By Glynis Horning, Cosmopolitan
Technician Jaco*, 27, is upfront about why he sometimes stops in for ‘some action’ at a Durban hotel after work. ‘There’s stuff you just don’t like asking your girlfriend to do, right? If you pay a prostitute, it’s about business, not feelings, so no-one gets hurt.’ It takes more persuasion for him to reveal the services he procures. S&M? Oral sex? He rolls his eyes. Anal sex? He hesitates, then cracks a joke that both confirms it and crudely covers his discomfort.
Durban student Simon*, 22, on the other hand, is vociferously against ‘exploiting a vulnerable class of women for sexual gratification’. A Humanities major and supporter of the Jes Foord Foundation (which assists rape survivors), he says, ‘I hope I have the balls to discuss my needs with my girlfriends and appreciate theirs. The women I date are pretty open-minded. But if I seriously fancied someone who wasn’t, I’d accept it and take responsibility for my jollies – that’s what a healthy imagination is for.’
Differences such as these between Jaco and Simon reflect something of the range of responses recorded in a recent controversial US survey that has sparked much debate and criticism. Entitled ‘Comparing Sex Buyers With Men Who Don’t Buy Sex: “You can have a good time with the servitude” vs “You’re supporting a system of degradation”’, the survey was conducted by Melissa Farley, director of Prostitution Research And Education (a nonprofit project of the San Francisco Women’s Centers). It received coverage in July’s Newsweek magazine, which was accused of poor journalism by critics for covering Farley’s contentious findings.
The magazine article stated that ‘the men who buy sex are your neighbours and colleagues’ and that Farley’s survey ‘reveals how the burgeoning demand for porn and prostitutes is warping personal relationships and endangering women and girls’. Newsweek reported that estimates regarding the percentage of men who engage in buying sex range ‘from 16% to 80%’, and that Farley found it so common in the digital age that her team struggled to find ‘nonusers’ for their control group. Farley’s broad definition of ‘men who pay for sex’ included any man who has paid a prostitute, escort, massage-parlour or sex worker; guys who have ever exchanged ‘something of value’ for a sex act, and men who had – even once – in the past year bought a porn magazine, had a lap-dance, set foot inside a strip club or watched porn online.
Among her findings (available on www.prostitutionresearch.com) were that men who buy sex are more likely to see sex as separate from relationships, enjoy the lack of emotional connection with sex workers and see them as objects, more frequently express aggression towards women, and are more likely to be associated with crimes of violence against women. Sex workers risk abuse, assault and even death. Over time, says Farley, men’s tastes change and they look for more anal sex and S&M, which can negatively impact on their relationships if partners are reluctant to comply.
Should women wory about Farley’s findings? Sally-Jean Shackleton, executive director of the Sex Workers Education And Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) in Cape Town, doesn’t think so. There’s been scant research internationally into those who pay for sex services such as prostitution and porn, and none locally, she says. ‘Farley has always had a negative view of sex work and her research has been widely discredited,’ she says. ‘Yes, today there’s increased access to porn and sex work, but it also means people have more information about their bodies, sex and desires, which is not necessarily a bad thing. We need to open, not close, the space being given to sexuality, and increase the balance of information.’
In fact, Farley is a known anti-pornography activist and a self-declared ‘prostitution abolitionist’. Her detractors point out her extremely reactionary behaviour, including the fact that she’s been arrested 13 times in nine US states for going into sex shops and ripping up or burning copies of Penthouse magazine.
As for Farley’s concerns that porn and sex work fuel violence against women, Shackleton says there’s no convincing evidence of this. Farley makes ‘an impossible leap of association’ and her study consisted of only 201 men in Boston – in paid-for interviews. ‘When sex workers in SA tell us about harassment and violence, it’s mostly at the hands of police officers,’ Shackleton says.
Sexologist Dr Elna McIntosh, director of DISA Sexual And Reproductive Health Clinic in Johannesburg, has met Farley. ‘She’s anathema to many in the sex industry because sex work is a choice they make,’ she says. McIntosh agrees that with easier access to porn and transactional sex, men could be ‘desensitised’, especially to previously taboo practices such as anal sex. ‘But if to read about or view such practices made you run around and rape, and commit other violent crimes, that’s what sexologists would be doing.’
Explicit material combining sex with violence or showing women in degrading ways may reinforce or increase sexist attitudes and sexual aggression, but only in ‘the small percentage of men’ who already have these attitudes, she says. ‘Most sexual offenders come from punitive homes and were exposed to sexual and physical abuse themselves.’
Research has shown that less than 10% of X-rated or hard-core material in most explicit books, magazines and videos contains aggression, she says, and less than three percent involves physical violence or rape. ‘R-rated material contains much more violence, though most R-rated movies don’t have full nudity or explicit sex – their material isn’t even seen as pornographic, but it’s very sexually suggestive and promotes sexist attitudes more than the X-rated material,’ McIntosh says.
Zanele*, 28, is a prostitute operating from a Durban hotel. She ran away from ‘trouble at home’ as a teen. Through sex work, Zanele saved enough to get matric by correspondence as well as a computer qualification. ‘But I can’t find a job, and I have a child and my mother to support.’
She says her clients are getting rougher. ‘They get ideas from sex videos. Sometimes they demand anal and you feel like you’re being raped, but they say they have paid.’ Once she was being choked but managed to scream for help. ‘One friend came back with scars on her face; another girl disappeared. Many take drugs to feel okay.’ Zanele is proud that she doesn’t. ‘I don’t enjoy my work,’ she says flatly, ‘but I know I’m doing what many ordinary girls do to thank a guy for dinner or new shoes. They can hate me or fear me, but for now I don’t have a choice.’
Sex work ranges widely from streetwalking to up-market brothels and private escort agencies, each with a particular culture and unwritten code of practice. ‘Some sex workers establish regular relationships with clients; for others, sex is purely business and anonymous,’ says Cape Town clinical social worker Dr Gordon Isaacs. ‘As in any relationship, empathy, warmth, jealousy and even abuse can be part of an interaction.’
In South Africa some 500 000 women are raped each year, he says. But this is a reflection of complex historical, political, social and economic factors – sex work and pornography can’t be targeted for blame. Internationally, Internet porn is soaring. US technology media company Tech Media Network CEO Jerry Ropelato reports at internet-filter-review.toptenreviews.com that, ‘Every second, 28 258 Internet users are viewing pornography. In that same second 372 Internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines. Every 30 minutes, a new pornographic video is being created in the US.’
South Africans are tapping into these sites, says McIntosh, among them a local amateur black porn site, www.sondeza.com. Last year the young IT entrepreneur behind it, Tau Morena, produced the first local black porn movie, Mapona, starring pole dancer Palesa Mbau. ‘You can buy hard-core DVDs for R10 at taxi ranks; they sell even to kids,’ says Morena. ‘My stuff is soft core and guys wear condoms.’ Follow-ups will be ‘educational erotica’, showing how to put on condoms sensually and how to ‘go down’. ‘I play a useful role in society,’ he says.
This is also what high-end sex workers say, including 24-year-old Mbau. ‘Money doesn’t make people better,’ she tells COSMO, ‘but if you respect yourself, they respect you. I do what suits me – tonight I’m being taken to Sandton for dinner and I’m being paid for it.’ She says she doesn’t feel exploited. ‘If I’m not in the mood, I tell guys to call another time.
Some push for things I don’t do, or they don’t want to wear a condom, but then they get to see my bad side. You must be brave in this industry and I don’t take nonsense.’ A 30-something Johannesburg dominatrix who advertises online as ‘South Africa’s youngest and most sought-after fetish mistress’ (www.missdi.co.za) is – unsurprisingly – equally firm. ‘I used to be in corporate management but got tired of the politics and red tape. In this job I can say, “There’s the door, fuck off!”’
She laughs at the idea that what she does could encourage violence against women or threaten clients’ intimate relationships. ‘It’s role-playing; clients know any manhandling by them would bring an assistant running and a lifetime ban. I’m giving them what they can’t get from the other women in their lives, so I’m doing those women a favour.’
Those who pay prostitutes range from pop stars and politicians to professionals, ‘women as well as men’, and many are married, says Isaacs. Their motivation is equally varied – a need to express themselves sexually, migrancy, living in hostels or dorms, loneliness, ‘as well as a need for different sexual experiences based on fantasy and desire’. Says McIntosh, ‘The prostitute’s client could be my son or your boyfriend.
These men come to me with one thing in common, the “afraids” – they’re afraid they have HIV/Aids, even if they used a condom. It’s a guilt/confession thing; they want reassurance. Almost all of them say, “This is not who I am, I was away from home, I felt lonely and horny,” and alcohol is generally involved.’
Many tell her they have only ‘missionary’ sex with their partner, or are in a new relationship and don’t know how far they can push boundaries. ‘If only couples communicated more,’ she says. Conservative upbringing and culture often hold them back. Durban nail artist, Selvie*, 22, tells how she ‘tried to accommodate’ her husband’s porn-fuelled interest in oral and anal sex after discovering he was visiting a massage parlour. ‘But I can’t stand it! I’ve even tried watching porn with him; it’s a turn-off.’ They are in therapy but she worries about her relationship. ‘Sometimes I’d almost rather he paid other women,’ she says.
Using porn or going to strip clubs is only a problem if the person becomes preoccupied or obsessed with sexual activity, or ventures into illegal areas such as paedophilic porn or bestiality, or if it worries their partner, says McIntosh. ‘If you think your man has a problem, tell him you’re concerned because his behaviour is impacting on your relationship, which you value. Offer to go with him to see a certified sex therapist.’
The same applies if you discover he’s been to a sex worker. ‘This can hurt more, because it raises questions of infidelity and HIV/Aids,’ she says. ‘If you still want to stick with him, go to therapy – preferably together.’
[This article was originally sourced from the Cosmopolitan magazine, in December 2011 (see attachment below for the PDF version of this article)]