Project X is an advocacy group for sex workers’ rights in Singapore. We believe that sex work is work and that sex workers should be treated with dignity and respect. We seek to end stigma, discrimination, and all verbal, physical, emotional, and financial violence against sex workers.
SimplySxy: You’ve been running Project X for a while now. Do you think the challenges have changed since you first took over?
No, I don’t think the challenges have changed. But I would like to highlight one of the constant challenges we face that is quite telling about society’s attitudes towards sex.
In people’s minds, a sex worker is always gendered female and that there are only two types of sex workers—the nymphomaniacal slut and the unwilling sex slave. The reactions people have towards issues that sex workers face are either “she deserved it” or “oh you poor thing let me save you”. Both of these conceptions reveal how society views sex workers—less than human. To reduce a sex worker’s experience and livelihood to just their sex drive is to avoid seeing that the worker is a human being who has made informed choices about what they wish to do. To view a sex worker as someone pitiful and in need of rescue is to rob that person of their agency and to be blind to the intersectional nature of oppression.
These polar opposites mindsets also uncover another misconception that most people seem to have—that consent (the nymphomaniacal slut) and coercion (the unwilling sex slave) are binary opposites instead of being on a dynamic spectrum.
SimplySxy: We’re curious, what drives you to do what you do?
A strong dislike for mornings (I work when the sun goes down), and a strong desire to see an end to human rights violations.
SimplySxy: You were in America earlier this year to meet your counterparts from around the world. How was that experience?
It was life-changing. The Third Sector in the United States is very mature as compared to the one in Singapore. The level of professionalism was particularly eye-opening and inspiring. I left the US with a much better understanding of how to run an organization, how to better further the cause, and of course, with a great network of really amazing people–people I wish to grow up to become.
SimplySxy: Today’s generation grew up with the Internet and access to all the information in the world. How do you think we should approach sex education for youths today?
I am a strong believer in talking to youths about sex in an open, non-judgmental, and honest ways. If I were to come up with a sex education curriculum (for teachers and parents), I would firstly do away with all euphemisms—no “birds and bees”, no “flowers” or “seeds”. I find it troubling that we were taught to avoid having honest discussions about sex. Words like “vagina”, “penis”, and “sexual intercourse” should be used regardless of what age the person is. I believe that doing so will enable the person to take sex education seriously—to see that it is no giggling matter as youths so often do.
Secondly, I would be careful not to conflate sex with love. There are asexual relationships, purely physical sex, and everything else in between. To conflate sex with love implicitly promotes some kind of “ideal” relationship and pressures people into conforming to it. This inevitably results in the policing of sex and relationships that we see and hear of so often.
Thirdly, I would remove all fear-mongering material. No sole focus on gory pictures of infected genitals, no videos about abortion, no horror stories about teenage pregnancy. Inculcating an association of sex with fear serves no educational purposes; fear-mongering is a tactic in indoctrination.
My sex education curriculum will also have a heavy focus on understanding consent. At the end of the day, to have sex or not should be an informed choice. And to be able to exercise that agency requires the ability to say yes, no, or maybe depending on the circumstances. Hence, consent is of utmost importance in my opinion.
Education should be about providing students with knowledge so that one can form one’s own opinions, and tools so that they are able assert them.
SimplySxy: Thanks for your time Vanessa. Before we go, tell us, how do you define sexy?
I think someone who is sexy is someone who is in touch with their sexual and/or asexual side. It is someone who has had honest conversations with themselves about sex, gender, and sexuality, and is able to have those conversations with their intimate partners. It is someone who knows their boundaries and is able to assert them. And it is also someone who is willing to try new things. 🙂
Images courtesy of Vanessa Ho and Shutterstock
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