A few weeks ago, I read an article in the local tabloid newspaper DV about prostitution. Someone called Gunnar had phoned the paper to air his frustrations regarding the criminality of prostitution. According to Gunnar, prostitution should be considered an act of noble kindness because disabled people and ugly folks need to get laid too. These wonderful women are serving a cause that’s no less important than eating and sleeping, Gunnar said.
My first reaction was to wonder whether Gunnar took into consideration that a majority of these wonderful women are forced to sell access to their bodies, but my second, more powerful, reaction was curiosity over what Gunnar looks like. Having been tainted by his ideas, I couldn’t help but envisioning a very ugly amputee.
A few days later, I was in Berlin with my boyfriend, who suffered from back pain after having been crammed into tiny airplane seats on three separate flights. He was happy to discover that our street was lined with traditional Thai massage places. I started to get suspicious when we had to ring a doorbell at the massage parlour and my suspicions rose further when my masseuse clearly had no idea what she was doing. My boyfriend found himself in an even more awkward situation when his masseuse attempted to ‘service’ him in a way that had nothing in common with massage except lubricant.
So there it was. My first encounter with prostitution. It took me a while to wrap my mind around it, especially because my ideas about prostitution were very far from the reality in Berlin. I had a Lilya-4-Ever-like notion of imported Eastern European teenage sex slaves on drugs. After I tossed my misconceptions, I started noticing prostitution in the unlikeliest of situations.
A young man I know, who currently holds an influential and respectable job, told me that he once accepted payment for sex from a stranger in a dark alley. “I just wanted to know what it was like,” he said. It wasn’t about the money.
A woman I know told me she’d slept with a guy in exchange for movie tickets.
Both of these people grew up in the average, Icelandic household, never living in fear, wondering where their next meal would come from. As my mind slowly started opening up, I remembered an incident from six years ago. A group of other people and I had missed the last flight from Bakki airport to an outdoor festival in the Westmann Islands. A group of loud, drunken girls started to curse and whine until one of them had enough. She exchanged a few words with the guy behind the desk, who was old enough to be her dad, after which they disappeared into the back room. Twenty minutes later, the girl came back and announced to her friends that she’d solved the problem. Everyone cheered as they took their seats on the plane, and I overheard one of the girl’s friends ask her what she’d done. She smiled, stuck her tongue in her cheek in a suggestive manner and got high-fives from her friends, who laughed wholeheartedly. I remember feeling dirty when I got off the plane because what got me to my destination was ultimately not a plane but some girl’s twisted moral standards. Perhaps that’s why I purposely forgot about the whole thing until recently.
The fact of the matter is that those on the receiving end of prostitution are often no more ugly or disabled than the guy behind the desk at Bakki, and those who trade sex for money or favours are often no more enslaved than the girl who took the matter into her own hands (or mouth, shall we say).
Prostitution is far more common than society would like to admit. Certain schools of philosophy go as far as to claim that 95 percent of all romantic relationships in the world are conditioned, where one partner exchanges sex and friendship for financial stability or company. I am too much of a romantic to accept that theory, but I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to the sex industry. Next time I want a back rub, I’m getting it from someone I trust.