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Celebrity Sex Scandals Show We’re Not as Sex-Positive as We Think We Are

Why do progressive attitudes about sex work seem to fly out the window when famous people are involved?

When it was announced that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft faced charges related to paying for sex acts at a massage parlor in Jupiter, Florida, that specializes in what’s colloquially referred to as a “rub and tug,” I bet you laughed. I certainly let out a bit of a snicker as I flashed back to my red-hot, righteous indignation over the results of the most recent Super Bowl. Maybe the only thing that can slow down the Patriots’ dynasty is the long arm of the law snatching their toad-like owner and tossing him in a cell with a broken toilet.

But despite all of my laughter about an obscenely rich man’s misfortune (and the laughter I imagine flowed from you, too), sports media was flooded with pro-Kraft takes. Highly paid bloviators like Stephen A. Smith and Jason Whitlock came out to defend Kraft’s love of an illicit hand job. “Bob Kraft living his best life,” Whitlock said. Smith made it sound like the hand job was consensual and that we should all loosen up. Back on Kraft’s home turf, a recent op-ed in the Boston Herald was titled “Don’t Be So Quick to Condemn Robert Kraft.” In it, the writer refers to Kraft as a “good and decent guy” who is using his $60 happy endings to ease the pain of his wife dying. Or in a few exact words:

“I also think it is beyond ridiculous that the media is painting Kraft, a good and decent guy, with the same brush as the most vile and vicious sexual deviants among us. Comparisons to Bill Cosby, now serving three years — roughly less than a month for each woman he drugged and raped — is patently ridiculous. And the pairing of Kraft’s situation on TV news immediately following the latest on long-alleged pedophile singer R. Kelly is just cringeworthy.”

Even more unbelievably/over-the-top (ready yourself, there’s a Christ reference here), the writer added:

“Some wonder with his money why he couldn’t hire a ‘high-class call girl’ or ship off to Nevada, where prostitution is legal and regulated. I believe Bob Kraft still grieves the fairly recent loss of Myra, his beloved wife and partner for 48 years. She will always be irreplaceable in his heart and soul. I know that feeling. And while some people say the pain and loneliness eases over time, it is a different journey for different people.

“I also know the feeling that comes with trying to fill a void that can never be filled — and the attempts to find comfort and peace along the way. Sometimes we do things that we would not normally do to find some comfort. We are, after all, human, with human frailties. Remember Jesus Christ once said to the crowd about to stone accused prostitute Mary Magdalene: He who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

Speaking of Christ: Jesus, what’s my problem? How can I be so cruel, so heartless and laugh in the face of this grieving widower? What the fuck is wrong with me (and again, I’m guessing you, too — especially the Patriot haters among us)?

I think the first thing to acknowledge is that progressive attitudes about non-traditional sexual activity and sex work usually go out the window when famous people are involved. You need to only look back at the recent awkward reaction to the “Dwight Howard dates trans women and pays their bills” rumor, Tiger Woods allegedly paying $60,000 for sex workers, or even further back, the controversy over actor Hugh Grant being arrested for solicitation in 1995. The reason why is simple: Non-traditional sexual behavior or paying for sex is something we can use to chastise the rich and famous. It’s an ideal way to bring them down to our level, to prove that they function on this earth much the same way we do — with an unquenchable physical desire that constantly threatens to upturn (if not outright ruin) our lives.

That also means we never ponder the other side of these stories: the people getting paid for these sex acts, whose agency (or lack thereof) is obfuscated by all those riches and all that fame (and frankly, all that snickering). The celebrity brought low is more important than the person whose services were paid for. Does anyone, for instance, stay up at night wondering what Divine Brown is up to? (Meanwhile, her client, Grant, earned raves for his most recent performance in Paddington 2.) And in Kraft’s case, although the authorities are trying to keep it top of mind (part of the reason they’ve supposedly been so open about Kraft’s alleged misdeeds), the women at the Jupiter massage parlor were allegedly victims of human trafficking, forced to live inside the parlor and answer to the whims of the people who brought them into this country under false pretenses.

So what next? Not just for Kraft, but for the next Kraft-like person to have their sexual peccadillos exposed to the public?

My bet is we’ll all keep laughing, or worse yet, making excuses. In 2019, the human race (and the U.S. in particular) still doesn’t know how to talk about (or understand) sexuality in any mature, rational way. Sex is either treated as a punchline or a sinful taboo, when in fact, it’s neither. Sex is an unknowable, indescribable element of existence. It’s something that deserves respect, reverence, and intelligence.

It’s also worth way more than $60.