The next time you’re in a crowded place – a pub perhaps or a train coming home from work – you might want to imagine what it would be like to have to have some form of sexual intimacy with every single man you can see. Oral sex? A hand job? ‘Penis in vagina’ sex? What about anal?
One man after another after another. Each one expecting, demanding even, that you act pleased to see him, thrilled at the sight of his genitals, at his smell, his standard of hygiene, his urgent penetration of your private cavities.
If you reveal, even momentarily, revulsion or fear or hilarity or boredom, he is likely to get shirty. To complain to your “manager” – if you have one – or leave a bad review if you don’t. To knock you about even. Because this is, of course, an exercise in trying to understand just a little of the realities of prostitution or what is now often known as “full-service sex work”.
Can you do this exercise and then say – honestly – that this is no different from any other job? Hair dressing, say, or serving coffee, or even personal care for the severely incapacitated? Don’t all these jobs take place within the social conventions that govern normal human interaction and that protect the service-giver’s dignity and wellbeing as well as the recipient’s? Conventions that forbid sexual contact and can demand politeness, but not enthusiasm or the total suppression of all normal emotions.
If those conventions are not honoured, it’s a breach of employment regulations or in the very worst cases might constitute what is now often termed “modern slavery”. But the very premise of prostitution is that those conventions are cast aside. That is the basis of the deal. What could workers’ rights possibly mean in such a scenario?
Now consider, how it might affect you, having to suppress your normal human reactions to sexual intimacy in which you have no natural interest and that you may even find repulsive? What superhuman generosity would it take to not gag when an unpleasant, overweight or entitled man who possibly hasn’t showered for days demands that you take his penis into your mouth? What mental gymnastics would it require to do that with a smile? Hour after hour? Day after day? Can you honestly say that that wouldn’t eat into your mental and emotional wellbeing and sense of self?
Not even the lowest level employee at Amazon or Starbucks or the worst outsourcing company has to put up with anything comparable.
Now consider those slogans that are so popular on the Left that suggest that prostitution is an ordinary job: “sex work is real work”; it’s “empowering”; a “free choice” and a “private arrangement” between “consenting adults”; a reasonable solution to students’ and single mothers’ poverty; it just needs to be brought under workers’ rights legislation.
Consider how, when repeated over and over, these slogans close down thinking and any acknowledgement that there may be different ways of looking at this.
How would this propaganda affect young people in financial difficulties? Young people who lack family and social support? Young people with poor self-esteem? Young people from marginalised backgrounds or who have already been sexually used and abused?
At Nordic Model Now! we hear from many women who entered the sex trade in good faith, believing it to be a normal job. Many tell us that they found it intolerable. But for years they believed that there was something wrong with them because everyone kept saying that it was a normal job. They had never heard anyone question this, let alone suggest that it is in fact a violation of the human right to dignity and sexual autonomy.
When they stumbled on the Nordic Model Now! website or social media feed, their world changed. Often, it was the first time they’d ever heard someone say that no one should have to sell what many of them describe as their soul just to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.
Some women have told us that finding our website was the moment that they began to entertain the hope that a different kind of life might be possible, that there might not be anything wrong with them but rather that there is something wrong with a system that traps women in such hopelessness; that they might dare to dream of other possibilities.
Prostitution is not a regular job. That is why it demands a unique solution that protects those caught up in it while sanctioning the buyers and profiteers and introducing measures to reduce the size of the prostitution industry: the Nordic Model.