Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian (b. Pieve di Cadore, ca. 1488-d. Venice, 1576), Venus Blindfolding Cupid, ca. 1565, Borghese Gallery, Rome
Amber O’Hara proposes an interesting question in her two part series What gets women off? One guesses she explores this question with more clarity in her essay Love within Sex Work. While “love” and “getting off sexually” are by no means the same, they are not totally different. We do equate them. Love has specific meanings as in parent/child love, child/parent love, love of life, making love, unconditional love, while “getting off” is about orgasmic responses. Sex while a bonding agent is a component of adult love it is much less important to secure bonds than popularly thought.
O’Hara seems to have a curiosity about connection that transcends these three essays. A curiosity about how people, practically women, connect with themselves and others through “sensuality” and human attachment. Being a provider of sensual services she has ample research and first hand knowledge of the relationship between sensuality and connection within people and between people.
In reading What gets women off? one gets the feeling she has empathy and compassion for “… women of a certain age who don’t even have a vibrator in their nightstand and in fact no longer care about their own sexual arousal…” Is O’Hara’s observation about lack of sensual expression the same as being cut off emotionally from one’s self or others? If so it follows that the rebirth of sensual curiosity might depend on emotional awakening – connection within a person and between people which makes possible the dialogue about sex, vibrators, or sex books. However, there is more to adult love than connection with oneself with a vibrator or another person sexually. Additionally there is most importantly the big “A” Attachment and caregiving; a blend of attentiveness and empathy.
Sex is only one aspect of tight bonding between people as O’Hara notes, cut off woman can still be in tightly bonded relationships with their spouses. What gets women off? seems refreshing in it does not ask what is wrong with the couple but how can they build their sensual relationship.
Part II of the series seems to fall flat with cookie cutter approaches found in many how to sex books. Perhaps O’Hara’s real answer is found when she contemplates sensual and human connection in Love within Sex Work. In this essay she speaks of her joy, of her connection to her self and to another human being. Perhaps sex workers are more securely able to readily access their sensual selves which cut off people are less likely to do. Being able to access care giving and Attachment within the security of relationships allows sex to blossom particularly for women. Women arouse differently from men. Men have fewer safety restraints on arousal. It seem that a couple’s ability for the woman to create safety to produce a willingness to explore her own self, allows her to then experience sensuality within herself and with another person.
While it may not be ‘stereotypical’ in sex for hire, O’Hara seems perfectly at ease with experiencing sensuality within her self and with another person. This joy of being sensual is just as applicable within a bonded monogamous relationship as it is to sex work, because; sex, emotional connection, compassion, care, are all part of being able to access attachment with another human. Joy is a human emotional experience in which needs for “safety”, well being, fun etc are met. O’Hara seems to express it this way, “I’ve noticed a lot more ladies are open about their enjoyment of their work and their clients, who see them as friends and genuinely feel affection, care and even love for them…”
Love within Sex Work is beginning to sound like connection and more secure attachment within an hour’s contractual sexual agreement. As O’Hara seems to point out this is situational. Perhaps she or her clients are so grounded (having their caregiving and attachment needs met elsewhere) that one, or the other, or both offers a secure environment even if only “temporarily” where emotional connection is experienced yet there is no bond or commitment. What she seems to suggest is two people embraced in the context of their community (family) experiencing each others’ emotional subjective reality. That’s much more than getting off sexually. While this kind sex for hire is contrived does it simulate the environment O’Hara had in mind when she wrote What gets women off??
If one can’t really access emotional connection how do they approach sex? Susan M. Johnson the attachment researcher postulates that insecure attached people experience “sealed off sex” where the game is sensation, achieving the big O, continual novelty, one-dimensional, the other person is secondary, solely for reducing tension etc.
More typical portrayals of prostitution are non-attachment or “sealed off sex”, release, sex for thrill, continual demand for increased novelty etc. as O’Hara describes with “… clients who want nothing more from escorts they visit than sex, no affection required. They don’t care about GFE, they just want a warm, willing woman.” How would “sealed off sex” affect bonded partners or sex workers? It would be unlikely for an escort to afford affection toward or experience much arousal with a client so cut off. O’Hara says she enjoys her work. Can joy be derived solely from experiencing the client’s (partner’s) pleasure? Even without reciprocity one would guess there is joy in “A Job Well Done” if not Flow in performance (enticing another to be orgasmic). So finding joy in someone else’s joy (orgasm) can be joyful without any emotional experience. While sexually exciting and oxytocin-producing it is likely to leave even bonded monogamous couples emotionally unrewarded as O’Hara seems to say also about “sealed off” commercial sex.
Within O’Hara’s profession what brings about loss of connection within and between people? Is it lack of safety; people (clients) who disregard another person’s humanity? Brutality like love is a human trait we all experience. People (all of us) are particularly susceptible to this sort of brutal dehumanization. Such violence is more often in the form of words. O’Hara observes the “systemic” violation of people’s humanity in the ‘criminalisation’ of voluntary sensual connection among equals. Even the stigmatization of sex is something that decreases safety and therefore reduces the likelihood of connection. How does this affect a willingness of people (practically women who need safety) to be sensual?
The ideas of these two subjects Love within Sex Work and What gets women off? seemed to be linked through O’Hara’s years of exploration into human connection. The linkage resonates in the compassion and empathy she displays toward people, who for a variety of logically good reasons find themselves emotionally “cut off” sometimes referred as having “sealed off sex” or no sex at all.
I hear empathy for herself in discovering her own sensuality and compassion/empathy for others in deeply bonded partnerships – their spousal relationships being disrupted by that absents the ingredients for sensuality. One hears in these three essays a sense of community how she and her clients, their families are in caring relationships bonded by their humanity, human connections, care, and empathy. O’Hara asks, “… how can sex workers see so many clients and genuinely love or care for them all or most of them, surely you’d have to fake?” She answers, “… in your affection or care for them you naturally want them to maintain the loving relationships they have established elsewhere, i.e. with their partners and families.” She seems to say people can care for one another, even love, feel responsibility for others yet without “Attachment Bonds” they are able to separate with love, respect, and compassion as if their paths never crossed. Is O’Hara saying without sex, most people would easily realize they have and share with sex workers such connections and separations many times a day?
As a student of connection O’Hara seems to be saying relationships with one’s self are complex; connections with others – in sensually, in love, in commerce, in peace, in conflict, and in community are even more complex. While relationships are complex the absence of caring, love, compassion, and empathy in the work place is not professionalism but hostility.
Amber O’Hara, did I in reflecting back to you, hear the essence of what you wanted known? Is there something I misunderstood and or is there more I need to understand about your truth?
This contribution was sent to me in two parts by an anonymous email correspondent. I’d like to thank him or her very much for their interesting emails. I will reply to these questions by email in the near future. Please enjoy the image which I chose to illustrate the post.
Gillath, O. and Canterberry M. (2011, September 13) Neural correlates of exposure to subliminal and supraliminal sexual cues. Retrieved from: http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/10/17/scan.nsr065.full
Johnson, Susan M. Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships. Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2013