One of the elements that most intrigued me when I watched Firefly years ago was the idea of a sex work as a positive, healthy, prestigious occupation – which I believe it could be in a society more evolved than ours. But it didn’t take long to realize the creators either didn’t get it or were setting up a revelation that despite the Companion Guild’s great public relations buzz, it hadn’t really reformed sex work to the degree Inara claims. I suspect it’s a little of both (the creators not thinking it all the way through, and the intent to expose the Companion Guild as one more piece of Alliance hypocrisy), but whatever the intent, what we’re left with is a hodgepodge. We’re told Inara is respected; we’re often shown she’s not. We’re told the “whores” in “Heart of Gold” are different because they don’t belong to the Guild, but never get a satisfactory answer to the question of why the hell that should make such a difference.
This got me thinking: what would a writer have to do to create a fictional a society in which sex work is positive, safe and fulfilling for both workers and clients, and considered a good thing by society? Can it even be done, when you factor in the reality that many prostitutes are minors of both genders, too young for any sort of legal employment?
The first step seems obvious: your fictional society would have to grant sex workers the same security, autonomy and protection that other employees and independent contractors have. This is where Firefly more or less gets it right. But what about minor prostitutes? Kids usually wind up on the street because the situation at home was no better, and our society isn’t prepared to talk about practical exit strategies for kids who desperately need to get away from their homes. If you protect adult sex workers, that would be highly beneficial – but it would reveal in disturbing detail the fact that women were never the sex class. Children have always been a sex class, too.
So it seems to me you need a society in which:
- sex workers are protected by the law, like other workers,
- women have as many options in life as men have,
- abused children have access to practical remedies and know about them,
- sexual predators of any sort are always thought of as the worst kind of scum, even when they’re such nice white boys with such promising futures, and
- people believe all workers deserve basic respect and dignity. Otherwise, legally protected sex workers – like restaurant servers – will get some basic rights and protections, but still be made to feel worthless by asshole customers with entitlement issues.
- Also, I’m not sure you can achieve this as long as monogamy remains the model for your society. It’s plausible that your society could believe people should be faithful without blaming sex workers for making infidelity possible, but highly unlikely.
And that’s just getting started. To convince me that your fictional sex work is a truly good thing, I would also like to hear that your sex workers enjoy the sex they have on the job. That at least many of them find their careers fulfilling in some way. And I would really, really like to see roughly as many male sex workers as female, and female customers as male, or else I will still be frustrated that in this enlightened society you’ve created, you’re okay with continuing the idea that sex is something women yield to men rather than a just plain human experience.
I’ve given this a fair amount of thought over the past couple of years, and yet I think there’s still a lot I haven’t worked out. What would convince you sex work was working out nicely for a fictional society?