German social networking site for sex workers to improve safe sex

*Originally posted on USA Today

Written by Jason Overdorf

BERLIN, Germany — Flashbulbs light up for a gay porn star hawking DVDs as Julius Dreyer blithely threads his way through booths touting everything from dildos and depilatory cream to accounting services (“Sex and Tax?”).

Taking part in the world’s largest trade show for “erotic lifestyles” is old hat for this young entrepreneur, who’s been in the adult industry practically as long as he’s been an adult. But his latest venture may be the most controversial here.

GTWS_hookup

As Germany continues to debate the legalization of prostitution a decade ago, Dreyer is promising to make it safer and reduce exploitation. In 2009 he and his two brothers founded Kaufmich.com, a social networking site for sex workers.

They say it will improve the profession by creating a free market for independent prostitutes.

“Our vision is to see sex work an equal and fully accepted part of society,” Dreyer says. “We believe that all kinds of problems arise from sex workers being isolated and judged (by others).”

Slim with tidy, close-cropped hair, Dreyer founded Germany’s most popular hookup site, Poppen.de, before he turned 21.

But the success of his newest site isn’t assured. With free sex apps such as Grindr and Tinder gaining acceptance and brick-and-mortar “swingers’ clubs” practically mainstream here, Kaufmich.com — which translates as “BuyMe.com” — may face an uphill battle.

Although pimping and other related activities remain against the law, prostitution has been legal in Germany since 2002.

This spring, the increasing visibility of large commercial brothels and a perceived if unproven uptick in street prostitution prompted a parliamentary call for a debate on tougher regulations.

The expressed aim of proposed new rules for the industry is to protect sex workers. They include a ban on unlimited “flat-rate sex” offers, mandatory registration for prostitutes and tougher licensing regulations for brothels, which proponents say could improve working conditions and help fight human trafficking.

However, sex workers and their advocates say measures such as the introduction of ID cards for prostitutes would be counterproductive. Critics say they could enable customers to blackmail single mothers frightened of losing their children, for example.

“Until such time that our children can say, ‘My mother is a sex worker,’ without anybody in kindergarten class batting an eye, many of us believe the best protection lies in anonymity,” the Trade Association of Erotic and Sexual Services said in a statement about the proposed regulations.

With 250,000 active members logging in every week, nearly a million page views and more than 100,000 messages sent between users each day, Kaufmich.com offers an alternative to tougher regulations, Dreyer says.

“We can’t say how many actual dates result from this, but I have to assume it’s in the thousands,” he says.

The company earns its revenue from membership fees and online advertisements, not facilitating transactions.

The prostitution portal ranks among Germany’s top 200 websites and the top 10 of adult sites.

Like an X-rated Facebook-meets-eBay, it offers sex workers direct access to thousands of customers, which makes operating independently from brothel owners or an illegal pimping service more financially viable, says a sex worker called Undine de Riviere.

“I know other providers who get the majority of their business from (Kaufmich),” she said in an email.

Other features promise to make potentially dangerous interactions safer.

Sex workers and customers can identify themselves as “safe-sex only” users, which has reduced an industry-wide problem of condomless oral sex, according to online feedback.

More than half of Kaufmich’s users have opted for the safe sex badge.

An eBay-style ratings system also rewards cleanliness and better customer service.

Prostitutes can rate their customers, helping create virtual identities with histories that promise to reduce the risk of meeting strangers for sex while retaining the anonymity that’s essential to the business.

Sex workers can even blacklist customers.

“We want to bring a level of safety and transparency into this whole thing,” Dreyer says. “When you post an ad on Craigslist, you don’t really know who the guy is you’re going to meet. That’s a little scary.”

Although it’s essentially a marketing tool, the website also complements the work of Germany’s nascent sex worker unions by hosting an online venue for prostitutes to discuss concerns such as taxation that may not receive mainstream media attention, Dreyer says.

The fact that the site makes its users money makes it especially attractive, said de Riviere, who is also a spokeswoman for Germany’s recently formed Trade Association of Erotic and Sexual Services.

“You reach a lot of sex workers that way who aren’t politically interested much or wouldn’t attend actual physical meetups,” she said.

In a country where Amazon and Uber are embroiled in union disputes, that could well make an online marketplace for sex Germany’s most labor-friendly website.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

Sparking Conversations on Sexuality at CatalystCon East

This weekend I returned to CatalystCon for the second time – this one took place in Washington D.C./Arlington, VA. From the first evening reception to the closing keynote speech, delivered by Robert Lawrence and Carol Queen, everything was just as amazing as it was last year – maybe even more so now that I have come to know what to expect.

The conference began with a lively warm-up and social lubrication by Maria Falzone and shortly afterward, it was time for the opening keynote plenary, moderated by Tristan Taormino. I was one of the speakers, along with Dr. Mireille Miller-Young, Dr. Hernando Chaves, and Ducky Dolittle. Tristan came up with some interesting questions to get us started, and we spoke of what inspired us, the recent things we have done exemplifying our missions and commitment to change, and so much more. After we spoke, we took questions and comments from the audience, and we could tell everyone was motivated and ready for the next two days.

How can I possibly describe what came afterward? If I condensed my explanation, I’d say two days of brain-stimulating conversations, panels, introductions, and non-stop communication between sex-positive people from many walks of life. I attended panels on Sex Workers and Disability, Sex from the Trans Perspective, Polyamory, and Feminist Porn… and soaked it all in. I tried to go to completely different panels than I did at CatalystCon West, to get myself out of my familiar zone, and instead into realms where I don’t have much experience. Feminist Porn was the most crowded panel I attended, and I spent the entire time crouched down on the floor in the back of the room, shoulder to shoulder with everyone else. The aisles were full as we listened in awe to Constance Penley, Tristan Taormino, Dylan Ryan, and Sinnamon Love. Having just finished the Feminist Porn Book on the flight from LAX to DC, I was excited to hear more from these women. They did NOT disappoint. Each discussed their contributions to the book followed by an intense Q and A session lasting until the next panel came into the room.

I spoke on other panels as well – one on Measure B where I discussed the reality of the “condoms in porn” law with Tristan Taormino and Michael Fatterosi. Originally, when I was pitched the notion of this panel, I didn’t think that people would still be so concerned, or even consider it relevant. I was wrong. The audience intuitively understands it is much more than latex on film, it is a violation of our sexual rights as human beings and could echo repercussions far into the future, and far into our bedrooms.

The other panel I spoke on was Slut Shaming in a Sex Positive Community. Initially, we wondered about the interest in this topic, which isn’t frequently discussed, but it was nearly as packed as the Feminist Porn Panel.  In my background I have experienced Slut Shaming over the years in different degrees, but to hear it from everyone on the panel: Serpent, Femcar, Carol Queen, and Crysta Heart was comforting and reassuring. We opened up the discussion to audience questions and comments, and in that instant, started something that could have gone on for hours. We provoked thoughts; we started open dialogue; we may have even inadvertently started a disagreement/fight. I think it is a panel that must be repeated.

And the evening entertainment!
I went to Girl Gasms by Ducky Doolittle – Take it Like a Man with Charlie Glickman, and then surrendered my “Dirty Bingo” Virginity to Ducky loving every second up until the time I went to bed, knowing I had panels the next day.

I was also a guest on Tristan Taormino’s radio show, “Sex Out Loud,” and had an amazing conversation with one of my all-time inspirations. We also had a studio audience as we recorded, something I’m not used to with my show, but I actually really enjoyed. It was agreed we needed a part two to our discussion, and she may be on my show in the future.

One of the highlights of the weekend was getting #ccon trending on Twitter. Not only did CatalystCon have a hash tag, but each panel had an individual hash tag as well, so people who were unable to make the trip were still able to take part by following along as some of the panels were being live-tweeted by the audiences.

Again, I’m so honored to have been included in CatalystCon East, and even more honored to be included in such an amazing group of people onstage for the opening keynote speech. My sincere thanks goes out to the founder and organizer Dee Dennis, who took a risk having me appear last year, but did it anyway, and also to the notorious Girl Gang & The Evil Sluts who, along with Dee, are truly the glue collectively helping hold CatalystCon together. They also owe me some Nutella.

xo,
jd