Why do people go into sex work? It's a question at the heart of the debate over decriminalizing prostitution. But very often, people on both sides of the debate attempt to answer it without talking to sex workers themselves.
The video above, posted by the Huffington Post's JamesMichael Nichols and CockyBoys, tells the story of New York City-based sex worker Rob Yaeger, who worked for Rentboy, a male escort website shut down by the feds.
Yaeger doesn't represent every sex worker, a group made up of vastly different lived experiences. But he explains why he got into sex work — and along the way raises points that could invigorate both sides of the decriminalization debate.
For Yaeger, going into sex work was driven in large part by economic needs — to support a partner who suffered from a disability after a "freak accident." "For me, it was just a natural fit," Yaeger said. "I needed both to make money to pay off student loans, and I wasn't able to work a full-time job at the time, because my partner of 16 years [is] disabled, and I take care of him at home."
But Yaeger also hinted at another need: sex. "We weren't having sex anymore, so I had to find a way to have sex and make money and be home," he said. "So it sort of hit all those nails on the head."
So he said he chose to go into sex work to fulfill both economic needs and sexual desires. It was, in his words, his own decision to use his body for this purpose — and it benefited him and his partner.
But critics say sex work is not genuinely a choice because it's driven by economic necessities. Under this argument, Yaeger didn't really choose to go into sex work; he was coerced into it by his financial needs.
While there are clearly sex workers by choice, the majority globally are there because of poverty, homelessness etc. Aka lack of choice.— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) August 8, 2015
I think that's offensive — it denies Yaeger his free will due to his socioeconomic status. As Charlotte Shane, a sex worker, previously told me, "It's the idea that somebody who's poor loses all agency. That's a really bad position to come from when you're claiming to advocate for people who struggle to survive. To say, 'They have no agency,' is different than saying, 'Their choices are severely compromised.' You still make a choice if you're poor."
But it's nonetheless the argument made by critics of sex work. And depending on where you land on this debate, and how you view Yaeger's story, it may influence whether you think prostitution should be legal.