Consent: ‘The purchase of sex is conducted without regard for women’s pleasure’

1 July 2018

This article originally appeared in ‘The Voices’ column in The Journal in July 2018.

Prostitution undermines consent and women’s bodily autonomy, writes Samantha Slater from the Policy and Communications team at Ruhama. 

Prostitution exists because men pay for sexual access to people’s bodies. It’s highly gendered and the majority involved are society’s most marginalised women and girls. Almost 100% of buyers are male.

To enable this trade, a discourse has emerged, eager to market prostitution as ‘sex work’, something ‘freely consenting adults’ do, arguing in the name of ‘bodily autonomy’.The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre defines consent as “freely given, and an enthusiastic, clearly communicated and ongoing yes”. We are trying to educate boys and girls that sex should be mutually desired and collaborative (read: the other person should find you sexually attractive and want to have sex with you). I find it baffling how this standard could possibly change when it’s applied to prostitution.

Bodily autonomy

Prostitution denies the bodily autonomy of a woman as it’s based on a man paying her to consent to his sexual use of her body. She’s handing over the keys. Money is exchanged to replace the ‘enthusiastic’ consent and desire that is not present. Consent should never be a commodity. Mixed messages are being sent about what genuine consent is.

If we really care about consent, ‘freely’ and ‘enthusiastically’ given, how can we then accept the idea that it could ever be ‘normal’ to pay for sexual access to a woman’s body? That it’s okay to choose a ‘service’ on an escort site, call and order it up, and sex somehow becomes ‘work’ in this context? This is completely counter-productive.

As a young woman, I find it worrying that an industry defined exclusively by male desires and populated in the majority by the most marginalised and disadvantaged women, could ever be defended in the name of their autonomy. Genuine bodily autonomy involves sex that is mutually desired and collaborative. There is nothing radical about that.

Centred on male orgasm

We live in a society that has relegated women’s sexual pleasure to the background. Pornography and prostitution, which are centred on the male orgasm, feed off this.

My recent work with Ruhama has given me insight into the extent of male sexual entitlement in prostitution. I collected the data for ‘A Penny For Your Thoughts’, a sex trafficking awareness raising project we took part in. We advertised a fictional woman named ‘Andreea’ with a phone number.
Men contacted her, only to find out through her voicemail message that she’d been sex trafficked to Ireland. Callers were invited to leave messages for ‘Andreea’ with their thoughts and I produced a video on the results: ‘What Irish Sex Buyers Are Really Thinking’.

Clinical contact

It was demoralising how clinical the contact ‘Andreea’ received from men was. A recurring word in texts was ‘willing’ – ‘would you be willing to do this [anal] for €100’ and so on. Willing – that’s all the encouragement needed.

Other texts were: ‘do you receive anal and CIM’, ‘cum in ass?’ and ‘u free for service’, all sent with no introduction. It was chilling how much they viewed her as a tool for masturbatory use. Her preferences didn’t enter the conversation.

Men talked as though their penises were cars that required ‘servicing’. Where is the bodily autonomy and ‘enthusiastic consent’ in this?  I’ve met the actual ‘Andreeas’ at Ruhama who have had to deal with these guys in real life. It’s disturbing.

The purchase of sex is conducted without regard for women’s pleasure and their often difficult life circumstances. To top it off, women in prostitution are slammed online on escort websites through grotesque ‘buyer reviews’ if they don’t perform as demanded. And some defend this in the name of bodily autonomy and ‘consenting adults’? It’s ludicrous.

Hold men accountable

Prostitution is nothing more than men paying women to negate their consent and desires so they can masturbate into their bodies and call it ‘sex’.

The sooner we recognise this and hold accountable those men that use women as sexual objects, as well as the industry that facilitates it, the better.

Ruhama is the only dedicated frontline service supporting women affected by prostitution in Ireland. Read about the ‘The Penny For Your Thoughts’ project here:


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