No: honestly. Not a punny title. Not a veiled joke. Nothing. Its a serious issue and one that far too often gets covered up in public debate either with embarrassment or – see above – the inevitable sniggering humour that so often characterises UK debate on anything to do with sex.
Unless, of course, we are talking about “sexualisation” of our “yoof”, in which case its merely bad and evil and to be condemned…mostly without any debate at all.
So, briefly, i dropped in to the Sex Workers Open University on saturday (the penultimate day of a four day event): and no, it wasn’t about “doing it”. Nor was i “dressed to fit in” – i think a reference by her indoors to the fact i was wearing a large gold belt and leatherised black jeggings, both in honour of a social i was heading on to later in the evening.
I said hi to the always interesting Laura Agustin, chatted at length with one of the organisers, unfortunately failing to meet up with one or two of the others i’d hoped to see, because they were occupying the city or camping outside St Pauls for the night (or possibly both).
And i totally failed to meet up with the seriously impressive Anna Span, aka Anna Arrowsmith, feminist porn producer, lib dem parlimentary candidate, academic and activist. This puts the icing on several weeks of failure to meet with Anna in respect of a seriously interesting project she is working on because first i was in hospital and confined to bed…then she was ditto…and we keep turning up at meetings either just before or just after one another.
It is possible that there is nothing else for it: we shall have to pick up the phone and slot a time, date and place in our respective diaries, like everyone else. How passé!
But back to the seriousness and the conversation. I know just how sensational continued advocacy in this area sounds. But its absolutely needed.
Next to no-one in the various campaign groups is promoting sex work as career choice – though many would probably reject the easy cliché that its a cushy number for an elite few and next to no choice at all for everyone else. Sex work is frequently born out of poverty and limited economic choices.
It provides agency and control in many instances for individuals who would otherwise have neither. Yet in many jurisdictions, government response is purely punitive (even when it is claimed not to be): the state neither helps those who want out of sex work to escape; nor protects those who choose to do it from abuse and violence.
Debate is characterised by paternalistic interventions from the religious, as one would expect: but equally, there seems to be a strong streak of paternalism in the way some feminist analyses deal with the issue. Silencing, appropriating , prescriptive. Very little willingness to deal with those involved as individuals capable of self-awareness: far too quick to condemn them as, pretty much, selling out the feminist cause.
So that, in a nutshell is why it needs continued focus. The debate over sex work needs to be, deserves to be, lifted out of the gutter, where far too many politicians and journalists would consign it.
Elevating debate says nothing about views on the matter in question: everything about respect for those grappling with the issues, which is really the least they deserve.
Sex work IS a serious matter.