to do so. Nobody tells you that working as a driver, where you use your legs, is selling your body. In the act of doing nearly any kind of work, we use our bodies, and we are never seen as selling those body parts or selling our body when we are working. It is only in the world of the sex industry that one is considered “selling themselves” or “selling their body” as a part of work. Our society sees our genitals as a separate entity, seemingly, in how we relate to work. As a result, it is only with the addition of the use of genitals, in a job, that the job is suddenly seen in this manner. The reality is, though, my vagina is not my whole body nor is it my whole self. The same is true of anyone in the adult industry. Our genitals aren’t us. Most people in the adult industry leave their work with their body entirely in tact, just as any other worker does. I have always thought it was a strange aspect of anti-porn movement that those working against pornography (and freedom of speech) were more inclined to make a sex worker the sum of their genitals than those who purchase pornography.

Most people in the industry choose their work (just as most other people do). I have peers who are in the adult industry for a variety of reasons. Women that I work with and counsel are here for the same reasons people do most types of jobs. It is hard work, but it is very pleasant work, as well. Naturally, this means that I have peers who are here specifically because they like to get paid for their pleasure. I also have peers who can make more money doing this than they can elsewhere, and furthermore, I have peers who just joined the adult industry out of curiosity.

Also, I agree that, as with any work, if an individual is forced or if the situation is unhealthy, they should not be in the adult industry. One of the things I have pointed out in workshops and lectures is that people should look at the same factors that serve as unhealthy stressors in a regular job in order to help assess if a person in the adult industry is in an unhealthy setting. I could probably write a significant amount about what constitutes healthy and unhealthy work environments in the adult industry, but that would take us pretty far off topic.

That is a problem that is an extension of other feminist issues. If someone is trapped in a type of work they don’t like, it isn’t the job itself that is to blame. Someone who is forced into an unwanted work situation can still, of course, be a feminist. However, their work may be an example of where we still need to see social progress. For example: It is not uncommon for women in certain poorer countries to be forced into the sex industry. One popular thing for them to do, to avoid being discovered by people they know, is webcam work. These women sometimes fight for their rights alongside their work, and they see their work as a way to keep their housing or their food. Robbing them of their identity as feminists or human rights advocates as they work in an industry they would otherwise not like would merely be robbing them of themselves. This can possibly have more so of an effect than if their work was taken from them. Taking on the label of feminism has little to do with whether or not one is in the sex industry.

Feminism took a stance against the adult industry because feminism brought us out of a time where women’s sexuality was controlled by what it seemed men desired. As women’s sexuality became more their own, it was tough for feminism to break away from that bias. Now, actions against the adult industry are counteractive to what we have gained from the feminist movement. Legal issues over the adult industry causes an increased risk of violence against those in the adult industry. There are few protections for those who face violence because of social stigma and the law. There is little open communication between sex workers, as well, for the same reasons. People keep their work hidden because the consequences of being outed can be so severe, it can ruin lives. This isn’t the industry’s fault. This is the fault of the social environment we have created.

So, I suppose, the best answer is, feminism is something to be considered separate of employment. If you are truly looking for equal rights; if someone is interested in being an advocate for human rights, no matter the sexual presentation or preference of the individual, then logically, being a proponent of sex worker rights is something that would make you more of a feminist, not less.

Special thanks to Sophie for taking the time out to help answer this question!

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Hi there!

    Damn. I want to respond to this post, but Ms. Hirschfeld has already said everything I could ever think about saying on this topic, and 524 times more eloquently than I could.

    Unfortunately, we’re not in an 80s movie, because then I could at LEAST initiate a slow building clap for the woman.

    Oh well, amazing post anyway. [thumbs up]

    — Craig

  2. This is deliciously logical. I’m bookmarking this one. I think it’s important to fight for each woman’s right to do exactly as she pleases.

    1. Whoa – “exactly as she pleases”? This feminism lark is better than I thought! Murder and extortion, here I come!

      1. Your strawperson is not helpful. You know that’s not what I meant.

        A rephrasing: “…exactly as she pleases when it concerns consenting adults and does not infringe on the rights of other people to conduct themselves as they please.” Does that help?

  3. I’ve done some sex work myself. It was easier and far less degrading than the vast majority of jobs that I have done as a recent college grad in this recession:

    – When I worked in fundraising, I drove a roundtrip of 150 miles to make $12 an hour. After I left due to the fact that the pay was barely worth the gas money and time, they took two months to send me my last paycheck.

    – I’ve put up with retail work where some weeks I was on the overnight shift and others I was working from 2pm-11pm so my body never knew when to be tired and when to be awake. During summer, the kids in my neighborhood were so loud during the day after my overnight shifts that I had to smoke pot until I either fell asleep or didn’t care how tired I was. I used melatonin at first but then I started getting nightmares due to the stress and fatigue. I was also enrolled in full-time summer school and had to apologize to the profs for falling asleep in some quite interesting classes.

    – When I worked at a small business, my name was used to throw off bill collectors and most of my job was diverting people to whom the owners owed money by lying; I also had to guess at the owners’ intentions and please them without guidance, since my “supervisor” was a former meth-head and alcoholic who hated me because I clearly wasn’t Christian and because she was snooping in my web history and found out I was queer. At another small business, I was scapegoating during my first week for not reading the owner’s mind regarding a spreadsheet.

    – When I worked as a tutor, all the companies wanted me to not only exclusively work for just them, but to also always be available to them whenever they called me. This was without any guarantee of hours and I rarely had reliable hours. I technically broke my contract with all of them since I usually contracted with at least 3 at a time in order to ensure adequate hours. At one of them, a single client complaint from a parent whose kid didn’t do the work erased my year-long good reputation, including positive feedback from many other clients.

    – I worked a sales job for a while that turned out to be a scam; I was owed $400 and the guy in charge took 3 months to get it to me and only did when I threatened legal action.

    – I spent some time as a sandwich shop employee. I was by far the hardest worker, picking up shifts and doing everything whenever the owners’ friend worked with me, as his contribution mainly consisted of making “Mark’s Special” which was basically him spilling sauces all over the grill for me to clean up later. I, along with every other female employee there who wasn’t thin and blond, was eventually let go.

    I wanted to attend a con in April and had just lost a job, so I needed some cash. Craigslist came through with two sex work gigs. I was paid $200 for 45 minutes that included intercourse (and 40 minutes of drive time) and $100 for 15 minutes that just involved oral contact (30 minutes of drive time). I took every precaution I could and was smart about it. If I hadn’t landed the awesome office job at which I now work, I would’ve done more of it.

  4. I agree with everything she said, but I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. She makes the point that “Feminism took a stance against the adult industry because feminism brought us out of a time where women’s sexuality was controlled by what it seemed men desired. As women’s sexuality became more their own, it was tough for feminism to break away from that bias.” Though it is true that a lot of progress has been made, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that we still have to deal with gender inequality, especially in an industry that still largely targets men, as is the case with the sex industry. Saying you’re against the way women are portrayed in some kinds of pornography is not the same as saying that all pornography is inherently exploitative. We can be sex positive and supportive of the rights of sex workers and still be critical of some aspects of the sex industry. (I know this wasn’t the question, but I think it’s important to make this point anyway)

    1. There is a lot of work to do, true, and some of what you mention is why the Eastern Washington Sex Workers Outreach Project exists. Outlining in-industry biases, though, is a book all by itself, and could have easily taken me too far off topic.

  5. Two thoughts:
    1. Lovers massage each other, don’t they? We do not consider a masseur to be selling their body even though they are doing the same thing that a lover often does. It’s just a job.
    B. Women in the adult industry make tons more than the men, which is unusual among industries. No one ever talks about men in porn selling their bodies. No one ever talks about male porn stars being victimized AFAIK. Even they get paid far less for doing what is arguably a harder (and possibly more dangerous) job as it’s difficult to fake an erection. You can take Viagra and Cialis, but they have side effects.
    So you have this weird take on the old double standard where women get paid far more than the men and likely have more control over their work, but they are referred to as the victims.
    Are there woman and men who are exploited by the porn industry? Certainly. Aren’t there people who are exploited by the fast food industry as well considering hours on your feet for minimum wage and no benefits with no job security?
    Third, why is everyone in porn a “porn star”? Why are there no “porn character actors”, “porn day players” or “porn extras”?

    1. There are a variety of jobs available in the porn industry. :) Inside the industry, we don’t usually refer to people as a “star” until they have gotten a significant fan base. Somehow, the rest of people in our culture have decided that if you’ve appeared in porn, you must be a star!

    2. Women are paid well in porn but are usually victims when their sexuality is misrepresented. Most porn is rubbish because of this. I love to spread the word about porn that allows people to present their own sexuality because it’s so much better and feels emotionally concentual.

  6. I have also worked in the sex industry as a pro-Domme, doing webcam work as well as some fetish photography. I enjoyed it a great deal. It was not only empowering but it taught me a lot about myself and I was able to meet a wide variety of amazing people that I would never have had the chance to meet otherwise.

    Being forced into this industry is vastly different from choosing it, as in any industry. Like Sophie above, I also do not see sex work to have a special status away from any other industry, it is no different from using another part of my body to do a job, including my brain. Also, sex worker is an umbrella term that includes many people who do not engage in intercourse, including myself, especially where BDSM is concerned.

    I rather think that the negative opinion of sex work reflects the puritanical view of sex and people’s bodies that is part of western society. In my experience, many of the clients I had were simply searching for a bit of understanding with regard to their fetishes and wanted the chance to explore some of them without negative judgement. I found it heartbreaking in some cases that they were unable to be open about their desires and who they were to others.

    There is nothing anti-feminist about sex work from what I can see.

  7. I agree with Sophie too. Our sexuality belongs to us to do as we please with it doesn’t belong to anyone else. If we sexually inspire others to orgasm either through appearing in sexual images those sexual images should be respected and we deserve kudos and respect for that just as we do with any other talent we have like a great singing voice. Though I think alternative porn that’s intelligent and about sexuality is much better like the Feck sites from Australia and Liandra Dahl’s pansexual site.

    I think sex workers should be properly respected too. Being intimate with so many people over a long period can give you insights into the real human condition, that would be very difficult to discover in any other way. Why not pool their knowledge into a sex work university, and accredit people who are the best sex therapists so they can be referred too by doctors. i.e if you have erectile problems or painful erections, who better to see than someone who can induce an erection and video the results for medical evaluation. or even better a sex worker with specialist urology certs who could do the whole diagnosis. A sex work university would filter the knowledge back into society as people from it would be asked their opinion on TV shows and government advisory committees which would feed back again positively  into how sexuality is viewed and mean that  the people who assist and provide pleasure are properly appreciated. 

    1. “I think sex workers should be properly respected too” Editing error there,I meant people who see clients

      1. Betty Dodson does a sexual theraputic service for women BTW http://dodsonandross.com/ and as people who are androsexual seldom pay for sex as yet, Androsexuality would have to be supprted equally with it’s own knowledge source or the whole idea would develope a gynosexual bias.

    2. I have actually discussed something like this with people, before, because having my Health Education degree has helped me notice when clients have a problem that needs to be taken care of. It is sad that there are legal barriers to starting something like this and because most sex workers do well without any kind of education in the matter, I’m not sure it would catch on very quickly. After I finish the book I’m working on now, I’m thinking about starting a kind of textbook for Sex Workers.

  8. I think think I’ll put tis post here too where everyone cans see it if that’s ok.

    Women are paid well in porn but are usually victims when their sexuality is misrepresented. Most porn is rubbish because of this. I love to spread the word about porn that allows people to present their own sexuality because it’s so much better and feels emotionally concentual.



  9. To play devil’s advocate, does sex work promote a healthy view of women by men?

    I’m no expert and perhaps there is no clear correlation between a sexual gratification for money exchange and objectifying women, but has it ever been studied and would it make sense to say that women who engage in sex work may increase the tendency of their customers to objectify women as objects of sexual desire rather than living thinking people?

    I’d be very curious about any good studies along these lines. While I see no advantage (and many disadvantages) in makes any kind of consensual sex work (between adults) illegal, if there is a relationship between sex work and objectifying women, it is something to be concerned about.

    1. What is a healthy view? And then shouldn’t we also be concerned with waitresses promoting the idea that women are servants or just objects who bring food? What about women who are house keepers? Are they just cleaning objects? I really don’t understand why sex workers are any different from any other job positions traditionally held by women. Seems to be the problem people have is that sex is sometimes involved. IMO, providing someone an orgasm or a sandwich is not that different. If it’s in a work environment, a job is a job.

      Now when one assumes, that’s all a woman is good for. Then we have a problem.

      1. Perhaps what you are saying is exactly right, but when I go to a restaurant, I don’t really care whether a man or a woman waits on me and similarly, if I were going to hire someone to clean, I wouldn’t really care much about sex per se.

        Sex is different. If I were going to pay money for something sexual that involved a visual element, then the appearance of the worker would definitely be a factor. Similarly, I personally wouldn’t be interested if the worker were male.

        Sexual stimulation hits us at a very instinctive level and often seems to run contrary to thought and reason and in a significant number of cases, it runs hand in hand with violence or other antisocial behaviors.

        It is also prone to addictive tendencies. Like a drug, it will drive some people to behave irresponsibly and recklessly.

        Perhaps that isn’t a significant factor and it’s all the same, but I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss concerns without good evidence some way or the other.

    2. Lets be honest, there’s an element of objectification in everyones sexual desires, and some people love being objectified as part of their sexuality. so as porn reflects all sexualities it’s going to reflect that. For most people sexual desire becomes sex when objectification turns naturally into subjective appreciation. If we respect sexual images and the people in them that to me is subjective appreciation.

      1. Blissed, what you are saying is true, but it’s very much like saying: “If everyone would just stop at one or two drinks, there would be no drunk driving accidents.”

        I’m not suggesting that we make sex work of any type that is between consenting adults illegal, but I do think we should examine what elements of it may or may not be unhealthy and try to consider how to help people deal with it.

    3. Does hollywood promote a healthy view of police by society?

      I don’t think it is the job of the sex worker to provide sexual education to her clients. Though, that often comes with the territory (one aspect of sex work is that it highlights how very little the average person knows about sex).

      We’re entertainers. That’s what we do. It is the duty of society to educate individuals about sex, equality and so on. The reason, I think, the burden gets placed on porn and the rest of the adult industry is because our society has failed to provide that education and, as a result, nobody knows where to turn.

      Most of my clients treat me very well. Most of them consider me to be more intelligent than average and they find that appealing in me. I am aware, though, that has everything to do with how I present myself. If I do have a client who doesn’t make an observation about my brain or talents or anything else that is not related to my appearance, I’m still not very concerned. Just s much as people often ignore store clerks and treat them with a kind of passive objectification, the same happens in the adult industry. Fortunately, I get paid more than a store clerk to be treated that way and my job is much more pleasant. Essentially, there are cases where most people don’t mind being objectified or where it is not in one’s best interest to expect to be anything but objectified. Sometimes, that happens in the adult industry. That happens to everyone, though, not just me and I’m completely willing to make $1/minute of talk time to cope with that problem. I’m also willing to masturbate for the same. And for $100/hour, approximately once or twice a week, someone wants me to objectify them.

      I suspect that sex work actually increases respect towards women, not decreases. I would love to see studies on this, too, as there are few studies in that direction. We have studies that show that men tend to look at faces before bodies when they look at porn, we have studies that show that places with more available sexual entertainment have lower sexual assault rates, but we don’t have studies on correlations between objectification and porn.

      Thus, i do have to resort to some anecdote. I get more respect when doing my job than I do anywhere else in my life. My clients tend to be very good to me, they are often very interested in what my world is like, they talk to me like a person and they are able to respect boundaries. Most of the time, my clients treat me better then men I have dated.

      I also think it is worth being suspicious of claims that porn turns women into anything other than human. I know it is popular for some people to claim that porn is dehumanizing, but if people weren’t looking at adult entertainers for sexual gratification because they were human, I think the adult industry would look very different, wouldn’t it? Many clients look specifically for people who are human.

      1. Sophie, I get what you are saying and you are exactly right, you aren’t responsible for the education or well being of your customers any more than a bartender is.

        At the same time, a responsible bartender is on the alert for someone who can’t control their drinking and they are obligated to cut them off when they appear to be out of control and encourage them to take a taxi home.

        I think it would be valuable to understand what behaviors are prone to self abuse and how to observe obsessive behavior so that you can encourage a customer to seek help when there are warning signs.

        Obviously in many cases, you want to keep some distance from your clients. For your safety and comfort as well as theirs, but if we understood the line between healthy sexual release and potentially unhealthy behavior better, then perhaps it would be possible to educate sex workers and customers alike so that (if they are willing) they can behave more responsibly.

        I think it would be good for everyone if sex work could lose a lot of the stigma and become no more controversial than going to a casino or a bar. But, I think a better understanding of the psychology and concerns (real or imaginary) around sex work vs. relationships goes hand in hand with that.

  10. The only trouble I see with this is that we HAVEN’T entirely extricated ourselves from a situation where women’s sexuality is being controlled and defined by men’s desires. To imagine that that sort of situation is entirely behind us, well… I would personally find that a bit optimistic.

    The kinds of pornography that gets produced still partly controls cultural ideas about sexuality. It still reflects the ingrained sexual dynamic. It still posits men as the powerful sexual agents and aggressors and women as the weak, submissive sexual objects. And blah blah blah I’m sure you’ve heard this before. But you know what I mean.

    I think there are definitely lots of highly problematic kinds of pornography out there. The kind where women are degraded and positioned as less-than-human. The kind where idealized “lesbians” (with long, polished, well-manicured fingernails… hrm) help guys get off after a busy day voting against marriage equality. And don’t even get me started on the degradation and dehumanization of “chicks with dicks”.

    While I wholly support the right of any woman to do what she wishes with her body, and believe that sex work should be entirely legal and sex workers deserve all the rights and protections of any other profession, I can’t possibly ignore that stuff when the question comes up about how the sex industry plays into feminism and the battle for women’s rights. I can’t say that women who participate in those kinds of porn are aiding the feminist cause. And I can’t turn a blind eye to their participation in our subjugation and the continued existence of a male-dominated sexual culture. Not any more than I could turn a blind eye to anyone else “just doing their job” within an industry I find to be problematic or harmful.

    But as one last note: I’m only talking about pornography here. I don’t really have any kind of objection to prostitution at all. That’s just an interpersonal issue, not a media / cultural issue, so it’s a bit different and a lot less complicated.

    1. P.S. And yes, I know not ALL pornography is like that. There’s lots of feminist, sex positive, progressive, empowered, porn out there. But it by far doesn’t seem to account for the majority.

      1. Theres BDSM of course where people like being humiliated and degraded, that’s where the clear seperation between fantasy and reality is vital. so is the relationship of trust and love. I think porn that gives you enough information to construct a fantasy is the hottest (erotica) rather than voyeurism, Voyeurism can ignite the libido but fantasy sustains it. People who are purely voyueristic seem to need more and more extreme stimulation. Where as writing and reading romantic and erotic fiction seems to have the opposite effect.

      2. Ooh and yes Natelie I agree

        “The only trouble I see with this is that we HAVEN’T entirely extricated ourselves from a situation where women’s sexuality is being controlled and defined by men’s desires”

    2. I didn’t say that fighting for rights is a part of history, only. In fact, I’ve stated that we’re still working on it.

      As for what porn portrays, it should be seen important only in the sense that the people participating are doing what they want. It isn’t our view of what a segment of porn is that matters when it comes to individual rights; it is the view of the person who is on screen actually doing the work. If they are there and they are doing what they’re doing because that is what they want, then they are an example of success when it comes to rights. It is only when something we encounter exists because someone was unwillingly pushed into it, when it isn’t their choice, that we should be concerned and should rally against it as much as any other wrongdoing.

      This is why if these women you see on porn are feminists, it has nothing to do with if they are in porn. Being in porn is their choice – it is a choice we fight for. It is completely unfair and unjust to deny them that opportunity because you’re concerned about their well being when they see themselves as being just fine where they are.

      Also, my girlfriend has long fingernails and so do I. We’re both bisexual, but were also involved in the local LGBT community and many lesbians have long nails and wear frilly things. I’m constantly dressing in eccentric clothing, myself, because of how it makes me feel. It has very little to do with other people. Also, there is a technique to getting dirty with people when you have long nails that keeps you from hurting each other.

      (Not to pick on you or anything, I know that you’re repeating common arguments and I’m aware of how saturated the feminist movement is with those ideas).

      1. I absolutely wouldn’t want to deny anyone their right to work in porn, nor am I worried about their well being or taking a sort of “oh you poor dear” approach (I’d be pretty upset with myself if I did catch myself having such an arrogant attitude). That’s not at all what I’m getting at.

        But I do think that how women are represented in media, any media, does matter, and can contribute to the overall culture of sexism and misogyny, and part of the responsibility for that representation rests with the people who work in those media.

        Critiqueing or deconstructing representations of women doesn’t mean wanting to deny anyone their rights or that advocating any kind of censorship or anything. I could take issue with how, say, Megan Fox’s character is written and portrayed in the Transformers movies without saying “Megan Fox is a horrible anti-feminist Quisling who should be barred from acting forever!”. But I think her willingness to accept that role would be worth bringing up if someone were to ask me whether or not I thought Megan Fox was a feminist. You know what I mean?

        I know there’s an infinite number of ways to be a lesbian, and that they aren’t shackled to any particular way of dressing or expressing themselves. The fingernail thing was just a joke, really. I just think “ouch”. But the way “lesbians” are represented in pornography (aimed for men)IS very problematic in a lot of ways. They aren’t being portrayed as actual women who love actual women. It’s just “ideal sexual scenario with female sex objects, minus the competitor, and minus the ‘impurity’ of androphillic desire”. And when you have no short haircuts or tattoos AT ALL… and the same people consuming this porn are often highly bigoted towards actual LGBT people… well, yeah, I think there’s something there worth questioning.

        My argument isn’t “Porn is evil and bad for women”, it’s that, “Porn *can* be problematic in its representations, and how it perpetuates certain assumptions about women and sexuality, and that deserves to be talked about”

        1. Yes it’s about the creative process of making sexual images. and offering much better work to the people who appear. The kind of porn that’s portrayed as mainstream (coming on faces etc) is actually enjoyed as a fantsy by some women and is male domination fetish and should be a part of BDSM where it wouldn’t claim to be all that porn or sex has to offer. Porn that enables men to fatisise about being desired and so appraciate female desire is miniscule and there’s only one site http://www.ishotmyself.com/public/main.php where all those adoring faces can look at you and stir that emotion, Mutual desire is a huge part of real sex and is totally abscent from nearly all porn where the all consuming desire is for women with no thought of their desire for you, with fake orgasms. So their actual desire is marginalised and ignored. Don’t think that’s the fault of the porn though it’s just reflecting society and don’t forget being aroused by being desired is why many people enjoy being in porn. Being desired is a big part of their desire.

          Sapphic women can be femme too, they are, like butch gay men, just normally invisable as queer. So yeah porn producers letting the people who appear express their own sexuality in their own way would mean it wouldn’t matter really what male domination fetish does because it wouldn’t be presented as everyones sexuality and everone else will have their sexuality catered for and porn makers will axtually make more money :) $$$$$$$$$$$$

        2. I’m not sure that Fox’s willingness to take the Transformers role is something that draws into question her as a feminist. I also don’t think her role is necessarily bad for all women.

          I agree that porn does not portray realistic sexual scenarios. In fact, it is often ridiculous. Even some of the work I do is unrealistic, but that’s why people want it. I don’t ever actually go out on the streets of town and whip men randomly with a riding crop, but some men like that story as a background to their own entertainment.

          I think if we are worried about expectations people have because of the media, then it is our duty to change those things. Porn tends to reflect modern trends (the same goes for the modern media).

          I tend to alter people’s expectations all the time. I’ve never fit stereotypes and most of the work I do is nearly as eccentric as the clothes I wear.

          It seems to me that expecting women in porn to change themselves to represent what will make others happy is just as maladaptive as it would be if porn changed what others think is acceptable. (It would be nice to have some information to back that up – as far as I know, and I’ve studied this kind of things a lot, pornography doesn’t alter male sexual selection very much, if at all).

          Perhaps there is a middle ground? I wouldn’t put the burden of setting the bar for all other women onto someone like Megan Fox, nor would I want to put that onto my peers. It seems to me, that’s what you’re getting at, if your concern is how someone’s participation in porn alters the perspective of a society.

          1. I think maybe the main reason we seem to be (slightly) at odds with one another is just because you’re mostly addressing individual rights and concerns whereas I’m addressing cultural ones?

            I completely agree with you that participation in porn or the sex trade in general doesn’t demean or degrade a given woman or harm her individual rights (unless of course she were coerced or misinformed or something). And I’d agree that we don’t have enough information to make the claim that porn influences men’s sexualities.

            I’m just concerned about the way the majority of porn seems to uphold certain images and assumptions about women, sexuality, gender, the sexual power dynamic and all that stuff that I find can be sexist, misogynistic or otherwise problematic (like the LGBT issues I mentioned).

            It’s not the lack of realism that bothers me at all… just what I see reflected in what particular distortions it makes and why.

            That said, I do think you have lots of excellent points, and that nothing about the sex industry is inherently anti-feminist or “holding back women’s rights” or anything, and that it can be a very healthy and empowering thing. And I definitely want to say thanks for your contribution and insights!

            I’m just perhaps a bit too cynical to take a wholly positive stance on pornography. And maybe there is some kind of underlying puritanical, sex-negative bias contributing to that. But I just still wish porn didn’t so frequently seem to uphold that classic sexist, binary sexual power dynamic that I so badly want our culture to move beyond.

            Thanks for a fun, thought-provoking discussion!

          2. I see the issue of the porn that misrepresents female sexuality like actors having to play racial stereotypes in Hollywood movies. They’re paid and love the work but oh my bob wouldn’t they just love to play diverse reality and stop misrepresenting themselves.

            And I’d like to 2nd the apppreciation for Sophias insightful contribution here, thanks.
            Like your blog too.

    3. “The only trouble I see with this is that we HAVEN’T entirely extricated ourselves from a situation where women’s sexuality is being controlled and defined by men’s desires.”

      hi there Natalie1984, I have heard this said before and usually I’ve nodded in agreement, but since I spent a few times thinking about this, I was wondering if you could flesh out what you mean by this and how you consider women’s and men’s desires to differ.

  11. Less tl:dr-ishly:

    I just mean we should hold porn to the same standard of critique that we hold all media to.

      1. I think porn and any aphrodisiac media like erotic writing is a bit like food you can have a healthy diet that develops your sexuality through masturbation in a way that helps you develop sexual skills and relate well sexually with others or a poor one that does the opposite.

    1. Oddly enough, I think my consumption of porn has given me a better eye for photography… deciding what I don’t like is sometimes a matter of how the woman is posed, but also a matter of background, lighting, and other choices that apply beyond whether or not there are hooters.

  12. Way to go Sophie!
    “sex work” has always been an option for women. Living in the EU, sex workers (especially in Germany) had many protections from the government. Even retirement.
    The internet is a wonderful new way for women to make a living in the sex trade in a “safe” manner, and have more control of their “business”.

    I also agree with Dr.C. Everett Koop who wants medical and other protections for women working in the porn movie industry. Abuses happen, but abuse can happen in almost any job.

  13. Yes, 2 replies to this

    1. Sites like jeanswing.com where an independent woman is clearly the one controlling the action.
    2. Germany: Sex workers are afforded MASSIVE protection and protected status.

  14. If a woman on her own accord decides to take a job in the adult industry that involves her being depicted in degrading situations, but only in ways that she accepts, and does it with empowered men who are also doing their degrading of the woman as previously accepted by the man and the woman. Is this something a feminist could do?

    1. I could only answer that by saying that if I was a woman I would do BDSM porn and battle sex because both dom and sub are in my sexuality, so is arousal from being desired. I wouldn’t like doing stuff that gives gynosexuals a false impression of androsexuality because androsexuality is hot and I’d feel my talent was wasted if that’s all the work I was offered.

  15. Well I’m going to have to disagree with much of the above and say “Yes! “sex work” is unequivocally anti-feminist”

    If by “sex work” we mean prostitution of women and girls for the use of men.
    It’s anti-feminist because it essentially places women in a position of servitude in relation to men: – men have bodily functions, therefore they are entitled to have a woman service those functions.

    Lets dispense with the cake baking, driving analogy – these activities do not involve the employer or client having intimate access, including invasive access to the employees body.
    They do not involve the employee subordinating his/her own natural functions and instincts in favour of the clients’.
    The driver, cake baker uses his/her own body to achieve agreed outcomes in that particular area of endeavour – he/she does not make his/her body available as the means by which another person can achieve the discharge of a bodily function.

    A prostitute’s vagina may not be her whole body but it is certainly part of her and if she hires it out for this purpose she is allowing it and herself to be used as the sexual equivalent of a public toilet.

    The sex trade exists to allow men (not all but many) to avoid the troublesome fact that women are humans like themselves and not animated sex dolls. If a man can get a woman naked, climb on her, manhandle her, stick his cock in her and rub it around till he squirts his bodily fluids in or on her, all for a couple of weeks wages or less he is not going to see her as an equal and fellow human being.

    How far removed is this man’s attitude really from those who commit and by their words and actions sanction various permutations of rape commonly termed “date”:-
    “What’s all the fuss about?” “She liked him enough to go out with him didn’t she?” “What harm has it done her?” “What did she think he was there for anyway??” “If she was too drunk to stop him she probably can’t even remember it anyway – what’s the difference?”

    She is in fact selfish and unreasonable to expect him to take responsibility for his own sexual urges as this could cause him discomfort and frustration. Insisting upon sovereignty over her OWN BODY (!) executive power over who and what gets to go inside of herself, she is being difficult, hostile, emasculating, frigid etc. etc.

    In essence it is unreasonable for the woman’s thoughts, feelings and decisions with regard to her body to take priority over those of the man.

    This is the view that the sex trade – prostitution, pornography – embodies, nurtures and perpetuates. The belief that if a man has a sexual urge he is entitled to have a woman service it.

    Pornography (whether it’s the eye-popping (no pun) gonzo stuff or the nice, well mannered “woman friendly” stuff) proposes a reality in which women are literally reduced to the status of fuck toy, all be it interactive ones. Does it demean and degrade women? Yes – that’s the whole point of it!

    As a sex worker you may say that your sexuality is such that you are aroused by the attentions of multiple partners with whom you have no relationship beyond sex and who are indifferent to you other than as a means to their own gratification.

    You may say that the matter of who you let inside your body, or whose bodily functions you facilitate really is of little consequence and that the money more than makes up for the inconvenience.

    It may be that you were just naturally born with a thing for having sex with various partners, in various positions not of your choosing in response to direction from a third party and primarily for the benefit of an unseen paying audience.

    You may say that and it may be true, but what you can’t also say with any credibility is that you are “seeking equal rights with men”.

    Confirming men in their sense of entitlement, their sense that their own sexuality is a woman’s responsibility, perpetuating the attitude that women only really exist in response to male sexual requirements, demonstrating your physical compliance and deference every time you allow a man to hire your body for the relief of his own bodily functions –

    These are positions of expedience and compromise – if not desperation – and that’s not even touching on the experience of trafficked women and girls.
    What they are not are positions of autonomy and equality.

    It’s the oldest profession remember? Men have always allowed and encouraged girls and women to prostitute themselves, just not the ones they live with! lol

    here’s a link


    1. If a man can get a woman to wear whatever uniform he wants her to wear, lord over her, criticize her incessantly, and mess with her schedule and thus her paycheck and her head, all for very paltry wages, he is not going to see her as an equal and fellow human being.

      That’s the world in which we live. Dehumanization is not limited to sexuality and the sex trade.

      1. If a man can get a woman to wear whatever uniform he wants her to wear, lord over her, criticize her incessantly, and mess with her schedule and thus her paycheck and her head, all for very paltry wages, he is not going to see her as an equal and fellow human being.

        That’s the world in which we live. Dehumanization is not limited to sexuality and the sex trade.

        Where can a man, specifically, do those things to woman, specifically (other than in client/prostitute transactions)?

  16. I can’t believe my question got answered and I was on vacation and missed the whole thing! Thank you, Amy, and Sophie. You articulated much of what I felt.

    One point, skeptikem, there is a fundamental issue with defining prostitution as something only women and girls do (although less so with it being a service mainly employed by men). Boys and men do also engage in prostitution.

    I question whether, if it were legal and accessible as a neighborhood coffee shop whether more curious and single women wouldn’t employ the service.

    1. What’s the service? How have you arrived at the point of defining a sexual encounter as a “service”?

      And what kind of experience would it be – knowing that he’s only doing it because you’re paying him??
      Surely the draw of sexual activity is the excitement of wanting and being wanted. Why would you pay for a man you don’t feel any particular desire for to go through the motions of sexual desire for you?
      A good wank is always better than indifferent sex. It serves the exact same physical purpose (much more efficiently in my experience since you’ve not got anyone distracting you) and you keep your self-respect (and money, in the case of anyone considering buying it)

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