[Editor’s note: Matador staff writer Rich Stupart is responding here to How to use sex to travel, a piece by contributor Claire Litton-Cohn that we published last week.]
IT’S TEMPTING to take some giant morality hammer to a how-to guide on trading suggestive companionship for free flights and expensive toys. It’s tempting, but also childish. Responding to what presents itself as an empowered guide to traveling around the world in exchange for sex requires more than being angry in closed circles with my Facebook friends.
So, dear reader, you get this.
On the face of it, the default defense of a guide to selling sex (or the promise of it) is that it’s just some valueless economic transaction. Like waiting tables, or WWOOFing. Except instead of a waiter’s apron, you get to wear some nice clothes and sugardaddy-gifted jewelry. It’s just give and take, where both parties get something useful and everyone’s happy.
That’s the least provocative argument, mind. The troll-seeking version is the one where we pretend that sex-for-travel is not simply some arbitrary service transaction, but in fact the empowered choice of the modern woman. The one who knows what she wants, and just where she needs to lie down to get it.
But to argue that it’s a valueless, contextless, ahistorical economic exchange is to construct a bullshit sundae of truly epic proportions. Exchanging sex for things — and the worldview that values women in terms of their bodies and their capacity for giving erotic pleasure — is an old and evil demon that the world is still a long, long way from escaping. There exists a universe, in the abstract, where sex is not something personal, is unrelated to power, and carries no baggage. And in that world, there’d be no difference between paying for travel by yourself, and paying for travel with yourself.
But we don’t live in that world.
The one we live in is a place where the kind of trade that sex-for-travel presents as being fun and useful works almost exclusively in one direction. There is no www.mrtravel.com. Well, there is, but you’d be sorely disappointed if you went there looking for a stud to bring along on your next Caribbean holiday. (As things stand, if you have enough cash, there’s actually a thriving trade in buying sex from local people there, but that’s a whole ‘nother problem, for a whole ‘nother day.)
The world we actually live in is the one where the people who write, produce, and illustrate the ideas we consume daily spend an overwhelming amount of time re-imagining the worth of women in terms of their value as sex objects. It’s called commodification, and it’s fucking revolting. Because every inch of exchange value that a woman gains is an inch of human value sacrificed.
And those inches are lost precisely every time someone tells a reader it’s absolutely fine to attach yourself to a male wallet if you want power. The power to travel to Bali (on his terms), the power to get a notch up the corporate ladder, the power to seize for yourself whatever it is some man is prepared to give you in exchange for your body. Every time someone makes out that being dependent is normal or, god forbid, empowering, is an attempt to basically rewrite the relationship, to hide the historic, structured inequality in it.
What? You aren’t equal to men yet? That’s okay. Look how much he’s willing to blow to see you in a bikini at Ibiza. It’s practically exactly the same as a world in which you would earn the same amount as him if you were doing his job.
That rewriting, that normalizing rhetoric, serves nobody who ends up being a ‘baby’ to some ‘daddy.’
Travel can be an awesome, liberating adventure. But you know what’s an even bigger kick? Not doing it off some dude’s dime like it’s 1950.
* Title graphic by Aya Padron.