Jack is five. It’s March, and if you are a kindergartner there are mischievous leprechauns all around your room. Jack’s classroom is decidedly green. Today is the class is writing about treasures. Megan writes about treasures in happy meals, and E.J. writes about treasures in his video game, while Jack makes careful letters and puts his finger for a space between each word. After much work, he has written, “I have a jackpt in my undrwer. It is fl of penes.” The picture clarifies the message. A stick figure boy wears a pair of generously endowed undies. He’s sporting quite a package.
“Pennies,” Jack reads. “My underwear is full of pennies. See?”
Recently, some local women were busted for the jackpot in their underwear. A madam and four young women were arrested in their brothel a few miles from our home. They were charging $440 to hit the jackpot. Apparently, video surveillance recorded a high number of men going into the building for short periods of time. The choice of $440 catches my attention, and I imagine how that conversation went as they came to consensus on the price of their services.
Prostitute One: At my old job, my pimp charged $399.
Prostitute Two: Nobody carries around small bills anymore; I say we charge $500.
Prostitute Three: Five-hundred is too much, that’s like the price of a couch. We’re in a recession.
Madam: Let’s average and charge $440. That’s four hundreds and two twenties. Easy to get from the ATM.
The headline “Alleged Brothel Busted” in our hometown newspaper catches my son’s eye.
“What does brothel mean?” I tell him that men were paying women to have sex with them.
“Why would anyone ever want to do that?”
I sigh and then look up to realize his question is not rhetorical. He actually wants me to explain why people would ever pay for sex.
I know women who have husbands, ex-husbands and lovers who have paid for sex and probably many more acquaintances that I don’t know about. Sexual expression and satisfaction is one of our basic human needs. Some of us are fortunate to be able to have those needs met within a monogamous relationship; some are not. Some people are addicted to sex like others are addicted to shopping, alcohol, and overeating.
Why would anyone ever want to do that? He’s still waiting for an answer. Because they want release; they want to feel desirable, to live out a fantasy, to be held, to be heard, to have power in their world . . . and all those needs are OK with me. But the choice to use someone else’s body is not. I don’t want him to ever think that’s an option: for his health, physically and emotionally. I want him to only experience sex that comes from mutual love between two partners.
But tonight, I don’t have the answers for him. They spin around my head like a cyclone and I finally say, “I need some time to think about how to answer your question.”
“Does that mean you don’t know?” he asks, surprised.
“No, sweetie. It means I don’t know the right words yet to tell you what I know to be true.”
I wish for the innocence of having a five-year-old who thinks nothing about having a jackpot in his underwear. I wish there wasn’t a brothel a few miles from my house. I wish a friend’s ex-husband had never risked her health by sleeping with more prostitutes than he could count because it wasn’t “cheating” in his mind. I wish for easy answers for my son.
Because I won’t say, “Any person who pays for sex is an inherently bad person.”
And I can’t say, “If you ever do that you are going to hell,” because I don’t have those credentials.
Finally, after some time, I say, “The truth is I don’t understand why men or women pay for sex and use another’s body that way. I value people for so much more than their sex organs. I have never made the choice to spend my money that way and I hope you never will.”
“Cool,” he says and heads out to play baseball. Jackpot.