Searching for insight into how oppressive beauty standards affect both women and men? Look to the sex industry | Pittsburgh City Paper

Searching for insight into how oppressive beauty standards affect both women and men? Look to the sex industry

"Sex work has really opened my eyes as to what men actually find attractive."

Searching for insight into how oppressive beauty standards affect both women and men? Look to the sex industry
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Jessie Sage

Sex workers hold men’s secrets. Many of these secrets are the type you'd expect. They talk to us about their marriage frustrations, the kinks that they are afraid to tell their partners about, their anxieties, their relationship regrets, and the panties they wear under their suits.

What I didn’t expect when I started doing this work is that many of these secrets are about their conflicting desires in women. Much ink has been spilled on the way in which women are negatively impacted by rigid conceptions of beauty, and for good reason. Women feel pressure to mold their bodies to fit rigid standards, but men also feel pressure to only desire the women who do this well, despite the fact that men are often attracted to a much more diverse range of women. These oppressive beauty standards make men feel ashamed of and confused by their desires because what they like does not line up with what they’re expected to like, so they keep their feelings a secret.

With sex workers, however, things are different.  First, our interactions are primarily private; clients do not have to negotiate the expectations of their peers, family, and colleagues when relating to us. And second, the entire interaction breaks social norms, so beauty norms can relax too. In this context, men are often eager to lavish praise on women who they’ve otherwise been unable to express attraction too.

In light of these positive interactions, many sex workers describe sex work as having transformed their relationship with their own bodies. I spoke with several sex workers about overcoming hang-ups.

Regarding weight, Amber says “Sex work has really opened my eyes as to what men actually find attractive. I’m soft and squishy, and I always get compliments.” Conversely, Harmony Rey talks about having fears about being too skinny prior to going into sex work, saying, “In the past I tried to gain weight because I wanted to be thicker (a positive in the Black community), sex work has really opened my eyes to [the idea that] there’s beauty in every body type.”

Sex workers I spoke to for this piece similarly talked about body hair. Lily commented, “It took a long time for me to love myself in all my fuzzy glory. Stepping into this line of work has made me realize that sexy has many faces, and hairy can definitely be one of them.” Many sex workers that I spoke to also said similar things about areola size, cellulite, C-section scars, nose shape, and belly rolls. 

What we all can learn from these sex work/client relationships is that beauty and desire is more expansive than what mainstream culture would have us believe. And more, we should stop this miserable cycle of women trying to be something they think is desired, and men working hard to try to desire that thing. We would all be a lot happier if we would just bravely be who we are and like what we like. 

Peepshow Podcast

Tube sites such as PornHub and YouPorn are hotly contested in the porn world. Every cam model, clip producer, and porn star knows that at some point their work will be pirated and uploaded to one or all of these sites.

This is certainly a problem with regards to privacy. Consenting to have your videos behind a paywall on one site is certainly not the same thing as consenting to have them everywhere for free. But it is also a problem in terms of profit. The ubiquity of free streaming takes money out of performers' pockets.

In the wake of intense criticism, many of these companies have initiated affiliate programs where models can claim their videos and get paid for them on a model that is akin to YouTube. Seeing that this is gaining popularity, clip site ManyVids recently launched its own tube site and encouraged its models to stream some of their content.

To set itself apart from the bad reputation of the larger sites, ManyVids branded itself “the first ever ethical tube site,” promising “to save the adult industry.” On the podcast this week, we talk to Dahlia Dee, a seven-year veteran of camming and clip production. We discuss some of the issues with ManyVid’s tube site rollout, and what she thinks is the future of amateur porn.

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