Kagure Mugo
Kagure Mugo

Have you ever used sex to get something you want?

“What is the difference between a person who actively sells sex and a person who expects drinks or dinner if they are to eventually give someone sex at some point?” This question was posed on a twitter chat held during International Sex Worker Month (International Sex Worker Rights Day being March 3). The social media conversation had people from all over Africa giving their views on sex work and of course some real gems were released, with many citing religion, tradition and the need to uphold family values as reasons for disallowing the legalisation of sex work. One twitter user went as far as saying that if prostitution was legalised everyone would revert to it and there would be “no more marriages and babies”. According to this man everyone wants to be a sex worker and everyone wants to be with a sex worker, it is just the pesky legal system holding us all back.

But amid the storm of statements one did stand out that had people questioning the automatic stigma attached to sex work: What makes sex work different from a woman or man who insists on material gain from someone who is sexually interested in them to monopolise their time? What is the difference between a woman/man who has a man/woman pay his or her bills or buy him or her gifts in return for an unspoken promise of sex and someone who just asks for the cash up-front? One could argue that the second group merely show more shrewd business sense, one being more of a long-term investment plan while the other is a quick turnaround profit.

The idea took me back to the days when clubbing was something I actually did and would often expect anyone trying to “court” me to buy me a drink. In hindsight I am not proud of it but at the time it was what it was, that was just the social contract put in place. To talk to the nice lady by the bar, buy her a drink. I also recalled a time when I would use the phrase “gosh slick you could at least take me out to dinner first” when someone said anything even remotely sexual. Granted that phrase was said in jest but at the end of the day it had a great deal of social connotation to it (I learnt it from the 90s movie Baby Geniuses, so go figure).

The fact is people accept things all the time due to the fact that the other person offers it in the hope that they will see them in nude at some point. This is just a fact of life. And tacit or explicit acceptance of whatever it is they are offering does mean that you have exchanged goods for sex. It truly is as simple as that. Of course there are other dimensions such as love, a long, lasting relationship and other such virtuous ideas sometimes attached to this but at the end of the day that is what has happened and is not that far outside the realms of what happens “out there”.

This should cause one to question the stigma attached to sex work.

There are various arguments made against sex work that include the vulnerability of sex workers, the exploitative nature as well as the fact that they add to the moral decay of society and I for one agreed with many if not all of them. But this month pushed me out of my comfort zone and into the realm of interacting with sex workers and I have learned a few things.

The first is that there is an empowered element to sex work — often they set the boundaries for their interactions and can negotiate their own terms. Some sex workers actually enjoy their work. This all needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Not all sex workers want to be saved, not all despise their job and existence.

Sex work is also one of the world’s oldest professions, and chances are you will know someone (if not multiple people) in your life who have been with a sex worker. Prostitution has been around for thousands of years and the world is still spinning, people still have families and the sun still rises. And the honest truth is whoever uses a sex worker is going to find miscellaneous sex anyway even if all sex workers disappeared.

So at the risk of inciting mass pitchfork gatherings and torches I challenge you to think about your situation and ask yourself, have you used sex to get something you want from your spouse, lover or some other person you have an amorous relationship with? Have you in some way demanded compensation for your time by using your sexuality, gotten a drink or possibly a gift of some sort or even a meal? Did you obtain this because of your shining personality? It might be time to have a look at these instances and check the prejudices you have.

Transactional sex is far more widespread than we would as a society care to admit.

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  • Sex workers’ rights are human rights
  • A deep dip in everyday racism/sexism/classism/etc
  • Sex for sale: The state as pimp
  • The jewel of Poole Street
    • Arthur

      Yes, sex.

    • Busang

      All sex is transactional.

    • Jack

      Article article raises some interesting points, some of which I had pondered about on a few occasions. Pity there is no contribution by the readers. I’d like to think its because the author hits a little too close to home perhaps.

      Human experience is too diverse to simply box & classify everything, but I agree there is a general ‘transactional’ element to many if not most relationships.

      Material wealth is often a determining factor taken into consideration when deciding on the the viability of a relationship. Young women are taught to consider a partner who has wealth and status or at least the potential to procure it, while young men are conditioned to measure their ‘worth’ as partners on their ability to provide such. Think of the eligible bachelor. At the same time a women to some extent are selected on and return in kind with their looks and fertility (sex).

      The value individuals place on material wealth will obviously vary, and of course there are many other factors people take into account, but the transactional basis is definitely present in most cases to one extent or the other.

    • The Praetor

      I for one, do not think legalizing the sex trade would make any difference other than emboldening the practitioners.
      I have always maintained that in a very capitalistic world, you cannot frown on women who are forced by circumstances into this trade, and the only problem I have is, with pimps, who use women bodies as a means to gain financially.

      I however have to disagree with the author on her ideas that some sex workers enjoy their work and do not want to leave it.

      Humans by nature have a very similar psyche, which dictates generally that sex is connected to a woman’s heart, and she will mostly fall in love with the man she has sexual relations with. So a very real problem occurs in the psychology of a woman when she engages in sex with different men frequently. In the majority of the cases they will turn out to be very unhappy and depressed, as this practice is contrary to human nature.

      What I have to agree on is that many women use sex even in relationships as a means to an end. In my personal experience, when my wife wants something, she will always go that little extra mile. Something which men also enjoy, as generally men would use their power, influence, money to get sex.

      Nothing wrong with that, but wrong to equate the two versions of sexual relations, as the one comes naturally and the other not.

      The Praetor

    • lover of Africa in spite

      which makes a strong case for men to get higher salaries, so that they can redistribute more widely

    • http://none Tebogo Mahloko

      Kagure Mugo, there is a guy who used to write for thought leader under the name “The Sumo”, he asked a question, “why is it not prostitution?”. I agree and know, all sex is transactional, the difference is in the currency used. Reminds me of a saying, “women use sex to get love and men use love to get sex”, all so true hey, this however is a topic that most people shy away from as it mostly hold that the truths that no one wants to hear.

    • http://roryshort.blogspot.com/ Rory Short

      As I understand it sex work is work where money is exchanged for sexual services but that fact does not change the reality that sex workers are people first and foremost. And like all people doing useful work there is no need for this work to harm anybody else. In fact it clearly benefits rather than harms their clients otherwise they would not pay for the services offered.

      It seems highly logical therefore that sex work should not be singled out for criminalisation but should rather be recognised as valid work just like myriads of other human activities. This would mean that sex work would rightly fall within the ambit of our labour legislation and sex workers, like all other workers, could make use of the protection offered by this legislation.

      I am unaware of knowing anybody who is or has been involved in sex work and am therefore quite unable to comment on whether they do or do not enjoy their work. But I guess it is like any kind of work, some people enjoy it and others do not. However under currently imposed legal sanctions any enjoyment of sex work must surely be hindered by these sanctions.

      From society’s point of view criminalisation of sex work is in fact counter productive. Firstly it takes up valuable police resources in the pursuit of sex workers when these resources could be expended on stopping activities which are genuinely harmful to society. Secondly it provides a guaranteed stream for the criminal element within society.

    • Dries

      This reminds me of that scene in “Jack Reacher” where a girl approaches Tom Cruise in a bar. He tells her “I can’t afford you” to which she shockingly replies “I’m not a prostitute!”. His response? “Then I really can’t afford you.”.

      I’ve always viewed marriage as a socially coerced form of prostitution, laced with enforced gender roles and power politics to make it as miserable an experience as possible.

    • Zeph

      Religous dogma and religions want to sepparate us from animals is the cause. Sex is currency – a nice one too!

    • Stephen Browne

      Hundred percent agreed. The law is based on some moralistic, Judeo-Chrisitan crap anyhow i.e. adultery is a sin. Now we can sleep with whoever, whenever – be damned if you pay for it though.

    • Walter

      How awfully cynical of you Kagure. To equate having sex with your dinner date, with prostitution in any form is not just a tenuous link, but a rather sordid one.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Men got physical strength and women got feminine wiles. The world has changed somewhat since we lived in caves but, the concept of using what you got to get what you want started when we crawled out of the goop of creation. To call a peahen a ‘prostitute’ because the male makes a fool of himself is a bit harsh – not much different to humans.

      It is past time that prostitution was legalised. It would reduce the abuse and health dangers as well as help with stopping the horrendous ‘slave trade’, that is euphemistically called ‘human trafficking’. The problem is that our government cannot keep up with the laws we have now. The legalisation of prostitution would be simple but the monitoring and enforcing would be beyond our law enforcement.

    • Owen

      A sex worker does not have a long term relationship. They must be very lonely people who will battle to ‘grow old’. If they have kids with many partners then what effect does that have on kids.

      The aforesaid is the basic reason for society to frown on sex work. It is not good for the long term health of the individual and society. No decent loving parent wants their child to be a sex worker as it does not create a wholesome human being.

      Yes people use sex as they do other forms of persuasion to get what they want BUT the difference is with multiple partners.

      A sex worker can only sell the body while the body has the shape to demand a price after that what does the sex worker have. It is not a sound economic career. Yes, one can place sport career on a similar footing. However, a sport person still has their dignity and pride.

      Who really wants to raise a family with a sex worker? Are the kids yours?

      What about the spread of disease?

      I really don’t think that the negative psychological and physical effects sex work has on individuals and society should be trivialized as the writer has done.

      Sex workers should not be condemned BUT the practice cannot be encouraged as it can only lead to a lesser society.

    • http://Mail&Gadian sbahle

      Actualy there is no different between the two people , because they both doing things to get SEX at the end but it is a shame to sell your self short

    • Momma Cyndi

      Am I the only one who finds it amusing that MEN are the ones who seem to be the most judgmental and condescending to sex workers? Seems like they all know how every woman thinks and feels :)

    • Raeez Jacobs

      Well said- you’re a great writer. I aver with most of the major premises you bring to light in this piece, and I can’t help but feel even more defeated, knowing that nothing can be done to change people’s perceptions about society, and the grreater world at large. It’s so easy to assume, and sometimes you can be beyond convinced in the truth of your claims, only for it to wind up false or fabricated.
      i suppose people succumb to it, becausse it’s convenient, and doesn’t require much of them; in so far as acquiring the truth is concerned.
      And even as that it sometimes tried, there is very little to suggest that they bother questioning the validity and realiability of their respective sources.
      “No, it’s definitely true! Everyone on the bus was talking about it too,” are the kinds of testimony espoused most, and despite how illogocal that sounds- the objective has shifted, so it’s no longer about continuinging a legacy of truth and reconciliation, rather it’s about understanding people through the truths we conjure up, share with others, and that we subsequently continue to do in perpetuating stereotypes, and making rash and/or politically incorrect choices about how we confront that which plagues us, doesn’t plague, or should never have plagued us to begin with.
      It’s humam nature- human nature, specific to each natural human, and doesn’t objectify that trait as common amongst us all- it’s just some are beyond what most consider, decent.

    • ian shaw

      Dries, you have finally said what no one dares to say.