Reflections on the Guelph Sexuality Conference – Part 1 of 3

(Annotated by Sarah Lawrance)

[Courtesy of the SSHRC-funded research project that is responsible for this blog, I had the pleasure of spending a day at the 31st Annual Guelph Sexuality Conference in June. This year’s theme was “Positive approaches to sexuality and sexual health.” I am particularly interested in sex-positive and queer-inclusive approaches to this topic, so I was delighted to attend the plenary panel of sex workers discussing their work, a session of 3 research briefs on erotic photography and pole dancing, and a workshop on a variety of themes tied to sex-positivity. I briefly describe my thoughts on each of these sessions in three separate entries.]

Plenary Panel – “Sex Work and Sexual Health: Insights from the sex trade,” moderated by Fran Shaver.

The first panelist was the most interesting to me, so I’ll briefly focus on her. She made a couple of references to the educational role she plays in her capacity as a sex worker, in this case about respectfully teaching some clients about proper hygiene and sexual health, at various points throughout her career. Since sex workers—people who engage in sexual activity professionally—are informally recognized as experts when it comes to sexual health and safe sex practices, it seems fairly obvious to me that sex workers ought to be recognized for their expertise in this area. I think this point about sex workers as educators is often underemphasized in a lot of the literature, so I was happy that the entire roomful of people could hear it first-hand.

That said, however, I think this point goes beyond just teaching about sexual health. Many personal accounts of sex work that I have read make references to “teaching” clients how to touch a woman properly, how to give her pleasure, and how to take her needs into account. Some talk about setting a client straight when he makes an oppressive comment—be it sexist, racist, or homophobic, etc. Many accounts detail the sex workers’ efforts to make even the most emotionally damaged and socially awkward clients feel good about themselves, love themselves and accept themselves as they are. This is by no means a theme common to all writings I’ve come across, but it has certainly stood out as significant for me. The panelist I described made vague references to some of these other forms of teaching, but I would have loved to see an entire paper or panel devoted solely to this topic!

I think recognizing the multidimensionality of sex work is a small but crucial step in re-humanizing and re-valuing people who perform such important yet underappreciated roles in our world.

~ by artpoped on July 7, 2009.

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