delve a little deeper....
Further to the Love For Sale documentary there has been some discussion on the choice of title. The main argument being that that you can't actually buy love and in any case that's not what most sex workers are selling anyway.
To be fair I'd rather be selling love than my body, which is the other thing people assume I am selling. I'm not. I am still intact, with all limbs after I see a client.
Of course the title comes from Cole Porter's Love For Sale, a song written for the Broadway musical The New Yorkers. This is Billie Holiday's version:
So, is love for sale a stupid title for a show about prostitution? Some could say that Everett's presentation made sex work seem romantic, exciting and glamorous. He reconciled his distaste for religion and his Catholic upbringing by telling the story of Jesus on the night before his execution in The Garden of Gethsemane being cared for by a "stripling in loose attire" , a male escort and that after all Mary Magdalene was his best mate (although I don't think there has been any consensus that she was a prostitute!). He also openly admitted that he romanticised prostitution and clearly has a deep fascination with it.
Whilst love never really came into the argument on this programme the trailer for the next show had Russell Brand declaring he loved the first prostitute he slept with. “I loved her. She was beautiful, elegant and sweet and ...and to be with a beautiful Filipino woman was magical.”
A typical comment from Brand who is well known to be flowery, poetic and lavish with both his language and outlook on life! He certainly won't be the first man to have claimed he was in love with a prostitute.
Books, films and songs have told of romance and heart break with ladies of the night and punting forums never go more than a few weeks without someone with their tale of falling for an escort. Some stories have happy endings (more realistic than Pretty Woman) but by and large the rule of thumb is not to fall in love with an escort and not falling in love with a client is also high on the list of rules they teach you at whore school and nearly every escort I know has broken it at some point.
...who's prepared to pay the price for a trip to paradise...
But love isn't what prostitutes advertise as offering. The closest is probably The GFE (The Girlfriend Experience) a marketing term which has come about to differentiate the experience from a wham bam, thank you mam experience that sex work used to be or that you might get in a Soho walk up.
The old adage that prostitutes never kiss a client is not true any more, kissing is essential to many men and to be fair many women who need a bit of something to get in the mood! The GFE doesn't mean sitting around watching telly and bickering or nagging the client to take the bins out then feigning a headache to avoid shagging. It's more about the whole experience of chatting, cuddling, kissing as well as having sex. It's different from the PSE (porn Star Experience) because its less likely to include fetishes, anal sex, BDSM and writhing around making stupid pretend sex noises.
Love can mean many things, we love our parents, children, siblings, friends, chocolate, kittens or a football team. I can say I love someone's dress or I love the colour of their nail varnish. Some men would say they love their regular escort, but in a safe way, with the boundary of cash exchanging hands and limited (if any) contact between bookings.
A GFE is all the good bits about having a girlfriend. And that's what clients get. Not actual love, but being made to feel they are loved, cared and wanted. It's not just about getting their end away (although of course it is in some cases and most times there is a happy ending). Sometimes friendships form. You get to know regular clients and dare I say it, even build up a fondness for them.
For some men, seeing an escort isn't just about sex. It might be about spending time with a woman, just being able to chat and touch them. It could be about fulfilling a sexual fantasy they they can't ask anyone else to do or simply having sex because their partner is unwilling or unable. Men who struggle in social situations or find it hard to meet women pay for sex. There has been much documented about disabled men meeting sex workers (Link to blog about Sex on Wheels documentary) and for many this is their only form of sexual, or even sensual contact. For some this might be a form of receiving love.
Of course, the polite term for sex is 'making love'. Personally, I reserve this term for when I am actually in love with someone and even then I find it a bit icky. Even if it's not said (I'm fine with 'I want to fuck you' as a come on!) When you're in love with someone sex is an expression of love, even if it's at 1am, after 4 bottles of wine and you're doing something really fucking kinky there's still love there. I guess the difference also is I wouldn't be that pissed with a client doing crazy stuff!
...Let the poets pipe of love, in their childish ways.
I know every type of love, better far than they...
Sex in the paid-for sense isn't the same as sex between two people who love each other, (far from it in most cases!) and 'Love for sale' as a documentary title does feel on immediate reflection a way of sanitising the sex industry. However, There's a long way between the love of your life and your favourite crisp flavour but we say we love them both.
Love is complicated and comes in many many forms. And so does sex work. And that's why I like the title.
"Old love, new love, every love but true love".
Cole Porter, 1930
Almost all reviews and previews about Channel 4's Love for Sale documentary seem to contain the word 'controversial'. It seems a shame to me that this and any TV programme about sex work is always controversial.
Of course I understand that there are many views on sex work and very many experiences of it, some unpleasant, but the fact that it remains 'controversial' implies that a sensible grown up discussion can not be had about sex work and that it is something that can be snickered about or has to be 'shocking'.
Half the problem with us Brits is that until sex can be discussed without it being a huge fucking big deal the issue of sex work will never be able to be discussed and debated rationally.
However, Rupert Everett's documentary on the matter looks like it might actually turn out to be a very mixed and balanced view on sex work. The first episode was shown last night and despite not actually wanting to watch it I decided at the last minute to watch it.
It was quite strange actually. I take an interest in what is being said about sex work in the media, but when someone asked me if I'd be watching the programme yesterday I said I wasn't. I said I was sick of hearing and reading about sex work and that there wasn't much I didn't already know, Maybe I felt slightly fed of my own work being held up to the light and commented on, maybe I was sick of the backlash that occurs when programmes like this are on that insults me and that whatever anyone says about sex work, we are all deemed as dirty sluts...
I was also slightly irritated the programmes was being hosted by a man. I have nothing against Rupert Everett, but some deep feminist anger (you should know I rarely get on board with feminism) of why a white, privileged bloody man was fronting this show was prickling me.
As it turns out Everett is probably a great choice. Firstly he has done sex work. back in 1997 he confessed to the American magazine US that he had accepted money for cash.. "I didn't set out to hustle, but this guy offered me such a massive amount of money, well, it was like a year-and-a-half's pocket money," He says that as a struggling actor he "sort of fell into" prostitution after being approached outside a London Tube station.
He doesn't do it now and has been successful in his chosen career, he is gay which means he won't be tarred as a dirty old man or a pimp (the usual term given to those talking about any male who understands and supports sex work) and he genuinely seems to be wanting to understand sex work from all angles. This wasn't a programme filled with young, glamorous beauties bending over in g strings telling us how empowered they feel or a horrorfest of shocking horrific stories of poverty and abuse. It was wonderfully mixed and Everett handled it with frankness, a dab of black humour and genuine interest. You only have to compare it to Jodie sodding Marsh making vomity faces to see this was an adult programme, made for adults who want a rounded view. As Everett said so smoothly of sex workers, "They are seen as immoral slags or powerless victims, but I want to get behind those stereotypes".
Last nights programme started with Charlotte who works as an independent sex worker in Devon, who it would be easy to dismiss as a immoral slag. Well she certainly isn't a powerless victim, but nor is she an immoral slag, She is a business woman, free to make her own choices and demonstrated what a large percentage of UK sex workers are like. Not stunningly beautiful, but certainly attractive, middle class, sensible and educated (she has the same degree as me!).
Her views on clients ("I'm not sexually revolted by anyone") resonated and she also made it clear that being a sex worker isn't about looks, height or size and that everyone has "gifts in different ways". Although she seems to be very lucky in the orgasm department!
i was surprised how out Charlotte was, I want to know what her neighbours will be saying this morning! Then there was Hannah, who runs an agency who was very open in light of her role being illegal. She seemed a lovely person to be running an agency doing this should not be illegal, but that seemed to be skated over.
Whilst I liked a lot of Everett's laid back humour, his line about a client Hannah had listed on her wall as 'rough' as his "sort of client" would only be made by a man who didn't really understand the need to be very careful about who you see and that actually there is a huge difference between good rough and scary as fuck rough.
The programme then focused on a 'high class' escort and a male escort. Both these too showing the freely chosen side of sex work and with much positivity.
Bruno, the gay male escort explained his partners have all done escorting at some point which he preferred because "Nobody understands what you do until they do it.". So true, I think it's very hard for people to get their head around the job and get that it is just a job and it's not the same as sleeping with a partner and that it isn't cheating. I'm not convinced Bruno's tactic of encouraging his boyfriends into sex work would work for many women and their boyfriends though!
However, Bruno talked about the high level of suicide among his peers. He claimed to have lost eight male escort friends in the last 18 months due to suicide. Shocking and something I hadn't thought about or seen written about. Is there generally a high rate of suicide amongst sex workers or is it more to do with male and gay men? I'd quite like to know more about that...
The programme took a different slant, which did make it more balanced and hopefully will head off the inevitable accusations of Channel 4 glamorising the industry. Everett talked about a close friend of his who was killed on the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. Whilst horribly tragic, this section was filled with humour and happy memories. The transsexuals Rupert spoke with seemed happy and whilst he acknowledged that their work on the street was dangerous he commented on the "charming camaraderie". He took a couple of these women to a gallery to show them paintings of prostitutes where they commented sadly that the women looked like victims, forced and weary and that they didn't like that this is how people would see them too.
Rupert then visited The Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem to talk about the centuries old problem of sex work- stigma, which of course originated from religion where every faith condemns prostitution as a sin which led on to a very sad story of a young man called Mahmoud caught in prostitution at a former Tel Aviv bus station. Mahmoud is an illegal immigrant who feels he has no choice but to sell sex on the street, He stated that if suicide was allowed within his religion that is what he would have done.
The next sex worker Everett met was in Liverpool, a 28 year old women with addictions and who had been selling sex on the street since she was 13. She was clearly unhappy and wanted a better life for herself and her daughter. Certainly a more sobering stories than those in the first half of the programme.
Everett asked himself "Are all prostitutes deluding themselves on some level about the choices they have?" and "Is sex work the ultimate expression of the power that men have over women?"
Questions that are often asked and questions that are frustrating on one level but also understandable on another.
The final sex worker was Mariska from Amsterdam, home of the windows. I loved this woman, she was fab. She explained how she 'screens' men as they pass by, deciding if she wants to see them. She explained it is important for window girls and street workers to be able to do this and actually exactly what I do when they phone me.
She said she was not looking at a man in the same way she would in her personal life. It isn't about sex, it's about him being a customer. "Is he clean, is he willing to pay my price, is he not having many too strange fantasies, is he behaving well, kind, respectful whatever. So that's what you are searching on."
It took us right back to Charlotte's attitude at the start of the programme. It's not about how someone looks, it's about how they make us feel.
Mariska was lovely, smart and gave a great image of the sex workers who work in the red light district of Amsterdam, mainly how safe it is for them and that they too have a choice in who they see.
The programme ended with that dreadful Moran woman who is campaigning to criminalise the men who pay for sex. You'll have to watch it to see the bile and hatred she has because I'm not going to discuss it!
Overall a great show, far better than I anticipated!