Busting Paradigms (Among Other Things): A Conversation with Ellie Lumpesse - 2 of 3

Frédérik: How we talk about sex, of course, is vital in considering sex within the politics of culture. In one of your posts, you bring up Michel Foucault to question “standards of sexual misconduct and expectations of men and boys to be always already sexualized.” But there’s more to the issue of seeing women as too demure and subject to victimhood to be capable of sexual predation – an assumption criticized by individualist feminists like Wendy McElroy – namely, how sexual identity is constructed (manufactured?) through language. Here’s where we drag in America’s famous paradoxical Puritanism. Just the other day, I noticed the cover of Cosmopolitan proclaiming, in bold letters, articles explaining dazzling new sex techniques and exposés of men’s secret sexual desires. There are plenty of books and magazines and other gab-fests filled with words about sex. To abuse Foucault a bit, we have sex as seen through the discursive lenses of sin (religion), pathology (medicine), and women’s bodies (culture), to which we can add sex as an object of self-help. Is it possible that sex has become too logocentric, too bound up in words? If we consider Senator Larry Craig’s unfortunate situation, or Bill Clinton and the world’s most famous blowjob, or even the fact that sex toys are banned/ restricted in states like Texas and Alabama, doesn’t it seem like where sex talk is tolerated or encouraged, it’s a heresy to actually have sex?

Ellie: I think I understand what you're getting at but as a writer and a talker primarily, I guess I bristle at the idea. I also don't think that talking about sex and having sex are particularly different things. But there are safe ways to talk about it (heterosexual, monogamous) and dangerous ways (everything that isn't that). I see sex and sexuality themselves as texts - along with every other experience in the world. There are subversive forms of this text and trite pap. That is without even mentioning that the jabber about sex clearly cuts both ways and the conservative tidal wave of repression is lowering the quality of discourse for those that are interested in really discussing sex and sexuality.

Frédérik: To delve into that paradox a bit more, we live in a culture where Janet Jackson’s nipple causes an uproar, but except for occasional mutters, it’s okay for sex to be used in another way: advertising. Sex isn’t just sex, but a means to sell. Interestingly, while it’s culturally acceptable for sex to persuade people to buy things like magazines (or cars, or clothes, or etc), a line is drawn when the sexual act itself is a commercial transaction. Provided that there’s no harm done and consent is given, what people do should, in principle, be no one’s business but their own – even if it includes an exchange of money. Logically, that would include – much to many people’s discomfort – phone sex, pornography, even prostitution. Given that you’re recently added phone sex among your many endeavors, getting paid to do something you enjoy, what’s your take on the how sex and business intersect?

Ellie: Sex and money are two things dear to my heart. Why not combine them, eh? I think what we are seeing in the phenomena of sex being used to sell is that it is capitalizing on the transference of desire. If an advertiser can inspire lust in the audience, a lust that will not be fulfilled (and perhaps the audience does not even want it to be fulfilled) then they can use that energy and momentum to sell you anything. Of course I think that audiences are getting smarter than this and in turn, advertisers are becoming more self-reflexive in their use of sex as a marketing tactic. Still, unfulfilled desire - or desire re-deployed down a variety of rabbit holes has been a mainstay of advertising forever. Selling sex is a completely different question because that allows the desire to be fulfilled. Where sex work fits in here is tricky. In my mind sex work is a monolith and I don't draw philosophical, ethical, or social distinctions between phone sex, prostitution, and pornography (although they each comprise of unique job hazards and practical considerations.) Of course among these, prostitution is legal while the other two categories are not. Again, it comes down to the fulfillment (in a physical and bodily sense) of a desire. I find that one of the primary arguments against sex work (once you get past the mumbo jumbo about social ills, etc.) is that it deligitimizes a beautiful expression of love. Sex certainly can be a beautiful expression. It can also be completely mechanical. And it can also fall somewhere in between. Many people feel that if they pay for sex they are admitting that they *have* to pay for sex and that is a deeply humiliating thing (this is why phone domination is such a bigger market than vanilla phone work - subs are more willing to admit it because they get off on the domination). My opinion on selling sexual services is straight-forward. If you are talented and passionate about any other career, no one would dream of saying "If you really cared about this, you would do it for free." Sex work is no different. It is work and passion and it deserves compensation (not to mention better political and economic recognition and protections.)

(to be continued...)

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