Humanity isn’t earned; it just IS: Ending dehumanization of the sex-work industry

First thing’s first; let’s define some of the main terms for clarity:

*Sex-worker: Is a person who is employed in the sex-work industry (Wikipedia, 2017).

*Professional Pornography (actor) and Fetish Model: Erotic nude model and pornographic actor (Wikipedia, 2017).  A fetish model is a model who models fetish clothing or devices. Many fetish models display what are termed fetish fashions, such clothing range from exotic stylized bathing suits to extreme costuming including body armor and sci-fi fantasy suits.

Fetish modeling may involve bondage, body modification, fetish photography and exotic glamour photography as well as sexual fantasy costuming (i.e. maid’s outfits, nurses, etc.). Fetish models may model for photography, and appear at BDSM fairs and parties (Wikipedia, 2017).

Sex-workers are NOT (to be portrayed here as): Prostitutes, pimps, rapists, void of love, unloved by their families, or outliers of society.

What sex-workers do NOT support: Human trafficking, rape, or unethical behavior from outside or inside of the industry.

Now that some of the basics are out of the way:

Let’s start at the beginning: If you’re not a sex worker, even if you’re only an admirer of the sex worker community, I hope this article makes you uncomfortable. I promise that I mean that in the nicest way possible. In order for better public understanding of the vulnerability, courage, compassion, and love within the sex worker community, leaning into discomfort with an open mind and full heart are the first thing that the public could do. If you do not possess these characteristics, this article is not a platform for further criticism and hurt, so please doesn’t portray it as such. Although your input is valuable to our community and to each of us as individuals, please be reminded that words do both hold value as much as they can destroy. As a united community, we hope you are here to help evolve your understanding and help us evolve ours in a way that sex workers can maintain or, dare I say, regain their humanity, just as any other individual who works hard and pours in love would hope to do. Still with me? Excellent. Let’s get dirty.

As an open-minded supporter of the “to each their own as long as it does no harm” theory, it is disheartening to find articles such as Dehumanization through Objectification by Connor’s Conundrums (2013), a blog site. This particular article almost begins by further desecrating what they refer to as “porn stars”, whereas the title and background for the article seemed to imply that they were going to do the opposite. In fact, they spoke about immigrants and veterans being rehumanized, but I will quote here what was stated regarding “porn stars”:

            Imagine if instead of seeing a “porn star” we could see a single mother of two kids with a drug addiction who is on the edge of eviction, or a person who experienced sexual abuse as a young child. Perhaps we’d feel sorry for these people, rather than perpetuating the problem for personal pleasure.

To be crystal clear; did they mention rehumanizing sex workers? Yes, technically, yes. Did they ALSO do so by informing the public that sex workers should be humanized because they are all the struggling victims of drug addictions, single parenthood, and Freudian issues? Damn right they did. I see what they did here. They are making a call to the kind-hearted to feel bad for those who have been victimized and are now nothing more than a mere victim of their circumstances whom has become helpless to the forces of the degrading life of a “porn star”. Thank you, Connor’s Conundrum, for the attempt at rehumanizing “porn stars”, but we’ll take it from here.

In a publication by Dworkin (1994), the author begins by stating some of the absolute horrors against women in the porn industry. She reports that they paint their vagina lips purple to make them look more favorable and highlight their rectums. “They”; “they”, the women who are being victimized and turned into objects and the producers responsible, as the author goes on to inform the readers. The author says,

“I am describing a process of dehumanization, a concrete means of changing someone into something. We are not talking about violence yet; we are nowhere near violence. Dehumanization is real. It happens in real life; it happens to stigmatized people. It has happened to us, to women. We say that women are objectified. We hope that people will think that we are very smart when we use a long word. But being turned into an object is a real event; and the pornographic object is a particular kind of object. It is a target. You are turned into a target. And red or purple marks the spot where he’s supposed to get you. This object wants it. She is the only object with a will that says, hurt me. A car does not say, bang me up. But she, this nonhuman thing, says hurt me–and the more you hurt me, the more I will like it.”

In a long and detailed search on all of the platforms made available, most of the research obtained was in light of the dehumanization of porn/porn actors/fetish models. Of course there were the sights that advocate for the community, but research informed me that they were far less than one may initially believe. Sites on end were full of shaming people for being in the industry or showing support for the industry, lack-luster reports of the rise of porn harming the masses while they presented statistics (supposed to be in their defense) that spoke differently, guilt-trips, bad-mouthing, and what seemed to be overall . . . well, a down right, down trodden, negative . . . shit show. The aforementioned publication by Dworkin (Dworkin, 1994), although older, still portrays how a lot of the public views the pornography and fetish industry to this day; women turned into objects, targets, things, possessions . . . dehumanized; less than. The fact of the matter is that the truth is quite the opposite. People who are active within the community will tell you that they have actually found their humanity, joy, purpose, and belonging. Isn’t that exactly what we are all searching for in life, and in turn, would wish upon everyone else?

These articles all make a plea to inform the public on the victimization and degradation of individuals in the porn and fetish industry. Articles such as the above appear to work towards dehumanization. But what if we stopped dehumanizing? What if we all lean in with generosity and curiosity, consider our words, collect a list of reasonable questions, and veer towards understanding. It is possible that not every sex worker out there is a victim. It is possible that they are filled with joy and not hurt. It is equally possible, that since they are all individuals who also maybe, just maybe, they have come from a past of pain and hurt and misunderstanding, and now have found a home and normalcy; but not always. People in the industry are your former waitress/waiter, former “vanilla” models who found their niche, people who you went to school with, have possibly shared moments of inextricable joy with during a football team win (or the likes), your neighbors, the people you smile at when you walk by them in the grocery store. I could go on. But I want to point out the recurring word – “people”.

The humanization of sex workers is a necessary talk. Why? Sex workers are amongst the cultures in society that have publically been held to a lesser degree of humanity. It’s time to change that (and a lot of other things in the world, but I’ll start here). First of all, I am specifically not referring to the dehumanization of the sex worker industry using the term “stigma”. We all know there is a huge stigmatization to a lot of porn, so let’s move past that and consider the individual humanity of the persons employed within the industry. In Column: Our work shouldn’t dehumanize us (Zubizarreta, 2017) it was stated that a detachment from the emotional side of work can cause an individual to dehumanize themselves due to their work. However, if a group of sex workers were surveyed, I don’t think they would say this is the case. The author also reports that ethics can look different from profession to profession, and that research has shown that Congress-people have been shown to uphold ethical standards to a lesser degree than car sales-people. When these individuals do this, their mistakes, or lack of humanity effect many. Whereas sex workers are doing no harm, since their content and “agenda” is only available to those whom wish to seek it.

While we’re moving towards rehumanization of sex workers, let’s also discuss non-objectification. This is a reoccurring theme as one of the most popular fights against sex workers; that they are reducing themselves to becoming objects. Non-objectification begins with understanding how hurtful some of the theories on objectification of sex-workers actually are. One example that has had an impact is the theory of Kant where it is stated (Shrage, 2005):

“sexual desire inevitably leads to treating persons as things, because it is ‘the only case in which a human being is designed by nature as the Object of another’s enjoyment.”

Is this really true though? Is sex-work the ONLY case where an individual is held as the object for another’s enjoyment? Did we forget completely about Hollywood actors and actresses, comedians on a stage, or athletes? I feel I could probably go on and on. Ahhh, but I already hear you saying “but these people are maintaining their humanity because they are not showing off their naked body, being penetrated, or having intercourse on screen. Consider the amount of emotional turmoil it takes any one of those individuals to stand in front of an audience, be courageous, bare themselves to the masses. The fact of the matter is that we DO sexual all of these individuals as well. If Brad Pitt shows his butt on screen people go crazy and love it (I may be old . . . is he still cool . . .?). We vote for a sexiest man of the year. Crowds of people talk about athletes butts in their tight pants. We live in a culture that begs sexualization of individuals, entire classes of society, yet when sex-workers provide that, people hold them accountable for their own objectification. In addition, I will state that it does not help when we have people informing society its ok to “grab them by the pussy”, or this year when the fella from AVN told crowds on Reddit it was ok to “grope the models! It’s what you came here for!” (which was deleted off the entire internet as soon as people could find it there).

In an effort to expand the general understanding of the public, there are quite a few things that are important knowledge. Sex-workers shouldn’t be rehumanized as individuals just because I say so. So, here is some useful knowledge. Sex-workers love their jobs. They don’t despise waking up and going into an office that they hate. There is community in the sex-work industry and friendship. Sex-workers have kids. Surprise! They are not any more prone to single-parenthood than anyone else in today’s society. Oh, and all those drug addictions the public is so sure of in sex-work, that’s not a thing. The truth is that delving into the sex-work community has actually helped a lot of people kick their drug addictions, find stability, support, and positivity. In fact, there was an AA meeting at FetishCon this year, facilitated by a model and actor, not an outsider.

Some of these topics lead me directly into a discussion regarding ethics in the sex-work industry. There are both spoken and unspoken codes that all sex-workers must knowingly acknowledge in order to maintain respect within the community and seek work. Some of the unspoken codes are the same you would hope to find anywhere: be respectful of one another, polite, help to promote the general welfare of one another, show up on time for gigs, show up sober or be kicked off of set, do no harm to one another. There are also the “spoken” codes that are to be obliged as well: only operate under informed consent, always sign releases, do not give out any other model or producers information, ask for and be respectful of one another’s boundaries and limits, and lastly, a very important one – if you are performing scenes that require penetration of any kind or fluid exchange of any kind – get Talent Tested and do not have intercourse with anyone who is NOT tested. Although there are a lot of ethical dilemmas that could occur, these are just some of the basic ones.

Really it’s interesting that porn and sex-workers continue to be viewed as less than human and objectified. So, here’s some information that makes me find my prior statement intriguing and be prepared to be surprised: people love porn! Statistics don’t lie . . . and I have them! Clips4sale is widely known as one of the popular platforms for porn and fetish work alike. A visit to clips4sale.com.statout.com, where the statistics presented were updated in early 2017, will indicate the following statistics:

  • Daily unique visitors: 532, 656
  • Daily pageviews: 4,261,248

Wow, that’s a lot of views for a society that dehumanizes the performers they are seeking. Next, let’s look at Pornhub statistics. Pornhub is admittedly not a favored site by sex-workers, in case that wasn’t common knowledge, due to the nature of the site. It is a tube site where content that performer’s did not consent to appear there . . . often appears there. But nonetheless, it is a site that offers porn and has a high volume of traffic. The following came from fightthenewdrug.org (2017), where I feel like the facts were used to defeat THEIR purpose:

In 2016 alone, Pornhub got 23 BILLION visits. That’s 729 people a second, or 64 million a day—nearly equal to the population of the United Kingdom.

-Enough porn was watched in 2016 on this one website that all the data would fill 194,000,000 USB sticks. If you put the USB sticks end to end, they’d wrap all the way around the moon.

-Last year alone, 91,980,225,000 videos were watched on Pornhub. That’s 12.5 videos for every person on the planet.

-Also, 4,599,000,000 hours of porn were watched on the site in just one year. That’s equal to 5,246 centuries.

-The most popular search term in the whole site was “step mom” for the second year in a row. That’s right, incest-themed porn.

So, you see, we, the sex-workers, do not feel victimized and dehumanized. A large population of society continues to see sex-workers as such. I’d have to say that the search results and statistics speak volumes in this case. We’re not the ones waking up full of shame for ourselves or our friends, a sample of the population from society are carrying this torch, however; continuing to feel concerned and dehumanize sex-workers. If you are a fan, make sure to speak up and let your favorite model know they are respected and appreciated. Being a loyal and trustworthy fan helps to build loyalty and trustworthiness amongst models and producers in the field and extends further than one may think. Still have questions about how you should feel? That’s fine. May I suggest speaking to someone in the industry, leaning in with generosity and curiosity for better understanding instead of continuing to dehumanize? Listen, it’s seriously not that you’re with us or against us. There really is no “against us”. Porn is going to continue to be produced and the sex-work industry is going to continue to thrive no matter how many people choose to abstain from or create arguments or agendas against porn. But please know this: sex-workers don’t need saved from the wretches of the industry to be rehumanized. Sex-workers are already human.

Do you really want to help fight a bigger problem? Here are some useful links to help stop actual, legitimate human-trafficking:

https://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking

https://humantraffickinghotline.org/get-involved

http://hopeforjustice.org/

Xoxo-

Velma

 

“True belonging doesn’t require we change who we are; it requires we be who we are.” – Brene Brown

References

Connor’s Conundrums. (2013, September 6). Dehumanization Through Objectification. Retrieved from Connor’s Conundrums: Welcome to my brain; come have a seat: http://www.connorboyack.com/blog/dehumanization-through-objectification

Dworkin, A. (1994). Pornography happens to women. In Price We Pay: The Case Against Racist Speech, Hate Propaganda, and Pornography. NY: Hill and Wang.

fightthenewdrug.org. (2017). How many people are watching porn right now? (Hint: It’s a lot). Retrieved from fightthenewdrug: http://fightthenewdrug.org/by-the-numbers-see-how-many-people-are-watching-porn-today/

Shrage, L. (2005). Exposing the fallacies of anti-porn feminism. Feminist Theory, 6(1), DOI: 10.1177/1464700105050226.

Wikipedia. (2017, June). Fetish Model. Retrieved from Wikipedia; the free encyclopedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fetish_model

Wikipedia. (2017, September). Sex worker. Retrieved from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_worker

Zubizarreta, I. (2017). Column: Our work shouldn’t dehumanize us. University Wire, ProQuest ID: 1873444953.

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