Thursday, January 27, 2011

I’m expecting a bit of heat from the blogosphere about my Stranger column on Ms. Nickie Blue’s recent video for Kink.com. Here’s a few points that my 500-word-limit didn’t allow me to make...

Yes, I did trade some email with Nickie Blue. She’s a lovely woman, she seems like a charming person, and I wish her the best in her career.

I have some thoughts about the video as a piece of erotic art, separate from the offstage controversy. But I will save my review of the video, lest those remarks get mixed up with this.

Whether people think Ms. Blue is, or is not, a “real” virgin because she’s had anal sex doesn’t matter to me. She says she hasn’t had vaginal penetration before, and I am certainly not going to contradict her. For one thing, that would be mean-spirited and presumptuous. For another, I watched the video of her having sex with Mark Davis, Jack Hammer* and James Deen. There are certain unmistakable facial expressions, noises, and body language that any woman who has ever had and/or seen uncomfortable vaginal penetration will recognize. They are not easy to fake convincingly, and Ms. Blue displayed them exactly. That was a not a woman who’s had lots of vaginal sex just flexing her Kegels. So I’m just fine with her identifying herself as a virgin.

On one level, I have no problem with Ms. Blue creating her porn-star brand around her virginity. It seems obvious that from a business standpoint, she’s going to need a new schtick soon, but that’s not a major problem. I re-invented myself in the sex work industry half a dozen times or more – most sex workers do. I respect Ms. Blue’s acumen in identifying a marketable feature of herself and capitalizing on it. She’s clearly tenacious and driven, and those are very good traits indeed for an entrepreneur.

But I also have a strongly held opinion that sex work, like BDSM and polyamory, is advanced sexual behavior. It is not a place to learn the basics. It is not a place for virgins.

You see, in business, there is something called opportunity cost. That means: the cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action. It also refers to the benefits you could have received by taking an alternative action. And in sex work, an opportunity cost can be emotional.

So I’m not saying oh, virginity is this sacred thing. But people generally benefit from learning to do new, emotionally-loaded, intimate things in a low-stress setting, with people they trust. Ms. Blue will incur an emotional opportunity cost for experiencing vaginal penetration for the first time in a highly stressful setting with men with whom she did not choose and with whom she had no emotional connection.

Only a woman who has a certain amount of sexual experience can make a reasonable judgment on how she will feel about, say, having sex with a stranger. Or having sex in front of an audience. Or both. A sexually inexperienced woman has no basis for predicting how she’ll react emotionally in the situation. Thus, it’s unrealistic for her to expect to be able to regulate her feelings about it, either in the moment or after the fact. (Of course, even having sexual experience is not a guarantee it’s going to be a positive thing for her.)

So I hope Ms. Blue’s emotional opportunity cost for this performance was low, and that her gain from it, both in terms of her paycheck and boosting her future career, is high. But that will be the result of luck rather than an informed opinion, and luck is not something she should rely on in this game.

Something I observed in reading other sex workers writings on this: Sex work activists don’t like to talk about the emotional costs of doing sex work very much. I’m sure it’s because it would be easy for anti-SW readers to perceive us as saying that sex work is emotionally damaging to women. That’s not at all what I’m saying.

But sex work is one of the many jobs which requires what sociologist Arlie Hochschild called "emotional labor" and emotional regulation. Sexual emotional-intelligence, in other words. For some women, sex work speaks to a particular set of talents and skills we possess, and the challenges of it are, overall, interesting and positive for us. For other women, that’s not the case.

So you should not do porn, or any kind of sex work, to explore your sexuality. A happy and emotionally-healthy sex worker is someone with the tools and the desire to facilitate other people exploring their sexuality. As you go along in sex work, you’ll learn what particular types of sexuality you most enjoy participating in, and gravitate towards the appropriate setting for that. But getting into corporate porn to "explore your sexuality" is rather like joining the military to explore your issues with aggression and formalized hierarchies. You certainly will get an education, but it’s unlikely to be a smooth and enjoyable process.

Virgins aspiring to sex work, think it like this: Actors rehearse, athletes train, and musicians practice. If you want your sexuality to enrich the lives of other people, and you want to be happy doing so, learn your skills in private. Then go forth and make the world a sexier place.

***

*Special good wishes for a speedy recovery go out to porn performer Jack Hammer, who was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer.

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