Last night I had the privilege of attending and speaking as an invited guest at the Oxford Union. I have already spoken at four university debates, however this was the first one not about pornography. Instead, the motion proposed that “This House would recognise prostitution as legitimate business”.
The debate was well attended with some interesting guests on both sides. As well as myself, the proposing team also had Oxford student Elizabeth Culliford, Nevada brother owner, Dennis Hof, and a last minute step-in from the English Collective of Prostitutes called Emma (her last name escapes me, I shall get back to you on that one). On the opposing team: Julie Bindel, authour and co-founder of Justice for Women, feminist activist Finn MacKay and campaigner Ellie Levenson, as well as another last minute addition (whose name also escapes from) of Cambridge University professor and expert in human trafficking.
Unfortunately, I can no longer claim to maintain a winning streak at these debates as the opposing team were victorious in the end. However, I was very satisfied with the contribution I made and with how my speech was received.
As promised, below is a transcript of my speech. Please feel free to add you comments and thoughts on the topic.
‘This House Would Recognise Prostitution as Legitimate Business’
My name is Johnny Anglais. Someone in this room, however, knows me as Benedict Garrett. Mr.Garrett, in fact, as I was his teacher. Now, I regularly perform as a stripper and in pornography.
I am also a prostitute.
I am not ashamed of it. I believe there is a distinction between porn performer and prostitute, but I have no problem with being called a ‘prostitute’. My main clients are either women but, more commonly, men who wish to hire me as a ‘gift’ for their wife or girlfriend.
I am not a prostitute out of any desperate need. Although, like most people who are struggling to make money in this capitalist system that, rather than promoting a sense of community and self-worth, is about promoting individual greed and the accumulation of, through, essentially, whatever means, material wealth, I do have rent to pay, bills to pay, a dog to look after and I also care for someone else’s child because they were incapable of doing so without harming him. But I am not destitute or funding a drug habit. In fact, I know many prostitutes (they might call themselves escorts, they are prostitutes). Mostly women. None of them are destitute. Some, like many people, may have had troubles in their childhood, others not at all, some well educated, others less so.
Prostitutes are not just poor, defenceless women. I find it rather disingenuous the continual and disproportionate highlighting of concern that some so-called ‘feminists’ have for women in prostitution. My concern is not for women. My concern is for everyone. I care not what the numbers or the differentials are between the abuses of women and men in prostitution. The fact that any abuse exists should be enough for us to be sufficiently concerned for their well-being and a desire to take action to protect all regardless of their gender. For there are also poor, defenceless men who have to suffer at the hands of such brutes as Boy George who, back in 2007, reportedly held a rent boy hostage by hand-cuffing him to a chair and attacking him with metal chains. Equally, there are empowered, confident women who are prostitutes and doing it because they enjoy it and choosing to do it as a REAL option and not because it is their ONLY option, despite what some ‘feminists’ may have you believe.
This is not to say that I am happy with the current state of prostitution in this country. I am absolutely not. Of course, there are corrupt and abusive pimps who treat their prostitutes like little more than slaves. There are women trafficked over from abroad and imprisoned in properties up and down this land (reportedly over 8,000 in London alone) and forced to work as prostitutes. There are women, and men, who dangerously walk the streets, taking their lives into their own hands and never knowing where they could end up that night, if even still alive. There are women and men who do it simply out of desperation: to feed themselves, to keep themselves warm, to support their families or to fund an addiction. There are clients who treat the prostitute whose services they acquire with little or no respect. But there are bad and risky elements to many industries. Do we say that fashion is a non-legitimate business because some companies use child slave labour in Bangladesh, that we should live in a state of anarchy because some politicians fiddle their expenses so lets ban them, or that all teachers are perverts because a few may have slept with their students? Bad apples does not equate to a rotten crate. The principle of producing and providing apples is still a good and well-intentioned one.
Indeed, I too take my own risks as a prostitute. I may be a 6ft 2in, well-built, healthy male, but in the possibility, slim or not, of being potentially confronted by a sadistic, psychotic and deranged individual what protection do I really have against a knife or a gun?
These are indeed real risks. But many jobs are risky, some riskier than others. By illegitimising a business and driving it underground, these risks are not eradicated. On the contrary, these risks become greater. What we need is the creation of a legitimate prostitution trade that is regulated and where the welfare of its workers is protected.
Some see prostitution as an evil in our society. Some see it as something that simply panders to the whims and desires of a still male-dominated society. I actually see it as a helpful and important service in our society. I’ve argued publicly many times that our national attitude to sex needs to change drastically. Its getting better but there is still vast room for improvement. Equally, our attitude to prostitution, the one that treats it as something sleazy, the people who work in it is as dirty and those who seek its service as depraved, also needs to be reviewed.
A desire for sexual gratification is a human need that, although not as crucial as oxygen, food, water and perhaps even shelter, follows closely behind them and rivals such things as our need for education, loving parents, physical exercise, leisure time, an active social life, having people we call friends around us. All of which we could survive without, but with enormous difficulty, leading to serious voids in our lives, potentially causing depression, stress, lack of opportunity and so on. Sexual gratification is a human need on this level.
Many times, a simple wank is enough as an outlet for our frequent sexual urges. Many are able to share their sex lives with another and along with it, the intimacy and touch of another, human skin against human skin, the kissing of lips, and simply being in the company of another human being while sharing in, what for most people, is a moment of great vulnerability and self-discovery. Many people can form loving, intimate and physical relationships with another human being very easily. Some people however, struggle (either through lack of confidence, skills or because their appearance, personality or characteristics renders them less attractive to many), or go through great periods of their lives without the company of another. While frequent self-romance may be enough to satisfy the urges of sexual release at times, often the desire to share the experience or be in the company, presence and intimate entwine with another is one which, in my mind, does not need to be denied. Unless you live a life of high moral values in relation to the sanctity of sexual expression within only the bounds of a marriage, or unless you choose, or, more likely, have been indoctrinated, to believe the unquestionable values that have, apparently, been bestowed upon you by some great mystical, supernatural entity, then the principle of a sexual encounter within a consensual arrangement should not need to raise concern or any controversy. If it does, I would suggest this is the result of such memes as I have aforementioned and not based on a realistic and rational response to the complexities of human sexuality.
I don’t like marriage or even civil partnerships. I have no problem with long-term committed relationships. In fact, I have far more respect for people in long-term relationships who have never entered a legally binding contract to force them to stay together. If two people really love each other, why on earth would they need it? For essentially that is all that a marriage or a civil-partnership really is: a legally binding contract between two people. I hate the idea that so much to do with human relationships, and not simply romantic ones, is brought down to contracts. But unfortunately it is a necessary reality in so many cases.
The contract between a prostitute and his/her client is, or at least should be, open and clear: One is exchanging capital for the sexual services of another. In many cases, this service is carried out respectfully and received in much the same manner. Most prostitutes take their sexual health very seriously and insist on having their clients use protection or, in my case, ensure I am wearing it. It is a clear, honest and open contract between two or more consenting adults.
Let’s contrast that situation with the alternative that occurs every weekend in every town in every bar or nightclub up and down this land. Let me introduce you to the men and women of this country who are little more than ‘Prostitutes by Proxy’. I’m sure we’ve all seen it, I’m sure we all know of people, we may have even done it ourselves. We call it ‘going on the pull’. Men do it. Women do it. Going out, of an evening, with the express intent of, without any prior knowledge of who will be present at the venue, finding a member of the opposite, or same (take your pick), sex with the sole purpose of having sex with them. And how is it achieved? Frequently, it is by payment. But payment is not usually made directly to the person with whom eventual sexual activity occurs, it is exchanged with a ‘bar professional’ for an alcoholic beverage… or two, or three, or…. well, however many is usually enough to get them into whatever state is required for sexual conquest. Where is the contract? Where is the consent? Can a contract and consent for such activity really be sought from someone so intoxicated as to fail to stand correctly or incapable of pronouncing their own name, let alone remembering yours. How high is the likelihood that these individuals will a) care about using contraception and b) be capable of putting it on correctly? What are the chances that one or both of these individuals may infect the other with a Sexually Transmitted Infection or impregnate the other? Judging by our national statistics on these two things, particularly compared to our European neighbours, I would say pretty darn high.
So, I leave you with this thought. How different might the scenario be if the same people lived in a society where brothels weren’t treated like sinister, sleazy centres of smut and filth, but actually seen as useful and regulated services, where the well-being of its workers were properly cared for, that could be accessed in order to fulfil a basic human need, perhaps having one on every high street next to your Primark, Superdrug or JD Sport, where men and women of all ages could go in the moments of their life where their desire for sexual gratification needed more than simply a quick tug on the chap or session with the rampant rabbit, where men or women, for lack of sexual satisfaction in their own relationships, but loving their partner nonetheless, could seek the sexual fulfilment without the fear of attachment or greater intimacy that an affair might bring and potentially, in the long term, holding their marriage or relationship together?
As much as this scenario may make you laugh or sound so outlandish as to not be easily imagined, I would actually suggest in all seriousness that, compared to the current situation, living in that society would create a far more productive, healthy and happy community than the one in which we currently reside, not to mention one where those who work as prostitutes are treated decently and their well-being cared for. If we are able to fight the cultural memes we have all inherited, but some of us have been able to shed, if we can rise above the irrational, unproven claims of the god-fearers, if we can begin to actually think about the reality of our society, the dangers our current national view of sex and anything related to it poses, often to our most vulnerable, and the complexities of our human sexuality, rather than the arbitrary rigidity that such memes, traditions and religions have attempted to impose on us, and begin to fathom how actually a recognition of the legitimacy of prostitution and an elevation of its reputation would improve the lives of its citizens then we would, in my opinion, be taking humanity in the right direction and not a step back.