Meet the British Sex Worker Standing as an MP in This Year's General Election
Charlotte Rose is an escort, a "sexual trainer", an organiser of face-sitting protests, and now an independent political candidate.
If you're big into British fisting porn, you may already know the name Charlotte Rose. The award-winning sex worker organised a mass face-sitting demonstration outside Parliament at the end of last year to protest against new laws that banned a whole raft of sex acts from porn produced in the UK. Fisting was one of them, as was female ejaculation, face-sitting, urination and a bunch of other totally harmless things that the government really shouldn't be getting involved in.
Charlotte, 34, hopes to return to Parliament in May, this time as Britain's first sex worker to become an MP. Which would presumably be one of the more interesting second jobs declared in the parliamentary Register of Members' Financial Interests.
I recently spoke to the escort, "sexual trainer", porn law campaigner and now political candidate as she prepared to both launch her general election campaign and lead another anti-porn law protest (this time a mass spanking demonstration in Manchester).
"On the 1st of December, in secret, without debate, and without wider consultation, Parliament pushed through new laws that censor internet porn, clamping down far harder on expressions of women's and LGBT sexuality than on straight men's," Charlotte told me, explaining the reason she's so outraged at the passing of these laws.
"Spanking beyond a gentle level is one of the banned activities – ironic, as we all know what MPs get up to. Face-sitting, too; fisting, female ejaculation and other sexual practices, all going back to a heteronormative stance deemed suitable in the Obscenities Act of 1958. But sexual exploration is a lot more diverse in the 21st century."
The Audiovisual Media Services Regulation 2014 means online porn videos must now stick to the same rules as videos flogged in sex shops. For Charlotte, these laws signal something more sinister than just a sense of anachronistic prudishness; she links them to other attempts at censorship and control of the internet.
"The Government is using porn as one of the first steps to controlling freedom of speech," she said. "It's an attack on personal liberties and sexual freedom, and we will not keep quiet until something is done about it."
Charlotte revealed that she is planning to stand for election in Brighton Pavilion, the constituency held by Britain's only Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas.
Lucas chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution, which last year recommended the criminalisation of sex workers' clients. Charlotte says this Swedish model would actually make life more dangerous for sex workers, as it's secrecy and stigma that she believes most endanger women who share her career.
"Prostitution is not illegal in the UK; soliciting and kerb crawling are," she explained. "But many people don't understand that, so they think that police won't protect sex workers, making them vulnerable."
Charlotte's political manifesto includes decriminalising sex workers who choose to work together in licensed, regulated brothels to make sex work much safer.
"In the New Zealand model, sex workers can get a flat together to feel safer, or work in a co-operative," said Charlotte. "In the past 12 months there's been no murders or sexual assaults reported, so it clearly works."
Charlotte is standing on a sexual freedoms platform, and for the £180-an-hour sex worker, sexual freedoms and family values aren't incompatible, but naturally intertwined. "Sex is the second biggest human drive after survival, and yet it's ignored in politics," she said. "How can you promote family values without talking about sex?"
Fittingly, Charlotte's family are fully backing her campaign, with her teenage son, daughter and parents supporting her every step of the way. "My daughter recently told me she's proud of what I do, standing up for the next generation to be more liberal," she said.
Charlotte became involved in the sex industry at the age of 17. "I grew up in Nottingham with my brother and dad, a self-employed plumber. I matured a lot quicker than average," she recalled.
Out clubbing one night, Charlotte was approached to appear in a photo-shoot, which involved her dressing in leather and posing as a dominatrix. "My first shoot was about eight hours work and I got £400, which was a lot of money back then. By the age of 21 I'd created two BDSM magazines with a friend," she told me.
Charlotte started charging clients for individual domination sessions, but stopped working as a dominatrix after getting serious with her childhood sweetheart and having kids. When their relationship collapsed she left Nottingham for Plymouth University, where she graduated and taught hospitality management. Then, after working in the hotel industry for a while, Charlotte packed it all in to become an escort.
"I was a single mum and was struggling with the hours of hotel work. I really enjoyed sex, so I decided this was better," Charlotte explained. "I can safely say I have always had more job satisfaction than 99 percent of the population. I enjoy meeting different people and exploring different things every day. I do a lot of work with people who are disabled, inexperienced or find it difficult to meet someone to have sex with. Who's to say that someone shouldn't give them that service?"
In 2013, Charlotte won the Sex Worker of the Year accolade at the British Erotic Awards for launching her sexual training business, helping individuals – and occasionally couples – who "might lack sexual confidence, experience and need some help. I've had virgins who are 58 years old come to see me because I am their last resort."
The only downside for Charlotte – who's become one of the UK's best known sex workers through this kind of work – is that she now has to deal with people who "attack sex work as being immoral". After starring in the Channel 4 documentary Love for Sale, her neighbour complained to her landlord and she ended up leaving her home in Devon for London, where she now lives with her daughter.
Does her lifestyle also make it hard to sustain a relationship? "I've been single for six years now," she tells me. "I tend to get two answers: 'no', because of my job; and 'yes', because of my job, which is worse."
However, since Charlotte started campaigning politically, coming last in the Clacton by-election and eleventh out of 13 in the Rochester and Strood by-election last year, she's been on the receiving end of plenty of unusual attention.
"I get two marriage proposals a week, and probably eight cock photos sent to me each week, too. I usually ask them to send me a less blurry picture as I've got so many now that I'm making wallpaper out of them," she laughs.
Charlotte's political track record isn't exactly outstanding, and I'm not certain voters are concerned enough with the rights of sex workers or the laws surrounding British pornography to get that invested in her campaign. However, she promises she'll be out in the streets ahead of the general election and hopes, regardless of how many votes she wins in May, that her campaigning will recalibrate the nation's moral compass. That it will raise awareness that enjoying the full diversity of consensual sexuality is a fundamental civil liberty, and not something to be meddled with by Westminster.
"The popularity and success of 50 Shades of Grey shows that the nation want to know more about sex, fantasy, BDSM and role-play, but are too scared to ask," Charlotte insisted. "Sex is a basic need for all humans, and there's nothing wrong with spicing it up."
Charlotte will be joining those standing up for sexual freedom at a mass caning in Birmingham on the 5th of April, and at a whipping protest in Brighton on the 3rd of May.
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