There's been a proliferation of newspaper articles and television programmes about prostitution recently, but all have left me none-the-wiser. I increasingly lost faith in some of the more undercover investigations, and they even began to repel me. I believe this has to do with the conclusions I reach at the end of this piece.
Of the sex industry, we'd have to say that prostitution is the last house on the left in a terrifying cul-de-sac. While t-shirts hurrah, DVDs and winks are exchanged over porn, while lap-dancers still get whistled on, if one wanders the bridges and canals of Amsterdam there seems to a sorrow to prostitution that's almost a part of it's foreground, a part of the deal. The johns approach the doorways, their stoop and shift an admission of their own downfall. And there is a sense that, morally, these folks have passed a reversal point in their own lives, where joy has depleted, experience turned on cynicism and began it's refraction into another pleasure - externalising, witnessing, even treasuring, one's own low-point; giving a (made-up) name to that pain.
As I watched the television I began wondering if I could, instead, concentrate directly on the exchange of sex for money. It might be impossible to seperate prostitution from it's circumstances and the crimes that swarm about it. The damage and degredation of being forced to work as a criminal. The lack of regulation and rights that bring exploitation and ruined neighbourhoods in it's wake. Coercion too, one might possibly be able to set aside and classify as a linked, but legally distinguishable, crime. So to focus purely on sex, a good thing, meets trade, a necessary thing, and to reach some pro- pr anti- conclusion: but the way I faltered told me that I was missing some important point, which couldn't be found immediately. So I set judgement itself to one side.
Well - who are they, the tricks? Slick-back buffoons, mummy's boy racer cruising for a trophy, the Dad Who Wasn't There, a tribble-bellied Trekker or two, work hard fuck harder City sadists. I imagine them as the same pick 'n' mix one finds, fifty percent furtive and the other half awestruck, huddled between the cloisters of any sex shop. What I see in them, in their requiring eyes, reptile steps and softened, oncoming guts - if there might be a denominator - is a streak of the inert, of laziness. Mum brung the Ready Brek up on a tray. Sort it out, Dad. You were lifted and laid, young man, lifted and laid. The john, jogging up the shabby twists of the walk-up, or to-ing and fro-ing in front of the sauna, is forking out cash earned at his middle-distance job so it's all nice and there. On a tray. Just the way he likes it. It's too hot, mum. Blow it.
I can't imagine many punters, though guilt or plain stupidity, defending prostitution as an alternative to Something sex. It's a crummy midpoint between that and the wank. Sad spacks with faces like chiseller's benches might learn to handle true amour Before Sunrise but for now it's whoredom or their right hands, thank you very much. Just-popped-out dads with something alive in their slacks don't want to rock the boat with a family-threatening affair. A little mess but no fuss. Lovely, Paula, that's done the job. Pale, shifting, experimentalists who want to try stuff, different stuff - searching for a wider vocabulary, but say nothing to no-one, right. Even the just plain greedy one has to feel sorry for.
The prostitutes themselves need the money. Yet many of us do who would never dream of prostitution. In the absence of any direct research, and as a firm believer that there are a million and one stories in the Naked City, I can sit back and recall a pair of hookers I used to run into on occasions. Less pros, more a sexual Jay and Silent Bob of the girl's home, the Simon Community and subsequently the motorways. Anne Magnets (name changed) ploughed a merry trade until, in a fit of pique and with a circumsizing bite, she pinned a lorry driver, butterfly-like, to his cab wall whilst her taciturn understudy Wendy found his wallet. Needless to say, business dwindled. I heard their stories in hindsight when Wendy packed in the Game to try her hand at groupie-ing. I didn't partake but what I witnessed in Wendy, less than a lack of proper grades, was a belatedly-instilled desire to please, even when her daily mood was grouchy or elsewhere. Just Enough Education To Perform gobjobs on the youth club roof. Something I can do, innit. And the trace of some original compliment, some touch, seemed to have lingered on, filtered down to underscore her activities. Every handjob is a job well done, god-bless-you'd by some phantom mentor who shaped her self-worth, back when it was open to shaping. Our best friends often aren't the people we like the most, they're just the ones who got there at the beginning and it's always worth remembering that for some kids, our kids, the first honest reflection of their worth they got, outside the mistrusted mill of school, was a Diamond White for a fingering.
Still, I found the debate somewhat bound, but I didn't know why. Should-Be sex, I guess, is just two people turned on by one another doing what comes naturally. For those where it is clear that this might not happen this particular lifetime, I find it hard to say that they should be denied some form of masquerade. Or that any competent adult who chooses to use alternative parts of their body to earn a crust must be informed why they shouldn't. Limited as I am, can I judge another's competence?
When I ask myself whether I would wish a member of my family or loved one to sell sex, gut says no way. But stripped of the circumstantial horrors, as a regulated safe trade would selling sex be more demeaning than bedpan rinsing or as freaky as microsurgery? The fact that I still say whooah could be my own prudery, and this leads me to think about Could-be sex. At the furthest end of this arena, the notion that sex can be a transendent expression of the deepest love would get laughed right out of the recreational go-for-it Mario Kart hypermart people who talk about sex call Sex, and to further think outside the box could leave these Thinkers nuts, or Gordon Sumner. You can tinker with everything tinkerable, turn your tinker up to ten and you still won't feel the feelings you have promised yourself - if that's Nirvana. Sex insanity caused by looking at sex from the outside in, pushing aside (food analogy alert) the lipsmacker meal to expand upon and dwell within a table of vitamins that become an inverted metaphor of one's own suppressed desires.
So thumbs-up or down to this trade? So far I can call it sad, and instinct says thumbs down but I still can't say why exactly. Sadness abounds. Check yer connectors. Money is how I exchange my work for yours. It's possible for a typist to come home and type their whole selves into a poem while the minutes in the Out tray are a long forgotten mystery. The difference is the amputation. The busman's holiday of the soul.
While we narrow our focus to become specialists at a certain task, a great deal of what makes us real needs amputated, left to one side for a second. It may be twitching on in our imaginations as we do our dailies, but it will find surface somehow, bottled for release as it is - through the bender, the weekend knees-up getting well-out-of-order, the lost month painting an overdraft up the walls of Torremolinos.
Amputation. Love and sex can be a decent and delicate way to reconnect after a hard days, weeks or months amputation, and by making Fuck and Work synonymous the punter asks the whore to amputate themselves from a broad stretch of decent and delicate living itself. This, ultimately, is why the hearts and souls of prostitutes seem gradually to be destroyed. Where most people open up, find through it - caring, cohesion, imagination, good stuff - the whore is trained to close down. Even more than casual sex, or sex between relative strangers, prostitution is no exchange, an agreement to mutual theft. Swiped skin and smile for a day's worth of someone's occupation.
Prostitution should be shrunk from for that amputation but there is something else. Something much more dangerous. The whole set-up looks, from where I sit, like some primordial sexual tinderbox - it archetypes the unspoken epicentre of the broken soul - the Big Lie. It surfaces through all misogynies, that love lies. And must be right there, being so fruitlessly close to someone's skin and knowing that there is no fellow traveller inside. No-one reaching in your direction. Indeed to know that the magnet arrow they keep inside is pointed away from you in horror. Eyes closed, adrift in a mantra of innocent pictures, like the self-defence of the will to live, the whole scene could be seeped in the birth of misogyny. The whore is glad to see the back of the punter, who must depart with a told-you-so seen ten feet tall in their refraction. The Big Promise, that we are all loveable and loved and will never walk alone - was the Big Lie waiting to happen, pal.
So the investigative journalism that I watched this week seemed to make no sense. Much of it seemed to focus, as it does, on pulling off the masks. (Tell me your story. Now the real one. Live At The Witch Trials. Confess, girly.) But in the inverted world of bought sex, the truth was in the mask. What is underneath is rather commonplace. Unsatisfied drive / short for dosh.
Bought sex is transient and, slappers as we might be in an often un-aspiring, utilitarian Matrix of pandering infotainment, it throws in some sticky towel that says lives, loves and recreation are not a glue that bind us together but a reflex we satisfy inside our own parameters. It doesn't degrade in itself, it doesn't anything. Good or Bad, it could be worse than that. Nothing sex.