What it Means To Be a Lady in the Living Room and a Whore in the Bedroom

OCTOBER 19, 2011

New Jersey Senate candidate Phil Mitsch lost his Republican Party support last week over a tweet in which he shared “good advice” for wives telling them to be “a lady in the living room and a whore in the bedroom”. I think Mr. Mitsch has perhaps lost touch with what it means to be a “whore” in 2011 and, so, I thought I would take this opportunity to write and explain.

Dear Mr. Mitsch,

In September you disseminated advice to women that to be a good wife they should be a “whore in the bedroom.”  I am concerned that you misunderstand what it means to be a whore and thought that you might benefit from some additional information that could guide your use of the term in the future. If it is the case that you intended the meaning of the word to be as I describe below, please feel free to ignore this missive.

There are two meanings of the word “whore.” The first is slang for a promiscuous woman and the second is a woman who is a prostitute. Since you have already stated your believe that wives must be faithful, I am going to assume that your suggestion is that women behave in the same manner as a sex worker.

It is challenging to define what it means to be a prostitute. I have tackled this problem before in my blog, but to an economist the simplest way to differentiate the behavior of a wife and the behavior of a sex worker is this: sex workers sell non-reproductive sex and wives sell both reproductive and non-reproductive sex.

This differentiation is obviously too simple for your purposes, though, since wives already provide non-reproductive sex and the advice “be a whore in the bedroom” would be redundant.

What I suspect you really intended to say is that when providing sexual services to her husband, a wife should provide the services that he wishes to receive regardless of her own needs and desires. In fact, I believe that you are suggesting that a good wife does not refuse her husband sex acts that other women would require a direct payment to perform. Am I right about that?

Back in the 1920’s and 30’s women who were sex workers provided what we today would call “the girlfriend experience.” With significantly higher levels of promiscuity and access for men to non-market sex via real girlfriends (and casual sexual partners), the job of the sex worker has changed. In 2011 whores, as you would have us call them, provide services that other women are unwilling to perform often in very dangerous circumstances.

Steven Levitt and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh collected street-level data that gives us a glimpse as to the types of acts that female sex workers perform. As an example, one sex worker’s work day, for which trick-level data was collected, went like this:

  1. Vaginal sex with two gang members inside their home for which she was paid a total of $135 in cash and $20 in drugs.
  2. Blowjob provided as a freebie for a cop under threat of arrest.
  3. Anal sex with a father and a son performed while the wife / mother watched and masturbated ($200).

The level of violence endured by these women was staggering – 3 out of the 159 women in the sample were known to have died over the course of the project. On average the women were physically injured by the customer once every 31 sex acts.

Now, I know what you are thinking Mr. Mitsch. You are thinking: I don’t want American wives to be street whores — I want them to be indoor whores like the kind we used to be able to find on Craigslist.

Fair enough.

But, do you really know what the life of an indoor sex worker is like? If you are curious you can certainly find out. Prostitution rating sites (like the British one you can find here report in detail what happens when a man visits an indoor sex worker.

If you would rather not look, let me give you a brief idea: He walks in, negotiates a price, commits a sex act that most women would not enjoy and then leaves. All in less than about 30 minutes.

In one 2003 study, 91% of sex workers said that sex with a client was a less than positive emotional experience.

Studies that have interviewed Johns also found that they also viewed the experience negatively with only 44% of men using positive words to describe their experience. Instead they said things like “regretful and remorseful,” “disappointed – what a waste of money”, ”angry at myself”, “morally at odds”, “confused”, “lonely – still” and “psychologically dirty”.

Interestingly, the same study found that 27% of men reported having the opinion that once a sex worker has been paid the man is entitled to engage in any sex act he chooses. Forty-seven percent expressed the opinion that women did not have rights during the sexual interaction.  Twenty-five percent thought that the idea that a prostitute could be raped was “ridiculous”.

Another study argues that men believe that “buying sex entitles them to do anything they want” and that payment “gave them the right to inflict any kind of assault they chose”. (Kramer 2003)

I am certain, Mr. Mitsh, that you do not think that a man should be encouraged to feel entitled to perform any sex act he likes with his wife regardless of how it leaves her feeling emotionally. Nor can I imagine that you would advise a woman that in order for her to have a happy marriage that she should feel obliged to perform unwanted sex acts.

You have defended your statement saying that it is an old adage. Well that is true, of course, but it is an old adage from a time in which men were legally entitled to rape their wives. You might have kept that in mind.

It seems the real problem is the word “whore” is not really the one your were looking for, but to be honest with you I am at a loss as to what word you were really looking for. Maybe all you were suggesting is that if husbands want their wives to perform sex acts that they do not enjoy the price of the act should be negotiated upfront. I have heard of such arrangements. But you might have wanted to check with your wife (and your party) before advocating such a radical new approach to the marriage contract.

Dollars and Sex

This post originally appeared on my old blog at Dollars and Sex at Big Think.

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