The history of sex work is largely one of missing voices. Given how much has been said, and continues to be said, on the subject, this seems something of a paradox. As does the fact that, historically at least, the people who have been able to say the least about the selling of sex are the sex workers themselves. The voices of lawmakers, pornographers, moralists, and academics have long drowned out those of the people they are talking about, for, or over. Its only within the last 50 years or so, with the emergence of the sex worker rights movement, that those selling sex have been able to carve out their own space in a public debate that continues to marginalise them or reduce them to one voice, one narrative. But there isn’t one, there are legion.
I have fantasies about being ravished and that doesn’t make me a ‘bad feminist’. Perhaps that offends you, or maybe you agree with me, but however you react to that statement, know that it has taken a long time and a lot of work for me to be able to say it. In fact, I think I’ll say it again. My ravishment fantasies do not make me a bad feminist. I’ve had them throughout my adult life.
Twitter is an incredible tool for facilitating discussion. Whether you want to determine if a dress is blue or gold, or just want to threaten Nuclear war with other world leaders, Twitter has something for you. So, when I tweeted a picture of a custom made ‘siege d’amour’ (or, love chair) King Edward VII (1841-1910), kept at the famous Le Chabanais brothel in Paris, Twitter had some questions. The chair is said to have allowed the playboy prince to pleasure two partners at once, whilst comfortably supporting the royal belly. The question in need of an answer was not so much the why, but the how. Exactly who, and indeed what, went in where had Twitter scratching its head.
Thankfully, Twitter is nothing if not a platform for sharing ideas and suggestions on how our present Queen’s great grandfather manoeuvred his way around a Parisian love chair were soon flowing thick and fast.
In 2017, researchers at the University of Minnesota published a systematic review of all available, peer reviewed research into the reliability of so called ‘virginity tests’ where the hymen is examined, as well as the impact of said test on the person being examined. The team identified 1269 studies, the evidence was summarised and assessed and this was the conclusion;
"This review found that virginity examination, also known as two-finger, hymen, or per-vaginal examination, is not a useful clinical tool, and can be physically, psychologically, and socially devastating to the examinee. From a human rights perspective, virginity testing is a form of gender discrimination, as well as a violation of fundamental rights, and when carried out without consent, a form of sexual assault." (Olson and García-Moreno, 2017)
There is no reliable virginity test. So, unlike the virgins in question, we can put that one to bed right away. IT. DOES. NOT. WORK. You can no more prove a virgin by examining their genitals than you can prove a bi-sexual by examining their bellybutton. The only way you can conclusively prove that a woman is not a virgin by examining her genitals is if you look at her vagina and there's a penis in it. That's it: that's the only sure fire way to prove she's not a virgin. However, the fact that virginity cannot be proven, tested, or located on the body has not deterred people from claiming that they can prove it, throughout history.
This week we celebrate the 25th annual World Breast Feeding Week. Cheers, I say and milk moustaches all round. Breastfeeding maintains an oddly controversial issue in our society and stories of nursing mothers being thrown off buses or asked to cover up for daring to air the dairy in public regularly feature in the media. Reactions to boob food oscillate wildly from milky militants who insist on breastfeeding their children until they are ready to leave for university, and those who view breastfeeding as some form of cannibalism. Despite our enthusiasm for bovine milk, we remain oddly squeamish about ingesting the milk of other animals (humans included). Many cite the sexualisation of breasts as the reason for our unease, but the truth is that breastfeeding has long been a source of anxiety in the West.
Next year will be the twenty-year anniversary of the little blue pill that has allowed couples around the world to successfully consummate their twenty year anniversaries (and beyond); Sildenafil (trade name, Viagra). The effects of Sildenafil were discovered by accident when UK scientists at Pfizer were testing it as a cardiovascular drug to lower blood pressure. The irony that Viagra was once thought to lower anything at all is almost too delicious to bear, but it is true nonetheless. The drug works by increasing blood flow into the penis during sexual arousal which means that Captain Winky can steer into port, rather than capsizing in the shallows. This unexpected side effect was reported when members of the clinical trial refused to give the medication back to Pfizer.
This article was originally published in the New Statesman, which you can read here. http://www.newstatesman.com/science-tech/social-media/2017/07/age-verification-rules-wont-just-affect-porn-sites-theyll-harm-our
The British have a long history of censoring sex. In 1580, politician William Lambarde drafted the first bill to ban "licentious" and "hurtful... books, pamphlets, ditties, songs, and other works that promote the art of lascivious ungodly love". Last week, the UK government decided to have another crack at censorship, formally announcing that age verification for all online pornographic content will be mandatory from April 2018.
This article was originally published in INews, which you can read here https://inews.co.uk/essentials/long-surprising-history-women-using-genitals-cooking/
There’s no denying it, food and sex are two pleasures intimately connected in the human psyche. Admittedly, literally mixing the two (or ‘sploshing’ to use the vernacular) can lead to a steep dry cleaning bill and a life time ban from the Tesco deli stand, but the point remains; food is sexy. Countless eating metaphors can be employed to describe sex and I have certainly been known to call a sausage roll ‘orgasmic’. Every Valentine’s Day, lovers gift each other chocolates, champagne and oysters and Nigella Lawson made her name fellating buttered parsnips.
‘Prostitution is the oldest profession is the world’. You heard that one before, right? Of course you have. We all have. This article is going to examine that claim in terms of what a "profession" is and, more importantly, what we think a "prostitute" is. So, before we go any further I want you to bring to your mind’s eye what a ‘prostitute’ looks like. You don’t have to describe this to anyone, it’s just for you. Picture that person in your mind and think of some words you associate with this mental image. Take a moment.
I don’t know what you thought of, but I know that I did this experiment with a group of my students and set up an anonymous online poll for them to respond to. This is a sample of the results.
Moderate spoilers alert
"The year is 1763. One woman in five makes a living selling sex.” So opens ITV Encore’s latest period drama; Harlots (Hulu in the US). Created by Alison Newman and Moira Buffini and directed by Coky Giedroyc, the eight-part drama follows the rising fortunes of London bawd, Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton) and her daughters, Charlotte (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Lucy (Eloise Smyth). Harlots has gone beyond simply dusting off the tit crushing corsets and has deftly woven historical facts into the warp and weft of this bloomer dropping, gin swilling, cinematic trupenny upright, and I love it. But, I'm not here to tell you how much fun the show is (and it really is!) I'm here for the history. Harlots tells a hell of a story, but there is more to consider here than a corseted dose of how’s your father in a sepia filter. That Harlots so clearly uses historical truth to embellish the show is what really piques my interest.
When fiction embeds itself within historical truth, we are left with a pushmepullyou of facts embellishing stories and vice-versa. Whilst there may seem nothing wrong with exercising creative licence and spinning a good historical yarn, what we must remember is that stories are incredibly powerful things; and whilst fiction is a story that doesn’t need facts, and history is a story that requires facts, stigma is another story made of the two. As Slavoj Žižek argued ‘as soon as we renounce fiction and illusion, we lose reality itself; the moment we subtract fictions from reality, reality itself loses its discursive-logical consistency’ (Žižek, 2004). So when we read a fiction as being historically factual, we need to ask at which end of the pushmepullyou are we? Did this really happen? And when we are dealing with the history of a socially marginalised and vulnerable community (in this case, sex workers), the history we believe becomes even more important as it exerts a palpable influence on current issues and debates. How we write about the history of sex workers matters because whilst the people whose lives are being examined may be long dead, the attitudes, prejudices and narratives that shaped that person’s life are resurrected whenever that story is told. If we read history within the same stigmatised narratives that continue to damage sex workers who are alive today, we are complicit in harm. If you write a history of sex work and use ugly, shaming words like ‘prostitute’, or write from a perspective that assumes all sex workers were women, or were all unhappy, or doomed to a miserable existence, you are using history to reinforce ongoing stigmatised narratives around sex work. Sex work is a highly complex experience and must not be reduced to sensationalised fictions that do nothing to capture the lives of the very people being depicted. So with all of that in mind, what is the ‘real’ history behind Harlots?