The Semantics of Sex for Pay

The Semantics of Sex for Pay

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because you can’t have sex like nobody’s business if it’s your business.

By Eugene S. Robinson

The Unhappy Hooker?

EUGENE, SIR: My girlfriend and I just moved in together after almost three years of dating (we’re both 34). We moved into a new place since her place was nice but very pricey. Long story short, when we were talking about her old place it came out that on two separate occasions, when she was short on rent, a friend of hers had lent her money in exchange for sex. I made a joke about it being “like” prostitution and we got into an argument. She said she paid her friend back with sex, but that she never would have done it if she wasn’t attracted to him. I think she’s being dishonest about prostitution and dishonest about this guy whom she’s still friendly with. A real friend doesn’t give you money to have sex with you. I don’t really care what she did before we were together, but I’m not going to lie to make her feel better. Any thoughts about what I should do? — Kris

Dear Mr. Kringle: Let me see if I’ve got this straight: You want her to admit that screwing people for rent money is prostitution versus whatever it is she’s choosing to call it? You really want to go to the mat for semantics? And winning this would get you what? You know, I’ve always been of the mind that life is so short, getting hung up on stuff like this is worthless. If you’re uncomfortable with any of what you’ve learned for whatever reason — you think it speaks to a shaky commitment to fidelity, for example — then leave. Leave and let her find someone who embraces her in her totality, including whatever conceits she might want to hold on to that this either was, or was not, prostitution. 

Which is my very nice way of saying: What do you care?

Now, I understand caring if the guy is still offering to “help” with the rent, in which case you’ve got a case, but barring that, imagine this: He’s just one of the guys she used to have sex with before she met you. Let’s imagine that his name was John. Let’s imagine that they were all named John. That way you get your prostitution piece in place and relax and leave her alone and maybe focus on some argument really worth having — like whose turn it is to take out the garbage or something. That’s what I think you should do.


Bloody Mary

EUGENE, SIR: I had a ménage with a couple I had met on a “lifestyle” website. We chatted back and forth by email for a bit. It was her birthday present for him. We met for drinks first, then off to a hotel. All was cool until I discovered in the worst way possible that she was on her period. Isn’t there some sort of protocol that you announce this to give participating members the choice of having a mouthful of blood or not? They have asked again, and had a good time, I guess. But come on. Am I being stupid here? — Name withheld by request

Dear Red Alert: No idea whether you’re a man or a woman, but let’s say that it doesn’t matter in this instance since unless this is your specific kink, it’s more than likely going to generate a letter like this. And therein lies my answer: Unless this was very specifically laid out in the rules of engagement, not mentioning this prior to that engagement is a breach of protocol in my mind. Like I said, these complex social-sexual events require lots of thought, especially to avoid unpleasant surprises. It may have been that you were pranked by people for whom this was a kink. Not very gracious, but not really your fault since there’s an assumption that everyone will cover all bases just in the name of good housekeeping. Which is to say: Show up clean, not crazy, smelling nice, disease-free and ready to play.

That did not happen. No idea if they apologized or not, but if they did, it would signal they were aware of the breach. If not, maybe they’re not. In the former case, assume it was an oversight. In the latter case? Feel free to move on with nary a glance behind.

The Breast of Times

EUGENE, SIR: I like it when my very nice and sensitive boyfriend puts himself between my breasts. He says he doesn’t like it. OK. But he says he doesn’t like it because it so clearly doesn’t give me pleasure. How do I communicate that sometimes it’s giving pleasure that is pleasurable? — AV

Dear Audio Visual: But is it still pleasurable if it gives him no pleasure, as he so clearly states? I get where you’re coming from: You believe he doesn’t believe you that it gives you pleasure. But what if he does believe you but the amount of displeasure it causes him has caused him to say basta? I’m seeing a Green Eggs and Ham scenario emerging around whether or not between-the-breast frottage is going to be on the menu. Your argument might be “How is this different from a hand job or a blow job?” That is, something not specifically or directly contributing to your orgasm but he presumably accepts without complaint.

Which is a good question, but it feels like you’ve gone beyond that now. It seems you’ve entered some postmodern cul-de-sac where you’ve gone over and above said activities into that nebulous meaning zone. He feels uncomfortable having your pleasure be secondary to his. He also seems to feel uncomfortable — and I could be guessing — now that you’re insisting. So what to do?


By which I mean if this is something you really, really, REALLY want to do, then I don’t think you’ve been clear enough about that. Any partner worth his or her salt, in the face of suchlike request? Should pony up or get out. And pony up with the proviso, “If it means that much to you? What kind of partner would I be to deny you?” Anything short of that? Drop it. No need to go to the nuclear card any more than is necessary. Good luck!