Episode 14: 50 Shades of Terrible Negotiation

In this episode, we’re doing something new. Eunice and Franklin have never read or seen 50 Shades of Grey, so Joreth reads it to us as we record our reactions in real time.

Specifically, Joreth reads us the scene where Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele negotiate their BDSM relationship, noteworthy in the annals of erotic fiction because Christian violates Ana’s consent multiple times during the consent negotiation.

Come along on the ride as Joreth inflicts this upon us! After all, misery loves company, right?

By the way, Joreth wasn’t kidding about reading the book with a red pen in hand.

The transcript of this episode is below.

Franklin: Welcome, you’re listening to another episode of the Skeptical Pervert. Not, as we’ve said in the past, “skeptical perverts.” I’m your host and part-time mad scientist, Franklin Veaux.

Joreth: I’m your kinky, sopo, ace, Chicana, feminist, Renaissance cat co-host Joreth. My gender identity is tomboy and my pronouns are she her, but you may address me as “Baron of the tangle.”

Eunice: And as the last third of this soon-to-be triumverate of misery, I’m Eunice, your friendly neighborhood queer, kinky, ace-spec poly woman, bringing my genteel East Asian British viewpoint and associated deep sarcasm.

Franklin: So today we’re doing something a little bit different. For this episode, Joreth read a section of the. Novel 50 Shades. Of grey at. Us and we recorded our reactions in real time. Today you get to bear witness to our shock and horror since Eunice and I have not seen or read the story before.

Joreth: I like how you said I read it at you like I used it as a weapon.

Franklin: 50 Shades is weaponized to suck.

Eunice: I really meant that triumvirate of misery thing. That was not an exaggeration.

Franklin: And specifically, Joreth subjected us to the bit where Anna and Christian negotiated their D/s relationship, remarkable in the annals of erotic fiction for the fact it has more consent violations during a consent negotiation than any other literary work in recorded human history.

Eunice: Citation needed!

Joreth: This is outside our usual pattern where normally we address a study or a topic with factual claims that is related to sex and evaluate just how factual those claims are.

Eunice: Actually, that’s a good point, considering our usual carefulness with phrasing. Maybe we should say more consent violations during a consent negotiation than any other literary work in recorded human history, as far as we know. At least ones that the author didn’t really seem to notice or intend I. Mean I’m not including erotic horror, or, like, non-consent fiction here, right? That seems fair.

Joreth: I’m not entirely sure how we got into this subject in our podcast meetings, but when we started talking about the travesty that is this trilogy, we found ourselves discussing not just how poorly it was written, or how inaccurate the depictions of kink are in the book, but the subject of kink representation and the danger, actually, of bad representation, specifically in consent negotiations and what it teaches newbies about it.

Franklin: So when 50 Shades first started being a thing, I tried to read it. I really did. I didn’t even get 2 chapters in before I gave up. But never in a thousand years did I imagine it got worse.

Eunice: I didn’t even try to read it. I read a bunch of reviews and decided writing our own erotica sounded more fun. There’s a bunch of great fanfic out there with actual hot kinky sex, and this was definitely not one of them. 50 Shades didn’t seem like a good use of my limited span of years on this earth. Mind you, even if I were immortal, I’m not sure it would be worthwhile endeavour.

Joreth: I had managed to read the first book, although I had forgotten a lot of detail. And I had read several chapter by chapter reviews. And I had seen the movies, again forgetting a lot of detail. So for this episode I actually purchased a hard cover, dead-tree copy and focused on reading the book carefully with the red ink pen and taking notes. We will have pictures posted somewhere. Perhaps on our Facebook page?

Anyway, I read the book carefully, took notes, then watched all three movies again and have started reading the second book. I am clearly a masochist. (Note to EL James what a masochist actually looks like.)

Eunice: I’m not even a masochist, God knows how I got dragged into this hellscape.

Joreth: Maybe because I’m also a sadist. Again, note for EL James on what that looks like.

Eunice: You may have successfully gotten me to endure more pain than anyone else in history, so well done, you.

Franklin: Citation definitely needed. And really, I’m just an innocent victim in all of this.

Joreth: Innocent? Ha!

Eunice: Uh-huh.

Franklin: Well, when it comes to you two, I frequently play the role of innocent victim.

Joreth: You frequently play the role of victim.

Eunice: Innocent is debatable.

Franklin: Anyway, the bit Joreth read for us in this episode is a pivotal scene where Anna and Christian formally negotiate what their relationship will look like. Real consent negotiations are hella sexy, at least if they’re properly done. Think super hot sexting only in person. But the novel manages to strip. All traces of playfulness and joy from these scenes. What’s really weird and scary though is that Christian violates Anna’s consent during the consent negotiation. Multiple times. I mean, how do you even cope with that much even?

Eunice: Coping is not one of Anna’s skills.

Franklin: So without further ado, let the suffering begin. If we had to suffer through this, so do you.

Eunice: Brace yourselves.

Franklin: Oh God, here it comes.

Joreth: Alright, so she has specifically asked for a meeting to discuss the contract. This is her negotiation of the contract.

Franklin: All right, let us have it.

Joreth: “Are you nervous?” he asks softly, “Yes.” He leans forward. “Me too,” he whispers conspiratorially. My eyes shoot up to meet his. Him? Nervous? Never! I blink and he smiles his adorable, lopsided smile at me. The waiter arrives with my wine, a small dish of mixed nuts, and another of olives. “So, how are we going to do this?” I ask. “Run through my points one by one?” “Impatient as ever, Miss Steele. Well, I could ask you what you thought of the weather today.” He smiles and his long fingers reach down to collect an olive. He pops it in his mouth, and my eyes linger on his mouth. That mouth. That’s been on me. All parts of me. I flush.

Franklin: That mouth. That mouth. Not the other mouth. This, this is the sex mouth, not the business mouth.

Eunice: I mean, I totally would be, like, on board for detachable body parts, but I’m guessing that’s not what she’s saying.

Joreth: She would not be capable of writing that book. You two, however, are.

“I thought the. Weather was particularly unexceptional today,” he smirks. “Are you smirking at me, Mr. Grey?” ”I am, Miss Steele.” “You know this contract is legally unenforceable.” “I am fully aware of that Miss Steele.” “Were you going to tell me that at any point?” He frowns. “You think I’d coerce you into something you don’t want to do, and then pretend that I have a legal hold over you?”

Franklin: Yes!

Eunice: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Franklin: Yes, he absolutely would do that. That is perfectly on brand for him.

Joreth: “Well, yes.”

Eunice: Yes, exactly! Listen to yourself!

Joreth: See, she knows what kind of person he is. This is throughout the book! And yet…

“You don’t think very highly of me, do you?”

Franklin: No!

Eunice: Nope! No!

Joreth: “You haven’t answered my question!” “Anastasia, it doesn’t matter if it’s legal or not, it represents an arrangement that I would like to make with you. What I would like from you and what you can expect from me. If you don’t like it, then don’t sign. If you do sign and then decide you don’t like it, there are enough get out clauses so you can walk away. Even if it were legally binding, do you think I’d drag you through the courts if you did decide to run?”

Franklin: Yes.

Eunice: He would bury her.

Franklin: Yeah, he would. He talks her! He fucking stalks her. Yes! He would do anything that…yes! The answer is yes, Mr. Grey.

Joreth: I take a long sip of my wine. My subconscious taps me hard on the shoulder. You must keep your wits about you. Don’t drink too much!

Eunice: Um, that that’s not how subconsciouses work. Subconscii? Subconsciouses, subconscious, something like that.

Franklin: The subconscious leaps up and tells me something. Well then it’s not a bloody subconscious, is it?

Eunice: Can you have more than one subconscious? I guess you can, if it’s her. I guess they’re, like, battling it out under there, under the thin layer of her psyche.

Franklin: Yeah, now I have…what was the cartoon with the angel and the aDevil are sitting on the guy’s shoulder, and the angel is like, “no, no. He’s got a point.”

Joreth: She has a subconscious and she has a goddess, an inner goddess, and they constantly have conversations with her.

Franklin: Yes, and the inner goddess tells her that she’s actually kind of average and basic, and her subconscious agrees. I mean, is this basically what we can take from this?

Joreth: Uh, yeah.

Eunice: I mean, if it was just that she’s, like, basic, then, like, she and Christian Grey would fit very well together, ’cause he’s basic as well.

Franklin: Yeah, well, except for the part that he’s a kind of a creepy stalker.

Eunice: Yeah, I mean, you know it seems like she has a type.

Joreth: “Relationships like this are built on honesty and trust,” he continues. “If you don’t trust me—”

Everyone: (laughs)

Eunice: So yeah, I don’t know why that was.

Franklin: Oh my God, you’re turning red, Eunice.

Eunice: It’s fine, it’s fine. Carry on carry on, it’s OK.

Joreth: “Relationships like this, they’re built on honesty and trust.”

Eunice: Yeah, yeah they are yes.

Franklin: Oh my God

Joreth: And NDAs. And secret files on your background.

Franklin: And stalking.

Joreth: “If you don’t trust me, trust me to know how I’m affecting you, how far I can go with you, how far I can take you, if you can’t be honest with me, then we really can’t do this.”

Eunice: Yes, don’t do it. Don’t do it. That’s the answer. It’s right there in front of you!

Joreth: Oh my! We’ve cut to the chase quickly! How far he can take me? Holy shit, what does that mean? “So it’s quite simple, Anastasia, do you trust me or not?”

Franklin: No.

Eunice: No! No, don’t trust him!

Joreth: His eyes are burning, fervant. “Did you have similar discussions with the fifteen?” “No.” “Why not?”

Franklin: Because you’re special.

Joreth: “Because they were all established submissives. They knew what they wanted out of a relationship with me, and generally what I expected. With them, it was just a question of fine tuning the soft limits. Details like that.” “Is there a store you go to? Submissives-R-us?” He laughs. “Not exactly.” “Then how?”

Eunice: Not exactly?

Franklin: Well, technically, it’s not called submissives R us.

Eunice: No, because, you know, even for them that that name would be too basic, I know this word is coming up a lot, but…

Joreth: “Is this what you want to discuss, or shall we get down to the nitty gritty? Your issues, as you say,” I swallow. Do I trust him?

Franklin: No.

Joreth: Is that what this all comes down to? -rust? Surely that should be a two way thing. I remember his snit when I phoned Jose. “Are you hungry?” he asks, distracting me from my thoughts. Oh no. Food. “No.”

Eunice: Oh, no. That’s…that’s…that’s not a great reaction to have. “Oh no, food.” What? Is she okay?

Franklin: No.

Joreth: Well he he keeps trying to make her eat and she thinks that’s weird.

Eunice: I mean, yes.

Franklin: It is weird.

Eunice: She’s not a child. Somebody else should not be controlling your food intake.

Franklin: Ouch, you would think that would be obvious.

Eunice: This is EL James we’re talking about. No other guarantees.

Joreth: Oh no, food. “No.” “Have you eaten today?” I stare at him. Honesty. Holy crap, he’s not going to like my answer. “No.” My voice is small. “Oh.” He narrows his eyes. “You have to eat, Anastasia. We can eat down here or in my suite. What would you prefer?” “I think we should stay in public on neutral ground.”

Franklin: That might be the first smart thing we’ve heard her say yet.

Eunice: Well, no. To bee fair, she has said some things that are smart. She has just never followed through on them, such as this guy is a stalker.

Franklin: Anastasia, remember my hard limit says no gynecological medical instruments. It does not say anything about a feeding tube.

Eunice: Ohhh God. Yeah, it’s fine to go in that end, just not the other end.

Joreth: Ohh thanks for that image.

Eunice. That’s never leaving. That’s never leaving.

Franklin: 50 Shades of Grey’s Anatomy.

Joreth: Where was I?

Franklin: Feeding tubes.

Joreth: Neutral ground. Neutral ground. No feeding tubes.

Eunice: Yet.

Joreth: “I think we should stay in public on neutral ground.” He smiled sardonically. “Do you think that would stop me?” he says softly, a sensual warning.

Eunice: Sensual?

Franklin: That is not a sensual warning.

Eunice: Sensual? That is just a flat-out warning. That is a creepy creepy warning. Ohh for God’s sakes, OK.

Joreth: So, he threatens her, and…

My eyes widen and I swallow again. “I hope so.” (As in, do you think that would stop me, I hope so.)

Eunice: Mmm-hmm.

Joreth: “Come. I have a private dining room booked, no public.” He smiles at me enigmatically and climbs out of the booth, holding his hand out to me.

Franklin: How did he arrange this? Did he plan this?

Eunice: Didn’t he specifically, didn’t he specifically ask her just a moment ago? Do you want to go, like, to a private space or do you want to stay here and she said “I want to stay here,” and then he immediately he goes “We’re not staying here, we’re going to go into private.”

Joreth: Yes.

Eunice: Like, after she’s just said “I would like to stay out in public on neutral ground.”

Franklin: Remember that question I just asked you? Well, it doesn’t actually matter. I was going to ignore you anyway.

Joreth: Yeah.

Eunice: With him being that rich, it’s not ever really, like, neutral ground anyway, but…

Joreth: Yeah, so they’re at his hotel building, so they’ve got a lobby and a restaurant and stuff in the lobby. And so that’s where she’s meeting him is in this restaurant, and so he has arranged for a private room within the restaurant of the hotel where he’s staying. So that’s where we’re having this conversation,

Eunice: Even his hotel, his hotel is not neutral ground.

Joreth: Right? Yeah, he is a very very wealthy man spending a shit ton of money at a very high end hotel.

Eunice: They are gonna bend over backwards to give him whatever he wants, including turning a blind eye on anything he does.

Joreth: Yep, so he’s got a private dining room booked, no, public…

He smiles at me enigmatically and climbs out of the booth holding his hand out to me. “Bring your wine,” he murmurs. Placing my hand in his I slide out and I stand up beside him. He releases me and his hand reaches for my elbow. He leads me back through the bar and up the grand stairs to a mezzanine floor. A young man in full Heathman livery approaches us. “Mr. Gray this way, Sir.” We follow him through a plush seating area to an intimate dining room. Just one secluded table. The room is small but sumptuous. Beneath the shimmering chandelier, the table is all starched linen, crystal glasses, silver cutlery, and a white rose bouquet. An Old World sophisticated charm pervades the wood paneled room. The waiter pulls up my chair and I sit. He places my napkin in my lap. Christian sits opposite me. I pick up—

Eunice: She’s not doing a Michelin star review. She’s not reviewing the cookware or the cutlery or the—mmm. If she’s distracted by all this stuff, he’s clearly not holding her attention very much.

Franklin: There’s—the thing that’s bugging me about this scene is that even if you’re, like, a billionaire, you don’t arrange this with 30 seconds’ worth of notice. Which means that he planned this.

Eunice: Yes.

Franklin: Which means that he intended to do this all along.

Joreth: Mmm-hmm.

Franklin: Which means that all of his questions up to this point were completely disingenuous. He had no intention whatsoever of listening to any of her answers.

Eunice: OK, so I agree, but I will say that it is entirely…like, for someone who’s that wealthy, it is entirely possible that he hired out a private dining room, and if he doesn’t go in there, it doesn’t matter to him to lose that money, yeah?

Franklin: True, I guess.

Joreth: But I mean, this is also a scheduled date of theirs, and the the point of their date is to have this conversation. So I don’t think it’s that unreasonable for him to have a date with someone where they are planning to negotiate a BDSM relationship and he books a private room. Like, that seems kinda reasonable to me.

Franklin: OK, but then why would he say “Do you want to stay here or do you want to go somewhere private,” and then completely run roughshod over her when she says “I want to stay here?”

Joreth: Yes, that is the problem.

Eunice: Because he did not expect her to say “I would like to stay in public.”

Joreth: Yeah.

Eunice: He thought he knew exactly what she would say, which is “I’d like to be private for this.”

Franklin: And he was wrong. And when he found out he was wrong, he just kept with the plan and disregarded her.

Eunice: Yep, bulldozed his way right through.

Joreth: So you see, this is whatI keep talking about. Like, he says the things. He’s talking about consent. “I’m not gonna do anything that you don’t wanna do.” And then they get to their relationship, and that’s how he treats her.

OK, so she is reviewing the restaurant for 500 pages and then we finally get back to the conversation.

Eunice: I know you very well, that’s not a very interesting restaurant, right?

Joreth: This is why this book is. I just looked. It is 514 pages long. This is why. All of this extra shit.

“Don’t bite your lip,” he whispers. I frown. Damn it. I don’t even know that I’m doing it. “I’ve ordered already. I hope you don’t mind.

Franklin: Doesn’t matter if she does, yeah.

Eunice: Yeah, it doesn’t matter if she does or not, he’s already ordered.

Joreth: Yeah. Now remember, they are here for the purpose of negotiating a highly volatile relationship, right? Emotionally tense. Something challenging. They’re here to negotiate this. Here’s her response to “I’ve ordered already.”

Frankly, I’m relieved. I’m not sure I can make any further decisions.

Franklin: OK, so she’s going into this negotiation already knowing that she is cognitively impaired.

Joreth: Uh-huh.

Eunice: Like, if we had just, like…the thing is, that could have been so gently tweaked to make that understandable. Like, my brain is so full of decisions about this contract that I can’t think of food or I can’t make decisions about food. Like, it was so close to an actual, reasonable, logical way of framing it.

Joreth: Yes, and like there are…so there are D/s relationships where one person being in charge of the other person’s diet and nutrition, like, that is a desirable thing, because a person would want to…that is a feeling of relief, to give that burden up to somebody that you trust, right? Like, I’m anorexic. Food is a trigger for me. I don’t want to have to think about food. So that’s legitimate, right? Like, “I have a trigger here. This is my system for coping. I want somebody else to take this decision away from me so that it unburdens me. Because it’s a, it’s a huge relief for me.” That’s not what’s happening here, though.

Eunice: It’s not. It’s not a negotiated thing.

Joreth: Right.

Eunice: It’s not, “I find this difficult and I would appreciate you taking it away from me so I don’t have to do this.”

Joreth: Right!

Eunice: It’s “I’m going to come in and make this decision for you, because you are not capable of making the decision for yourself.”

Joreth: Yes, yes he has decided that, not somebody who came to him who said “this is a challenge I have in my life, I would like some help with that, please. As the role of my Dom. Will you take this responsibility on my behalf?” No, it is starting right from the gate. “I know nothing about you, but you clearly cannot make choices for yourself that are in your best interests. Therefore I will do it for you.”

Eunice: Yeah.

Joreth: OK where was I? She is relieved she can’t make any further decisions.

“No, that’s fine,” I acquiesce. “Well, it’s good to know that you can be amenable. Now where were we?”

Franklin: Oh! Oh, that’s, like, a really creepy thing to say in that moment.

Eunice: And also it’s really, like, petty and mean, because actually she has been remarkably amenable up to this point. She has been way too…and she has been outright docile, considering a lot of what he’s done. That feels negging. Like, that feels like negging.

Joreth: Yeah.

The nitty gritty. I take another large sip of wine. It really is delicious. Christian Grey does wine well. I remember the last sip of wine he gave me in my bed. I blush at the intrusive thought. “Yes, your issues.”

Eunice: Does wine well? Sorry, just, the way of describing it just kind of stuck in my brain, like, hmm, OK, yeah, that’s fine.

Joreth: She has no idea about wine. She never drank very much to begin with. She knows nothing about what’s good and what isn’t. And somehow he has this developed palette that always chooses exactly the right wine for her, like what she would like.

Eunice: Part of the fantasy. Yeah, he knows me better than I know myself.

Joreth: Yeah.

Eunice: It was just the way of describing it as “does wine well.” Like, hmm. Yeah, OK.

Joreth: She’s the one who calls it. She planned this date. She scheduled this date to discuss, quote, “her issues.” That’s what she called them.

“Yes, your issues.” He fishes into his inside jacket pocket and pulls out a piece of paper. My e-mail. “Clause two agreed. This is for the benefit of us both. I shall redraft.”

I forget what that is exactly.

Eunice: Wait, clause two? Hang on, let’s see what we can find the…“the fundamental purpose of this contract is to allow the submissive to explore her sensuality and her limit safety with due respect and regard for her needs, her limits, and her well-being.” That’s what clause two apparently is?

Joreth: Yes.

Franklin: That is such a load of bullshit. Like, nothing that he does is even approximately in the general neighborhood of that.

Joreth: Yeah. I might be able to find it and if I do, I can tack it on. But she said something—or rather, in an e-mail to him previously about clause two.

I blink at him. Holy shit! Are we gonna go through each of these points one at a time?

Eunice: Yes! Yes, because this is how you talk about contracts. This is how you negotiate contracts. Sorry.

Joreth: We’re we’re going with the contract fantasy. That’s how you deal with contracts.

I just don’t feel so brave face to face. He looks so earnest. I steal myself with another sip of my wine. Christian continues, “My sexual health. Well, all of my previous partners had blood tests and I have regular tests every six months for all the health risks you mention. All my recent tests are clear. I have never taken drugs. In fact I am vehemently anti-drug. I have a strict no tolerance policy with regards to drugs for all my employees and I insist on random drug testing.

Eunice: That’s very American I feel like that’s very American, yeah?

Franklin: That is very American. It’s also very controlling, but we already know that about Christians, so it totally figures that he’s that kind of boss. This guy must be completely shit to work for. Holy Christ. Oh my God.

Joreth: So when you should say that. The very next line is “wow, control freakery gone mad.”

Eunice: Ana! Ana, you are so close! So close! Run! Run in the other direction as fast as you can!

Joreth: I blink at him, shocked. “I have never had any blood transfusions. Does that answer your question?” I nod, impassive. “Your next point, I mentioned earlier. You can walk away at anytime, Anastasia. I won’t stop you. If you go, however, that’s it. Just so you know.” “OK,” I answer softly. “If I go, that’s it.” The thought is surprisingly painful. The waiter arrives with our first course. How can I possibly eat? Holy Moses! He’s ordered oysters on a bed of ice!

Franklin: Holy Moses!

Eunice: What, so…

Franklin: Oysters on ice! My God! I was expecting Graham crackers!

Joreth: So I’m just gonna say that oysters are not the kind of food you order for someone when you don’t know if they like them or not.

Franklin: Yes, that is actually…hmm.

Eunice: They are, however, the sort of food you order for someone when you don’t really care if they like what you are choosing for them to eat or not, they are expected to just eat it.

Joreth: That is a good point.

Franklin: Yep.

Joreth: “I hope you like oysters.” Christian’s voice is soft. “I’ve never had one!” “Ever? Really? Well.” He reaches for one. “All you do is tip and swallow. I think you can manage that.” He gazes at me, and I know what he’s referring to. I blush scarlet. He grins at me, squirts some lemon juice on his oyster, and then tips it in his mouth.

Eunice: Lemon juice.

Franklin: Christian Gray has very pedestrian tastes.

Eunice: What was a fine dining establishment, I’m assuming. Surely they can go slightly more upclass than like a squirt of lemon juice on the oyster. Come on.

Franklin: They can. The problem is him, not them.

Joreth: I think the problem is that maybe this is what James thinks is upper class.

Eunice: Also, oysters is kind of an amuse-bouches. It’s not really, like…it’s sort of a…I would not consider it, like, the first course. I would consider it pre-first-course. Sorry, I’m getting into the weeds here. Also, if it is a really good place then you would have an amuse-bouches. So yeah, moving on from that particular topic now.

Joreth: Alright, so he squirts some very pedestrian…he squirts it too. That word in this context. Anyway…

Eunice: Better than dribble.

Franklin: Yeah, he dribbles lemon juice on his oysters.

Joreth: Let’s see…

“Mmm, delicious. Taste of the sea.” He grins at me. “Go on,” he encourages. “So I don’t chew it?” “No, Anastasia, you don’t.” His eyes are alight with humor. He looks so young like this. I bite my lip and his expression changes instantly. He looks sternly at me. I reach across and pick up my first ever oyster. OK, here goes nothing. I squirt some lemon juice on it and tip it up. It slips down my throat, all seawater, salt, the sharp tang of citrus and fleshiness. Ooh! I lick my lips and he’s watching me intently, his eyes hooded. “Well?” “I’ll have another,” I say dryly. “Good girl,” he says proudly. “Did you choose these deliberately? Aren’t they known for their aphrodisiac qualities?”

Franklin: Uuuuugh.

Eunice: Yeah, but we already know that like they don’t actually work as aphrodisiacs. So just, you know, commenting here that if anybody is curious about that, we know that they do not work as aphrodisiacs. Check our first episode.

Joreth: “No, they are the first item on the menu. I don’t need an aphrodisiac near you. I think you know that, and I think you react the same way near me,” he says simply. “So where were we?” He glances at my e-mail as I reach for another oyster. He reacts the same way I affect him? Wow!

Eunice: Hm.

Joreth: “Obey me in all things. Yes, I want you to do that. I need you to do that. Think of it as role play, Anastasia,” “But I’m worried you’ll hurt me!” “Hurt you how?”

Eunice: Think of this role play? Like, think of it as role play? What else? What other way would you think of it?

Joreth: “Hurt you how?” “Physically!” And emotionally, in parentheses, she thinks.

Eunice: Fair, yes, yes. It’s going to be a big part of it. Get used to that.

Joreth: Yeah!

“Do you really think that I would do that? Go beyond any limit you can take?”

Eunice: Yes.

Franklin: Yes.

Eunice: Yes.

Joreth: “You said you hurt someone before?” “Yes, I have. It was a long time ago.” “How did you hurt her?” “I suspended her from my playroom ceiling. In fact, that’s one of your questions. Suspension, that’s what the carabiners are for in the playroom. Rope play. One of the ropes was tied too tightly.” I hold my hand up, begging him to stop. I don’t need to know any more. “So you won’t suspend me then?”

Franklin: Actually, I kind of think she does need to know more, because this is, like, this is a really important part of the conversation here. He’s sloppy with his rope work.

Joreth: Yep. Although she’s saying that, because of that, she’s taking rope work off the table except.

Franklin: Well, she’s taking suspension off the table, but…

Joreth: Suspension. Just taking suspension, yeah.

“So you won’t suspend me, then?” “Not if you really don’t want me to. You can make that a hard limit.”

Eunice: Not if you really don’t want me to? You literally just told her how you fucked up someone else by doing this wrong. Of course she’s not gonna want to do it.

Joreth: Yes, unlike somebody who is actually versed in kink, we might say, OK, tell me how you hurt them. Tell me what you’ve learned since then and you know what has happened in the interim. Because somebody who made a mistake early on in their playtime, you know, in their their journey, they could have learned from that, and I might trust them, now, ten years later. But she’s not willing to have that conversation, so…

Eunice: I’ll be honest. In her position, I would also not be willing to have that conversation. But then I would also not be sitting in that room. I’d have, like, left at this point. Because he, like…you, would expect someone who said, you know, I hurt them by tying them, to volunteer information about, this is what happened and this is how I dealt with it. And so, like, I won’t do that again, because now I know not to. And this is how I, you know, this is how we resolved the situation.

Joreth: Mm-hmm.

Eunice: And what I went to go and like do in order to to improve. He has to have that. information basically dragged out of him?

Joreth: Yes, everything. He will not talk about any part of himself whatsoever. She has to drag it out of him at each step.

Eunice: Like, in her position, if I was faced with someone who told me that they fucked up in kink and then did not give any further information, I would assume it’s because they were ashamed. And they don’t, like, have any improvement, right? They just never tried it again. In which case I’m not trusting them.

Joreth: Yeah.

Eunice: If he won’t say how he, you know, how he resolved that and what happened, I’m going to assume that he just brushed it under the rug and never talked about it or ever thought about it again.

Joreth: Yeah

Eunice: Which is not a safe way to deal with it.

Joreth: No. But I mean, what else can you assume? You have no more information.

Eunice: Mm-hmm.

Joreth: Right, so he tells her she can make that a hard limit. She says OK.

“So, obeying. Do you think you can manage that?” He stares at me, his gaze intense, the seconds tick by. “I could try!” I whisper. “Good.” He smiles. “Now, term. One month instead of three months is no time at all, especially if you want a weekend away from me each month. I don’t think I’ll be able to stay away from you for that length of time. I can barely manage it now.”

Franklin: Because I’m a stalker.

Joreth: He pauses. He can’t stay away from me?

Eunice: I mean, he’ll just hover outside her window, like a certain sparkly-in-the-sun sort of vibe.

Joreth: No connection whatsoever to Twilight. None at all. Totally different.

Eunice: Nope.

Joreth: “How about one day over one weekend per month you get to yourself, but I get a midweek night that week, OK? And please, let’s try for three months. If it’s not for you, then you can walk away any time.” “Three months?” I’m feeling railroaded.

Franklin: Once again, she set a boundary, and he was like, no, no, your boundary is not good enough, sorry. We’re gonna do it my way.

Joreth: Yep, and she says right here, “I’m feeling railroaded.”

Franklin: You think?

Eunice: Yes!

Franklin: Being in this room was a railroad!

Eunice: Yeah, feeling railroaded is right, because you are being railroaded. Like at the very least, if someone is in that situation, you don’t just go straight back to “no, let’s try 3 months.” You at least go, “well, maybe like, two?”

Joreth: Try two months.

Eunice: You know, maybe two months. You know, in the middle, like at the very least. If he kept, like, if he kept pushing, and I was there, I would be like “I have just worked out exactly how long I want to stay here for. Goodbye!”

Joreth: I’m feeling railroaded. I take another large sip of wine and I treat myself to another oyster. I could learn to like these.

Franklin: Because that’s what you do when you’re feeling railroaded by somebody who is bulldozing you and disregarding your boundaries. Drink more alcohol!

Joreth: Just wait, there’s—

Eunice: This is gonna be a plot point, isn’t it? She’s gonna get drunk, and then he’s gonna use it as an excuse to, like, force her to do something or whatever.

Franklin: I just paid for all of this alcohol you drank, therefore you can’t say no to me.

Eunice: You owe me now.

Joreth: “The ownership thing, that’s just terminology and goes back to the principle of obeying. It’s to get you in the right frame of mind to understand where I’m coming from. And I want you to know that as soon as you cross my threshold as my submissive, I will do what I like to you. You have to accept that, and willingly. That’s why you have to trust me. I will fuck you any time, any way I want, anywhere I want. I will discipline you because you will screw up. I will train you to please me.”

Eunice: Uuuuugh.

Joreth: “But I know you’ve not done this before. Initially we’ll take it slowly, and I will help you. We’ll build up to various scenarios. I want you to trust me, but I know I have to earn your trust and I will. the OR otherwise. Again, it’s to help you get into the mindset. It means anything goes.”

Franklin: I will teach you to trust me if I have to stalk you for months, buy the company that you work for, and disregard every one of your boundaries to do it.

Eunice: The beatings will continue until morale improves.

Joreth: So like there are words there that I’m, like, OK, that’s she cribbed this from somebody who might know what they’re talking about, right?

Eunice: That is a word.

Joreth: Like in D/s, that is part of the illusion. I will make you do the thing that I want you to do, but also I know, like, I know this is an illusion. I’m gonna help you through this. We’re gonna learn together. She’s got words here that sound like somewhere she might have read something about it, but she clearly does not understand what she read.

“He’s so passionate, mesmerizing. This is obviously…”

Eunice: Basic?

Joreth: “This is obviously his obsession, the way he is. I can’t take my eyes off him. He really, really wants this. He stops talking and gazes at me. “Still with me?” he whispers, his voice rich, warm and seductive. He takes a sip of his wine, his penetrating stare holding mine. The waiter comes to the door and Christian subtly nods, permitting the waiter to clear our table. “Would you like some more wine?” “I have to drive!” “Some water, then?” I nod. “Still or sparkling?” “Sparkling, please!” The waiter leaves. “You’re very quiet,” Christian whispers. “You’re very verbose.” He smiles. “Discipline. There is a very fine line between pleasure and pain, Anastasia. They are two sides of the same coin, one not existing without the other. I can show you how pleasurable pain can be. You don’t believe me now, but this is what I mean about trust. There will be pain, but nothing you can’t handle. Again, it comes down to trust. Do you trust me, Ana?”

Franklin: No.

Eunice: I don’t.

Joreth: “Yes, I do,” I respond spontaneously, not thinking, because it’s true.”

Eunice: It’s not.

Joreth: “I do trust.”

Franklin: Well, the not thinking part is right.

Joreth: “Well then.” He looks relieved. “The rest of the stuff is just details.” “Important details!” “OK, let’s talk through those.” My head is swimming with all his words.

Eunice: The alcohol.

Joreth: I should have brought Kate’s digital recorder so I can listen to this again later. There’s so much information, so much to process. The waiter reemerges with our entrees: black cod, asparagus, and fresh potatoes with hollandaise sauce. I have never felt less like food. “I hope you like fish,” Christian says mildly.

Eunice: I think she feels very much like food, i.e., the one that’s about to be eaten.

Joreth: I make a stab at my food and take a long drink of my sparkling water. I vehemently wish it was wine. “The rules. Let’s talk about them. The food is a deal breaker?” “Yes.” “Can I modify to say that you will eat at least three meals a day?” “No.”

Eunice: Good for her!

Joreth: I am so not backing down on this.

Eunice: Good for her.

Joreth: No one is going to dictate to me what I eat. How I fuck, yes, but how I eat? No way. He presses his lips. “I need to know that you’re not hungry.” I frown. “Why? You’ll have to trust me.” He gazes at me for a moment and he relaxes. “Touché, Miss Steele,” he says quietly. “I concede the food and the sleep.”

Eunice: Wow, as if he’s being so generous.

Joreth: “Why can’t I look at you?” “That’s a dom sub thing. You’ll get used to it.”

Eunice: What? What? OK.

Joreth: Yeah, the clauses in there about how she’s not supposed to look at him…yeah, not a dom thing. That’s a. Maybe a him dom sub thing.

“You’ll get used to it.” “Will I? Why can’t I touch you?” “Because you can’t.” His mouth sets in a mulish line. “Is it because of Mrs. Robinson?” He looks quizzically at me. “Why would you think that?” And immediately he understands. “You think she traumatized me?” I nod. “No, Anastasia, she is not the reason. Besides Mrs. Robinson wouldn’t take any of that shit from me.” “Oh? But I have to?” I pout. So nothing to do with her?” “No. And I don’t want you touching yourself either.” “What?” Ah, yes, the no masturbation clause.

Franklin: Oh my God, he lacks imagination.

Joreth: “Out of curiosity, why?” “Because I want all your pleasure.” His voice is husky but determined. “Oh.” I have no answer for that. On one level it’s up there with I wanna bite that lip. On another, it’s so selfish. I frown and and take a bite of cod, trying to assess mentally what concessions I’ve gained: the food, the sleep, he’s going to take it slow.

Eunice: Dude, these are not concessions. You have not gained anything from him not being allowed to control how much you eat and sleep.

Franklin: Yeah. And you know, he completely doesn’t understand that you can control somebody’s pleasure and still not forbid them to wank, or in fact even require them to wank.

Eunice: Ahem.

Joreth: No idea what you’re talking about, Franklin.

Franklin: Yes, you have no idea what I’m talking about. Neither one of you, I’m sure.

Eunice: No, no, Nope, no idea. No idea, totally innocent over here.

Joreth: It’s not possible at all to control somebody’s arousal state by a pair of dice, for instance.

Franklin: Oh Jesus Christ

Eunice: I feel like I should just every so often just send you an image of dice. No particular reason, just because I happen to feel like it.

Joreth: Showing a high number.

Franklin: Yeah, yeah. Oh, look, it’s another 5. What are the odds?

Joreth: So she’s going over the concessions that she’s gained.

The food, the sleep he’s going to take it slow and we haven’t discussed soft limits, but I’m not sure I can face that over food. “I’ve given you a great deal to think about, haven’t I?” “Yes.” “Do you want to go through the soft limits now too?” “Not over dinner.” He smiles. “Squeamish?” “Something like that.” “You’ve not eaten very much.” “I’ve had enough.” “3 oysters, 4 bites of cod and one asparagus stalk. No potatoes, no nuts, no olives, and you’ve not eaten all day. You said I could trust you.”

Franklin: He’s really fixated on this.

Eunice: He’s…he’s counting! He is counting!

Franklin: This is…this is not D/s. This is OCD.

Joreth: Listen to the next line.

“Geez, he kept an inventory.”

Eunice: She keeps being so close to, like, noticing how creepy this all is! So close!

Joreth: Yep!

“Christian, please! It’s not every day I sit through conversations like this.” “I need you fit and healthy, Anastasia.” “I know.” “And right now—”

Eunice: Feeding her up! Feeding her up for the feast!

Joreth: I mean, feeding people is a kink. Maybe that’s, maybe that’s his one, like, actual real hardcore fetish?

Eunice: The one single one that he refuses to discuss because it’s too personal. “I’m gonna stuff you full of food!”

Joreth: Alright…

“I need you fit and healthy, and right now I wanna peel you out of that dress.” I swallow. Peel me out of Kate’s dress? I feel the pull deep in my belly. Muscles that I’m now more acquainted with clench at his words. But I can’t have this, his most potent weapon, used against me again. He’s so good at sex. Even I’ve figured this out.

Eunice: If you are thinking of it as a weapon that he is using against you, have you considered that having a relationship where the only thing you really seem to enjoy is also the thing he is using to manipulate you, maybe that might not be a healthy relationship for you? Just a thought.

Joreth: Nah.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I murmur quietly. “We haven’t had dessert.” “You want dessert?” He snorts. “Yes.” “You could be dessert,” he murmurs suggestively.

Eunice: Once she offers to eat something, like, she offers to eat something, and then he just like veers straight into, like, sex talk?

Joreth: “I’m not sure I’m sweet enough!” “Anastasia, you’re deliciously sweet. No.” “Christian, you use sex as a weapon. It really isn’t fair,” I whisper, staring down at my hands and then looking directly at him. He raises his eyebrows, surprised, and I see he’s considering my words. He strokes his chin thoughtfully. “You’re right, I do. In life, you use what you know, Anastasia. Doesn’t change how much I want you. Here. Now.”

Eunice: But…but…like, your….uuugh.

Joreth: Your face Eunice, just…this is a time when I wish that we had a video podcast, because the incredulity on your face.

Eunice: She literally was just like, you are using this thing to manipulate me and I don’t like it, please stop. And he’s like, yeah, turns out I do use it to manipulate you. And I’m gonna carry on doing it. So fuck you.

Joreth: Yep.

Eunice: Anna run, just run. Because he’s telling you outright that he is going to use the only thing that he’s actually any good at in this relationship to control you and to manipulate you, and he does not care. Just…why are you still here? Why? Why are you still here?

Joreth: She likes the orgasms?

Eunice: Really? Like, there is a whole wide world of sex toys out there that can probably give you like a pretty good orgasm. And a lot less lip.

Joreth: I, I mean, and this is the problem with, like, naive partners, right? Because when you don’t know any better, like, she thinks this is the best that she can get. He’s apparently amazing at sex, although I would argue that anyone who is multi orgasmic on their first time with literally not even having kissed before—it’s probably her, not him, that’s good at this?

Eunice: She probably does not need any help in this.

Joreth: Right, it’s probably not his doing, but I mean she thinks that, like, he’s amazing and this is the best that she can get. And it’s oftentimes only after you’ve been through several breakups and you realize—what’s that phrase? Dick is abundant and of low value.

Eunice: Just because you’ve never touched yourself before does not mean the only person who’s ever touched you is any good at the touching.

Joreth: Right? And even if he is, he’s not the only one who is any good at this. There’s lots of ways to have orgasms.

Eunice: Which she has never experienced before, apparently.

Joreth: And she never will because they’re monogamous.

Eunice: And she’s not allowed to touch herself now.

Joreth: Yeah.

Eunice: So the only time that she will ever get orgasms is when he gives it to her, and so she will never know any better.

Joreth: Yeah.

Eunice: He could be giving her the crappiest orgasms, and they’ll be the only orgasms she’ll ever have experience of. And therefore it’s a very low bar.

Joreth: How can he seduce me solely with his voice? I’m panting already, my heated blood rushing through my veins, my nerves tingling.

Remember, they’ve just had this tense conversation where she’s called him a control freak, and she’s arguing him out of things that she doesn’t like and he is ignoring her completely and railroading her, and—

Eunice: Those tingles! Those tingles are not sexual arousal, they are danger. They are fear.

Franklin: Spidey sense.

Eunice: Good God, woman, like, listen to your body. This is panic! You are, you are scared. This is not sexual arousal. They look very similar. They may feel very similar.

Joreth: They are not the same thing.

“I’d like to try something,” he breathes. I frown. He’s just given me a shit load of ideas to process, and now this. “f you were my sub you wouldn’t have to think about this. It would be easy.” His voice is soft, seductive. All those decisions.

Eunice: Easy. Really? Easy. That’s what he chooses. Yeah, easy, Okay. Somebody who does not understand how submission works. I would not describe submission as easy.

Joreth: ”All those decisions, all the wearying thought processes behind them. The ‘is this the right thing to do? Should this happen here? Can it happen now?’ You wouldn’t have to worry about any of that detail. That’s what I do as your Dom. And right now, I know you want me, Anastasia.” My frown deepens. How can he tell? ”I can tell because—” Holy shit, he’s answering my unspoken question. Is he psychic as well?

Eunice: Ana what? OK OK, just just carry on, just carry on.

Franklin: The word she’s looking for is not psychic, it’s psychotic.

Joreth: “Your body gives you away. You’re pressing your thighs together, you’re flushed and your breathing has changed.” OK, this is too much. “How do you know about my thighs?” My voice is low, disbelieving. “They’re under the table, for heaven’s sake.” “I felt the tablecloth move, and it’s a calculated guess based on years of experience. I’m right, aren’t I?”

Franklin: Yes, my thighs are pressed tightly together, because I don’t want you anywhere near them. And I’m breathing. Harder because you are pissing me off. And my face is flushed because I cannot believe that you’re such a jackass.

Eunice: Again, it’s clear this is fear, not sexual arousal. I know.

Joreth: I flush and stare down at my hands. That’s what I’m hindered by in this game of seduction. He’s the only one who knows and understands the rules. I’m just too naive and inexperienced. My only sphere of reference is Kate, and she doesn’t take any shit from men. My other references are all fictional. Elizabeth Bennett would be outraged. Jane Eyre too frightened. And Tess would succumb. Just as I have. “I haven’t finished my cod.” “You prefer cold cod to me?”

Eunice: Yes, yes, the answer there is yes!

Franklin: Yep, Yep.

Joreth: My head jerks up to glare at him and his eyes burned molten silver with compelling need. “I thought you’d like me to clear my plate.” “Right now, Miss Steele, I couldn’t give a fuck about your food.” “Christian, you just don’t fight fair.” “I know. I never have.”

Franklin: I love that now this is being framed as a fight.

Eunice: Yeah.

Joreth: Right?

Eunice: Yeah.

Franklin: You know, that’s actually…this is going to be really surprising, but framing this negotiation as a fight is actually one of the lesser of the many horrifying things that has happened here so far.

Eunice: It’s also a very accurate description. They are both going into it hostile, trying to like, beat the other person.

Joreth: Yep, but yeah. So like throughout the entire series, it’s just this hot, cold, hot, cold and have a fight. One of them is overcome with lust, but then says the wrong thing and so the other one gets passed off, which starts the fight and then somebody bites their lip or stares with molten silver eyes, and then suddenly they’re both aroused again. And then one of them says the wrong thing and then they have a fight and it’s like this constant yoyo of emotions. Like how rapidly they switch back and forth between on his case, anger and lust, and her case, anger and fear and lust.

Eunice: Mmm-hmm, I think there’s a certain amount to be said for just being too oblivious to, like, notice that your partners have changed their things. Like there’s a certain amount to be said in that situation for just being very very oblivious, and assuming everything is fine. And then getting the fuck out.

Joreth: Yeah.

Eunice: I am noticing three things that get described consistently: #1 them getting aroused, #2 them getting like into an argument and #3 random details in the environment in totally irrelevant and overwhelming detail. All of them bad, all of them badly described.

Joreth: Yes, 514 pages of those three things.

Eunice: Where were her editors?

Joreth: You see? You see what I’m saying? Alright, cat, I need to see the book to finish this.

Eunice: Yeah.

Joreth: Tail, tail in my face. OK, where was I?

“I don’t give a fuck about your food.” “Christian, you don’t fight fair.” “I know. I never have.” My inner goddess frowns at me. “You can do this,” she coaxes. “Play this sex god at his own game.”

Eunice: What? What?

Franklin: What?

Eunice: That’s not how any of this works!

Joreth: Can I? OK, what to do? My inexperience is an albatross around my neck. Picking up a spear of asparagus, I gaze at him and bite my lip, then very slowly put the tip of my cold asparagus in my mouth and suck it.

Eunice: That is the least, least sexy way of describing trying to seduce someone by eating. I have done the seductively eating before and this may be—

Franklin: Yes, yes you have. Recently, if I recall correctly.

Eunice: But this may be the least sexy version I’ve ever seen or heard.

Franklin: Well, asparagus is just about the least sexy of all vegetables, and if you have the gene that makes that particular enzyme whose name I can’t remember right now, it makes your pee smell funny.

Joreth: Yep.

Eunice: So I bet I could make the asparagus eating sexy.

Joreth: YOU could.

Franklin: I’ll take that bet. I’ll take that bet mostly because if I lose, that’s OK.

Joreth: I would I would side with Eunice. I bet that, of all people, you would be able to do this.

Franklin: Given the things that she does with eclairs, yes, that is probably true.

Eunice: Ana cannot. Ana is is not making any of this sexy.

Joreth: No.

Eunice: Any of it.

Joreth: This goes back to our aphrodisiac episode, where we referenced the Penn and Teller one on aphrodisiacs. And remember, I put in the clip about the woman who does cooking. You can hire her to do an aphrodisiac cooking session in your house. And that’s one of the things that she cooks is asparagus. And generally it’s because it’s phallic shaped. It’s like just food that’s roughly phallic shaped.

Eunice: Shaped like genitals.

Joreth: Food shaped like genitals, that is aphrodisiac somehow.

Eunice: And makes you think of sex. And when you’re very repressed, and in an environment where everybody is very impressed, anything that has the least possibility of making you think about sex is clearly more than, you know, most people are getting sex.

Joreth: Yeah, this is like, you know, 14 year olds in the cafeteria. Like, “asparagus, hur hur, look at this, it’s so sexy. I’m pretending it’s a penis.”

Eunice: On the other hand, Puritans.

Joreth: Alright, so the very unsexy sucking of cold asparagus…

“Christian’s eyes widen infinitesimally, but I notice. “Anastasia, what are you doing?” I bite off the tip. “Eating my asparagus!” Christian shifts in his seat.

Eunice: That’s not how you…if you’ve just been seductively sucking on a piece of asparagus and then you just go CHOMP, maybe that’s not carrying through in the way you think.

Joreth: Christian shifts in his seat. “I think you’re toying with me, Miss Steele.” I feign innocence. “I’m just finishing my food, Mr. Grey.” The waiter, chooses this moment to knock and, unbidden, enter. He glances briefly at Christian, who frowns at him, but then nods so the waiter clears our plates. The waiter’s arrival has broken the spell, and I grasp this precious moment of clarity. I have to go. Our meeting will only end one way if I stay and I need some boundaries after such an intense conversation.

Eunice: And she needs some boundaries.

Joreth: Any boundaries.

Eunice: Any boundaries, any boundaries at all.

Joreth: Ss much as my body craves his touch, my mind is rebelling. I need some distance to think about all he said. I still haven’t made a decision, and his sexual allure and prowess doesn’t make it any easier. “Would you like some dessert?” Christian asks, ever the gentleman, but his eyes still ablaze.

Eunice: Ever the gentleman? Excuse me, have you not been present for the last, like, chapter?

Joreth: Yes, there’s nothing gentlemanly here.

“No, thank you, I think I should go.” I stare down at my hands. “Go?” He can’t hide his surprise. The waiter leaves hastily. “Yes.” It’s the right decision. If I stay here in this room with him, he will fuck me. I stand purposefully. “We both have the graduation ceremony tomorrow.” Christian stands automatically, revealing years of ingrained civility. “I don’t want you to go.”

Eunice: What? What’s going on here?

Joreth: She stands up so he stands up.

Franklin: Because that’s civility. Years of ingrained civility.

Joreth: Yeah, because that’s totally a thing people still do in the 20 teens, men stand up when women get up from their chair.

“I don’t want you to go.” “Please, I have to.” “Why?” “Because you’ve given me so much to consider and I need some distance.” “I couldn’t make you stay,” he threatens. “Yes, you could, easily, but I don’t want you to.”

Eunice: Didn’t you just, multiply, like multiple times, say “you can leave anytime you want.” Like he literally said that.

Joreth: He runs his hand through his hair, regarding me carefully. “You know, when you fell into my office to interview me, you were all “Yes, Sir. No Sir,” I thought you were a natural born submissive, but quite frankly, Anastasia, I’m not sure you have a submissive bone in your delectable body.”

Franklin: He’s negging her again!

Eunice: Negging her!

Joreth: He moves slowly towards me as he speaks, his voice tense. “Yes, you may be right,” I breathe. “I want the chance to explore the possibility that you do,” he murmurs, staring down at me. He reaches up and caresses my face. Wait, what? He murmurs staring down at me. He reaches up and caresses my face.

Eunice: Is this another thing of, like, bodies don’t work that way? Or is this—

Joreth: I mean, technically, if his hands are down, he does have to reach up to get to her face, but it’s not….

Franklin: When you say reach up, that usually implies, well…

Joreth: Up. Up above you.

Franklin: Maybe there’s clues all through this that everybody has missed. Maybe he’s actually a gnome or a leprechaun.

Eunice: Well, that would explain why he has so much money.

Franklin: Yep.

Joreth: He reaches up and caresses my face, his thumb tracing my lower lip. “I don’t know any other way, Anastasia. This is who I am.” “I know.” He leans down to kiss me, but pauses before his lips touch mine. His eyes searching mine, wanting, asking permission. I raise my lips to his and he kisses me, and because I don’t know if I’ll ever kiss him again, I let go, my hands moving of their own accord and twisting into his hair, pulling him to me, my mouth opening, my tongue stroking his. His hand grasps the nape of my neck as he deepens the kiss. Responding to my ardour, his other hand slides down my back and flattens at the base of my spine as he pushes me against his body. “I can’t persuade you to stay,” he breathes.

Franklin: PULLS you. He pulls you against his body.

Joreth: Again with the physics, she doesn’t seem to know where things are.

“I can’t persuade you to stay?” he breathes between kisses. “No.” “Spend the night with me.” ”And not touch you? No.” He groans. “You impossible girl.” He pulls back, gazing down at me. “Why do I think you’re telling me goodbye?” “Because I’m leaving now.” “That’s not what I mean and you know it.”

Eunice: Yes! Leave! Run! Run! Run!

Joreth: “Christian, I have to think about this. I don’t know if I can have the kind of relationship you want.” He closes his eyes and presses his forehead against mine, giving us both the opportunity to slow our breathing. After a moment, he kisses my forehead and inhales deeply, his nose and my hair, and then he releases me, stepping back. “As you wish, Miss Steele,” he says his face, impassive. “I’ll escort you down to the lobby.” He holds out his hand. Leaning down, I grab my purse and place my hand in his. Holy crap! This could be it! I follow him meekly down the grand stairs and into the lobby, my scalp prickling my blood pumping. This could be the last goodbye if I decide to say no. My heart contracts painfully in my chest. What a turnaround! What a difference. A moment of clarity can make to a girl! “Do you have your valet ticket?” I fish in my clutch purse and hand him the ticket which he gives to the doorman. I peek up at him as we stand, waiting. “Thank you for dinner,” I murmur. “It’s a pleasure as always, Miss Steele,” he says politely, though he looks deep in thought, completely distracted. As I peer up at him, I commit his beautiful profile to memory. The idea that I might not see him again haunts me. Unwelcome and too painful to contemplate. He turned suddenly, staring down at me, his expression intense. “You are moving this weekend to Seattle. If you make the right decision, can I see you on Sunday? He sounds hesitant. “We’ll see.”

Eunice: If you make the right—what does that even mean?

Joreth: The right decision is you choose to become my submissive. That’s the right decision, obviously.

Franklin: Obviously.

Eunice: From his view, from his point of view, yeah.

Joreth: Exactly.

“We’ll see, maybe,” I breathe. Momentarily he looks relieved, and then he frowns. “It’s cooler now. Don’t you have a jacket?” “No.” He shakes his head in irritation and takes off his jacket. “Here. I don’t want you catching cold.”

Eunice: She’s a grown woman! She can make her own choices and also doesn’t she literally have a car?

Joreth: Yeah.

Eunice: She’s literally about to get into her car.

Joreth: Yes.

Eunice: She will be fine. She will. Like she, it’s probably not frozen wastelands out there. She will be fine time it takes to get from the door to her car. She will not freeze in that moment.

Joreth: Yes, he just gave her his jacket because she is not grown up enough to know how to take care of herself in weather.

Eunice: Any weather.

Joreth: Yes

Eunice: All weather.

Joreth: “Here, I don’t want you catching cold.” I blink up at him as he holds it open and as I hold my arms up behind me, I’m reminded of that time in his office when he slipped my coat onto my shoulders. The first time I met him, and the effect he had on me then. Nothing’s changed. In fact, it’s more intense. His jacket is warm, far too big, and it smells of him, delicious. My car pulls up outside. Christian’s mouth drops open. “That’s what you drive?” He’s appalled. Taking my hands, he leaves me outside. The valet jumps out and hands me my keys, and Christian coolly palms him some money. “Is this roadworthy?” He’s glaring at me now. “Yes.” “Will it make it to Seattle?” “Yes, she will.” “Safely?” “Yes,” I snap, exasperated. “OK, she’s old, but she’s mine and she’s roadworthy. My step dad bought it for me.” “Oh Anastasia, I think we can do better than this.” “What do you mean?” Realization dawns. “You are not buying me a car!” He glowers at me, his jaw tense. “We’ll see,” he says tightly. He grimaces as he opens the driver’s side door and helps me in. I take my shoes off and roll down the window. He’s gazing at me, his expression unfathomable, his eyes dark. “Drive safely,” he says quietly. “Goodbye, Christian.” My voice is hoarse from unbidden, unshed tears. Geez, I’m not going to cry. I give him a small smile.

So then she drives away. We’ll end there.

Franklin: Wow, that is actually even more terrible than I had imagined it would be.

Joreth: Yeah.

Eunice: Run, run, run.

Joreth: Anyway, so that is a negotiation with her.

Franklin: Well, OK. “Negotiation” is strong.

Eunice: I would dispute that definition a bit.

Franklin: Yeah, yeah.

Joreth: There were earlier bits that…I mean, it’s just so long, so I can’t read everything. They had an e-mail exchange, she went point by point through the contract and said this, no, this no, I don’t know what this means, explain it to me, this no. And so then they scheduled this date and that’s where they talked about it. So, you know they did skip over some details, mainly because they were brought up in text, but…

Eunice: This being EL James, I would not have been surprised if they had just gone back over the same details. That…that feels like it would be very unband for her, yeah?

Joreth: So yeah, there’s a whole lot of “Ohh, you’re so close.” Like the words are right there on the page! I can see something…James, you see the words. You put them there. Why, why, why, can’t you? Why…did you read them? You put them there, why didn’t you read them?

Eunice: So, almost reasonable.

Joreth: Yeah.

Eunice: You know, your characters are almost, so, almost reasonable.

Joreth: Yeah, right, and then he immediately negates everything that was almost reasonable by ignoring everything that she says she wants.

Joreth: So there you have it … one of the worst consent negotiation scenes in recorded history. We did interrupt the reading a lot with our thoughts in the moment, but it would be a good idea to sum up the overall problem with what’s wrong with these negotiations and what a good negotiation ought to look like.

Eunice: What’s wrong with these negotiations: everything. What a good negotiation ought to look like: Just do the exact opposite of everything Christian Grey does, and you should be fine.

Joreth: Someone asked on Quora once if this book got anything right, and all I could do was post with an animated gif of someone saying “NO”. I mean, that’s the full and complete answer – not a single thing right in this whole book.

Eunice: I feel like this would be a good place for that Nope Rocket gif, except that this is a purely audio format. You can just imagine my face being the equivalent of the Nope Rocket gif throughout this entire thing instead, that would be fairly accurate. Not sure it quite conveys the entire horror of the situation, but it’ll do.

Joreth: OK, so first of all, I want to reiterate again that it’s not necessarily the specific kinky act that we have a problem with. If a business deal role play is your thing and you want to include a contract-like thing as part of your arrangement, that’s all well and good. I mean, boss & secretary is one of the most common role plays ever. But, as I pointed out to another Quora questioner, the role play part is supposed to come AFTER the negotiations. You discuss with each other what you want and don’t want, and THEN you create a scene based on those negotiations. If that includes pencil skirts and boardroom tables and legal paper, then have a sexy kinky business scene to your heart’s content. AFTER negotiating that this is what you want.

Eunice: It still bewilders me that they start out with “Would you like to do A or B, Miss Steele?” “B please” “Right, A it is — you didn’t think your opinion mattered, did you?” Like, that’s the starting point for their first ever discussion on the topic! I’ve seen children negotiate for sweeties better than that!

Franklin: I am still reeling from that. ‘Do you want to stay here or go somewhere private?” ‘I want to stay here.’ ‘Cool, let’s go!’

Eunice: And the entirety of the negotiations just continues on like that! He just treats her like a child the whole way through, making decisions for her because he thinks he knows better. He’s enacting the power dynamic he wants from her before they’ve even agreed on it.

Joreth: Secondly, a good negotiation, regardless of style or genre of kink, is where two people come from equal footing to both discuss their wants, desires, goals, limits, boundaries, and possibly-maybes to find where the overlap is and try to craft a scene or a relationship that works for both of them.

Eunice: A “you do what I want or you get nothing at all” ultimatum is not what I would consider an example of a good starting point for open and safe exploration of shared desires.

Franklin: It is a little scary that folks who are completely unfamiliar with kink might watch these movies or, God help them, read these books and say, Yes! That! That’s how you do it! No, it really isn’t.

Eunice: I suspect the typical person who listens to a podcast on sex through the lens of science and rationality is already going to know more than the sort of newbie who would look at 50 Shades as a useful guide or how to.

Joreth: And this is the big problem, and why we’re taking time and server space to discuss this book. What we do here is to take studies or claims and examine them critically for their resemblance to reality. Discussing this book might seem like a departure, but we are still examining something critically to examine its real-world implications. Because, honestly, the popularity of this book is … concerning. I’ve heard objections to the objections, where some people think that we shouldn’t be concerned because nobody is coming into kink communities wielding 50 Shades like a shield and fucking up their relationships by using this as a how-to guide. And I know that anecdote is not data, but that’s not my experience.

Eunice: It’s compounded by the fact that the people who are already experienced in kink take one look at them and back away because they don’t understand how to negotiate safely, so it’s newbies leading newbies.

Joreth: It’s a delicate balance, isn’t it? Some very experienced veterans in various communities understandably don’t want to get involved with very new players because that, itself, introduces a disturbing power imbalance when you mix “mentor” with an interpersonal relationship, but you also can’t have all the brand newbies running around without any mentorship or oversight at all because we’ve established protocols for reasons and they need to learn them.

Eunice: Much as I have sympathy for the newbies, as someone who does a certain amount of sex and relationship education in the UK poly space, just by dint of my role as a community organiser, I would also just like to not have to keep being the educator in my bed as well as outside it.

Joreth: And that’s, basically, why we’re talking about it. While I don’t feel comfortable mentoring a partner, our roles in our community as educators and our choice to host a podcast explicitly for examining things critically with an eye on ethics has brought us here – why is this a bad negotiation and what does a good negotiation look like.

Eunice: Maybe some newbie will stumble on this and it might help them out a little. Or at least, start them on the path of thinking a bit more deeply about the purpose of negotiations and why they look the way they do in a kink context. In the meantime, I guess everyone else can just…be amused at our horrified reactions?

Joreth: Or perhaps people who know better than to even waste their time on this book can take our experiences and pass along some of the lessons we learned on their behalf when they’re talking to newbies and then nobody else has to put themselves through the hell that was reading this book. Unless you’re really just that masochistic, as apparently I am.

Franklin: So that’s our shock and awe for this episode. You can find us on the web at skepticalpervert dot com, or on Amazon or Libsyn or Spotify or Apple Podcasts or wherever. If you hated what you heard in this episode, why not spread the misery? If you have an idea for something you’d like us to talk about, email us at contact@skepticalpervert.com. The Skeptical Pervert is copyrighted by Joreth, Eunice, and Franklin. Show editing is done by Joreth, and the website is maintained by Franklin.

Joreth: And remember, “His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.”

Franklin: Well, there goes my appetite.

Eunice: I have never wanted dessert less.

Franklin: I have never wanted to watch you eat an eclair less.

Joreth: Given your and my penchant for dessert, that’s quite impressive.

Eunice: Wait, me or Franklin?

Joreth: Well, you and I have the penchant for dessert, Franklin just has a thing for you eating eclairs (and who can blame him). Usually it’s Franklin who IS the dessert.

Eunice: I like Franklin like I like my dessert — readily available whenever I have a craving.

Joreth: I like Franklin like I like my dessert? Dark and screaming for mercy?

Eunice: Om nom nom. With a side of screaming.

Franklin: You are both terrible people.

Episode 13: Culture and Sex Work

How is sex work like that guy in Mad Max: Fury Road who rode into combat playing a flamethrowing guitar? We talk about that in this episode of The Skeptical Pervert!

This episode was delayed by a misadventure with COVID-19 and a hard drive crash. but it takes more than that to keep us down. In this episode, we examine how the concept of ‘sex work’ varies across different cultures, and along the way talk about colonization.

This is even more complicated than the ‘what is sex work?’ question, not only because every culture and society treats sex work differently, and often says completely different things about sex work altogether, but it’s sometimes hard for people from one society even to be able to tell if something in a different society is sex work.

We’re not professional anthropologists, so we invite you to muddle through this with us, and if you have any comments, let us know! The transcript is below.

Franklin: Welcome back to yet another episode of The Skeptical Pervert, where we take a rational, evidence-based look at sex! I’m your host, part-time sex toy engineer, and token cishet guy, Franklin! And yes, this podcast is The Skeptical Pervert, not Skeptical Perverts. A listener got in touch recently to point out that the website is Skeptical Pervert, but we keep saying “welcome to Skeptical Perverts.” So a shout-out to the person who noticed! We are three, but really only one.

Joreth: As another part of the not-so-holy trinity, I’m your co-host and kinky, sopo, ace, chicana, feminst Renaissance cat, Joreth! My gender identity is “tomboy”, and my pronouns are she/her but you may address me as “my lord”.

Eunice: And to bring up this triadic rear, I’m Eunice, your friendly neighbourhood queer, kinky, grey-ace, poly woman, bringing my genteel East Asian British viewpoint and a corresponding addiction to tea. All the tea, all the time.

Franklin: We’re knee-deep in our miniseries on sex work, so today we’ll be looking at sex work in different cultures. Sex work has been a part of…well, basically every human society in the history of ever, but when you take something as complicated and fraught as sex, you’ll inevitably get a zillion different takes on what sex work looks like.

Joreth:  Boy, where do we even start with this one?  We learned from the first part of our episode on History that even the very question isn’t the right question, because what we think of as “sex work”, and the word “prostitute” in particular, has not always been the case. And once we started looking, not just at different times in history, but in different cultures and in different languages to boot, shit got real complicated real quick. Speaking of different languages, please excuse our terrible Western accents. Many of these words we’ve only read and never heard spoken and are in languages we do not read or speak ourselves, so we apologize in advance for mangling them.

Franklin: A thorough descent into this topic could easily fill many weeks and perhaps three or four Ph.D. theses, so we’ll do the same thing we did before and just lightly skim the highlights and call it good.

We struggled a bit with how to approach this episode, and finally settled on looking at some of the myths that have surrounded ideas about sex work from different societies, and the ways that entertainment and sex work have blurred over time. Eventually, we decided to talk about the blurred line between sex work and entertainment. 

Eunice: This was a topic that kept waving at us from the periphery, throughout our research. In the last episode, we mentioned the Winchester Geese, who were licensed prostitutes in an area that was just outside what was then medieval London. Because it was outside of city limits, it didn’t have to follow the city rules. This allowed for the emergence of all sorts of illegal activities like prostitution, as well as entertainments like bear and bull-baiting, and also…theaters! For instance, Shakespeare’s Globe, which is probably the theater that people are most likely to know, was originally located in the “red light district”. And medieval London was far from the only time or place to conflate theatrical or artistic entertainers with sex workers…I mean I guess you could consider them both a form of entertainment, right?

Joreth:  One of the things that got us started down this rabbit hole is that Eunice and I both have some adjacent experience with sex work and also with entertainers in different cultures. For instance, I spent some time as a professional Bollywood performer. Westerners like to think of belly dancers (which I was not, but Westerners don’t really care much about the distinction), but they like to think of belly dancers as sexyfuntimes akin to hiring a stripper for a bachelor party. But we weren’t doing anything particularly sexy, we just had outfits that showed off our midsections and a lot of isolated muscle control.

And then there was the question of cultural appropriation. Our entire troop was made of non-Indian dancers, and I had to square that somehow with my own concern for stepping out of my lane. When I expressed my concern to some of the Indian clientele who came up to thank us for our performances, I was told, not in so many words, that they really appreciated non-Indian women doing their dancing because they didn’t like it when Indian women danced for money. That was too close to prostitution for them. Indian women were expected to have cultural skills like dancing, but to hire themselves out as dancers … well, that wasn’t so cool. But us “white” women basically prostituting ourselves for them?  eh.

Eunice: You know, sometimes that confusion of entertainers for sex workers was sort of reasonable, because hiring them for sex work on the side was definitely not unheard of. Of course, the fancy ones were usually very expensive, as befits the long training they had to go through for their main skills and talents. Often, though, those roles started off as being non-sexual and then over time ended up shifting so that they included sex work. 

Like the Geisha in Japan, who were incredibly highly trained, expensive and high class dancers, singers and entertainers. They were the equivalent of those court mistresses we mentioned in our last episode, very highly educated over long periods of time. These were women who entertained wealthy and powerful men at dinner events and the like, and were expected to be scintillating and witty conversationalists who would also dance or sing for you, or recite poetry, or play refined drinking games, or whatever else. They were confused for sex workers by the American GIs during WW2 because many women needed money during an unstable period so they billed themselves as these beautiful and exotic Geisha to sell sex, and the American men didn’t know the difference. So over time, this became part of Western assumptions about Geisha, and that never really went away again.

Franklin: Interesting observation. We do see jobs in many societies that start out non-sexual and become sexual, and I wonder. Is there perhaps a thing going on that certain jobs, like personal entertainer, require a certain degree of wealth and stability in a society, and the more refined those jobs get, the more time they take to master? Then if the society changes so that somehow it becomes less prosperous or less stable, the people who’d invested in jobs that require a high degree of training in matters that aren’t well suited to an impoverished or unstable society find themselves falling on sex work. I wonder, if we were to look through history at examples of jobs that started out non-sexual and became sexual, would we see that shift correspond with, say, war, or financial crisis, or famine, or other social disruption?

Joreth:  Well, we’re about to take a look at some that I suspect will show at least some correlation, particularly since, when certain professions lose their protection from the government or become outright banned, those workers become more vulnerable to abuse, and therefore either turn to sex or have sex required of them as part of their job because they’re more vulnerable… and the spiral goes downwards.

Franklin: I remember when I first saw the Mad Max: Fury Road movie, someone asked why on earth Immortan Joe’s army had that guy who plays guitar on the warmobile with the huge speakers. And I said, wealth display. When you have a certain level of resources, certain professions become a wealth display…but I wonder what happens to those professions when the society can no longer support them.

Eunice: Well as I mentioned before, that’s WW2 and the Geisha, right? They lost a lot of their leverage and status. In fact, that started even before WW2—the original Geisha were not only purely entertainers, but men, and definitely not available for sexual favours. In fact, the word literally translates to artist or artisan – “gei” means “art” and “sha” means “person”, more or less. They would basically entertain customers who were sitting around waiting for their turn with an Oiran – the most expensive and highest class of courtesan. But it was WW2 that really signaled the death knell for the industry. These days, there’s a tiny number of Geisha in comparison to what they were before.

Joreth:  Apparently “what happens to those professions when the society can no longer support them” is exactly what happened to the Devadasi of India. Between the 6th and 13th centuries, Devadasi had a high rank in society and were exceptionally affluent because they were seen as the protectors of the arts. The practice became significant when one of their great queens decided that certain women who were trained in classical dancing, should be married to the deities to honor them. The women who were chosen to become devadasi were literally married to the deity, so they were to be treated as if they were the goddess Lakshmi herself. 

It’s a fairly long and complex history, with lots of regional details, but then the British came and ruined everything, as colonizers do. Reformists and abolitionists considered the Devadasi a social evil because they couldn’t tell the difference between artists and prostitutes. They also portrayed the Devadasi system as “prostitution” to advertise the supposed grotesqueness of Indian culture for political means, even though the British colonial authorities officially maintained most brothels in India.

Since the Devadasi were equated with prostitutes in a deliberate political smear campaign, they became associated with the spread of the venereal disease in India. During the British colonial period many British soldiers were exposed to STDs in brothels, and Devadasis were misunderstood to be responsible. In an effort to control the spread of STDs, the British Government mandated that all prostitutes register themselves. Devadasis were required to register, because the Brits insisted that they were prostitutes. The British also established Lock Hospitals to treat women with STDs, but many of the women admitted to these hospitals, including many Devadasi, were first identified through the registry and then forcibly brought to the hospitals. A number of these women were confined in the hospitals permanently. 

Eunice: So what you’re saying is that it’s exactly what we speculated would happen—when a profession becomes a wealth display, the people in the trade are exalted, respected, in some cases even revered, and then when the society can’t or won’t support them anymore, they fall from grace. Then they’re forced into precarious positions in order to survive. I mean, we haven’t been able to find a huge amount of research on this, but it makes sense. If anyone knows of any research, we’d love to read it! Send it to the usual place. And you know, looking over history, it seems like that happened in multiple places, right around the time that the British Empire came calling, with their Western European colonialist assumptions about women, especially wealthy or powerful independent women, and how they got that way. It must have been by selling their bodies, nothing else makes sense, right? Not like they were exceedingly well trained and educated, or high level religious figures or anything! 

Franklin: One thing we see over and over in conversations about sex work is how sex workers ‘sell their bodies.’ People will say that about sex workers, but not about other entertainers or professionals. The idea that sex workers ‘sell their bodies’ has always seemed a bit strange to me. After the transaction is over, the sex worker’s body still belongs to them! We don’t say the same thing about other professions where people make their living from physical services, like massage artists, physical therapists, or models.

Joreth: I got into an argument with an ex of mine that still angers me to this day. It’s a long story how we got from the main issue to “no partner of his will be a sex worker”, but what I remember most was my argument that I, at the time, had a manual labor job and was also moonlighting as a professional Bollywood dancer, both of which were purely physical jobs – one requiring a great deal of skill and training and one being something literally any able-bodied (and some less-able bodied) person could do with no training, so how was I not “selling my body” when sex workers are? I literally trade my physical labor for a paycheck. It’s only different if you put a moral price on one and not the other.

I have always worked in manual labor, briefly as a professional dancer and as a laborer in the entertainment industry for 30 years. By any definition used to apply to sex work if you take the specification of “arousal” or “genitals” out, my jobs would qualify as “selling my body”, but that phrase is never used to apply to my work. 

Eunice: There’s something really interesting about that phrasing too — some physical jobs, like being a surgeon, or an artist, or a plumber, are referred to as ‘selling your skills’, whereas sex work, almost singularly amongst jobs involving physical labour, is referred to as ‘selling your body’. And if you think about it, there’s a very gendered split between the things that are considered ‘skillful’ and those that are not. Historically male jobs are practically never seen as ‘selling your body’, even when it’s purely manual labor with almost no training required. So why, then, is sex work referred to as ‘selling your body’ when, say, being a soldier isn’t? Even though the army owns way more of you than a sex worker’s client ever can or will.

Joreth:  Like my stagehand work – a traditionally male-dominated, heavy manual labor industry, some parts of which require no training. It’s clearly trading the labor of one’s body for pay, but it’s an industry associated with men so we don’t describe it that way.

Eunice: Exactly. And think about jobs such as a massage therapist, which is seen as a mainly female job — they are certainly trained and skilled! Same with dancers in all different forms of dance throughout history. Yet there’s been a conflation of massage and dance with sex work both now and throughout history, even when the product is not intended to be erotic. I don’t know many people nowadays who would consider classical ballet, for example, to be erotic dance, but at one point, oh boy were ballet dancers considered open for sexual exploitation. There was even a brothel that operated in the Paris Opera Ballet in the 19th Century, apparently, catering to the wealthy (male) patrons. In reality, the vast majority of sex work is most definitely skilled labour, and not only that, the majority of it isn’t even physical. A huge proportion of sex work is actually emotional labour. 

Franklin: I suspect the emotional labor portion of sex work is often the most important bit.

Joreth:  We saw that in our conversation of Only Fans, didn’t we?  The reason why people are willing to pay for cam work, some of it not even fully nude, let alone explicit sexual activity, is because the clients are paying for interaction with the sex worker. I mean, The Girlfriend Experience has gotten wildly popular, especially ever since that phrase made it into the mainstream lexicon. 

And then there’s the whole issue that pretty much most of heterosexual sex is this sort of background hum of emotional labor any time women have sex with men, but that’s a rant that could take us way off track. 

Franklin: We talked in an earlier episode about what kinds of activities ‘count’ as sex work. It would be easy to say sex work is any work in which a person is paid in money or other things of value to shag a client, but that definition isn’t really adequate when you consider, say, a person selling naked photos of themselves on the Internet. A lot of people would call that ‘sex work,’ even though no sex is involved.

And strangely, we don’t usually think of Playboy models as sex workers in the same way a person on OnlyFans might be called a sex worker…and it gets even murkier when someone does nude modeling in other contexts. If that Playboy centerfold is a sex worker, is the person who models for a life drawing class? If you go down this road, you can split hairs so fine even an angel can’t dance on them.

Joreth:  By that same logic, certain kinds of marriage would be considered sex work (and don’t think people haven’t made that argument before!)  Especially before women had rights to own property, have their own bank accounts, etc., they often used marriage as a means to security. 

Eunice: There’s the concept of ‘maintenance sex’ in a committed relationship, and that’s having sex when you don’t really feel like it, in order to keep your relationship going. If that’s not a form of ‘sex in exchange for the continuation of benefits’, what is? Courtesans throughout history made the exact same deliberation.

Joreth:  And go back not all that far and marriage is basically the merging of two properties and sets of assets in exchange for offspring, right?  But call that “sex work” and you’re either a feminazi or an MRA (ironic, isn’t it?).

Franklin: So we’re left in this weird limbo where sex work definitions proposed by the Sex Workers Outreach Project are more about intention than action — if the intended goal is sexual arousal, it’s sex work. But we don’t look at other professions that way — are you an architect if your intention is to erect a building? Regardless of how you get there?

Eunice: They just like some forms of public erection more than others, clearly.

Joreth:  I have words to say about the guy who built my last apartment back around the turn of the last century by himself if we’re going to start calling him an “architect” just because he intended to erect a building. Not a single straight line or right angle in the place!

Eunice: Hah, my apartment building was a new-build, finished in 2015, and I have many many words for them. Not exactly complimentary words either. They apparently couldn’t tell the difference between 6 amp and 36 amp circuit breakers.

Franklin: Clearly many architects don’t really want to be architects. They’re only in it for the paycheck. It’s sad that society forces them to do something they clearly wouldn’t want to do just to survive. What else can we expect but the spread of dangerous electrical work that endangers the public?

Joreth:  Right, so the Geisha and the belly dancer / Bollywood dancer are the two non-Western forms of misunderstood entertainers that we’re most familiar with, and probably a good portion of our audience is most familiar with. But most cultures had an equivalent class of entertainer that danced the edge between public performance and “private” performance.

[Tina Turner “Private Dancer”]

Eunice: There’s something interesting about how the more historical a form of entertainment, the less likely it is that people these days think of them as being undertaken by sex workers, whereas many of the styles of female-dominated entertainment that originated in more recent times are more likely to be associated with sex. If you think about it, pole dancing is right in the middle of that transition, right? It originated as a form of erotic dance, but it’s been moving into a more quote-unquote respectable place, with competitions and dance classes and such. It’s sometimes just seen as a non-sexual form of athleticism and exercise these days. In fact, there’s even a campaign to include competitive pole dance in the Olympics!

Franklin: Which is the opposite of what usually seems to happen, where entertainment dominated by women starts out non-sexual and then moves into sex work.

Joreth:  I think we can probably chalk that up to the modern feminist movement, which gave women enough power to take a stigmatized activity and fight for legitimacy. Throughout history, women have had very little power, so it was much more likely to go the way of the Geisha and Devadasi. Take the (and I’m about to mangle some words here, I apologize again for my terrible American accent), take the Yiji [eeCHEE], for instance – same story:  high class Chinese courtesans who were highly trained, skilled artisans and performers who could be hired by private individuals as well as be employed by the State. Then after the Qing [zching] dynasty, around 1644, they were banned from being employed by the state which made them dependent on the patronage of private clients, which then morphed into prostitution, as male clients started to demand sexual favors in exchange for patronage. Yiji were usually taken as girls from brothels and trained up, and then they often raised their own daughters to be their successors.

And then there’s the Awalim from Egypt. This is a fascinating bit of history… apparently they didn’t start out as general artisans or dancers, but were originally singers. Plus, an almah didn’t display herself when she sang. They often sang from behind a screen or from another room during weddings or other “respectable” events, which rendered them exempt from Exile. And then something happened very similar to the Geisha. Ghawazi were belly dancers from poor backgrounds, which of course were looked down upon because class politics, who only danced for money and occasionally had sex for money. They started being called Almah, so the awalim very suddenly became associated with low class erotic dancers in the 19th century, in spite of not being dancers at all originally. So in 1834 their performances all got banned for being too low class even though they had nothing at all to do with the erotic dancing and prostitution of the group who took their name.

Franklin: There’s definitely something going on here. When you have a prosperous society, a female entertainment caste becomes a wealth display, but if your society isn’t egalitarian, it’s not like there’s a lot of career flexibility for women. If the society goes to war or faces some economic crisis, male entertainers can learn another trade, but if you’re a woman in a patriarchal society, you might not be of marriageable age any more, and it’s not like you can go back to school to become a lawyer or something. So, yeah, it seems quite logical that women-dominated entertainment castes that develop in a wealthy society tend to dissolve into sex worker castes in times of hardship. 

Look at the Tawaif in North India. They originally trained children of noble rank in the arts and, thanks to colonialism, when the East India Company came around in 1856, they lost favor and had to turn to prostitution to survive, although the profession lasted at least until 1947. One famous Tawaif, Malka Jaan, created the very first Indian song recording in 1902. Another one, Jaddanbai, became a master music composer, singer, actress, and filmmaker. They were the first singers to record on gramophone but lost popularity when movies became a thing.

Joreth:  Yes!  There was a Hindi-language period drama adapted from a book called Devdas, made in 1955, that depicted one of the principle supporting characters as a Tawaif!  It’s rated like one of the top Bollywood films of all time and is noteworthy for its cinematography and lighting as well as its acting. This particular adaptation is  considered to be a powerful depiction of the prevailing social customs of Bengal in the early 1900s. And the reason I know of this film is because I had the opportunity to perform a screen-accurate live performance of the big Bollywood number, Dola re Dola, from the 2002 adaptation, where I played the role of the Tawaif in the scene. 

It’s this wonderfully tragic love triangle of a young man and woman in love, but torn apart by class, so the man throws himself into drinking and prostitutes in despair, where he meets the Tawaif he uses as a substitute for his lost love, and she falls in love with her client. The dance number was the lost love confronting the Tawaif and, more or less, asking her to take care of her love because she is prohibited from being with him herself. It’s very nearly poly, actually. This was a super hard number to perform, and we didn’t have the benefit of camera cuts to do some of the transitions. Anyone interested in Indian period dramas, Bollywood movies, and almost-poly films, I recommend checking out Devdas.

Eunice: If we’re recommending movies about sex workers now, I’m going to drop in a suggestion that we watch Sakuran, which was adapted in 2006 from a manga about a young girl who is sold into a brothel and tries to adapt, very reluctantly, to being trained to be a courtesan. Of course, only one girl can be the oiran, the most sought-after position, and she follows the usual predictable path of responding to powerlessness by dedicating herself to becoming the best so she gets to be the one with the power. The story may not be particularly unusual or special, but it’s a gorgeous film, amazingly vibrant and colorful, and with a modern soundtrack—it’s a lot of fun.

Joreth:  I’d be up for watching that!

Eunice: You know, we need to do one of your movie marathons on this, Joreth. How many movies do you think we could get Franklin to sit through in a row?

Joreth:  Let’s find out!

Franklin: Getting back to the podcast…the Ca Tru of Viet Nam were highly skilled, high class performers and entertainers who became associated with prostitution and therefore systemically repressed and nearly died out when the Communists took over in 1945. Like the Geisha, it is now being revived as a form of classical art—like Eunice was just saying, the more ancient a form of entertainment or art becomes, the more likely it is to be perceived as ‘respectable.’ An art or entertainment form that’s dominated by women in times of prosperity tend to blur into sex work in times of conflict or economic difficulty, then get rehabilitated by nostalgia into traditional—meaning respectable—forms of expression again.

Joreth: There’s a sort of Mad Max “I live, I die, I live again” going on with the female-dominated entertainer class. A lot of these professions start out respectable and as wealth displays by having only the wealthy, either individuals or governments, sponsoring or patronizing super skilled women artisan classes, and then when circumstances remove that wealth, such as war or colonization, the class is downgraded and turns to prostitution. But then, with enough distance in time, nostalgia for “culture” tends to bring back the art form as “classical art”, and it once again becomes a wealth display, because without patrons or governments sponsoring the artisan class, really only women with a certain amount of wealth, privilege, or power can even afford to learn the ancient tradition by paying for classes, costuming, etc. So it comes full circle. And it plays out repeatedly across cultures.

Eunice: Except that now, those women are making the choice to learn those arts, rather than being taken as young children into training.

Franklin:  There’s something really interesting going on here. The fact that we see this pattern play out over and over in so many different cultures suggests the history of not treating women as people has been incredibly pervasive all throughout the world. If women and men were treated equally, I don’t think we’d see this particular cycle over and over again. We don’t see this with male-dominated entertainment castes.

You might argue that men rather than women historically tend to be the target consumers of sex workers’ services, but that simply loops right back around to the same idea. Patriarchal societies control women’s sexual behavior much more than men’s. Women don’t have the freedom, or the power, to patronize sex workers. 

Joreth:  Yeah, we’re talking about wealth displays here. Patronizing sex workers is not always about wanting sex, historically it’s often about having the power to control the sex. If women held more systemic power, we might see more male sex workers throughout history.

Eunice:  As an interesting but slightly different example, Kisaeng [keysing] were women from families of the lowest status in Korea who were trained to be courtesans for the upper class, with skills in fine arts, music, poetry, prose, dancing, etiquette, needlework, medicine, etc. They were generally employed by the government, and performed at court functions. Although they were respected artisans, they stayed at the lowest class in society, unlike most of the other entertainers we’ve talked about. Again, they weren’t technically sex workers—in fact, government officials could be punished severely if they were found to be frequenting them, but of course, technically didn’t stop it from happening in practice. Because they were essentially a slave class, one could be born into it, sold into it, or even forced into it. Apparently, women from the aristocracy could be forced into being a kisaeng if they violated sexual mores of the time, which if true is another interesting departure from the usual pattern. I’ll bet it would have been a powerful tool for keeping young women’s sexual drives in check. Unlike most societies, where that “if you misbehave you’ll be thrown out and destitute and end up as a prostitute” line is impressed on wealthy young women through implication rather than outright said, this might be the most explicit example of it being used as a threat that I’ve ever seen. What aristocratic young woman would risk it, if it were a real and legal threat that she could see with her own eyes? Assuming it actually ever happened, that is. Honestly, I’m hesitant to give it much weight. Given that kisaeng’s careers generally peaked at 16 or 17, and typically ended by the age of 22, most girls were trained at a very early age, so it seems like there wouldn’t have been much time for an aristocratic girl to have done anything sexual before she was too old to be trained! Another source I saw said that the young daughters of fallen yangban aristocrats would be selected to be a kisaeng, which seems much more likely to me. Once again, women paying the price for the actions of their male relatives. 

Franklin:  In 1650 the Kisaeng were officially made slaves of the government. In 1894, the class system was abolished during one of Korea’s reform periods, freeing the Kisaeng in theory, but much like our own history of abolition, theory and practice are the same in theory but different in practice. The Kisaeng effectively remained enslaved in practice for a long while later, still performing but now without government protection. Because of their lower status and their familiarity with the populace, they often provided intel to the government and were coopted by invading armies and forced to perform for them, leading to some Kisaeng becoming rebel spies and assassins, like we saw with the French prostitutes we talked about last time.

Joreth:  In reading about the history of Korea with respect to the Kiseang, I stumbled across the story of Kim Man-deok, from the island of Jeju.  She was of the commoner class, Sangmin, and the daughter of an aristocrat and a diver.  This is fascinating, see, on this island, the women were the breadwinners, who supported their households by diving for abalone, shellfish, etc. and the husbands stayed home and took care of the kids and the home.  This same commoner class also included merchants, but for some reason did not allow women to be merchants.  She was made a kiseang but somehow managed to free herself because of her father’s nobility, and then turned to trading.  She became a successful merchant because of the connections she made as Kiseang.  She became, like, the richest woman at the time, but then donated all her money back to her island during a time of famine.  So, here once again, we see that when women get wealth and power, they tend to give it back to their community, as we saw with Western madames.  

The history of Korea is rich and diverse, and the kiseang in particular is quite complex.   There were 3 different sub-classes of Kiseang – the Ilpae which were the most prestigious with the highest skill level and performed for the most important events; the ipae were usually over 30 years of age who could only perform at private functions; and the Sampae who were the lowest rank who could only perform for small, unimportant events and it was this subclass that was often forced to perform sex work.  In addition to 3 sub classes, they could also be divided into 3 groups – those who belonged to the capital government, those who belonged to the local officials, and those who belonged to the military.  I recommend reading up on Korean sociology and on the kisaeng in particular and there will be links in the show notes.

Franklin:  So, this is really common through many cultures: an artisans-turned-prostitute class that started out as a highly skilled and respected artisan caste, then some shit happened that led to members of that class either becoming associated with sex work or started incorporating sex work to survive. And then if that culture had a few decades to settle down and move up on the world stage and give women some amount of power and autonomy, that artisan class might get revived under the heading of “classical art,” making it respectable enough for women of means to gentrify it. I think if an alien race ever wanted to study sociology of the human species, they could find a wealth of academic questions to answer here. Hell, human sociologists might want to take a closer look at this pattern. 

Eunice: Any academics amongst our listeners looking for a thesis subject?  You’re welcome. 

Franklin: So that’s what we’ve got for this episode of the Skeptical Pervert. As always, you can find us on the web at skepticalpervert dot com, or on Amazon or Libsyn or Spotify or Apple Podcasts or your podcatcher of choice. If you like what you hear, why not spread the love? If you have an idea for something you’d like to hear us cover, email us at contact@skepticalpervert.com. The Skeptical Pervert is copyrighted by Joreth, Eunice, and Franklin. Show editing is done by Joreth, and the website is maintained by Franklin.

Joreth:  And remember, if you find your culture about to be colonized or completely disrupted, don’t have the misfortune of being an upper class female artisan!

Eunice: Or, at least wait to be born until your art gets gentrified!

Franklin: We dance, we fuck, we dance again!

Joreth:  Hmm, a porn version of Fury Road would be … interesting to watch.  Next Squiggle Movie Night?

Eunice: Is this a Rule 34b, if we can’t find it we have to make it, kind of situation?

Franklin: Definitely!

Episode 12: Sex Work Through History Part 2

Welcome, fans! After delays caused by a hard drive crash and COVID, we’re back (at last!) with the second of the two-part look at sex work through history.

In this episode, we chat about the Winchester Geese, a group of sex workers managed by the Bishop of Winchester, and muse about several historical sex worker philanthropists who seemed a lot more in tune with Christian charity than most Christians of the day.

We also detour into the philosophies of St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and chat about official state-sanctioned brothels in France. Check it out!

Here’s the transcript:

Franklin: Hello! Welcome to a new episode of Skeptical Perverts, the podcast where we look at human sexuality through an evidence-based, skeptical lens! I’m your host, part-time mad scientist, and token cishet guy, Franklin!

Joreth: Hi! I’m your co-host and kinky, sopo, ace, chicana, feminst Renaissance cat, Joreth! My gender identity is “tomboy”, and my pronouns are she/her but “you guys” is cool.

Eunice: And I’m Eunice, your friendly neighbourhood queer, kinky, grey-ace, poly woman, bringing my genteel East Asian British viewpoint and all the tea. I do mean that literally, by the way, I’m drinking tea right now. Anyway, this is the second of our two-parter on the history of sex work, which is part of our mini-series on sex work. Yes, I know it’s a sub-mini-series in the middle of an already ridiculously long mini-series, don’t @ me. We just kept finding too much interesting stuff to talk about, ok? 

Franklin: I think this is a maxi-series at this point. This bit is about sex work in the “modern era”, by which we mean in the era since the spread of Christianity through the Indo-European world, which is kind of modern, I suppose. The appearance of Christianity and, later, Islam on the world stage changed the Face of sex work, not always in ways you might think.

Drawing the line with the advent of Christianity does tend to lead to an Anglocentric view of history.

Joreth:  Yep, we’re aware that this particular peek into history is Anglocentric, and we’re going to attempt to address some of that in yet another part of this multi-part series where we look at sex work in different cultures.  But the influence of Christianity on sex work was HUGE, and, as we were talking during the writing of this episode, could even be argued was *responsible* for creating the industry as we know it today, turning it from a rather common market into a giant black market.

Eunice: Turns out that when lots of people get very repressed about sex, suddenly it becomes way more appealling. Surprise! Who knew? Other than anyone who has ever met humans, I guess.

Franklin:  When I say the spread of Christianity changed sex work but not always in ways you might think, we generally assume Christian approaches to sex, rooted in a Pauline abhorrence of sex, was a disaster for sex workers. By and large, it was, but history is weird, and people are good at justifying all manner of things that maybe don’t align perfectly with their stated religious beliefs.

Eunice: Hypocrisy: the evergreen vice.

Franklin: Indeed. Take Renaissance Venice, for example. There’s a really cool article on the NY Times about sex work in Renaissance Venice, that talks about how sex work was openly tolerated:

In the 16th century, Venice, with a population of 150,000, had some 20,000 prostitutes. They were openly tolerated as a means of avoiding seduction or attacks against “honest women,” and because the taxes generated by the sex industry were enough to run a dozen warships. Courtesans were the top end of this market, recognized as the city’s greatest luxury item. Their apartments were decorated in the latest fashions and became the subject of many travelers’ tales. […]

Cross-dressing was popular with men and women, especially during the free-for-all of carnival, and prostitutes sometimes dressed as nuns to enjoy greater mobility of movement through the city. More generally, their dress was so ostentatious that they could be mistaken for noblewomen—and vice versa. An official complaint of 1578 even mentions prostitutes dressed as men, touring in gondolas and luring males into “floating paradises of Venus.”

So it’s not necessarily always true that Christianity meant no open tolerance of sex work. The reality is more nuanced than that.

Joreth:  The popular show Adam Ruins Everything even did a segment on the complexity of sex work.  Take this clip, for instance:  [insert Adam Ruins Everything clips about women in the old west https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2kJM9yQs9k&ab_channel=CollegeHumor]

Joreth: So this is kind of my area of interest, having grown up in California and worked as a tour guide for a historical house. Granted, prostitution had nothing at all to do with the house I worked in, but the history of the house and its owner was inextricably tied up with the American Old West so I learned a little bit about the adjacent subject of sex work in mining towns just by virtue of growing up and working where I did.

Eunice: As you can imagine, when you’re providing sexual services in a heavily male-dominated sex-starved area, that can create some very powerful, wealthy women in the American Old West (which is not to say that the majority of sex workers were wealthy and powerful, of course). A small town girl called Mattie Silks opened her first brothel at just 19. Whilst it was fairly typical for sex workers to be young, usually starting between 15 to 20 years old, this made her the youngest madam in America. She invested her profits back into the business, as well as growing her income and holdings by buying real estate and land. She also paid her staff a salary that made them some of the highest paid women in the country, which, good for her is all I can say.

And following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Diamond Jessie Hayman opened her brothel doors to feed, clothe and shelter anyone that needed help. And Diamond Jessie was far from alone amongst madams!

Franklin: So basically, sex workers are often better at expressing Christian traits than Christian churches are. And legendary nineteenth-century Seattle madame Lou Graham donated money to build Seattle’s schools and also saved countless businesses and banks from bankruptcy during a depression. Omaha’s first emergency hospital started out as madame Anna Wilson’s mansion; she gave it to the city in her will. And former slave turned brothel owner Mary Ellen “Mammy” Pleasant, campaigned to de-segregate San Francisco’s streetcars. If you think about it, it kinda makes sense that sex workers would be on the forefront of civil rights. They’re a demographic that’s quite familiar with social stigma and condemnation, so they have a front-row seat to the three-ring circus of Prejudice Sucks. 

Joreth: This is all starting to sound a little like the plot to Paint Your Wagon, which is a fantastic musical that was turned into a wonderfully terrible movie starring Clint Eastwood about a tiny little mining town that has a shortage of women and gets built up into a booming gold rush city. It’s a poly movie too! Unfortunately, all the good times come to an end when the Christians move into town. Christianity has some weird contradictions when it comes to sex work. Like, it’s totally opposed to it, except when it isn’t, like, except when it benefits the Church.

Eunice: Yeah, like the Winchester Geese in medieval London, who worked in an area called Southwark. They were directly licensed and taxed as prostitutes, and it was the Bishop of Winchester who regulated those licenses, hence ‘Winchester Geese’. To be ‘bitten by a Winchester goose’ meant to catch an STI from a Southwark prostitute. Isn’t that a great term? Why don’t we have anything that fun these days? Anyway, apparently the Bishop of Winchester was first given the power to license prostitutes and brothels in Southwark in 1161, although there’s some debate about that. If that’s true though (and I would love it if it were, cos that’s a great story) and considering the brothels weren’t officially closed until the seventeenth century, that’s 500 years of official prostitution, licensed by the Church! Not only that, but one of those Bishops, Henry Cardinal Beaufort, actually owned a really popular brothel, called The Cardinal’s Cap. Not just licensed, he owned it personally and profited from it directly.

Franklin: I want to say I was completely unfamiliar with the Winchester Geese, but man, what a cool story. And I’m not the least bit surprised that a prominent, highly-placed member of the clergy would manage a group of sex workers. That seems frighteningly on-brand for organized religion.

Joreth:  Yeah, I hadn’t heard about them until researching this episode either!  There are all kinds of wacky stories about religion and/or the government sanctioning prostitution!  Let’s start with Nell Gwyn from the late 1600s… what a fascinating character!  Almost the entirety of her early life has to be prefaced with “it is said that…” or “she may have…” or “according to one dubious source, she…” and what statements didn’t start with one of those qualifiers usually had to end with something to the effect of “but this cannot be confirmed”.

Eunice: Yeah, we don’t even know exactly when she was actually born! Mind you, that’s not unusual for women in history. There’s also three different cities that claim to be Nell Gwyn’s birthplace, and I’m absolutely certain that no matter how famous she later became, her mother could not have traveled around England quite that fast, whilst in labor.  

Joreth:  Nell Gwyn was considered a celebrity during the Restoration era, which is the late 1600s.  Yes, I said “celebrity”.  She was one of the first actresses allowed on the stage and her comedic performances were well-praised, although her experiments to pass as a man led to the creation of a character that was termed a “hilarious character interpretation”, which she then performed as a man on stage.  However, she was best known for being the mistress of King Charles II.  She was essentially the embodiment of the Cinderella story, making her kind of a folk hero for her rags-to-riches rise to fame and wealth.

Eunice: In case you’re not familiar with the Restoration Era, it was well known for being a time of absolutely filthy entertainment. People were really bored of being boring, you might say. So much stuff written at this time was such filthy, bawdy, sexual stuff that my English teacher wasn’t even allowed to show us the poems by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, when we were studying the Restoration. This was a time of unabashedly risque works, and the fact that she was a comedic actress means that these were the parts she excelled at. And yet, she and several other actresses were able to openly be the mistresses of aristocracy, including the king. Can you imagine that happening now?

Joreth:  Look at the shit that Meghan Markle got for dating and then marrying Prince Harry, and she is, by most accounts, a fairly respectable person.  She would never have been allowed that close to the Royal Family had she been … say … Ali Wong, or some other super crass comedianne.

Franklin: I do find it interesting that one of the first of her many accomplishments mentioned in Wikipedia is “she became best known for being a long-time mistress of King Charles II of England and Scotland.” Like, being known as the companion of a man is the first thing people mention about her.

Joreth:  I mean, isn’t that essentially how some people are famous today?  Merely by virtue of who they’re related to, or fucking?

Franklin: More with women than with men, it seems. Just sayin’.

Eunice: I mean, when you get to the point of having the 2nd Duke of Buckingham as your pimp—or, as wikipedia very delicately puts it, the “unofficial manager for Gwyn’s love affairs”—I think you’ve definitely hit “famous for fucking” status. Even though that really was only a tiny part of who she was.

Joreth:  Her mom was a madam herself, and she was possibly a child prostitute in her mom’s brothel, although she seems to have denied that.

Eunice: She clearly had no hesitation in describing herself as a whore later in life, though—according to multiple stories, she referred to herself with that actual word. There’s a story of her being mistaken for her main rival whilst riding in her coach, and leaning out the window to say “Good people, you are mistaken, I am the Protestant whore”. Plus another story of her breaking up a fight between her coachman and someone else who accused her of being a whore by saying “I am a whore. Find something else to fight about.” When I grow up, I would like to be as quick witted and bold as she was, please.

Joreth:  Yeah, so, about her rivals and how she got to be the King’s Protestant Whore… apparently her pimp, er, the Duke of Buckingham, wanted to remove his cousin from the King’s bed and install someone else, and being the man who procured the King’s favorite toy would have brought him favor with the King.  But, according to legend, Nell didn’t quite take to his plan and she demanded too much money.  So the Duke instead set up a rival actress to meet with the King.  Well, Nell couldn’t have her biggest rival catching the King’s attention, not when she had first dibs or something, so she apparently spiked this woman’s food with a laxative on the day she was supposed to hook up with the King so that she could take her place, and her position in history was assured.

Franklin: That’s kind of a petty trick, actually. 

Joreth:  I mean, when you live in an era where your entire livelihood literally depends on the men you associate with, one might be tempted to “petty tricks” to improve one’s lot.

Franklin: You’re not wrong, though the fact that’s the way the world works is unfortunate. So it’s hard to say if she was an actress who used her fame to connect with rich and powerful men, which happens often enough it’s almost a trope, or she used her connection with rich and powerful men to launch her acting career, which is less common.

Joreth:  She did seem pretty skilled in getting what she wanted.  If I had known how to bully a king into giving me a whole house, my life would look very different today.  I mean, he set her up in a house in a rich district of London, but not owning that house outright wasn’t good enough for her, so she refused to accept it unless he gave it to her, so he did. She was later given a house in Windsor, a summer house on King’s Cross Road, and she procured an earlship for her eldest son and a lordship for her youngest by King Charles II.

Eunice: Thing is, none of that would have been possible if she weren’t also smart, witty, beautiful, and very, very bold. Considering that she died when she was relatively young, by our modern day standards, I’m actually feeling exceedingly unaccomplished right now.

Franklin: It’s all about setting your sights on a goal and then going for it, I suppose. Like Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, who decided she wanted to become the king’s mistress, so when he went hunting near her estate she drove past his procession in a pink carriage wearing a blue dress, then the next day in a blue carriage in a pink dress, which apparently is how you auditioned for the position of official court mistress back in the day before Tinder. And it worked! A year later, she was installed as the official court mistress, which was, yes, apparently a thing back then.

Eunice: Well, when you think about it, ‘court mistress’ really isn’t any more of an odd position than, say, ‘court jester’ or ‘Gentlemen of the Bedchamber’, which, btw, sounds way filthier than court mistress, but it was actually an incredibly powerful position of trust, given only to peers and gentlemen. It’s only because of our weird approach to sex in the West that having an Offical Court Mistress is considered unusual. Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, or rather Madame de Pompadour, was far more than ‘just’ someone that the King had sex with, just like a Groom of the Stool was more than just a lowly servant who wiped the king’s backside. These were people of wealth and education.

Joreth:  Her background is a stark contrast to Nell Gwyn, who was a poor orange girl who just happened to be “discovered” by royalty because of the intersection of low-class entertainers and high class nobility, vs. a woman who was wealthy enough to own two different colored carriages and dresses to match, and who was groomed specifically to be a king’s mistress with education and social graces training and artistic training, etc. 

Franklin: I suspect most folks likely wouldn’t think of Madame de Pompadour as a sex worker in the traditional sense of the word, but there’s unquestionably an expectation of sex to the position of “court mistress,” I reckon. 

Eunice: Sex has historically been one of the few, if not sometimes the only, consistent avenue to power for many women, so I can understand why they would make use of it. It was just another tool, after all. Mistress was probably a fairly precarious position for many women, but often these high class court mistresses were married off to men of high status, if they weren’t already married, so that presumably became their reward or security. Remember, at this time marriage was generally just a business transactions for people with wealth, you didn’t typically get to marry the person you fell in love with—although it seems that Jeanne Antoinette’s husband fell passionately in love with her once they were married, so she was clearly someone who was extremely charismatic.

Joreth:  And what’s really fascinating is that she used sex to leverage her way into power, and then used the power she acquired to take the sex out.  It seems as though she may have even been on the ace spectrum, with public records of a low enough libido to be problematic and attempts to increase it with aphrodisiac foods.  So when political pressure was put on the king to drop his mistresses, she just reinvented her role as “friend to the king” doing a huge amount of emotional labor to console a moody royal (which was probably both a difficult as well as dangerous job) and also taking on political duties like unofficial “prime minister” becoming responsible for appointing advancements, favors and dismissals, and contributing in domestic and foreign politics.  

So, while it’s not the stereotype that modern Westerners have of sex workers being like street prostitutes or brothel workers, Court Mistress is a woman trading sex for power, wealth, and prestige so that she can use that power, wealth, and prestige to do the things she really wants to do in the same way that a brothel girl has sex for money so she can hopefully earn enough money to do the things she really wants to do, like gaining voting rights for women in her gold rush town before the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.

Eunice: She might not have been the typical sex worker—Court mistress is really closer to what most people would think of as a courtesan, I guess—but it’s not like France hasn’t had a long history of exactly the type of sex workers we think of these days. You know, the type people sometimes called prostitutes, or ladies of the night, or whores, or call girls, or whatever. My favorite term was, I believe, a Terry Prattchetism—ladies of negotiable affection. Isn’t that a great term?

Franklin: The fortunes of the more conventional sort of sex worker—you know, the kind without a personal connection to the King—were more on-again, off-again through French history. France did this thing where they kept going back and forth between “sex work is okay” and “we must save ourselves from licentious women!!!”

In the 1300s, John II decided sex work was a “necessary evil,” and echoing arguments from religious figures like St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, ruled that rather than trying to ban sex work, it ought to be regulated. In modern terms, he favored what we would call a harm-reduction approach.

King Louis IX decreed that state-sanctioned brothels had to light a red lantern during business hours, which apparently is where “red-light district” comes from. In the early 1800s, a bloke by the name of Napoleon decided sex workers should be regularly inspected and brothels should be licensed. I personally find it fascinating that Paris had official, state-sanctioned brothels all the way up to just after WWII. There’s something about the idea of a ‘state-sanctioned brothel’ that just seems really “Winchester Geese, but for a secular society” to me. 

Eunice: Well, to be fair, being in the church was just another form of political power, in many times and places. Hence why younger sons of gentlemen who weren’t suited to the Army and wouldn’t inherit might sometimes end up there. 

Franklin: I also think it’s interesting that, by law, they had to be owned and operated by women…which is kinda cool, actually.

Joreth:  The workers were also only allowed to leave their brothels on certain days and only if accompanied by their madame.  By 1810 Paris alone had 180 officially approved brothels.  By the time they were outlawed in 1946, there were 1,500 across the country.  Part of the reason they got outlawed was because apparently brothel prostitutes make good German collaborators.  22 brothels were commandeered by German troops and one brothel in particular became part of the underground railroad getting German POWs and shot-down airmen out of the country.

There were all kinds of different brothels for different clientele, different sexual interests, all kinds of things!  The luxury brothels, for instance, catered to the royals, nobles, heads of state, and later prominent celebrities.  They often had themed rooms, one of which actually won a design prize at the 1900 World Fair in Paris.

Eunice: It all sounds very fancy and lovely, but let’s not forget that brothels that catered to the masses also existed, which were often significantly less appealing—in fact, they were often so notorious for treating their workers badly that they were nicknamed maisons d’abattage or ‘slaughterhouses’. And they were well named, at that, because the sex workers were at risk of abuse from the brothels, the clients, and the police force responsible for catching procurers. The more things change, right? And I wholeheartedly apologize to any French speakers for my utterly dire accent earlier.

Franklin: One Parisian slaughterhouse, “Le Moulin Galant,” catered exclusively to homeless patrons. Which is fascinating for a number of reasons, one of which is it suggests people who lacked the basic necessities of life were spending what little money they had to obtain sex.

Eunice: It’s basically the same urge that leads some homeless people to spend their limited money on alcohol, or drugs, or cigarettes or whatever, right? Can’t blame them for needing something to lift the unrelenting misery of being alive sometimes, we all do that.

Joreth:  And then there were a wide range of “specialist brothels”.  Everything from gay brothels (often raided for “employing” underage boys) to kink clubs to Asian fetish clubs to a peep house to a brothel just for clergy with all the heavy-handed Christian symbology you might expect.

Franklin: Because of course members of the clergy had their own brothel. If you’re a priest looking for the services of a lady of negotiable affection, you wouldn’t want to mix with the common rabble. What’s the use of having a position of wealth and prestige if it doesn’t give you a few sexual perks along the way, right? By now we’re all past the point of expecting members of the church hierarchy to live by the rules they set for others, right?

Joreth:  I mean, the poly kinky secular church I plan to build to host poly meetings, secular services, ballroom dancing, and kinky orgies is pretty heavily based on Catholic symbolism, so there is clearly a connection between Christianity and kinky sex.

Franklin: Many of the kinkiest people I’ve ever known have been Catholic. If you want your daughter to grow up sexually adventurous, send her to Catholic boarding school!

Joreth:  [raises hand]

Eunice: Catholics do love their ritual. Can’t say I blame them, I remember Franklin and I also getting a little heated by visiting some old churches. Not sure that was the intended purpose of being in a church, but hey, you take your wins where you can get them! Seems only reasonable that some of the clergy got heated under the collar too. If a somewhat different type of collar than the kinksters wear. Usually.

Franklin: I remember that! That was pretty hot, wasn’t it? I have fond memories of sexting in an old church, too.

Joreth:  If I haven’t told you about all the times in high school I gave blow jobs to a kid at church during choir practice out behind the chapel and in the sacristy, remind me to tell you sometime.

Eunice: Ok, I think that needs to go into a Patreon outtake. 

Franklin: That’s about all we have for this episode—not because we’re out of things to talk about but because we’re out of time!

Joreth: it should be noted that we really only covered a surface dive into prostitution in Western cultures. This is just such a huge topic that some people spend their entire careers studying it. And not just studying historical prostitution in general, you could build a career out of picking just one region and one era to study!

Eunice: We haven’t even mentioned Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, which was an annual directory of prostitutes in the Covent Garden area of London that was published for something like 40 years in the Georgian era! That’s a lifetime’s work, or maybe a PhD, just in that alone.

Franklin: I think you did just mention it.

Joreth:  So basically, the takeaway here is, sex work is way more complicated than most folks think it is, it has always been more complicated and more diverse than people think it is, and that complexity tends to get buried beneath easy, simplistic cultural notions of sex and sex work.

Eunice: And this isn’t even the tiniest minute fragment of a particle of the history of sex work in Western culture. It’s not a historical overview, just a little sampling of some of the more well known titbits—yes I say titbits, I’m British—of sex work through the ages, and some famous courtesans that we found particularly fascinating or interesting or just plain cool. We really need a whole separate podcast to do this topic justice.

Joreth:  If there was a podcast where every episode was an in-depth look at famous sex workers or sex scandals throughout history, I would totally sign up to listen to that podcast!  So, y’know, any historians out there that specialize in historical sex work … you have at least one listener waiting in the wings!

Eunice: Yes, ditto, so if anyone wants to make that…please please please make that so we don’t end up doing it ourselves. Please.

Franklin: Next month, if all goes well, we’ll look at sex work in non-Western cultures, because we haven’t even scratched the surface of the kind of diversity that exists in sex work worldwide.

We’d love to hear from you! Send comments or suggestions for future episodes to contact@skepticalpervert.com. If you know someone else who might enjoy this podcast, why not share the love, by giving us a review on iTunes or Spotify or wherever you listen to us. You can find our Web site at www.skepticalpervert.com, where you’ll find show notes and transcripts. And don’t forget to join our Patreon, which is linked on the website!

Joreth:  And remember, if it’s sex you want, just put a church nearby!

Franklin: When people talked about being a “bride of Christ,” I didn’t realize they meant a bride of negotiable affection.

Eunice: Being slutty for Jesus; a career path for the ages! Mind you, dude hung around with 12 men all the time, we don’t even know if he was interested in women.

Episode 11: Sex Work Through History

Sex work: Mankind’s oldest profession, right?

Today we continue our series on sex work by looking at sex work (and some of the common myths and misperceptions about sex work) throughout recorded history.

The history of sex as a profession is complex, and many of the things you might believe about it turn out not to have much of a historical basis. (It doesn’t help, of course, that much of the language around sex, even in ancient times, is full of innuendo and nudge-nudge-wink-wink humor intended for an audience familiar with understated references, which doesn’t age well.)

We also suggest that sex work may in fact be older than homo sapiens as a species, and meander into historical accounts of adulterous Popes and people being thrown through windows.

Transcript Below:

Franklin: Hello! Welcome to a new episode of Skeptical Perverts, the podcast where we look at human sexuality through an evidence-based, skeptical lens! I’m your host, part-time mad scientist, and token cishet guy, Franklin!

Joreth: Hi! I’m your co-host and Renaissance cat, Joreth! I’m kinky, solo polyamorous, on the ace spectrum, chicana, feminist, my gender identity is “tomboy”, and my pronouns are she/her but I use masculine titles.

Eunice: And I’m Eunice, your friendly neighbourhood queer, kinky, demisexual, grey-ace cis woman, bringing my genteel East Asian British viewpoint and a good strong pot of tea. For the next two episodes in our sex work mini-series, we’re discussing the history of sex work!

Franklin: And I don’t have any tea. First, let me say we aren’t historians or scholars, so this overview will necessarily be fast and high-level. If we get anything wrong, please drop us a line.

Eunice: I should also mention here that we three hosts do not read most of the languages of the world, which means that the various things people in many many countries have written throughout history about sex work are either going to be things we’ve only read through translation, haven’t even come across, or will be struggling painfully through via the help of friends or Google Translate. So we’re relying on mainly English texts, yes including Wikipedia, for the most part, and that necessarily limits the amount of information from non-English-speaking areas of the world that we can include. If you have any good resources that we might find useful however, please do throw them our way!

Joreth: The definition of sex work has changed over time, and throughout different cultures, and we’ll be covering different cultural attitudes about sex work in another episode. Superficially, though, sex work is generally considered to be “the world’s oldest profession”. That may or may not be true, but recorded history does include some form of sex work from pretty early on. Just not, as we discovered, quite the way we *thought* it did.

Franklin: This will probably not be a surprise, but sex work has a very long history. References to sex work run deep in historical and religious texts from all over the world. Wikipedia has this to say:

Sumerian records dating back to ca. 2400 BCE are the earliest recorded mention of prostitution as an occupation. These describe a temple-brothel operated by Sumerian priests in the city of Uruk. This kakum or temple was dedicated to the goddess Ishtar and was the home to three grades of women. The first grade of women were only permitted to perform sexual rituals in the temple, the second group had access to the grounds and catered to visitors, and the third and lowest class lived on the temple grounds. The third class was also free to find customers in the streets. […]

In later years sacred prostitution and similar classifications for females were known to have existed in Greece, Rome, India, China, and Japan. Such practices came to an end when the emperor Constantine in the 320’s AD destroyed the goddess temples and replaced the religious practices with Christianity.

Eunice: So a question that came to mind when we started researching is whether the earliest forms of sex work was actually that tightly bound to religious worship, or whether it was fairly ubiquitous throughout society but the only place it happened to be noted and written about was in the religious context. As it turns out…that wasn’t even the right question to be asking. 

Franklin: The common mythology is that early recordings of sex work tend to be coupled with religion…but it turns out that maybe isn’t quite true. The idea of ‘sacred sexuality’ and temple sex work has deep roots in the public consciousness, but the reality is a lot more messy and complicated, and a lot of the writings on the subject are perhaps not saying what people originally said they said.

So let’s dive in, and along the way, we’ll talk about the reasons this idea of temple prostitution became so entrenched in the modern cultural narrative, and why a lot of historians are now saying that it probably didn’t happen the way we thought it happened.

Joreth: We had a lot of misconceptions going into this episode that we just totally took for granted as true. Like, we just assumed that “sacred prostitution” was a thing. It’s such an embedded part of our cultural zeitgeist that, of course there was prostitution in ancient times and of course most of that was in the context of pagan religious rites. Like, everyone knows that, right? I don’t know where I learned that from, but I must have learned it in school, because we all just know this to be true. Was that a common idea that y’all had?

Franklin: It definitely was for me. And I can’t even tell you exactly where I got it from. Cultural osmosis, I suppose. It seems like one of those things that people just sort of know without knowing how they know, you know? So where did these cultural ideas about sacred sexuality come from, anyway?

Eunice: So, we dug through a bunch of books to figure out this exact question, and there were some fascinating bits of information that came out! One book I took a look at, “The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity” by Stephanie Lynn Budin, had quite a lot to say about the origin of the term “sacred prostitution”. As it turns out, the short answer seems to be that “sacred prostitution” was basically a mistranslation that just kept getting replicated throughout time. She writes:

[M]any of the words identified as “sacred prostitute” in the ancient Near Eastern languages (Sumerian, Akkadian, Ugaritic, and Hebrew) are actually of uncertain definition. Thus, the study of sacred prostitution in these areas mainly boils down to a study of terminology. […] There are no words for “sacred prostitute” in the ancient Near Eastern vocabularies, thus removing any indigenous evidence for this practice from the Near East. p. 5, The Myth Of Sacred Prostitution In Antiquity

Franklin: Even modern-day language is tricky this way. People love to play with language. Contemporary English speakers will recognize the difference between “bless me, Father, for I have sinned” and “forgive me, Daddy, I’ve been naughty,” but anthropologists and linguists two thousand years from now might have a rough time of it.

Joreth: And then, just by coincidence while we were researching this episode, I happen to find a meme shared online that says “The gulf of meaning between the terms “horse play” and “pony play” illustrates why expecting your culture’s translation of another’s ancient texts to be 100% true to their original intent is dangerous and probably not a good idea.” The earliest online source we could find of that quote was a Facebook share on December 26, 2021 by Matt Norris.

Franklin: Matt, if that was you: well said, sir, well said.

Eunice: And then there’s the difference between “butt dial” and “booty call,”, which I never ever want to have to explain to my mother ever again. Or there’s “cottage in the forest” vs “cabin in the woods,” (take note, people who live in horror movies, don’t mix up the two!) or, well, “water sports” and “water sports.” I’m not even going to touch that one. If you understood it, you understood it, I’m not explaining further.

Joreth: The same book, Myth of Sacred Prostitution, points out that a lot of the translators really just looked at any word that referred to “profit”, particularly the word “quaestus”, and if it was attached to a woman making money, they just assumed she earned it on her back. 

Franklin: According to the book, Bible scholars and early anthropologists struggled to understand the idea that women could have a role in a religious body that didn’t involve being sexually available, so they tended to translate the texts they found in ways that played up the sex-cult interpretation. Which, I mean, hey, if that’s your jam, you do you, but it’s maybe not historically supportable.

The book flat-out disputes the “sacred prostitution” interpretation favored by Biblical scholars.

Joreth: The book also goes on at great length to explain that, at least since the Akkadian Empire, which was more than 2,000 years BCE, there was a word “Entu” that was probably “high priestess” and reserved for only the highest levels of society, like the king’s sister or daughter, and anyone having any kind of sex with the king’s sister was considered a sin of the highest order, in the same category as assault and murder. Her role was completely chaste. The idea is that this role, male or female, was “married” to their deity, so no mere mortal could profane the deity by fucking their spouse. It’s the ancient cult version of the Catholic Nun, even having a marriage ceremony with their god. 

Eunice: Prostitution, as we think of the concept now, just didn’t seem to exist. All the terms that were translated to “prostitute” in a religious setting seem to mean other things if you look closer at the context — companion, female religious leader, entertainer, even woman who owns her own business and has financial independence. For example, one term that got mistranslated early on is “harimtu”, which we now think referred to any single woman not under the authority of a father. As you can imagine, this led to all sorts of issues later. This hasn’t really changed, of course—just think about our assumptions around the term “working girl”, which used to mean what we now use the term “business woman” to mean. Plus in some documented cases, it seems to have been a word used to describe women who just wanted to have lots of sex with men that either weren’t their husbands or weren’t considered the ‘appropriate’ social class for them. Which means your likelihood of being labeled with the term was significantly influenced by political ideology, class, wealth, or social expectations, naturally. The more things stay the same, right?

Franklin: None of this is to say that prostitution didn’t exist in the ancient world. Far from it—there’s a reason it’s called ‘the oldest profession,’ though I’d argue it’s more likely the second oldest profession, after clergyman. But I digress.

Eunice: I’d dispute that — depending on your definition of ‘profession’, I’d suggest ‘gatherer’, as in people who collected food, as an earlier profession. Hard to trade food for sex if you have nothing to trade with!

Joreth: Well, I mean, chimps will trade fruit for sex, although surprisingly oranges, pineapples and maize are among the most sought after crops, with bananas proving far less popular! So perhaps prostitution is older even than homo sapiens!

Eunice: Well, bonobos will trade anything for sex.

Joreth: I think bonobos will trade sex for sex, so…

Franklin: Anyway, there is documentation of sex work in antiquity, but it’s not quite as clear-cut as people think.

Some of the earliest work about ancient Athenian statesman Solon regards the creation of state-sanction brothels, populated by slaves, in the sixth-century BCE. This is documented in the book Greek Prostitutes in the Ancient Mediterranean, 800 BCE-200 CE by Allison Glazebrook and Madeleine Henry, which is a fascinating read.

The women provided for this purpose in Solon’s days were slaves, not working women; they didn’t have a choice to be there, and in fact the book says Solon differentiated between “women who could be prostituted and women who could not be.”

This book defines prostitution as sex work done by people “slave or freed, but they must work for pay (that they either keep for themselves or that is given either to a pimp or slave owner) rather than for their own pleasure.”

Joreth: Another book, Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity by Sarah Pomeroy, discusses the “whorearchy” that still exists today, with former slaves and free non-citizens being registered and paying a special tax, and some of them being higher on the social ladder with intellectual training and artistic talents and being called “hetairai” or “companions” to men.

One such famous hetairai was named Lais. She was a young girl living in a Sicilian city when Athenians ransacked it, kidnapped her, and sold her into slavery. She started out as a lowly prostitute but eventually worked her way up to the class of “hetairai” and became one of the most famous sex workers of the ancient world. She was able to challenge the famous playwright, Euripides, to a battle of wits (no Iocane powder was used, as far as I know), and she was apparently a near-constant companion to the philosopher Aristippus of Cyrene (please excuse my terrible accent, I am very American). 

There are some fragments of writing that are attributed to Lais, but it’s now thought that she didn’t write them, someone else just used her name. Which means that she was both famous enough and well-respected enough that somebody thought “hey, if I use her name, people will want to read what I wrote!” So here’s an interesting example of upward mobility within the “whorearchy”, from slave to lowly prostitute, to “companion”.

Franklin: Sex work in ancient Greece still isn’t all that well understood. In Greek traditions, sex work in purpose-built brothels seemed to be rare; while Roman cities had dedicated brothel spaces, and one well-preserved example exists in Pompeii, the cities from ancient Greece don’t seem to, which suggests that the history of sex work was likely complex and those employed or enslaved as sex workers likely did other jobs as well.

Eunice: Pompeii is really interesting, because it was a fairly wealthy town, but not really at the level of like Rome, or Carthage, right? It’s not a capital city. So probably whatever is happening in Pompeii is going to be pretty typical of other Roman settlements. And what they had…was graffiti on the walls of brothels. Some of it, as you can imagine, was the male clients giving reviews about the pornai they had just visited—a real Yelp of its day, you might say—but some of it, and I’m really loving this, was reviews by the prostitutes about the men who came to visit them! This guy was bad at sex, that guy doesn’t pay well, don’t bother with that guy he’s a bit of a dick…sounds like some of the info shared by sex workers nowadays. Some things never change. 

Joreth: Yeah, I love some of the graffiti that was found: “Here many girls poked”, “Lucky guy, you fuck well”, “Mola is a fucktress”.

Franklin: “Fucktress.” Now that is a lovely word. That word needs to make a comeback. It just sounds so…direct. “Excuse me, miss, your eyes are like the moon over still water, so I just have to ask: Will you be my fucktress?”

Joreth: Are we going to see that word in one of your books?

Eunice: I’m trying very, very hard to find a way to squeeze that in somehow—maybe we’ll put it in the sex worker witches coven urban fantasy novels we’re planning. A fucktress sounds like the sex magic equivalent of an enchantress to me!

Joreth: Yes, definitely! That’s exactly what I was thinking! In one particular brothel in Pompeii, there is graffiti that reads, Fortunata fellat (or “Fortunata sucks”) Scholars think that this graffiti was actually written by a woman as she describes the active position of sucking, because it *doesn’t* use the word irrumare, which translates to “to mouth-fuck.” That’s the word that would have been used by male clients to refer to the activity of being fellated.

Eunice: I’m really sad that I didn’t get to see this graffiti in person, but since I went as part of a school visit…I’m pretty sure our teachers just didn’t want to have to explain brothels and prostitution to us. Hah, jokes on them, we could probably have told them more than they told us—kids always know more about sex than you think!

Joreth: And, as usual, early scholars let their morals get in the way of rigorous study of the ancient city. The late 19th century historian, Wolfgang Helbig, said “an analysis of individual paintings [from the brothel] is unnecessary and inadmissible.” It was not until the 20th century that scholars began taking excavations of ancient brothels seriously. 

Franklin: Meanwhile, back in Ancient Greece… Even when dealing with surviving formal writing like law, there’s a tendency amongst historians to assume things are about sex and sex work when perhaps maybe they aren’t. Like historian A. J. Graham saying Athenian regulations on windows facing out onto the street was intended to prevent sex workers from hanging out the windows advertising their wares, but the book Greek Prostitutes in the Ancient Mediterranean points out:

He uses these Thasian regulations on prostitutes and brothels to suggest that an Athenian restriction on windows opening onto roads was intended “to prevent the use of windows for purposes of prostitution” and not to bar “outward-opening window-shutters, which if not secured, might fall down into the street” But without a direct reference to a brothel, as in the Thasian inscription, and given the immediate context of building, balcony, and canal restrictions designed to ensure the safety, cleanliness, and the width of the road, Peter Rhodes’s conclusion is the more convincing one: the regulation is simply about windows and their shutters.

What is it with classical historians seeing sex and sex work everywhere, even in legal regulations about windows and shutters?

Eunice: Perhaps they just didn’t get much of it? Or at least, not as much as they presumably thought they deserve for their super braininess. 

Joreth: Back in the Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves book, the author goes on to talk about how prostitutes in Ancient Athens were not necessarily the lowest rung on the ladder, more like … to the side. A man could have a long-term relationship with a concubine, for instance, that was functionally treated the same as a wife, except for some legal distinctions like her children would not be considered citizens. 

He then talks about prostitutes as being “mercenary” because they were the only women who had independent control over their money, which was then used in extraordinary ways. The author talks about one possibly discredited story of funding the building of a pyramid with prostitution money, but even if this isn’t true, it’s not surprising. 

A lot of the American Old West was funded and run by prostitutes and their money. There were a lot of brothels! But we’ll get a little bit into relatively “modern times” in the second part of this … part?

Eunice: Yeah, brothels and more…formalised structures for prostitution seemed to have been more typical in the more modern era — and by ‘modern’, I am of course referring to ‘the last two thousand years’, which I suspect most people would not consider modern! Certainly not my two American co-hosts over there. So, according to Thomas Mcginn in “Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World”:

As far as I am able to discover, a policy aiming at the segregation of venal sex from respectable elements of the population has every appearance of being a phenomenon that postdated the rise of Christianity.

Joreth: Hold up just a minute here, are you telling me that it was only after Christianity came along that we now think of sex as dirty and keep it segregated from “polite society”?! That can’t be right! I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!

Franklin: No you aren’t. That is not your shocked face.

Eunice: Oh for the naivety to still be shocked by this. Is there anybody that could be shocked by this?

Joreth: Christianity does some weird shit when it comes to sex, which we’re going to cover in a little more depth in part 2 of the History of Sex Work, after the Christian church is formed and starts sticking its nose in everyone’s business. Basically, the takeaway here is, sex work is way more complicated than most folks think it is, it has always been more complicated and more diverse than people think it is, and that complexity tends to get buried beneath easy, simplistic cultural notions of sex and sex work.

Eunice: Though I do wonder why Jesus refers to prostitutes and tax collectors in the same breath—as in, dining with both. I bet there’s something Freudian going on there! 

Franklin: The early church was freaky. I mean like Twilight Zone freaky. One of the early famous Christian preachers, dude named John Chrysostom, was kidnapped, taken to Constantinople, and forcibly consecrated against his will as archbishop. 

Eunice: Wait, hang on, what do you mean kidnapped and forcibly consecrated as an archbishop? How can you make someone an archbishop if they don’t want to be? How often did this sort of thing happen? 

Franklin: Seriously. He was an early champion of the fire-and-brimstone school—one of his early famous sermons said:

“Long after the theater is closed and everyone is gone away, those images of “shameful women” still float before your soul, their words, their conduct, their glances, their walk, their positions, their excitation, their unchaste limbs […] And there within you she kindles the Babylonian furnace in which the peace of your home, the purity of your heart, the happiness of your marriage will be burnt up!”

Not gonna lie, he had me at “unchaste limbs.”

Eunice: Um, he seems to be rather obsessed with the topic. Those limbs are clearly on his mind rather a lot…

Franklin: And which Pope was it who died of a stroke while committing adultery in a specially designed sex chair? Though apparently according to the Internet there’s some historical debate about what happened, with the official account being he died of a stroke but some contemporaneous accounts saying the husband of the woman he was shagging caught him and threw him through a window, which is what killed him.

Eunice: OK, firstly, the fact that there are multiple popes I can think of that this story could apply to says a lot about that era of popes. And secondly, whether he died of a stroke, a heart attack, defenestration, or by getting his head lopped off by the guy he was cuckolding, the stories all seem to agree that he really was doing the not-popely activities, right? 

Franklin: I love that English has a word for “thrown out of a window.”

Joreth: So, speaking of defenestration (from the Latin, meaning literally “down from window”) … apparently there were 3 separate and official Defenestrations of Prague that all have to do with conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, the first and third of which started major wars, and the second one … brokered 30 years of peace?

Eunice: Well, technically there’s a bit of a debate about whether that counts as two or three official Defenestrations of Prague. I mean, if it doesn’t kick off a war are you even trying, right?

Joreth: But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. There’s still some history between the Ancient World and the weird and arbitrary schisms of the cult of Jesus, in addition to the WHOLE WEIRDNESS that is prostitution in Christianity in the modern world itself.

Franklin: Next month, we’ll look at sex work in the “modern era”, and follow that up with a peek at historical sex work in non-Western cultures, because we haven’t even scratched the surface of the kind of diversity that exists in sex work worldwide.

We’d love to hear from you! Send comments or suggestions for future episodes to contact@skepticalpervert.com. If you know someone else who might enjoy this podcast, why not share the love, by giving us a review on iTunes or Spotify or wherever it is you listen to us. You can find our Web site at www.skepticalpervert.com, where you’ll find show notes and transcripts. And don’t forget to join our Patreon, which is linked to on the website! Patreon subscribers will eventually be able to hear our extensive outtakes about defenestration.

Eunice:  And speaking of Patreon, a big thank you to DM Spektor, our first Patron on Patreon!

Joreth:  And remember, if you don’t yeet your pervertism through a window, it’s not a proper skeptifenestration!

Eunice: Wait, how do you yeet a pervertism? I can see yeeting a pervert—with consent, please, we’re not advocating non-consensual yeeting here—but can you even yeet a concept? A lifestyle? A personality trait? I’m not even quite sure what to call it here…

Joreth:  But isn’t skepticism all about yeeting concepts?

Eunice: Ok, good point, well made. Yeet away!

Episode 10: What Counts as Sex Work?

What “counts” as sex work? When you hear the words “sex work,” what image does that bring up in your mind?

In this episode, we discuss forms of sex work that most people don’t think about when they think “sex work,” and we talk to “Andrew,” a former male sex worker. Andrew (not his real name) has some insights to offer about the differences between sex work as it’s experienced by male and female sex workers.

Transcript below.

Franklin: Hello! Welcome to a new episode of Skeptical Perverts, the podcast where we look at human sexuality through an evidence-based, skeptical lens! I’m your host, part-time mad scientist, and token cishet guy, Franklin!

Joreth: Hi! I’m your co-host and Renaissance cat, Joreth! I’m kinky, solo polyamorous, on the ace spectrum, chicana, feminist, my gender identity is “tomboy,” and my pronouns are she/her but I use masculine titles.

Eunice: And I’m Eunice, your friendly neighbourhood queer, kinky, demisexual, grey-ace cis woman, bringing my genteel East Asian British viewpoint and a good strong pot of tea. We’re still on our sex work mini-series and this episode, we’re discussing “what even is sex work anyhow?” 

Joreth: Yeah, so … we started out thinking this would be one episode, and now it’s morphed into, what, like 4 episodes? And we’re going to take one very huge chunk of that topic and try to distill it down to a single introduction. We are attempting to break some of this down into their own episodes throughout this series, but today is the broad overview on what sex work is and what “counts” as sex work, and to whom.

Eunice: Just as a warning, this is going to be a long one, so buckle in and maybe get some refreshments cos we’re gonna be here for a while. Tea is good, I recommend tea.

Franklin: Sex work! It’s like quantum mechanics or pornography: everyone thinks they know what it is, but talk to two different people who aren’t physicists or legal scholars and you’ll get three different definitions. So let’s talk about what we mean when we say ‘sex work.’

I mean, hell, a lot of people struggle to say what “sex” is. It all depends on what your definition of “is” is, right? If you can’t recognize sex when you see it, recognizing sex work might be a bridge too far.

Our last episode about sex work mentioned the Sex Worker Outreach Project’s definition:

“Sex work is any type of labor where the explicit goal is to produce a sexual or erotic response in the client. Sex work includes prostitution, but it also includes a bunch of other things like erotic dancing, pro-dom/pro-sub work, webcam work, sensual massage, adult film, phone sex, being a sugar baby, etc.”

Other organizations use similar definitions. Open Society defines sex work this way:

Sex workers are adults who receive money or goods in exchange for consensual sexual services or erotic performances, either regularly or occasionally.

Eunice: Do ‘goods’ include dinner, by any chance? I mean, I’ve had some really expensive dinners where we split the bill, are you telling me I should have gotten that for free? Wait, hang on, maybe that counted as mutual sex work instead!

Joreth: So when he makes me breakfast the next morning, does that mean I just engaged in sex work? I mean, my last boyfriend was a really good cook. I’d be willing to say that was a fair value comparison.

Eunice: Mouthgasms are named that for a reason, right?

Franklin: You people and your food! Things get a little stranger when you look at definitions of sex work offered by conservative groups, especially conservative religious groups. Many conservative religious organizations struggle to tell the difference between sex work and sex trafficking. A-21, a religious organization founded to fight sex trafficking, says this about sex work:

A commercial sex act occurs when the sex act is exchanged for anything of value.

Joreth: Um … exchanged for ANYTHING of value?

Eunice: Like … say, a wedding ring?

Joreth: I don’t think they really thought out the logical progression here.

Eunice: I’ll be honest, I’ve been in relationships where an additional few hours of peace to read my book would have been a fair exchange.

Joreth: I mean … getting them to go off and do something in particular or just be elsewhere isn’t a bad trade. I’ve sat through hours of basketball games in exchange for them doing something specific for me. That was certainly more tedious than offering, say, a blow job for something of equal “value”.

Eunice: I sat through 4 hours of the film Gettysburg, I think I damn well deserved my reward sex after that!

Franklin: I agree. The Family Research Council says:

There are many organizations that push for legitimizing sexual exploitation as “sex work.” Sexual exploitation is nobody’s job. Sexual exploitation is a horrendous violation of people’s physical and psychological health and safety. The elements of sexual exploitation which is often paraded as “sex work” include: “routine verbal degradation; threat of physical assault and a wide array of physical injury; extreme risk of sexual assault and rape; being groped, pinched, licked, bitten and breathed upon by people who pay to use you; serial utilization of one’s orifices as a receptacle for male genitalia and other objects; likely acquisition of drug/alcohol addiction; likely acquisition of post-traumatic stress disorder; likely acquisition of any number of (potentially incurable) STDs; and possible premature death as the result of homicide.” Sexual exploitation is abuse and should not be raised to the level of “work.”

Joreth: “The libberals say that sex work includes physical assault!” Um, yeah no, pretty sure nobody is saying that. Nice straw man you got there buddy. The way some of these conservatives get really really detailed in their descriptions of things. “Serial utilization of one’s orifices as a receptacle for male genitalia and other objects”? You are spending an awful lot of time thinking about this, sir.

Eunice: Thing is, they are so, so close to a reasonable point here. None of their examples of exploitation are acceptable behaviour. We should seek to prevent that from happening. What they’re missing, that sex workers are telling us from direct experience, is that exploitation is far more likely when you criminalise sex work. Consensual sex work doesn’t, and shouldn’t, include any of that abuse. And yes, a lot of that behaviour is abusive. You know what makes clients feel able to do that stuff without fear? Making it so risky to legally do sex work that sex workers are terrified to report abusive behaviour to the authorities for fear of being arrested themselves. Or being raped by the police, and then arrested. According to the study “Associations between sex work laws and sex workers’ health: A systematic review and meta-analysis of quantitative and qualitative studies” which looked at data from 1990 to 2018:

“Repressive policing of sex workers was associated with increased risk of sexual/physical violence from clients or other parties, HIV/STIs, and condomless sex. The qualitative synthesis identified diverse forms of police violence and abuses of power, including arbitrary arrest, bribery and extortion, physical and sexual violence, failure to provide access to justice, and forced HIV testing.”

Joreth: Sooo… criminalizing sex work leads to … more dirty cops?

Eunice: Surprise. I know no one can see this, but I have on my “very much not surprised” face right now. Another quote from further in that same study says:

“Evidence from decriminalised settings suggests that sex workers in these settings have greater negotiating power with clients and better access to justice.” 

Also not a surprise. And I should point out, some of the abusive behaviour they mention as part of sex work? That exists in ongoing heterosexual monogamous relationships, including marriage, too. Marital rape is a thing, and it’s not even actually illegal everywhere.

Joreth: What?! How could that possibly have happened in a culture that makes sex transactiona… oh, wait.

Franklin: And finally, Concerned Women for America says “we’ll see your bonkers sex-work-negative hyperbole and raise you this:”

[Stormy] Daniels was a “successful” star in pornography and is continuing her run next week with a cover shot on Penthouse along with a nude photoshoot. This is the kind of modern day feminism Planned Parenthood loves, where women shed their dignity and damage their souls in exchange for money and power.

The connection between the porn industry, sex traffickers, and Planned Parenthood is well documented. Porn is often used to groom sex trafficking victims so they can learn what they are expected to do. When sex trafficked victims become pregnant as a result of their abuse, they are often coerced into having abortions. Planned Parenthood has been caught on film helping pimps obtain abortions for their victims, including minors.

Joreth: Oh the connection between sex trafficking, porn and Planned Parenthood is well documented, is it? I would like to see that documentation please.

Franklin: Someone needs to make a browser plugin that lets you tag Web sites with a Wikipedia-style [Citation Needed]

Eunice: Could I get that for real life too? Like, just pasted over people’s face when you’re talking to them? But yeah, there are so many tall leaps to conclusions here, I’m getting vertigo.

Joreth: You know the last time I heard about videos “catching” Planned Parenthood, those videos both did not show them doing anything wrong and were also fraudulently edited to suggest that they were so … I’m gonna reserve my blind acceptance on the statement that PP has been “caught on film helping pimps obtain abortions”.

So, in addition to there being a classification of things that do and do not “count”, there’s also a hierarchy of sex work from less respectable to … well, not “respectable” exactly, but less offensive?

Eunice: Or maybe, easier to hide? Less risky and stigmatised? Better paying? More likely to be undertaken by higher income cis white women? All of the above?

Joreth: OK, so, a hierarchy of sex work from risky with no social capital or power, to less risky with some social capital or power. What do we have then?

Franklin: Belle Knox wrote an article about the “whorearchy” in Jezebel. She says:

The whorearchy is arranged according to intimacy of contact with clients and police. The closer to both you are, the closer you are to the bottom. That puts “outdoor” workers, ie street-walking prostitutes, at the foundation. They are disdained by “indoor” prostitutes, who find clients online or via other third parties. They are disdained by the strippers and escorts who perform sex acts for clients, who are disdained by those who don’t. At the top sit sex workers who have no direct contact with cops or clients, such as cam girls and phone-sex operators.

Even within porn there is stratification. Women who engage in specifically interracial or edgier scenes are viewed as somehow “lower” by other performers. I was marginalized within the industry for my work on a rough sex website. I’ve witnessed colleagues receive racist epithets for their work on interracial productions. Gay or trans performers are particularly ostracized by the mainstream due to the AIDS stigma attached to their work.

Eunice: This is a really important point here, that not all sex work is treated equally, even by sex workers. So we ran a little poll to see how people think about sex work —- not scientific at all, just to kind of gauge the wind, as it were — and we asked the question “How would you rank sex work from most definitely “counts” as sex work to “counts least” or “doesn’t count” as sex work?”. Then we asked people to order them from “definitely counts” at the top to “counts less” down to “doesn’t count” at the bottom. We didn’t get very many responses, so take this with a grain of salt, but what we did get matched what we expected. You can find the link to the full data set at the show notes.

Joreth: Yeah, we all seem to have a very similar set of ideas on what our culture tells us “counts” as sex work, and the poll reflected that. As expected, people felt that their backgrounds taught them that “street prostitutes” and “brothel workers” counted the most as sex work while the various forms of dancers and erotic writers counted the least.

Franklin: Yet unquestionably erotic writers are paid for creating a sexual experience for the reader. By the first definition we read, erotic writers count.

Eunice: Yeah, but there’s a long history of classic erotic writing, which has left it with some classist overtones—Lady Chatterley’s Lover, or Fanny Hill, or the Marquis de Sade, anyone? 

Joreth:  Song of Solomon in the bible?

Eunice: And we already know that the higher up that privilege ladder you are, the less likely it is that the things you do will be stigmatised. We’ve had whole discussions on the difference between ‘porn’ novels and ‘erotica’ novels, when really it’s all a matter of personal opinion and taste.

Joreth: Erotic writers are just *writing*, they’re not actually performing or interacting sexually with anyone, so that’s not, like, “real sex work”, right?

Franklin: I wonder if some of those conservative Evangelical Christian groups we mentioned would see it that way.

Joreth: I bet some of those conservative Evangelical Christians *write porn* under pseudonyms.

Franklin: I bet you’re right, and I further wager it isn’t very good.

Joreth:  *cough*50 Shades*cough* (fucking Mormon Twilight fanfic) oops, did I say that out loud?  Excuse me.  Anyway, our little poll reflected what Belle Knox said in her article.  It seemed consistent with her rule of thumb that the closer one is to both cops and clients, the lower on the whorearchy the job sits.

So, what does that mean for sex workers? What does this tell us about sex workers and how our culture treats sex workers?

Franklin: Human beings are social and hierarchical animals. We evolved that way, so it’s not surprising we would impose a hierarchy in pretty much every kind of social interaction we do. If you have a hierarchy, you have someone on the bottom, and as they say, shit rolls downhill. Part of the function of a hierarchy is to tell you who it’s okay to be mean to.

Given how many societies think of sex as something dirty and yucky to begin with, surrounded by walls that clearly specify what kind of sex is permitted and what kind isn’t, it’s not surprising that so many societies see commercial sex as transgressive and taboo.

Eunice: And given that’s the case, it’s no wonder it’s often done by some of the most marginalised people in a society. Our poll didn’t separate out gender, orientation or race among sex workers, but I don’t think anyone would be surprised to find out that if you are gay or trans or a person of colour, that will also affect your position on the whorearchy, relative to straight, cis, white counterparts. In many ways, it’s a just microcosm of the way that many privileges function in mainstream, wider society.

Joreth: Right? Like, I bet it wouldn’t be all that hard for our listeners to re-take that poll but then imagine what if the various sex worker category was for a *trans* person doing it, and if they’re answering based on what they feel that person’s place is in society (not their own personal feelings about the sex worker), I’m pretty sure most people would rank gay or trans or POC sex work as “definitely counts as sex work” much higher than if a straight white cis person was doing. it.

So, like, if I said “does escort ‘count’ as sex work”, and y’all put it wherever you put it on the scale of society thinks “definitely” to “nope, society doesn’t count it”, and then I said “what about a GAY escort?” or “what about a TRANS escort”, I’d be willing to bet that a lot more people would say it “counts” a lot more as “sex work” in the culture of their upbringing.

Franklin: In the Jezebel article, Belle Knox does say that part of what she calls the “whorearchy” is about the people doing it as much as what’s being done, which sounds about like what we’d expect from, you know, people.

Eunice: And another group who often don’t really jump to mind when it comes to sex work, but who are definitely part of the whorearchy, is male sex workers. 

Joreth: Men and sexism in the sex industry is weird. Like, if we ask Westerners to imagine a porn performer, or a sex worker, or an escort, they almost always immediately think of women. Well, if they think of porn, they might think of 2 men: the first is Ron Jeremy, and the second name will basically tell you how old they are based on who they come up with. But otherwise, the image of the industry revolves around women.

Eunice: Yeah, whenever you think about sex work, whether it’s porn, erotic dance, full service sex work, whatever, it’s usually an image of a woman, right? The woman is the one you want to see or, well, whatever. And that’s reflected in the pay too. According to the US Census in 2016, there are very few jobs — including special-education teachers, counselors, and TSA screeners — where women earn more than men. That list should also include porn stars, although as you can imagine the US census doesn’t like to mention that.

Joreth: From an article on Refinery 29:

“Men are paid a fixed rate per scene based on their reputation (gay male porn has a separate pay scale that, for sake of brevity, isn’t explored in this story), while women earn different wages based on their star power and the sex act. … data journalist Jon Millward conducted the largest study of porn actors thus far by using a sample of 10,000 performers listed on the Internet Adult Film Database. He found that 70% of performers were women and the average career span of a porn actress was between six and 18 months. He also found that 96% of the most prolific performers were male.”

Franklin: We wanted to talk to someone who doesn’t fit the stereotypical idea of what a sex worker looks like, so we’ve interviewed a male performer and cam model. We wanted to get a new perspective that’s a bit outside what most of us think of as what a sex worker looks like.

Joreth: We had the opportunity in the previous episode on OnlyFans to have a text exchange with one sex worker and an audio interview with another, but both of them are perceived as women, which is what most people think of when they hear the term “sex worker”.

We wanted to talk to someone with a different sort of experience, so we asked Andrew, who identifies as a straight man, if he would be willing to tell us about his experience in the sex work industry.

Eunice: Hi! So we have Andrew with us who was a sex worker. And Andrew, ould you like to introduce some of the stuff you did? What were you doing and how did you get into it? 

Andrew: Well, I kind of fell into it because I was out of work and looking for a way to make money. Actually I had a young family at the time and I needed a way to make money quick and I had the right assets for porn work. And so it was just something that I kind of fell into because I needed work. And I ended up doing porn work for about six months to fill in the gap between having another full time employment. 

Eunice: Cool! So was it just porn or were there other types of sex work you were doing as well? 

Andrew: Well, it started with just porn. I think like most people that dream of being a porn star. The first thing they think of is, you know, starring in their own feature length film. So I started with that, but I found that there was very little of it being filmed in Florida at the time. 

So after making several trips to South Florida and then to Tampa, and still finding work pretty scarce, I ended up learning more about doing Webcam shows, which were very popular at the time, so I found that I could make a lot of money just doing cam shows. 

So I turned to that and did that, like I said, for most of six months. And while doing the cam shows, I ended up, like I think many people do once they get into sex work, doing other things on the side. You know, doing meets with fans for money. So I would have adoring fans that would be willing to pay me several hundred dollars just to go down on me, and I would go and meet them. And I did that a few times until one such meet went horribly south, and at that point I broke it off and didn’t do it again. 

And around that time I found another job, so it worked out pretty well. 

Joreth: That’s like everybody dream when they think about it as getting a feature length film. 

Eunice: Impressive that that’s what you start with . 

Andrew: Now that’s that’s the dream, and so that’s what everyone wants to start out doing. But what I quickly discovered was that the only way for that to work, practically speaking, was to move to California. At the time, there just weren’t enough films being shot in Florida, so I ended up going into webcam shows and then as a way to extra money, oing live meets with people until an experience went horrible with somebody that I met agreed to meet with and I was all but kidnapped. And around that time, luckily I found another job because it scared me and I got out of the business. 

Eunice: Yeah, that sounds incredibly tough and unsurprising that you chose to leave after that. 

Andrew: Yeah, it was a very very bad experience. I don’t necessarily want to start with that. It’s something I haven’t really thought about a lot since it happened. But, you know, I was so desperate for money at the time that instead of fleeing a bad situation, which I should have done, I stuck around, allowed myself to be basically held captive all night, hoping the person would actually pay me. And finally they did pay me some money and I left, and then the next morning they contacted me on Facebook because I had managed to let slip my name while I was there, and they declared that I was closeted homosexual and that I needed to come out of the closet. And he was going to help me do that by contacting all of my contacts on Facebook and letting them know that I was secretly gay, and that way he and I could fulfill our love affair that we were destined to have. And I immediately blocked him and luckily never heard from him again. 

So I think I managed to block him before he was able to contact anyone on Facebook. Or that could have just been a threat to try to, you know, coerce me into meeting him again, which is what he wanted. 

Franklin: Wow. Wow.

Eunice: That sounds terrifying. 

Joreth: Yeah. You say you were doing porn. You were doing gay porn but you don’t identify as gay, is that correct? 

Andrew: Yes. I mean it’s a little more complicated than that. I started out doing straight porn, and the feature-length films that I did were straight porn, but I ended up being offered money to do a gay film and I did it. And so yeah it was interesting as a straight man to have my first homosexual experience be behind the camera.

But I don’t think it’s actually that unusual. Once I was in the industry, I found that you really didn’t know the orientation of a sex worker or an actor based upon the type of film it was. They literally contact you ahead of time and ask you what kind of—how should I put it—stimulation materials you need to get ready to go onstage. So they’ll ask you your orientation. They’ll never assume based on what kind of film it is, what your sexual orientation is. 

Franklin: How many people who do gay male porn would you say, in your experiences, don’t identify as gay?

Andrew: Based on my experience, and again I well I didn’t do that many feature length films, but I would say about 1/4, let’s say about 25%. 

Franklin: Huh, interesting.

Andrew: But that’s just one little anecdote. 

Joreth: And you said you did about three straight films before. 

Andrew: I did. I did three straight films, and then I did the one gay film, and then I did some sex toy modeling for a website so they would do little intro clips introducing their sex toys. That was a place out of Tampa, so I had sex with different cock rings and with fake vaginas, Fleshlight and the like. 

Franklin: Yeah, it’s interesting that you say that because that’s something that I think a lot of people probably wouldn’t call “sex work.” And yet, if you think about it, it really is. You know, by the definitions that we’ve been using on the podcast that totally qualifies as sex work. 

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I would agree. And then that was the point which I discovered the webcam website and started doing webcam shows. 

Joreth: So the webcam stuff, this was before Onlyfans was a thing, wasn’t it? 

Andrew: Oh, I would certainly think so. I didn’t hear about it at the time. This was about…wow, how many years ago was this? 13, 14 years ago. 2008? 

Joreth: So pretty early for getting into the webcam stuff. That was a fledgling section of the industry. 

Franklin: When you were doing webcam work, did you have any way to track the demographics of your audience? Were your audience primarily, men, primarily, women, primarily couples or anything? You know, do you have any of that information? 

Andrew: There was—obviously there’s no way to know for sure, but I learned very quickly that my audience  was primarily gay men. I think that my body type just seemed to work for that. I have what they would call swimmer’s build—very thin, muscular build—and with a large cock that’s very disproportionate to my size. 

So my audience was primarily identifying as male on the webcam sites, and so I took them at their word that they were primary male. 

Eunice: So did you know, like, many other male sex workers? Was there a community or was that kind of isolated? 

Andrew: I think there was a little bit of a community. I did make a few connections, a few friendships, but I mostly avoided that just because I was a family man. Married with kids with a very conservative extended family. So I was very much trying to keep this separated from my private life. 

Eunice: Got you. 

Joreth: Now, how did your spouse feel about this? 

Andrew: Well, I was out of work with a mortgage and children and so, you know, she wanted to be able to pay the mortgage. So I think that due to very practical motivations that she was supportive at the time. 

In fact, she even came to the films that I shot in South Florida. And after the first one, which was a complete nightmare for me, she served as my own personal fluffer and then by the third shoot she was fluffing half the men in the building. So she was…I would come off of a set and she’d be in the hallway with literally penis in her mouth and one in each arm, one at each hand I should say, fluffing the other members of the cast. So she definitely got into it by the third film. 

Eunice: And her own, like, it kind of became a bit of a family business. 

Franklin: Yeah, that’s interesting because that’s the first actual, like, documented occurrence of a fluffer I’ve ever heard of, because all the time that I’ve ever been on set watching porn being filmed, there was never anybody to do that. 

Franklin: But of course this was always post-Viagra, and so I’ve always sort of thought that fluffers were kind of an urban legend. And I guess maybe that’s not the case. 

Andrew: Yes, well, there there was Viagra at the time, but I gotta say that at that time Viagra was harder to get ahold of, and very expensive. So there wasn’t the generic Viagra that you see now, which is very easy to get ahold of. So it definitely was around. But it was harder to get your hands on. And nothing beats a live person outside of a set. 

Joreth: So then, with your wife being so accepting of this, can we assume that you had some form of a nonmonogamous marriage before you went into porn? Or was this the introduction to it? 

Andrew: Yes, absolutely. We we were non-monogamous, we were swingers. I didn’t know what polyamory was at the time, but we had been swingers for a couple of years before this happened. So I do think that helped a lot with the transition to this kind of work and with the acceptance of my life and. 

Andrew: And yes, she wasn’t just, you know, a  one-man woman that had had no experience with group sex suddenly thrust on the on a set serving as a fluffer for three practically random strangers. That wasn’t the case. No, we had done a little bit of swinging, it so it wasn’t that new to her. But she was much appreciated by the cast, I mean that sincerely. 

Joreth: So did you have a chance to have many conversations with any other sex workers and maybe to discuss the differences between what it was like as a man in the industry versus the women in the industry? 

Joreth: Or did you have any observations? You know, did it seem any different being a man in the industry?

Andrew: Well, I felt like it was very different right from the start. For, you know, the first set that I ever showed up on. The woman was in makeup for about two hours after I arrived. And it was a gangbang scene and there were, I think, five of us men waiting around for…it was at least two hours, and that was after I arrived. And I heard she had already been there. So she was getting her makeup and hair and everything done for several hours while we were sitting around waiting for her. She was paid approximately 10 times as much as each of us was paid. 

So I I definitely felt like that in porn, the women were the stars of the show and we were just extras. Now, part of that was obviously because of the type of shoot it was, being a gangbang scene, but I definitely felt that way. 

Joreth: How did it feel when you switch to the gay film? What were some of the differences being on set for that when there were no women around? 

Andrew: Oh, it’s a lot different. It’s like night and day. And I do think that that’s one of the reasons that porn actors, whether gay or straight, male actors I mean, will transition to that. Because it’s different when there isn’t a prima donna having her makeup done for two hours while you wait around like extras. It’s definitely a different world. 

You know, it’s interesting since we’re we’re talking about  my first shoot, it was a very shocking experience, but going to my first video shoot I thought that they would be simple and easy and I thought that I would just go in there and just blow everyone away with my sexual prowess and my giant penis. And being on that set the first time was completely different than I expected. 

For one thing, getting erect on a set where you have, you know, someone with a camera, someone holding up lighting and other men there…it was very difficult to get aroused. It was very difficult to get an erection. And even when I got an erection and I I started to  getting into the scene and having sex, it was as if there were no nerve endings in my penis. I literally felt like it might as well been skin on my arm and not my penis, but I I literally couldn’t feel sensation. So I don’t know if that’s nerves or or what, but I literally lost sensation in my penis. And so so yeah, I was completely shocked by how difficult it was. Nothing like what I imagined going into it. 

Eunice: With it being, like, so different than people imagine, and actually so much tougher than people imagine, do you think, like, what’s the turnover rate? Did you see lots of new faces? Or did you, you know, see sort of the same people consistently each time? Did people leave and, you know, new people enter frequently? 

Andrew: Absolutely, for the a low budget film like that that I was shooting doing a gangbang scenes with a theme. They were themed gangbang scenes where you had, it was interracial, where you had multiple male or white men with one black woman. That was the theme of the of the video.

And for those scenes, they would literally hire two or three extra men than they needed for the scene, under the assumption that about a third of the men were not going to be able to get erect and perform on set. 

Joreth: Oh wow.

Andrew: So absolutely the rate of failure is very high, and they build that in to the men that they bring on set. They absolutely expect beginners like that to fail at a high percentage. 

Joreth: Did they have any backup women? 

Andrew: *Laughs* No, absolutely not. Again, the woman was the star. She was paid about ten times as much as we were, and I mean that literally. I think she got 3000 for the scene and we got 300 for each scene. 

Joreth: Wow

Andrew: So like yeah I know there was only one woman. And yeah it seemed like a gangbang scene is the kind of scene that they bring beginners in for. They assume there’s going to be a high failure rate. 

Joreth: That’s interesting. Did you continue to do gang bangs or did you do different types of shoots as you went along? 

Andrew: I didn’t do a lot of films. So I did three films in South Florida, and yeah, that was, you know, the beginner kind of work you could get. So yes, I did a lot of that. And then did the the gay film with someone who was an established actor that was looking for people. You know, new talent, ’cause he branched out. Going on his own. He started his own website, which I guess was the thing back about ten years ago. People were just starting to try to do that. There was no OnlyFans. But they were trying to start their own websites to get a higher percentage of the profits.

So there was someone that I met who had been a one of the cameramen from one of the other films I did. I made contact with him, I guess old fashioned networking. And he contacted me and said that there was a gay film for someone that was, you know, starting his own site, and would I be willing to do that? And the money was a lot better and I I don’t honestly remember what the money was anymore, but it was a lot better than what I was making doing the straight porn. So I gave it a shot and actually did quite well. 

I think that it was, a lot of ways, easier, because it was a smaller set with only a few people there instead of the films in South Florida where there were a dozen people, probably, on set. 

Joreth: So it sounds like you got in like right around the cusp of when porn stopped being a big studio market, and people started branching out on their own and maybe even the amateur started to rise. 

Andrew: Yes, I actually think that is what was going on at this time. About 12 to 14 years ago. I do think that’s what was going on. 

Andrew: I think I was seeing the beginnings of that. Porn actors starting to say, “why are we letting the studios make all the money?” It’s not that hard to have your own website and start their own sites. And it was a great experience doing a film with an established actor. 

Franklin: You said that you were making a lot more money doing the gay porn than with straight porn. How did that compare with how much money you were making when you were doing webcams? 

Andrew: Well, doing webcam work is an entirely different scenario. It’s more like a nine to five job, and the work is a lot steadier. So it’s difficult to compare, but it’s a lot more steady income. I mean, it’s really hours you put in is going to be the amount of money you make, and I was very good at it. I was able to make a lot of money by putting in a lot of hours. I was actually with a large website. One of the, there’s two or three that dominated the industry, and I was with one of the larger ones. And I was able to be the, you know, webcam guy of the week, I think my second or third week there, meaning I made more than any other male actor for the site. But it’s a different kind of money. It’s nice, steady money, hours and hours out. 

Andrew: Of course, it had its own problems. I had some serious problems doing the webcam work. It’s not easy work either. 

Joreth: What kind of problems? 

Andrew: Well, the problem with doing webcam work is staying erect. The hours you put into it is going to determine how much money you make. But we’re talking about hours being erect in front of the camera masturbating.

So in order to stay erect for hours and hours and hours, I started turning to Viagra. I started trying to find something better than Viagra, and in that case, in my case, it was the shots. I don’t know if you’re familiar with they have shots that you can inject directly into your penis to create an erection, so I was able to find a couple people that had prescriptions for that. And to begin with, after that the one week, actually the week that I was the webcam performer of the week, I had to take three days off because my penis was purple. It was literally purple and swollen and I didn’t know what I had done to it. 

Joreth: Oh no!

Andrew: I’d never seen anything like that. It was terrifying, but after about three days it it was fine. And then a few weeks later I ended up injecting too much of the chemical erectile dysfunction drug, and I had to go to the hospital because the erection wouldn’t go away. So I had an erection I don’t even remember anymore, but it was probably 3 hours, I think before I went to the hospital.

Joreth: Wow. 

Eunice: Oof, that sounds uncomfortable. 

Franklin: Yes, yes it does. 

Eunice: Right?

Franklin: Oh man, that makes the eyes water. 

Andrew: It was actually so much worse than uncomfortable, you can’t imagine. When you have an erection that long, and there’s no circulation, the pain becomes absolutely unbelievable.

Joreth: Oh no. 

Andrew: It feels like someone is crushing your testicles. That’s what it feels like. And it’s constant. It becomes constant after about two to three hours. This constant sensation of having your testicles crushed. That’s what it feels like. And I was told that what I was experienced is the blood literally starting to rot and you can get gangrene and lose your penis if they don’t do something about it. Which is why you have to go to the hospital. 

Joreth: And now every listener of ours who has a penis right now is crossing their legs, wincing. 

Franklin: Yep, I’m crossing mine. 

Andrew: Yes, I I definitely don’t recommend it at all. I think it’s called a priapism. It’s been so long I may be saying that or remembering that wrong, but there is a word for it. And I’ve managed to get rid of the erection after about four hours at the hospital and lived happily ever after. Still have a fully functioning penis with no side effects, but yeah, that was absolutely terrifying. Even worse than when my penis was purple and swollen for three days.

Franklin: Yikes. 

Joreth: So there are some risks to doing this dream job. 

Andrew: Yeah, it’s definitely not a dream job. That’s the funny thing. Yeah, anyone that glorifies the idea of doing sex work is not understanding what it’s really like. There’s definitely drawbacks with every part of it. And in this case, doing webcam shows, if you want to make the money, you’ve got to masturbate over and over and over again, and I don’t think our penises are really designed for the amount of work that someone like an ambitious webcammer like myself, was putting it through. I don’t think they’re designed to for eight to 10 hours of masturbation a day.

Joreth: Constant stimulation. 

Franklin: And it’s kind of ironic if you think about it that women get paid more than men for sex work, and yet it’s actually physiologically easier work for women than for men. 

Joreth: Yeah, as long as we have Lube we can keep going. 

Andrew: Yes, I would agree. 

Franklin: I’m looking at Eunice as we’re recording this on the video and she looks horrified. 

Andrew: Yes, I I’m sure there are many other ways in which the psychological effects are similar or the same. But when it comes to the anatomy, there’s definitely an advantage for women. 

Joreth: Yeah, I mean we can’t keep going indefinitely. There’s muscles involved and, you know, it gets sore after a while. But if we have lube, we can go longer than the interest is there, if necessary. But people with penises, I think, have a little bit harder in that area. 

Franklin: I see what you did there. “A little bit harder.” Yuck yuck, yuck. 

Joreth: Pun intended. 

Eunice: Do you think it’s likely that any of that will have changed in the sort of decade decade and a half since you were working in the industry? Or would you say that you know on the ground for like any individual porn actor, it’s fairly similar. 

Andrew: I think that the industry economically has probably changed a lot. I think that the actors are getting probably a larger share of the pie now because of the changes that were already beginning to happen 14 years ago when I was in the industry. But I think that some of the  physical challenges, like with a man doing webcam work, have probably not changed. I can imagine trying to put in eight hours of masturbation in front of the camera is still about the same as it was then. 

Joreth: You’ve mentioned some risk before, and part of the risk is that sex work is not really seen as a legitimate form of work, so, you know, if there’s any danger that happens… You know, like, if my coworker harasses me at work, I can go to HR and have this taken care of, right? But you don’t necessarily have that option doing really any part of sex work, either from porn all the way down to street prostitution. 

So how do you think that manifested, for instance, as a man, like what recourse might you have had? Or do you feel like maybe you didn’t even have any recourse if things had gone wrong, if you had never gotten any money? And do you think there are any differences between the genders in when there’s risk involved? 

Andrew: I think that’s that’s a great question, and I think that there’s obviously less risk for a man. For example, if he goes out like I did on several occasions to meet with fans to make extra money like I’m thinking, it’s absolutely easy money, right? Go meet with a fan. He plays with your penis a little while and you make a whole bunch of money. And I’m taking the risks are almost nothing, and they’re not, they’re not almost nothing, there’s definite risks there, but the risks for me are mostly social risk. Like in the case where  that went south for me, the risk of him trying to contact my family, trying to out me as a sex worker, or in this case as being homosexual, even though I really wasn’t, and these are the risks for me. I’m not as concerned about my physical safety. I’m very good at defending myself, but the social risks I think are pretty much the same.

But physically, I think it’s definitely more dangerous for women. For me that the biggest danger is destruction of my family life. For a woman, there’s more danger than it’s a destruction of her actual life being, you know, raped or killed by someone. 

And it’s not to say that that danger isn’t there, wasn’t there for me as well, and isn’t there for men as well, but I do think that there is more risk to their personal safety for women than for men. 

Joreth: Yeah, and then, if anything were to happen, of course there’s not a whole lot you can do about it, right? I mean, maybe you could go to the police if you were doing something legitimate like porn. But you know, maybe you can’t, right? If, for instance, if you hadn’t gotten any of your money on a shoot or something, like, what is there that could be done about that? 

Andrew: Yeah, I I agree, I never felt like there was recourse from the authorities from the police or from the courts for anything in porn, because by doing that, I would be outing myself. And again the real danger for me was having a very conservative extended family, and not wanting to risk my family and social life. 

Joreth: It just seems like it’s a much riskier type of job than most other jobs because of the under the table nature of it, right? There’s not a whole lot you can do if things go wrong. 

Eunice: And the stigma from everyone outside of the industry itself. 

Andrew: Yes, I would never have dared to go to the police or to the courts to try to get recourse. And that’s why I felt on the one occasion, the last time I did any sex work, what I felt like I was being kidnapped by someone who refused to pay me unless I spent the night, it was my own poverty, was my own need for money, mt that point, my own need to make a mortgage payment, or at that point it was probably a rent payment. I think I’d already lost my house. At that point, my own poverty was holding me captive. I felt I had to do what he asked because at that point I was so desperate to make that payment. That’s why I met with him. I didn’t want to leave without the money, so he was able to hold me captive by holding out the money. 

So yeah, I’m sure that’s the same danger that any male or female has sex worker who who is desperate for money the same position they’re in. 

Joreth: Right, ’cause like I’m a freelancer and you know I’m constantly having to chase down employers for my paychecks. Because as a freelancer, they conveniently forget to pay us. In fact, I have a client right now who is now about 45 days out from a job who still hasn’t paid me. So I’m chasing that down. But you know, eventually I could take him to court over this, because this is in above-the-board type of job, and we had, you know I have a text message agreement for the money and that’s not something that your industry really has. 

Andrew: Yes, correct and even if it did I would be afraid of outing myself. I wouldn’t even access it if it was there. I would be too afraid of my family or friends finding out that I was doing sex work. 

Franklin: Thank you so much for being on the show. That is absolutely awesome. And I really appreciate the fact that you know most people when they think “sex work,”” the first thing they think, of course, is female sex workers, and so it’s particularly nice to get an opportunity to talk to a male sex worker, because it sounds like your experiences with the industry are quite different from the experiences that women have, you know, doing porn. 

Joreth: Did you have any other points that you wanted to make sure that we got out that weren’t addressed Andrew? 

Andrew: I think that the main message that I would want to convey is that it’s real work.  Just having the right equipment, in other words, a large penis, is not enough. You have to think about the real challenges involved and those are maintaining an erection for long periods of time. And yeah, it’s it’s real work, it’s doing this. Having sex in front of a bunch of people, it’s not as easy as it sounds. 

Joreth: And a lot of time involved too, right? It’s not like, you know, if you’re having sex with your partner, you could just have a quickie, but you don’t get to do that on camera, right? 

Andrew: No, no. 

Eunice: Yeah, really physically demanding, time consuming work. 

Andrew: Yes, absolutely. It’s it’s very physically demanding, and that’s the part that I don’t think most people think about when they think of going into sex work. 

Franklin: All right, thank you so much for being here! This has been awesome. 

Joreth: Yeah.

Eunice: Yeah, really interesting. Yeah, thank you so much Andrew. And for sharing so much information with us as well. 

Andrew: You’re welcome. 

Franklin: I was struck by the fact that when Andrew did gang bang porn, the male performers didn’t do AIM testing.

Eunice: I mean, it makes sense when you think about it. They’re already expecting a certain number of the male newbie performers to just not be able to get it up once in front of the camera. So, if a bunch of them aren’t even going to get near being, well, in their female co-performer, financially there’s just no point in doing AIM testing for all of them, really. Budgets are tight enough as it is on a porn shoot. Every dollar saved is a dollar they can spend elsewhere!

Franklin: Condoms are pretty effective against HIV, but I would still feel a lot more comfortable with testing if I were one of the people there.

Eunice: Oh for sure, me too. Mind you, it’s been a very long time since I’ve been involved in group sex, for obvious reasons. 

Joreth: Well, I mean, condoms are what the porn community used before AIM. And if *she’s* been tested, and everyone else she’s having sex with is using condoms, and everyone else she’s having sex with has a penis, and STDs typically have a harder time going from vagina to penis, and all those penises are in condoms … 

Franklin: I mean, sure, as long as none of them breaks!

Joreth: True.

Eunice: And I’m glad that we got to talk about how difficult and challenging a job it actually is. Sometimes that aspect of it does get de-emphasised, when people who are SWer positive are thinking about the industry, right? We talk about people who are doing it because they do love their job, or at least find it a lot less effort for significantly more money, than other types of work like retail or being a carer, but the underlying pressure to make enough money to survive is still the same. There’s exploitation in all industries, but this is one of the ones where it’s particularly hard to protect yourself. Like we mentioned before, the stigma makes it easier for those in authority to continue the exploitation with very little complaint from the general public.

Joreth: Right, we want to de-villify the industry so that we can legitimize it in our culture, but *because* it’s still not considered legitimate, there are still some risks, even for buff, hunky male sex workers. It’s a gamble, financially, emotionally, and physically. I mean, lots of jobs are, but that’s the point, isn’t it? That it’s still a *job*, even if a lot more people than one might expect enjoy it.

Franklin: A big thank-you to Andrew for appearing in this episode. That was an awesome interview.

Joreth: Yeah, I really enjoyed that one, and Andrew has LOTS of stories from his short career. I bet we could get him back on here to tell more tales, perhaps as some Patreon content?

Eunice: Ooh, yeah, I’d be up for that! Trust us, some of his stories are just comedy gold. Let us know if you’d like that, folks!

Joreth: Yeah, we’re all rolling over here when he told us some of them!

Franklin: So that’s what we’ve got for this episode! In our next episode, we’ll talk about some of the history of sex work in various ancient cultures. And as always, if you have any ideas, comments, or suggestions for future episodes send them to contact@skepticalpervert.com. Know someone else who might enjoy this podcast? Give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

You can also visit www.skepticalpervert.com for show notes and links to the transcript. And don’t forget to become a patron of the show by joining our patreon, which is linked on the website. The Skeptical Pervert is copyrighted and produced by Franklin Veaux, Eunice Hung, and Joreth Innkeeper, edited by Joreth Innkeeper, and the website and show notes are maintained by Franklin Veaux.

Joreth: Don’t forget to tip your Sex Workers, folks!

Eunice: Obligatory note to remind people that tipping culture is a scam, but yeah, tip your workers and entertainers! I mean, including us if you fancy. Does it even count as a tip when you’re not paying anything else? Hmm, I think that might be a philosophical question now… 

Joreth: The Skeptical Pervert … will work for tips. Just the tip.

Eunice: Nah, I’m looking for the whole shaft. Ooh, did I say that out loud? Whoops!

Franklin: Everything I can think of to say here is unspeakably crude.

Eunice: Hang on, isn’t that our brand at this point?

Joreth: That wouldn’t have stopped me.

Episode 9: Online Sex Work and OnlyFans with Mistress Ivy

In this episode, we talk about online sex work, the weird OnlyFans bump in the road where they threatened to ban sex workers and then backed down, and we interview Mistress Ivy, one of the top OnlyFans earners, about online sex work.

Along the way, we talk about everything from NFTs to the unexpected effects of laws that try to “protect” sex workers but only make their lives worse.

Mistress Ivy is a London-based Dominatrix, fetish model, and online performer. You can find her on Twitter and on the Web here

Transcript below.

Franklin: Hello! And welcome to Skeptical Perverts, the podcast where we look at human sexuality through an evidence-based, skeptical lens! I’m one of your hosts and part-time mad scientist, Franklin Veaux.

Joreth: Hi! I’m your co-host and Renaissance cat, Joreth! I’m kinky, solo polyamorous, on the ace spectrum, chicana, feminist, my gender identity is “tomboy”, and my pronouns are she/her but I use masculine titles.

Eunice: And I’m Eunice, your friendly neighbourhood queer, kinky, demisexual, grey-ace cis woman, bringing my East Asian British viewpoint and a penchant for genteel understatement. In this mini-series, we’re talking about sex work! I have a little experience of this, as I also do a bit of pro-domming on the side. Yes, demisexual grey-ace people can be sex workers too!

Franklin: Okay, so in this episode…OnlyFans!

Eunice: Before we start, we should explain what OnlyFans is! Imagine…a video streaming site like TikTok or Youtube, mashed up with Patreon. I don’t actually have personal experience of online sex work cos all mine was in person, so I’m actually really excited to learn more about this topic.

Joreth: Yeah, so individuals put up videos of … whatever – aerobics instructors put up videos of workout routines, bakers put up recipe videos – and some content is for free but a lot of content is available only to paid subscribers. But more than just paying for static videos, subscribers can have some measure of interaction with the providers, like requesting specific content, and the providers create new things based on fan interaction.

Eunice: It’s become particularly well known to the general public for the sexual content on the platform, which is why we’re talking about it here. In fact, a lot of people don’t even know there’s non-sexual content on OnlyFans.

Joreth: Like my housemate!  I suggested he use it for his cosplay stuff and he was like “but it’s not nude!” and I was all “not everything on OnlyFans is sex work, y’know”, and no, he did not know!

Franklin: I keep thinking about setting up an OnlyFans for my tiny white cat. 

Eunice: You want other people to be catslaves like you, Franklin? I guess they always need more squishy food!

Franklin: The world is a better place with cats in charge. Change My Mind! Anyway, a short while back, OnlyFans banned sexually explicit content, then unbanned it again before the ban went into effect. Good lord, it sucks to be a self-employed sex worker trying to make a living.

So let’s talk about this wibbly-wobbly, sexy-wexy stuff going on. First, the ban: OnlyFans announced in August 2021 that

“In order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform, and to continue to host an inclusive community of creators and fans, we must evolve our content guidelines. Creators will continue to be allowed to post content containing nudity as long as it is consistent with our Acceptable Use Policy.

These changes are to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers.” 

A few weeks later, Tim Stokely, founder and CEO of OnlyFans, told the Financial Times that Bank of New York Mellon, Metro Bank, and JPMorgan Chase were the banking partners that forced the initial decision.

Then before anyone had a chance to react, they announced an un-ban of the ban. So let’s talk about this.

Eunice: Hold up, what do we even mean by ‘sex work’ anyway? How are we defining sex work?

Joreth: That’s a tricky question, isn’t it? No matter what definition we use, some group of people out there is going to be unhappy with it. Very broadly speaking, we could say that sex work is any kind of financial transaction for labor of a sexual nature. But then we have to discuss what “labor of a sexual nature” is, don’t we?

Franklin: SWOP, the Sex Worker Outreach Project, defines sex work as “Sex work is any type of labor where the explicit goal is to produce a sexual or erotic response in the client. Sex work includes prostitution, but it also includes a bunch of other things like erotic dancing, pro-dom/pro-sub work, webcam work, sensual massage, adult film, phone sex, being a sugar baby, etc.” As a side note, my background is in print design and prepress, so I can’t see SWOP without thinking Society of Web Offset Publications. “I need to separate this image to CMYK using a SWOP Coated profile!”

Joreth: Ah, yes, switching between industry acronyms is fun!

Eunice: This is the point at which I need to mention that being a kinky therapist with a partner who owns a motorbike makes the CBT acronym very confusing. Anyway, for this episode we’re specifically looking at the online versions of sex work — webcamming, adult film, that sort of thing, and especially through OnlyFans, which is the website that most people are currently talking about, now that PornHub seems to have died a death? Not that it makes a huge difference — the same company owns most of the video porn websites anyway, right?

Franklin: So enough about trying to define sex work, let’s talk to some people who do it.

Joreth: We talked to a couple of people who have content on OnlyFans, one on Twitter and one in an audio interview. @goldplatedpussy, as she goes on Twitter, responded to my query for sex workers on Twitter. So she has been doing sex work for 4 years now, all online. 

Eunice: She says “when I started, I was camming out of a studio. Camming is like live streaming but NSFW. My OF is mainly erotic photos and solo videos. My fanbase is mainly submissive, so I tend to cater to that.”

Joreth: I asked her how she would describe her work pre-pandemic vs. post pandemic. She told us that it was amazing before the pandemic because there was little competition and way less censorship across it and other sites, calling it the best job she ever had in those pre-covid days and she was making great money.

Eunice: Then she goes on to suggest that OnlyFans is now dying, with the hardest part for the creators being the censorship. She says that includes both creative censorship as well as censorship on other platforms that they use for advertising their OnlyFans accounts. And also that the industry has become incredibly over-saturated.

Joreth: Yeah, I’m not surprised that it’s oversaturated, what with so many people needing to find some kind of income from home. She then said that Covid hit and so many people realized that they could be making so much money on OnlyFans and it became almost trendy.

Eunice: We shouldn’t forget as well that the popularity of OnlyFans did make it possible for some people who previously hadn’t been able to do sex work because of accessibility issues like certain disabilities to suddenly be able to make some money doing online sex work from home. 

Franklin: COVID has been a huge boon to the gig industry, though that doesn’t necessarily mean a boon to gig workers. Welcome to capitalism, eh? The US linked health insurance to employment, then gave the middle finger to people without conventional jobs. Kind of a problem in, oh, say, a global pandemic… I bet the folks writing articles for Forbes and Business Insider didn’t consider that gig industry jobs could include sex work too! The street really does find its own uses for things.

Joreth: I then asked her what she thought was the most significant obstacle to continuing to work with OnlyFans.

Eunice: Her response was, “The biggest obstacle in continuing to work with OnlyFans is knowing that they don’t have their content creators in mind. I don’t trust them. The sex worker community that I talk with daily all agree that we feel used – used to build up their platform, used for the glamour, and for the money. It’s been a long time coming though I saw the beginning of the end when the Bella Thorne incident happened. In that moment they chose to fuck over all their creators instead of holding her accountable for what she did and remove the problem.”

Franklin: I don’t really understand the Bella Thorne thing, but from what I gather, she joined OnlyFans, quickly made millions of dollars, uploaded a photo she billed as a nude for people to see at $200 a pop, and it turned out not to be a nude at all. Enough people requested refunds that OnlyFans apparently changed their payout policies because of it, and that screwed over a lot of sex workers.

Joreth: When I asked her what her impressions were about what the market is doing and how she feels about OnlyFans now, she said “Personally I hope OnlyFans does flop after this. It will be a lesson for any platform that uses sex workers to start themselves off only to cut them out when they get established.” And that’s something I’ve heard echoed from other people who use the platform.

Franklin: So, in a world where people can get almost unlimited quantities of porn for free, how do people even make money on OnlyFans? Why would someone pay for OnlyFans? A lot of what you pay for with OnlyFans isn’t pictures of naked people or people having sex, it’s the interaction—the ability to communicate with the person you’re patronizing and get a response. Fundamentally, OnlyFans and sites like it are not selling naked pictures, they’re selling interaction.

Joreth: Yeah, this is sort of … porn meets social media, in a sense. And people are willing to pay for that social experience.

The internet is the “great equalizer” and this is the era of the entrepreneur hustler. Individual people are finding a lot of freedom and power in choosing their own niches and building their own fan bases. So along come the capitalists with all the resources that the sex workers are using who build up their own financial institutions and megacorps on the backs of these laborers and content providers, only to pull the rug out from under them when they get big enough to go mainstream. And it’s the sex workers who end up falling.

Franklin: It seems that large banks and payment providers are of two minds about this: they want a slice of that revenue, but they don’t want their names associated with eww, dirty sex. They’re willing to take the money as long as it’s at arm’s length, but don’t want to get too close to the dirty dirty sex stuff.

Does anyone else find it weird that in the US, a handful of banks and two credit card companies have almost unlimited power to shut down entire legal industries?

Eunice: Welcome to capitalism?

Franklin: I guess? And it’s not just payment providers. Instagram recently started banning accounts of OnlyFans performers: Effective in December 2020, under the Sexual Solicitations section of its parent company Facebook’s Community Standards, Instagram’s rules state that users cannot offer or ask for pornographic materials “including, but not limited to, sharing of links to external pornographic websites.” A Facebook spokesperson explains: “We want Instagram to be a safe environment for everyone, and have strict rules against nudity, sexual activity, and sexual solicitation. Under these rules, we don’t allow people to share links to porn websites on Instagram. While OnlyFans isn’t a porn website, we know it can be used in that way, so we take action on accounts that share OnlyFans links when paired with other sexually suggestive content.”

It’s a moral panic. People and businesses are terrified of being accused of promoting porn or “human trafficking,” which in many ways is today’s version of the Satanic panic of the 1980s.

Eunice: So many people use the terms “sex work” and “human trafficking” interchangably, like they’re identical, when they’re really two entirely different topics.

The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation. 

 No one wants to be trafficked, whether it’s for forced sex or, more commonly, for manual farm labour or domestic service, but there are many people who chose to do sex work because it suits them, they enjoy it, the money is better than many other jobs — and, for that matter, the working conditions — or there’s just no other available jobs that will allow them to survive or otherwise do what they love. You know that quote about doing what you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life? That applies to sex just as much as it applies to coding or cooking or interior design. Some sex workers really love what they do, and some think of it on about the same level of tedium as, say, working admin in an office or as a server, but better paid. That doesn’t apply to every sex worker, of course, but then that doesn’t apply to every worker in any job or industry.

Franklin: One study on sex trafficking I’ve seen defined the word “trafficking” to mean any crossing of state or national boundaries for sex work. If a woman voluntarily travels for sex work, they count that as “trafficking”—according to the definition used in the study, she trafficked herself.

Joreth: There’s also a hierarchy of sex work and “what counts” as sex work, isn’t there? We tend to rank different forms of sex work as more or less “acceptable” and also more or less “real sex work”. That allows some of these categories to get dismissed entirely so that they can basically pull a No True Scotsman fallacy or a tautology – trafficking = sex work and only these forms of sex work “count”, therefore it’s all trafficking, Q.E.D. And, naturally, none of these people bother to get actual sex worker’s opinions on the subject, because if they listened to actual sex workers, they’d have to revise their positions.

Franklin: That is an incredibly important point. All too often, people want to speak for people they have never spoken to.

Joreth: We’ll get more into “what counts” in an upcoming episode. 

Eunice: We also talked to Mistress Ivy, and she brought up a lot of the same experiences. Mistress Ivy is a London-based Dominatrix, fetish model, and online performer. So Mistress Ivy, what’s been your experience with OnlyFans and with online sex work in general?

Mistress Ivy: So I guess with OnlyFans it was something I was doing a little bit before lockdown, but then with lockdown it became my only source of income, so it’s something I became a lot more focused on. 

It’s very different to real time sort of sex work, which is primarily what I do. But it’s been…it was kind of really helpful. And actually I just really enjoyed it during lockdown. It gave me something to do.

Joreth: So you do different kinds of sex work. You do both real life and OnlyFans work. 

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, like it was mainly all real time.  I did little bits online like webcam sessions and I’ve had an OnlyFans for a few years now, but it was something that I never really made a huge amount of money on. It was kind of more of a a way of promoting myself and quite a nice way for clients to kind of get to know me before booking me to meet in person as well. So it’s kind of worked quite well in that way. 

Joreth: How long have you been doing sex work, any kind? 

Mistress Ivy: About 15 years, I think?

Joreth: Wow. 

Mistress Ivy: A long time. 15, 16 years or something. 

Eunice: Has the industry changed over that time? I guess it’s had to. How has it changed? 

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, like the kinds of clients I get are completely different now. I mean, I mainly work in like fetish, BDSM type sex work and sadly most of my clients are kind of dying out. I used to have mainly the older public school boys that like to be tamed and things like that, and I found that like a lot of them have died, sadly, and now I’m getting all these really young guys. They’re much more into sort of Sissy type stuff and things like that, and they’re all sort of between 18 and 25. I found it shifted from guys 60 plus to mainly like younger people now, and I think maybe that due to the influence of the Internet and things like that. But it’s yeah it’s changed loads.

Eunice: Interesting.

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, mainly guys in their sort of early 20s and things that have very different interests. And I think a lot of fetishes and kinks often come from childhood, and I think that’s maybe why it’s so different. Because different generations going through different things in life. Like the older clients I used to have were all into corporal punishment and caning, and now that doesn’t happen in schools. I found it’s it’s very different kinds of clientele. 

Franklin: How are they finding you now? Are they more finding you on the Internet first and then booking rail-life sessions? 

Mistress Ivy: It’s mainly all through Twitter. And OnlyFans is linked to Twitter as well. So, I mean, I do have other websites that I advertise on, but I think Twitter is like the main one that I kind of promote myself on and post on pretty regularly because it links to OnlyFans. That’s kind of how you get new subscribers and things. 

Franklin: So essentially then, the demographics are kind of following the demographics of Twitter.

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, yes, I guess maybe that’s why it’s younger clients as well. Maybe the older ones aren’t as familiar with Twitter and technology and things. 

Joreth: So some people are probably familiar, like they have the idea in their head, that sex work is basically prostitution, you know, like they have the image that they see on TV: somebody on the street corner or a high end escort being the two common most common things. And they might not understand how, first of all, what other forms of sex work there are, but also how sex work works on a strictly online platform. Like what is it that you do on OnlyFans, for example? 

Mistress Ivy: So on OnlyFans I post photo sets, a mix of sort of latex and naked pictures. I make videos sometimes, including other people. Sometimes it’s just spanking or fetish things. Sometimes it might be a little bit more sexual. Like, I’ve got a girlfriend that I kind of do more sort of sexy things with. I personally don’t do anything really explicit, it’s kind of more just nudity rather than sort of full on sex is what I post.

I think sex work, it takes so many different forms. It’s just such a huge subject, and there’s so many different ways of doing sex work. I guess I’ve done loads of different types over the years, because I like exploring different  ways of doing things and kind of trying everything. 

Mistress Ivy: There’s a lot of audio stuff I do, like erotic hypnosis and things, so sometimes I just post audio tracks of my voice. 

And the other thing with OnlyFans is people can ask for customized things. They can tip you if you kind of post the things they like. So there’s other ways that are kind of more personal as well for OnlyFans.

Joreth: Is that kind of what sets OnlyFans apart from other forms of media-based sex work? You know, if I wanted to go to, say, PornHub, I can download any video that I wanted to, but with OnlyFans, I guess they get more personal interaction from you. 

Mistress Ivy: I don’t really know much about PornHub. I’ve not really used it. I’m not sure, I’m not sure if they can interact personally with people. I think there is a thing on PornHub where you can do that now as well, because I think nowadays a lot of people that watch porn want to kind of get to know the people that are in it and see them as people. 

And so sometimes the stuff I post on on OnlyFans is just like me doing my morning workouts naked, which is what I do anyway. And I think they just like bringing, you know, the realness of it, of me in my house kind of just doing what I do. 

And I think it is about kind of wanting a connection with the person you’re seeing as well to some extent. And I think with OnlyFans, it is is personal. And I think what’s nice about it as well is you know that the money you’re paying is going to that person, and if you tip it’s going to them.

So I think for sex workers OnlyFans, although they do take quite a big percent, it’s a really good way of doing sex work, actually, using these online platforms where you know it’s just you and the client.

Franklin: So what happened when OnlyFans decided that they were going to ban adult content? Like, they did this thing where they were like “oh, we’re not going to do adult content anymore,” and then they reversed track a couple of weeks later and said “Oh yes, we will.”

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, I mean, it really affected a lot of people I know. Not all of my income is from OnlyFans, so I tried not to overthink it and get too upset about it. But I have got friends that all of their money is through OnlyFans, so it’s completely, like, destroying their income. You know they make good money from it, and it just would have destroyed everything. So yeah, a lot of people were very upset about that. 

I did set up a profile on…there’s another one called AVN, that’s kind of organized by sex workers. And there’s a few others that I’ve kind of set up, but I found I’ve just not got as many followers on there, and I think it’s because OnlyFans is so well known. It’s the only way I’ve really been able to build up enough followers to make it worthwhile doing. 

Joreth: Sounds like the adult version of Facebook really. We can’t seem to escape Facebook just because it’s the first one and the biggest one, even though everyone hates it. There’s a couple of dozen other platforms, but nobody else is on them, so why bother? 

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, and I think because there’s so many of them everyone’s on different one. And it’s it’s a lot of work to upload your content as well. It takes time, and if you’re having to do it to multiple different platforms, it’s just too much effort for me to be honest. 

So I did make these other ones, but the only one I’ve really stuck with is OnlyFans because it seems to be the only one really getting the followers. 

Franklin: Yeah, it seems like there’s a huge first mover advantage for really any kind of social media. And it’s the same thing with Twitter, right? People have tried to do short form blogging platforms that have failed. So it’s it’s kind of interesting that what has happened is that Twitter, which is the 900 pound gorilla in its genre, has become a funnel to funnel people into OnlyFans, which is the 900 pound gorilla in its niche. 

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, although I think they’re cracking down on sex work on Twitter as well, which is a shame because at the moment I look through my Twitter feed and it’s just all porn. I’ve noticed they’ve been closing down a lot of sex workers accounts and things. Not entirely sure why, but I think a lot of these places are just trying to get rid of the sex workers, which is a shame. 

Franklin: Yeah, Instagram did something like that too where they started closing down the accounts of anybody who was an OnlyFans sex worker on Instagram. 

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, yeah. And the other thing with Instagram that’s really bad is I’ve noticed a lot of people have taken my content from OnlyFans and Twitter and have been making fake Instagram profiles to try and extort money out of people using my photos. 

That’s literally about 15 to 20 fake Mistress Ivys at the moment. It’s it’s very frustrating. That’s the only downside to this stuff. As soon as your stuff out there and online, people will steal it. And I think I’ve just had to kind of accept that that happens rather than try and chase every single person. 

And also Instagram are pretty useless about doing anything about it. 

Franklin: They steal the content, not to try to sell it, but to try to extort people? 

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, to try and pretend to be me and extort money out of people or sell it as well. It’s both. And they’ve stolen things from OnlyFans and Twitter. 

Joreth: So like any content creator, especially small independent content creator, you’re having to constantly chase down, and, you know, your work, other people are stealing for their own nefarious purposes. It can get overwhelming for anyone who’s creating any kind of art, basically. 

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, it’s upsetting and I think if you really take the time to watermark everything you can kind of get out of that. But honestly, I’m just not that great at editing, and  I’m just a bit lazy. I’ve just posted all my stuff and now it’s kind of out there getting stolen, and I’ve noticed when I try to watermark things I just don’t post as much, because it just adds on so much more time to do things. 

So yeah, that’s the downside. Things like definitely get stolen. 

Eunice: I was just curious about the proportion of work that is online versus in person. I know obviously with the pandemic and stuff that changed for a while, but in your ideal world, what sort of proportion would there be of online work versus in person work? 

Mistress Ivy: So I definitely prefer in person work due to the style that I work in because I like to kind of physically sort of touch people and be with the person. That’s why what I really enjoy doing, and at the moment I’d say probably more than 90% of my work is in person with the money I make.

I find with online work, it’s very hard to make money from it because there’s so many people doing it. Like so many people. And especially during lockdown, it just became such a competitive industry. And obviously that was my whole source of income during lockdown. But I think with just so many people are doing it, it’s just incredibly hard to make money online, really.

You have to really, really try hard, and it’s a lot harder. I’m constantly editing videos, constantly having to promote myself. I find it a lot harder to make money online, actually.

Eunice: So what would you say is like the most significant obstacle that makes it hard to carry on working with OnlyFans or doing online sex work or similar?

Mistress Ivy: Especially recently, there’s been all these new weird things, like getting all these model release forms, and having to get proof of age of every single person that’s in your films. Which, I understand why they’re doing it. It’s a good thing, but it’s also kind of hard when I’ve got people I’ve worked with years ago, and I’m having to chase them up to get all these forms and things. 

Also, they’re very restrictive of the kind of content you can post, and because mainly what I do is fetish, a lot of stuff gets taken down, or they close down your account, because they don’t want to see certain kinds of things. 

There’s lots of language you can’t use, and that makes it hard because just everything takes time like I type in a word like “caning.” But you have to change it to something else, because you can’t use that language. 

And I found the fact they’ve got so restrictive on words and language and what you can say makes it really hard, because I’ll try and write something down to sell a film and it’ll be like, “You can’t say that. You can’t say that.” And sometimes they’ll just delete it because you’ve said the wrong thing.

However, the way my brain works, I just want to type what’s happened. But there’s all these weird rules nowadays, and I think that is the hardest thing about online work, really. Just all the weird rules and things in place. 

Franklin: Does the UK still have those restrictions? I know they had for a while, a porn law that was like, you know, this extreme porn thing where you can’t do fisting, you can’t do all of these different things. Are those still in effect? 

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, I think that’s changed now actually. But the problem is OnlyFans specifically has a lot of strange rules around what you can and can’t post, and it’s similar to the UK porn laws, so it makes it kind of hard to know what you can post. And so I’ll post some things and think, “will I get my account deleted?” And they brought in a load more rules fairly recently. 

But on my OnlyFans I’ve got about 600 videos and about 10,000 photos or something already on there, which I just leave on there for people to log in and see. And for me to go back through everything and delete things that might not be allowed on there. 

Or you know, my friend’s in my picture with me, but I now need to get either delete her or find a model release and things like that. I have to go through everything, and it’s just honestly too much work for me to do that. It’s just far too much work. It would take me forever, and I don’t make enough money on it to be be bothered to do that.

And so I’m kind of at a point now where I probably have things on there that I shouldn’t, and I’m just hoping I don’t get deleted because I just can’t be bothered to go through 10,000 photos. 

Joreth: Yeah, that’s a lot of work. 

Franklin: I kind of wonder if some of those rules aren’t just based around the individual squicks that like the CEO of the company has. 

Mistress Ivy: They change them all the time as well. Like one minute, something’s fine, and then something isn’t. And the fact that it’s constantly changing and the language you’re allowed to use is changing, it just makes it very hard to keep up with.

Eunice: What would you say the weirdest rule that you’ve come across? That they’ve hit you with, as it were. 

Mistress Ivy: Do you know what? I’m honestly really lazy, and don’t really pay attention to the rules very much. I guess if I get deleted, I just try not to stay too attached to it. 

I think the one that disappoints me the most is I think you’re not allowed female ejaculation or watersports or anything like that. For me, I just think water sports is  something I really like doing, and something I do a lot, and I’ve got loads of videos of it and it feels quite good. I can’t just post that.

I just see it as, like, you know, you can have like really full on face fucking and anal sex and all of that stuff. But I can’t have like an innocent little video of me taking a wee. Like, it’s just… (Laughs)

To me, that’s what I find strange. 

Joreth: Very arbitrary. 

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, I just find it strange that I can’t just post a video of me taking a piss when there’s all this much more,  I’d consider  much more extreme stuff. 

Joreth: Yeah, it sounds like if they can’t get you off directly then they’re just going to make this labyrinth of rules to discourage it, just to make it difficult for people to start it, you know, without outright saying “We don’t want you here.” 

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, it’s quite frustrating, actually. I should play more by rules, but because they’re constantly changing and things like that, I honestly don’t know what the latest rules are. 

Joreth: Yeah, why bother learning? 

Joreth: They’re just going to change again, right? 

Mistress Ivy: And I’ve heard of a lot of sex workers…it’s quite horrible actually, and actually Adultwork did this to me, but on OnlyFans have heard of sex workers having their account shut down for some rule that they didn’t really know about. And then all of their money just getting kept by OnlyFans, which is awful. I try and make sure I take my money out fairly regularly for this reason, but they just literally steal all the money and closed down their account.

I had Adultwork do that to me, and when I complained about it, they just told me to fuck off basically. There was over a grand in there, so I was really upset about it. 

Joreth: Oh my gosh, yeah.

Mistress Ivy: That’s the thing with online sex work, I think. They can just do things like that. And because it’s based in America, I think, it’s not a UK company, there’s no real way of getting your money back. If they suddenly decide that they don’t want you, they’ll just close down your account and keep everything that you’ve made for them, everything. 

That’s really soul destroying. And I think that’s why I try not to have too much of an attachment with online work, because I know that that can just happen. Like, I know there’s a good chance. I can really build up a following, and then all of a sudden they can just, you know, for whatever reason, decide they don’t want you and then you lose everything. 

So I think that’s probably why I try not to invest myself too much into it. 

Joreth: Well, that seems to make sense that, you know, when when OnlyFans made their announcement that they were getting rid of sex work, basically, and then changed their mind afterwards. 

Joreth: And now with all of these arbitrary rules, and they can steal your money, you know a lot of people are saying that they don’t trust OnlyFans, and some of the other online platforms. How do you feel about all of these online corporations, since you don’t feel safe with them, you just said that, right? 

Mistress Ivy: Now even  PayPal, you know if they think you’re doing any sort of sex work, they can just keep all your money. And I think all of these online things, as soon as you do sex work, it’s true they can just keep it all and just, you know, shut you down. So I don’t really trust any of them, really. 

Maybe the ones designed for sex workers are a bit more reliable, but then it’s harder to get the followers on there. And so I find myself posting a lot, taking a lot of time to do it, and making less than $5 a month. it’s just not really worth it. 

Mistress Ivy: You know, and so yeah, I think it would be really good if there was something that was more, I don’t know, more looking out for the sex workers and the people that are making the money for these companies because right now it feels like…probably because we are disposable, really. There’s so many people doing this work now, you know, they just don’t really care. Like, they just don’t. There’s always someone else. 

Eunice: Yeah, and sex workers have never been protected anywhere at any time really. 

Mistress Ivy: No, no they’re not. 

Franklin: OnlyFans kind of pointed the finger at their upstream financial providers when they decided that they were going to ban sex work. And then they said that they renegotiated with their financial providers when they reversed that ban. And so it makes me wonder if, you know, you can have an OnlyFans that was set up and run by sex workers, and maybe would be a little bit more friendly to sex workers. But if they’re being held hostage by the same upstream providers, then they’ve potentially got the same problem. 

It seems like what you’d actually need is an entire vertical industry where the website is sex worker friendly and the credit card merchant account is sex worker friendly and the merchant processor is sex worker friendly. You know, if even one part of that chain isn’t sex worker friendly, they can really ruin everybody’s day. 

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, yeah, that’s true.

Joreth: So what are your impressions about the industry in general? Like, where do you see this going? Sex work has always been, you know, in danger. Sex workers have never been cared for. You’ve never really had any protections.

But it seemed that everybody rallied around the sex workers when it looked like OnlyFans was going to cut you all off and then they came back with it.  Do you see any changes in the industry? Do you see getting any more protections? Any less? How do you see the industry changing? Or is it? 

Mistress Ivy: So I think it’s sex work is becoming much more socially accepted, and I think that probably is due to the Internet. I think a lot of people during lockdown ended up getting an OnlyFans and it has become a much more acceptable way of making money socially, which is good. 

But then there’s still a lot of other people trying to make rules for the sex workers thinking it’s gonna help the sex workers, but not really asking for sex workers’ opinions. 

So for example, the Nordic model that they’re trying to bring into the UK is meant to help the sex workers, but actually it’s terrifying. None of the sex workers want it. Nobody is listening to the sex workers. It’s just them doing what they think will help the sex workers. That will basically mean that they can prosecute clients coming to see us. 

Joreth: Oh gosh. 

Mistress Ivy: So they think they’re helping the sex worker.  But the reality is, by doing that, sex workers are still going to do sex work. It’s pushing our work underground and it’s going to mean that the only people, the only clients we can get, are ones willing to break the law. So it kind of, you know, it just messes things up for everyone.

Things like that, I find quite scary and worrying. I think sex work is definitely becoming more accepted, but I think there’s things like the Nordic model and all these ideas that people have, I think they need to be speaking to the sex workers.

And there’s a lot of sex worker charities as well, but again, they’re coming from this perspective of sex workers need to be saved and find a new job and get out of sex work. And there’s very few that are kind of supportive of happy sex workers doing what they do.

Like for me, it’s like, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I love it and I feel empowered and happy that I just get to work for myself and do what I want. And I think most sex workers I know are kind of really happy with the work they do. 

Eunice: There is this sort of association in many people’s minds between sex work and human trafficking, which is ridiculous, ‘cause then they ignore all of the you know domestic laborers or manual laborers or whatever that are actually human  trafficked and instead focus on sex work because, you know, “Oh no sex work scares me” or “sex work icky” or something. 

Mistress Ivy: Yeah.

Eunice: And I guess you’ve seen a lot of those kinds of rules, kind of impacting on your work as well. 

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, which is, you know, just such a shame because it’s a completely different thing. There’s people being trafficked for all sorts of things. Not just sex work. And there’s a huge difference between, you know, trafficked people and people doing the job out of choice. They’re completely different things. And so trying to mix them up together just isn’t really helpful at all for anyone. 

Joreth: Yeah, a bunch of years ago, like between 10, 15 years ago, in the porn industry in Hollywood, CA here we had a similar thing. They come in trying to save everybody, without any understanding of how the industry works.

And so we had a foundation. It was called the AIM Foundation. It was a medical foundation created by a very well known porn star that did STI testing and treatment and all of that sort of thing. And they sort of put into place this voluntary program where all of the performers would get rapid HIV tested, and they would have to bring a negative test result in order to work each day. 

Joreth: So it was a rapid HIV test and the test window was very short. So it was pretty safe, and this was a voluntary program. You know, any studio could opt into it and there was no penalty if they didn’t, but you got, you know, bonus points like “yay, this is a responsible studio to work for.”

And in all the time that they were running this program I think they had only seven individual cases of any of the performers getting HIV, and they all got it from not other performers. It it caught it before they passed it on to any other performers.

And then California decided they wanted to start covering the porn industry under our OSHA, which is our national worker safety organization. They wanted to cover it under those laws, which makes it illegal for the employer to demand medical records. 

So like in every other industry, that’s a protection for the workers, but in the porn industry was the exact opposite, and so it ended up passing in spite of, you know, years of protesting from the porn performers. And so now AIM was out of business and they can no longer require test results from the performers, and the HIV rate spiked among performers in California because that’s what happens. 

So it sounds like you all are going through the same thing no matter which form of sex work you do or where you live, it’s somebody coming in trying to rescue you and actually making things worse

Mistress Ivy: It does, yeah. 

Franklin: What is the saying? “Never speak for somebody you have never spoken to.”

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, exactly. 

Eunice: If you had  an ideal platform that was sex worker friendly and you could feel safe on, what would it look like? 

Mistress Ivy: So OnlyFans is pretty good to be honest, it is good. It’s easy to use, it’s easy to upload content. I think the things that I would like to be different would be not having as many stupid rules. Although I do understand why the stupid stupid rules are in place to some extent. You know, I do kind of get it, but  feel like they definitely judge fetish and alternative sexuality, and it’s very kind of straight and vanilla. And so I guess something a lot more fetish friendly, a bit more open. 

For me, that’s what I would like. And maybe them taking less of a big cut as well. 

Eunice: Something you said just there was really interesting. You mentioned it being kind of very vanilla and very straight, so even OnlyFans? 

Mistress Ivy: Yeah. Very.  

Eunice: OK.

Mistress Ivy: I’ve really had to limit my stuff. When I first started OnlyFans it was nearly all fetish stuff because that’s what I love and that’s what I do. And then when all the rules came into place, I had to change my content. And so now what I do is mainly glamour, even though most of the people are following me on there wanting fetish. So they’ll message me with specific requests for, you know, something kinky, and I’ll say “I’m really sorry I can’t do that because of OnlyFans rules.”

And so I feel very limited, like I want to just be able to post what I want to post. I guess for me it’s a creative process, like, I am really kinky, and I want to share this stuff and make cool kinky videos, and I feel currently just really restricted and limited to what I can post. 

And so I guess a platform that’s more fetish friendly really would be great. 

Joreth: So is there anything that you would like to make sure gets mentioned about the online sex work industry that we haven’t covered? 

Mistress Ivy: The one thing I will say about it is it’s an incredibly hard way to make money. Like, incredibly hard. I’ve been on there for a few years, and I can’t remember what percentage I’m in. I think I ‘m in the top 2% of earners on OnlyFans. But I’m still only making like between $100 and $200 a month, and that’s like one of the top 2%. 

Joreth: Wow.

Mistress Ivy: It’s so hard to make it there because it’s just so competitive, I think. There’s so many people on there. And also they they don’t pay a particularly high price. I put a lot of work into it. I post every single day, sometimes twice a day, but it is definitely not an easy way to make money.

For me, OnlyFans has been something I’ve kind of done during lockdown for my own sanity, to kind of keep my presence out there and do things. 

There’s a couple of girls I know that dou make thousands of pounds a month on there, but it’s really rare. Like really, really rare. So I guess for anyone who wants to start doing online sex work, I’d say it’s it’s not easy. It’s really hard. Really, really hard. 

Joreth: Like everything else, that’s the labor of love. You do it because you can’t not do it, but maybe have another form of income too. 

Mistress Ivy: Yeah, I think I think it’s a bit like being famous, you know, like very few people are gonna get enough followers to really make decent money on it. Very few. It’s not easy.

And  you have to invest that into it as well. Like kind of you know with photo shoots and makeup and all of this stuff ,like you kind of need to invest a lot of stuff into it to to create good content. And then, you know, decent camera and all of that stuff. And it’s it’s still  just so hard to make money on there. 

There’s times during lockdown when I was making, you know, like couple of dollars for a video and I was thinking it’s worse than minimum wage, really. You always think of sex workers as being well paid, but it’s it’s hard. It’s really hard to make good money on it. 

Franklin: I wonder if there’s kind of a first mover advantage there too, like I don’t think anybody has hit on this idea yet, but what’s going to happen the first time somebody starts doing kinky NFTs? Eunice and I were talking earlier today about this whole idea of NFTS, which is, yeah… 

Eunice: I have opinions about NFTS. 

Franklin: Yes you do. 

Mistress Ivy: What’s an NFT ?

Franklin: A NFT is what happens when a JPEG meets the blockchain. And what you can do is you can actually, you can actually buy like exclusive ownership of a JPEG and put it on the Ethereum blockchain and this becomes a thing. 

Eunice: It is an artificial scarcity scam that ruins the world. And environmental dam—sorry, I have opinions. Moving on. 

Franklin: Like people will pay tens of thousands of dollars to be the first one to buy, you know, a Nyan cat JPEG.

So here’s the question.  The first person who starts doing kinky porn JPEGs and selling them as NFTs…are they going to make five cents or are they going to become millionaires?

Eunice: NFTs make the world worse. 

Joreth: Possible future job opportunity there. 

Franklin: Yeah, but I mean honestly, I’m really curious about that. Like, is it going to be in the future that the way you succeed at this is to be the person who is chasing the new technologies? 

Eunice: Because porn has always pushed the latest technology. It’s  made technology better, faster, along with the video gaming industry. 

Franklin: And I think that there is going to be a time, and it’s probably going to be fairly soon, but it doesn’t seem to have happened yet, where porn does meet the blockchain, and I wonder if that’s going to make somebody a millionaire. 

Eunice: Anyway, I know that we’re running short on time, so where can people find you? 

Mistress Ivy: So my name is Mistress Ivy, and so I’m on Twitter as ivy_miss. Or I’ve got a website which is mistressivy.co.uk. I also have another website which is more about therapeutic BDSM and that’s called bdsmhealing.co.uk. 

Joreth: Well, thank you so much for your time, Mistress Ivy, this has been fantastic. 

Mistress Ivy: Thank you, it’s nice to chat to you. 

Franklin: It sounds like the problem she’s dealing with is a lack of stability in the rules about what’s permitted and what isn’t, and I wonder how much of that is driven by OnlyFans and how much from their payment processors. You can’t run an online business if you don’t even know whether something you’ve posted today will still be permitted six months or a year from now.

Eunice: I think this is a consistent thread we see again and again in spaces where sex workers are operating though, whether online or in the flesh, so to speak. There’s no space or opportunity for sex workers to make their voices heard about how any of these repeated changes to the rules affects them.

Joreth: We’d like to thank Mistress Ivy and @goldplatedpussy for their time and lending us their perspective on this topic. Although we each have some related experiences with adjacent or parallel industries, it was really good to hear from people who were directly affected by the changes made at OnlyFans.

Franklin: So that’s our episode for today! Next time, we’ll continue our examination of the world of sex work and what counts as sex work.

We’d love to hear from you! Send links to studies, feedback, comments or suggestions for future episodes to contact@skepticalpervert.com. If you know someone else who might enjoy this podcast, why not share the love, by giving us a review on iTunes or Stitcher or your podcatcher of choice. You can find our Web site at www.skepticalpervert.com, where you can check out the show notes for links to the transcript and the studies we’re drawing from. And don’t forget to join our patreon, which is linked on the website.

Eunice: And remember, if you too are skeptical about any nude being worth $200, send that money to us and we’ll confirm your belief it’s a way better way to spend that money!

Joreth: Maybe we’ll use it to pervert more of Franklin’s nightmares for you!

Eunice: Can confirm, great use of the money, 10 out of 10 would horrify Franklin again!

Franklin: You two are terrible! Don’t listen to them, they know not what they say.

Episode 8: Sex Ed with Ms. Ashley Part 2

This episode brings you the second of the two-part interview with sex educator and activist Ms. Ashley about evidence-based, factual sex education.

In this far-ranging conversation, we talk about sexual health, being the person your kids feel safe talking to, myths about sex, how to handle questions about sex, and values-based vs. evidence-based education.

Ms. Ashley is a sex educator who teaches an adaptation of the Our Whole Lives curriculum. You can find her on Facebook herehere, and here, and on Instagram here.

Transcript of the episode below. You can find Ms. Ashley’s bio, a list of places to find her on the internet, and the studies she cites at the very end.

Franklin: Hello! Welcome back to Skeptical Perverts, the podcast where we examine human sexuality through an evidence-based, skeptical lens! I’m your host, part-time mad scientist, and token cishet guy, Franklin!

Joreth: Hi! I’m your co-host and Renaissance cat, Joreth! I’m kinky, sopo, ace, chicana, feminist, my gender identity is “tomboy”, and my pronouns are she/her but you may call me sir. 

Eunice: And I’m Eunice, your friendly neighbourhood queer, kinky, ace-spec, bisexual, solopoly British Chinese woman. In lieu of giving me a title, you may gift me tea instead. Loose leaf, of course, cos I’m predictable like that.

Franklin: Today’s episode brings you the second half of our chat with Ms. Ashley, a sex educator who does a lot of work with evidence-based sex ed.

Eunice: Yeah, when we listened back over the interview, it had so much good stuff in there we just didn’t want to miss any of it. If you haven’t heard the first part, please go back and listen to episode 7—you don’t want to miss it, trust me!

Franklin: A quick reminder – today’s episode is US-centered because so much about US-based sex ed is wrapped up in politics, so keep in mind we’re talking about US policies, politics, and attitudes. Of course, sex ed everywhere is political, but in the US it’s especially bad. Here we go!

Ms. Ashley: So currently in the US, roughly one third of high schools teach condom use. One third.

Joreth: One third.

Franklin: Wow, that’s disappointing. 

Ms. Ashley: It is. It is very disappointing, especially considering that is our front line of defence against all the STI’s, and I do not have this statistic right now, but the number of youth that experience an STI is rising, because they’re uninformed about what the warning signs are that they might have something, or that they might be carrying something. And so then they don’t know what their body is telling them in order to go seek medical advice.

So those that idea of “hey, a condom could have prevented this, had they known about it” or “how to use it” is something I would love for parents to be specifically asking within their their children’s sex ed programs. Like, “does this include condoms?” Because it’s really hard to find out this information.

I’m doing this right now with my own child program in their own school, and I had to talk to the director of the program to get this information. It wasn’t anywhere online.

So if that’s an another action item that families might want to go with, it’s just, can you get to the bottom of whether or not your high schools in your area include this very important information.

Joreth: And it sounds like it’s also really important to start including sex ed way before it comes to intercourse sex, and just start talking about what the body is. Because if you don’t know how to listen to your body, you won’t recognize these signs later that something is wrong, whether it’s sexually transmitted or not, whether it’s something else.

I have endometriosis and my mom had it also. Hers was bad enough that I don’t know how many miscarriages, maybe just one, but she had at least one and ended up having a full hysterectomy because of it. 

So I’m adopted. And I had no idea that what I was going through was not normal, that it was probably endo, until, I think, my 30s.

My mom had this and we did not have this conversation. When I had really bad cramps and had to go home from school, the talk was not, “I had a similar problem, let’s get you checked out,” the talk was, “you know you’ll never find a boss who will let you come home every month. You need to suck it up.’ 

This is this is from a mom who is not abusive. I love my mom. We have a very good relationship. But she was raised Catholic, so this is the level of discourse that we have about it.

And you know, we’re not even talking about intercourse here. We need to start these conversations way earlier, just about what does your body, both physical and emotions, what does your body do and what is it supposed to do?

Eunice: The thing about that as well  is that if you teach your kids that they just have to suck it up if something bad is happening or something painful is happening to them, that also means that they will suck it up when somebody is being abusive to them. 

Because they don’t know the difference. 

Joreth: And you can’t trust your body signals. It’s a form of gaslighting. You cannot trust what your own body is telling you, because you’ve learned to block it out your whole life when everybody says, suck it up. And this is one of the big problems that boys have, especially, ’cause they get this “suck it up” way earlier and way harder. 

Ms. Ashley: Absolutely, and this is another place where I can say adults should be answering children’s questions factually. If they don’t know the answer, they shouldn’t be faking it. If they don’t know the answer, they should look it up and research it, because kids don’t come with a guidebook. When you have a child, you don’t really know what you’re doing. And so they’re going to ask you questions that push you out of your comfort zone, and they’re going to ask you things you don’t know.

And it’s a great way for you to immediately start being a human with your child and saying where your shortcomings are and being willing to work together to find answers. Because them asking questions to you says “I trust you,” says “I’m curious,” says “you’re my person,” says “this is my safe place to ask these questions.”

It’s not any failure on your part if they’re asking lewd or quote unquote inappropriate questions or saying words you don’t want them to say. You’ve done nothing wrong as a parent if that happens. 

That means you’re doing it right, because you are the person they came to with that bad word, or that inappropriate question, or whatever it is. And they’re not seeking that advice and that information from unsafe sources. 

Joreth: That’s an excellent point.

Eunice: Yeah, much better to be the parent that they will go to if they think something’s wrong then to hide it because they’re afraid you punish them. 

Joreth: Exactly.

Ms. Ashley: Exactly so. That is what I have to share about what the research has shown me. It’s just one small article and it’s kind of streamlined and basic, which is start early, have very short conversations. Use all those opportunities for fact-based conversations, so that if you don’t know the answers you’re looking them up in good places. Keeping in mind that the more information that you share with your child more frequently, the more information they have in order to make better informed decisions. 

There is no evidence that says comprehensive sex ed makes them start doing anything earlier. 

Joreth: So I have a question. You teach the adults. Have you also taught the younger groups? You taught all ages, right? 

Ms. Ashley: I’m I am a facilitator for K through 12, so I have not used the curriculum beyond that. 

Joreth: OK, So what parts of the comprehensive sex ed do you see that most people find objectionable? Is it the sexual diversity part of it? Is it relationship orientation? What aspect of it do you see that people object to the most often?

Ms. Ashley: So within the curriculum we use the circles of sexuality as our primary resource, which is a six-circle Venn diagram which includes sexual health and reproduction, which is what most people think of when they think of sex ed. But our model, the circles of sexuality also includes sexualization and intimacy, sensuality, and identity. 

And then the values is the other one. Values touches all of them and helps us make choices for how we utilize the information in those circles.

The one that I see the most pushback for is definitely within identity. That’s where we have this idea that it’s a choice to be who you are, and that is not at all true, and that genders are binary, which is not at all true. 

And so within this circle is where I get a lot of pushback, because I am not willing to separate along the gender binary for my classes, and that is a very controversial subject where I am. And even when I say to people, your boy, may be someone husband some day and maybe with someone with a vulva and vagina. And they need to know what’s going on for this person, so they can be empathetic and supportive and loving. More information makes them a better partner. 

Even when I say that that’s still like, “no, we need to have mystery,” and “we need to have seduction,” and like and I’m just like, “no, that’s not how this works.” That just means that you have a dude who’s on board with the needs of the person, because they don’t understand what’s happening. 

So that’s where we get a lot of the pushback, within the identity, the identity bubble. 

Joreth: So what’s the wildest wrong thing myth maybe that you’ve heard in some of the courses you’ve taught? Like, has anybody come due with information that they’ve had before the class that you had to correct? 

Ms. Ashley: One kid said they were going to go blind if they masturbated. 

Franklin: People still believe that?

Ms. Ashley: I was like, “oh boy.” That one was I was just a shocker. 

They didn’t say it, though. We do this activity where they get to write things around the room. And so I didn’t know who it was, because there were different papers on the wall, and they were adding their ideas in different categories. 

So one is like, “what’s a message that you’ve received from the media, what’s a message that you’ve received from your family, and what’s a message that you’ve received from your peers?” So those were the three categories, and then within that exercise of sexual messages, it came up from the media. I don’t know what show that was in, but that was one of the messages the media had taught them about sex.

Joreth: That that’s a great idea, having the papers they can write basically anonymous questions. 

Ms. Ashley: So within this curriculum we use the question box. At the end of every session, every person gets a blank notecard and a pencil, and every person has to put a card into the box. They all have to write on the card. So they can draw me a poop emoji or whatever they want to do, but they have to write on the card and they have to put it in the box so that it’s totally anonymous. 

And then I research all the questions and then the next class come back with all their answers.

There’s a lot of that anonymity that is worked into this curriculum, understanding that we have kids who are introverts and that this topic makes more kids introverted. It’s pretty great how it’s designed to make this content accessible. That’s fantastic.

Eunice: That’s what my school did when we had our sex ed stuff. We had the same question box. You put a question in, and and then the teacher would open up the box and just be answering all the questions. And I do know for certain that some of the kids, I’m pretty sure that they were the boys, would specifically try to find the most. 

Ms. Ashley: Like ostentatious?

Eunice: Yeah, out there question, because of course the teacher had to read the question out first, right? 

Joreth: Yes, let’s make the teacher uncomfortable. 

Eunice: Yep, which you know, kudos to the teacher. They just read it out and answer the question because that’s what you have to do to show that it’s not something to be ashamed of. 

Ms. Ashley: Absolutely. Within the facilitation training, we learned that there’s different kinds of questions that kids and youth ask. And it’s always kind of fun to share this little fact with parents, Especially that you can assess the question you’re asked your child asking according to these three categories.

The first category is is information seeking. Like, they really want to know how this works, and so they’re asking for the information. 

The second is connection seeking. This would be like some of the questions I get like, “well, what does fish sex sound like?” You know, they’re just being silly and they’re  being a clown. And instead of thinking of it as silly and clowning, we think of this as like, “I need connection. I want to be seen.” And so, just by taking that question seriously and saying, “probably bloop bloop!”, it validates that whatever that kid wrote down, I’m not going to be like, “well, this question is probably not worth my time.” No, that question is a child seeking connection.

And then the third version of questions is seeking validation for their normalcy. So if they’re saying something like, “why do my balls itch so much?” They’re trying to find out, is this a normal part of puberty? And for me to answer that question and say, “so, these are some of the other places that might itch also, as your hair grows in,” and expounding upon it, it allows them to see this is normal, and people are going to experience this in lots of places and in lots of ways for lots of time, because everyone experiences puberty at different times and in different lengths and in different places. 

So those are the three types of questions we usually see. “I need information,” “I need connection,” or “I need validation.”

Joreth: So we’ve established now that program that you work with goes through all these ages. What about physical or mental disabilities? Do you have anything special for that, or is it just integrated in the whole curricula?

Ms. Ashley: There is a workshop for each age level specifically about sexuality and disabilities, so it’s present in the curriculum. The participants are part of our group. I mean, I haven’t ever been asked to teach a specific group of kids with disabilities because that’s not the way our education system is here. Everyone mainstreamed in part of the community. 

And I’m a special ed teacher. That’s actually what I went to school for. And so I am trained to understand how we scaffold information, which is like how you break it down into smaller, digestible parts, how you consider lesson planning so that you’re allowing for movement and allowing for change and allowing for diverse attention spans and all that sort of stuff. So that’s sort of one of my, I guess, special strengths in all of this. Assuming neurodiversity in all of my groups, yeah?

Joreth: It’s fantastic. 

Franklin: That actually leads right into what I was going to ask, which is how did you get into this. 

Ms. Ashley: Well, obviously I already said that my growing up didn’t suit me well with purity culture not teaching you what I needed to know. And then I’m a Unitarian Universalist, which is a religion here in the United States that invites and welcomes all sorts of people and their beliefs. Within the UU church, the youth go through the Our Whole Life curriculum as part of their experience of church. 

And at the end of their senior year of high school, they have a coming of age ceremony where we pushed them out into the world. Most of them go away for college. So we celebrate them, and they each read a statement of belief or lack of belief. And within this statement they say, like, “this is, these are the things that I think resonate with me about mysticism,” and “these are the things that I don’t believe in.” And they spend a lot of time working on this statement. 

And absolutely every child…every, not child, every almost-adult said Our Whole Lives was the most transformative experience of church for them. 

Franklin: Nice.

Ms. Ashley: And I sat there as just a regular church member, like “What is this thing?” Like, the first kid talked about it, the second kid talked about it, the third kid talked about it. We’re on kid seven and they’re all like, “Our Whole Lives changed my life.”

So I was like, “I’m going to get trained. I don’t know what this is, but I’m going to find out!” So it was a three-day training opportunity where you go away and get to be fully immersed in the curriculum and the process, and how to be a facilitator, and how to assess your own bias and leave your bias out of it, and it was transformative for me. 

Ms. Ashley: So then I was like, “I’m gonna do this now with all the UU churches in my area.” And now I do it separately. I do it privately because the UU church has a lot of wonderful and correct opinions and perspectives about this curriculum, how they want it to be disseminated, but it’s not very accessible for the public.

I feel like there’s this amazing information that nobody could get to, so I’m trying to get it out there, even just to get the name of it out there so that people can talk to their church and say, ”I’ve heard about this thing. Can we look into it?” Talk to their preschool or you know, like any other parent group, their= friends, whatever it is. 

Because it’s supposed to be facilitated in completion. You’re supposed to do all of the workshops from one all the way to the end, and many people cannot commit to that kind of thing. They already have all their extracurriculars. They have work and school. And so I’m just like, “You know, the world would be a better place if they just took two workshops.” 

Ms. Ashley: Like, it would be okay if they didn’t do all twelve. And so I’m trying to adapt the curriculum to make it more accessible, just so that it’s available for the public. 

Joreth: Something is better than nothing. 

Ms. Ashley: That’s how I feel. 

Joreth: Yeah, but I would love to see more of those programs exist everywhere because my church had it set up. They had a youth group. They had a sex ed course available, just not as well designed as yours. 

Ms. Ashley: So this curriculum is entirely secular, but there is an add-on that you can purchase to add spirituality to it, and so there’s this whole book that can give you Bible passages that you can add to whatever workshop, and it goes together. There’s hymns you can sing that go along with the topics of whatever it is we’re discussing. So it can be entirely secular, or a church can add this spirituality piece to it, and it can be more than that. But it’s amazing and it is comprehensive. There’s no question about that. So I would just love it if more people were advocating for this comprehensive approach. 

Franklin: Would that add on appeal to evangelicals, for example?

Ms. Ashley: Probably not, because the base of the curriculum is affirming to all. The base of the curriculum is saying whatever your relationship style is, you are valid. Whatever your pronouns are, they are valid. Whatever your gender identity is, it is valid. You know, so that’s like the baseline is affirming to all. And you have to get on board with that before you can even use the curriculum. 

Joreth: So it would work in in my progressive Catholic upbringing, but probably not in a fundamentalist church.

Ms. Ashley: No.

Joreth: But still, I mean, people when they progressive Catholic background are still not getting the proper sex ed. So this would be a huge dent in that. 

Ms. Ashley: And I love the way that we encourage participants to think for themselves. So the only real information that we’re sharing in the curriculum is vocabulary and details about the information of STI’s and the usefulness of condoms, like how effective they are and that sort of thing. The rest of it is all thinking exercises, it’s all values questioning. 

It’s created so that they should know nothing about their facilitator when they are done with the whole curriculum. They should know tons about themselves and where they stand. So it’s taking out my own values, my own biases, and instead going through the activities specifically to ask the questions and facilitate whatever activity we’re doing for the participant to check themselves and consider for themselves. 

So it’s not a values based curriculum, which is really rare to find. 

Joreth: Yeah. That sounds amazing, and I hope every one of our listeners now goes to their local school board or their church group or, you know, their “mommy and me daycare” or whatever. 

Ms. Ashley: Yeah exactly. 

Joreth: And says hey, we need to get started on this right away. And don’t worry about whatever your beliefs are. This program will still work.

Ms. Ashley: Absolutely. 

Franklin: If you go on the Internets nowadays, one of the things you see just about everywhere, and it’s been popularized on Reddit, and it’s been popularized in school curricula that are sponsored by the Mormon Church in particular, is this idea of sex addiction and masturbation addiction and “you shouldn’t wank because you’ll get addicted to it.” And, you know, you look at the actual medical data and peer reviewed papers, and they don’t support the idea that—

Joreth: That’s not a thing!

Franklin: That these are even—yeah! That you can even get addicted to things like sex or porn or masturbation. But you see the Fight the New Drug curriculum, for example, which is, you know, pushing heavily into schools now, is actually distorting real research about sexuality and health, and pushing this idea of sex addiction and porn addiction. Is this an issue that the curriculum that you teach addresses at all? 

Ms. Ashley: The most updated version of the…mmm, is it middle school or high school? Does. But the others that are not most recently updated, no. So facilitators have been told to like pull information from the most updated version, if you’re going to add that information to your workshops.

I will say this idea of behaviorism is valid, where if you repeat a behavior enough times then your brain starts to myelinate those pathways in the mind to then have the same sort of reaction each time. And so if we’re just talking about behaviorism, then OK, we can have a bit of a conversation about, yYou know patterns of behavior.

but what’s happening with those curriculums, and with that push, is a values-based conversation. It’s not an evidence-based conversation. 

Franklin: But it’s masquerading as evidence-based, because it pretends to be scientific, and it even uses scientific language. And it claims to reference studies, which of course now neurobiologists are saying, “hey, you’re distorting what I said. I didn’t actually say that at all.” 

Ms. Ashley: Yes, so it’s good to give it that name and say, like, “this is values-based.” So then if a parent is trying to gain information about whatever is in their child’s school, they can ask, “is this a values based curriculum?” Because they would have to say, “yes.” They would have to say “yeah, no, I’m teaching what is morally right, which is a value.” 

Joreth: That’s good to know, so any parents who want to evaluate what their kids are doing? Here’s a list of keywords you should ask about or listen for. How are they describing the programs that your children are going through. 

Ms. Ashley: Absolutely. So is there any language surrounding “out of wedlock?” Because that is a values-based curriculum and there are lots of programs that that’s one of the key things. “Out of wedlock.”

Is there any discussion of the curriculum centering monogamous relationships, because that is a value-based search engine. Is there any mention that drug and alcohol use correlate with early sexual activity? Because that is not really a thing. Those are all three separate things that are studied really separately. 

So if we’re looking for anything surrounding a context of marriage, that is a values-based curriculum. And a values-based curriculum is going to tell participants what to do or not to do based on predetermined guidelines. 

Which is the opposite of what we want children and youth to do. We want them to be thinking for themselves and creating their own guidelines, because then they have ownership of those guidelines. And then when they reach those developmental milestones of pushing back against parents and rebelling and trying to find their own footing in this world, which is normal and they should be doing that, they’re more likely to do all the things you told them not to do ’cause they have no ownership in the guidelines. 

Joreth: Yeah, if the the stronger of a hold you have on who you are and the stronger your critical thinking skills are—because that’s really what it sounds like you’re teaching, critical thinking—if they face a situation that they haven’t been given a road map for, do they have the tools to evaluate it and take a healthy path for themselves? Or do they only have a list of instructions, and this situation is not covered, so what do you do? 

Ms. Ashley: Beautiful way to say it. 

Franklin: And that’s something that comes up too, if you have just a sort of a top down, “you have to follow all these rules” kind of approach to sex and sexuality. 

I don’t have the study in front of me right now. Maybe I should look it up and see if we can link through it when we put the show online. I do remember seeing a study that said that kids who were given abstinence only and rules-based approaches to sex education, when they broke the rules and had sex, were more likely to have risky sex, unprotected sex, less likely to use condoms, because, “hey, we’re already breaking the rules, so we’re already bad.”

Ms. Ashley: Yeah, go big or go home. 

Franklin: Well, we’ll break the rules about condoms too, because we’re we’re already bad. We’ve already done the bad thing. 

Ms. Ashley: And that’s so dangerous. I mean, like what parent wants that, right? Instead, get out of their way and help them think things through, and talk less but say more by listening and asking good questions. 

Eunice: Actually, I did have one additional question. I was actually wondering if you’ve seen, what sort of changes have you seen in sex ed over, say, the last decade? Because obviously in that time we’ve gone from  the Obama administration, which I know increased funding for comprehensive sex ed. And then we had the Trump administration, which obviously pulled all that funding and then went to abstinence-only. And then you know, now we’re moving into the Biden administration. Does that sort of signal return to kind of more evidence-based sex ed, do you think? Is that a hope that we can have? 

Ms. Ashley: I can’t answer this completely, but I can tell you what I found. Under the Obama administration, there was a notable shift in abstinence-education funding towards more evidence-based sex ed initiatives,The current landscape of federal sex ed programs is including newer programs such as the Personal Responsibility Education program, also known as PREP, and this is the first federal funding stream to provide grants to states in support of evidence-based sex ed that teach about both abstinence and contraception. So that is new.

Eunice: Nice!

Ms. Ashley: But the Trump administration, yeah, kind of undid it a little bit. 

OK, so honestly I don’t have a complete picture or a great answer for that. And I’ve only been doing this like 2 years privately, so I’m still kind of new. I can mostly just say like what are the challenges here for me in Indiana? Sorry I can’t answer that. 

Eunice: No problem.

Joreth: Well, you’ve certainly given us a lot to chew on and we’ve got some links to the studies that you were referencing that we’ll be able to share with our readers so that they can read what we’ve been talking about, too, for themselves. 

Joreth: So yeah, I think this has been a great conversation to have, and we’ve covered a lot of ground. 

Ms. Ashley: I appreciate sharing the action items with people. Because I just really feel like if more parents start saying “This is what we need we need. We need comprehensive sex ed. We need our youth to know about condoms and we need non-values-based options for our youth.” If more parents are speaking about it, it’s more likely that something will change. 

Thank you very much for sharing your platform with me. 

Eunice: If you could give three big take-away points that you want, even if they don’t remember any of the details, the three big take-away points you want them to remember and take away at the end, what would those be? 

Ms. Ashley: Number one: more information does not cause your child or youth to engage in earlier or more often sex. It’s not true. And so if there’s any bit of fear inside of you for educating your child, know that the research has said, that’s not going to happen.

Number two: be the safe space for your kid to ask questions. So do any of the self work that you need to do in order to be unashamed or unembarrassed as much as you possibly can, so that you can be a place where your kid can be safe and ask you questions.

And if you don’t have a kid, be the aunt or the uncle, or the babysitter, or the neighbor that isn’t going to be weirded out when the kid goes “do you have a penis or a vulva?” Be the person that that kid can notice is OK answering those questions. Because it is not wrong for them to ask those questions.

And three would be use simple language, because the more we talk at youth and children, the less they hear. So if we can simplify to a very quick message, and then know that there’s going to be another opportunity, and another opportunity, and another opportunity, and just capitalize on each of those opportunities in a simple way, your kid will want to come back to you. But if you do this big speech the first time and the second time, and the third time, it’s gonna be like, oh, if I ask this, it’s gonna be a big ordeal. So no, keep it simple. Use simple language with the kiddo. 

Eunice: Nice, those are fantastic take away points and especially the second two basically just fit all sorts of situations. 

Ms. Ashley: Yes, absolutely. And I mean, really, that’s what comprehensive sex ed is about. It’s like they’re a whole person, Yep. 

Franklin: So where can people find you? 

Ms. Ashley: Thank you for asking! I’m on Instagram as MsAshley Robertson. And I curate content for a group on Facebook called Let’s Talk About Sex Ed with Ms Ashley. And I try to share interesting things where people can think about this topic and learn about this topic about five times a week. 

Joreth: Cool awesome, this is amazing. So thank you very much for joining us. 

Ms. Ashley: Thank you for the opportunity. 

Eunice: Thank you for the time. 

Eunice: One of the things that I came across after we talked with Ashley was an article on Mashable discussing the way that social media platforms like TikTok seem to be removing any sex ed that includes medically or scientifically accurate information. That includes topics like pelvic health or pain when having intercourse or sex toy safety. We’ll link to the article in the show notes so you can check it out for yourself.

Franklin: The narrative on the American right is “waah, waah, social media censors conservatives,” but in fact social media companies tend to get weirdly sex-negative and prudish when you get right down to it.

Eunice: All of which makes the work of Ashley and others like her even more important. There’s a PubMed article, Sex Education on TikTok: A Content Analysis of Themes, that talks about how Tiktok “offers a novel opportunity to make up for shortcomings in sex education and convey sexual health information to adolescents.” and that’s absolutely true—assuming it’s correct information. And that’s the problem we’re looking at here, right? As the great Sir Terry Pratchett said, lies can run around the world before truth has even gotten its boots on.

Joreth: “Cancel culture” is, as always, only what the “other guys” are doing to “us”, right? Because a lot of them are getting “censored” by misuse of the “report” feature, where people who just don’t like queer people, sex workers, or sex educators just mass-report their TikToks, whether it violates any rules or not, and the ‘bots just take them down because that’s how it works. And it’s totes cool to take down sex workers, sex educators, and queers, but complain about actual lies on social media and it’s all “they’re taking mah freedumbs!”

Eunice: And it disproportionately affects LGBTQ+ youth, because somehow queer sexuality is automatically an adult and/or controversial topic. Which brings us onto another topic that came up at the end of February, as we were working on editing these last couple of episodes. One that every Disney-loving queer person will be incredibly disappointed by. Assuming you know nothing about the history of the Disney corporation or Florida that is.

Joreth:  Yeah, I don’t understand why people are so surprised at the conservatism here in Florida, but then I was raised near San Francisco, so to me, this entire state is just one very large small town with delusions of grandeur.  Anyway, so one of our state senators, Dennis Baxley, sponsored House Bill 1557 the “Parental Rights In Education” bill, which is being called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.  It’s fairly long and arduous, but the very very short version is that the bill prohibits educators from mentioning queer labels and topics in schools.  According to our local paper, the Orlando Sentinel, Disney has donated to literally every single one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

Eunice: I’m still amazed that anyone is surprised when Disney turns out to support profits above everything else. Insofar as a corporation as large as Disney can even have a single affiliation, it’s not liberal or conservative, it’s just capitalist, and that’s what capitalism is—political power through profit. 

Franklin: According to Disney News Today, “The Senate sponsor, Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, has backed anti-gay legislation for years — including laws to prevent gay couples from adopting kids who otherwise wouldn’t have a family at all.” Baxley once compared kids who live with same-sex parents to kids raised by alcoholics and abusers and later said: “I’m not phobic, but I simply can’t affirm homosexuality.” The very next year Disney cut Baxley a campaign check. And another after that. And then another one last year. Shame on you, Disney.

Eunice: The thing I noted about the bill is that it doesn’t actually benefit kids’ education at all, it just prevents the kids learning about LGBTQ+ issues in any form of structured way in school. The language they use is so vague, it could be used to apply to any form of any mention of queerness at all. 

Franklin:  The article goes on to say, “The bill itself, House Bill 1557, is a trainwreck. Not just based on anyone’s personal values, but based on pure linguistics and legal flaws. It uses nebulous and subjective phrases like “reasonably prudent person” to set standards and bans classroom discussions on “sexual orientation or gender identity” in “certain grade levels” without clearly defining what those levels are.” 

Joreth:  It also uses the phrase “age appropriate” specifically and then fails to define what “age appropriate” is.

Eunice: I’m getting real vibes of the UK’s Section 28 all over again.

Joreth:  Yeah, in fact, to bring us back to something we discussed in the interview, we mentioned not understanding why it was so hard to get information on the content of the sex ed program, and I suggested that I could understand an educator being a bit cagey if what they’re used to is conservatives sticking their ignorant noses into the lesson plan … well, that’s exactly what this bill intends to do – give parents more control over what is and isn’t allowed to be “taught” in class (with no real definition on what the word “instruction” in the bill means).  Because what we really need is for people with no training on how education works to be mucking about and getting in the way of educators doing the job they’re trained for.

Eunice: Right. Anyway, let’s long story short this. Given the amount of editing that each of these episodes requires, our listeners can probably guess that this is coming at you all from the past. So with that caveat, as of the date that we’re recording this episode, what’s the current state of play with this bill, given it seems to be changing hourly?

Franklin:  Dismal. The current state of play is dismal. Disney put out a letter to their employees apologizing for funding the politicians responsible for this bill, which caused Governor Satan or DeathSentence or whatever the hell his name is to start yapping on Twitter about Disney staying in its lane, though I can’t help notice he hasn’t volunteered to give their money back. They may be pink but their money is green, hey, Darth Senseless?

Joreth:  This kind of spending, especially at the level of the Disney Corporation, is deliberate, if not intentional.  This isn’t like a marketing department releasing a commercial and not realizing they said something accidentally dirty or insensitive – like, every marketing department needs to have a woman of color, a trans person, and a 12 year old boy on it to make sure they don’t say something accidentally funny or inappropriate, right?  No, with the amount of money involved and the high profile of fucking *Disney*, several important and financially *trained* somebodies thought “y’know who we should fund and attach our name to?  These politicians, that’s who!”  Corporations this big don’t just hand out cash, they *choose* who and what to donate to.

Eunice: Yeah, seriously guys, this isn’t a situation of “whoops it was an accident I just fell on his bank account.” Please don’t treat us like we’re stupid, Disney. But moving on, to once again haul us back to the original point of this episode: we’re aware that listening to this interview over several weeks makes it pretty hard to remember all the great action points that Ashley laid out, so here’s the TLDR:

Ms. Ashley’s Action Items:

  1. Parents and non-parents to rally behind comprehensive sex ed
  2. Find out if your school’s program includes mentions of condoms
  3. Advocate against “values-based” education and for “evidence-based” education

Franklin:  We really recommend checking out the show notes for this episode. You’ll find a list there of the takeaway points, the links to the sites and articles she mentioned, and contact information for Ms. Ashley. I mean, we’d love you to check out the show notes regularly anyway, but if you generally don’t, this might be the episode where you start. 

Joreth: This was a fun interview and I’m so glad that Ms. Ashley agreed to talk with us about comprehensive sex-ed and shared some resources with us. I, for one, plan to mention to everyone I can, every time the subject comes up, that Ms. Ashley is doing private sex ed courses using this OWL curriculum so everyone can contact her about getting her or someone like her into your area. And, remember, this program covers all ages. 

Franklin: So that’s the interview! The Skeptical Pervert is copyrighted by Franklin Veaux, Eunice Hung, and Joreth Innkeeper. Editing is done by Joreth, show notes and transcription by Franklin. You can find a transcript at skepticalpervert.com. Comments or ideas? Email contact@skepticalpervert.com. If you like the show, review us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or wherever you found us.

Eunice: And don’t forget to join our Patreon, which you’ll find linked on the website. We’ve got some additional anecdotes that got cut from the interview there, plus we’ll be adding lots of our background chat there so you can listen in as we work on these episodes.

Joreth:  And remember, if you don’t skeptically educate your children, they might grow up to be Republican politicians!

Eunice: The phrase “grow up” is doing a whole lot of heavy lifting right there, just sayin’.

Roundup of Ms Ashley’s useful information

Ms. Ashley’s Action Items:

  1. Parents and non-parents to rally behind comprehensive sex ed
  2. Find out if your school’s program includes mentions of condoms
  3. Advocate against “values-based” education and for “evidence-based” education

Ms. Ashley’s 3 Takeaway Points:

  1. More information does not cause your child or youth to engage in earlier or more often sex.
  2. Be the safe space for your kid to ask questions. And if you don’t have a kid, be the “aunt” or the “uncle” or the “babysitter” or the “neighbor” that isn’t going to be weirded out.
  3. Use simple language.

Ms. Ashley Recommends:

Ms. Ashley’s Citations:

How To Find Ms. Ashley Robertson:

Episode 7: Sex Ed with Ms. Ashley Part 1

Today we bring you the first part of a two-part interview with sex educator and sex-positive activist Ms. Ashley, as we talk about the value of evidence-based, scientifically accurate sexual education.

Ms. Ashley is a sex educator who teaches an adaptation of the Our Whole Lives curriculum. In part 1 of our interview, we discuss the various types of sex education, what the evidence shows about the effects of fact-based sex ed, and how continuing sex education can help not just students but everyone.

You can find Ms. Ashley on Facebook here, here, and here, and on Instagram here.

Transcript of the episode below.

Franklin: Hello! Welcome to a new episode of Skeptical Perverts, the podcast where we examine human sexuality through an evidence-based, skeptical lens! I’m your host, part-time mad scientist, and token cishet dude, Franklin!

Joreth: Hi! I’m your co-host and Renaissance cat, Joreth! I’m kinky, sopo, on the ace spectrum, chicana, feminist, my gender identity is “tomboy”, and my pronouns are she/her but I use masculine titles.

Eunice: And I’m Eunice, your friendly neighbourhood queer, kinky, ace-spec, bisexual, solopoly British Chinese woman, bringing my usual touch of genteel filth and depravity.

Franklin: Today we’re chatting with Ms. Ashley, a sex educator who does a lot of work with evidence-based sex ed. A quick note – today’s episode is US-centered because a lot of sex ed is wrapped up in politics and policies, so keep in mind we’re talking about US policies, politics, and attitudes.

Eunice: Well, mostly – I can’t help being British, folks!

Franklin: Wait, you’re British? Why wasn’t I informed?

Eunice: I know, shocking how I kept all the tea related paraphernalia hidden so well over, lo, these many years. How long have we known each other now, Franklin?

Franklin: We met at an orgy in 2010, so…about twelve years?

Eunice: Clearly I’m an amazing actor. (Note for the listeners, I am not an amazing actor.)

Joreth: So, back to the episode … We came across this amazing advocate for evidence-based sex ed that we really wanted to bring on the show. And we wanted to do something a little bit different than a standard interview. We thought it would be fun to invite her to talk about whatever she felt most passionate about, which was the struggle between abstinence only sexual education vs. what she called “comprehensive sex ed”.

Eunice: Yeah, one thing to notice is that there is no version of sex ed that doesn’t include abstinance-based sex ed, only versions which don’t include evidence-based sex ed. Which I think is an interesting…decision, let’s call it a decision, hmm?

Franklin: The United States still has a strongly Puritan attitude toward sex. The Puritans came to this continent a long time ago and didn’t stick around for all that long, but their ideas, especially about morality, have left a lasting mark on the American social fabric. Our weird, toxic ideas about sex trace directly back to Puritanism, which shows you just how stubbornly cultural values can persist. So it’s not really that surprising that all US sex ed includes abstinence.

Eunice: More than includes abstinence, Franklin, it requires abstinence. In contrast, when I was having a look at the UK National Curriculum for Relationships and Sex education for comparision, I only realised after we talked that as far as I can tell, abstinence-based education isn’t included as a requirement. I don’t think it’s even mentioned. Those Puritans really took some wild ideas with them when they abandoned British shores in a huff because they couldn’t persecute others, and I for one can only be grateful they didn’t stick around, honestly.

Joreth: I’ve been trying to finish uploading my pictures from my road trip to New England last summer, and just did a section of Puritan gravestones, which had some interesting rules on what could be put on a gravestone and what couldn’t because of their morality and some of that stuff persists to graves today, so it’s really fascinating to me how long-lasting the Puritans’ mark on our culture really is. (We will have a lot more to say about Puritanism in our Patreon out-takes, so sign up on Patreon to hear that conversation!)

Eunice: We’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent here, let’s haul ourselves back to topic. I’m aware that this is a losing battle, but let’s at least try to focus! We had a fantastic chat that we’re really excited to share with you, so Joreth, do you want to introduce the wonderful Ms Ashley to kick us off?

Joreth: Ashley Robertson identifies as a feminine, ethically non-monogamous, doll. With over a decade of experience in the BDSM scene, she isn’t shy of perverse topics. She is a liberated educator who wishes to share with others the freedom of sexuality without shame. With three teaching degrees, she’s fed up with the idea that learning comes from a constrictive set of standards. She facilitates adaptations of the Our Whole Lives curriculum adapting the workshops to fit diverse audiences. This non-coercive, comprehensive approach to sex ed is what we all wished we had in high school.

Franklin: Ms. Ashley had quite a lot to say, so let’s jump right into the interview. We had a few technical issues with our recording, so just a heads up that the quality might not be as good as usual.

Joreth: So this is going to be fairly standard. We’ll have a bunch of questions to ask you. Mainly we wanted to have a conversation where you had the opportunity to talk about what you wanted to talk about.

You know, I’ve done my share as a podcast guest myself, and it’s usually the podcast has an agenda. They have a story they want to tell and you sort of fit into it. So then they ask the guest to talk about whatever the podcast wants to hear

But we wanted to give you an opportunity to talk about what you wanted as a researcher.

Joreth: So, science based, especially evidence based, sex ed…we are all so behind that.

Ms. Ashley: It’s very generous of you to share your platform, thank you. I appreciate that.

Eunice: We’re also just really excited to hear what you’re going to say.

Ms. Ashley: I have a couple of articles I’d love to share, and I have like some personal anecdotes about how this work goes, that kind of goes along with these articles. So I thought that was the content I’d like to share with you and your listeners today.

A little back story about me. I wasn’t planning to be a sex educator. That wasn’t what I went to school for. I’m learning this as an in the field researcher and in the field doing it.

I was trained to facilitate one particular curriculum called the our Whole Lives Curriculum. And what I found here in Indiana is that it’s hard to find opportunities for this kind of work, because the curriculum that I learned about, and that I am able to facilitate, is comprehensive. It’s not as much of a friendly place for that kind of learning here in Indiana.

I guess the main story I’d love to share is for all of your listeners to be advocates and allies for comprehensive sex education opportunities. I feel like if there’s any action item I could ask for for people with kids and without kids, it’s to rally behind this idea that more information earlier and often is better than the alternative.

Some of the research that I have to share this evening comes specifically from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Because I feel like, hey, that’s a reliable source. These are the people that we turn to when we are parents and trying to understand best practice and safest ways to do things. And so I was like, hey, I think this is a good. Source and also not that much of a controversial source, right?

Like if I was pulling from Planned Parenthood, or, you know, any other faith-based source, there could be conversation about like oh, this is very biased. But I felt like this is a real, rooted-in-science resource, so I wanted to start with that.

And I guess I’m curious from all of you, if you know what the two types of sex ed are that are available in the United States?

Joreth: Well, I’m assuming that one is going to be abstinence-based, which is probably rooted in in religion and faith, whether it says so upfront or not.

And then the other, I’m hoping is a more evidence based curriculum.That that’s what I would guess are the two main ones.

Franklin: Yeah, well, definitely abstinence-only sex education is all over the news pretty much all of the time. Which is a little scary when you look at the data and see just how much it doesn’t work. I would hope that the other one would be evidence based, but you know, considering the times we live in right now, I am not going to make that bet.

I mean, you know you say that pediatricians are an evidence based source that nobody would ever question, and, you know, obviously completely neutral, but we live in a world where people think that the Centers for Disease Control are part of some kind of conspiracy, so I’m not sure that’s necessarily true.

Eunice: I mean, I’ll be honest abstinence-only, at least I understand what that is. It is interesting, in the sense of how much it doesn’t include.

But when it comes to evidence based, I don’t know where the evidence comes from. I don’t know what evidence they pick to refer to when they talk about evidence-based. So that’s something that I’m interested in. What do they mean by evidence based? I mean, I’m assuming that there’s not one single source that all of the curricula that use evidence based sex ed will be looking to.

I’m assuming that different sources will potentially come up, and I’d be interested to know what’s the difference between them.

Ms. Ashley: I will do my best to answer some of those questions. I don’t know if I have all the answers. The two main types of curriculum available in the United States are abstinence only, which is known as a “sexual risk avoidance program. This means that they teach that abstinence from sex is the only morally acceptable option for you.

Or the second option, which is comprehensive. Comprehensive sex ed means it’s medically accurate, evidence based information about both contraception and abstinence. So the abstinence only curriculums will not talk about contraception.

Franklin: That’s really scary.

Eunice: Oh, right, Yikes, exactly.

Ms. Ashley: So then, within comprehensive there’s actually two other branches. Within comprehensive programs there’s an abstinence plus program, which means they are still teaching that sex abstinence is the only morally acceptable option for youth, but the plus means that they share about condoms.

And then with the full, expansive, comprehensive programs, this includes all conversations about medically accurate, evidence based information, contraception, abstinence being the safest form of risk avoidance, including also conversations about safer sex in lots of different varieties of sex, and healthy relationships. So that’s the whole shebang. This is an interpersonal conversation. This is not just about our bodies and our reproductive organs.

So there’s kind of 2 main branches of sex ed programs and then off of the comprehensive there’s two main branches. One is more palatable for a lot of school systems because it’s still abstinence based, but it adds this idea of condoms. And then our full shebang is the one I’m advocating for as a sexual educator.

So one of the coolest things I found as I was going through this information from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that they identify comprehensive sex education as preventative health care. I love this idea. No one talks about this and there’s so much validity in this idea of preventative health care when children are young and even for adulthood because it reduces the burden on our society fnancially, if we’re being preventative with our bodies. And so that just made me so happy. It’s like the pediatricians of our country are saying comprehensive sex ed is preventative health care.

Joreth: I mean, it makes sense, right? It is! Everything about sex ed is preventing bad stuff from happening.

Ms. Ashley: Yes, and they also made a very clear point to say sexuality education can be disseminated through three separate learning domains: cognitive, which is about teaching information; affective, which is about teaching about feelings, values and attitudes; and behavioral, which is about communication, decision making and other skills. So I loved this idea that our pediatricians are saying to the whole country, “when you talk about sex, with any age, with any kids, it should be all three parts. It should be, what information do they need to know, how can we identify their social emotional skills, and how can we empower them to make decisions with their bodies and communicate with others for healthy relationships?””

So yay! Instead of it just being this like weird and awkward, shame-based conversation about genitals, it’s supposed to be the whole thing that creates an awareness of a person’s whole self.

So I’m curious from you all. Since this is the podcast that people want to hear stories: of those three domains, cognitive, affective, and behavioral, what was your experience of sex ed growing up?

Franklin: Oh God. My experience of sex ed growing up was basically a 5 minute conversation in high school health class and a “don’t do it.” That was pretty much it.

But then I went to high school in Florida, which is not exactly a shining beacon for fact and evidence based progressive ideas about science and reality. And they certainly would not be swayed by any kind of approach that said, “look, we’re trying to do harm reduction or risk management,” because, I’ll be honest, what Florida is all about is, “well, if you break the rules you should suffer.”

Eunice: Uh, the interesting thing is that I’m based in the UK and the UK has a national curriculum that legally has to have evidence based relationships and sex education, right? So in primary school, that’s up to about the age of ten or eleven, it is mandatory to have relationships education. And in secondary school, which is up to 16 or 18 depending on the school, it is mandatory to have relationships and sex education. And this is just what is it.

And it should cover relationships. But also contraception and intimate relationships. Healthy relationships of all types, you know.

Looking at the National curriculum now for the sorts of sex ed that is expected in the UK, it is based on evidence. Whether or not the actual schools are any good at teaching it is a slightly different matter, but legally it is expected that you have evidence based teaching in a range of topics.

However, when I was growing up, I grew up under the auspices of Section 28, which specified that it was illegal to teach that homosexual relationships were acceptable, so I grew up in that era. And I think that law was only repealed in 2003 as I remember.

Joreth: That’s pretty recent.

Eunice: So yeah, yeah, that was like 80 something to 2003 I believe is when that law went into effect. God bless Maggie Thatcher.

And that meant that it was illegal to teach kids about homosexuality in a way that suggested that it was healthy or reasonable or normal or acceptable, And therefore they just basically didn’t teach anything that wasn’t heterosexual monogomous relationships.

So yeah, there’s two parts to this, right? They’re kind of contradictory, because I came out as bisexual when I was in my teens in high school.

Joreth: Right in the middle of that?

Eunice: Yeah, like that was that was smack bang in the middle of it. I did not get any sex ed that related to anything other than heterosexual monogamous relationships.

Ms. Ashley: I hear that a lot and I’m sorry for that, because it invalidates you as who you are or you become invisible. And that’s not how it should be. You are absolutely wonderful and valid, exactly as you are.

Eunice: I’m so glad that is no longer in place, and that they specifically require you to teach about LGBTQ issues now in the national curriculum.

Ms. Ashley: Yeah, in the UK that is not happening in the US

Eunice Yes, in the UK.

Franklin: I don’t see that happening in the US anytime soon. To be honest, I mean the US is still struggling with the idea that anybody who is not a cishet white dude is actually a person.

Joreth: Yeah, we we have a terrible track record with evidence based anything, really.

Now, my experience is contradictory in a lot of ways, because I went to public school up through age 12/13, which is junior high, and I went to a private Catholic school for high school. The contradictory part is that I had an amazing sex ed through high school, but only for the medical stuff.

We covered a little bit of the relationship, only so much as I had a a marriage section in one of my classes, where we had the we had to plan our wedding. We had to have a household budget. We had to carry around the flower sack baby. So it’s all very heteronormative, but it wasn’t a whole lot of of a relationship communication work. It was just, “eventually you’re going to get married and have kids. So this is how you do a budget and this is what it’s like to walk around, carrying five pounds on your arm every day.””

Franklin: Seriously, wow.

Joreth: Oh yeah, I should show you pictures. My flower baby was named Jacob.

Franklin: Oh man. That’s a good biblical name.

Eunice: There was actually a book I read about this, like a fiction book. I read fiction books about this thing and I didn’t realize it was a real thing that happened.

Joreth: Yes, it’s a real thing. And part of my project was I had to have pictures, so I walked around town as a teenager, pushing a baby carriage.

Franklin: Good Lord.

Joreth: And people thought I was a teenage mother. So that one of the things that I was reporting on, the societal response to me as what they thought was a teenage mother. My teacher was not expecting that as part of my report.

But for the biology part of it, I had fantastic sex ed. We had some form of sex ed every single year in my 4 years of high school, although one of the semesters was not so much sex ed as it was a self defense course because we were an all girls school.

So our priest, our schools priest, was a black belt in some martial art. One of our health classes, the entire semester was all self defense. So I learned how to flip people over my shoulder and break grips.

Franklin: Oh my God.

Joreth: Explains a few things about me! But then, I was also a sociology major. We didn’t really have majors like in college, but we could get started early on college prep courses. So in high school I was already planning to go from my marriage and family counseling degree and I had planned to specialize in problem teenagers.

So through my psychology courses, I got a lot of the relationship and the communication stuff through that, all through my private Catholic school.

So I had a really strange, contradictory sort of experience with sex ed growing up.

Ms. Ashley: Quite a variety of experiences represented here in this in this group. Mine was very much the sexual risk avoidance model. I was part of the evangelical purity culture.

Franklin: Oh God.

Ms. Ashley: We got most of our sex head through through church, and there was this big ceremony of, like, professing that you will wait until marriage, and your parent came up and gave you a purity ring and put it on your wedding ring finger and like this whole thing.

Franklin: Oh my God. You actually did the purity ring thing.

Ms. Ashley: I did! That was very serious. And my personal experience led me to find out later that having some autonomy of your body and ownership of your body and experience of some kind actually helps you find a better mate or understand your needs to communicate what you desire and how you act.

Joreth: Imagine that. Surprise!

Ms. Ashley: So it didn’t serve me either. And interestingly, in 2012 there was a national campaign to prevent teen and unplanned pregnancy, where they surveyed 1200 high school seniors. Many of them were girls, some of them were boys and they had mixed feelings about their first time that they had had sex. Also called “sexual debut.” That’s one of the nice ways of saying that.

Joreth: Oh, I have feelings about that.

Ms. Ashley: Yeah, “sexual debut.”” More than 3/4 responded that they would change the way that their first sexual experience occurred. So there we have it, more than 3/4 of them said “I would have liked this to go differently,” and I feel like the only way that that could go differently is with more information, right?

That’s how we don’t drop our children into the deep end of a pool having never had any swimming lessons.

Franklin: Well, some people do…

Ms. Ashley: Yep, without an instructor there?

Franklin: Yes, Yep.

Ms. Ashley: Wait! Okay, I’m gonna need this story.

Franklin: That’s a thing! That’s a thing that happens. You know, it’s the whole sink or swim right? That’s literally what that means.

Joreth: I was just talking with with a friend. It’s certain areas more than others, but I was just talking with a friend who that was how she learned. Her father just dropped her in the water and said, you know, learn to swim, make it to shore.

Ms. Ashley: I feel like that’s probably not the recommended practice, right? The same thing with a knife. Most people wouldn’t give their children a knife at the age of 16, having never had any experience with a knife before.

Eunice: Well…

I remember coming home once and just like making sandwiches and cooking, turning around with a knife in my hand and my friend who’d come back to my place afterwards looking down and was like, “your parents let you use those knives?” And I just looked down, like “yes. My family is Chinese. I see my parents regularly holding bigger knives than this. This is a bread knife. I am not going to be able to stab anyone with this.”

Ms. Ashley: So, there! You had more information than your peer, because your parents had exposed you to information. Your peer probably didn’t even know there was a name, “bread knife” as opposed to “steak knife” as opposed to “chef’s knife.”

Joreth: You know, you’re probably less likely to stab someone unintentionally than your friend.

Ms. Ashley: Yeah, because you’d already had some experience with the knife, and so that’s a good explanation for exactly what we are talking about here, which is giving youth and children more information earlier on, in a comprehensive way.

One thing that the American Academy of Pediatrics also highlights is this idea that families and primary caregivers are the main source of potential information for their children and the children in their care. What they find is that conversations that a pediatrician can have with a family early on can help any parents that potentially feel awkward or discomfort or shame or embarrassment surrounding some of these topics.

And so they’re also advocating for parent education and caregiver education, which is saying things like, “it’s absolutely normal for children and youth to desire self stimulation and safe touch. This is part of them being sexual being,s and it allows them to later explore them their own bodies in safer ways.

So teaching parents that like it’s normal for your 2 year old to masturbate, you don’t need to pathologize that. That’s absolutely part of natural curiosity and the way that our bodies work.

So any parent who’s listening who feels like squicked out or a little uncomfortable or unable to access doing this with their child in a way that’s useful and calm and cool and collected, there are lots and lots of resources out there for you to use as a parent to educate yourself and to feel more informed and more capable of having these conversations.

One of the resources that I love to share is sexetc.org. There you can find crazy vocabulary lists for things in case like your teenager comes home and says a word and you don’t know what it is, organized by alphabet. So sexetc.org.

Weknowship.org is an organization out of Maine. They do virtual workshops three to four times a year. Some of them are specifically for parents. They have presenters that come in. So weknowship.org. It’s all sorts of things. It’s like, how has the pandemic affected my child and what can I do to reverse some of its effects? Or pornography and my teenager, or shame-free potty training. You know, there’s like all sorts of things like that.

I also like to recommend amaze.org, which is a site full of videos, and these videos are organized by topic so you can look one up and watch it before you share it with your child. It gives you some of the words to say to your child, like a like a script. So if a topic comes up, you can research and see if there’s a video there that could help you navigate the words yourself.

There’s also Sex Positive Parenting, which is full of blog posts and resources.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics is absolutely saying the parents and caregivers are the best place for this information to come from, not necessarily schools, so don’t rely on your child’s school for this information. Take every opportunity that you have for it to layer upon itself and build, so that your child has access to a more complete understanding of these topics.

Franklin: All of that kind of assumes that you have parents who are active and involved and engaged with their kids, and who want their kids to have factual information, and who are not themselves surrounding sex with layers of shame and guilt. I’ll be honest, in the US, that kind of seems like a big ask.

Ms. Ashley: I feel that way too and so if we can get this conversation out more to more people and one parent says to another parent, you know, even if they’re like, out having drinks or if they’re texting about a situation they’re dealing with with their kid., if one parent says to another parent, “I heard that being sex positive and body positive is probably a better way, instead of like punishing your child for pooping in their pants again.” Even just that one little thing from one parent to another could spark that curiosity in that parent to say, “wait, what is this ‘sex positive?’ Does that mean I want my kid to have sex?” And then that other person who was like, “Well, I don’t really know a whole lot about it, but from what I understand, it means I’m saying there’s nothing wrong with their body because they have genitals.” It’s not dirty, it’s not gross. It’s just like a nose or an ear. It just happens to be an area that we say is private.

If one parent can say a tiny thing that they learn to another parent, which sparks curiosity, and then if there’s pushback, then that parent that said the thing might go back and do a little more research, and then it sort of snowballs. I would love for that to be more of a thing.

Joreth: It sounds like we also could use a strong curriculum for sex ed for adults.

Ms. Ashley: Which is exactly what the one I teach is. The Our Whole Lives curriculum spans the lifespan of a human, which is really amazing. It starts in kindergarten and there’s a curriculum for the younger elementaries. Then there’s a curriculum for the mid elementaries. Then there’s a curriculum for the middle school, which is very puberty heavy content. There’s a high school curriculum. There’s a younger adults curriculum. There’s an adult curriculum and an older adults curriculum.

It actually grows with people, and so we’re not ignoring this idea of menopause. And we’re not ignoring this idea of death of spouses and having to redefine our lives independently once we’re older. It grows with us, which is one of the reasons why if anyone can get access to an Our Whole Lives facilitator, get ’em. Do it. It’s great stuff.

Eunice: Yeah, I love that idea of the older adults, because I practically never see any sort of relationship or sex ed that’s directed at somebody who, you know, maybe they’ve been married before. They’re starting to approach menopause, or their their post0menopause or whatever. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that out there.

Joreth: I’ve been talking lately that we basically have The Golden Girls and Grace and Frankie and that is pretty much all of the information. Both educational and in media, we have those two sources for anybody who is in the menopausal or after range. While it’s entertaining, and while I’m glad to see this in popular media, that cannot be the only exposure we have to what it’s like for seniors to have sex.

Franklin: Oh man.

Eunice: How old are the Sex and the City actors now? Like, Sex and the City is getting older, and I guess they just carry on going.

Joreth: Yeah, they’re in their 50s now, ’cause they’ve got the new show out. That’s right, that just came out. And because now it’s the comparison that the actors from Sex and the City are now the same age as the characters from The Golden Girls. So what is that? That’s the 50s.

Yeah, three shows now that even broach the subject of what sex is like for people who are a little bit older. And we need so many more avenues to discuss those topics, because if all the fortunes are in our favor, we are all going to be in that position someday. So this is a subject we need to have more information on.

Ms. Ashley: I have a question. Have you ever seen a condom used in either of those shows, or discussion of a condom used in either of those shows?

Joreth: Yes, Sex in the City definitely covers condom use. They have several episodes about it.

Ms. Ashley: Oh, I meant Golden Girls or Grace and Frankie.

Joreth: Grace and Frankie. I want to say that they did discuss it, that they did mention it.

Ms. Ashley: My only remembering about that, was that they were trying to develop and market easy-open condoms for arthritic hands.

Joreth: That might have been the context that I saw them. ’Cause most of what it is, you know, two senior women who are trying to enjoy pleasure and, you know, being physically hampered by it. So that’s why they create the female masturbation device for older women with arthritic hands, which I think is a fabulous idea.

Ms. Ashley: I don’t feel like there’s a whole lot of discussion there, and that’s one of the demographics where we’re having the higher rates of STI’s because there’s no real discussion, and that wasn’t part of how they grew up in negotiating sex.

Joreth: Yeah, I mean wasn’t that entire generation basically married during the AIDS crisis, so why would they? They wouldn’t have needed to have known that.

Eunice: Right, I was actually quite bemused when I realized that old people homes are apparently the location for the fastest transmission of STI’s.

Joreth: Yes, in fact The Villages here in Florida is particularly notorious for that. And it’s also in a red area. They’re highly conservative. They’re all Trump voters, and among the senior living facilities, they have one of the highest rates.

Ms. Ashley: So this is furthering this idea that comprehensive education with more information about how to communicate your desire for someone to wear a barrier and use a barrier is going to be healthier.

Yes, one of the things this article says is that if comprehensive sex ed programs are offered in schools, positive outcomes can occur, including delay in the initiation and reduction in the frequency of sexual intercourse. A reduction in the number of sexual partners and an increase in condom use.

So wow, those are like 3 massive things we would love to have for all of our children and youth: reducing how many partners they have, increasing their use of condoms ’cause hey they know how to use them, and waiting.

So that’s one of the biggest things that I hear from people is, like, well, if you want to do comprehensive sex ed and if you want to be advocating for this idea of sex positivity and family cultures, all you’re doing is giving kids permission to do it earlier. I hear that so, so much and I just want to be very clear that is not the case.

Joreth: Yeah, I like to laugh every time that comes up. I’m like, how long has it been since you were a teenager? Because I remember being a teenager. Like, not having a lot knowledge didn’t stop anyone. My cohort was all about having sex at the time. So you know they don’t need to have this information to have sex, but having the information having that information is going to make it safer.

That’s a huge argument that Florida had, though, when the HPV vaccine came out and Florida actually tried to prevent people from getting it because they’re like, “o”h yeah, this is the vaccine.””

Joreth: Oh yes.

Franklin: What did they call it? There was an editorial in the paper that I read. They called it the “slut vaccine,” because, you know, you give people this vaccine and now all of a sudden they’re going to run around and be promiscuous because there’s no penalties. This comes from a mindset that says the way you prevent people from doing things that we consider bad is to punish them if they do.

Franklin: And STI prevention and harm reduction, they actually act against that philosophy.

Joreth: That’s the punishment.

Franklin: If you can prevent people from getting sick, if you can prevent people from having babies, you make them more immoral. That’s the mindset. And I don’t know how you counter that mindset.

Eunice: I don’t know. The guidance in the UK for the national curriculum specifically states outright that effective relationship and sex education does not encourage early sexual experimentation. They put it out there in those words and they’re just like moving on. Let’s just, let’s just ignore it, just moving on.

Ms. Ashley: I literally have this highlighted in this in this article. It says we know that abstinence is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy and STI’s, right? However, research has conclusively demonstrated that programs promoting abstinence only until heterosexual marriage occurs are ineffective. It doesn’t work.

Joreth: Like I said if that’s what I always tell, ’cause I work with so many conservative people ’cause I live in Florida. And every time this comes up, well, you know it’s just giving them permission. If there aren’t any punishments attached, then it’s just giving you permission. Like honey, you were a kid too and it didn’t stop you. So we know that not having the information does not stop them. We know this. We don’t need the studies. I’m glad we have them, but we don’t need them. We all know that not having the information doesn’t stop it.

Franklin: But I think that the fact that it doesn’t work is actually OK with a lot of people, particularly religious people who oppose sex ed, because they’re like, “we would rather see 20 wrongdoers punished ththan 18 wrongdoers not suffer harm for what they’re doing wrong. Like the fact that it does not prevent people from having sex or having kids or whatever, that’s fine. Because where they’re coming from is: yes, people will do this anyway. They need to suffer. They need to be punished.

Joreth: Right, but the point is that with the education they won’t be doing the wrongdoing.

Franklin: You can’t get them to believe that though. This is a fundamental identity sort of belief, and my mother always used to say when I was growing up, “information by itself almost never changes attitudes.” If you believe that sex ed gives people permission to have sex and that sex ed will cause promiscuity, no study, no table, no chart is going to change that, because that’s fundamentally a belief that comes from religious identity, not from fact.

Joreth: You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.

Franklin: Yes.

Eunice: And original sin. You’re already a Sinner. Is it such a surprise if you then go and sin?

Ms. Ashley: So none of that is rooted in evidence.

Franklin: Nope.

Ms. Ashley: It’s all rooted in myth. They are very preciously held myths from stories that people have chosen to put on a pedestal, and, you know, believe as fact. And so it’s important for us to say like that’s not real, that didn’t actually happen, but they’re great stories. If they’re important to you, I’m happy to respect that they’re important to you.

But what we actually know is that considerable evidence shows that sexual education programs can be effective in delaying sexual initiation among teens and increasing their use of contraception, especially condoms.

One study in 2007 found that there was no difference in the mean age of a first sexual encounter or the number of sexual partners between two groups when they looked at one group that had abstinence only education and another group that had abstinence plus education, meaning they had they learned about contraception as well.

So no effect. There was nothing positive in the abstinence only group. There was no difference in mean age of starting. So giving them more information about contraception did not make them go out and be crazy right?

Currently in the US, roughly 1/3 of high schools teach condom use. 1/3.

Joreth: 1/3

Franklin: Wow, that’s disappointing.

Ms. Ashley: It is. It is very disappointing, especially considering that is our front line of defense against all the STI’s. And I do not have this statistic right now, but the number of youth that experience an STI is rising, because they’re like uninformed about what the warning signs are that they might have something, or that they might be carrying something. And so then they don’t know what their body is telling them in order to go seek medical advice. So those that idea of like, hey, a condom could have prevented this had they have known about it or how to use it, is something I would love for parents to be specifically asking within their their children’s sex ed programs. Like, “Does this include condoms?”

Because it’s really hard to find out this information. I’m doing this right now with my own child program in their own school, and I had to like talk to the director of the program to get this information. It wasn’t anywhere online.

So if that’s another action item that families might want to go with, is just can you get to the bottom of whether or not your high schools in your area include this very important information?

Franklin: We had a lot to say, way more than we could fit in this episode, so we’ll be back next month with part 2 of this interview. And does it bother anyone but me that it takes so much work to find out what’s in the high school sex ed courses your kids might be taking?

Eunice: Yeah, it’s such a great point that she makes, and I don’t understand why there isn’t a clearly laid out curriculum for people to be able to look at? I mean, so many parents are getting so het up about what their kids are learning in sex ed, and it turns out most of them don’t even know?

Joreth: I can kinda understand if you think of it from the point of view that most of the super nosy busybodies wanting to check up on their kid’s sex-ed course are the conservatives who might get pissy at any accurate information included, that I could see a sex-ed provider being a little bit cagey about what’s in their course.

Eunice: Oh yeah, that’s a fair point.

Joreth: But that’s why we really need a robust, national, standard sex ed curriculum – so it can be transparent but also not subject to pressures from non-evidence-based, values-laden complaints, which we’ll also get to in the second half of the interview.

Franklin: So that’s this month’s episode! As before, you can find show notes and a transcript on skepticalpervert.com. Next month, we’ll also include all the links Ms. Ashley referenced during the interview in the show notes. Comments or ideas? Drop an email to contact@skepticalpervert.com. If you like the show, give us a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or wherever you found us. And don’t forget to join our patreon, which is linked on the website.

Eunice: And remember: be skeptical about your abstinence, not absent with your skepticism!

Joreth: I can’t turn that into a dirty joke or a way to torture Franklin, it’s just kind of an important message.

Franklin: That doesn’t sound like you.

Eunice: Don’t get used to it!

Joreth: We have plenty of other ways to torture you.

Episode 6: Libido, Accelerators, and Brakes!

This episode has been plagued with problems and technical glitches, but fear not, in the end we triumphed!

In this episide, the three of us talk about Emily Nagoski’s book Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life, which attempts to take a rigorous look at how libido works. (Spoiler: It’s complicated, and no, men aren’t always horny.)

Nagoski talks about “accelerators,” social and situational factors that drive us toward sexual engagement, and “brakes,” social and situational factors that hold back our libido. The book offers a quiz to help you understand how your libido works, though as we discuss in the episode, there are some problems with it (Nagoski seems to be coming from looking at libido from a narrow perspective of one-on-one monogamous encounters without factors like kink or fetishes).

Here’s the transcript:

Franklin: Hello, and welcome to Skeptical Perverts, the podcast where we look at human sexuality through an evidence-based, skeptical lens! I’m one of your hosts and part-time mad scientist, Franklin Veaux.

Joreth: Hi! I’m your co-host and Renaissance cat, Joreth! I have a background in human sexuality and relationship communication, I’m kinky, solo polyamorous, on the ace spectrum, chicana, feminist, my gender identity is “tomboy”, and my pronouns are she/her but I use masculine titles.

Eunice: And I’m Eunice, your friendly neighbourhood queer, kinky, grey-ace demisexual. I’m an East Asian cis woman, hailing from the British side of the pond, with a large pot of tea and a correspondingly sizeable dose of genteel snark. This week: libido! More specifically, spontaneous versus responsive libidos. We’ll also be talking about the excitatory and inhibitory sexual systems. A lot of what we’ll be discussing came from the book Come as You Are: the bestselling guide to the new science that will transform your sex life by Dr Emily Nagoski, specifically the revised and updated edition that came out in March 2021. 

Franklin: This book is really interesting, and I highly recommend it for a number of reasons. We took a look at it and some other sources for this episode (check out the show notes online), so let’s get started: Joreth and Eunice, you really wanted to talk about this topic, so what are spontaneous libido and responsive libido?

Joreth: Spontaneous Libido or Spontaneous Desire is what we think of as just “libido” – a person feels sexual arousal, and thinks “hey, I’m aroused, I should find something to have sex with!” This thought process is largely subconscious and nearly instantaneous, and if the person already has a regular sexual partner, then the question is answered for them without any conscious questioning of it. They feel arousal first, they go looking for their partner. 

Franklin: I like how you said “something to have sex with,” not “someone to have sex with.” 

Joreth:  That was deliberate!

Franklin:  That’s basically how I work! I’ll be walking down the street minding my own business and then Wham! Hey, I’m horny! It comes out of the blue, without necessarily being attached to any triggering sight or sound or anything. When I tried bremelanotide like we talked about in the first episode, I felt that same thing but a thousand times stronger.

Joreth: Hah, yeah, that has maybe only happened to me a handful of times in my entire life, and usually under very specific contexts, which we’ll get into later. A Responsive Libido or Responsive Desire is when the body has sexual things happening to it and then the brain goes “oh, right, we like this! OK, fire up the engines everyone, it’s time to have sex!”

Eunice: In many ways it’s hard to even really talk about this clearly — we barely have suitable words to describe the experience of responsive libidos, because we live in a world where spontaneous libidos are considered ‘the norm’ or ‘the ideal’ or even ‘what sexual desire looks like’. In that situation, how do you talk about having a responsive libido in a way that doesn’t sound like you’re saying “my unusual way of feeling sexual desire”? But having a responsive libido is not only entirely normal and usual, but Dr Nagoski suggests that everyone basically has it. It’s just that some people have the spontaneous version as well. 

Joreth: Yeah, it’s so frustrating because society 1) assumes that Spontaneous Desire is the default form of libido, making any other form of libido “deviant” automatically and then 2) assumes that Spontaneous Libido is the MALE default, which then if you follow that to its logical conclusion, means that women all have the same sex drive and that it’s deviant while all men have the same sex drive and that it’s the “normal” version.

Franklin: Assuming that spontaneous libido is ‘male’ and responsive libido is ‘female’ seems to fit what we see in a lot of romantic comedies, but I have to say I’ve known men with responsive libidos and I’ve dated women with spontaneous libidos, so calling them ‘male’ and ‘female’ libidos seems a little farfetched.

Joreth: Seems to fit romantic comedies and, like, every dudebro on the internet who swear that women don’t like sex but use it to dupe men into giving them money. And, yeah, I’ve dated quite a few men with responsive libidos. It’s convenient for them to have someone like me as a partner because they won’t get pressured by their partner into sex when they’re not feeling it or have their masculinity challenged when I’m also not feeling it. 

On the downside, though, we might both be open to sex if sexy stuff starts happening, but with neither of us starting it, I’ve been in several relationships where the sex just didn’t happen for months, even years at a time because it didn’t occur to either one of us to start it spontaneously.

Eunice: Oh goodness, yes that sounds familiar, have you been making notes on my relationships?? Before we go any further, one of the things I want to note here is that a lot of the research was done by researchers with assumptions about binary gender, so when we’re referring to studies we have to use the language they used in their write ups. It’s not that we, or Dr Nagoski, think that there are only cis females and cis males, it’s that the scientists who did the research started from that assumption, and often only studied cis people, so we’re having to discuss these studies in that light. And that is something we need to remember throughout. Scientists are also people, who are impacted by the media around them, and their societal conditioning. Which might also explain why it was so much easier to find studies referring to low libidos in women as normal, and only ever as something to ‘fix’ in men.

Franklin: We saw that when we did the episode on aphrodisiacs. Aphrodisiacs are generally prescribed to women, for “hypoactive sexual desire disorder,” and drugs like Addyi and Vyleesi are usually approved and prescribed for women. It’s that societal assumption Eunice was talking about: men are horndogs and women are frigid.

Joreth: So this brings up the issue of low libido vs. responsive libido, which are very much not the same thing. For my entire life, I thought I had a low libido because I didn’t seem to get aroused spontaneously, and I could go for long periods of time not having sex and not even noticing that I hadn’t had sex in a while.

But that didn’t quite match up with what was going on in my brain. See, also from a very young age, I have been preoccupied with thoughts of sex A LOT. I think about sex and relationships all the freaking time. So, for someone who thinks about sex all the time, I’m remarkably uninterested in it. Or, rather, I’m lacking arousal, which is not necessarily the same thing, as we’re about to discuss.

Eunice: Yeah, I have a low libido and I noticed that I can also go long periods of time without having sex and not noticing or missing it. But I can still talk about sex, and sexual ideas, without feeling aroused or actively desiring sex in that moment. That’s basically the state I was in when I wrote most of the sc-ifi erotica books with Franklin! Plus arousal and desire are not the same thing. It’s the difference between being mentally interested in sex and being physically ready to have it.

Joreth: Exactly. Once someone told me about the phrase “responsive desire” and I looked into it, everything seemed to click into place for me. I can talk about sex and think about it, but my body is not physically, sexually aroused. And then I can clinically talk about sex as an academic topic, and even as a fun and flirty topic, and still not be interested in having it. 

However, when I’m mentally receptive to sexyfuntimes happening, and then someone I want to have sexyfuntimes with starts doing sexyfuntime stuff to me, THAT’S when my body starts responding with lubrication, blood flow, nerve sensitivity, etc. And in the context of a regular partner, that can happen frequently, always in response to the sexyfuntimes, though.  Only very rarely, and in very specific circumstances, will I feel arousal with no deliberate trigger, like right after a breakup, which is something we can talk about later if there’s time.

Eunice: Yeah, there’s a difference between being aroused and desiring sex, and desiring sex with an actual person. There really are times when I just can’t be bothered with having another human around, you know? 

Franklin: Whereas my sexual experience is quite different. I’m capable of having sex when I don’t feel desire—I have an agreement with one of my partners where under certain circumstances she’s allowed to demand sex from me regardless of how I’m feeling and I’m not allowed to say no—but for most of the time my sex drive is a “touch to start” kind of thing. It goes from zero to 60 faster than a Tesla Model S Plaid.

Eunice: Oh, there have been a number of times when I told partners “hey, I’m not currently aroused but how about you get started without me and I’ll join in when the old arousal systems kick in?” because I really, really need a good long run up at the thing. It’s a pretty consistent pattern and timeframe, but I can’t just jumpkick the startup phase, y’know, I have to take the long, slow steady route. 

Franklin: And if we get distracted in the middle of the startup phase by talking about ideas for a novel, well…

Eunice: Next thing you know, we have a Google Doc with a bunch of ideas, and a bed full of unused condoms and lube and kinky sex toys. Eh, writers. 

Joreth: Right, I didn’t say I *couldn’t* have sex when I don’t feel desire. And in fact, I would say that the majority of my sex was that way, either we started first and the desire came along later, or I made a conscious decision to have sex for non-desire-related reasons so we had sex and the desire never [heh] arose. 

Now that I understand that my arousal can kick in later, I am much more able to consider “am I in a mental state where I COULD get turned on, or am I just not?” and if I am, then I can allow a partner to just start with me and I’ll catch up as long as they do the groundwork, aka foreplay. Of course, technically I can have sex when I don’t feel desire at any point during the process. I mean, I have innie parts, so all I really need is some lube, which can be store-bought. But that’s a whole other kink.

Franklin: Or set of kinks, really.

Joreth: Yes, several of which I have. 

Franklin: Oh, I did not know that about you! I just learned something new about you!

Joreth: One of the pros of a long distance relationship? We can go this many years together and still be learning new things about each other sexually? Point is, I’m very glad to have learned this phrase some years back, because it’s really opened up my sex drive. Now, instead of just saying “sorry, honey, not tonight, I’m not interested”, I can say “hmm, I’m not currently aroused, but if you do X, I could probably get revved up” or “I’m not aroused at the moment and not likely to get it up, but I’d be happy to do this act for you!”

Eunice: I don’t know whether it was a function of age, experience, or more knowledge, but being able to say to a partner “I’m not interested in having an orgasm right now, but I’d be up for helping you to one” really made a huge difference for how willing I would be to get up to sexyfuntimes.

Franklin: Or “I’m not interested in having an orgasm but I’d be up for helping keep you from having one,” as I recall.

Eunice: Only with people who like that sort of thing, of course! And you do keep coming back for it, so…

Joreth: 15 years together, Franklin…

Franklin: You are both terrible people! 

Eunice: You really seem to have a type, huh? 

Franklin: On advice of counsel, I have no comment on that at this time.

Eunice: Communication, it works a treat! That one sexy trick that they didn’t teach you in all the magazines!

Franklin: That is a really good point, though. A lot of the stuff that’s missing from pop sex advice seems to revolve around learning how your libido works and then communicating that to your partner. Magazines are so fixated on whipped cream and fuzzy handcuffs, they miss the basics: the neurobiology of sexual response.

Eunice: The problem is that they want that magic silver bullet. That one guaranteed, quick, easy solution that will 100% work every single time. And that just doesn’t exist. Unless you include an actual bullet vibe, I guess…

Franklin: Trufact: I once ordered an entire case of bullet vibes. A case of bullet vibes is more bullet vibes than you think. One of the reasons I love Come As You Are is it introduces the idea of competing excitatory and inhibitory neural circuitry that regulate sexual arousal, which Dr. Nagoski describes as an “accelerator” and “brakes.” The excitatory circuitry increases arousal, while the inhibitory circuitry decreases it. These systems are both active all the time, to a greater or lesser degree, and together they determine if you’re turned on or not.

Joreth: Which brings us back to our first episode on Aphrodisiacs. First of all, there’s no distinguishing between “low libido” or hypoactive sexual desire, and “responsive desire” in the general culture. Second, there’s the whole cultural bias about spontaneous desire being the “default” setting. So anyone who has anything that deviates from that category is looking for or is told they need that magic silver bullet to transform their sex drive into one that more closely resembles a spontaneous libido.

Franklin: Thinking about the difference between responsive and spontaneous libido, and our very different reactions to PT-141, I wonder if there’s a connection between the efficacy of melanocortin agonist aphrodisiacs and libido style. I don’t want to lean too heavily on anecdotal results with a sample size of two, but wouldn’t it be ironic if bremelanotide works better on people with spontaneous libidos than on people with responsive libidos? And I wonder how that ties into the excitatory and inhibitory circuits? If I ever get a huge pile of money, I’m going to put so many people under an fMRI machine while they have sex!

Eunice: Yeah, we’re giving you this one for free, sex researchers, just get us some usable data back!

Joreth: I would love to see a study where they screen people for responsive vs. spontaneous libidos, then double-blind give them either a placebo or PT141 and see if there are any significant differences between the 4 groups. If that did turn out to be the case, it would be incredibly frustrating, given that the whole reason why I would be interested in something like this is to make it more like a spontaneous libido, only to find out that it couldn’t work on me because I don’t already have one?

Eunice: I wonder if the pathways that PT-141 works on to kickstart the arousal are the same parts that spontaneous libidos are already using? Which would explain why that happens, if indeed it is happening. Jamming your proverbial finger on the accelerator button won’t do much good if you’ve also got your foot flooring the brake, I reckon..

Franklin: Come As You Are has a couple of quizzes designed to assess whether or not your inhibitory or excitatory systems are more active. It’s quite a simple test, but we thought it might be interesting to take the quiz and see what happens. The questions are all ranked from 0, “this is not me at all,” to 4, “this is totally me.” 

The quiz has 10 questions total and the score is out of 20 points(?) on each half – the excitors and the inhibitors.  We’re going to include our final scores and a bit of commentary here.  The entire conversation where we all took the quiz together is about an hour and a half long, so we broke that up into a recording on the excitor questions and a recording on the inhibitor questions, and both of those recordings will be made available to our Patreons.  So if you want to hear the whole, unscripted conversation, become a patron on Patreon!  Here’s the summary with our scores:

Franklin: So the scores go from zero to 20. My score on the inhibitor section is a one. So I guess that means I—

Joreth: You have no inhibitors.

Franklin: And my sexual brakes as she calls them.

Eunice: You are not inhibited at all.

Franklin: She refers to sexual brakes and sexual accelerators.

Joreth: You have no brakes on your libido.

Franklin: And the purpose of this question. I have few brakes on my libido. I do have brakes on my libido, but my brakes are not the things that she thinks they are. Brakes tend to center on: is my partner engaged as my partner active is my partner having a good time here? Do I feel safe with this partner? Have we negotiated what’s happening? Is this a context that I feel I have given informed consent to and my partner has given informed consent to? Are we all fully on board, but the things that she thinks about as brakes? Or not, the things that inhibit my libido. So what did you guys score?

Joreth: Actually, I think I scored fairly low. I expected to score higher. I got a 12 out of 20 on this. I expected to have much more sensitive brakes and I think part of the problem is, like you, Franklin, I do have quite a few inhibitors in my own brain. I just don’t think she touched him.

Eunice: Interestingly, I got 10 and that actually totally tracks with what I thought I had, which is I have medium level brakes. Brakes are not my issue, like they’re not the worst thing, but they’re also not like this means that they’re just kind of about average. My problem is that I don’t have many exciters like I have. We haven’t done the questions for the exciters yet, but my prediction for myself is that I will have a lot lower score for the exciters. I just am not getting like I’m not hitting that accelerator as much is what I predict is what I think.

Franklin: So how did we do on the expanded section? I think I scored a zero on the question about smells and I still ended up with a 14, which I guess is probably above average. I don’t know. We don’t know what the norms are for these and I got a 14 which is fairly high for the exciters and a one which is very low for the inhibitors.

Joreth: Oh, that’s true.

Eunice: I got 8/8 out of 20 for exciters, yeah.

Joreth: I got nine, so nine out of 20.

Eunice: That’s like fairly consistent for people who have a responsive libido. You know responsive libidos because quite frankly, these questions are not maybe focused in areas that would be nuanced enough for me to dig down any deeper into this. But like it for me at least, it feels pretty accurate to me that my inhibitors are kind of about like middling, but my exciters are kind of on the lower level ’cause it’s not that anything is super sensitive, it’s that it’s insensitive.

So what did we learn?

Franklin: Looking at the list of exciters, a lot of my personal exciters don’t appear there. I’m also confused about some of the inhibitors.

My takeaway from the quiz is first of all, it’s highly vanilla and mononormative. Second, I self-identify as someone with a spontaneous libido and I match the description of someone with a spontaneous libido pretty well, but I absolutely don’t see myself reflected in those questions. I think the idea of accelerators and brakes is good, but the questions in the quiz absolutely don’t fit me, and don’t describe the way my accelerators and brakes work. You can’t look at this quiz and get a good understanding of my libido.

Joreth: I’m with you, Franklin, when I read a description of Responsive Desire, I think I fit quite squarely in the description, but the questions made assumptions about sex and how we might like or not like stuff doesn’t line up. She has a very romance-novel view of sex where sex, and specifically women’s bodies, are beautiful and she wants very much for all of us to agree that this is all beautiful and that somehow sex is only going to be good once we all agree, and there is this one type of transcendent, soul-stirring sex that we should all be reaching for, and I just don’t agree. 

Biology, and humans specifically, are just gross, and ridiculous and totally inefficient, and that should be OK. There are a lot of different kinds of sex and different kinds of sensations that are not always transcendent but that doesn’t mean they’re “lesser”. There is absolutely nothing that is “beautiful” about your kazoo ball gag, Franklin – it’s silly and absurd and messy and it shouldn’t have to be “beautiful” to still have value.

Eunice: I mean, that kazoo ball gag was also hilarious. And the humiliation is a kink some people would definitely enjoy. But yeah. Her view of ‘good’ sex was…sweet, and charming, and always focused on mutual pleasure and connection. Sometimes we just want brain melting intensity and the ability to rub sweaty gross human fleshy bits together and that’s ok, you know? Or, in my case, I occasionally quite enjoy the kind of sex that isn’t intended to lead to orgasms for me, but will lead to many, many, probably way more than they wanted, orgasms for my sex partner. *cough*Franklin*cough*.

Franklin: The thing about forced orgasms is they’re the closest thing in the real world we have to ‘Blessings’ in our science fiction novels, drugs that let you change your feelings or responses to sex at will. Forced orgasms sound hot when you’re aroused, but once you’re done, you’re done, you don’t want them, and they aren’t hot any more. Which is what makes them hot.

Eunice: And that’s what makes the difference between a person who goes “I didn’t like that” and your response of “I didn’t like that, when can we do it again?” So…you’re welcome?

But back to the quiz! The fact that in a 10 question quiz there were multiple times where we debated what the question was actually trying to ask, and came up with multiple interpretations that would give different responses did not lead me to feeling confident about the answers I gave. I don’t even know if they were answering the actual questions as she meant them to be asked. She mentions:

Don’t mistake this for actual science! It’s a Cosmo quiz adaptation of the science, intended to guide you in your understanding of how your internal sexual response mechanism may influence your response to sexual stimulation, but it is just an approximation.

Now, in the footnotes she says that hers was adapted from Milhausen et al., “Validation of the Sexual Excitation/Sexual Inhibition Inventory” and Janssen et al., “The Sexual Inhibition/Sexual Excitation Scales—Short Form.” The originals are a little longer and more specific, but not by much! And some of the questions are exactly the same, or in some cases a few questions smashed together. This quick version she offers is very accurately described as a “Cosmo quiz adaptation” though — with many of the same fundamental issues and unconscious biases you often get in Cosmo magazine.

Franklin: Yeah, Cosmo tends to be mononormative and vanilla too. The problem, I think, is the idea about what sex looks like. We all carry templates around in our heads about what things are, and it’s easy to grow up in a monogamous, sex-negative society so that when you hear the word “sex,” you think “a man and a woman on a bed surrounded by candlelight engaging in missionary-position intercourse.” And if that’s the image you have, the questions you ask about sex will unconsciously lean that way.

So you end up asking questions like “If it is possible someone might see or hear us having sex, it is more difficult(?) for me to get aroused.” This really assumes that sex is private and done in couples; many people don’t have either of those ideas. And “Sometimes I feel so “shy” or self-conscious during sex that I cannot become fully aroused” is quite different for exhibitionists, where self-consciousness of the right kind can be a turn-on! There are many different varieties of self-consciousness, and some people find some of them hot. 

The quiz in the book borrows from the Sexual Excitation/Sexual Inhibition Inventory for Women, but some of the questions, like “Seeing a partner do something that shows their talent or intelligence, or watching them interacting well with others can make me very sexually aroused,” squish multiple questions together.

Eunice: Which explains why sometimes it was hard to answer her version. You’re effectively trying to answer two or three questions in one numerical response, when you might have different answers for each bit. I wonder, looking at the questions she picked and the ones she left out, whether she just selected the ones that spoke to her, and ignored the ones that she didn’t quite connect with. There’s a section titled ‘Sexual Power Dynamics’, for example, that includes questions like “Feeling overpowered in a sexual situation by someone I trust increases my arousal.” That directly speaks to a kink mindset! Like, that’s a major part of many people’s submissive preferences. And she just totally misses that entire bit of the quiz out. 

Plus there’s another bit that’s titled ‘Setting (Unusual or Unconcealed)’, with four questions in there. Those four questions are basically balanced half and half between “being caught, or being in a non-private setting is a turn on” and “being caught, or being in a non-private setting is a turn off”. That’s a typical way to try and get more accurate responses by pairing questions and comparing the answers you get to see if they’re consistent. The author has selected one of those four questions as a stand-in for that entire topic, which is fine except that she really needs to have selected one of the other questions! Because having the question “If it is possible someone might see or hear us having sex, it is more difficult for me to get aroused.” in the excitor section means that giving higher points to it is indicating the opposite of what she meant to indicate! A high score is not saying that “I get excited at the possibility of getting caught”, that’s saying “I am inhibited by the possibility of getting caught”. 

Franklin: I found that confusing, for sure. And for me, there’s a difference between “someone I trust seeing or hearing me in a consensual context,” which is neither a turn on nor a turnoff, vs “some stranger seeing or hearing me non-consensually,” which is a turnoff.

Joreth: So, there’s this other quote in the book that I liked: “It is normal to not want sex you don’t like.” Although there is more diversity among men and among women than between men vs. women, still more have women reported having a responsive libido and more men have reported having a spontaneous libido. That may be connected to the fact that heterosexual sex from the woman’s perspective is generally mediocre to bad, and if the libido is responsive anyway and not likely to start arousal first and then drive the person to finding a partner, the person would naturally not desire sex if all their sex is not good. 

I’ve had to explain to partners before that sex for women is more *expensive* in terms of risks, consequences, and even time and effort in exchange for quality, and sometimes even if I have a spontaneous desire, that desire gets ignored or suppressed because finding or initiating sex is just *not worth it*. Spend enough years like that, and that could condition someone into not having a spontaneous libido anymore, or not recognizing it. As she then says, “[P]erhaps much of what is currently diagnosed as sexual desire disorders can be best understood as a healthy response to dismal and disappointing sex.”

Eunice: And oh man, is it easy and common as a woman to have dismal and disappointing sex with cishet guys…

Franklin: Here again, though, I have a kind of “yes, but…” response. I often have sex I don’t enjoy in the moment, but I do enjoy in the memory. I think when she says “sex you don’t like,” she’s talking about something very specific, and not thinking about those of us who engage in kinks that we might not necessarily enjoy in the moment, but we still see value in anyway.

I’m not a masochist. I don’t enjoy pain. I have several partners who are sexual sadists, and I let them (or should I say let you?) do things to me I don’t like…because getting my partner hot is really nice. I particularly hate needle play, but I have a lover who really digs it, and seeing it get her hot is worth it to me, even though I don’t like it.

Eunice: And yet you keep coming back for more…

Franklin: Exactly! Sometimes I want sex I don’t like. I bet my experience isn’t unique here, and a lot of kinky people who read this book may feel like it doesn’t speak to their experiences.

Joreth: Yes, there is a difference here between “I did not actively receive pleasure from that activity, but I got a payout from it in another form such as a good memory” vs. “I actively disliked everything about this activity.” Like, I “like” flogging even though it hurts, but I DISlike, say, electrical play even though it doesn’t really hurt. I like rape PLAY but I don’t like RAPE. And it’s that kind of expense that I’m talking about.

Sex for people with innie parts in this culture can be expensive, with higher risk of STDs, higher risk of pregnancy, social stigma, and then tack on a responsive libido where there is *effort* that has to be made to get ramped up, and THEN add on typically male partners who don’t know how to make that kind of effort, and yeah, the sex isn’t going to be that great and it’s totally normal to not desire something you don’t like.

Franklin: True. I think it’s easy to conflate those two types of “I don’t like this,” especially when your mental image of what sex looks like is highly vanilla.

Eunice: I mean, even the sex I have that looks vanilla isn’t always actually vanilla. 

Joreth: No, kind of related to vanilla vs. kinky labels but also not, there is another concept I talk about a lot – personality types and boxes. In the book, the author makes a case for *everyone* having a responsive libido, just that some people also have a spontaneous libido in addition. She then says “Research suggests about half of women might be categorized as one or the other, spontaneous or responsive. Most people’s desire style is probably – drumroll, please – context dependent.”

Franklin: I also wonder how much of it is something people can control. I’m the poster child for spontaneous libido, but I make a point to be that way. I deliberately spend time keeping a relatively high baseline level of arousal, and intentionally cultivate a mindset where I think about sex. I do think that makes a difference.

Eunice: I’m not sure it’s as controllable as she implies? Like, if sexual orientation was a choice, surely straight women wouldn’t exist anymore! And I like men, as a rule. But oh boy, I am so glad I have a choice on the matter. Similarly, if I could choose to have a spontaneous libido, I would. That’s what the aphrodisiac experiment was about. And that’s one of the things that was so alluring about the scifi erotica world we built — that idea of being able to control my own libido with such precision. I think about and talk about and write about sex a lot, but it’s not something I’m applying to me. It’s mental, it’s not grounded in my body. I’m just not aroused most of the time.  

However, the premise of this book is that it can be controlled, by changing the context. And…I don’t know if I fully agree with that, for everyone.

Joreth:  The idea of the Desire classification being context-dependent vs. distinct categories reminds me of the most common and erroneous criticism of personality type systems. People see the systems as being mutually exclusive, self-contained categories so they either dismiss the type system outright as being “bullshit” or they make up these “both” categories that negate the usefulness of the category system. 

I am right-handed, yet I use my left hand, Quite frequently too. I don’t say that I’m “context-dependent-handed”. Yes, I get that “ambidextrous” is a category that exists, but that’s not the same thing – that means that the person can do pretty much everything equally well with both hands, not that which hand they use is “context dependent”. 

Literally everyone who has two hands uses both of them depending on context, to a greater or lesser degree. But we have a *dominant* hand that we use more often, that is stronger, more dexterous, or that can do tasks more easily than the other *even though* sometimes the other hand is better at something. Like, if I’m carrying something in my right hand, the context might make me choose to open the door with my left. That’s not the same as being ambidextrous, and I wouldn’t say that makes me “context-dependent-handed”. I’m still right handed.

These are two independent, parallel scales – one for how much you use your right hand and how easy tasks are, and another scale for your left hand. And if one scale is higher on frequency, ease of use, dexterity, etc., than the other, than we say we are that-handed *even though* the scale for the other hand also has a value.

So the fact that, on occasion, the context allows me to feel desire in a way that might be described as “spontaneous”, I don’t think that prevents me from falling into the category of “responsive libido” because creating those contexts is *work* for me – it’s something I have to deliberately go out of my way to create (or it’s an extreme situation, like a breakup, that doesn’t happen, thankfully, often). So, Franklin, your brain chemistry allows those contexts to exist more or less effortlessly and I have to build them consciously and deliberately. Like being a lefty and taking the time to teach myself how to write with my right hand.

Eunice: Yeah, this is work. Sometimes my partners think I had a period of spontaneous desire, but they just didn’t see the huge amount of preparation that I did. I’m starting anywhere from an hour to several days beforehand so that I can be ramped up enough to match their level of arousal by the time we meet. That’s still responsive, but I’m just deliberately creating my own triggers for that response. 

Franklin: So the tl;dr of our takeaways from this book are:

  • Spontaneous and responsive libido are a thing, even if they’re not necessarily two separate boxes that hold two different kinds of people.
  • Different people have different accelerator triggers and brakes that combine to give them either a spontaneous or responsive libido
  • It’s okay to say “I want to have sex but I’m not aroused yet, so you go ahead and get started and I’ll catch up.” You don’t have to match your partner perfectly in all stages of arousal.
  • Physical arousal is not the same thing as sexual interest or desire.
  • Nobody is broken just because the way or the amount that you respond to sexual triggers is different to someone else.
  • The current research on spontaneous and responsive libidos needs to be more aware that some people aren’t monogamous and some people are kinky, and these differences change the assumptions researchers make about what sex looks like.

Franklin: So that’s what we’ve got. How about you all? Send ideas, comments, or suggestions for future episodes to contact@skepticalpervert.com. And if you know someone else who might enjoy this podcast, why not share the love, by giving us a review on iTunes or Stitcher or your podcatcher of choice.  You can visit www.skepticalpervert.com to check out the show notes for the transcript. And don’t forget to become a patron on Patreon, which is linked on the website. Patrons can hear the full version of the quiz we took, where we elaborated on our responses and griped about the questions.

The Skeptical Pervert is copyrighted and produced by Franklin Veaux, Eunice Hung, and Joreth Innkeeper, edited by Joreth Innkeeper, and the website and show notes are maintained by Franklin Veaux.

Eunice:  And remember, if you’re having trouble getting aroused, you could always force someone else to have orgasms instead!

Franklin:  Right! If the other person is more aroused than you, you could try to catch up, or you could force them to have orgasms until they’re not aroused any more!

Eunice:  And if you get aroused in the process, well…

Joreth:  Give them even more orgasms!

Franklin:  What’s the safeword again?

Episode 5: Diversity in the Age of a Pandemic

In this episode, part of our mini-series of sex during a global plague, we take a skeptical look at a paper published in the journal Leisure Sciences called “Less Sex, but More Sexual Diversity: Changes in Sexual Behavior during the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic.”

Along the way, we talk about the null hypothesis, the scientific method, and evaluating a research paper.

Transcript below.

Franklin: Hello, and welcome to Skeptical Perverts, the podcast where we look at human sexuality through an evidence-based, skeptical lens! I’m one of your hosts and part-time mad scientist, Franklin Veaux.

Joreth: Hi! I’m your co-host and Renaissance cat, Joreth! I have a background in human sexuality and relationship communication, I’m kinky, solo polyamorous, on the ace spectrum, chicana, feminist, my gender identity is “tomboy”, and my pronouns are she/her but I use masculine titles.

Eunice: And I’m Eunice, your friendly neighbourhood queer, kinky, solopoly, demisexual, East Asian Brit, ready with my pot of tea and a healthy dose of genteel snark!

Franklin: Today we’re returning to a topic that’s seriously affected all of us: sex in the time of an international plague. We, your hosts, are all part of a globe-spanning extended romantic network, so when this globe-spanning pandemic got going, it hit pretty close to home.

Eunice: Oh, and this is part 3 of our Sex in the Time of Pandemic mini series: Sexual Diversity! If you haven’t listened to parts 1 and 2, you’ll probably want to go back and check them out too, but you don’t need to listen to them in order.

Franklin: Today we’re looking at an interesting study, Less Sex, but More Sexual Diversity: Changes in Sexual Behavior during the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic. The researchers were looking into the hypothesis that the pandemic may be responsible for a surge in people experimenting with new kinds of sex, especially folks without a live-in partner or people in long-distance relationships. 

Given how hard it is to get research money for anything related to sex, the fact that this research exists is a bit surprising. I guess people have to die before funding frees up for sex research.

Eunice: Not sure that’s entirely true. 1980s, anyone? That’s the last time we had a global pandemic that affected people’s sexual behaviour, anyway. And research on that took a long time to get funded.

Franklin: Ouch. Okay, fair point.

Eunice: It’s definitely true that this study came out remarkably fast though. So what does the study actually say?

Franklin: Before we talk about the study’s conclusions, I think we need to take a look at that hypothesis, the demographics of the survey participants who volunteered for the study, and how they used the data they collected. And be aware, this podcast might be all over the place, because the study we’ll be talking about is a bit all over the place.

Eunice: Well that’s an understatement and a half. It’s so understated it’s almost British.

Joreth:  This study is so unfocused that it couldn’t find its ass with both hands and a map!

Eunice: Isn’t that Franklin? Oh wait, I think that might be me too. Hang on, are you the only one of us who has any sense of direction??

Franklin: I know precisely where my ass is, thank you very much. It’s everything else I can’t find. I still get lost in my own neighborhood.

Joreth:  Hah, yeah, I think I am the only one here with any sense of direction!  OK, so this study is so unfocused, my old director just called me from across the country to yell at me about checking the focus on the screen.  (I may have been watching too much Mrs. Maisel lately. Thank you and goodnight!)

Franklin: Anyway, back to the study! It’s called “Less Sex, but More Sexual Diversity: Changes in Sexual Behavior during the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic,” which might make you think it was a study about the differences in sexual behavior during the pandemic and before the pandemic. The first issue I have reading the study is they talk a lot about the way people are having sex during the pandemic, and then talk about how many people changed their sexual behavior during the pandemic, but they don’t talk about how those changes compare pre- and post-pandemic. In other words, they’ll say thus and such many people tried something new during the pandemic, but how does that compare to how many people tried something new before the pandemic? Did the rate of trying new things increase, decrease, or stay the same? We don’t know; the researchers didn’t gather those data.

Eunice: I don’t know how they intended to answer any of those questions without getting baselines. Plus, getting those data is really important, but also really important is who you ask for that data!

Joreth: Yeah I think another major point here is that the demographics are not at all representative of North American or world averages, in so many different ways! Like, in contrary directions, they manage to not be representative.

First of all, 71.1% of the 1,559 respondents were “female”. 71 PERCENT! While 23.4% were “male” and 4.5% were “nonbinary”. Next we have 84.1% of respondents being white with the remaining 16% being a mix of other races. Neither of which matches the general US population which tend around 50% each. Meaning that the population is assigned “male” and “female” at very close to 50/50, and while white people continue to outnumber each other individual racial demographic, added all together, white people are very quickly approaching the 50% mark, with projections estimating that they will become an ethnic minority in the near future (assuming you add all the other ethnicities together). So these demographics don’t match the general population.

In addition, the income stats are WAY not representative. The largest majority (and not by a huge margin) at 24.8% is people with a median income of $20-55,000, which is pretty solidly middle class, and I’m under the impression that this income group is steadily declining.

Eunice: Oh yeah, and the next biggest group, at 24.6%, is $100,001 to a quarter of a million dollars. That’s wild. The two groups in the middle contain less than 15% of participants each! How does that gap even happen?! I’d also like to point out here that your three fabulous hosts are really not people who have any idea what $100,001 to quarter of a million dollars annual incomes would even look like, so, you know. Anyone wanna change that, get in touch!

Joreth: I would love to test the hypothesis that there is a cap to the amount of money that brings happiness, just sayin’. 

Franklin: The study says participants were recruited via Internet-based snowball sampling. Snowball sampling is a technique where you get participants to recruit other participants, like a multilevel marketing scheme for science. The problem is demographic clustering; people tend to socialize with other people who are like themselves. So if you seed your study with a particular kind of participant and rely on snowball sampling, that’s the kind of participant you’ll continue to get.

Joreth:  So that basically skews the demographics in a pretty non-liberal way – white, middle class to wealthy, women. But then we look at orientation stats, and we see only 52.7% heterosexual with everyone else fitting under the queer umbrella. Which skews the data in a decidedly *liberal* direction, seeing as how the US population is somewhere around 95-ish% straight.

Franklin: Looking at these demographics, it really seems like they reached two demographic clusters: Middle American suburbs, and urban San Francisco. That explains the weird peaks in the income distribution and the rather strange distribution of respondents who self-identify as straight vs. queer. It’s like they took these two groups and said “on average they’re a fair distribution,” which is a bit like putting one foot in hot water and one foot in ice water and saying “on average, I’m comfortable.”

Eunice: Mean, median, mode, folks—pay attention to which form of average you’re using!

Franklin: “My comfort has a bimodal distribution.” You know, sometimes when I’m around the two of you, my comfort DOES have a bimodal distribution.

Eunice: So on average, you love it? Anyway, one of the reasons we keep comparing to the US population is that the majority—73.4%—of respondents are from the US. For a survey that attempts to extrapolate to all Western populations, it doesn’t really take into account that from everything I’ve seen, the US is something of an outlier in its attitudes towards sex compared to the other Western countries.

Franklin: In general, I’m not convinced the study data really supports the study’s conclusions, demographic weirdness aside.

Eunice: Real talk here: I’m not entirely sure that they waited until the data came in before writing those conclusions. Oh wait, is that libelous? I probably shouldn’t say that, huh. But seriously, looking at the tables of data in this study…I mean, I know I’m bad at statistics, but I really don’t think I’m as bad at statistics as these tables are implying to my brain. My brain actively hurts trying to read these.

Joreth:  To be fair, I think everyone is bad at statistics, because our brains (generally speaking) are just not made for statistics, but holy fuck is this an unreadable set of tables!  I mean, it shouldn’t have taken me as long as it did just to figure out WHAT THE FUCK ARE THEY REFERENCING IN THIS TABLE?!

Franklin: So let’s dive into some problems with this study. But first, let’s talk about p-values.

Joreth:  Because with this study, you really need to understand p-values to understand just how bad this study is.

Eunice: So what are p-values, exactly?

Franklin: When you read a study, you should see p-values listed next to conclusions. Put simply, and handwaving over some nuance, the p-value is the statistical chance that the null hypothesis is correct; that is, the chance that the data might just be random, and the data don’t support a connection between the things you’re asserting are connected.

High p-values mean the conclusion is not well supported, or to put it more properly, that the null hypothesis is better supported or can better account for the data you’re seeing. Low p-values mean it’s less likely the null hypothesis is correct. So if you say two things are correlated, and you say the p-value is .001, that means you’re saying there’s a 0.1% chance that your data are just random and the two things aren’t correlated. On the other hand, a p-value of 0.8 means about an 80% chance the null hypothesis is correct and these things aren’t really correlated.

Joreth:  So, is this what you’re saying?  A study starts with a hypothesis, which is a statement of what the researchers are investigating.  Then they set about trying to disprove that statement, and if they can’t disprove it, then the statement is likely to be correct.  If something in the study has a p value of, say, .05, then it means that there is only a 5% chance that their statement is wrong, therefore they are 95% confident they’re onto something?

Franklin: Basically yes, and then we get to what the null hypothesis is.

Eunice:  OK, so what is a null hypothesis?

Franklin:  Generally speaking, the “null hypothesis” is usually “there is no relationship between these things” or “there is no difference between these two groups.” So if you say “men are better singers than women,” the null hypothesis is “there’s no meaningful difference in the singing skills of men and women.”

If your p-value is .05, that means there’s a 5% chance that your data might show what they show if the null hypothesis were true. If it’s .8, there’s an 80% chance your data might show what they show if the null hypothesis were true.

This is simplified, of course, so if you’re a statistician and you’re cringing right now, that’s why.

Joreth:  OK, so if your p-value is .8 and your hypothesis is that men are better singers than women, then that means there is an 80% chance that men are not, in fact, statistically better singers than women according to your data, because your hypothesis is that there IS a relationship between men and women – that men are better, while the null hypothesis states that there is NO difference between the two groups, right?

Eunice: That makes sense. And I know the usual p-value that’s typically used in a lot of studies is .05, meaning that it needs to be at least 95% likely to be true for the researcher to be confident about their conclusion. So what hypothesis are they actually trying to disprove in this study, and why are they using the p-values they chose? Because it feels like it should not have taken this much effort to work it out.

Franklin: So let’s circle back and see how that plays out in this study. In this particular study, the researchers started out examining whether men or women were more likely to make a new addition to their sex lives. The data have a p-value of .833 which means the null hypothesis, that there’s no difference between men and women adding new things to their sex life, is most strongly supported.

Joreth:  OK, so they started *out* looking at whether men or women were likely to make new additions (and we’ll get back to that point), but then they used the results of a survey with a whopping 71% self-identified women?  Can you really compare, at that point, between those two genders when their representation is so imbalanced?

Eunice: So I know it sounds like we’re putting a lot of effort into ripping apart this study, and all this talk of stats and p-values and such is probably sounding a bit dry right about now, but this study is a really great example of what not to do, and we’d love to talk about what we’d prefer to see in sex research instead.

Joreth: In order to understand why we want to see what we want to see, we feel that we need to dig in to why this study was so bad, so let’s get into that for a bit before we discuss what we’d rather see in sex research. In this study, they found something interesting. They found that, basically, the frequency or *amount* of sex people were having went down, but the *quality* of their sex life did not.

“Many participants (43.5%) reported a decline in the quality of their sex life, with the remainder reporting that it either stayed the same (42.8%) or improved (13.6%). Average frequency of solo and partnered sexual behaviors significantly decreased compared to past year frequencies. Thus, during this period of widespread restrictions on movement and social contact, frequency of sexual behavior—an activity often pursued for pleasure and leisure purposes—decreased on average.”

So if you look at those numbers, decline in quality and no change in quality is very nearly identical – 43.5% vs. 42.8%, but when you include in improvement at 13.6%, decent quality of sex was actually the majority, then they jump to talking about a decline in frequency as if it’s related.

Eunice: See, this is one of the reasons I found this study so hard to understand. It jumps from a conclusion about quality to talking about quantity in the very next sentence without actually explaining why. It just puts two different conclusions side by side, implying that they’re connected. In fact, it’s practically encouraging you to draw the unconscious link between the two!

Joreth:  Yeah, I feel like this quote here is guiding me to the conclusion that “pandemic sex sucks” by linking a decrease in frequency with nearly equal levels of quality in sex.

Franklin: One of the things that really worries me is the table labeled “Frequency of new additions to participants’ sex lives during the pandemic.” This table contains such extreme and far-out new activities as “Tried a new sexual position,” “Shared sexual fantasies with a partner,” and “Took a shower/bath with a partner.” If these are new activities people are exploring, I weep for humanity. And what’s even more frightening are the raw numbers. This is a study with thousands of respondents, and the number of people who say they tried a new sexual position? 49. Shared sexual fantasies? 41. I mean, not everyone writes science fiction novels based on shared sexual fantasies, but still.

Eunice: OK, but looking at those numbers, and bearing in mind this group probably skews more liberal given they answered an online survey about sex, it might just be that they’ve already tried this stuff before, so it wouldn’t count as ‘new’ behaviour. So yeah, maybe only 49 out of 1559 participants reported having tried a new sexual position during the pandemic, but they all presumably tried a new sexual position for the first time at some point in their sexual experiences, right? They didn’t exactly come out of the womb having tried erotic lotus with upside down cowgirl and one-eyed banana, surely? (FYI I totally just made that up so I have no idea what that position would look like, write in with your suggestions!)

Joreth: Right, I mean, just looking at physics and biology, considering the amount of sex I’ve had over my lifetime, I have literally tried every sexual position that’s even possible for my body to get into, so “tries new sexual position” is probably never going to happen to me (for the first time) again. And as I age, sexual positions will only drop off my repertoire, not get added. Hell, at this age, with my hips and knees, just regular old cowgirl is challenging!

Franklin: There goes my plans for trying the Monkey with Lotus Blossom and Chainsaw with you.

Joreth: Well, we still have my penchant for taboo places!

Eunice: The beach is on my taboo list, mainly because I never want sand in those places ever again.

Joreth: Fair point.

Franklin: I have a story about that. The sand…yeah, not a pleasant memory. Back to the study’s demographics. Young people as a demographic are also more likely to try new things in any given year simply because they haven’t had as much experience generally. When you’ve only been having sex for a year or two, many things you try are new to you.

Which is not to say there’s not still plenty of new things to try even as we get more experienced. You could live for centuries, doing something different in bed every night without ever repeating the same thing twice, and still not have time to do it all. That said, I’ll wager most people in their 20s try new things more often than people in their 50s, COVID notwithstanding. Separating the “I tried new things” from “I tried new things because of COVID” is a significant challenge, and it doesn’t really look like the study’s authors did that.

Eunice: Good point. I know it’s probably hard to retroactively find a control group, but it’s like they didn’t even try

Joreth: The study’s summary also says:

“Those who lived with a partner reported higher rates of partnered behaviors than those living alone, such as trying new sexual positions and acting on sexual fantasies; by contrast, living alone was linked to higher rates of virtual and technology-based behaviors compared to those with a live-in partner, such as sexting and sending nude photos.”

Joreth: Ya think?

Franklin: In other shocking news, water is wet.

Eunice: Is it, though? Water gets things wet, but is it actually wet itself?

Franklin: That’s a philosophical question, which might be outside the scope of this podcast. 

Eunice: Spoilsport!

Joreth: Then there’s this quote:

“Several psychological variables were linked to new additions; however, some associations differed across gender. Bivariate correlates of new additions are presented in Table 5. For men and women, reporting more sexual desire in the past two weeks was linked to new additions. For men only, loneliness was associated with new additions; for women only, desire for sex with one’s partner in the past two weeks, stress, and loneliness during the pandemic were associated with new additions.”

Franklin: If trying new things is statistically correlated with loneliness and stress, and unhappiness with your sex life is correlated with loneliness and stress, then you can’t make any inferences about whether trying new things is or is not likely to increase your sexual satisfaction, because both these things are linked to loneliness and stress. Loneliness and stress is a confounding factor that prevents you from establishing a causative relationship between trying new things and sexual satisfaction.

There’s something else I’m really curious about too. The study says

“Approximately one in five participants (20.3%) reported making a new addition to their sex life since the pandemic began. Most (62.7%) reported making one new addition, with 18.4% making two, 7% making three, and 12% making four or more.”

I’m really curious, though, how many people in any given year would report making an addition like this to their sex life WITHOUT a pandemic. Is that more than usual? Less than usual? Statistically normal? How are “new additions” counted? Is trying two new positions a single addition or two additions? What about two new sex toys?

Eunice: I think there’s an entirely reasonable desire here to tell a ‘Just So’ story, saying that of course when you’re bored and isolated as a result of the pandemic, then sex is a thing you would do more of. And if you have all that extra time, then you’d of course try new things. It feels logical. But without the baseline, how can anyone even tell? It’s just a story, not a hypothesis, and there’s no way to falsify it. It’s not even an entirely good story — I could come up with just as logical an explanation for the opposite claim. Also, here’s another interesting quote I spotted:

“Generally, only partnered activities were linked to improvements, with few technology-based activities showing any association.”

Now, according to this, only adding new partnered sexual activities showed any statistical likelihood of increased sexual satisfaction. Additional novel solo activities didn’t. Have they considered that it might be not the additional sexual activities in themselves, but the act of exploring new activities with your partner? Did they control for people who started new, non-sex-based, hobbies together and whether they had increased life satisfaction?

Franklin: Relationship satisfaction is about more than just sex.

Joreth:  Yeah, something that I think a lot of people have a lot of trouble understanding, judging by the number of Quora questions I get asking why anyone would keep dating a person in particular if they can get sex elsewhere, is that it’s not the sex that’s the important part of a relationship, it’s all the other things and the sex is usually a barometer for all the other important things.  So to relate it to the context of this study, what if it’s not the act of new sex stuff that made people express satisfaction with their relationship, but the act of new STUFF, period?  Because what if the very nature of adding new things to a relationship is the result, not the cause, of a relationship between two people who are actively engaged in their relationship together?

Something this study doesn’t even question is the direction of the causal relationship.  Like, what if the reason why those who did NOT try new things didn’t try it because they got stuck together with someone they never should have been spending that much time together with, and now that they’re stuck together, they don’t even want to have any sex, let alone new and creative sex, which requires a trusting, intimate, vulnerable setting to even bring up the subject.

Franklin: So the takeaway here is looking at relationship satisfaction through the lens of sex misses the fact that both relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction may correlate with other factors, like trust, vulnerability, basic compatibility, and openness.

I feel that way reading this whole study. I’m glad to see people are putting time and attention into sex research, and I think research on how the pandemic has affected sexual relationships is potentially valuable. I am not convinced this study is particularly illuminating, though.

Eunice: I’ll be honest, this study had me so turned around I’m questioning my reading abilities, at this point. I feel like I was constantly trying to pin down an extremely slippery eel. If it feels to our listeners like we were all over the place, imagine what it was like from this side of the mic! Because that confusion was an extremely accurate representation of what it felt like to try and parse this study.

Franklin: It worries me a bit that you know what it feels like to pin down slippery eels.

Eunice: I make no guarantees as to how slippery any eels I may or may not have encountered in my past were.

Franklin: Now I want sushi. 

Joreth:  This study was so difficult to follow that, even rereading our own notes explaining this study had me rubbing my eyes and questioning my own ability to follow scientific studies.  Like, I swear I had much less trouble following this shit in school!

Franklin:  Back to the topic, the biggest issues I see with this study are wildly nonrepresentative demographics and a tendency to draw a straight line between hypothesis and conclusion without accounting for possible related or confounding factors.

Eunice: Talking about confounding factors, the study also states that: 

“The fact that those without a live-in partner tried more new activities is not entirely surprising because these circumstances likely necessitated more creativity with respect to pursuing sex for leisure. This likely partially explains why sexual minorities, racial minorities, and younger adults had increased odds of making new additions: all of these groups had significantly elevated rates of living alone.” 

Did the researchers also consider that they’re the same groups that are more likely to overlap with key pandemic workers? Did they not wonder if the additional stress, physical risk, financial insecurity, etc etc etc, might have had an impact on their sex life? Did they even try to account for how much of the increased likelihood of “more creativity” was a result of living alone, versus those other factors? “Likely partially explains” is doing a huge amount of heavy lifting in that sentence, is all I’m saying.

Franklin: All of these are hard problems in any sociological research, but they seem particularly profound here.

Joreth:  So, basically, what we’re all getting from this research paper is that it attempted to generalize sexual behaviours from wildly, improbably outlier statistical groups, it then had such a mass of scattered p-values that it feels like the researchers rolled a D20 die and randomly assigned percentage points based on very excited rolls, and THEN took all of that and made sweeping causal statements without doing even the basic Freshman 101 exercise of considering for confounding factors.  Would you both say that’s an accurate assessment?

Franklin: I think the study isn’t doing a good job of supporting its conclusions. A better designed study would be one that makes an effort to reach a more representative population and does a better job of isolating changes in behavior pre and post pandemic. Those are big asks, and make the research far more difficult, but I think the results would be more useful.

Eunice: Can I also put in a request for significantly better laid out tables of data? And graphs? Any graphs at all, please?

Joreth:  Dear gourd, those tables!  Please don’t make me try to read those tables again!  My eyeballs hurt.

Eunice: You ever try to read your own handwritten notes that you wrote at 4am on no sleep with a significant amount of caffeine and sugar in your system, for a class that you just realised during the lecture was maybe a step or two beyond your comprehension? Cos that’s what reading this study felt like to me sometimes. 

Joreth:  Yes, or like trying to decipher a bit of drunken, blindfolded automatic writing? (Go look up automatic writing sometime – it’s wild!)

Eunice: Can we never break down a study by these people again? Please?

Joreth:  OK, so, if we were designing a study on the question of sex, perhaps how the pandemic affected people’s sex lives, what would we be looking for, at a minimum?

  • Better demographics in the study participants
  • A better baseline of pre-pandemic sexual behavior to compare to pandemic behavior
  • Better control of possible confounding factors
  • Clearly laid out analyses and summaries
  • Examination of whether the factors you’re measuring are connected or not
  • Less eagerness to assume casual relationships that might not be supported by the data
  • More legible tables
  • Graphs! Not necessary, but really really helpful

Franklin: So that’s what we’ve got for this episode! What do you think? Send ideas, comments, new things you’ve tried during a pandemic, or suggestions for future episodes to contact@skepticalpervert.com. And if you know someone else who might enjoy this podcast, why not share the love, by giving us a review on iTunes or Stitcher or your podcatcher of choice. You can also visit www.skepticalpervert.com for show notes, links to the transcript, and the studies we’re drawing from. And don’t forget to become a patron of the show by joining our patreon, which is linked on the website. The Skeptical Pervert is copyrighted and produced by Franklin Veaux, Eunice Hung, and Joreth Innkeeper, edited by Joreth Innkeeper, and the website and show notes are maintained by Franklin Veaux.

Eunice: The skeptical pervert: putting the ‘why?’ into sexy

Franklin: Why don’t I have any sushi?

Eunice: Are you looking to put eel into your facehole, Franklin?

Franklin: On advice of counsel, I decline to answer that question.