Last time I offered to troll my own knowledge base and Melissa Farley’s recent research on Boston men to give you fellas some guidelines on Positive Johnitude.
And just one second before you scroll on over to something else because you’re not a “john,” and don’t intend to become one (besides, in this economy, who has the scratch?): Melissa Farley, according to the Newsweek article about her research I quoted last time, thinks that maybe all men are alike, johns and non-johns. Comparable to my mother in this respect, her overarching reason to research the customers of prostitutes and strippers and the viewers of porn borders on Women’s Studies existential:
“The question has always remained: are all our findings true of just sex buyers, or are they true of men in general?”
That means that as far as Farley’s concerned, there may be no difference between a vile and possibly dangerous client — a man described as using phrases like “servitude” and “degradation” to explain why it’s good to engage the services of a prostitute, one who understands his exchange with sex workers as “sexual exploitation,” facilitated by the “license” he gets from paying for it, displaying “little empathy” for the sex workers he meets – and the guy who lives next door. Or you, for that matter, Fella Reader. So even if you’re not a consumer of sexual entertainment (and Farley could find hardly any Bostonians with the XY chromosome who were not), listen up.
Because why? Because every quality that would allow you to be a different kind of client, not Farley’s poster child, are also the things that distinguish those (rare) non-client men who are appealing to women in and out of the sack. That’s right – if you pay attention to what it’d take to get a sex worker to like you, you’ll also learn what works when people are exchanging sex for free!
By the way, I don’t tell you this to encourage or facilitate anyone’s acts of prostitution, either buying sexual contact from someone else, or selling it. That’s illegal, Bucky! I’m certainly not going to recommend anything like that. (I am also going to assume for the purposes of these comments that any sex workers in question are not doing prostitution against their will.) Even out here in California, where you can get a card that allows you to smoke pot for medical reasons (well, except on those days the Feds decide to act on their confusion about states’ rights), you can’t legally exchange sex for money. You have to go to Nevada for that. And you Bostonians can probably get to Amsterdam as easily as you can get to Pahrump, so I’ll leave it for you to decide where in the world my advice might actually be legally relevant. Except, as I said, it’s really relevant everywhere, even to you guys only endowed with lust or love, not money.
Golden Rule: Let’s get started on our lesson with something simple. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Now, I’m not especially Biblical, but this is such fine advice that I make it something of a cornerstone of my understanding of sexuality. It has a lot in common with sex-positive community’s emphasis on consent – Don’t do things to people they don’t want to have done, duh! – and that undermines an important assumption of the Farley camp: that prostitutes have no choice over what they do.
Not every sex worker has control over her/hir/his working conditions and ability to exercise agency and consent to the various sex acts that they are hired to engage in.
But some certainly do. Too, not every sex worker is sex-positive, comfortable with sexual variety, even into sex. But some are, far more so than others, and if you’re going to spend money for an experience, doesn’t it stand to reason that you’d prioritize having a good time? Only people who have never actually HAD a good time having sex believe that it’s fun to engage in sexual behaviors with a marginally or unwilling person, paid or not… oh, and sociopaths.
Sure, even a lousy orgasm is still an orgasm. Even an ejaculation without orgasmic feeling probably releases some tension. But friends, that is something you can do all by yourself, for free. Or, if you must spend that dough that’s burning a hole in your pocket and you can’t be bothered to drum up a bit of fellow-feeling for prostitutes, invest in a sex toy. You’re never alone when there’s a specially-designed gizmo in bed with you, and you’d be surprised how much more sensation it can generate than the hand you may have known intimately since you were about twelve.
Otherwise, realize that if you treat other people with respect, you will pretty much always have a better experience.
And that probably goes double for people you pay, since so many other people don’t bother to pull the respect out with the wallet. Every waitress in Boston knows what I’m talking about, and so do all the sex workers.
Porn is Not Sex Ed: This may be the most important, relevant insight from the Newsweek article: “Sex buyers in the study used significantly more pornography than nonbuyers, and three quarters of them said they received their sex education from pornography, compared with slightly more than half of the nonbuyers.” Now, as I said last week, I’m dubious about the numbers this study generated because I’m concerned that underlying attitudes and research methods may have given the researcher results that she wanted to see. But this is an insight no sex educator, even the most pro-porn one, will entirely disagree with: Lots of people watch porn in hopes they’ll figure out how it’s – you know, sex, the thing itself – done. The younger they are (and/or the worse the sex education they’ve had), the greater might be the allure of explicit media. Now, there’s already a genre of explicit sex films made for sex ed purposes – but there aren’t terribly many of them, and it’s worth wondering how many porn consumers even know they exist. (I have a dog in this race, since I’ve participated in a number of these myself, and Good Vibrations sells many of them.)
Listen, johns – and janes, and jesses. Porn is genre media with its own special conventions, just like car-chase movies. You do not look to these for driver’s education (and if you did, that explains all the points on your license) – you look to them for entertainment. You don’t watch horror films because you want insight on where to hang out to find someone who will murder you with a saw – you watch them for the adrenaline rush. You don’t watch sci-fi the way you’d watch a NatGeo travelogue, to prep for your Grand Tour of the galaxy – you watch it to send your brain on a trip your body cannot take.
Could you learn something useful about sex from porn? Well, some civilians get into all those positions for fun. You see how body parts can connect (though rarely do you see the amount of lube that allows them to do so without discomfort). But porn people are athletes who specialize in portraying sex, and that’s not in fact the same as just having sex. This is true even of vanilla sex (that’s our code word for the non-kinky stuff); when it comes to specialty acts (BDSM, anal, rough sex and so on), it’s extra-true, and you don’t (usually) have the benefit of seeing the performers negotiate their scene, prep and engage in the special behaviors that keep them safe. This is of special concern to Farley: “’Over time, as a result of their prostitution and pornography use, sex buyers reported that their sexual preferences changed and they sought more sadomasochistic and anal sex,’ the study reported.”
Leaving aside the likelihood that people can develop various erotic interests as they become sexually experienced and comfortable, and that many people need no encouragement to do this (while others are inspired, not by porn, but by medical textbooks, women’s magazine articles, or their friends’ glowing reports after they’ve attended their first kinky play-party or had their first anal experience) – well, sure porn gives people ideas about sexual things they might like to try. That’s why sex therapists sometimes recommend erotic movies to in-a-rut couples who have become bored with inflexible sex lives. But the fact is, the researcher talks like anal sex and BDSM are bad things, and that’s hardly the case. They can be awesome. You need info to do them right, which makes me reinforce again:
Porn is not sex ed.
If you try these practices first with a prostitute or professional dominant or submissive, you might possibly get someone who can help you learn the ropes, in fact. But the underlying complaint here is really about the guys who decide they want to try a sexual position or activity and then bust into the bedroom and expect Wifey (or a hired companion) to just do it, no negotiation, no nothing. (All too often, no lube either. Would they drive their car that way? Click and Clack, can I get a witness?) And that has nothing to do with the inspiration of porn; it has to do with social skills, which I will address below.
Grand Theft Auto is Not Life Ed: Now I hope I don’t have to spell this out to any of you guys. But just in case: I don’t care how much you want to, it is just not OK to kill pedestrians with your car for the fun of it; shoot people to see if your aim is good; shoot cops so that your aim will get better; knock women around (and I do NOT want to hear any of you tell me those aren’t women, they’re ‘hos – I’ve seen Grand Theft Auto, and those are actually women); and/or kill women or anybody else for fun.
In other words: There may be a good reason to play video games, but preparing for life away from a computer screen is not that reason.
Sex Work is Work: Just as you most likely pay your rent with money you earn from somewhere, prostitutes hang out on that corner or work up a fancy website to seek out clients for the money. They do not do it, generally, for love; and even if they really like sex as much as fantasizing clients think they do, they are having sex the way someone else wants to have it, within negotiated limitations, and they are having it with someone with whom perhaps they would not ordinarily find themselves bumping body parts. I realize that johns often wish they did not have to pay for pleasure (and indeed, you don’t HAVE to – I remind you again that your hand, in most cases already attached to your actual body, makes a fabulous pleasure-giving instrument). You know, it’s possible that your employer would also prefer not to pay you. But given that we live in a society in which money changes hands to house, clothe, feed, amuse and entertain us, it’s worth remembering that sex workers brings their skills and abilities, which includes their willingness to engage in sexual situations, into the marketplace – where pretty much everything else also exists and is exchanged for money at least sometimes.
Sure, the monetary system is frustrating, especially when you don’t have a ton of it to start with. Sure, we wish everything came to us for free. But it doesn’t, so evaluate your spending and appreciate what you get. Or develop the thing that allows you to both be a valued client or a beloved partner or the guy whose booty calls women really look forward to: social skills. (If you have those, you can develop sexual skills aplenty, because you will pay attention to what your partners like and want. If you can’t tell, you will feel comfortable asking.)
Just Try Not to Be a Fuckin’ Jerk: Here’s the thing. Every time any of us interface with another person, with or without our pants on, we have a choice to make: to treat them with respect, or not. The drycleaner, our spouse, our kid’s teacher, a stripper, the bus driver, our waiter, the masseuse who finishes with a happy ending. We can value what they add to our lives and do for us, or we can treat them as “less than” – we can be a mensch, or a jerk. It comes down to this: try not to be a jerk.
Now, when it comes to sex, respect and non-jerkitude includes understanding that different people want to, and will, do different sexual things. Good johns – the kind sex workers are happy to see again – know that; they ask nicely, negotiate for what they want, and are respectful. If they happen to be, say, married to someone who doesn’t like the things they want to do, and find someone to engage in an exchange of sex for money, they value that exchange.
(They don’t bellyache about using a condom, either. No good john, or polite sex partner in any context, does. Don’t like condoms? Three words: Mas. Tur. Bate.)
As a matter of fact, people who are respectful and clear in their communications seem to have a better time in bed at home, too, because their partners are more likely to feel valued and hence are more open to intimacy and negotiating new experiences. That might have been a big part of the reason they partnered up in the first place. Fancy that.
You always have this choice with a sex worker: to treat the person with respect, or not; that is, to be some variant of a jerk. Being a jerk does not in fact get you what you want. More than that, it devalues the person you’ve turned to for sexual entertainment or pleasure – and that devalues you, and the role sexual pleasure plays in your life. If sex is good and desirable (and if it isn’t, why the hell would you pay for it?), then the source of sexual pleasure is worthy of respect. Learning to respect others can be a lifetime-long project, but it starts simply: Don’t be a jerk, and remember the Golden Rule.
One More Thing: About Drugs: Do you ever find that drugs or alcohol erode your sense of the appropriate, leading you into dicey situations or causing people to tell you after you sober up that you were a big jerk? Consider doing fewer of them. Just sayin’
Recommended Reading: Paying for It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients, edited by Greta Christina.
[Carol Queen, PhD is Staff Sexologist at Good Vibrations—visit the Brookline store at Coolidge Corner to find her books, fun and sexy toys, and informational classes, or sign up for the e-list at goodvibes.com.]