Sunday, 22 November 2009

Belle de Jour

Belle de Jour - on science and prostitution (New Scientist)
Under the name Belle de Jour, Brooke Magnanti wrote about her experiences as a prostitute for a London escort agency, and her blog became a bestselling book, The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, and a television series.

She has a master's degree in genetic epidemiology and a PhD from the University of Sheffield's department of forensic pathology.
I think Brooke Magnanti qualifies as a bluestocking. Pleasingly, the interview starts with details of her scientific research, including a possible link between thyroid cancer in women in Cumbria, in north-west England, and fallout from Chernobyl in Ukraine; and an examination of policy for the assessment of risks from organophosphates.

Is prostitution necessarily degrading? Well in an ideal world, sex should happen in an atmosphere of mutual respect, kindness, and with respect for the other person - as a person, not an object. Most prostitution fails in that respect. However, history is littered with stories of men who fell for ladies of the night, and not all of them are fictional. And Belle de Jour was careful about who she slept with; she says, "I trusted my instincts, and the agency was very good about vetting clients as well." So clearly, she was not degraded or treated as a sex object.

I think prostitution should be properly regulated (but no-one should ever be pressurised into taking a job as a prostitute).

We need to end the exploitative and dangerous side of prostitution - streetwalking, the links with drug addiction, pimping etc.

It's not just men paying for sex with women; there are plenty of women who would pay for sex with men, as long as it was safe to do so. And I imagine the same applies to same-sex arrangements as well. This happens in other countries where they don't have such ridiculous double standards.

Let's get over the ridiculous idea that men are beasts with insatiable sexual appetites and women are frigid, so men must pay women to do it. It just happens that we all have urges and sometimes paying to satisfy them would be the simplest solution.

Best wishes to Ms Magnanti for a successful scientific career. I hope that this revelation will make no difference to her career. After all, science is meant to be rational and sensible, right? And based on empirical evidence like how good you are at your job - not on what you did to get by as a student. Besides, it's obvious that she is really dedicated to science if she was prepared to do something so controversial to fund her studies.

Oh yes, and let's fund PhDs properly too, so people don't need to do other jobs to fund them.


  1. A post filled with your luminous good sense.

    However: 'sex should happen in an atmosphere of mutual respect, kindness, and with respect for the other person - as a person, not an object'---that would eliminate quite a lot of the sheer hotness of sex, bound up as it is with a frisson of danger, impersonality, and risk. I suppose this is a very gay perspective, in which sex is apportioned in a rigidly darwinian way. It's perhaps not ideal, but it tells a human truth about the nature of (male?) sexual desire.

    I applaud Dr Magnanti.

  2. Erm, well, sometimes it's kind to be cruel ;)

    See earlier post about SM, Patrick Califia, etc.

    If someone consents to be a toy, object, etc, as part of a scene, that's different. I was thinking of situations where one person wants it to be subject-subject and the other wants it to be subject-object.

    In safe, sane & consensual SM (and even in risk-aware consensual kink), the top respects the bottom.

  3. Next time we're sharing a few jars....we'll have a little chat! (Not that my own sex life is particularly garish, but it's had its moments.)

    Have you read Paglia's brilliant essay 'no Law in the Arena'? You might enjoy it. Hope things are good with you.

  4. I more or less agree with Yewtree's wonderfully sensible posting. I have to say that for the present, prostitution really ought to be de-criminalised and regulated, to make it as safe as possible for sex-workers. However, I would go one step further, in saying that I also believe prostitution to be necessarily degrading because it legitimises the commodification of the sexual act and I look forward to the day when we shall be free of this trade. Perhaps in the distant future! I also think we should provide proper funding for academic study. Grants up to PhD level available for all who are capable and low-interest loans for extra living expenses.