Many years ago I was interviewing Nina Hartley who hypothesized that if we lived in a sexually healthy society there would be no porn. I’m wondering if the same could be said for sex work. I'm thinking of people who begrudgingly give others the right to exchange sex for money, but stubbornly insist that in the end no one really wants to do sex work. Can you talk about your take on this, both from your own perspectives and also based on what you've learned while editing $pread?
Audacia Ray: As complex as interactions within the sex industry are, the relief of a paid encounter is that the boundaries of the interaction are well defined – and many people are willing to pay for (and be paid for) a space in which desires and exploration are the name of the game for a limited amount of time. The thing about work in general, whether or not it involves sex, is that work often entails doing something you'd rather not do because you're being paid for it. I think what Nina is implying with that statement is that in a sexually healthy society people would communicate their needs and desires more freely, instead of being ashamed and exploring sex in a paid context. I don't think paid sex is always a product of shame, though, and people will probably always value having a fantasy/experimental space for play, even if most of their needs are being met elsewhere.
Rachel Aimee: I think most people would choose not to go to work if they didn’t need the money. For a lot of people, sex work is preferable to other jobs because it’s possible to make more money for fewer hours of work, especially if you don’t have a lot of qualifications. If it were possible to make as much money doing a different type of work, I’m sure a lot of sex workers, if not most, would change professions, but there would probably be some who would continue to work in the sex industry because they truly enjoy their work.
But I don’t think it’s sexually unhealthy to want to pay for sex. Yes, a lot of sex workers make fun of customers and call them freaks or whatever, but really there’s no one type of person who pays for sexual services. Of course there are huge inequalities within the industry, which govern who buys and sells sex and who tend to be the managers, as well as the amounts of money that sex workers can charge - clients are usually men, conventionally attractive white women are usually able to charge more money than other people, and so on. But while these sorts of gender, race, class, and looks-based inequalities are made more explicit in the sex industry, they exist in most industries, and I think it’s easy to confuse criticism of the inequalities within the industry with a criticism of the whole concept of buying and selling sex itself. It’s certainly difficult to imagine the sex industry without all these inequalities, but in the end I find it kind of pointless to ponder over what a utopian vision of the sex industry would look like, because it’s not really relevant in the day to day lives of most sex workers.
What do you wish people knew about sex work that they probably don’t know?
Rachel Aimee: One thing we're always trying to get people to realize is that there's no one type of sex worker. A lot of people have a stereotypical idea of what sex workers are like, and if you don't fit into that, they assume you're not a typical sex worker. For example, people are always asking us (the $pread staff) how we reach out to 'real sex workers,' not realizing that most of us are sex workers ourselves. They just assume that sex workers aren't smart enough to start a magazine.
In fact, most people probably know a lot more sex workers than they realize. There are a lot of people out there - from college students and to single moms, to secretaries and activists - who engage in some form of sex work, to supplement their income or support themselves or their families, but often their closest friends and family don't even know about it. Because of the stigma, a lot of sex workers feel the need to keep their jobs secret from everyone they know. I think that's why the sex worker stereotype prevails so strongly - because people don't realize when the 'real' people in their lives are actually sex workers.
What’s next for $pread?
We have a lot of ambitious hopes and plans, which usually get put on the back burner because it's such a continuous struggle to get each issue out on time! But our main goal is to increase our circulation and reach more sex workers. We're currently trying to get funding for our outreach efforts, so we can continue to send boxes of free magazines to outreach organizations to distribute to sex workers across North America, because of course not all sex workers can afford to subscribe to $pread.
We're currently looking for submissions for our second annual show of sex worker art, Sex Worker Visions II. In addition to art by and about sex workers, we're also looking for sex workers to paint, mutilate, or otherwise decorate sex toys for inclusion in the show's special exhibit, One Sex Worker Nation Under Dildo. For more information about submissions, and about the opening gala on May 1st, please see our website www.spreadmagazine.org .