The subject of sexual agency has been on my mind a lot lately. What is sexual agency? Basically, if you have sexual agency, you know what you want sexually and what you don’t want. You can say yes or no. You can make and enforce decisions about your sexual life.
For some people, exercising their sexual agency can be difficult, if not impossible. Sometimes it is self-imposed because of internalized shame around orientation or specialized interests. Other times it’s cultural, either from religion or ethnic limitations. And, most tragically, for many it’s imposed upon them by well meaning individuals who feel that because of someone’s physical or mental disability or their age, they shouldn’t be sexual.
Many people in senior living situations are not only denied opportunities to be sexual but are removed from the presence of partners when they are discovered being sexual. Many who live with debilitating physical disabilities have no opportunity to find potential partners, let alone be sexually active. And even those with mental disabilities should still have the opportunity to exercise their sexual agency, in my not so humble opinion.
So, what do we do? For many seniors, educating staff at senior living residences and the families of seniors, could be enough. Just getting those who care for our seniors to acknowledge their sexual agency is a beginning. Then, offering safer sex and relationship classes would be the next step. And creating space for sexual and romantic encounters to happen would go a long way in giving seniors back their sexual agency.
For those with disabilities, it can be more difficult. Because we live in a society where (except for a few counties in Nevada) sex work is a crime, those who would benefit most from hiring someone to be sexual with them can not do so without breaking the law. Even sexual surrogacy is illegal in most of the US and questionable in those states it’s practiced in. Almost every sex worker I know has one if not numerous disabled clients (and many aging ones, too). These men and women perform a service that is desperately needed and every time they do they face the chance of prosecution. How fucked up is that?
(Also, something that isn’t talked about that often, is really why do people hire sex workers? It’s not as much about the sex act as we think, it’s actually more about the intimacy. The human touch. The connection with another being. I’ll talk about Intimacy in another post.)
I’ve decided that this is the year to start advocating loudly for the decriminalization of sex work. It’s ridiculous that we allow so many people to not have access to sexuality and intimacy unless they want to break the law. (A friend of mine who is in the porn industry said the other day that he gets paid to have sex all the time, as long as a camera is running. But turn the camera off and he’s breaking the law. sigh). We also have got to stop conflating all sex work with sex trafficking (that’s a completely different issue). Many of our sex workers are sex workers by conscious choice. They are not drug addicts or forced into it. They are sex workers because they enjoy what they do and are proud and fulfilled by their choice of profession
And we have to find ways to support our sex worker community and those who engage them. One way to start is to support Sex Worker’s Outreach Project (SWOP). SWOP is an amazing organization with a national presence and an incredible local presence here in Seattle. In fact, the Seattle SWOP is hosting a Sex Worker’s Symposium in March that looks to be very informational and a lot of fun.
I want sexual agency for everyone. Even those who do not have the ability (for whatever reason) to form a sexual relationship outside of hiring someone. We all deserve sexual agency. I haven’t forgotten the need to change the cultural, religious and ethnic issues around sexual agency, but that may have to wait until next year.
Finally, here’s a great article that brought tears to my eyes about hiring a sex worker while living with a disability.