MP candidate, activist and sex worker Charlotte Rose provides a remedy that can't be found in
Charlotte is very busy today.
It’s 10 AM, her daughter’s left for school, her day is filling up with appointments, she’s working on a local theater production, and she’s got a political campaign to plan. In the middle of our Skype interview, she’s interrupted by a business call; she answers, “It’s a two-girl special today, so I’ll be working with Zara.”
She has about a half an hour before she needs to get out the door. It's 10 AM in London, 5 AM in New York, and the only slot she has open for the next two weeks. “So what can I do for you?” she asks.
Charlotte Rose and I connected through the TLC Trust, a UK-based organization which hosts a site for British sex workers to post profiles for disabled clientele. Wearing something strappy (I’m guessing a bra), she points the camera suggestively above her head as she’s resting on her pillow, rubbing sleep out of her eyes which have already been applied with eye shadow and mascara.
Besides her work with the disabled, she’s been a vocal proponent of all things sex since she entered the industry in 1997. Her main project now is planning her run for MP, on the platform of sexuality for the elderly, disabled, and expanded sex and relationship education in schools. In 2013, she was awarded a Golden Flying Penis for “Sex Worker of the Year,” and Rupert Everett recently visited her for a consultation in the documentary “Love for Sale.” Nights and weekends, she rehearses and performs in the “Sex Workers’ Opera,” a platform for sex workers and allies to tell their stories through dance and performance. And in her spare time, she co-organizes protests like the recent spank-a-thon and “face-sitting” demos against Britain’s Audiovisual Media Services Regulations of 2014, which banned certain acts in porn (facesitting, fisting, female ejaculation, watersports, spanking, caning, aggressive whipping, penetration by objects “associated with violence,” physical or verbal abuse, and strangulation).
Suffice it to say, she's game for just about anything, and so, too, in her professional life. On the job she's taught herself to adapt sexual stimulation for all types of clients, including people with cognitive disabilities, without working genitals, or the ability to maneuver into place. If working with a quadriplegic who was paralyzed from the neck down, for example, Charlotte might talk him through sex by giving him an erection, and then describing how his arousal triggers warm and tingly sensations in his face, cheeks, and eventually his brain.
“I've got a client who can have an orgasm by having his ear flicked,” she continued. “The body can adapt, despite whether it’s the eyes, ears, or touch– our body will always adapt and evolve to its environment. It uses its own erogenous zones to adapt and utilize other senses, when other parts of the body can't.”
“I can understand the emotional aspect, and that can be quite strenuous for a sex worker,” she said. “Sometimes carers will able to put their clients into position for me. And then I do have some clients who are too embarrassed to tell their carers, and I have to help them, and that's quite daunting in itself. You're afraid you're going to hurt somebody, you're not going to do it correctly, you're not insured for that. And the correct posture required for lifting, that can be quite dangerous as well for the worker.”
↑ MP candidate, activist and sex worker Charlotte Rose in her flat in London.
And there’s the emotional tax. One of Rose’s past clients suffered from a skin-eating cancer, which gradually consumed his body over the course of their relationship. “They had to keep amputating small parts of his body from where the cancer was eating his skin away,” she said. “I couldn't put too much pressure on his skin, because it would crack and bleed, but he was a very lovely guy, always cracking jokes. He came over because he got in touch with the TLC group and wanted to lose his virginity before he died.”
“You build an emotional connection with anybody that you see regularly. Being able to see the differences from month to month, when their bodies change, that can be quite upsetting.”
She tells me she's now on three “death lists”. I'm not familiar with the term. She explains to me that when her clients die, she'll get a call to attend the funerals.
No matter what grim realities might be in store, her sex drive does not discriminate, or so she says. In Love For Sale, she told an incredulous Rupert Everett that she aims for one personal orgasm per client, sometimes with bonus seconds. “I have the highest job satisfaction rate of any profession," she told me. “I like sex!”
Despite conservative porn policies, sex work has always been legal in the UK, while prostitution is illegal in the US (save for eleven counties in Nevada, and provisionally under a “consenting adult” law in California). Ironically this gave rise in the States to a rather more professionalized version of sex work: “sexological bodywork,” a growing field of "erotic education" which is explicitly separated from sex work in medical, academic, or mystical senses, depending on the specialist. It is, as it sounds, a fuzzy science.
Charlotte offers something different: the opportunity to fuck like everybody else.
Practitioners adopt various titles, like “erotic masseuse”, “intimacy mentor”, “surrogate”, “somatic sex educator” and “shaman.” Professionals are viewed as doctors, of sorts. You can take courses at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in California (the only institute of its kind in the US) and get certified by the California Department of Education to practice. “There aren't any laws about it, because it's a relatively new field,” explained Rev. Dr. Ted McIlvenna, President of the The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. (Back in the 1960s, the Methodist Church assigned Rev. McIlvenna to turn gays straight– an impossible task that set him on a crusade for sexual revolution and gay rights. He is also the owner of one of the world's largest erotica collections. When asked whether he'd describe the field as therapeutic, I got a vehement NO; "You're not saving anybody, you're getting somebody sexually function. Saying we're providing therapy [to disabled clients]– that's just bullshit.")
Among its alumni, IASHS boasts Cheryl Cohen-Greene, the sex surrogate played by Helen Hunt in 2012 movie The Sessions. “She’s never had any problems, and none of our graduates have,” Mcilvenna said. “You’re not seeing malpractice suits, because you don’t go to [an intimacy mentor] on the basis of petting, or any of the things that would be malpractice.”
“I can’t say it was always protected, but it wasn’t specifically harassed.” That’s Kenneth Ray Stubbs, Ph.D, who pioneered the field of sexology (then, “erotic massage”) with Dr. Joseph Kramer in California in the 1970s. “People now do see many more practitioners. There’s a legal situation that allows people to practice openly, or there at least seems to be.”
Stubbs has recently expanded his title to “shaman,” because he views his role as getting people in touch with energies, exploring themselves through sexual contact. “When I started to put myself out there as teaching erotic massage, I realized that I was not just interested in giving people happy endings,” he said. “But if there was genital contact in the process of the massage that helped a person to embrace their sexuality, be at home with their sexuality, and discover more about themselves– that was what excited me personally.”
“That’s not to say that a quick hand job is not beneficial. It can be.”
↑ Charlotte Rose gets ready for a busy day. Her 2013 trophy for the "British Erotic Award for Sex Worker of the Year" is on the table.
There is no romanticism in sexology. “We’re not therapists, we’re not fundamentally changing anybody, we’re just teaching people how to get off,” said Mcilvenna of IASHS. Not to say that wish fulfillment isn’t useful. “If I think it's helpful for somebody to go to the Bunny Ranch in Nevada, I will send them there,” he added. “Some of those gals are really good and very caring.”
Ultimately, sexological bodywork isn't about getting it on; it's a process of intellectual coaching through touch which sometimes happens to include the genital area. As IASHS alumnus Ken Stofft put it, “I don’t fuck my clients, and they don’t fuck me.”
Stofft was previously an addictions counselor and is himself a recovering alcoholic, who typically works with recovering men aged 45 and older. He views sexual release as another outlet for recovery. “When somebody numbs themselves with drugs and alcohol, they're basically traumatizing the body," he said. “My focus is helping a man go through the transitions of life, to live life with a sense of vitality and using sexual energy in a constructive way."
“The vast majority of men who come to me have a starvingness, a hunger, for male bonding that doesn't include sex. To be touched or held by a man that is not sexual, just to be held- is very lacking in our culture."
The profiles in the sexological bodywork web directory sound vaguely like new age spiritual billboards: Do you have relationship issues? Do you believe in the power of attraction? Would you relish a greater sense of purpose, power and inspiration in your life? asks one specialist. Doctors offer promises of discovering "the miracle of the body," the "flowering of our dreams," and, even, "a world of timelessness".
I've got a client who
can have an orgasm by having his ear flicked. The body can adapt, despite whether it’s the eyes, ears, or touch – our body will always adapt and evolve to its environment.
— Charlotte Rose
Charlotte offers something different: the opportunity to fuck like everybody else. For a trans-continental contrast of attitudes, all you have to do is talk to her mentor Tuppy Owens: a 70-year-old doctor known as a pioneer for sexual freedom in the UK, and specifically, for putting the fun back in porn. Her 1969, pre-Joy of Sex photo-pornographic book Sexual Harmony featured a cover photo of something that was, at the time, unprecedented: a couple having fun while having sex, both laughing because the man has fucked the girl so hard she’s fallen off the bed. (Owens also founded the the long-running periodical Sex Maniac’s Diary, and the Sexual Freedom Awards, which awarded Charlotte in 2013.)
Owens also started the Outsider’s Club, a sex network for the disabled in 1979, when one of her Sex Maniac's Diary distributors lost his sight. As his friends and girlfriends started deserting him, Tuppy stepped in to help him get laid. “I would take him to parties and introduce him to new women. And we had a real laugh, and I said, This is fun. Let's start a club.”
Owens most fondly remembered a peer support group for disabled women. It was called the “V group”, referring to women with cerebral palsy, who can’t spread their legs. “We met four times a year in London, and after a couple years, two of the women found partners, one of the women decided she wanted to be a man, and one of the women died– and that’s why she was so keen to get moving and have a great time, because she knew she was going to die, though she didn’t tell us that. So at the end, I felt that everyone had reached their goal. Well, apart from the dead one.”
Though, she added, “The one that died had actually moved on the furthest, [she] just had a fabulous time. I went to interview her mother afterwards, I thought it was very interesting how her mother thought about her horny daughter having all this online sex everywhere and she said, ‘well, I can’t stop her because she doesn’t have long to live, and she keeps demanding privacy, but on the other hand, she keeps calling me up and saying, Mom, I’m in a real pickle.”
“Sex workers would make the best sex ed teachers for disabled people,” Owens continued. “It’ll never happen, but they’re the only ones who really know how a wide range of disabled people can enjoy their bodies.” To this day, Tuppy personally mans the Sex and Disability Helpline, a sex advice number for disabled people.
“One call on the Sex and Disability Helpline I had today was from a girl who's 29 with cerebral palsy, who just said, This is really embarrassing, I can't talk to you. The problem is she hasn't got a boyfriend.” Tuppy got her to agree to come to a lunch meeting. “I was over the moon, that I'd rescued this girl who was so unhappy. So lonely, and couldn't tell anybody, and thought it was really embarrassing, it's awful, really.” Another time, she had a series of male callers with spina bifida who couldn’t reach orgasm from stimulating their cocks; her advice was prostate stimulation. “One of them ran back after ten minutes and said, ‘I've had my first orgasm!’ I thought, Well, that was quick.”
“It’s fabulous! It's not a chore,” she said.“I've never had people in tears, just, phew, somebody's taking me seriously.”
“What I like about her is she’s not afraid to tell you the truth,” Johnny “My Wheels” told me over Skype. He’s a 22-year-old with cerebral palsy and impaired sight, a friend of Tuppy’s and one of Charlotte’s clients. “She might give us some tips on how to look, how to dress... many healthcare professionals won’t be totally honest because they’re afraid of offending you,” he said.
You build an emotional connection with anybody that you see regularly. Being able to see the differences from month to month, when their bodies change, that can be quite upsetting.
— Charlotte Rose
Johnny himself is a vocal advocate for TLC, speaking to the press and attending meetups, though it wasn’t until The Sessions that sexual services occurred to him as an option. “Disabled people are not seen as sexual beings,” he continued. “They’re seen as everything else, like caring... it’s very easy to get a care worker hired but as soon as you talk about sex, it’s like you’ve committed mass murder. People don’t know what to do.”
He knows that his relationship with Charlotte is a commercial one, but to Johnny, it’s not just about sex. “Even just something as simple as a hug. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but that kind of contact is rare.”
It doesn’t always have to be orgasmic; Owens’s work extends to the farthest, most abstract definitions of what “disability” and “sex” can be. She once worked with a group of patients with cognitive abilities of six month old infants, but fully matured adult bodies. “They were wearing pads, they couldn’t even reach their genitals,” Dr. Owens said. “But you have a nap time, so they can just be naked and enjoy themselves. Maybe massage their bodies so they become aware of their bodies, then find out what they want to do, and they'll have access to their genitals. Then they can just feel good about their bodies and do what they want with them.”
It's like Charlotte said.
"For sex workers, it's having the ability to put that disability to one side, and rather than sympathize, or empathize, just treat them as a normal human being."
For Charlotte, there's no great mystery; sex is just one of the better features of the everyday.
"Sexual exploration is lovely, it's great fun, because you can have a laugh and a giggle in a safe space. It's all about trying new things. That's what life is all about."
Even just something as simple as a hug... that kind of contact is rare.
— Johnny, client and advocate