Age Play, Molestation & Misunderstandings: Where’s the line?

I remember when I was being trained as a sex educator one of the topics that came up near the end of the course was animal fucking. The instructor gave a very earnest talk on best practices and harm reduction when considering having sex with your (or perhaps another person’s?) dog. As a person deeply committed to sex positivity, these are the moments when I have to resist the quizzical eye-brow knitting, the existential musing, the inevitable questions: “Ok, is this too sex positive for me? Is this even legal? Could I be morally implicated just for having been present during this discussion? If you’re a sex positive person, a sex educator, or some other variety of nerd who spends a lot of time talking about/listening to others talk about/pondering on sex, you’re probably familiar with this eyebrow thing or this question: Where’s the line?

Last night I was asked to perform at a bar in San Francisco. My task: speak for 10 minutes extemporaneously on my experiences as a phone sex operator and don’t leave out the juicy bits. If you read my last piece on phone sex, you would note that the number one requested fantasy “ the fantasy that came up again and again (and again) “ was age play. Either I played a younger girl or they played a younger boy. The fantasies often involved coercion, seduction, and things that would otherwise be completely and thoroughly immoral/illegal in, I believe, at least 49 states.

When I began as a phone sex operator I had moral dilemmas all the time. Should I engage in these fantasies? Is age play wrong? Was my Sunday School teacher right: do dirty thoughts lead to dirty actions? After much philosophizing I came to three conclusions: (1) I’m an adult. (2) My clients are adults. (3) Fantasy space should be a judgment-free zone.

Back to the performance.

I was “ not to brag “ smashing. My bit had the audience hooting and laughing with delight or shock or arousal, I don’t know. I talked about a client who loved to imagine cock as huge as a tree trunk, my client who loved imagining huge and lactating boobies, my client who loved imagining that he was a 12-year old boy being taken advantage of by two older Amazonian blondes. As I left the stage, the hostess and producer of the show stammered some kind of closing remark. She was quintessentially speechless (note the speechless thing: it’s important for the next part of the story). As I left the venue about 10 minutes later about 10 people came up to me and thanked me, congratulated me or gave me a knowing smile. I was elated. I got to share my musings on male sexuality, unearth some dirty little secrets and I didn’t even have any notes with me.

The next afternoon as I sat down to enjoy a steak sandwich with aioli on pain de mie in Pac Heights I received an email from said hostess/producer explaining her speechlessness: inspired not by my talented story-telling, but rather by my light-hearted detailing of molestation. Molestation?! Molestation. There it was in plain e-ink. I was shocked. Angered. Horrified. Most importantly, I was mystified. What part of me (adult) talking to my clients (adults) about their fantasies of age play constituted molestation? My first inclination was to feel guilt and then shame. Shame for me. Guilt for engaging in my clients’ desires. I’d done something very bad. I had made a big bad sex faux pas: I had (yet again) taken it “too far and talked about a man wanting to pretend he was a child for his own sexual pleasure.

After talking with my boyfriend and another friend (who’d attended the performance) about the note I felt sufficiently ready to address the M word. And this is what I wrote (well, this is the abridged version):

“It’s unfortunate that you were offended by the piece, but I think you fundamentally misunderstood its content. Because I was talking about (1) age play and (2) phone sex – which is legal, done with adults and which does not involve any actual (physical) interaction – I expected that the fantasies of my clients would be seen by the audience in that light. As a sex positive person, a person who takes non-consensual sexual behavior extremely seriously, and a person with an MA in Human Sexuality and a decade of sex education experience, I do not “ let me be perfectly clear, IN ANY WAY –  see molestation and age play (that is, the imagined regression of an adult for sexual pleasure) as the same thing. Perhaps you are not familiar with age play, but it is a common request made of sex workers and a common role play in which adults engage. I do not judge my clients’ fantasies because it is part of my job and part of my politic. Thanks for your feedback, and I hope that this note and my performance have familiarized you with elements of sexuality with which you have not previously been acquainted.

I firmly believe that fantasy space is an arena that must become (or, in some cases, must remain) an unpoliced zone: a landscape free of shame, filled with exploration, experienced for pleasure. I have to imagine I live in a world where adults act like grown-ups, law-abiding citizens and caring people who wish to do no harm. Do I know not everyone plays by those rules? Uh huh. Does that mean a 40-year old man doesn’t have the right to whip his dick out and have a mind-blowing orgasm as he imagines his younger self in tighty-whities getting ass-fucked by a dildo? Fuck no.

But I bring it back to “the line. Where is it? What happens when people who identify as “sex positives clash with other people who think of themselves in the same way? Does my detailing the above fantasy in a bar full of people drinking martinis make light of non-consensual sexual behavior? Does my getting paid to engage in fantasies that would be illegal in the real world make me complicit in exploitation? And if the answers are yes, then does that mean I have to stop fantasizing about the stuff that gets me off? Cause a whole lot of it is illegal, immoral and “ frankly “ physically impossible.

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