The Intimate House: A Speculative Proposal to Coronavirus’ ‘Touch Crisis’
A team of young creatives have created a speculative design proposal responding to the ‘touch crisis’ created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Inspired by the themes of isolation and loneliness, as well as the more functional possibilities of the home space, the project is a reflection on how industries on the periphery of society may be forced to adapt.
“The pandemic has forced us to think about how and who we touch more than ever before. For most of us it’s been more than six months since we shook hands or hugged a friend. In every human interaction we have outside our homes, we are now forced to focus on keeping our distance from other people leading to a much-felt ‘touch crisis’. While the rest of the world has adapted to screens and zoom fatigue that comes with it, we wonder what happens to an industry that thrives on touch.“The Intimate House
The result is The Intimate House, a project which reimagines the homes of sex workers as safe working spaces. the sex industry has always been shrouded in taboo and discrimination, but the pandemic has only worsened the conditions faced by those working in the industry.
With the government failing in its ability to efficiently execute policies to aid the sex industry, the creatives behind The Intimate House – Aarushi Kalra (Creative Director at I’mX), Emily Foster, Rashmi Bidasaria, and Sam Lyons – present an exploration of the “possibility of immediate respite by creating a space that allows a sex worker to transform their homes into their workspace, as an exciting experience that is in tandem with the health and safety guidelines set in place during and post-pandemic.”
The team also wanted to use the opportunity to create a dialogue between sexuality, art, and architectural space. Indicating how “a persistent taboo masks any erotic connotation” in the design sphere, the creatives behind The Intimate House highlight how sexual themes are rarely dealt with in a direct manner of depiction without being labelled ‘vulgar’ or ‘inappropriate’.
“We believe that the sensual is always present in design. Through this ‘intimate house’, we also explore the secret life of design objects, lighting and spaces, and bring to life their erotic charge.“The Intimate House
Sex Work in the UK
The Guardian reported in January 2021 that sex workers were experiencing higher levels of violence and hardship than ever, with many women returning to sex work or taking it up for the first time during the pandemic. Safer Wales, who run the StreetLife project to support sex workers in the UK, reported a 69% rise in their dealings with women since the start of the pandemic alone.
The desperation for employment has left many feeling like they have run out of options for work, but sex workers have noticeably received a lot less support than others. Many sex workers are not registered as self-employed due to some of the legal restrictions surround sex work (pimping, running a brothel, and soliciting in a public place are all illegal in the UK). The stigma around sex work has made it even more difficult to find stability, leaving many unable to access bank accounts and document their transactions – meaning the majority of sex workers have not received any financial support like Universal Credit or furlough payments.
The pandemic has also seen a lot less people actively seek out sex work. With lockdown making interaction with people outside your household illegal, the demand for sex work drastically declined. Consequently, sex workers were no longer able to pick and choose clients, often taking bigger risks in their services and lowering their prices to fight off competition.
But this has only enabled clients to take advantage of sex workers. The dangers of continuing sex work in an environment where touch was essentially illegal meant that many sex workers became less inclined to go to the police over abusive clients, in fear that they too could face a fine or conviction.
The threat of abusive and violent clients is more severe than ever, especially following Brexit. According to Prostitutes Collective, the majority of sex workers in the UK Eastern and Western European. Many have reported an increase in violence, xenophobia, and threats of deportation in the years since the UK announced its exit from the EU. It’s clear that it has only become tricker to seek help and work safely.
Another massive concern has been Coronavirus itself, as Sarah Johnson from the Guardian notes:
“Sex workers have had to make decisions over whether to continue working and possibly risk their health or safety, or lose all income. Hundreds have contacted charities and support organisations asking for emergency food vouchers.“Sarah Johnson, The Guardian
The Conversation also indicated how, in the UK, the most in-demand sex workers are typically aged between eighteen and thirty-six. This puts many sex workers right at the bottom of the queue for the vaccine, and therefore at an increased risk of contracting Coivd-19 while working.
The UK Government has been increasingly called out for their lack of support for sex workers, and with the issues outlined already it’s not hard to see why. Many sources of help for sex workers – sexual health clinics, drug and alcohol services, and mental health and domestic abuse support groups – stopped or moved online during lockdown, and are now typically booked up for weeks or months.
The question is clear: what can be done to help and better support those in the sex work industry?
The Intimate House
Following this brief, the creatives behind The Intimate House present a narrative wherein a client embarks on a physical journey towards climactic pleasure, as the environment of the sex worker’s home is used to facilitate sexual tension. The client is able to partake in the sex worker’s trade while maintaining Covid-appropriate safety precautions, as well as enable the sex worker to hold control of the situation in a professional capacity.
“This house is an immersive adult playground that tantalizes and titillates, enticing visitors to interact with the various spatial experiences and connecting with various phases of human sexuality in a safe, indirect touch-oriented environment.“The Intimate House
Setting the scene, The Intimate House is envisioned as a Soho walk-up apartment in the red-light district of London. The journey through the apartment is split into different sections representation of the phases of sex, building up from intrigue, to foreplay, to the final climax.
The Romantic is phase one of the experience, taking place in a “cozy niche under the staircase”. The setting highlights the early stages of the sexual encounter through a ‘Romeo and Juliet moment’, playing on the narrative of intrigue and attraction.
The Raunchy signals the next phase, where the staircase leading up to the sex worker’s apartment is laced with shadows that “seduce one’s fantasies”.
The Sinful launches the client into the foreplay phase, as “a space for bondage and teasing between drapery that plays with perception”.
The Up Close marks the final phase of the experience. The area is split into two sections: a no-touch bedroom and ‘The Ring’. In the bedroom, “one can lie on a fabric layer on the custom poster bed whilst the other lies on the hanging amorphous fabric above”, creating a power play that plays into the sexual dialogue between the space and its inhabitants. The couple eventually reach their climax as they move to ‘The Ring’, where the space mirrors the penetrative act of sex and the final moments of the encounter.
The space was designed with the intention of being in-tune with the events intended to take place, supplying innuendo to emphasise sexual tension while being mindful of the act of touching. The team explained how: “Homeworking for a sex worker inspired us to re-look at the furniture commonly found in a house and to tweak them such that it transforms into a house that is as much a liveable and a visual pleasure as it is a sexual one.”
The Intimate House is still in its proposal stage but team member Aarushi Kalra has indicated their wish to expand the project beyond its conceptual beginnings. The team hope to eventually take The Intimate House to exhibitions and physical installations:
“Going forward, we shall escalate our proposal from the micro to the macro with a salacious vision of a pandemic-aware Red Light District.“The Intimate House
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