Prostitution and consent

A conceptualisation of sex work is used by anti-prostitution (abolitionist) feminists: prostitution as paid rape

Here’s a quote from campaigner Julie Bindel (source):

Prostitution has been described to me time and time again by the women who survive it as paid rape. The men who pay for sex are buying sexual subordination. If “consent” has to be bought, it is not consent.

When two people really want to have sex, they do it without any payment. So when there’s payment, the situation is: someone wants to have sex with someone who doesn’t want to do it with them. So, the reasoning goes, despite the fact that the terms of the exchange are mutually agreed upon, there isn’t genuine consent there. So the consummation of the contract amounts to: rape.

Why isn’t paid-for consent considered genuine? Well, in jurisdictions where prostitution is legal, it is. Under the feminist ideas behind the Nordic model, it isn’t. Who’s in the right?

The Nordic Model approach to prostitution (sometimes also known as the Sex Buyer Law, or the Swedish, Abolitionist, or Equality Model) decriminalises all those who are prostituted, provides support services to help them exit, and makes buying people for sex a criminal offence, in order to reduce the demand that drives sex trafficking.

One might try to define sex work as consensual (c.f. Francois Tremblay’s critique):

Here is one definition proposed by the “sex worker” lobby: “a person who consensually exchanges their own sexual labor or sexual performance for compensation.”

But we don’t get to define facts into existence. That’s not a valid move.

The abolitionist side provides some strong reasons for the position that paid-for ‘consent’ is not genuine, but coerced:

The prostitute does not want the man to have sex with her, but needs the money desperately – either due to drug addiction, poverty, being forced into the business, etc. The only way she will have sex with the man, sex which she does not want, is by being paid.

That’s from Lorraine Spiteri, Malta Confederation of Women’s Organisations chairwoman, quoted by Malta Independent.

Who would argue that those involved in prostitution out of hunger, force, deception, or drug addiction are truly free? Their bargaining options are obviously restricted. The punters and pimps they’re forced to deal with can be clearly seen as exploiters, taking advantage of women in dire straits.

But, then, who would say there is no distinction to be made between those women, and high-price escorts and porn performers who have other money-getting options, who are able to be highly selective about their clients, and are more concerned about using sex work money to buy luxury items rather than the necessities?

They want to keep their sexual and economic rights to engage in prostitution, and under the Nordic model, they technically would! They would not be criminalised as sex-sellers. Only sex-buyers would be, in order to reduce demand for paid sex, with the intent to reduce prostitution-connected harms and mistreatments. The predictable reduction in income for happy sex workers is collateral damage.

Against the Nordic model, feminist group Sisters Uncut writes:

The implications for people who sell sex should be obvious: in seeking to reduce the number of men willing to pay for sex, the Nordic model makes sex workers poorer.

Sucks for them, but that doesn’t impinge upon their rights. (It impinges upon the punters’ and pimps’ rights, but no one cares about them. That’s why NM will probably win.)

It’s not really about consent, not fundamentally. That seems to be a distraction. Among the sympathetic parties, those working in prostitution, there’s an economic conflict of interest.

Sexual consent is a crap concept, anyway, check this out:

And look at these tweets from 2015. Famous feminist Julie Bindel and bald MGTOW John the Other agree!


Julie and John point out the nonsense of applying the term ‘consent’ to sexual matters. Well, this nonsense is the law.

Older legal definitions of rape included the concept of force. Forced sex was rape.

The modern one uses consent, so sex with a lack of consent from the other person, is rape (by the man). That includes forced sex, but it’s a wider definition, so it includes more. Consent is more complex than force. A sexual situation, without force, that appears consensual may, under closer examination, prove to not be so. Like sex obtained by deception.

The newer definition raises the standards, and despite the logical difficulties with the concepts involved, I do not advocate a reactionary move to return to the old law.

Consent doesn’t imply desire. Sex should be mutually desirable (even though that has its own logical difficulties). Consent, as a standard for determining good, healthy sexual interactions, is too low!

Whoremongers implicitly know this, as do their service-providers, which is why they play-act being enthusiastic, lusty participants. That’s part of the service. Pretending to like the dude. Prostitution, like porn, is a simulation of good sex. The line between genuine desire and simulated desire might be blurry sometimes, but I sure as fuck know which side I clearly want to be on.




  1. I like to question the issue of consent as well. It’s very clear that people either grossly misuse it, or the meaning has changed so much that it’s pointless. We have to reframe the issue in a way that makes clear that paying someone for sex, or coercing someone into sex, is not acceptable.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m on the look out for arguments against the Nordic model. Interesting ones, ones that seem potentially popularly convincing.

    So I’m looking at that Sisters Uncut article again.

    “Furthermore, Sisters Uncut believe that poverty – in particular the fact that women are disproportionately affected by poverty – has to be central to our understanding of domestic violence and women’s safety. We believe that poverty is a feminist issue, and, like many in the feminist movement, we believe that making women poorer makes them less able to leave abusive relationships.”

    Okay. I cannot see how this would persuade anyone to decriminalise punters if they’re convinced that they’re morally equivalent, or close enough, to rapists. At most, it’d persuade them to agree to allocate more resources to the ‘exit services’.

    I can think of another way to argue against NM. It involves highlighting the variety in punters, their varied attitudes and behavioural tendencies, and therefore varied preferability in the eyes of prostitutes. There are, we might say, nicer ones, and nastier ones.


    And the NM-guided criminalisation of punters would, probably, reduce the pool of punters disproportionately. Nicer ones probably are more law-abiding, so we’re left with a smaller, nastier (more dangerous) pool of potential clients.

    Someone who thinks this is a really good argument could state it better than I have here…

    SU has this video on their page. Now watching…


  3. “These laws also reinforce stigma and hatred against sex workers.”

    But the stigma is there for powerful reasons. There’s a long history to it. There’s still stigma about it in New Zealand, isn’t there?

    Apparently, under the NM period of France, there were vigilante attacks on sex workers. Awful and bizarre…

    I guess hard statistics to compare the numbers and wellbeing (somehow) of sex workers under different legal regimes would be useful.


  4. Fleshbags will prove no match for total machine supremacy.

    More thoughts on the Nordic model’s 2nd point (according to ), the support and exit services.

    Even full-decriminalisation advocates could support this measure. Prostitutes who want to leave, get help to leave. Why would those who want to stay in the trade oppose that? Less supply means they can raise their prices and they can be more selective about clients.

    But, then higher prices would make prostitution, pimping and trafficking more attractive businesses to get into. So, probable increase in supply. Downward pressure on prices. More exploitation/negative consequences.

    Other points of NM would be deployed to mitigate this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So much to criticize about that video (for one, let’s start with a man calling women who believe in consent “fucking idiots”).

    As stated in the actual article, consent is far too low of a standard. It does not imply desire, and it would be ridiculous to say you “consented” to, say, hanging out with your friend. Furthermore, as I believe Francois has pointed out in his series on consent on his blog, consent always points to an oppressor/oppressed relationship, inherent power mismatch, and also has deeply embedded and ugly victim-blaming implications (the oppressed, disenfranchised or disempowered person “consents” to the person in power extracting some resource from them–in this case, sex–and therefore, because of said “consent,” there is nothing wrong with any activity thenceforth; this blames the person with less power in the situation and implies that in fact any consequences are their fault. Under slavery a number of slaves with relatively benevolent masters could be argued to be consenting and might have told you so themselves, which does not make it right that the slavers are enslaving them; this principle could and should be applied to a number of power systems and institutions within society that entail a coerced form of “consent”).

    However, in the case of sex, *because* the patriarchal model of sex is so male-centric, and *because* many men have a tendency to push boundaries, use coercion, or outright rape their partners, and *because* unlike with any other social interaction ever men pretend to be clueless about a woman’s desire not to engage in a sexual activity unless she screams “no!” at the top of her lungs (squirming away, expressing unease/dislike of the activity, seeming reluctant, and so on, are not enough to make it rape if he goes ahead and does it; there is a very specific social and sexual script in which if a woman does not actively say “no”–by which point she is already extremely uncomfortable at having all of her nonverbal cues ignored–coercion or assault did not happen). Therefore, YES IT IS IMPORTANT for men to ask, because of this particular rape myth so deeply embedded in men’s consciousness. For example, switching from vaginal to anal sex: a a woman’s willingness to engage in anal sex should have been discussed BEFOREHAND, for starters, and worked up to slowly; and if there is a switch to that particular sexual activity, YES THE MAN NEEDS TO ASK. If the man does NOT ask, and suddenly penetrates his partner anally, THAT IS RAPE. Men are VERY prone to doing this, and they seem to think that if the woman screams and screams for him to stop and he does, no rape occurred and he is a good guy. Women, as the more powerless in the gender-based hierarchy, are also more apt to grin (or wince) and bear it when they DON’T like it. It is on any loving male partner to make sure that their female partners enjoys everything that is happening and is not simply doing it FOR HIM. THIS is what makes it different, than, say, basketball (a ridiculous analogy). It is more analogous to another male/female gendered dynamic of power relations like, say, doing the cleaning. Is she offering to do dishes after also cooking dinner because he says he’s tired because she WANTS to? Is she doing more than her fair share of domestic duties because she “consents” to it?

    I am as against enthusiastic consent as your next radical. “Consent is sexy and sexy is mandatory” and all that. Of course the idea that men must obtain consent is stupid to begin with (it implies women don’t want to have sex and men must ask for it, often in trade for something else, even if not money–kindness, a relationship, good listening, help around the house, etc). And enthusiastic consent tends to be a smokescreen for abusive behaviors. “Hey, as long as she is enthusiastically consenting to the electrified nipple clamps, whipping her back till bloody, and simulated rape, it’s all good!” “What does it matter if she comes from a background of abuse? She’s consenting! This is her way of dealing with it, don’t judge! OMG, you pearl clutcher!”

    But yes, men DO need to ask during sex and receive a genuine “yes” before changing activities, simply because a)many women feel pressured to go along, b)many men are coercive and after asking will coercively pressure a partner into a sexual position or act she is clearly uncomfortable with and c)because many women are used to being treated this way, even well-meaning men might not realize she doesn’t want to. THIS is why it’s important for good men (not the ones who know very well what they’re doing–they don’t care) to ask and make sure they have a genuine yes, or better yet, wait for women to initiate sexual activities that are male-pleasing, and check to make sure she is enjoying herself.

    Because this culture is such a rape culture, and because so many men coerce their partners all the time and don’t acknowledge it, and women are so used to it, to unlearn this BOTH asking verbal permission AND observing body language should be a part of it.

    I can tell you that even rapists with personality disorders are aware of these things–and if they are, normal men should be (but I’m not sure if they are–it may be that active sexual abusers are MORE aware of their own behavior than men who don’t realize they pressure and coerce women). I remember being raped by my ex-boyfriend, very deliberately and forcibly. My disturbed reaction to this not long later was to offer him oral sex (having, again, been cast in the role of submissive sex object/abuse object). He ran a hand over his face and said, “Nooo, I know you don’t want to.” He KNEW I didn’t want to, even though I offered. And remember, this was immediately after a forcible rape which we both knew was a forcible rape.

    He knew this because I had called him out on his sexually abusive behaviors when we dated. I am not sure the extent of his awareness of his sexually abusive and predatory nature before that.

    So the point is, it’s not “consent” that is treating women like objects (although it is obviously the lowest possible bar to set for sexual behavior; “as long as it’s not illegal” passes for sexual morality in some men’s minds, and, because of rape myths, a lot of them don’t know what illegal even looks like. Those that do know with nearly one hundred percent certainty that they will never be prosecuted, another problem). It’s MEN and SOCIETY that treat women like objects. Because of the expectation that males will press for sex and for what THEY like and pressure women, and because of the rape myth that says what a woman will do for a man is her measure of love for him, because of the sociosexual script that says anything short of a loud “No!” means it’s not rape (making a whole population of people unrapeable, apparently–the unconscious, the developmentally disabled, the extremely intoxicated, people with their backs turned who are caught by surprise and silenced), because of our extreme stupidity surrounding sex, the way we place it our of the bounds of other forms of communication (although nonverbal communication should be *most* obvious during an activity in which two people are naked and entwined), because of the gender hierarchy and concomitant gender roles, and therefore the power dynamic always at play when men and women have sex, because of the usual differences in size and power, because of many women’s histories of trauma and all that comes with that–whether weak boundaries and male-pleasing hypersexuality, or triggers surrounding certain activities– YES MEN NEED TO ASK when they are the ones taking the initiative to switch to ANY activity (some women have trauma surrounding receiving oral sex, as one example), not JUST the ones that are for their benefit. There is nothing wrong with ALSO USING YOUR VOICE and make EXTRA CAREFUL DOUBLE CLEAR that was it happening is okay and mutually pleasurable.

    And the guy who made that video is an asshole.


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