What is Sex Work?

(Screenshot from the film)

(Screenshot from the film)

Imagine Lysistrata—the classical play you probably read in Greek Lit class —but in the hood.

In this fictional but all-too-real version of Southside, Chicago, the women of Chi-Raq, lead by Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris), opt to withhold sex as a negotiating method to force an end to the gang related violence their men engage in. Lysistrata is inspired by the story of Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian woman who organized a sex strike amongst her peers to end a gruesome civil war. Her efforts were successful and earned her the Nobel Prize. The purpose of the Chi-Raq women’s strike is not so much to save their men from themselves as it is to bring a stop to the stray bullets that kill innocent children caught in the crossfire. These female revolutionists consider their responsibility to put children first an unwritten condition of womanhood. While Lysistrata herself is not a mother, her solidarity with them over her gang leader boyfriend, whom she loves, is powerful.

Is the labor of the Chi-Raq women’s strike itself a sort of sex work? As a sex worker myself, I have a very liberal definition of what falls under that (red) umbrella. I consider any situation where sex is used as a means of negotiation to be a form of sex work. Cash exchange is not a requirement. This definition can include negotiations between married couples or any suggestion of potential future sex to get what you want in the now—what some might call “flirting.” I understand this is a controversial opinion and an incredibly broad demarcation of sex work. But the reason I keep my definition of sex work so broad is because it normalizes the behavior. The more parallels I can draw between prostitution and sexual labor within civilian relationships, the weaker the arguments for intimate labor being an inherent evil become. This also means that when I work, I feel no guilt over avoiding terms such as “escort”—which would get me targeted by law enforcement—in favor of “sugarbaby” or “spoiled girlfriend”—even though nine times out of 10 they mean same goddamned thing, just without leaving me subject to the same legal implications.

The women of Chi-Raq considered themselves activists, and peaceful ones at that, but they still end up facing federal charges for their disruptive behavior. “Activists” sounds much better than “pissed off girlfriends.” There exists near infinite terminology to frame sexual negotiations depending on the conditions in which you negotiate. As the leader of this unconventional protest, Lysistrata is careful in navigating PR—it is her articulation of the dire circumstances in which the neighborhood lives, in addition to her resolve, that makes her a force to be reckoned with as opposed to being considered a joke, or worse, a terrorist. Different titles for the same actions produce vastly different outcomes.

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(Image by Nicolas Royne,  via Flickr and the Creative Commons)

(Image by Nicolas Royne, via Flickr and the Creative Commons)

One of the brightest spots of sex work activism is when some bright-eyed bushy-tailed sex-worker-to-be finds her way into the space and wants to know the best way to get into our sordid business. “Come, little one! Join me in the fresh hellscape that is the business of selling sexual services,” I declare, fancying my mentorship style half old-school brothel manager chain-smoking Virginia Slims, half Archimedes the uptight but good-hearted owl from Disney’s Sword in the Stone. But one of the darker spots of the same situation is when these apprentices say things like, “I think I could start with something easy like stripping.” Oh, girl. You did not.

It is times like this that I wish I had this story in my back pocket to pull out and give to would-be strippers that think dancing is the Diet Coke of sex work. It is the story of a man with a shit-eating grin and a monumental sense of entitlement calling the police on a stripper who denied him sex in a VIP room in the appropriately named city of Butte, Montana. To recap, this man believed that the denial of sex from a stripper was not only a criminal offense but a criminal offense worth escalating to involvement with law enforcement. The sense of entitlement to sexual services beyond the ones on the official job descriptions are ones to which strippers are subjected regularly. While it is newsworthy because the guy actually called the cops, strippers know that boundary-pushing clients are part and parcel of the sexual and emotional labor of stripping.

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CLheaderAn author has posted an ad on Craigslist seeking a young woman to have sex with him and keep a diary about it for a month, after which he’ll write a book about the experience and self-publish it on Amazon. Literary experimentation for our times? Product of reading too much Henry Miller? Really complicated scam to get a young fuckbuddy for a month? Sugardaddy who’s low on sugar? What the FUCK is really going on here and who is the kind of person who gets on board with this?

The book will detail every aspect of a mutually-agreed to romantic affair between myself and a young FEMALE lover (perhaps you), experienced over 30 days, as in the novel. The difference between the first book and this one will be verite: everything in this new volume will be the truth as both participants see it. If you agree to participate in this project, you will keep a diary of all of your thoughts, impressions and memories of the thirty day affair that we will share. I will then combine your written thoughts with my own to present the reader with two versions of the same erotic story. One love affair, as seen separately by the man and woman.

In case it gets taken down, here’s the screenshot below. We encourage someone to write in and apply to get the free copy of his first book!
[via Romenesko]

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I was first introduced to Poppy Cox when fellow T&S writer Kat and I attended an amateur porn film festival. Poppy’s cleverly crafted skit made an impression on us because it was one of the more explicit, yet still charming mini-films. In it, Poppy wakes up beside her male lover and tries to tempt him into a morning romp but he rolls over to continue snoozing. She dresses for the day, mounts her bicycle and rides to a serene grass field, where she masturbates happily in the grass, her two wheeled companion beside her.

So I was a bit familiar with bike smut when I drove to sit down with the vivacious woman at a small coffee shop in SE Portland. Upon entering, we recognized each other immediately.

Can you explain Bike Smut?

Bike Smut is an international touring film festival celebrating human powered transportation and sex positive culture. Each year, we present a new program of short films about bikes and sex made by cyclists, queers and perverts from all over the world. I would consider myself a “bike-sexual.” I’m mostly straight, however one of the things I consider before I’ll date anybody is: do you ride a bike?

Pedalpalooza is 3 weeks of (nearly all) free bike events that happen every year in June in Portland. They are not organized by any one or group of people, but instead are totally open source. Anyone can organize an event and it will be put on the official calendar. The world naked bike ride is the biggest event that happens as part of it each year. My bicycle is a huge part of my life. When I go out or go to work, I ride my bicycle. I know how long it will take me, and I know how I’m going to get there. And if I had to guess, I bet 90% of bike commuters would agree with how I feel.

And how does that relate to your work?

In this car-centric, patriarchal society, it can be considered one of the biggest oppositions to that, to ride a bike. I consider it an act of freedom, to refuse to drive a car. All different types of people are bicyclists, so there’s a great deal of diversity but we have that major thing in common. [READ MORE]

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The Secret Service escort and the hot dog stripper finally speak to the media.

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