Securing Sexuality is the podcast and conference promoting sex positive, science based, and secure interpersonal relationships. We give people tips for safer sex in a digital age. We help sextech innovators and toy designers produce safer products. And we educate mental health and medical professionals on these topics so they can better advise their clients. Securing Sexuality provides sex therapists with continuing education (CEs) for AASECT, SSTAR, and SASH around cyber sexuality and social media, and more.
Links from this week’s episode:
Digital Deviance: Exploring the Intersection of Intimacy and Information Security, Keeping Sex Workers Safe in a Digital Age, and Navigating the Nuances of Sex Work in a Digital Culture
The sex work industry is a complex and often misunderstood field. It is an industry that has been shrouded in stigma and secrecy for centuries, yet it continues to exist and thrive in many parts of the world. In recent years, there has been an increased focus on the intersection of intimacy and information security in the sex work industry. We explore how recognizing and accepting sex work can end stigma and keep people safe.
First, it is important to understand what exactly constitutes sex work. Sex work encompasses a wide range of activities, from prostitution to webcam modeling to phone sex operators. It also includes activities such as stripping, escorting, erotic massage services, domination/submission services, fetish services, BDSM services, adult film production as well as acting, directing, editing, marketing and distribution services, exotic dancing or burlesque performances, nude modeling or photography sessions for art or commercial purposes. While these activities may vary greatly in terms of their legality (depending on local laws), they all share one commonality: they involve providing sexual services for money or other forms of compensation.
The stigma surrounding sex work often leads to feelings of shame among those who engage in it; this can lead to feelings of isolation and vulnerability that can make them more susceptible to exploitation by clients or third parties who may be looking to take advantage of them financially or otherwise. As such, it is essential that those working within the industry have access to resources that will help them protect themselves from potential harm while still allowing them to engage in consensual intimate activities with clients without fear of repercussions or judgment from society at large.
One way that those working within the industry can protect themselves is by utilizing information security measures such as encryption technology when communicating with clients online (e.g., via email). Encryption technology helps ensure that any sensitive information shared between two parties remains secure by scrambling data so that only authorized individuals are able to view it; this helps prevent third-party interception which could potentially lead to identity theft or other forms of exploitation if not properly secured against unauthorized access.
Additionally, using secure payment methods (e.g., cryptocurrency) when engaging with clients online helps further protect both parties involved from potential financial exploitation by ensuring transactions are conducted safely and securely without exposing either party’s personal information unnecessarily In addition to utilizing encryption technology when communicating with clients online and using secure payment methods when engaging with them financially, there are also other measures those working within the industry can take in order ensure their safety while still allowing them engage in consensual intimate activities without fear of repercussions or judgment from society at large.
For example, establishing clear boundaries before engaging with a client, setting up a screening process for new clients, having a support system available during engagements, being aware of local laws regarding sex work, maintaining good hygiene practices during engagements, avoiding drugs and alcohol before and during engagements, being mindful about where you advertise your services and who you advertise your services too. All these measures help create an environment where both parties involved feel safe and comfortable enough to engage freely without fear. Finally, recognizing and accepting sex work as legitimate form employment is essential if we want to end stigma associated with this profession.
By doing so we create an environment where those engaged within this profession feel empowered rather than ashamed; we create an environment where they feel supported rather than judged; we create an environment where they feel safe rather than vulnerable.
This shift towards acceptance would not only benefit those engaged within this profession but would also benefit society at large since it would help reduce instances of exploitation and abuse which are unfortunately all too common within this field. Overall, recognizing and accepting sex work as a legitimate form of employment is key if we want to end stigma associated with this profession while helping keep people safe.
By utilizing encryption technology when communicating with clients online and using secure payment methods when engaging financially, along with establishing clear boundaries before engaging with a client, setting up screening process for new ones, having a support system available during engagements, being aware of local laws regarding sex work, maintaining good hygiene practices, avoiding drugs and alcohol before and during engagements, being mindful about where you advertise your services and who you advertise your services to. All of these measures help create an environment where both parties involved feel safe enough to engage freely without fear.
Intimacy and Information Security
Technology and Sex Workers
Private Regional Facebook Group
GIS Child Tracking Apps
Bad Date Lists
Intuition in Sex Work
Hello and welcome to Securing Sexuality, the podcast where we discuss the intersection of intimacy and information security. I'm Wolf Goerlich. He's a hacker and I'm Stefani Goerlich. She's a sex therapist and together we are going to discuss what safe sex looks like in a digital age. Today we're talking to Kurt Fowler. Kurt is an assistant professor of Criminal Justice at Penn State Abington.
His research on the culture shift to digital sex work was the foundation for his first book which is tentatively titled Virtually Yours, Sex Work and Digital Culture.
Kurt, thank you so much for joining us.
Well, thank you so much for having me. I'm thrilled to be here.
Tell us a little bit, I know we've already talked a bit before recording, but tell us again about your area of expertise and what got you interested in this research.
My area of expertise is digital deviance as I term it, which is the idea of online culture expressing itself in deviant ways.
So I've done some really amazing and fascinating work with digital culture. So I just published an article a few weeks ago on incels and their use of gender in digital spaces and my book is all about how sex workers use digital culture to keep themselves safe, to screen clients and to basically function in modern society.
I got into it when a friend of mine, after I had started my criminal justice degree, I started getting lots of phone calls from my friends who were like, hey, I'm watching law and order.
Is this thing actually true?
And I'd have to go, no, it's not true, none of it's true. And then so I get this phone call from a friend who says, hey, meet me for drinks. When I get out there and meet her, she says, hey, so I had an ulterior motive. I actually am a sex worker and I wanted to talk to you about my own safety and security.
And when she said, I'm a sex worker, I went, oh, because that's what you say when somebody hands you a glass of tequila and goes, by the way, I'm a sex worker. You just say, oh. And she said, I just want to know how I can keep myself safe.
And like, I'm worried about legality. I'm worried about consequences. I'm worried about my content being stolen.
Can you help me with that?
And I said, absolutely not, because I know nothing about this whatsoever. And I said, what grad school does teach you is how to be a researcher so I can look into this and get back to you. And I looked into it and then got back to her.
And when I got back to her, I said, hey, well, do you know other people who do similar work?
And she said, yes, I do.
And I said, would you mind introducing me to them?
And she said, yes. And that's how I got involved with a digital web of sex workers from around the world. And it was an amazing journey. And I love how you capture that journey in your book. Your writing makes everyone you talk to come alive off that paper. Every time I read something, I'm like, man, I feel like I'm there having the conversation or I feel like I'm in the bar.
So it's a great reading. There's one line that I want to read that really encapsulates why we wind you on this podcast. In one of the last chapters, you said, the presence of new technology played an integral role in all parts of their stories. It framed their entrance narratives, facilitated the work processes, and subverted traditional social institutions. Providers could use it to abate risk and to increase their security.
Which of course, I mean, this is a podcast about sex and technology and security.
So bam, we had to talk to you.
But in the starting point, I want to ask, what are these technologies?
What are some of the tools of the trade?
What's awesome is that there's this book, and I'm going to get the guy's name wrong.
It's Bars, I think with two S's, I recall. And the book is called The Erotic Engine. And it was all about how the idea that new technologies are almost always fueled by an adult component. So don't get me wrong. The very first camera, someone took a very pretty picture of a sunset, and then the very next thing they took a picture of was someone naked. It's what we do.
And so workers are, not exclusively, but very, very many of them are early adopters. And the other thing is that these are, workers are wonderful people who are completely normal. They're both remarkable and unremarkable at the exact same time. And so these aren't people who are building new platforms just for workers. They're grabbing existing technology and then using it and altering it for their own purposes.
So yeah, some of the first people I talked to, their big, what like, go-to security website was a Facebook group. But it was a regional Facebook group of other workers in the area, but there was that feature where you could close it off and make it a private group. And so no one else can see it and nobody else can participate unless they have prior knowledge of it.
So like all of these, all of the things that workers do to keep themselves safe are things that you and I use, all of us use on a daily basis, but they've just tweaked them ever so slightly to be helpful for them. There's other, for example, there was an app that somebody suggested that it was called, I think it was called the five or the six or something like that.
But it was, all it was was a multi-messaging app where you could click a button and it would instantaneously send a message to six people at the same time. And you could also set it on a timer. So if after an hour, like this doesn't transcribe, this doesn't transpire, then it'll send a message. And so workers said, oh, we can use that.
All you do is put your security people, the people who care about where you are and if you're safe, put them in that thing and then set it for an hour, go meet a client. If the hour comes up and I don't shut off the app, then it sends a message. I'm at this hotel, I'm at this address, I'm here, come and help me.
And so the original intent of that app wasn't for this, right?
It was for, I don't know, it was to inform all of your friends that the movie is over or something like that. They also use like pin dropping, GIS child tracking apps really often, only it's not a child and a parent. It's a worker and someone who cares about them, who knows where they are, where they're located.
So there's a huge technological element to this, obviously, but what's fascinating to me is the reappropriation of these things.
It's like, okay, we're going to grab this idea and use it for ourselves and nobody else is going to know about this. And you really wouldn't know unless you asked them. And frankly, even some people who talked to me were like, I'm not going to tell you everything. They're like, there are, you know, there's apps I use, there's processes I have.
You don't get, not only do you not get to know them, no one gets to know them because that's the way I keep myself safe. So I've had similar conversations actually years ago, I used to run a crisis line and drop in center in Detroit that served high risk women and girls.
And when you have high risk women and girls in a city like Detroit, you get a lot, a lot of sort of street level commercial sex work. You get survival sex. We had an anti-trafficking program that was separate from the sex worker outreach. So I've had similar conversations about sort of risk and safety planning, but that was quite a while ago and that was a very specific population.
So I'm curious to know what you're hearing or what you've learned about risks today.
What sort of exposure are workers dealing with?
What sort of variables are they taking into account when they're deciding what's safe versus what's risky?
What are the threats that are out there right now?
Yeah. The thing that was really fascinating to me when I started talking to workers is I had obviously, and anybody who goes into any research area, like you have expectations, like I'm going to see this. This is what I'm going to see.
And I thought, I so thought I was going to be hearing, yeah, I carry a gun or a knife or I am worried about dangerous clients and this is why, or I have certain clients that are safe, but other ones that aren't safe.
And so how do I mitigate the difference between the two?
And instead, what I found was the risks and security were completely different than my expectations. One worker said to me, oh, yeah, I work in person. I don't provide digital content because you never want to, her saying, you never want to provide digital content because that shit lives on forever. And I was like, wait a minute.
And I just had to grind the conversation to a screeching halt and say, you're more afraid of digital content than you are of an in-person client. And she said, yeah, because in person at this point, I have got it down to such a science that I'm at no risk whatsoever.
But yet, say I get out of sex work, like many workers do.
I mean, people come in and out of the work all the time that I get out of sex work, but then someone finds my stage name, or somebody uses this, uses online digital content to try and blackmail me. Somebody who stalks me online. Those were much more of the concerns. When it came to the in-person stuff, it was all preemptive.
If you could get the bad, the dangerous, the risky clients out of the way up front, all of your preparatory ideas go elsewhere. Not like because you've gotten this part down pat.
So now it's, well, how do I protect my identity?
How do I protect, and not just my identity, but my work identity as compared to my IRL?
And those were the kinds of risks that surprised me the most. The idea that digital content could be used as a weapon when people are using it, like when it plays both. So it kind of oddly becomes both a danger and an advantage at the same time. Because for a lot of workers that I talked to who did do digital content, I asked them about that and they said, yeah, no.
And many of them just went, that's a risk. And it was just, that was it. And it wasn't until they would start getting into the specifics about like, oh, well, we have to wipe the geocoding off of our pictures, for example. And if you can't, that kind of stuff you can't forget. Sex workers would say all the time, we're like airlines. We can't make mistakes.
But once we got the rhythm down, once we know what we're doing, it's solid. But you don't want to leave that window open for a mistake to happen. So the risk that I would say that was most surprising and that came up the most often was digital content being weaponized.
It's funny though, because so many of the workers I talked to came from a kind of a privileged background and a privileged race element as well. Almost everybody I talked to was white. And they would say, yeah, no, this can be a real problem for sex workers. But there's always this weird little additional caveat of, but not for me. Like I don't have these problems.
But in a weird way that really did show the solidarity of the community, because nobody ever wanted to downplay other people's problems. Like they wanted to say, hey, I don't face this myself. But the fact that anybody faces this is a problem. And so we need to be keeping an eye on it.
So one of the ways that that manifested itself with the people I spoke to was like, oh, I don't even have to worry about STIs anymore, because my protocols are so safe. But everybody should always wear a condom. There was always a little bit of advice after each story. I like so much about what you're saying in terms of taking existing technologies and repurposing them.
It really feels like a hacker ethos to me. It really feels like a punk ethos to me.
Absolutely. There's a William Gibson quote that lives in my head forever, which is the street finds its own uses for things. You never know when you build something what's going to be used for. Exactly. When reading the book, I was really fascinated to see stories of people were saying, I wouldn't have stayed in this industry so long if it wasn't for the sense of community.
Or other people saying, hey, I was using dating apps to fill my calendar, and it occurred to me, hey, this wasn't much fun. I might as well get paid for it. There's a lot of those stories in there.
I was wondering, what are some of the benefits of these technologies above and beyond safety?
The sense of community, the sharing of information, what are they doing and getting out of using this tech?
I would say that technology and information sharing is the biggest advantage.
Obviously, that plays a huge role in security and risk assessment. One of my favorite things that I did find out was, oh, well, regionally, a lot of workers have bad date lists. Anybody can go there, but you wouldn't know that without the institutional communal knowledge that goes along with being a part of it. So many people said when they entered, so entering using technology was the main way everybody entered.
There was literally one person that I spoke to who didn't have a digital entry, let's put it that way, where they would say, oh, well, I was interested in this, and so I jumped online and did more research. And then I found other people online who did this, and then I talked to them.
But yet, the whole book is filled with these really fascinating dualities where people are like, I work alone. I don't even know in real life any other sex workers, and yet I'm part of a worldwide, super supportive digital community, digital culture even, that helps me understand how to do this job better and how to keep myself safe.
So building community was one of the biggest ones because many people would say, and then after I learned, I would stay active in the community and I would pass that information along. So it's not even about the availability of these digital resources. It's about the organic sharing and network sharing of these kinds of resources. And you can't do that without a community.
You can't do that unless you have some semblance that the person who's telling you this, that they're legit. That you're not just reading a blog post that you happen to have found. Fine. Most people did start that way. They're like, oh, I read, but then they used that entrance to find more people and then to ask intuitive questions and then to dip their toe in it.
As one of them said, you give it a try and then if it goes well, you keep doing it or you don't.
And the building of community, I think, was the biggest, biggest advantage that they absolutely had because even things like, even because you can even question yourself in a community, right?
Like, is this right for me?
You don't have those kinds of conversations instead of just like going at it alone and hoping for the best. You can say, hey, well, I actually talked to one worker, fascinatingly, who was like, I tried this and this and this and this and this and I had a miserable time. And then I tried this thing and I felt like a million bucks.
And I went back to the community and the community was like, you found your niche. You did it.
Like, don't even worry about all that other stuff. But this one, this one's going to help you. And they got that, they got that affirmation from the community, which was really great that they wouldn't have had otherwise. I have had friends and colleagues who live in communities and they do sex work.
And in their areas, the workers will kind of keep a Google Doc or a spreadsheet or a shared something that lists problematic customers. So that if somebody calls and tries to make an appointment or schedule a date, that if that name is there, they know to decline. And I know that, you know, that's another area, sort of your work, this idea of people who make their living selling sex and intimacy.
And then also this whole community of men online who are really raging against a deficit in sex and intimacy. And I'm curious how those overlap in your mind, in your work, in the lives of the people that you've researched. Talk to me. Oh my goodness.
Yeah, how they overlap is a rough one because one of the tenants of one of the kind of maybe lesser known tenants of Inseldom is that they believe that sex work should be what obligatory and free with taxpayer funded money or something like that.
Like some, you know, really out there stuff. But the idea that it's interesting because I do feel like I got both sides of the of the coin, like I got both sides of the spectrum. I have digital culture doing what it does best to try and protect people and digital culture doing what it does worst, which is amplify the most extreme member of any group.
And I'm actually fascinated by that very concept, the idea that when you enter into a digital culture, you don't have a peer group the same way you do in a in real life kind of culture. You don't understand the role and behaviors of a novice the way you do if you're brought into something.
Instead, you're just given you're just brought into a culture and then you who are you exposed to you're exposed to the people who are the loudest and you know, the most heralded. And what are those people in any kind of weird amalgam of people is always going to be the most extreme ones.
And then so you get into this weird cycle of radicalization because every new group sees the most extreme person not as the most extreme, but as normative. Technology is brilliant at bringing people together and sharing.
But the question is, what are we sharing?
Like are we sharing information that's helpful?
Are we sharing, you know, best practices for security or are we sharing the most extreme beliefs and viewpoints of other people who share our experiences?
And so that overlap to me that overlap of digital culture is absolutely fascinating because another question that absolutely follows it is, well, how do we interrupt cycles like that?
You know, and how do we take the lessons of how workers have completely subverted regular institutions like the police because workers can't call police, right?
So they have to figure this out for themselves.
So how do we take good qualities like that and infuse them into bad qualities like this cycle of extremism on the other end?
It's not an easy thing to do, but it's something that we absolutely have to reckon with as a society because the Internet isn't going away and our inclination to create new cultures and create new groups on the Internet is not going away.
And so we're going to have to ask, how can we keep these cultures, how can we keep these digital cultures healthy?
And I actually think sex workers absolutely represent an example of a healthy digital culture in the fact that everybody I talked to across the board was concerned for not just their own safety. Like I don't want it to sound like they're always just out there constantly on guard and vigilant.
They're out there encouraging all of their happiness and all of their fulfillment, you know, and that they have the job that they want to be having and that they have the experience that they want to be having. So in that sense, I think sex worker culture absolutely represents a good digital culture.
Yeah, that came through too in your book.
What is a good digital culture, right?
The ability to fulfill a lot of different needs. And it isn't always protecting. If you think of as of hierarchy or however you want to slice and dice it, it's satisfying multiple different needs across that. You just said something I thought was really fascinating and I want to tease on a little bit more. Finding joy, finding your right place in this work.
What are some of the things that you see that works really well in how they're using Facebook's groups and how they're communicating?
How are they able to like guide each other towards fulfillment?
Not necessarily the security side, but towards fulfillment. One of the things that they do is that I was amazed by workers is that how insanely like pragmatic they are because they would say, don't come into this looking to like find your calling.
Like, what are you doing?
What we want you to do, we want you to be safe and happy and healthy. But this is a job. So there's going to be parts you don't like and parts you do like. And the important part is to accentuate the parts you like and deaccentuate the parts that you don't like. But we all have, you know, I'm a professor. I love hanging out with my students. I love doing research.
Oh, man, grading can fuck itself. Like everybody has a part that they don't like.
And so the community is excellent at talking to each other and explaining the difference between are you dissatisfied with what has happened or are you in danger or are you, you know, or is this not right for you?
Or is this just, yeah, sometimes clients suck. Like because what the workers, you know, even the workers who really said, I mean, I love sex work. I feel like there's a few who were even like, I think I found my calling. I think this is what I should be doing. And the majority were like, this is a job.
But you can be, we hold the radical position that maybe it's okay to be happy in your job or at least be contented in your job. But having to be miserable. So if you're a worker and you're part of our, this community with us and you're miserable, let's have a talk about why you're miserable.
Are you miserable because you need to streamline some of your processes?
Are you miserable because of the quality of your clients or are you miserable because this is not the right job for you?
And I have met people who had gone, I met some people who were in and then they came out and said, after coming up the other side, I just found that it really wasn't for me.
And then, or it was right for me at this time period of my life. And now it's not right for me anymore. And I think that that is the thing that they do for each other so well is offer this reasonable pragmatism that is associated with your own health and security, like your own ability to get the most out of what you want in life.
One of the things that workers talked about the most was how, yeah, they get paid well for what they do. And that payment equals time that they have to do other things. And they wanted to really emphasize that they had time to, they had time and resources to do things that they cared about.
One of my favorite stories in the book and one of my favorite lines is it all started when her bird died. Because Isabelle, one of the workers I talked to, loves, adores her birds. And she found that this work could give her the resources to give her birds the life that they wanted. And she really, one of her lifelong partner birds was killed, sadly, by an abusive partner.
And she was financially tied to that partner. And she said, I got to get away from this person. And so the way that she found the way to get away from him was by doing sex work. And then she got away, she bought her own home. And it was, she walked me through this beautiful home with, I kid you not, an aviary. That's fantastic. I love it.
So first of all, as somebody that is currently taking a graduate level criminology class, I just want to throw out the idea that you could always move to a pass fail system. It would be so much easier if you were on grading. I'm sure your students wouldn't object. Now I'm definitely thinking about it. It's not a bad idea.
And I know you're a criminologist and a criminology professor and you're not a clinician, but I am. And one of the conversations that happens a lot in my world is around this idea of trauma, of sex workers getting into the field because they are carrying trauma, of workers being traumatized by their work in sex work.
And I think what you're describing, this process of every job has aspects that we like and aspects that we don't. And some jobs are suited to some people and not others is a really important distinction that people tend to not think about in this area. Exactly. They tend to assume that if it doesn't work for you, it has been harmful to you. Exactly.
And I'm curious if you could talk a little bit about the nuances of people who have felt harmed by sex work versus people who found that sex work just wasn't for them.
Oh, interesting. I wish I got more into that in my book because I did talk to people about it. The people that found it, I feel like this should get like a spoilers tag because this kind of comes closer to the end. But one of the workers I spoke to did get out of it at the end of the book.
And when she looked back on it, she didn't even find it harmful. She made the distinction that I thought was really right on and she said, it's not right for me now. It's something and she said repeatedly, it's something that sex work is something that really emphasized parts of my personality and myself and my skill set even that made me really good at that job.
But it just, but now I've reached a part in my life where it's not as a helpful part. And so I have to leave it behind, but I don't begrudge it existing. I don't begrudge that I did it. I just see that my situation has changed and now I don't think it's a good fit for me anymore.
And I really appreciated that because it wasn't even just, oh, it's harmful versus, oh, it's not right for me. It's that shit changes like over time. And so it might be right for you one day and then it's not right for you the next day. But one of the things that workers did talk to was that complexity of their own relationship to the work.
The worker I spoke to said, I was riding high one day. I felt like a million bucks. And from a work perspective, I had just churned out some new DVDs and I got a bunch of money for it and I put a down payment in the house and everything was going great.
And I walked into an adult shop and I saw one of my scenes on a DVD on the wall and it was called My Asian Concubine and she was Asian. And she said, and I really felt, and in that moment is when I felt that feeling was taken away from me.
I felt grody because they were using my race to sell me and you don't need to use my race to sell me because I'm an amazing worker. That should be good enough. And she said, and really the industry as a whole needs to reckon with itself about its treatment of respect and stigma around workers. And those are the things that really do harm people in the long term.
But when they would talk about harms, those harms were almost always stigma based and not like harms like, oh, I like one worker, you know, most workers have a hundred percent security safety rate, you know, and a few, but a few of them had bad experiences.
And even she was like, yeah, I feel that I'm way more at risk when it comes to the stigma that society has about sex work as compared to a client who's going to hurt me.
And that really hit something in me because I was like, man, that's such a, to think that like all of culture is against you or all of a society is against you versus one person who literally has your physical, you know, has your physical safety, you know, at risk.
So the harms I think are these, that they're most concerned about are these broader societal stigma based harms that they're not, which cuts them off from so much of the rest of life.
Like they have to, many of them, many, many of them like had to have to hide who they are and what they do. And that's not cool for anybody. We had a producer on a couple of episodes ago, her name is Luna and it was a great conversation. One of the things she said was to do this work, I had to give up having an online identity.
My only online identity is the work I do. So if I go to the movies with some friends, if I'm at a family get together, I can't take photos, I can't share that. And that was what, what she felt she had to give up because of some of that, those concerns. Absolutely.
Because some of the folks I talked to did have dual online identities, but they talked about the insane lengths that they had to go to, to make sure that keep those two things separate. One of them, including their IRL, their, you know, their real identity couldn't have any pictures of their own face attached to it because they, those were used for their, you know, for their work identity.
So yeah, like it's, yeah, it's nuts. I have a question for you on the security side, both to protect against stigma, also to protect against, you know, perhaps a bad client.
One of the things that struck me, you know, I work in cybersecurity, right?
So in my world, it's, it's really exciting stuff like checklists and protocols and standard operating procedures and spreadsheets and PowerPoints. I was concerned and maybe I shouldn't be. So this is why I'm asking.
I was concerned that it seemed as if intuition was one of their security controls, right?
That they needed to have good intuition around their partner.
What were they typing?
How fast were they responding?
What was the grammar?
They need to have good intuition around the offer that they were following and whatnot. And as much as I love expert judgment, I do love me some expert judgment. I'm sure they are making some great decisions.
Does that reliance on intuition and community input and involvement put them at at higher risk?
I'm going to go out on a limb and say no, because one of the super fascinating things about them talking about, you know, because they would talk about their security protocols at length, you know, with checklists and so forth. And then they would go and then, you know, there's, there's, there's gut feeling.
And at first I was writing this chapter and going, and then there's gut feeling like, like, and end of chapter.
And then, you know, some intuitive other scholars looked at my work and said, I want to know more about this because there seems to be more going on here than even what they're saying, which is one of the more interesting parts, fascinating parts about like kind of unraveling a culture, right?
Especially subculture, especially digital subculture. And it was that whenever any of them would mention intuition, they would have a litany of little Piccadillo's that would go along with that intuition. So it wasn't a gut feeling. It was that they also, that the client should fulfill these one, two, three, four, five really important little things that make me comfortable in a conversation and that move the process forward.
And if they don't fulfill them, it gives me pause.
And the reason it gives me pause is because if they're not good at this part, which is the preliminary part, which before they've ever even met in person, if they're not good at this part, does that open me to risks later?
And so many of them said, even that little su sense of, uh, of risk was enough to have them go, fuck it.
No, no, I don't.
I, I have more than enough clients. I have people that fulfill the 100% intuition smell test and I'll just have those be clients.
And so, yeah, they have this major list of important big things.
And then the intuition is things like, do they use good grammar over text?
And that's enough to like, to, do they respond in a timely manner or is it like, you know, three texts and then a 45 minute wait and then another two, like is it janky, you know, and that is enough. That smell is enough to have them go, okay, this is going to work out versus this isn't going to work out. And grammar is just like one example.
Many of them had, you know, a list of examples of things.
So things like, um, you know, do they, do they ask about money like right off the bat or does it come later?
When they introduce themselves, one of them even said, if they give up information too easily, that is a, that's a sign to me because that means that maybe they have, you know, maybe they have their own protocols to get past my protocols and they're going to put me at risk.
So she was like, when they give up the information too easily, the vital info, what's your name, your address, what's your phone number, where do you work?
I had some workers who even asked for bank numbers and get them. But if you like, if you give it to me too easily, that sets off some red flags because I think that you're a little too eager, um, which was a fascinating one. So those into, even though intuition like kind of has intuition definitely has a gendered vibe to it.
Uh, they still had intuition was merely a code word for a list of small factors that they could judge whether or not a new or prospective client was going to be good or not.
The use of intuition, the use of sort of that mental red flag checklist is one that I see a lot in, um, sort of the BDSM community and Kingsters too, when they're sort of negotiating a scene or even discussing the prospect of maybe someday moving towards negotiation. There are those same things.
What language are they using?
How are they referring to me?
How are they describing themselves?
It's not necessarily a risk assessment matrix that we could put in a binder, but certainly one that has a structure and a consistency to it.
Um, I guess what I'm most curious about as we start to move towards wrapping up is what can we, what can our listeners learn about safer sex from your research?
How does the sex work community, the digital community inform our wider conversation or around sex and intimacy in a digital age?
When I asked workers a similar question, like if you had one thing that you could, you could broadcast to the world, was one of the last questions I asked, what would it be?
And by and large, end the stigma was the, was the biggest one.
But functionally, how do we as, you know, citizens, uh, how do we end the stigma of something?
The only way you end the stigma literally of anything is to make sure that it has a place, you know, in public, that it has a place in conversation, that it has a place in society.
Um, because that's truly what stigma is, right?
Like it is the passive come active, you know, ejection of something from society.
Like, okay, that's not for us. So you have to be at like very few of the workers I talked to and would even admit in public, that this was their job. And frankly, for many reasons, they should be careful and not do that because yes, that the stigma that they deal with is real.
Um, and the legality, let's not even, you know, not even to get into that part. But I think that if we as citizens, as non sex worker people say, Hey, sex work is a legitimate work, sex work is a legitimate career path even, um, that people shouldn't be shamed for it.
And you should be able to say, I'm a sex worker in the same way I can say, I'm a professor and the same way somebody else says, you know, I'm a barista. And then what someone else says, I'm an engineer, like that it is just as unremarkable as anything else.
So making sure that you acknowledge as a person that sex work is work and that that's it, you know, and that's one of the most base level things anyone can do to help sex workers the world over is just to acknowledge that sex work is work. That's it. That they don't need some label slapped on them. You don't need some pejorative slapped on them.
You know, you don't need to go poking around, uh, you know, well, what kind of sex work?
What do you do?
Oh, if I give you $5, you blah.
Like no, just leave all that stuff in the gutter where it belongs and just say, yeah, sex work is worried. This is my friend. They're a sex worker. Boom. I don't need any explanation needed.
Now, clearly everyone's always loves a little extra explanation, but, but by accepting and saying, yeah, sex workers work is one of the most base things anybody can do.
Um, and it keeps people safer. It absolutely does.
It is part of safer sex, right?
Because it's not just about remembering, you know, workers as the use of condom, use of condom, use condom, of course, use it, come and be safe.
What are you doing?
No, be safe. Be safe to keep them safe, to keep their lives, their lives, their livelihoods, their digital identities and their in-person corpuses safe. Make sure that you acknowledge that sex workers work. It makes me think of the, the expression. No one is free where others are oppressed. Love it. Good one. Yes. That we cannot be sex positive for ourselves when we are stigmatizing others.
But if we want acceptance, even acceptance of our vanilla monogamous faith-based security culture relationship, it starts with recognizing that choices are valid for those that make them. Exactly. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you for sharing your insight and your wisdom. Thank you for having me.
This was, this was wonderful. Thank you. It really was. And thank you audience for tuning in to Securing Sexuality this week, your source of information you need to protect yourself and your relationships. From the bedroom to the cloud, we are here to help you navigate safer sex in a digital age.
Be sure to check out our website, Securing Sexuality, for links to Kurt's book which is tentatively titled Virtually Yours, Sex Work and Digital Culture. And we will update that link once we know the definitive title as well. And then also, of course, for information about our 2023 conference. And join us again for more fascinating conversations around the intersection of sexuality and technology. Have a great week. Cheers.