Quit My Hedonistic Ways?
September 4, 2010 9:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm a person with a disability who's been seeing a sex worker for the last few months. It's been a lot of fun and I have no regrets, but should I continue seeing her? The full dirt inside.

I'm a guy in my late thirties with a severe physical disability (severe enough that I need 24-hour assistance). I have a good life: I live independently, have a good job, and plenty of friends. But finding sex partners has always been a challenge for me. I've had one very brief relationship, but the scope and seventy of my disability is a lot for anyone to take on.

Earlier this summer, after a lot of thinking, I decided to hire a sex worker. I had been celibate for several years and masturbation really isn't an option for me, so I was feeling pretty frustrated. I did my homework and contacted someone who seemed like a good candidate. We met and she was very open to the idea of working with me. The experience itself has been great. She's very comfortable with my disability and isn't shy about positioning me and generally being very, um, hands-on. The sex is great and she is undeniably gorgeous.

Still, I wonder if I should continue doing this. While there's some legal risk, it's manageable and don't worry about that much. But I do I consider myself a typical liberal and wonder if I'm exploiting someone for my own base needs. This woman is a pretty savvy entrepreneur and she doesn't give off a "victim" vibe, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm in the clear.

Is paying for sex inherently unethical? And if it is, I don't expect a free pass because of my disability. I guess I'm looking for advice on which path to take. I'm prepared to stop seeing her and hope that I eventually find a real relationship. But I know from experience that that might take a long time to find and I really like having some semblance of a sex life.

And in case it needs to be said, I don't have romantic feelings for this woman. I enjoy her company and she definitely turns me on, but I'm not interested in anything beyond the working relationship we have. That probably makes me sound like a pig, but there it is.

Thanks for any advice you might have.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Is paying for sex inherently unethical? No

This woman is a pretty savvy entrepreneur and she doesn't give off a "victim" vibe

That's all you can ever know about anyone. Everyone reading this has bought, eaten, smoked, had services that were in some way unethical...because they didn't know or couldn't avoid it. At least with your sex worker you have the chance to use your judgement.

She's obviously made a decision to do sex work and even if it's not perfect for her she's still getting good money that she wanted or needed...this is life in a modern society.
posted by Not Supplied at 9:42 AM on September 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

It might help if you explain why you think paying for sex (buying it from a "savvy entrepreneur") might be unethical.

That's not a trick question. I can imagine reasons one might think that. But what's more important in this case is YOUR ethics. What ethical value that you hold does this possibly violate?
posted by grumblebee at 9:44 AM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think if it works for you and no one is harmed, then there's not a problem. Enjoy!

As for paying for sex being inherently unethical...I suppose that will be subjective, depending on the ethical code of the person asked. I think it's kind of like having contractors doing work on the house or a lawn service. I feel so very, very dirty now, lol.
posted by bolognius maximus at 9:46 AM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

To be a little clearer, would it be unethical for you to hire someone to come to your house and fix the furnace?

Would it be unethical to hire a (non-sexual) dancer to come over and dance for you?

Would it be unethical to hire an exotic dancer to come over and dance for you?

Would it be unethical to hire a massage therapist?

What is the locus of ethical conundrum? Is it specifically hiring someone for sex? What makes sex different or special? (I know many people FEEL sex is special, but what makes it universally special for everyone and never something that should be bought or sold, even when it's a choice for all parties involved?) Do you feel it's unethical for an adult to choose to offer sex as a service? Is the woman you've hired doing anything wrong? If so, what?

If not, then it's okay to sell sex but not to buy it. I can't think of anything like that in my ethics. I'm not crazy about handguns. So I am not into them being bought OR sold. I can't imagine thinking, "I have no problem with people selling guns -- just with people buying them." But maybe you think there ARE things it's okay to sell but not okay to buy. What do you think? (It would suck for the seller if everyone agreed with that!) If it's wrong to buy sex (from an adult who is freely choosing to sell it), why is it wrong?

Is it that you think the woman might not know what's good for her? Yes, she's freely choosing to sell sex, but what she doesn't understand is that she's being exploited? If this is how you feel, does it bother you that you are being condescending -- saying that you know what's good for her better than she does?

Are you worried you're encouraging a business that, though it's fine in this specific case, contains some serious wrongs like child sex trafficking? If you stop hiring this woman, will it have any effect at all on these evils?
posted by grumblebee at 9:55 AM on September 4, 2010 [13 favorites]

Buying sex is not inherently unethical... in fact, there are many sex workers' rights groups working to decriminalize prostitution for that very reason! I'm not sure where you're located, but here in Canada there is Sex Professionals of Canada, and I believe there is one or two located on the West Coast. I know there are many of them in the US as well. For many sex workers, it's just a job like any other and, from your description, that seems to be the case with the lady you have been seeing.
posted by torisaur at 10:02 AM on September 4, 2010

I'm prepared to stop seeing her and hope that I eventually find a real relationship.

Those things aren't mutually exclusive -- I hope it does not feel like seeing her prevents you from being open to a romantic relationship in the future.

I don't think that sex work is at all inherently problematic or exploitative. It can be, but so can all other kinds of work. Is she being forced into this? Are there indications that she is being abused or coerced? Is a pimp taking 90% of her income? Is she forced to do things she finds degrading, or to take risks with her health she isn't comfortable with? Questions like those will point you in the right direction -- if she's happy (or as happy as anyone can be with their work, which always has good days and bad), empowered, able to say no to things she doesn't want, and isn't being coerced or abused, I can't see any exploitation.
posted by Forktine at 10:04 AM on September 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

I don't think you harm anyone in anyway through this transaction. If you stopped hiring her, she would probably be disappointed to lose the business.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 10:06 AM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Think of her as a sex therapist; that's what she is to you.
posted by carmicha at 10:44 AM on September 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

There's an organization in Montreal called Stella that is run by (and primarily for) sex workers. They have a guide called Dear Client for the clients of sex workers. It's available online, in English, French and Spanish (PDF only). Here's a short excerpt:
Our clients frequently ask questions: they want to understand our work and to know who we are. These questions often illustrate how sex work is greatly misunderstood. At other times the questions point to stereotypical references and false conceptions about sex workers. Perhaps you have asked similar questions yourself.

You must, first and foremost, know that for us sex work is work. Like any other type of work it is a job that provides an income. It is also work done by people of all different ages, races, cultures, and personalities. We are also diversified in the type of sex work that we do. Each sex worker is, therefore, different in her style and her way of working.

Do sex workers have pimps?
The stereotypical image of a pimp is that of a man who controls the work and money of a women who is sex working. The reality is that a lot of sex workers work independently. Others choose to associate with fellow sex workers to share resources, for example when working in the same location. Other sex workers prefer to work with other people, for example there are those who choose to work for escort agencies or massage parlours with male or female bosses. Finally, certain sex workers associate with partners to ensure safety and protection in times of need. The stereotypical image of a pimp does not correspond with the realities of our work.

Why do sex workers do sex work?
Sex work is work: an activity that generates income. Sex workers work first and foremost for money.
Stella also has a lot of links to other groups working in the sex worker movement (the movement generally wants sex work to be decriminalized and sex workers rights to be strengthened). The page is French but many of the links are to English sites: http://www.chezstella.org/stella/?q=mouvement

In my opinion, paying for sex is not inherently unethical. Forcing someone to have sex against their will, either through violence or slavery (i.e. trafficking) or other means, is inherently unethical.

It sounds like the sex worker you've been seeing is not in a bad situation. She sounds like a compassionate woman who is very good at her job.
posted by heatherann at 11:08 AM on September 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

This might change your relationship with her in a way that you're not comfortable with, but what about asking her what she thinks about the issue? Hearing her perspective, if she's willing to share it, might be helpful.

FWIW, I don't think it's inherently unethical. The "ethics of sex work" question kind of depends on the specifics of the situation, right? I mean, you could easily turn the situation around and argue that she's exploiting your disability and your needs in order to satisfy her own base desire for money. From the way you describe the situation, and from the fact that you're even thinking about the ethics involved, it sounds to me like you probably are acting ethically. But as grumblebee says, ask yourself what precisely it is that you're worried about here. The power dynamic? Whether or not she's really making a free choice to do this work? The consequences of supporting sex work in general? What people would think of you for doing this?
posted by aka burlap at 11:19 AM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Elaborating on my sex therapist comment above, along with aka burlap's suggestion that you talk to her, it's also possible that she enjoys working with you because helping you is a meaningful use of her skills... maybe analogous to plastic surgeons operating on accident victims or those with congenital deformities, instead of/in addition to/to compensate for administering botox to spoiled rich people. She may take pride in her work with you.
posted by carmicha at 11:36 AM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I know a woman who works as a sex worker who makes a point of seeing disabled clients because it's in line with her political views that every person deserves to have a fulfilling sex life. She says she enjoys sex work and I believe her, seeing as she continues to do it even though she has two degrees and several skills that would certainly allow her to make a comfortable living sitting at a desk. Your situation sounds like it's respectful to, and beneficial for, both of you; from what you've said, I don't think you should feel bad about it at all.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:50 AM on September 4, 2010 [11 favorites]

You can't even masturbate? Eeesh, yes. Go for it!

Paying for sex isn't anymore inherently unethical than paying for other care workers (who might otherwise do it out of love). You respect this woman, and you're being mature and paying a fair wage. Not every sex worker is an exploited addict/slave, and if she seems to be comfortable, is running things disease safe (ie condoms), and she seems to be her own boss, those are all good signs.
posted by Phalene at 12:14 PM on September 4, 2010

Andrew Sullivan's blog has been having an "about your job" series of posts where readers are invited to contribute things about their profession that might be surprising. The first reader contribution in this post about "the oldest profession" may be of interest to you.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 1:24 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I enjoy her company and she definitely turns me on, but I'm not interested in anything beyond the working relationship we have. That probably makes me sound like a pig, but there it is.

Nah. It makes you sound like a good customer.

Look at it this way: Sure, if a woman wants a romantic relationship and you just want sex, then it's cruel to sleep with her anyway — especially if you know in advance that you both want different things. But that's not the situation here. You and this sex worker sound like you want exactly the same thing: a nice professional client/caregiver relationship with no drama and no romantic entanglement. Why feel bad about it if you know it's what you both want?
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:37 PM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

There are definitely valid concerns about exploitation and trafficking within the sex industry. But if you're confident that the worker you're seeing has freely chosen her profession, I don't think you have anything to be ashamed of. Sex is a fundamental human need, and your disability doesn't change that. Go, enjoy yourself!

Incidentally, ABC Radio in Australia aired a documentary last year on precisely this issue: The Too Hard Basket. The producer is a musician and DJ who has multiple sclerosis. He talks about his own experiences, and speaks to other people with disabilities and the sex workers who see them. The sex workers all said that working with people with disabilities was one of the most fulfilling aspects of their jobs.
posted by embrangled at 3:52 PM on September 4, 2010

Make sure she doesnt have any signs of drug substance dependency, and physical abuse. If she doesn't, you're halfway there.

Next, does she work for herself or does she have management? Thats a kinda finicky topic...and its for you, yourself, to judge.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:59 PM on September 4, 2010

If you're getting something out of the service she's providing you, and she's happy to provide the service, and you can afford it, continue! Just because it happens to be illegal where you live doesn't mean it's unethical, and I kind of can't believe it's not legal in more places.
posted by AlisonM at 6:48 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

The sex workers all said that working with people with disabilities was one of the most fulfilling aspects of their jobs.

This makes sense to me, too. Of all the clients a sex worker could have, I would think that someone whose need is as clearcut as yours would be less potentially fraught than some guy who, say maybe, hates his wife or who has misogynistic issues that make it impossible for him to trust a woman in a relationship.

Just guessing, of course.

As per respect, here's one aspect; you can respect her to know what is right for her to do. She may not wish to share her story or her reasons for doing what she does with you, as a way of maintaining her identity outside of her job, especially a job that demands so much physical intimacy.

I can't imagine that, whatever she does later in life, her time working with you will be something she regrets. In a perfect, sexism-free utopia, I think a service such as the one she provides might very well still exist. I believe there are women who enjoy sex work, and that most of the downside of it for many of them comes from other people's attitudes (including their clients') about what they do.
posted by emjaybee at 7:48 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Someone suggested this link to us, written by someone in a similar situation that used a sex worker for a while with both upsides and downsides: http://www.disabled.gr/lib/?p=7988
posted by mathowie at 11:13 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a lot of issues with the sex work industry as it is (not sure where you're located) and even I have a tough time seeing an inherent ethical issue in this case - I might prefer that sex not be commoditized, but what two consenting adults want isn't any of my business!

But maybe it would help you feel better about things if you gave donations to an organization that supports sex worker's rights, or helping people who don't want to be in sex work get out of it, or that fights trafficking.
posted by Salamandrous at 12:08 PM on September 5, 2010

I waitressed in strip clubs for about 5 years. During that time, I met hundreds of strippers. Without exception, every single woman I met working in those clubs hated working there and hated the men that came in there - except for disabled men. The general feeling was that disabled men who would normally have a very difficult time finding a woman willing to have a relationship with them were the only men who had a legitimate reason to be there.

Most of the strippers actually preferred that type of customer, because they felt like it was their one opportunity to do something good. So, yeah, actually, you do get a free pass.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:09 PM on September 5, 2010

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