This is a change in my position. Used to be I understood that fantasies are separate from reality and do not indicate anything about a person’s behavior or ethical beliefs. So I’ve refused to judge people into Nazi porn, or, say, Daddy-Dom / Little-Boy fetishists who dress the latter up in diapers and give them the former’s dick to suck. I don’t judge incest fantasies or rape fantasies. I don’t judge race play, even though it can make my stomach curdle.
This isn’t a radical position. This is sexology 101.
Yesterday I found a fantasy that I’m judging the hell out of, and I want to figure out why.
This is from Jack Morin’s The Erotic Mind, which is a self-help-adjacent book about the roles that fantasies play in developing one’s individual eroticism. Morin surveyed around 350 people about their peak erotic experiences and longtime sexual fantasies to gather the data from which he’s formed his ideas. “Judy” is one such survey respondent (note very 1995 language):
Ever since I was about fifteen I’ve fantasized about being a prostitute. I was always supposed to be “good,” but prostitutes claim the right to be blatantly sexual. As a hooker, I relish my seductive walk, whorish clothes, and dirty talk. I imagine a man slowing down for a look at me. If I like what I see, I ask if he’s in the mood for action. Sometimes I’m a streetwalker and we do it in his car or a fleabag hotel. Other times I’m a sophisticated call girl catering to rich businessmen. But I’m always in control, totally sexual, and I don’t give a damn about what anyone thinks.
Perfectly good sexual fantasy. Common as hell, I imagine. But in Morin’s drive to understand the emotions behind our fantasies, he asks people to think about them, and where they came from or what makes them so charged, and Judy has a revealing answer:
As a kid I felt concerned about my fascination with whores. Maybe I really wanted to be one—a horrifying thought. Recently I became involved with others in my community to drive the street hookers out of our neighborhood. I feel very strongly about this issue since a couple of kids found used condoms and needles in the park. More than once I went home from one of these meetings and masturbated in the bathtub (my favorite spot). And what did I fantasize about? Prostitutes, of course! I felt like a terrible hypocrite. But then I realized that my thoughts are my own business and totally unrelated to the real world. I still feel a certain uneasiness about my fantasies, but I think I like it.
So Judy’s desire to be a sex worker disturbed her, which makes sense given the messages we grow up with about sex workers. And that’s also common as hell: our erotic minds sometimes take us places our rational minds would never go. Judy seems to have picked this up (“my thoughts are my own business and totally unrelated to the real world”), but what she doesn’t understand is how the disturbance she’s felt about her fantasy (which, while understandable, is her own problem), has led to her antagonize the very source of that fantasy.
In other words, she’s hurting the people who turn her on because she’s uneasy about how they turn her on.[†]
Here’s where it gets really bad. Morin, in trying to understand how this fantasy is working for Judy’s eroticism, calls it a necessary paradox. (Morin’s all about the looking into how obstacles/disturbances fit into our arousal.)
Without boundaries to push against, there is no joy in naughtiness. If hookers roaming the streets were as meaningless to Judy as newspaper boys, they could no longer serve her as symbols of wanton lust.
So from this point of view, Judy isn’t just subconsciously hurting people who turn her on, she’s actively and consciously hurting them so they can continue to give her something to masturbate to.
This is fucked up. It’s fucked up and I want Judy to be arrested.
I imagine if any sex workers actually read my blog they might roll their eyes at my naivete here. It might be the unspoken job in a sexually unhealthy world for sex workers to receive hostility from the very people who need them.
It’s naive for Morin and Judy to think that she has to do anything in her own active faculties to naughtify, if you will, sex workers so they remain sexy for her—the entirety of human history has done this. People who flat-out hate sex work and (at least claim to) find no erotic charge from it (e.g., SWERFS) will always do Judy’s dubious job for her. In fact, it’s this very already marginalized status that forms the source of their power for her, the way sex workers upend the “good” Judy claims she “was always supposed to be.”
Maybe someday sex workers will have the same status in the neighborhood as paperboys, but that utopia won’t be happening in Judy’s lifetime I promise you. Her neighborhood activism, then, isn’t protecting her erotic fantasy life (and even if it were, your fantasies shouldn’t take priority over marginalized people’s survival). At best it’s probably warding off the judgement she fears from her neighbors.
What if Judy, what if we all, let our erotic desires tell us something about what we value, instead of letting our (or our community’s) values dictate how we should feel about our fantasies—and what we do about them? I’m not saying if you’re into Nazi porn you should find a white supremacist group to join. I (and the majority of sex therapists) don’t think fantasies work this literally.
But if something turns you on, that something has a power over you. You can reject this power, or feel that any power must by nature be cruel and punishing. Or you can accept the power, you can maybe almost see it as a virtue, and then steer your life by trying to accept and even admire that virtue in others.
- No one ever argues with me on this blog, but if you want to argue that sex workers can find another place to work, I don’t want to argue with you, not really knowing the situation of Judy’s neighborhood. But if you want to argue that Judy was right, regardless of her fantasies, to remove sex workers from places where kids come across needles and condoms in the park, I’d argue you are incorrect. One, parks are public spaces all kinds of diverse people have to share. Two, there are ways to help mitigate unwanted debris and litter in parks that don’t require “driving” people “out of the neighborhood.” Three, a diverse society is better served by you teaching your kids what to do when they come across needles and condoms on the ground than it is by you banding together with your fellow scaredycats.↵