The Moral Significance of Sex Workers and People With Disabilities
NOTE: I recommend you click "View Entire Story", so the endnotes work.
When prostitution cases are brought before a judge in Britain, a particular kind of “John” (or customer) will almost always have the case tossed out of court: that is, if the customer is a person with a disability. So explains a member of the group TLC Trust to me: a group that defends and promotes the interaction between sex workers and people with disabilities – TLC, as you’ll see, and similar groups, has become my new favourite advocacy group. This powerful statement, of judges dismissing almost out of hand any prostitution case involving persons with a physical disability, sets an important moral precedent that I think we all ought to follow.
For many, voluntary sex work - that is, done by people who do it without being physically forced or blackmailed into it - is inherently wrong for reasons I find extremely wanting (unless they mean sex trafficking, in which case we're not talking about the same thing. Please see the notes below for more). But many, including judges, accept that there is a unique situation when it comes to the relationship between sex workers and people with disabilities**. However, what I perceive from sex workers and this relationship is an element of morality worth emulating and promoting; and thus ultimately treating both sex workers and people with disabilities with the respect both groups deserve, as persons with interests, that warrant wider respect and, indeed, admiration.
I’ve never understood the inherent problem with sex work. As the wonderful Martha Nussbaum has famously argued, all kinds of careers – from plumbers to pop-stars – use their bodies to fulfil some demand made by another. Whether this is dancing in small clothes or fixing a leak, we use our bodies to bring comfort, fulfilment, etc. to others, in exchange for money.
What makes a (non-coerced, voluntary, etc.) sex worker any different to a pop-star? Some say that the main difference is that the sex worker engages in sex. However, that’s just a restatement of his or her career: you might as well say a pop-star sings. Is there something special about sex that somehow makes it beyond something we pay for? Just as we can ask a friendly neighbour to help us fix a leak or pay plumbers, we can ask a really friendly neighbour for consensual sex or pay a sex worker. What exactly is the problem? I’ve not read an account that adequately explains why the latter is problematic, inherently.
Perhaps it’s that the sex worker engages directly with the client. Why this matters morally is unclear: perhaps it is that the sex worker in direct physical interaction with the client raises the danger, complicates the power dynamics, and so on. But why do these aspects make sex work inherently wrong? There are plenty of dangerous jobs and plenty of direct proximity ones (dentistry and surgery, for example). Talk of danger is important and, indeed, essential but that’s not what makes something wrong. Indeed, if danger is the main opposition then you would want sex work “out in the open” (legal or decriminalised), under the scrutiny or, better yet, the protection of relevant authorities: sex workers deserve protection, security and the knowledge of acquiring these from relevant governmental places – from policing to medical – without unnecessary hassle. Abuse happens because they have no proper protection, not because abuse is built in to their career (indeed, abusive relations with pimps can be combatted if sex workers receive proper protection and little harassment from legal officials. See first note below).
We must protect both the sex worker (and his or her clients), through, for example, supplying effective contraceptives or preventing physical abuse. Why should sex workers not receive the same protections as almost all other working people, especially in a career that brings special fulfilment to many people and who, as workers, are persons like everyone else?
The relation to people with disabilities
Their relationship with people with disabilities confirms this. As many of them will testify, being a person with a disability makes acquiring sexual and romantic fulfilment difficult. Denise Beckwith, a medal-winner in the Sydney Paralympics, told ABC News that her interaction with a sex worker helped her develop in ways she otherwise may not have. “I have a disability (cerebral palsy) and my first sexual experience was with a sex worker, and I really value that experience because it gave me confidence to then pursue other relationships.” When she was 16, her father helped her acquire time with a male sex worker. ‘Brad’ from South Australia told Touching Base (another organisation helping people with disabilities reach sex workers):
“I would not argue for a minute, that the services of a sex worker can replace a loving intimate partnership. It cannot. I married a few years later, in my early 40’s, for the first time.
However, anyone with a few grams of practicality and common sense can see that disabled people are not as freely able to access forms of erotic touch, as every other person. It is disturbing, heart rending, when it is stated that disabled people are not as readily chosen as sexual partners as those without disabilities and many people rush to deny this fact.”
Indeed, even he acknowledges one of the problems that reverberates into making such interaction harder for people like him is “a lack of respect of the role of the sex worker”.
Sex workers are able to cater to those needs, allowing for these persons to fulfil their fantasies in a consensual relation with another adult. As sex worker and campaigner Rachel Wooton said: “I treat them as human beings. And they all have different needs and desires…it’s just about changing my service delivery slightly.”
Testament after testament tell us how people with disabilities have never been treated better, have never felt more fulfilled, thanks to caring sex workers. This doesn’t mean it is impossible for them to obtain these situations without sex work, as ‘Brad’ above indicated, but it does, according to testaments and cases histories, make it incredibly easier if there are avenues for people with disabilities to safely and easily contact available sex workers. The Internet, thankfully, makes such transactions more accessible (this is the natural extension of how we cater to people with disabilities already, by giving them designated parking areas, ramps and so on).***
There are obviously dangers in many of these areas. But we benefit no one by pretending the entire area is one that should be taboo, wrong, criminal. We benefit no one and protect nobody by asserting our disgust, hatred and antagonism of sex workers and/or people with disabilities. We allow our own privileged positions as capable or strong or non-disabled people – able to have ‘normal’ consensual adult relations – to cloud ourselves if we think everyone else is capable of this.
Indeed, sex workers' services shouldn’t only be recognised in the light of people with disabilities, but people with, say, psychological hangups, and so on (and of course average, 'normal' people, too). This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with people who choose sex workers because they ‘can’t get' anyone without paying for it – just as people don’t ‘resort’ to online dating, since it’s equally as effective and allows for long-term commitments, so seeking out sex workers is nothing to be ashamed of; it's not wrong, or indicative of being a failure, deviant or a slightly off human being. However we find fulfilment, as long as we are not harming others, shouldn’t be an issue and we should celebrate that there are people, like sex workers, helping and facilitating this.
Consigning worries to the shadows does not dispel them, it only removes them from sight.
Sex work is important because persons are important: more so a broad, powerful group that help cater to the needs of another marginalised group of persons (and others, of course). Whatever dangers you can suggest are well-known already to many of the men and women involved, some having lived through them already. And seeing as we are dealing with adults, making claims that these relationships aren’t real is, again, unfounded since it presumes to know what all relationships should be like, or that there can only be one kind of relationship or fulfilment.
We should be glad this is getting exposure but we should utilise this opportunity to accept sex work as a legitimate and worthwhile endeavour for many people. Whatever dangers there are should be discussed openly and without scorn for the sex workers or their clients – unless we have reason and evidence to suggest particular cases warrant such reactions.
* There is of course the idea that no one grows up wanting to be a sex worker; that, though people aren't forced into it, their economic and societal standing are forces that compel them into this line of work. This means they're forced into sex, when they don't want to be. I sympathise with this view, but for the sake of focus, I'm not on that case. On a related note, making sex work illegal won't make such situations disappear: indeed, it would possibly make it worse for these unfortunate people in this position, since not only are they forced into a career they would otherwise not want, but, operating in a crime environment creates a cycle from which it is difficult to escape: since you're already a criminal, your "protection" and income come from people who have no regard for law or civility. Thus leading to blackmail and people stuck, endlessly tied to paying back pimps. ^
** I realise that constantly reading ‘people with disabilities’ seems long, jarring and uncomfortable; but I do not wish to call such persons merely ‘disabled’, since according to many reports, they find this term offensive and hurtful. The term focuses on the disability, instead of them as persons. Language is a tricky area, so out of respect and with my limited knowledge of how to engage, I ask my readers and persons with disabilities to aid me in this way: if you are a member or know an appropriate term, please do contact me and I will update it as such. Since this article is about promoting the equal respect that people with disability deserve, I naturally want to communicate appropriately! Thank you. ^
*** It seems to me then that it is helpful to consider sex a human right. But that might be needed to developed further. ^
UPDATE: This post is generating wonderful discussions and debate at Reddit. I recommend you look at all the different threads.
Image Credit: Hasloo Group Production Studio
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.
- Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
- Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
- The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.
- New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
- Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
- The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.
Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.
The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.
The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.
Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.
"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."
University of Colorado Boulder
This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.
Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.
The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.
Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.
What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.
"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."
Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
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