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I’ve been following the discussion over the past two weeks about the lifting of the moratorium on establishing and running massage parlours in the city of St. John’s.
Today’s column is not going to focus on the rationale for the lifting of the moratorium, nor will it consider if such a moratorium is actually helpful or not regarding sex work.
No, today’s column is going to look at why we continue to hide behind euphemisms such as “massage parlours” for those businesses whose primary purpose is selling sexual services.
We have of late heard these sites variously described as erotic massage parlours, adult massage parlours, or even sensual massage spas.
So why do we duck behind the vaguely salacious yet not quite accurate name of massage parlour? I do not understand the coyness associated with this nomenclature.
Call it for what it is. These businesses sell sex and the people who work in these sites provide sexual services, some of which may include some type of massage, but not the sort that registered massage therapists offer.
Years ago, Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds starred in a movie called “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” Not sure if “Best Little Massage Parlour in Texas” has quite the same ring? And why “parlour,” a word that comes wrapped with so much starch and Downton Abbey-esque formality?
There have been other names for sure: brothels, bordellos, houses of ill repute, cathouse, bawdy house etc. Wikipedia is blunt: “A brothel, bordello, or whorehouse is a place where people engage in sexual activity with prostitutes. Technically, any premises where prostitution commonly takes place qualifies as a brothel.”
You would think we were back in Victorian times when women and men could not even say the word “leg” out loud for the embarrassment it would cause. (Never mind that Victorians, like any other humans in the annals of history, also enthusiastically engaged in sex despite the oft-quoted advice to women to lie back and think of England. But I digress.)
The resistance to calling a massage parlour a sexual services site seems unnecessarily squeamish to me. The moratorium came about not long after a daycare in the East End discovered the sensual spa next door was not offering traditional spa services like manicures and pedicures.
I don’t believe we need to resort to slang to be open about what happens in such a site. After all, we have a president next door to Canada who thinks nothing of casually telling a reporter he likes to grab a woman by her vulva — and he didn’t use that word, either.
We have men right here in this province who photobomb women journalists by shouting FHRITP while these women are doing their jobs.
Failing to describe these commercial businesses accurately allows our communities to remain in denial about the realities of sex work, the people who work there, and the people who buy sexual services.
According to Tuesday’s Telegram, the city is using a definition contained in “draft regulations waiting for provincial approval (which) state a massage parlour offers massage or similar services provided by people who are not registered massage therapists and does not include a health and wellness centre, a clinic or service shop.”
Registered massage therapists have heard all the comments and like Queen Victoria, they are not amused.
Defining such commercial enterprises by what they aren’t is another way of dancing around what actually happens in such “parlours.” It is most certainly not a place for the receiving of guests and the resulting engagement of visitors in polite conversation, usually the weather, the latest scandal, or the latest gossip between the Dowager Duchess and Lady Edith.
Failing to describe these commercial businesses accurately allows our communities to remain in denial about the realities of sex work, the people who work there, and the people who buy sexual services. Regardless which side of the fence you land on when it comes to commercial, regulated sex work, calling such businesses massage parlours does no one any good.
If we can’t speak frankly about the issues at play here, I’m not sure we should be implementing regulations which are equally vague and empowering municipal bodies to enforce them.
Martha Muzychka writes from St. John’s. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet @marthamuzychka.