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sex-worker_big.jpg"Do you know what time the 4B is supposed to come?" she asked.  The woman waiting for the bus next to me was classically beautiful with a wide friendly smile.  She sparked my curiosity right away.  She had perfect hair and makeup, a stylish outfit, and she was carrying a baseball jersey with her.  It too was perfect-pressed and on a hanger.  We talked about the lateness of our busses.  She mentioned that she might be late for her job as a bartender at a hot downtown restaurant and then asked me what it is that I do.  I replied that I was a sex educator and I saw excitement flair behind her eyes.  Here it comes, I thought. "That is so great!  Well here is the thing about me..."  

She talked with me about how she chooses her partners and about her values regarding her sexual encounters.  Oh, and also that there was a certain high priced vibe that she had been lusting after but didn't have the money for at the moment.  When she mentioned this to one of her friends he offered to buy her the vibrator on the condition that she let him watch her use it.  "And so I thought, score!  I'm totally getting that vibrator after all.  I am so excited!"  She really was excited.  She was adorable and I found my own grin growing wider at her words.  After a few more moments of conversation she stuck out her hand and said, "I'm Kate."  As I gave her my name I marveled at how familiar this felt, shaking hands with a stranger who wasn't so strange anymore since I now knew all about their sex life.  People want so desperately to talk about sex.  When you give them the opportunity and share in their joy it is like you are immediate friends for life.  They are so grateful.  It kinda gets me every time.

As I got on my bus and we parted ways I couldn't help but wonder about how this situation would play out for her.  I certainly hoped it would be a fun sexy time.  I also wondered if she had negotiated some ground rules with her guy friend.  Was he buying her the toy for a one time show or was she regularly going to get drunk dials from him asking for a repeat performance?  Was this friend already a sex partner?  Would he be expecting to use the toy on her or content to just watch?

As I thought of all the negotiations that might have occurred I kept coming back to the idea that these were the same kind of negotiations that sex workers have.  I wondered what Kate's position on sex work might be and if she would be angered that her sexy little secret brought up this line of thought for me.  The more I thought the situation through the more vital it seemed to set some ground rules about what exactly this guy friend was going to be getting in return for his purchase.  It also seemed less and less likely that this kind of detailed conversation had occurred.    The more detailed the conversation about payment and performance the less the situation would seem like a fun time between friends and the more it would seem like a business deal.

Our culture does not approve of the intersection of money and sex.  The U.S. has largely criminalized trading sex acts for money (a few places in Nevada notwithstanding).  Sex workers are often assumed to be victims and being a sex worker carries a significant social stigma.  We largely look down on people exchanging physical affection for monetary gains. Women who do so are seen as gold diggers, men as boy toys.  But life is never simple and relationships can be the most complicated of all.  Many of us have known people who stay in relationships they don't want to be in because of the financial support.  Sometimes the money-sex exchange seems predatory or opportunistic.  Other times it can seem like a rather affectionate exchange between two people who each have something the other needs.  

So where is the line between the friend who agrees to buy you a toy in return for a show and the peep show customer who buys a sex toy for his favorite performer to use?  What about a lover who is generous with gifts verses the concept of a sugar daddy?  The person who accepts the all expenses paid vacation from a friend with the understanding that there will only be one hotel room? What are the similarities and differences between exchange of money and sex between friends and selling sexual acts as a job?  

Our society seems to believe that money exchanged in any form in a sexual relationship makes that relationship invalid and even detrimental or harmful.  The fairy tale we tell ourselves is that sex should always be exchanged for purely emotional reasons and magically free of the power dynamics that are inherent in all of the other aspects of our day to day lives. Money is equated with power, but so often only the negative aspects of power.  We assume that money tarnishes anything it touches.  But just as it seems impossible to have a sexual relationship that is perfectly equal in every aspect, money will always play a part in sexual relationships. It seems to me that many of us don't want to examine the connections between money and sex in our own lives because we don't want to feel our sexual decisions might be motivated or influenced by financial factors even in small ways. Instead of assuming that money has no place in sexual interactions, a better course of action would be to acknowledge the connection between the two and explore our own values regarding how to navigate these decisions.

So what would Kate think about all this?  Clearly she understands the value of being an attractively put together lady...bar tending must have taught her that much.  How comfortable is she with using her sex appeal for monetary gain?  How does this interplay with the personal relationship she has with her vibrator benefactor?  More important to me than any of her actual answers would be simply how much thought has she given the subject.



Write the Author: Laura Rad

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Kidder Kaper

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Kidder has been theorizing and writing about human sexuality since 1993, when he began work on his primary goal: "Teaching the world to be unafraid to enjoy sex."


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Laura Rad has been educating herself and others about sexuality for over seven years. You can find Laura every week chatting with the crew of the Sex is Fun Podcast.


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