I Am A “John”: Thoughts On Sex Work And Porn

sexworkers02In the course of my career as a pornographer and writer, I’ve got to know an awful lot of sex workers. I follow them on Twitter, I’ve chatted with them at conferences and I’ve worked with them on my films.

I have long been a supporter and ally of all sex workers, be they escorts, strippers, porn performers or anyone who makes a living in the sex industry. Strangely enough, it was only last week when I was directing my latest film starring two out-and-proud sex workers that it occurred to me: I’m also a “John”.

If you don’t know, “John” is the derogatory term that anti-sex-work activists use to describe the clients of sex workers. Their rhetoric typically casts “Johns” as male exploiters, seedy, desperate types who want to abuse women because they can’t get sex “normally”.

So then there’s me, a middle-class married woman who just happens to pay people to have sex in front of her. Sure, there’s a camera between us but in essence I’m a client of sex workers; they provide sexual services and I give them money for it.

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So I’m a filmmaker, a documentary maker of sorts… and I’m also a “John”. And I’d never really seen myself that way before. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I was seeing porn making as a separate thing. And also because I’m monogamous and I’m not actually having sex with my clients, nor do I want to. I’m just filming them. It felt different somehow. But I now realize that it’s not.

To follow the arguments of those who oppose sex work, being a “John” makes me a bad person, an exploiter of vulnerable people who were no doubt forced into their position by desperate circumstances. If I lived in a country with the Swedish model, I should go to jail for this.

The thing is, every performer I’ve worked with has been a collaborator in my filmmaking. I carefully vet who appears in my films, I discuss what we’re going to do beforehand, I take their preferences into account and I try to ensure they are safe and comfortable and having fun during filming. And I do my best to respect their choices and to present them respectfully in my films.

Everyone has been a willing, consenting, happy participant in the process. Yes, they’ve had sex at my request and received money for it but we were all consenting adults who have gone into it with our eyes open. It is, in essence, a business contract. The state should not have to take an interest, beyond demanding its share of tax.

I don’t think you can say I’m an exception or that the real problem is the men who buy sex. Plenty of sex work interactions occur respectfully and without a problem between people of all genders. It’s not the “Johns” or the work itself that’s the problem, it’s the ongoing stigma and criminalization that puts sex workers in danger and then prevents them from seeking help. It’s the belief – perpetuated by anti-sex-work activists – that sex work is inherently degrading and that those who do it are “broken”, confused, or just lesser human beings than others. These negative stereotypes mean that those people who do mistreat sex workers often get away with it.

Sex workers are my friends. I want them to have happy fulfilling lives without stigma and I hate that they have to fight for their right to use their bodies in the way they see fit.

So, as a “John”, I wholeheartedly endorse the following concepts:

  • Sex work is work; that people should have the choice to use their bodies in any way they see fit to make a living and that includes having sex or engaging in sexual behaviour.
  • There is nothing inherently wrong, immoral or unethical about exchanging money for sexual services.
  • Sex work should not be illegal; what consenting adults do in privacy is none of the state’s business. Money changing hands does not change this.
  • Sex workers who choose their career should be listened to and supported in their choice; it’s their life, their body and they are the ones who know what’s best for themselves.
  • Sex work is like any other work. People do it for various reasons ranging from personal fulfillment to just paying the bills. You shouldn’t assume that a sex worker is only doing that job as a last resort, out of desperation or because they’ve been forced into it by someone else.
  • Any policy regulating sex work should be based on sound, peer-based research and created in collaboration with sex workers who know what’s best for themselves and their peers.
  • Consensual sex work is different to sex trafficking and sex slavery. These problems do exist and we need to eradicate them but they are separate to consensual sex work and it is not helpful to conflate them.

The entire issue of sex work is far more complicated than what I’ve written about here. I would recommend you read the books, reports and blogs of those who do sex work and listen to what they have to say. This post is just my way of saying I support sex workers and that, yes, I’m also a client.

Links: Who exactly are the men who pay for sex? by Brooke Magnanti
Scarlet Alliance – Australian Sex Workers Alliance
Sex Worker’s Outreach Project (SWOP)

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Image above: Sadie Lune, Sex Worker Film Series poster from here

Top image from here

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