Dear Sasha,

As a long-time reader, woman, supporter of personal freedoms and bleeding-heart lawyer, I’m eager to know your take on Iceland de-legalizing strip clubs (as described in this news article).

In particular, I find it odd that this is being called a feminist move. What about the women who want to be sex workers of whatever kind? Hell, what about the men? I haven’t seen your take on this yet….

Sarah L. Boyd

Well, Sarah, if you look at countries that have banned or placed irrational restrictions on the sex trade, you’ll see that those policies don’t automatically make the sex trade magically disappear. What tends to happen is that it crops up in less urban settings. Take Sweden, for example, which decided to make it illegal to buy, but not sell, sex. Did the sex trade diminish there? It did in larger cities, only to settle in more remote and dangerous areas, attracting the type of bold, violent clients more willing to risk legal repercussion.

Let’s look a little closer at the details of the article. “Iceland,” it reads, “is fast becoming a world-leader in feminism. A country with a tiny population of 320,000, it is on the brink of achieving what many considered to be impossible: closing down its sex industry.”

As a feminist, I’m a little surprised they’re applying the term to denigrate an industry that I, as a feminist, used to work in. Instead of lumping all feminists together, maybe it would be better to call those behind the Icelandic initiative “anti-sex-work feminist.”. But a more accurate description would be “yoinking-away-women’s-sexual-and-job-autonomy-and-painting-them-all-as-victims-of-trafficking feminists.”

As the article says, “Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, the politician who first proposed the ban, firmly told the national press on Wednesday: ‘It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold.'”

I’ve always been curious why sex is the thing that makes this gesture unacceptable, especially having willingly sold myself. People use their bodies for profit all the time, whether they’re doing construction, delivering furniture or modelling.

What I see here is another government not willing to do the real work — that is, focusing attention on people who are genuinely trafficked. Instead, they use a big broad brush to make a grandstanding gesture that in the end creates more problems.

Iceland seems to be following in Sweden’s footsteps, in this case making it illegal for businesses to profit off the nudity of their employees. Care to guess what will happen in Iceland as a result? One scenario: an underground strip club culture will develop, and the trafficking of people will actually increase, not decrease. Why? Because the people willing to take the risk will be hard-nosed criminals, and they’re going to want a pretty big return on their investment. Their investment, of course, is women. There will be exorbitant club fees, gruelling working hours and loads of uncompensated extras. Hurrah for feminism!

It doesn’t seem like this decision was made in consultation with those most deeply affected, the sex workers themselves. If Iceland’s main objective is to abolish trafficking, and its lawmakers had bothered to talk to women active in the politics of the sex industry, these women might have given them more effective advice.

In countries where workers have fought hard for their rights and dignity, a priority is helping identify and assist those who are trafficked. Check out the website of India’s largest sex worker rights organization, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, for more information.

Many jobs are degrading. Having worked in several of them, I can say that sex work didn’t even come close to topping the list. Using the abolition of strip clubs as some victory in the women’s rights movement is hollow and misguided.

So is that enough of a take for you, Sarah?

Don’t ask if you don’t want me to tell

Dear Sasha,

Your response to the question about herpes made me want to wrap myself in three layers of Saran Wrap and resign myself to macramé. Holy fuck!

It’s bad enough that I feel like a complete virgin when considering multiple partners after so many years of monogamy. Now I have this whole bunch of new skills to learn. And how is all of this not going to feel like kissing in a space suit, in space? Visions of awkwardness and humiliation now plague me, thank you very much.

Here’s a question: my previous partner and I were in a relationship for several years. One night, we had this wicked little foursome. We had a great time, but even though it was her idea to begin with, my partner got super-nervous. She had two restless, fear-filled nights and then woke up with a moustache of sores!

We had been in all the same nooks and crannies, yet she had this ridiculous outbreak and I never did. Even after the moustache incident, long after the sores went away, we still had a great sex life. She didn’t remember ever having a cold sore before, and, as far as I know, hasn’t had one since. I’ve tried to get tested, but since I’ve never had a sore in my life, no doctors will bother with me. Correction: Mom says I had a cold sore when I was a little kid, but that was over 30 years ago.

So what’s the deal? My feeling is that she didn’t catch it that night, but that her nervousness caused the flare-up. Still, why am I not a viral culture myself? And how can I ever know if I have herpes if I haven’t had a sore in at least 30 years, possibly my life? (Mom’s memory can play tricks on her.)

Flustered Fifi

Are you sure you’re ready to handle a non-monogamous relationship? Because here’s one of the primary tenets: don’t flip out on someone when you ask them to tell you the truth and they do.

Lyba Spring of Toronto Public Health again: “Fifi wants you to make a diagnosis, Sasha. Exactly. I can’t either. Was it a moustache of cold sores? Is Fifi immune? I can tell her this: ‘nervousness’ does not cause an outbreak in a person with no history of herpes. Stress can certainly provoke an outbreak in a person already infected. In terms of immunity, if a person has the type 2 infection, it’s highly unlikely he or she will ever get type 1. But if the person has type 1, he or she can certainly get type 2 and then have both types recurring.

“I can also tell her this, which I picked up from a Web conference: During the first six months of infection, shedding can occur during 20 to 40 per cent of days; with longer-term infection, shedding may occur during 5 to 20 per cent of days. It is the shedding of virus — and particularly asymptomatic viral shedding — that is responsible for the transmission of genital herpes.

“Asymptomatic viral shedding is the presence of virus in the absence of clinical signs or symptoms. Up to 70 per cent of new infections can be attributed to asymptomatic shedding. Asymptomatic shedding occurs in virtually all HSV-2-infected patients, and shedding rates cannot be predicted on the basis of age, sex or reported history of outbreaks.

“Shedding of virus can occur from multiple genital sites, and 50 per cent of asymptomatic shedding events occur more than seven days before or after a clinical outbreak. And although viral shedding tends to diminish over the course of infection, the rate of decay is measured in years, and the potential of transmission persists. What this means is that the more partners Fifi (or anyone) has, the higher the risk of infection. Most people don’t know they have it. Most transmission happens in the absence of a sore.”

Allergies to vaginal secretions have been reported, but they are rare. It’s possible that your ex-girlfriend got a mild form of eczema that was aggravated by moisture and friction. A dermatologist could have assessed that.

And Fifi, if you don’t want the truth, then quit asking for it. Seriously.

Ask Sasha. Email [email protected]

Sasha Van Bon Bon

Sasha is a nationally syndicated sex columnist whose work has appeared in a variety of Canadian weeklies and online magazines for over 15 years. Her column appears weekly in NOW magazine. She is also...