Can The World’s Oldest Profession Survive The Age Of Social Distancing?

CNN reports: Social distancing and the new temporary: Don’t kiss. Tell clients to wash their hands before they touch you. Wear a mask. Avoid face-to-face positions. And even: Put on a nurse costume and pull out a thermometer — if his temperature is normal, make it part of the game. If he has a fever, end the session.

These are real tips that advocacy groups and health authorities around the world are sharing in the age of coronavirus, hoping to protect workers in the vast and often overlooked sex trade. Armchair advice would be to stop all so-called “full service” sex work altogether, but as UNAIDS warned in April, many sex workers are being forced to weigh what’s safe against what will put food on the table.

An old economics axiom claims that investments in “vice” and “sin” like gambling, alcohol, drugs and sex trades weather economic downturns well, because people turn to them whether they’re sad or happy. Some vices are even thought to be countercyclical, rising when economy takes a nosedive. Whether that’s true for America’s estimated millions of full-service sex workers is hard to definitively disprove — sex for pay is illegal in most of the country, so large-scale data is scant. But sex workers, aid organizations and the lawyers who work with them say that the pandemic has been devastating. “Prostitution is supposed to be inelastic and recession-proof,” says Caty Simon, a self-described “cheap escort,” writer and activist in a small town in Western Massachusetts. “But there’s never been a recession where in-person contact with people was dangerous before.”

Less work, more risk in the age of social distancing

Lockdown orders might seem redundant for an already forbidden business, but several sex workers told CNN that they had chosen to stop working due to fear of the coronavirus.

Demand from clients has chilled too, and as unemployment in the US reaches Great Depression-levels, many Americans have less to spend on services of all kinds. Nevertheless, every sex worker interviewed said they were still receiving requests to meet in person — if not as frequently as before. “It’s my ethical duty to not work on anyone’s body because of the virus,” said one San Francisco-based sex worker and massage therapist, who said they’d gone from seeing more than 30 clients per week to zero. “I’ve lived in my apartment for 16 years, like, I’ve never paid rent late or ever. This is the first time I’m ever having to struggle with money while I’ve been in San Francisco,” they said. In March, they reached out to advocacy group Black Sex Workers’ Collective for financial help, receiving an emergency $400 grant to fund basic living expenses. Yet this worker says they continue to be contacted by prospective clients — including from doctors and nurses at the hospital down the street. “They’re like begging you to work with them,” they said. “They’re throwing up all this money at you, like I’ll give you $300 to work for me for an hour. It’s a dilemma for me, because I need the money.” Broadly, there two kinds of markets in the sex industry, says Scott Cunningham, a Baylor University economist who studies the sex trade in America. “There’s the lower-end, lower-wage work where clients seem to be primarily interested in the sexual experience,” he says. “Then there’s like a higher wage rate that is sort of companionship bundled with sexual services and a lot of times those clients will become regulars, they’ll be steady work.”

Source: Mike South

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