John Whittingdale
John Whittingdale enjoyed a six-month relationship with a sex workerStefan Wermuth/ Reuters

It has been revealed that the culture secretary, John Whittingdale, once had a relationship with a woman he'd met on the online dating website match.com. They enjoyed a six-month courtship, until he found out what she did for a living – at which point he, allegedly, broke off the 'embarrassing' relationship.

The women he was dating was reportedly a sex worker, and regardless of the fact they were involved in a consenting adult relationship, which they were both enjoying, he stopped seeing her when someone threatened to sell the story. He later claimed he was totally unaware that she worked as a professional dominatrix.

Needless to say, the story has had the British public throwing their arms up in horror – another politician caught up in a sex scandal! Someone who is supposed to be an upstanding member of society, involving himself with a lady of the night!

If there is one thing that can guarantee a reaction on our small island, it's a middle-aged politician unable to resist the charms of 'Miss Whiplash'. But why should he? Whittingdale was a single man entitled to do exactly as he pleased in his own time – his 'scandalous' relationship had no impact on his job or professional position, it happened before he even became a minister. He did not pay her for sex, or, according to him, even know what she did for a living (though I personally find that hard to believe, that must have been a very well-concealed sex dungeon). He was simply having a relationship with a woman he enjoyed the company of.

Sure, it's not a standard job and, even by French standards, the culture secretary openly dating a sex worker might be a little too much for even the most open-minded amongst us to digest. However, the disdain and criticism we heap upon those who choose to work within the sex industry seems disproportionate to the act itself.

Because, assuming she chose the job herself rather than being forced into it, and made a living from it without hurting anyone (who hadn't paid for it), where is the harm? And, moreover, why shouldn't anyone be able to pay for a legal service provided to them by a consenting adult without being judged or ousted from society?

That Wittingdale labelled their relationship as an embarrassment says more about his strength of character, or lack of it, than the fact he enjoyed the company of a sex worker. If there is any respect to be lost, it's not because he had a brief relationship with someone who society doesn't deem acceptable, but that he felt the need to end the relationship – and, of course, those trying to sell the story to tabloid newspapers and put pressure on another's private life.

There is further complication to the story, in that four newspapers knew about Whittingdale's relationship but decided against publishing the story, as it was 'not in the public interest'. Newsnight ran the story this week, but both the BBC and lobbyist group Hacked Off have been criticised for wanting to expose a story about a man's private life. Labour has since called for Whittingdale to resign.

If 50 Shades of Grey taught us anything, it's that the 100 million copies sold worldwide and $500m made on the movie proves the general public do not mind a bit of kink.

We should stop judging consenting women who work in the sex industry so harshly, and realise that unless it affects their job, who a person chooses to have sex with really doesn't matter.


Katy Horwood is the founder of award-winning sex and relationships blog www.all-sweetness-and-life.com