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Kaj_Sotala comments on The curse of identity - Less Wrong

125 Post author: Kaj_Sotala 17 November 2011 07:28PM

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Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 19 November 2011 09:49:57AM 11 points [-]

The same cannot be said of prostitutes, who are lower status than just about anyone in society including the men who use them.

Some prostitutes have high status with their audience. Quickly translated from Punainen eksodus, a PhD sociology thesis on Finnish prostitution:

Sex workers find that their position favors them: of 25 interviewed workers, 13 felt they were in a dominant position as compared to the customer. 11 felt that the power was evenly distributed so that the sex worker sets the limits inside which the customer makes his choices. The estimate may be related to the relatively good position of Finnish sex workers, but the feeling of power has also been documented in the international literature:

"It [sex work] really challenged the traditional idea of an orgasm as something that the man "gives" me. According to the traditional view, the woman isn't supposed to control the sex act, but to be the passive recipient of whatever happens. But as the prostitute you're the one who sets the pace, you're the one who controls the whole situation." (Maryann from Santa Cruz, interviewed by Chapkins 1997, 85.)

At the time when my material was collected, Finnish sex markets were characterized by demand far outstripping the supply, a "seller's market", forcing the customers to compete with each other for meeting times. A reasonable employment situation and social security combined to reinforce the sex worker's negotiation position, for she could select her customers and could often also decide to stop doing sex work.

According to the sex workers, they are also empowered by the internal logic of the relationship. The buyer needs to pay for the meeting and wants it. For many men, a successful act requires the sex worker to be aroused (or to at least feign arousal). On the other hand, the seller can be happy when she gets her money, and an advance payment is not tied to the customer's satisfaction. Even if the seller is doing the job for financial reasons and is therefore reliant on the income, her earnings are not tied to any particular customer.

"And if I don't have fun with the customer, I can tell after two times, then I'll tell the customer straight that this isn't working. I'll tell him directly that 'you should start getting this service from somewhere else, I'm not going to offer it anymore'. I've needed to say that some tens of times, but it's true. Just like my customers have the right to choose me, I have the right to choose my customers." (Interview, Tiina.)

"I've grabbed some guys by the neck and thrown them out after they've acted inappropriately. At the start of each meeting I'll explain my rules and if someone breaks them, I warn them on the first time and throw them out on the second." (Interview, Maija.)


"Somehow earlier I was a little afraid, in a way I was afraid of and kept kind of a respectful distance to men. Now it's the other way around. Men are the ones in need, and I can treat them kinda the way it happens to suit me. If someone isn't suitable for me, then they aren't and they better accept that. They're in a dominated position to me. I'm the one who decides and does." (Interview, Kaarina.)

Based on these experiences, it does not seem like people would get into sex work in order to relive earlier traumas. In my material, a history of bad experiences with sex comes up specifically as an opposite to one's own role as a seller of sex. After the experience of feeling dominated, it may be liberating to realize that there's nothing wrong in demanding personal satisfaction, and that many men are even willing to pay extra for it.

Comment author: [deleted] 19 November 2011 11:37:42AM 7 points [-]

Interesting. I suppose I had in mind the kind of prostitute who has no choice of customers. On the other hand a prostitute (or "escort") who turns undesirable men down is not too far away from being a run-of-the-mill promiscuous woman who extracts material benefits from her suitors. The prostitute in this case has merely formalised her revenue stream.

In my defense, I was responding to this claim: "Even prostitutes are probably respected a lot more on average than strippers", and I don't believe that the average prostitute is in such a comfortable position. I also think that the feeling of power or control over the situation is not really the same thing as status. If you asked the Finnish prostitutes' customers whether given the choice they would prefer their own daughters to be prostitutes, or strippers (whom the men are not allowed to touch) then you might get a different perspective.