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On whorephobia, harm & accountability #ThoughtProvokingThirstTrap

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

I want to start this piece with a very clear message that I do not wish to drag or humiliate @sexwithashley and I absolutely discourage you from doing either of those things. Rather, I would like to use our public exchange and this piece as a teachable moment and mirror – to encourage you to reflect on how you’ve been harmful in your life, even as a marginalized person, and how you can practice being still and introspective when being held accountable. If you are moved to say anything to her, I hope it is in private and in the spirit of holding her up, as community, with the intention of contributing to her growth, only if requested by her. Note: our conversation has since been deleted, however, I’ve attached screen caps for reference.

I was recently included in a, “50 Black Sex Educators to Follow” list which moved me to expand my community. I followed everyone on the list who was already following me as to become mutuals with fellow pioneers in the field. I quickly learned that simply because we share a career of sex ed, we don’t share a dedication to politic.

One of the new follows was @sexwithashley, a Sex Blogger, Influencer and Orgasm Activist. Her page was full of sex-positive content and sex toy reviews, with a focus on amplifying pleasure. On her blog, she had various opinion-based columns including, “Best Black Porn Sites to Watch During the Quarantine” and tips on how to take perfect nudes. Excited to engage her content, I was stopped in my tracks by a post celebrating Pornhub for intentionally holding space for Black performers on their site. I immediately commented on her post and a fascinating conversation unfolded. (see attached for the conversation)

Let’s unpack.

If you don’t already know, paying for porn is a go-to conversation I have with all of my followers any chance I get. A fairly novel concept for most, it is important to me that I make people aware of how harmful it is to watch free porn, particularly on tube sites like Pornhub (which I’ll get to in a bit). I don’t seek to spend too much energy on folks who I know won’t receive this information well – I almost never go in-depth with cishet men about paying for porn (or anything) as they’re a demographic that generally lacks range and empathy.

To remind you again, someone who I assume desires to strengthen your politic around sex work and rape culture, it is important to pay for porn because sex workers deserve to be compensated for their labor. Full stop. To be honest, I wish that was enough to change people’s minds, however, to continue, porn is a luxury. It is not something you are entitled to.

To add insult to injury, if you’re engaging adult content outside of where a performer has posted it for your viewing pleasure, you are disregarding her consent. I am okay with you watching me shove a double-sided dildo in my asshole on my Onlyfans for $40. I consent to that. However, I am not okay and I do not consent to you viewing that same video on twitter after someone has ripped it and posted it for free (the same applies to tube sites, like Pornhub). We can discuss the frequency or likelihood that a performers’ content will get leaked regardless of what you do, however, if you’re invested in advocating for sex workers, you do your part by respecting the consent and value of sex workers and reminding others to do the same. You may feel like a drop in the pond but your contribution and dedication to dismantling and disrupting whorephobia is important and fueling the larger movement.

Now Pornhub, if you don’t know, is a site of incredible violence both to sex workers and non-sex workers alike. I am aware that it is many people’s go-to for porn (including performers who utilize their model pages) AND I will remind folks that Pornhub allows anyone to upload content even without the explicit consent of the people on screen. This can include non-sex workers, for example, who filmed a private sex tape with their lover that, one way or another, ended up online. Imagine your private video being on Pornhub for the world to see with little control around the urgency of getting it removed. Worse, Pornhub houses videos of minors and blatant sexual assault – honestly, what more needs to be said? Once this information is offered to you, your decision to continue using it is entirely up to you and ripe for valid criticism.

While my initial exasperation was around seeing someone who describes themselves as a “sexpert” (on her website, which also includes blog posts dedicated to porn) having no knowledge of both how watching free porn is unethical AND how Pornhub, specifically, is incredibly harmful, I want to talk about my subsequent thoughts during and after this exchange. Namely, around harm, accountability and abolition in the context of this particular conversation.

It is difficult work being told you don’t know something or that something you’ve done is harmful. And it gets particularly messy when nuance is added – we both occupy different marginalized and privileged identities. While we’re both women, she has the added distinction of navigating as a dark skinned Black woman – although I cannot speak for her lived experiences, I know (by listening to dark skinned Black women) that colorism is incredibly ugly and painful. The additional nuance for me is I am a sex worker (a marginalized identity), she is not. On the side of privilege, I am both light skinned and have greater proximity to social capital (particularly on Instagram where my following is larger than hers). All of this makes for a messy and unpleasant recipe for navigating conflict and harm however, unpleasant doesn’t mean impossible or unreasonable.

I want to name, clearly, that calling out harm and ill-education is not an attack. And it’s necessary for building a safer world, in general, to avoid further harm and, specifically, in this context where people are looking to her for some form of knowledge, opinion-based or otherwise. One of the frustrating things I encounter as a sex educator (and therapist) is balancing wanting to ensure folks who use certain titles are trained in some capacity with not wanting to be elitist or pander to white supremacist ideals of “education.” I don’t wish to gate-keep who is trained “enough” however, it makes me nervous to know, in this field specifically, there is no one route to qualify competence. (I also want to name that academic training doesn’t ensure competence or ethics either. It’s honestly all difficult to navigate!) At minimum, however, I do not trust any sex educator who is not actively seeking to educate themselves and dismantle systems of oppression, generally, and as they pertain to sex and sexuality. This unquestionably includes a sex work politic. This is constant work – staying as educated as possible, constantly looking inward to acknowledge biases, being invested in being an accomplice for marginalized folks and making space for when you need to sit down, shut up and listen. But if this is not the foundation of your praxis, I fear your teachings, opinions, etc. are futile and likely damaging.

In terms of call-out’s (or call-in’s), certainly talking nice to someone eases the tension however, the person or demographic you have harmed is not required to be polite. I am not required to kindly tweet racists when letting them know I am confused by their lack of knowledge around anti-Black discrimination. I am not required to nicely inform them of how their behavior is a result of colonization. And I certainly am not required to do free labor, as a Black woman, to educate or drop resources on race-based oppression. Racism is violence; responding to it with anything less than matched energy is a courtesy. Furthermore, a racists’ feelings about how I’ve approached them about their racism is theirs to hold – feeling triggered for being called a racist is not a “me” problem, it is entirely a “you” problem.

Now please re-read that paragraph again from the angle of sex workers addressing whorephobia. Be reminded that sex workers do not owe you kindness when we encounter your whorephobia, benevolent or otherwise. A well-meaning racist is still a racist and will be handled as such. Part of the reason I go so hard for sex workers is prefaced by how violent non-sex workers, fellow Black women included, are towards us. No matter how messy the nuances of privilege and marginalization, harm is harm and it needs to be addressed.

In the spirit of abolition, my goal is (almost always) to repair, restore and transform. That process, from the perspective of the harm-doer, requires an incredible amount of deference and an ongoing practice of grace with both yourself and other humans. It fucking sucks to feel like the “bad guy” which is why an abolition framework is so important. Abolition, while focusing on the destruction of police and prisons, prioritizes the need for alternative tools for addressing harm. Particularly with the notion that we all harm and that, with community at our side, we can create new routes to justice that don’t involve punishment. Rather, accountability.

While that exchange was ugly and violent towards sex workers, me included, let it be an example to pause when being called to the mat. When someone questions you (as it pertains to harm), politely or otherwise, ask yourself, “what’s coming up for me right now?” Is it embarrassment? Shame? Fear? Anger? Figure out what you need in that moment to both sit with and manage those feelings. If you feel offended, you’ll likely be on the defense leaving little room for introspection, instead arming yourself with a rebuttal and prohibiting yourself from self-reflection.

Remember, we all have the ability to be harmed and be harmful. And further, your marginalized identities don’t negate your ability to perpetuate violence. So, instead of telling someone who’s attempting to check your violence to “kindly get the fuck on,” perhaps take a second to turn that message inward.

You know what that is? Growth.

Raquel Savage
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