Whenever news of the Bunny Ranch brothel in Nevada pops up on my social media I can rarely resist a read. I spent time in 2012 in this brothel, accompanied by America's biggest pimp, Dennis Hof. I met women in his brothels who were as sad as they were desperate, and so disappointed that legalisation had made it worse for them, rather than better. One woman, who was heavily pregnant, had asked the brothel manager if she could take off six months to have her baby and come back without having to reapply for her old job. The manager told her that she would be far better off working throughout her pregnancy, "because there are plenty of men who want to squeeze pregnant ladies boobies".
When I read an article entitled “A Woman's Right to Choose to be a Pregnant Sex Worker” on the Bunny Ranch Blog, written by a prostituted woman named Summer Sebastian, who is unfortunate enough to work there, I figured that Dennis Hof had simply cashed in on yet another way to make money from women's bodies.
I cut my feminist teeth while still a teenager in the early 1980s campaigning against the porn industry. We knew very little then about just how indivisible porn and prostitution were. What I found out in those early days was that whatever men's “kink” was, there would be a porn genre for it. And this was some years before the invention of the internet.
One such genre was pregnancy porn. I found, looking through old issues of Hustler magazine, heavily pregnant and naked women fetishised by their large bellies, and swollen breasts. I recall the photographs of adult men appearing to suckle on these breasts, while others masturbated over their stomachs.
I learnt to stop wondering after a while how men came to fantasise about inflicting sex on women about to give birth, just as I locked away in the filing cabinet of my mind marked “horror” those men who collected photographs of the soles of prepubescent children's feet.
Having just conducted two years of intensive research into the global sex trade, I have been reminded of how pornography is simply prostitution with a camera. Having visited brothels – both legal and illegal – in countries around the world, I have seen how sex buyers get what they demand so long as they have enough to pay for it. One story will never leave me. A woman being prostituted in a legal German brothel was paid to be gangbanged by six men all of whom had asked for a heavily pregnant woman to have sex with. She said after enduring this hideous experience – which was perfectly legal under German law – that she felt she had pimped out her unborn child. She of course had done nothing of the sort. But the pimp, or "brothel owner" as legalisation demand he be dignified, certainly was doing just that.
Where there is legal prostitution, such as in Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand, legal pimps will sell literally anything to anyone without concern for law enforcement's interference.
Where there are no bestiality laws, a woman in a legal brothel can be penetrated by animals, however large, and no one is breaking the law. The woman is very likely to be harmed and highly traumatised, but who cares about her under a system where profit trumps safety and dignity?
The rise in pregnant women for sale in the sex trade fits perfectly with the neoliberal notion that the female body is nothing but a marketplace, where everything is for sale. As I recently discovered while investigating the breast-milk trade market in Cambodia, rich white Westerners have no problem with mining the bodies of poor brown women for their convenience.
Summer Sebastian is arguing in her article that prostituting while pregnant is nothing more than a good business plan. If prostitution were really “a job like any other” then she would surely be asking for maternity leave? I can't think of any other job where being pregnant is an advantage for women, not even in midwifery (which, by the way, is the real oldest profession.) Sebastian is simply playing to market forces. Men who pay for sex dehumanise the women they buy, and that means every part of them, including the unborn child that may be growing inside them. Some of these men simply will not give a damn that the woman they are abusing is pregnant, and could suffer health complications by having the type of rough sex that many punters demand, or by being at risk of sexually transmitted infections.
Others are sexually excited by the idea of a foetus close to full development being almost involved in the prostitution act. This is as disturbing as can be. But it shouldn't be a surprise to any of us – the men who pay for sex are paying for consent. They neither know nor care if the woman they are buying is traumatised, upset, or indifferent to the man paying the money. When you dehumanise a person for the purposes of one-sided sexual pleasure, you cease to care about any humanity involved, including your own.