Love as community

Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian (b. Pieve di Cadore, ca. 1488-d. Venice, 1576), Venus Blindfolding Cupid, ca. 1565, Borghese Gallery, Rome

A contemplation on Amber O’Hara’s What gets women off? and Love within Sex Work.

Amber O’Hara proposes an interesting question in her two part series What gets women off? One guesses she explores this question with more clarity in her essay Love within Sex Work. While “love” and “getting off sexually” are by no means the same, they are not totally different. We do equate them. Love has specific meanings as in parent/child love, child/parent love, love of life, making love, unconditional love, while “getting off” is about orgasmic responses. Sex while a bonding agent it is a more minor component of adult love’s secure bonds than popularly thought. The other two components are the big “A” – Attachment as well as Caregiving; a blend of attentiveness and empathy.

In juxtaposed fashion in Love within Sex Work O’Hara gives us insights into what is missing in What gets women off?Love is about the connection within her self and with another person(s) not so much about getting off. Part II of the getting off series gives a rather sex book cookie cutter approach to jump starting a woman’s sexual interest. O’Hara observes, “…women of a certain age who don’t even have a vibrator in their nightstand and in fact no longer care about their own sexual arousal…” Is O’Hara’s observation about lack of sensual expression the same as being cut off emotionally from one’s self or others? If so it follows that the rebirth of sensual curiosity might depend on emotional awakening – connection within a person and between people which makes possible the dialogue about sex, vibrators, or sex books.

Perhaps O’Hara’s real answer is found when she contemplates sensual and human connection in Love Within Sex Work.  In this essay she speaks of her joy, of her connection to her self and to another human being. Perhaps some sex workers like some people are more secure able to readily access their sensual selves which cut off people are less likely to do. Being able to access care giving and attachment within the security of relationships allows sex to blossom particularly for women. Women arouse differently from men. Men seem to have fewer safety restraints on arousal. It is likely a couple’s ability to create safety particularly for the female partner increases her willingness to explore her own self, allows her to then experience sensuality within herself and with another person.

The organizing question for humans seems to be, “will you be there for me?” The insecurity this question poses for couples (singles) is traumatic and is expressed differently depending on singles’, couples’, partners’ or acquaintances’ attachment styles, termed either “secure”, “anxious” or “avoidant”. Our attachment style to some degree affects caregiving, attentiveness and empathy, either for ourselves or another human being. As does our ability to connect emotionally so does our ability to sensually connect – give sexual care, attentiveness and empathy, for the sensual well-being of ourselves and others. For example an anxious partner asking an avoidant partner for sex actually creates a conflict the avoidant partner will act to avoid thus becoming more cut off. Because of the emotional distance created the anxious partner is then likely to become more anxious and push harder connection proof of love sex etc! Ooops the avoidant one retreats farther. Put kids, work, rent, dying parents, transportation, dishes etc. sex seems small in making couples lives more stressful!

The interesting thing is people can and do learn how to create the environment whereby attachment is more secure. As a by-product life is likely becomes more enjoyable, less threatening, less traumatic, less despair and surprise: better sex.

While it may not be thought to be typical in prostitution, O’Hara appears to enjoy connective sex perfectly at ease with experiencing emotional connection within her self and with another person. This joy of having emotional connection is as likely within sex work as it is with a bonded monogamous relationships, because; sex, emotional connection, compassion, care, are all part of being able to access attachment with another human. Joy is a human emotional experience in which needs for “safety” well being, connection, fun etc are met. O’Hara seems to express it this way, “I’ve noticed a lot more ladies are open about their enjoyment of their work and their clients, who see them as friends and genuinely feel affection, care and even love for them…”

Love Within Sex Work is beginning to sound like connection and more secure attachment within an hour’s sexual contract. As O’Hara seems to point out this is situational. Perhaps O’Hara or some of her clients are so grounded (having their caregiving and attachment needs met elsewhere) that one, or the other, or both offers a secure temporary environment for emotional connection even though there is no bond or commitment. What she seems to suggest is two people embraced in the context of their community (family) experiencing each others’ emotional subjective reality. While it is contrived O’Hara suggests it simulates an environment that allows people, couples the opportunity to connect in safety so they can access care giving with attentiveness and empathy. Is Love within Sex Work more about some form of more secure attachment or love than just getting off?

If one can’t really access emotional connection how do they approach sex? Susan M. Johnson the attachment researcher postulates that insecure attached people experience “sealed off sex” where the game is sensation, achieving the big O, continual novelty, one-dimensional, the other person is secondary, solely for reducing tension etc.

Non-secure attachment styles and the effects are common and O’Hara describes “… clients who want nothing more from escorts they visit than sex, no affection required. They don’t care about GFE, they just want a warm, willing woman.” How would “sealed off sex” affect bonded partners or sex workers? It would be unlikely for an escort to afford affection toward or experience much arousal with a client so cut off. O’Hara says she enjoys her work. Can joy be derived solely from experiencing the client’s (partner’s) pleasure? Even without reciprocity one would guess there is joy in “A Job Well Done” if not Flow. So finding joy in someone else’s joy (orgasm) can be joyful without any emotional experience or much arousal. “Sealed off sex” could still be exciting and oxytocin-producing but likely to leave even bonded monogamous couples as emotionally unrewarded as O’Hara seems to say she also feels about even adventurous “sealed off” commercial sex.

Within O’Hara’s profession what brings about loss of connection within and between people? Is it lack of safety; people (clients) who disregard another person’s humanity? Brutality like love is a human trait we all experience. People (all of us) are particularly susceptible to this sort of brutal dehumanization. Such violence is more often in the form of words. O’Hara observes the “systemic” violation of people’s humanity in the ‘criminalisation’ of voluntary sensual connection among equals. Even the stigmatization of sex is something that decreases safety and therefore reduces the likelihood of connection. How does this affect a willingness of people (practically women who need safety) to be sensual?

The ideas of these two subjects Love Within Sex Work and What gets women off seemed to be linked through O’Hara’s years of exploration into diversity of human connection. A linkage she says was not deliberate. The linkage resonates in the compassion and empathy she displays toward people, who for a variety of logically good reasons find themselves emotionally “cut off” sometimes referred as having “sealed off sex” or no sex at all.

In Love Within Sex Work I hear empathy for herself in discovering her own sensuality and compassion/empathy for partners in deeply bonded partnerships – their spousal relationships being disrupted by the absent ingredients for sex. One hears in these three essays a sense of community how she and her clients, their families are in caring relationships bonded by their humanity, human connections, care, and empathy. O’Hara asks, “… how can sex workers see so many clients and genuinely love or care for them all or most of them, surely you’d have to fake?” She answers, “… in your affection or care for them you naturally want them to maintain the loving relationships they have established elsewhere, i.e. with their partners and families.” They do it remarkably well without “Attachment Bonds” she/they are able to love, respect, be there for each other, have compassion and separate as if their paths never crossed. If it were not for the sex, is O’Hara saying? “In every day life, most people would easily realize they have such connections and separations many times a day.” Therefore there should be no stigma with love as community.

As a student of connection O’Hara seems to be saying relationships with one’s self are complex; connections with others – in sensually, in love, in commerce, in peace, in conflict, and in community are even more complex. As a person who is “able to be there for people”, O’Hara seems to write of the beauty of being human and being in community with others no matter their style. Could Love within Sex Work be entitled “Love as Community”?

Amber O’Hara, did I in reflecting back to you, hear the essence of what you wanted known? Is there something I misunderstood and or is there more I need to understand about your truth?

The image I chose to illustrate this post gives an indication of my initial response.  More from me later.
– Amber


Gillath, O. and Canterberry M. (2011, September 13) Neural correlates of exposure to subliminal and supraliminal sexual cues. Retrieved from:

Johnson, Susan M. Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships. Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2013

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