Friday, March 21, 2008

Fine Lines

A version of this essay was presented as a part of “Building Bridges Between the Professions: A Talk about Working with Sex,” featuring Carol Queen and Susan Miranda, at the Center for Sex and Culture, San Francisco, May 22, 2007.

It is a new experience for me to be at a Masturbate-a-thon, but I already have observed Carol Queen masturbate on stage at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis.  I wouldn’t go on stage and masturbate myself at a Masturbate-a-thon, but I have participated in Betty Dodson’s masturbation workshop in New York City in 1992.  There are fine lines between what I would do and what I wouldn’t do and fine lines between what we might call sex work and other work.

I saw the Sex Workers’ Art Show that traveled the United States in 2002.  After the show, I went up to some of the performers and asked, what is the difference between what you do and what I do as a pelvic model?  For five years I’ve let future doctors, nurses, and chiropractors practice pelvic exams, using a speculum and breast exams on my body out of an attempt to teach both technique and how to do those exams in an emotionally sensitive way. Maybe the intent in pelvic modeling is not to create or experience sexual pleasure, but that does not mean it can’t occur.  And I certainly have had instances where I felt I was treated as though I was doing sex work.

Sex workers, tantra facilitators, sex coaching, sexological bodyworkers, sacred intimates, doctors, nurses, AIDS caregivers, sacred prostitutes.  Who uses touch, and who does not?  And why does it have to be so threatening if someone feels a little or very aroused?  It’s just touch.  Sexual arousal or sensation all by itself does not have to be threatening.  It’s what we do with it, or the intent behind it, that is much more important.

Perhaps the question we should be asking is not who is using touch but what kind of touch is being used.  No touch is bad except non-consensual, disrespectful, seedy, or creepy touch, and then it is not the touch that is bad, it is the non-consent, disrespect, seediness, or creepiness that is bad.  The most important thing is the intent, and that isn’t visible.  It is a lot easier to make overt rules about our bodies and sex than exploring the subtle components that go into all of our human interactions.

I used to tell the future doctors and nurses as they practiced on my body that only they know when their intent is good or not.  I couldn’t say when their intent was not good, but I could trust myself and speak up when it didn’t feel right to me.  Maybe that is where our focus should be.  Instead of being protective of people as though sex and touch are dangerous, we ought to empower people to trust themselves, speak up for themselves, and know themselves.  At least that is where I am putting my time and energy as I go around publicly talking about sexual healing, sacred intimacy, the concept that all of our body is good and deserving of touch – yes, even the genitals. 

I will never excuse the violence and disrespect that can exist in our society.  But it is not just the violence towards my genitals that I will not excuse.  It is just as important how I get treated when I am doing paid office work or walking down the street as when I am doing pelvic modeling.  And I can feel just as violated with my clothes on as I can with my genital area exposed.

Sex work: What is it?  As if the words on this page isn’t doing sex work!  I can see the fine lines of healing, sexuality, touch and without any hesitation say sex is not the problem, nor is touch.  Sex for money is not a problem any more than paying someone to care about us through counseling, therapy, or bodywork is a problem.  There are fine lines.  Let’s live in the gray areas and ambiguity and complexity and unravel the obstacles to the pleasure that is our birthright.

Miranda, S.  (2007, Sept/Oct/Nov).  Fine lines.  BiWomen, The Newsletter of the Boston Bisexual Women’s Network 25 (4), 8.

Copyright 2007 by Susan Miranda.  All rights reserved.  No part of this writing may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright holder. For reprint permission, email