If you’ve ever listened to the Good Sex/Bad Sex podcast by Bibi Lynch and Miranda Kane, you’ll know to expect an evening of learning and laughter when these two get together. Quick-witted and not afraid to ask the question you’re thinking but wouldn’t dare ask, Bibi and Miranda know a thing or two about balancing sincerity with silliness. And after speaking with Bibi earlier this year, I jumped at the opportunity to nab some tickets for her newest event, “Bibi does… Sex”.
Designed and painted by local artist Amy Isles Freeman, the recently opened Amy’s Room (inside The Old Pier at Selina hotel in Brighton) provided a serene backdrop for an evening of candid and hilarious discussion about sex. To a 20-strong audience, Miranda shares her story of sex work with her podcast co-presenter, Bibi – and we can’t help but feel we’re eavesdropping on a private conversation between friends…
When Miranda began working in the sex industry in the early noughties she says there were around a dozen plus-sized sex workers. Now, it’s a mainstream fetish (let’s ignore the oxymoron) with “BBW” (big, beautiful women) porn categories bringing up over 221,000 videos (on the porn site no one names but everyone knows which one we’re talking about). Albeit a saturated market – with OnlyFans and Twitter chiming in on the action – “the Internet has made it so much safer for sex workers,” Miranda tells us. And safety is a huge deal in the sex industry, not least because the law does very little to support sex workers. In the UK, whilst it’s legal to be a sex worker, it’s only legal if a woman is working alone; she cannot work with another woman. And so, Miranda says she and her friends set up a buddy system and they’d text one another their locations (a popular approach, it seems, when meeting up with strangers – whether for sex work or a first date).
But of course, a pinpoint on a digital map isn’t a guarantee of safety and during the evening, Miranda recounts prominent cases in which police have raided brothels. Sometimes, they’ve vilified the owners of the brothel (such as in Manchester) and other times they’ve turned out over 20 prostitutes into the red light district in London in the middle of December. Miranda also tells us about a maid (an older sex worker) who saved a client’s life by giving him mouth-to-mouth but was subsequently arrested. Something’s clearly not right.
Feminist groups would argue we must stop sex work but seeking to haul sex workers out of their jobs actually does very little good. Miranda reminds us how sex work is very different to being sex trafficked (something some feminist groups forget) and contrary to what we might believe, many women are in the industry of their own volition – maybe they need the money, but some enjoy the work and all women have their own personal reasons that should be respected. If rallying with placards doesn’t help – what does? Miranda directs us to some organisations doing their bit to support sex workers (because governments are doing very little): English Collective of Prostitutes and National Ugly Mugs, advocating a joint effort to embed safety within the sex work industry. Miranda details various governmental strategies designed to combat sex work: Nordic models have stopped sex workers from being allowed to buy condoms (an approach that seems completely backwards) whereas in New Zealand there’s been full decriminalisation of sex work and sex workers are afforded the fullest rights. Miranda believes full decriminalisation is the best approach as workers can continue working and clients won’t be penalised for paying for sex.
And yet, despite the issues of safety surrounding sex work, Miranda says escorting can be a powerful place to communicate your do’s and don’ts with sexual partners and perhaps even act as a rehearsal for expressing desires with partners outside of sex work. The powers of communication don’t stop there; “sex workers are masters of small talk,” Miranda informs Bibi. But when men talk of their woes, Miranda feels relieved when “that’s [their] hour up!” A client can treat you like a shoulder to cry on, a therapist or a sounding board; hearing people’s struggles can be an unwanted facet of the job. Isn’t it a small price to pay if you can “sit on his face for an hour and you make £300”? Perhaps, and Bibi chimes in with a silver lining: “I hope you brought a good book!”
Whilst many people would baulk at the idea that sex work isn’t so different from casual hotel hook-ups, Miranda asks us to really think about it. Sure, your date wouldn’t be too impressed if you bought your novel along, but there are myriad reasons people seek out casual sex. People use sex to ease loneliness or satiate their desires – sex is the currency to meet these needs, so why is paying for sex treated with contempt? When our relationships are in trouble, we pay someone to help fix them, when we need some downtime, some of us visit a spa or take a holiday. Miranda says she went into sex work because she needed the money; the sexual transaction met another, more tangible need for her – what’s so different? Many would argue the “power exchange” but who’s really in control here? The man who pays for the sex or the woman who willingly provides her services to men who desire her?
In the late 2000s, the TV programme “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” with Billy Piper helped bring discussions of escorting into the limelight. Considering the show is based on a book of the same name, it’s not surprising some of what Miranda says echoes from the show: “Get the money first, Ladies,” instructs Miranda, “that’s my first tip. I have so many more” (but perhaps we’ll have to listen to her audiobook or read her blogs to discover these as she doesn’t divulge more this evening).
So why did she stop? Reports of raids? Safety concerns? Possibly, but Miranda says she stopped because of the clients; “The men wanted more than [she] was prepared to offer”. Has sex work affected Miranda’s views on men? Not really, “what’s made me lose respect for men is Internet dating… on dating apps some men act like they’re looking for a sex worker” – something Miranda is adept at spotting. Miranda tells us she’s noticed a difference in online dating in recent years. Maybe it’s the widespread availability of porn or the sexualised images of women that permeate every aspect of our daily lives or maybe it’s the popularity of online dating itself. When one person isn’t keen on meeting your desire, you’re sure to find someone else who will.
Is this really a bad thing? I’d argue not. We’re all looking for something, whether short-term sexual gratification, a lifelong partner with whom we’re sexually compatible or something in between. Providing there’s communication between consenting adults (and no one’s in danger of getting unwillingly hurt), we should let people get their kicks how they want.
Image by me (Bibi Lynch, left talks nipples and sex with Miranda Kane, right)