Among the articles in the Feminist Times series on sex work, was a thought-provoking one about people with disabilities. In Nobody’s Entitled To Sex, Including Disabled People, Philippa Willitts, as self-described “disabled feminist”, writes:
Debates about the sex industry are never far from any feminist’s consciousness, and one argument that always catches my attention is that prostitution should be legalised because, without sex workers, those poor, pitiful disabled people would never get any sex.
People who have never showed any interest in campaigning against disability benefit cuts or fighting for accessible premises are suddenly preoccupied by our ‘right’ to sex? It’s disingenuous, and it hides a not-so-subtle disablism behind the rhetoric.
The assumption that nobody would ever have sex with a disabled person through personal choice is not only inaccurate, it’s also offensive. An infantilised view of disabled people also contributes to the idea that sex with one of us is wrong or weird, adding to the stigma and prejudice that limit our lives.
True, expecting all disabled people to require the services of a professional to get laid is a stereotype worthy of examination. It truly is. Even though my past experiences in sex work with disabled men tells me it is a valuable service, we can’t make assumptions about all the dating and sex needs of disabled people.
But there are problems with Willitts’s arguments, which expose this for what it really is: Just another piece written to deny sex workers their rights.
When Willitts says, “arguing for a disabled man’s ‘right’ to use a sex worker is that it is pitting his desires against a woman’s bodily autonomy”, she not only is sexist, leaving disabled women out of the conversation, but she nauseatingly perpetuates the stance that sex workers are victims ~ rather than accepting sex workers as expressing their own bodily autonomy.
And when Willitts says, “the failure to orgasm on a regular basis has yet to cause somebody’s heart to stop beating or their genitals to fall off”, she forgets that there are other options, such as masturbation. If a person’s disability doesn’t prevent that; there are various types of disabilities after all. Perhaps more importantly, she forgets that what many people ~ disabled or not ~ seek from a sex worker is companionship.
There are complex issues at play where disabled people and sexuality are concerned. Technology, advice, or even special training may be needed for a successful sex life, but the problems we face are a result of disablist discrimination, not some kind of innate inability to meet a sexual partner. And just as disabled people need equal rights so do women, including the right to not be exploited or abused.
It’s that last line that kills me. It shows her thoughts about sex workers to be as assumptive and infantilized as the thinking she rails against when it comes to disabled people. On top of the data she mentions (which doesn’t necessarily pass scrutiny), it exposes Willitts herself as disingenuous and her own rhetoric as being full of not-so-subtle negative and ignorant attitudes. For that reason this image of The Hunchback fucking is used. Surely, Willitts can handle the joke. After all, I’m treating her like any other person, expecting her to see the humor.
Image of Esmeralda entertaining to men, including The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, via.