Welcome to Sex Qs, a weekly column where The Globe's Amberly McAteer seeks answers to your sex questions, talking to sexperts and regular Canadians alike. Have a question? Fire away: email@example.com (All questions will be published anonymously.)
Who knew paying for sex was so divisive a topic.
Last week, I told a reader seeking sex advice to "never, ever – ever! – go the prostitution route. He had been given the "green light" from his wife, who has admitted to a low libido, to have casual, non-monogamous sex. I urged him to try harder with his wife, but, if he had to, seek a casual arrangement with a willing party on the Internet.
"Repeat after me," I said, "do not pay a woman for sex."
The contrarian responses were fast and furious: If he's looking for sex without the emotions, the e-mails and online comments and phone calls argued, a professional, monetary transaction is the way to go.
"It's nonsense," writes bademlio, "about it being safer to sleep with some slutty chick than with a prostitute at a good bordello."
"A real person," writes MellissaW, "creates a possibility of an emotional attachment/affair – that's way more dangerous and would make me way more jealous."
"If you're good at something you might as well get paid for it! Everyone has a talent!" chirped an old friend, while another questioned my journalistic integrity to even broach such a sensitive topic.
"It's the oldest profession in history," my best friend argued. "You can't say these women don't enjoy what they do."
I had not a clue this would cause an uproar. I thought most people were on the same page – I mean, we're talking about reducing someone's daughter to a paid means for sexual enjoyment. So I felt it important to clarify, to dig deeper into these pro-prostitution beliefs that had rattled me for days.
Let's be clear: This debate isn't about the criminality of sex work, a heavy and complex subject filled with grey areas – that's a matter for the Supreme Court of Canada, which is currently battling all sides of the debate.
At issue is what values embody worthwhile sex, and my philosophy is this: Whether it happens during a one-night stand, a summer fling, a friends-with-benefit arrangement or a life-long marriage, there must be a base human connection – two willing, interested humans agreeing to a good time – and a special, intimate experience.
"There's an element of trust, safety, respect with any sexual partner," agrees Dr. Stephen de Wit, a sexologist I talked to last week about what makes good sex (and with a PhD in human sexuality, he knows a thing or two about good sex). Even a casual, Internet-brokered one-night stand would be good for my reader in need, de Wit says.
"You've entered into some sort of arrangement or relationship with that person; you're still caring about each other for that one night, or that one orgasm, whatever that is."
So putting a monetary value to this encounter, like getting your carpets cleaned or your nails done, removes all the fun. She's not there because she finds you attractive, charming or seductive, so what's the point? The reader may not be looking for love – but he is looking for good, mind-blowing sex.
Full confession time: I've never been into a strip club, for related reasons: I'd likely end up talking the ladies into attending night school, or walking my dog for a nominal fee.
Yes, I write this from my middle-class pedestal. I've never fallen on life-threatening hard times, but I know this: Women, every single one of them, are worth more than their bodies. In an ideal world, everyone would see that.
But clearly, I'm a newbie in this world. In the interest of exploring all sides of the debate, I tracked down a friend-of-a-Facebook-friend who agreed to talk to me about his experience with prostitutes – or "prosties" as he called them – and why he frequents a Toronto brothel.
Tim, a divorced 48-year-old from Mississauga who hasn't had free sex in over six months, met me at a pub. I was shocked at how easy it was to find someone with personal experience and didn't know exactly what to ask. Thankfully, he wanted to share.
"I treat myself like every four weeks as a last resort," he says, in the same tone he orders a burger. "It's better than porn or easier than attempting to pick up at a bar."
He admits that "regular sex" would be a better option, but says it's difficult to meet people in his circles. Still, "doing it with someone I see a lot … that'd be better I guess."
He tells me about his lost love, his ex-wife. His eyes light up when he talks about their honeymoon heat – but they darken again when the conversation turns. He starts ranting about one lady in particular at the "house" he frequents. His emotional attachment to her is clear ("she's pretty and really sweet, you'd like her, I swear") and he genuinely thinks she cares about him. My stomach sinks.
"She's been with others that day, that doesn't bother you? What about your safety?" I sheepishly ask, thinking back to commenters who disagreed with my claim that prostitution was unsafe.
Tim's response is quick, and blunt: He uses protection, but admits, "when I get to that point and I'm there, I'm not worried about safety."
When Tim and I part ways, I walk home, confident in my original advice, but saddened for those who can't avoid prostitution. The decision to pay someone for sex not only diminishes the act, I think to myself, but devalues both parties involved.
Repeat after me…
Have a sex question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org (All questions will be published anonymously.)