This is how my Edinburgh show 'Sex Tourist' Starts:
"Who here uses prostitutes?"
(no-one says a word)
"Okay - who here uses internet porn"
(giggles and shuffles)
"Most of you - obviously - well, I have to inform you that those people in those films are
prostitutes, you just don't pay them. I do pay prostitutes, and therefore have suddenly become better than you; you who steal from prostitutes."
Being generous to myself - and, I like to think 'The World' - this then allows me to continue with my story of a Thailand sex holiday with my moral compass, if not pointing directly North, certainly not veering much further away than that of the common internet porn consumer, who, if my experience of life, people, and the internet is anything to go by, is far from a minority.
It seems it's impossible to say how much net traffic is porn. A quick Google suggests figures from as little as 4% to as much as 30% online traffic is internet porn. Even if it were 0.5%, taking the huge amount of internet traffic as a whole, it's still LOADS. And it is now accepted that many people are happy to sit in front of their computer wanking over free porn streams; that is, using prostitutes for sex without paying.
Not me. I pay whores and make no secret of it. I live in Soho and will frequently enjoy a pleasant afternoon with a prostitute. I talk about it with family and friends when they ask and often when they don't and often build my stand-up sets around sexual experiences of such pay to play engagements. My new show is no exception. Last Christmas I set off to Thailand to become a sex tourist, to pay for sex, lots of times. It went wrong and some pretty horrific things happened (whoops!) but my point remains, we live in a culture where the consumption of what amounts to free prostitution - via the internet - is widely accepted, often with some humour and yet real life actual-sex 'whoring' is still frowned upon, marginalised and demonised.
I would say prostitutes are exploited, yes. But no more than someone who stacks shelves for 12 hours a day for barely enough to live on. No more than anyone involved in bottom end menial - largely physical - labour, for that's what most work is, as summed up by William Morris in Useful Work versus Useless Toil some work is nice, good, pleasant, and some is bad, unpleasant, or 'a burden to life'. Prostitution is a specific example of a general problem - of exploitative labour - yet it seems to achieve a status based solely on its content.
The fascination with sex that clings to the Abrahamic religious practices of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, has a lot to do with this. The sexual body is to be. Those 'visual covenants with God' or as I prefer to call it them, the unnecessary removal of the protective skin of the male infant's penis, or simply 'child abuse'. These are all part of the informing historical phenomena that create a contemporary culture that allows us to maintain hypocritical distinctions that fall apart after any superficial analysis. In short, we separate the body from the sexual body when it comes to labour.
It could be argued that the spectre of STDs has assisted this distinction between watching prostitution and having sex with prostitutes, and I'm sure it has. My experience of growing up in the eighties can be expressed thus: "DON'T TOUCH ANYONE. SEX IS FUCKING DANGEROUS".
But again, this harbours a lie. With 25 years of fucking under my belt, I have never had unprotected sex with a prostitute. They won't let you. It is too much of a risk. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but it has never happened to me. I've had all manner of STDs though, all picked up from one night stands when drunk, from bars, clubs, or mainly during my seven year stint at art college, where you could follow the movement of an STD like an unsexy bull in the incestuous china-shop of a small Devonian art-school.
Whatever the reasons, and I'm sure there are many others, overdetermined by all manner of public and private, hygienic, political, cultural, social and religious institutions of various more or less disguised types, actually having 'real' sex with an 'actual' prostitute is shrouded in darkness, suspicion, disdain, and considered morally and socially 'wrong'. Whereas watching them at home with a cup of coco before innocently crawling off to sleep is now woven into the fabric of our culture.
It's strange that for centuries we've happily paid for other humans to exert their bodies for our pleasure, whether it be a postman, a waiter, a boxer or comedian, whatever. We've also a long, long history of having sex for pleasure. Is bringing those two things together and paying for sex such a bad thing? Surely an honest, open society would consider it more honest and open, more 'social' than simply watching, without paying?