Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Massage and Misdirection

I have gotten – as I presumed I would – a lot of replies to the post yesterday about sex workers using the word massage. Let me reiterate that I have much respect for licensed massage practitioners. My mom was one for years, and she was definitely not a sex worker and did not want anyone to ask her for sex. So I’m all down with LMP’s having boundaries about this.

I will also repeat what I said yesterday: some LMP’s do engage in sexual behavior in their massage sessions. I know ya’ll don’t like to admit that, but it is true. So it is not a matter of only people who don’t have licenses muddying up an otherwise pristine profession.

That said, I completely agree that if you do not have a state license, you should not claim you do. I do not support anyone pretending to have medical skills they do not possess.

Several people suggested that sex workers should use the phrase “sensual massage” and only LMP's should use the phrase “therapeutic massage.” I would not be adverse to that, but it’s not an option. This is a state-by-state issue, but here in Washington, if you don’t have a state license, you may not legally use the word massage professionally. At all, period. If I’m wrong on this I’m sure someone will correct me, but last time I had a lawyer run through this with me, I was told that the fine for using the word massage if you did not have a license was substantially higher than the fine for a first-offense prostitution charge. The former is a thousand dollars, and the latter, five hundred. The LMP professional organizations apparently lobbied hard to get that fine very high, and since the state is never adverse to taking money, they agreed.

So at least here in Washington, ya’ll do own the very word massage, which is why you see ads offering “Sensual Touch”. That’s a sex worker trying to avoid having an LMP see her ad and report her to the state, because that's often the way unlicensed people get into trouble.

But see, sex workers are really not the problem. They are not the people asking LMP’s for sex. It’s the guys, right? (Yes, I’m sure that women sometimes solicit sex from an LMP, but I doubt it happens a lot.)

Men, as a gender, want sex and pursue it. You can think what you want about why that’s true, and whether that it is a good thing or a bad one or – as I myself believe - a morally neutral impulse that must be judged in context. But in general, that’s what they do.

And you will never change men’s behavior by changing women’s behavior. The world is full of examples of women trying to seem sexually unavailable to avoid unwanted overtures: by adopting face- or body-concealing styles of dress, not going to certain places, never being alone in the room with a man, et cetera. (Although many of these rules were designed by men trying to make 'their' women unavailable to other men.) But my point is: nowhere in recorded history have men responded to women emphasizing their chastity and unavailability by saying “Oh. Well, all right, we’ll stop asking, then.”

It would be great if simply by altering a word or two in an ad, sex workers could ensure that LMP’s who didn’t want to be sexual were not asked for sex. (Trust me, sex workers would love it if they got all that business.) But there will always be men in the world who either honestly don't perceive sexual boundaries until they are firmly explained, or else just don't respect them. No matter what women do, we cannot change that. We definitely don't have to just passively accept it. But it is fruitless to think "If only women acted like this, men would never act like that."

So the existence of sex workers is not the reason that some men ask LMP’s for sex. Men ask LMP’s for sex for the same reason they ask anyone else: because they want it. And that’s unlikely to change.

It can be frightening to be the object of a sexual overture you don’t want. But women who are not sex workers will never succeed in making themselves safer by isolating and stigmatizing women who are. The idea that they can is, I believe, a really clever shifting of blame on the part of certain unethical men who pursue sex from women in inappropriate ways, but who don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. “The woman tempted me!” It’s as old as the Adam and Eve story - and just as mythical.

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