Tag Archives: exploitation

When Is It Okay To Exchange Sex For Favors?

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In case you missed the title of the article, I’ll ask the question again. When is it okay to exchange sex for favors? It’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a serious question about a serious issue in our culture that just so happens to be the premise of one too many porno scenes. I ask the question because I think it’s a lot more relevant now than it has been in recent years.

Concerns about exploitation, harassment, and corruption have never been greater. Some of that is a result of recent scandals. Some of it is a result of ongoing social movements that are a lot more sensitive to gender roles and expectations. Some of it is just a byproduct of living in an era of social media where it’s very hard to keep secrets.

I would argue that the relevance of this question has become even greater in recent years as attitudes towards sex have become more regressive in some areas. Depictions of beautiful women in the media and even beautiful women in video games have become controversial. It has created an atmosphere where everyone is more sensitive to how sexuality is depicted and pursued.

It doesn’t matter that those controversies rely heavily on egregious double standards that make extreme generalizations that can be both hypocritical and damaging. This is the world we live in. If you attempt to use your sexuality and sex appeal to gain favors, then that’s an issue. People have already lost jobs and had their lives destroyed because of it.

It’s understandable on some levels. Most reasonable people will agree that there’s a point where someone seeking a sexual favor from someone else is outright exploitation. There’s a reason why there are laws in place that say an employer can’t demand sex from an employee or risk losing their job.

Most who aren’t in positions of power probably agree that those laws should remain. However, they’re only part of a much more complicated dynamic. Within the context of the innate justice that most people have, there is a line between seeking a sexual favor and outright exploiting someone. It’s just not always clear where that line is.

Take, for instance, the classic casting couch scenario that plays out in so many pornos and Hollywood horror stories.

A beautiful, ambitious actress walks into a room. She badly wants a particular role. She’s willing to do anything to get it, even if it means sleeping with a producer. Being a legal adult, she offers this to the male producer. He accepts. They have sex and she gets the part. The actress furthers her career. The producer gets to have sex with a beautiful woman. Both are satisfied with the outcome.

Now, this particular manifestation of the scenario is probably the least distressing. The woman enters with a willingness to have sex in the name of furthering her career. The man is just as willing to accept her offer. You could even flip the genders and it would still work. Two consenting adults are each seeking something from one another. Sex is just the currency they use and in the end, they both get what they want.

There may still be some who think that scenario is a problem. Some may slut shame the woman for essentially whoring herself to get favorable treatment. Never mind the fact that a willingness to use your body to get favorable treatment is not an issue when it doesn’t involve sex, as every professional athlete can attest. They still see this use of sex to get favors as unfair.

Others may scorn the man for going along with it, using his influence to help the woman’s career in exchange for sex. Again, never mind the fact that being in positions of influence or just having a lot of resources in general will attract those seeking favors. Somehow, using sex as currency is still seen as unfair. Even so, it’s a stretch to say that anyone was exploited in this scenario.

The line may be obscure in that instance, but still clear enough. It’s fairly likely that sort of thing plays out in the real world, both in Hollywood and the business world. Joss Whedon even alluded to it during his own sordid scandal last year. However, it still represents a best case scenario, of sorts.

It doesn’t take too much tweaking to make that same scenario more distressing. Here’s another one that probably occurs fairly often in the world of Hollywood and business. For some, it may be a bit more difficult to discern the line.

A beautiful, ambitious actress walks into a room. She badly wants a particular role that would really help her career, but she wants to earn it on the merits of her skills. She auditions. The producer says she’s good, but so are several other actresses, a few whom have more experience than her. Her chances aren’t great.

Then, after the audition, the producer sits down with her and offers a deal. If she has sex with him, he’ll get her the part. The woman is reluctant, but the man doesn’t push it. He gives her a few hours to decide with the understanding that the offer expires in two hours. The woman agonizes over the decision, but eventually decides to go along with it.

She meets up with the producer. She willingly has sex with him. She doesn’t feel that good about it, but the man does what he promised. He gets her the part. The role really helps her career, just as she hoped. She still didn’t like that she had to sleep with the producer, but she doesn’t regret it. Both she and the man got what they wanted.

I imagine this scenario will generate more uncertainty, arguments, and even a little outrage. To some, the producer in that scenario sexually assaulted that woman, using his power to get her to sleep with him. To others, it may just be a simple case of having to jump through some unpleasant hoops to further your career.

The line in this case is a bit harder to identify. It is very much a quid pro quo exchange, the kind that would definitely result in a sexual harassment case if it occurred between an employer and an employee. However, the woman in this case is not an employee and an audition is not the same as a job. The man just has resources the woman wants for her own benefit. He gives them to her in exchange for something.

The fact the exchange involves sex is where the uncertainty comes in. You could also make the argument that there would be similar concerns if money is involved because that would constitute bribery, but that involves considerably different circumstances. It’s one thing to just pay for an opportunity, which isn’t as taboo, even if it’s unethical in many cases. It’s quite another for someone to offer their body.

On top of that, it’s fairly reasonable to assume there aren’t as many people who have those kinds of resources to bribe someone as there are people willing to have sex. It’s less a matter of legal constraints and more a matter of tangible assets. Most people only have so much money or skill to offer. Sex is one of the few inherently valuable acts that’s essentially built into us as a species.

Even if with those caveats in mind, it’s not entirely clear if there was outright exploitation in that scenario. Yes, the woman was reluctant and didn’t really like that she had to do it. However, she had a chance to refuse and even considered it. In addition, after she made the choice, she got what the producer promised. He delivered on his part. She delivered on hers.

That would change considerably if the man just slept with the woman and didn’t get her the part. In that case, it probably would count as exploitation because he was the only one who got what he wanted and the woman got nothing. Unless the woman got the man to promise on tape that he would get her the part in exchange for sex, she probably would have little recourse.

There are plenty of other distressing scenarios I could list, but I won’t go over the entire spectrum of sexual favors. I present them and the potential complications they incur to add substance to the initial question. Most people agree that exploiting someone for sex is wrong. People are a bit less certain when it involves consenting adults using sex to exchange favors.

It’s a question that covers so many issues, from concerns about prostitution to how we craft marriage laws. No matter how we answer that question, there will be people in this world who have resources and opportunities. There will also be people willing to perform sexual favors in exchange for one or both. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of understanding where the line is now and where it should be in a just and fair world.

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Prostitutes, Dirty Jobs, And The (Flawed) Concept Of Degradation

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Certain concepts are inherently subjective. Art, beauty, and the extent to which body hair is attractive come to mind. One concept, which isn’t subject to nearly as much scrutiny, is that of degradation. By that, I don’t mean the kind of degradation you see in a car that stays parked in the desert for too long. I’m talking about the kind of degradation we ascribe to certain people, jobs, and lifestyles. Sometimes, they’re all the same thing.

The concept of degradation gets thrown around a lot whenever sex and the sex industry comes up. It also gets thrown around whenever someone talks about a lousy job they’ve had. I’ve shared one such horror story about my first job, complete with depictions of baby vomit. For the sake keeping the discussion concise, I’m going to try and focus on the sexier side of this issue, but only to a point.

The problem with degradation, be it in the adult entertainment industry or the fast food industry, isn’t just with the subjective nature of the idea. It’s the inconsistency with which it’s applied. In some cases, the inconsistency reflects a mix of double standards, generalizations, and assumptions that require mind-reading abilities on a massive scale.

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While degradation has a dictionary definition, there’s no universally-accepted criteria to determine what act, job, or life is truly degrading. It is possible for someone to be happy working as a prostitute, just as it’s possible for someone to be happy working in fast food. Not everyone is going to share that sentiment, but that doesn’t make their happiness any less valid.

When it comes to the adult industry, though, degradation takes on a greater importance. Beyond the misguided crusade to label porn a public health crisis, the frequent criticisms of the industry are often built around how it degrades the people in it and the lives of those who consume it.

Words like objectification and abuse will often get thrown around. They’ll often highlight people who have had bad experiences, as though a single experience is enough to generalize an entire industry. By that logic, every fast food worker was as miserable as I was at my first job and still has nightmares about baby vomit.

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That logic is flawed, but it still gets taken seriously when the adult industry is involved. The stories of those who don’t feel degraded or objectified don’t get told while horror stories of former porn stars and sex workers get pushed to the center of the discussion so that the degradation is on full display to evoke the necessary emotions.

It’s such a common tactic when talking about the sex industry that it’s kind of expected. Nobody is really that surprised when news comes out about a former porn star who suffered horribly. Nobody is surprised when a former prostitute details how terrible and degrading the experience was for them. Never mind the fact that human memory has a nasty tendency to exaggerate. That’s when degradation matters.

However, it’s the situations where degradation isn’t applied that can be just as revealing. While it’s somewhat understandable that the adult industry would be scrutinized more since it involves sex and sex makes people uncomfortable, it also negates the degradation that others experience.

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Most of us who have worked menial service jobs at some point in our lives know those experiences well. Fast food workers tend to have more than a few, but those are the most obvious. Think about the people working these jobs and don’t look for reasons why it may be degrading. Think about why we, as a society, don’t consider it as degrading as a sex worker.

A trash collector literally has to touch our trash, no matter how much it smells or leaks. Why is that not considered degrading?

A janitor has to clean up our messes for minimal pay and no gratitude. Why is that not considered degrading?

A factory worker has to stand on an assembly line around dangerous machinery, functioning as an easily-replaceable cog in much larger enterprise. Why is that not considered degrading?

A bartender has to serve drinks to obnoxious customers, listen to them whine, and deal with occasional bar fights. Why is that not considered degrading?

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There’s a long list of jobs out there with varying degrees of degradation. From interns to cashiers, they all have plenty of potential for degrading experiences. Whether it’s from the work itself or the managers who make the work miserable, there’s plenty of degradation to go around. However, it only seems to matter when sex and women are involved.

To put the inanity of that concept into perspective, consider this. Earlier this year, five porn stars died and that was major news. Granted, that is quite an anomaly given that deaths within the porn industry are extremely rare. However, when compared to other industries that are more dangerous and degrading, it’s not news at all.

In 2016, over 100 people died working in the roofing industry and nearly 1,000 died working in the trucking industry. These aren’t injuries, social stigma, or bad press. This is death, by far the most serious kind of degradation. These are also industries where the majority of the workforce doesn’t consist of beautiful women and doesn’t give some the potential to strike it rich.

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Again, and I know this question is already getting old for some people, why is that not considered degrading? The entire concept seems to break down when you see it being reserved for a specific class of people within a specific kind of industry. The fact that the class consists primarily of beautiful women is not a coincidence.

When it involves men putting their lives at risk to make a living, it’s not degrading. It’s just work. When it involves women having sex for money, though, it’s degrading. It’s as though no woman could possibly want to get paid to have sex without being degraded. It’s as though every woman’s mind is so fragile that they cannot possibly understand the risks and must be protected from it.

That last part was sarcasm, by the way. I’ll give every woman a moment to stop fuming, but it’s something that should concern them, if only because it treats them like children who can’t make decisions for themselves. Whether it’s radical, anti-porn feminists or uptight religious zealots, the idea that women are so easily degraded should be insulting to any woman who values their sense of autonomy.

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It should be just as insulting to the men who work jobs that don’t involve sex, but are far more dangerous, both in terms of risk and degradation. If one entire industry is going to be condemned on the basis of degradation, but not apply to others, then that’s not just illogical. It’s downright asinine.

It just becomes another excuse to whine about an industry where people have sex in ways that might make priests, rabbis, mullahs, and monks uncomfortable. It also becomes an excuse to overlook the danger and toil that people endure in other industries, just to make a living.

In the end, it’s insulting to men, women, and everything in between. There are serious issues in any industry, regardless of whether or not naked people are involved. However, if degradation is only going to apply to one special class of sex work, then that should reveal just how empty it truly is.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, sex in society, sexuality