Discussions of enthusiastic consent are about the sex that young, middle-class white people have

Is the claim that sex should always be consensual compatible with the claim that sex work is just a job like any other job? A blogger asks.

One could write a book on the contradictions inherent in the pro-prostitution stance – Janice Raymond did just that – but there may be no single greater inconsistency than the dual love liberals have for both paid sex and the notion of “enthusiastic consent.”

Most jobs don’t build in claims about the need for consent, because that’s the nature of jobs. Jobs are about being paid to do something someone else wants done.

Sexual encounters should be given the go-ahead with more than just a nod of agreement or shrug of the shoulders, and given that women so often provide even less than that, only to be fucked regardless, the responsibility to ensure equal interest and excitement falls specifically with the men who have traditionally ignored it.

How odd it is, then, to see this admirable focus on coercion-free, desire-driven sexual interaction so often championed by those who defend in the same breath a view of prostitution as free and consensual. Websites like Feministing, Jezebel, and others are strong proponents of both, as were the men and women of the queer community in which I spent my late teenage years. I would wager that most advocates of the “sex work is work” perspective would, if asked, praise the model of enthusiastic consent – even though, of course, the two positions are completely incompatible.

I’m not sure they’re completely incompatible. It’s possible at least in theory for someone to love sex work so much that consent just isn’t an issue, no matter how abusive the other party or parties, no matter how many hours the work is extended (remember that “all you can fuck” offer in the Berlin “Airport Pussy”). But they are in tension, at least.

The explanation for this wild divergence rests, like most contradictions, with the blindness of privilege. Discussions of affirmative, enthusiastic consent revolve around the sex that young, middle-class white people have, and the gulf between intimacy and violence is reserved for them and them alone. Other women – like, say, the millions who languish in prostitution without the luck of whiteness, wealth, or youth – aren’t so lucky.

For consent to have any meaning whatsoever, it must be enthusiastic. That such a tautology is needed at all reflects the low value masculine eroticism places on female comfort and safety, much less pleasure. But certainly the “enthusiasm” we aim for should come from anticipation, affection, and a sense of security and warmth – not simply the promise of relief from hunger and homelessness, purchased at the price of the body.

Or you could just shrug and say it’s no worse than working in a copper mine or a slaughterhouse. But I don’t think that’s a standard the left should be aiming for.

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