Hooker science


The outrage over former New York governor Eliot Spitzer hiring an A-list hooker makes me feel like throwing a gigantic, crippling pile of superheavy biology and economics books at everyone in the United States and possibly the world. Are we still so Victorian in our thinking that we think it’s bad for somebody to pay large amounts of money for a few hours of skin-time with a professional? Have we not learned enough at this point about psychology and neuroscience to understand that a roll in the sheets is just a fun, chemical fizz for our brains and that it means nothing about ethics and morality?

The sad fact is that we have learned all that stuff, and yet most people still believe paying money for sex is the equivalent of killing babies on the moral report card. And yet nobody bothers to ask why, or to investigate past the sensational headlines. As far as I’m concerned, the one unethical thing Spitzer did was to hire a sex worker after prosecuting several prostitution rings. That’s hypocritical of him, and undermines my faith in him as a politician.

But let’s say Spitzer hadn’t prosecuted so-called sex crimes before, and all he was doing was hiring a lady for some sex. Here is what I don’t get: why is this bad? On the scale of things politicians can do – from sending huge numbers of young people to be killed in other countries to cutting programs aimed at helping foster kids get lunch money – hiring a sex worker is peanuts. It’s a personal choice! It’s not like Spitzer was issuing a statewide policy of mandatory hookers for everybody.

What really boggles the mind is the way so-called liberal media like National Public Radio and The New York Times have been attacking Spitzer’s morals as much as the conservative Fox News types have. In some cases, they’ve attacked him more. The reasons given are always the same: sex work is abusive to women (male prostitutes don’t exist?), and being paid for sex is inherently degrading.

Let’s look inside one of those heavy economics books that I just beat you with and examine these assumptions for a minute, okay? Every possible kind of human act has been commodified and turned into a job under capitalism. That means people are legally paid to clean up one another’s poop, paid to wash one another’s naked bodies, paid to fry food all day, paid to work in toxic mines, paid to clean toilets, paid to wash and dress dead naked bodies, and paid to clean the brains off walls in crime scenes. My point is, you can earn money doing every possible degrading or disgusting thing on earth.

Columnist Annalee Newitz 

And yet, most people don’t think it’s immoral to wipe somebody else’s bum or to fry food all day, even though both jobs could truthfully be described as inherently degrading. They say, “Gee that’s a tough job.” And then they pay the people who do those jobs minimum wage.

The sex worker Spitzer visited, on the other hand, was paid handsomely for her tough job. The New York Times, in its mission to invade this woman’s privacy (though in what one must suppose is a nonexploitative way), reported that she was a midrange worker at her agency who pulled in between $1000–$2000 per job. She wasn’t working for minimum wage; she wasn’t forced to inhale toxic fumes that would destroy her chances of having a non-mutant baby. She was being paid a middle-class salary to have sex. Sure, it might be an icky job, in the same way cleaning up barf in a hospital can be icky. But was she being economically exploited? Probably a hell of a lot less than the janitor in the hospital mopping up vomit cleaning up after you.

Sure, there are hookers who are exploited and who have miserable lives. There are people who are exploited and miserable in a lot of jobs. But the misery is circumstantial: Not all hookers are exploited, just as not all hospital workers are exploited. It’s basic labor economics, people.

Audacia Ray, former sex worker and editor of the sex worker magazine $pread, has pointed out that the public doesn’t even seem to understand what exploitation really means. The woman who did sex work for Spitzer has had her picture and personal history splattered all over the media in an incredibly insulting way. Nobody seems to realize she’s being degraded far more now than she ever was when Spitzer was her client. And she’s not getting any retirement savings out of it, either.

About the author Annalee Newitz (annalee at techsploitation dot com) is a surly media nerd who once hired a prostitute for a few hundred bucks and had a pretty good time.


John Michael Cassetta's picture
TOP staff

I’ve been waiting for an appropriate time to post this link: Letters From Working Girls. Sex sure is hot in that heatmap!

But really, if they have a blog they can’t be totally ruining society.

Anonymous's picture

You can not draw a parallel between crappy jobs and prostitution. Any way you look at it prostitution is wrong. Jobs are jobs, prostitution is not a career.

Todd Ross Nienkerk's picture
TOP editor

I can think of all kinds of ways prostitution can be looked at and not thought of as wrong. You might not agree with any of them, but they exist.

Dev's picture

You are right about the hypocrisy involved on his part. This does damage the integrity of this office and his administration and also that the media is taking the wrong approach to this. His infidelity isn’t important. That is between him and his wife. Patterson revealed he too, had cheated on his wife.
The honesty that his successor has shown, causes a different reaction though - certainly a more positive one.

However, I disagree with some things you say,
You devote much of your writing to defending prostitution. The legality/righteousness of prostitution isn’t the issue. So what is important?
He is a senior politician, he broke the law.

Anonymous's picture

The point is that society is way too fucking uptight about sex in general. Prostitution is a private thing. Both people get what they want out of it. Nobody is being exploited. The woman gets money and the man gets sex. Everyone is happy. If we weren’t so uptight, things like this wouldn’t matter. When all is said and done, this has been a gigantic waste of time. Wasn’t the guy doing a good job? Some of our laws are fucking ridiculous and this is one of them. Just another thing to get our attention off the war.

Anonymous's picture

I think the big issue here is not that he used a prostitute but that he used public funds to pay, and on several different occassions.

The idea that the issue of his infidelity is between him and his wife would be true if he weren’t a politician. But, then again, it didn’t seem to matter in the HillaryBillary scandal.

Late Night Austin Real Estate Blog's picture

I think the infidelity is more important than who it was with or if he paid them or not.