Great Sex Work Moments in Pop Culture History

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Great Sex Work Moments in Pop Culture History: The Facts of Life

Thank you, @fishymessiah, for making me track down this classic Facts of Life episode where Blair finds out her boyfriend, med student Cliff, works as a male stripper when the girls take Mrs. Garrett to a strip club for her birthday. It’s surprising! Highlights: the club is called Wedgwood’s, Jo takes pictures and is not tossed out, and Mrs. Garrett smacks down Jo’s judgement of Cliff. Enjoy your next 22 minutes.

Hugh Hefner: Rapist And Revolutionary

Hugh Hefner the image. (Photo by Flickr user Sarah Gerke)

Content warning: this post contains brief references to rape and abuse. 

Hugh Hefner died.

Of course he did. Dude was 91. When my castmate announced it after rehearsal, I didn’t feel shock at the news. Hefner may as well have died when he stopped being the editor of Playboy magazine. Or when The Girls Next Door tried selling us on twincest. Or when the magazine stopped publishing nudes. He was a go-to pop culture joke about debauchery and smoking jackets, but he’s hardly been relevant for years.

Still, I had some mixed feelings. I never much cared for Hefner or his image, having been introduced to him as a doddering grandpa on reality TV, but Playboy the brand had been in my life since I was a child. It molded my early ideas of what it meant to be attractive. It introduced me to the idea that sexiness could be playful or serious. When I turned 18, I bought an issue just because I could and delighted at the articles and interviews just as much as the pictorials. This, I thought, was the intersection of brains and beauty. By thumbing through the pages at my grandma’s house I was somehow becoming a well-rounded adult.

To say nothing of the accidental connection between Playboy and queerness. For generations, Dad’s secret stash (or in my case, my mother’s boyfriend Chad’s collection that he just left out in the open in his office) was a gateway not just for teenage boys but also girls. It felt like fate that my first issue featured a spread with Adrienne Curry, the first out bisexual I had ever seen. Since Playboy could also be “for the articles”, I was able to hide my queerness even from myself. Perhaps even more than the cool girls I had met in high school, Playboy gave me the most intense stirrings of looking at a woman and not being sure if I wanted to be her or be with her. As I grew I realized, hell, why not both?

When I went to college I found vintage issues and hung the centerfolds in my kitchen, aspiring to their fresh-faced, breezy beauty. I copied the makeup, teased my hair higher, and then rebelled against the streamlined pin-ups in favor of some Hustler-esque trashiness. Those styles helped me experiment and come into my own again and again as I rolled through my early 20s. Even now, I’ll sometimes look at them and imagine living in a dreamy world of sheer babydolls and fur rugs. It’s a world I realize I now have the means to create for myself at any point. Several photographer friends are just a Facebook message away, and within the week I’ll have a pin-up of myself to tuck away. In them, I’m eternally 19, 21, 24, and these versions of me seem younger and younger every year. They’re my own digital flashbacks that I wish I could share with my younger self. “Look,” I’d say. “You’re pretty too.”

But none of that was Hefner. It was the women I idolized—women who were paid peanuts to be immortalized in soft focus.

The Best TV Prostitute Ever

Chances are that since you’re reading this site, you’re already cool enough to know that Arrested Development was one of the greatest TV shows of all time. A big reason for that was their “Family Ties” episode which featured a high end escort named Nellie, played by Justine Bateman. As with every episode, there are tons of in-jokes and funny plot lines but we’re going to stick with discussing the strictly sex work aspects and Nellie’s all-around awesomeness.

Let’s start with presentation. Nellie is impeccably clad in sexy, elegant dresses without any gauche hallmarks of conspicuous consumption; she looks like a beautiful businesswoman during after work hours. (Indeed, we eventually find out that she started escorting because of her business school loans.) She’s not blonde, doesn’t bare generous amounts of cleavage, or conduct herself in an embarrassingly transparent manner while in public. In other words, she’s barely a recognizable TV prostitute at all. She’s articulate, dignified, unpretentious, and capable. By the end of the episode, she’ll have triumphed over everyone’s uncharitable assumptions and saved the day.

Why I Hate Pretty Woman (1990)

So, my apologies for showing up a little late to the Pretty Woman threesome. I hadn’t realized how painful it would be to watch this movie again, and so I had to take it in small bites over the course of the week.

I had already been a hooker for a couple years before I ever saw Pretty Woman  a few months ago. Even before I had seen it though, I’d casually reference it all the time with my friends when we’d make fun of tricks who thought they could be our boyfriends. Yes, I know this happens in real life, and even has happened to a couple of my friends. But it’s never come even close to happening to me, especially not with the kind of guys who’d be into “saving” me.

My boyfriend finally made me watch it one day several months ago, and I was even more grossed out than I had expected.

The film’s one saving grace: Julia Roberts is incredibly, uniquely beautiful. It somewhat mitigates the torture of listening to her slip in and out of an unplaceable generic “tough girl” accent (doesn’t Vivian say once she’s from Georgia? doesn’t sound like it…) and a super lame script. (By the way, drooling over Sasha Grey was the most redeemable part of The Girlfriend Experience, too.)

Some of the things that make me cringe, roll my eyes, or just say “huh?”:

Support Hos: Deadpool

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) proposing to his sex worker girlfriend Vanessa Carslyle (Morena Baccarin) in Deadpool.
Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) proposing to his sex worker girlfriend Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin) in Deadpool.

When I first saw Deadpool on Valentine’s Day with my civilian partner, I remember leaving the theater on cloud nine, sure that my relationship could withstand anything. The movie made me feel like my job was not an obstacle to be overcome by romantic interests but a core part of me that could be embraced. I remember thinking that Morena Baccarin never had to go back to Joss Whedon to play a laterally whorephobic space courtesan because this film had allowed her to play an amazing sex worker.

I rewatched the film for this review and I have to say that this time it hurt. Watching Vanessa and Wade’s relationship unfurl on screen hit me hard.

Not because it was poorly written, though. Quite the opposite.

My partner and I broke up less than two weeks ago and watching this movie only reminded me of better times. Because Baccarin as Vanessa is awesome and her relationship with the titular hero is everything I have ever wanted from a story about a guy dating a sex worker. And it also represented everything that I wanted from being dated as one, with the addition of bad guys, bullets, and the breaking of the fourth wall.