The first in a series of posts on whorephobic language and tropes found in common usage.
One of the common phrases used to describe sex work, by those opposed and those who have simply not stopped to think about their language, is “selling your body.” It crops up again and again, feminists decrying how no woman should have to sell her body to survive, journalists titillating with tales of how someone “survived” by “selling her body”.
AS I write this I am certainly not a disembodied entity nor a brain in a vat. Having met many clients my body has remained my own, so why does this phrase persist and why should those who wish to avoid whorephobia avoid using it?
The idea that sex workers sell their bodies is tied up with the idea we do not have agency, the ability to choose. Under UK law a sale is defined thus ; A contract of sale of goods is a contract by which the seller transfers or agrees to transfer the property in goods to the buyer for a money consideration, called the price.
Claiming that a sex worker somehow transfers ownership of her own body to someone else would be farcical if it was not used so often, especially by those opposed to sex work. What they are actually saying is that once a person has sex for money with someone they lose all rights over their own body. Dig deeper into the “selling your body” trope and what you discover is people saying sex workers cannot be raped, cannot be assaulted, cannot be beaten up, because their autonomy over their own bodies ceases the moment money is exchanged. Tied up is the idea that we do not fully control ourselves in the way non sex workers do.
The idea that only a woman out of control would have sex willingly with strangers might seem so very medieval, but it is what prohibitionists imply. A good woman has full control over body and mind because she would never allow herself to be a sex worker. A sex worker is not fully in control as her choices prove. She can lose the right to her body because she never fully had it in the first place.
Every time the sale of sexual services is equated with giving up those rights to say no that every human being should have, the idea that sex workers cannot be raped is reinforced. Indeed it is a straight line from selling your body to sex work is rape, which is why both phrases are beloved of those feminists who oppose a woman’s right to choose. (They never concern themselves with a man’s body, or whether he sells it by engaging in paid sex)
Furthermore by saying a woman sells her herself when she is a sex worker people are reducing her to nothing more than an object. If having sex with someone for money defines her, removes her person hood and reduces her to nothing more than her sexual activities then the phrase objectifies her far more than any client.
Sex workers sell sexual services, at an agreed price for a time and content limited price, not their body and not their right to say no.