Paternalistic Attitudes Towards Sex Workers and Why I Am Pissed Off About It

A few months ago, I saw a client from the USA during his trip to Vancouver. It was an awkward session, over all. He was uncomfortable with me, the booking girl had sent me when he had requested a girl who was unavailable, and he thought that I wasn’t as pretty as the girl he’d originally requested. Still, we managed to have some fun. After doing his little role-play scenario, he seemed to be more interested in talking than in fucking (there was no fucking during the role-play).

He asked me questions about my work, and about the legal status of my work in Canada. I told him that exchanging sex for money was legal in Canada, but most everything related to it is not, which makes it awkward for those in my profession to get by at times. Then he asked me if the agency ‘makes us get tested.’ I told him that, no, no one makes us do anything, but that I choose to get tested every two months. I did not tell him how offensive the idea of forced testing truly is.

The first recorded history of sex work began in temples. In the ancient world, prostitute and priestess (or, often, priest) meant the same thing. Ancient cultures that appreciated the amazing, life-affirming power of sexuality in a way that our culture does not held the sacred whores in high esteem. I often think about how wonderful it would be to be able to work out of a temple, to have my knowledge of sexuality and my sensitivity in exploring sexual territory truly respected and honoured.

Of course, the status of the whore fell as patriarchal religions became more widespread. In the 1800’s in Europe, the dominant culture took steps to distance prostitutes from the general community. Measures such as making it mandatory that prostitutes wear clothing that differentiated them from other community members, was but one of the tactics used.

By the 1900’s, a syphilis epidemic swept across Western Europe. To help curb the spread of the disease, so they claimed, the powers-that-be ordered mandatory testing for STIs for women involved in or suspected of prostitution. While this may sound like a good idea on the surface, it was simply another way to bully and abuse sex workers, or any other woman who did not conform and behave according to patriarchal culture. Many women protested these tests, as they were degrading and violated the bodily integrity of women. Also, any woman who was forced to undergo these tests was added to a list of ‘known prostitutes.’ This list could be used to harass women, whether they were in fact prostitutes or not.

Another question one must ask while looking at this aspect of the history of sex workers is: why force the women to submit to a test, while imposing no similar measures on the men who procure the services of sex workers? I believe that the powers that be at the time were much more concerned with maintaining the status quo, and making procuring sex for money safer and easier for men, without regard for the women providing the service. It was also, I believe, a way to punish ‘fallen women’ under the misguided lens of the misogynistic religion of Christianity. As thousands of women with knowledge of midwifery were burned during the witch hunts on the grounds that it was sinful to ease a woman’s pain during childbirth, because of Eve’s supposed sin, these forced tests were simply another way of keeping women fearful, ashamed and disempowered.

The bottom line about ‘forced testing’ is that no one should be forced to do anything. We are all responsible for our own health. Most sex workers are responsible and considerate and would not put their health or someone else’s health at risk through unsafe sex practices and infrequent testing.

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