Thursday, 20 March 2014

‘The Big Debate: Should we contract our sex lives’ - Royal Court Theatre - Big Ideas Debate - March 2014


‘The Big Debate: Should we contract our sex lives,’ was a discussion amongst academics and play writers and their particular views of sexualizing partnership which took place at the Royal Court Theatre. This lively debate was organized following the theatre’s opening of the play, ‘The Mistress Contract’ by Abi Morgan. Libby Purves, presenter of BBC Radio 4 and columnist for The Times chaired the event and gave some interesting commentary to keep the debate’s juices flowing.




Alecky Blythe, the playwright for ‘The Girlfriend Experience’ drew on her interviews over the course of 18 months with self-made prostitutes from Eatbourne Brothel.  ‘Often these working girls felt they were relieving tensions through sex which was something absent at their client’s home’ and ‘keeping their marriages on track.’ As providers of conversation, hugs, sex and personality, Blythe also spoke of them as having distraught feelings and ‘broken cracks’ that came in cycles which was as hurtful as ‘splitting someone in half.’ Contracted sexual lives are evident here, but it was all a false hope based on how desirable they were to men, which they misconstrued as sexual empowerment. 

Professor Sophie Day, anthropologist at Goldsmiths (University of London) speaks from her ethnographic study during the 1980s. Much of the sex workers she had spoken to were realists and had a pragmatic approach towards their line of work which led some to believe, ‘when you say I do, it’s more of a promise… like a fairy tale romance of what might happen.’ When Day was asked about the debate, however she replied, ‘should we contract’ – I don’t know.’

Lynne Segal, Birkbeck University’s anniversary professor and academic in feminist theory and politics, had a slightly more aggressive take on the debate but gave an honest answer - ‘no.’ With much reference to Abi Morgan’s play and feminist philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir, she felt the mistress contract was an ‘illusion’ as she said, ‘ we, women are not here to titillate.’ She even spoke of female students today who become escorts to finance their education as a ‘worrying’ and ‘perilous’ act that should not be an option. 

(Left to Right: Purves, Day, Blythe, Segal and Tatchall)

Peter Tatchell, activist for LGBT, human rights and global justice based his judgments on his research in Thailand with male gay escorts who at their own free will prefer contracting their sex lives for earning potential compared to work at the rice fields. He suggests we abolish western practices and consider ‘flexible,’  ‘democratic’ and customized contracts that suit peoples’ circumstances extending to beneficiaries and next of kin which contracts them to certain ‘rights and responsibilities.’

There was a slightly rushed Q & A session that dealt with interesting topics including sex and the media, war and monogamy. A general consensus was not concluded on the debate, but from Blythe and Tatchell, they seemed fairly positive. To end the debate, Purves asked the audience a show of hands to those who ‘believe in monogamy… and to those who didn’t,’ and it was only a few wary hands that were left hanging at this point.