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Vol. 3, No. 6, 2004

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by Josey Vogels

Josey VogelsJosey Vogels is the author of the nationally syndicated sex and relationships column My Messy Bedroom and the dating advice column Dating Girl . She has published five books on sex and relationships – the most recent is entitled Bedside Manners: Sex Etiquette Made Easy.


The easy part was that it had nothing to do with me,
I knew I liked the Parasuco jeans on my ass,
I could lay and watch TV,
He wouldn't even notice,
He was getting what he wanted,
I could make some noise, make him feel wanted,
But it really didn't have anything to do with me.

There are plenty of young women who wouldn't have sex with a guy for a pair of designer jeans. But the young woman who wrote this poem would and does. And sees nothing wrong with it. After all, as she puts it in her poem, he's getting what he wants; she's getting the jeans she wants. What's the big deal?

Sure, ideally, we try to teach young people to hold out for intimacy, love and ‘the right person’ when it comes to sex. But when you're 15 and you reeeeally want those jeans, having sex with a guy so he'll buy them for you is an easier concept to grasp than an abstract idea like intimacy or love.

Bridget Sinclair and Chi Nguyen say educators are missing the mark when they talk to young people about sex. For one, teaching that there should be no such thing as sex without love is at best naïve, and, if you're a young girl who sees sex as a way of scoring clothes, a ride somewhere, or some weed, downright irrelevant.

During a stint as youth workers at St. Stephen's Community Center, Sinclair, 28, and Nguyen, 21, discovered that some young women hanging out at The Youth Arcade -- a St. Stephen's-operated drop-in center for 12-19 year-olds in Toronto's Kensington Market -- were ‘bartering’ sex for ‘stuff.’ The pair shared their findings in a seminar entitled I'll Scratch Your Back, You Scratch Mine at the annual conference on sexuality at Guelph University last year.

Unlike street kids who sometimes enter into sexual relationships in order to secure shelter or other basic needs, the 14-17 year-old girls that Sinclair and Nguyen spoke to were doing fine money-wise. Instead, they were in it for luxury items like clothes and jewelery. They didn’t consider the guys they slept with ‘boyfriends’" referring to them as guys "we’re talking to" or "hanging out with." Sinclair and Nguyen call it ‘bartering.’ "They didn't know what that term meant," says Sinclair. They were also fine with it.

When asked why they don't buy this stuff for themselves, most of the girls responded, "Why bother?" To them, it made good common sense. After all, many of these young women said they see female friends having sex with boyfriends and not enjoying it. They figured they might as well get something out of it.

In most cases, says Sinclair, the guys involved in this practice are older (16-19), have dropped out of school, and are earning a living. The girls believed they were doing the right thing by staying in school and being financially supplemented by the guys who were earning the cash.

Some even said it was empowering to have something guys want so badly they're willing to buy stuff to get it. Just don't call them ho's.’

Despite the blatant exchange of sex for economic gain, these young women didn’t consider this prostitution. Sex trade ‘work’ implies that it's a job, whereas these women weren’t doing it for necessities, explains Sinclair. Besides, most believed it was simply a reality of male/female relationships, and don't have to go far beyond their own backyard for examples. "They talked about housewives who aren't into sex but fuck their husbands out of obligation to the marriage," says Sinclair. "Or women who never have orgasms but still have sex with their partners -- again, out of obligation to the relationship."

And, unlike prostitution, these young women didn’t ‘advertise’ their services. In some cases, the arrangement just evolved out of a date with a guy who buys her an expensive dinner, or maybe a gift at the end of the evening. "She might not be really into the guy, but thinks, 'hey, he's nice, and if I can get some nice stuff out of it, why not?'" explains Sinclair.

Most of the young women they interviewed admitted they don't really care about the actual sex, she added, though they don't necessarily hate it either.

Sadly, the reality is that, despite years of sex education and a social-sexual climate that is increasingly focused on female pleasure, sex for most young girls still sucks. In the seven years she's been working with teens in public school clinics, Guelph physician Mary Pierson can only remember one girl ever telling her that she "loves sex." "Most women still have a long learning curve to experience before sex becomes good," adds Pierson, who was also in the audience at the workshop. "Young women go into first-time sex with highly romantic expectations and ideals and are usually disappointed."

In other words, they have sex once, it's disappointing; they have it again, it still sucks, so they start thinking, hell, I might as well try and get something else out of this. According to Sinclair, there's typically no guilt until a gal tries to end an ‘arrangement’ -- especially if a guy feels he owns her.

Sinclair admits that among the guys they spoke with who finance such arrangements, most agreed that while a girl doesn't ‘owe’ them sex, she's a ‘bitch’ if she doesn't put out.

For a room full of sex educators who are used to delivering touchy-feely messages to young people, this was hard to take. But Sinclair and Nguyen urged us to consider what sex-without-love means in our culture, especially for young women. When we talk about sex solely as a physical act, we tend to attach our own moral baggage and judgments to it. Still, ignoring these kinds of relationships is Sex Ed suicide. "When we leave out their experiences because we're not comfy with them, we lose these people," offers Sinclair. "These girls think, 'oh they're talking about the good girls, and that's not me.'

"The reality is that women use sex in our society," she continues. "Instead of making them feel like the bad girl, in order to get to them with safer sex info or other messages about healthy sexuality, you have to acknowledge and try to relate to and understand their experience."

Related articles:
Prostitution: Gender-based Income Redistribution with Honour and Dignity
All Abored the Porn Express
21st Century Sex
Pop Divas, Pantydom and 3-Chord Ditties
The Triumph of the Pornographic Imagination



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