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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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35 Responses

  1. Charlie
    Charlie April 20, 2012 at 3:47 pm |

    While I think Audacia’s post has a lot of really great points, I also believe that sex-positivity has a lot to offer the sex workers’ rights movement.

    Specifically, practicing sex-positivity has taught me that expecting other people to have the same motivations and experiences as I do is arrogant. I think that suggests that sex-positivity has much to offer an analysis of sex work because an audience that is able to take that perspective will be more able to examine the labor issues of sex work without letting their personal judgments about sex take over.

    I also think it’s important to distinguish between enthusiasm for sex and sex-positivity. IMO, sex-positivity isn’t the belief that “the pursuit of pleasure is good”, but rather, the idea that the consent, pleasure, and well-being of the participants and the people affected by it are the only relevant criteria by which to assess a sexual experience, act, or practice. You can most certainly approach sex from that angle without being enthusiastic about sex or enjoying sex.

  2. Jamie
    Jamie April 20, 2012 at 7:36 pm |

    Oh my, oh my, oh my.

    I’m not going to leap into right now – I’m supposed to be working – but I will just quickly share my own experience with this:

    I’m one of ‘those’ sex workers, the kind that wants to do it, and for the record, yup I am white and cisgendered. And I do understand the amount of privilege that packs.

    I’m also a part of a local feminist contingent – I work on a sexual assault crisis line – and during the training, we had a seminar on sex work that dealt, well, pretty much with this. Lemme tell you, I was far from vocal. In fact, even when I disclosed to the group my profession, I was still told I didn’t exist. Suffice to say it’s not a very comfortable environment for me anymore.

    I can only speak for myself, but all I’ll ever ask for is a language check. What I do is not survival sex work, it’s something very very different that I can do because of my privilege, but waitressing is also something I did for years because of my privilege and no one wrote an article about that. Survival sex work and sex positive sex work are so far apart, the fact that trying to shove them in the same article / law / analysis causes a shit storm should be of no surprise to anyone.

  3. April
    April April 20, 2012 at 11:16 pm |

    I second what Jamie says. I know it’s a nuanced topic, but the way I see it is that we already have a name for sex that is either non-consensual and/or done because one feels they have no other choice: rape. Whether or not it involves money does not change that definition, it only potentially adds to the complexity and intersectionality of the situation. I think it is unwise to treat advocacy for sex workers who are in the industry because they have no other options the same way we treat advocacy for those who want to do the work, regardless of other available options for making money.

  4. Alexandra
    Alexandra April 21, 2012 at 3:04 am |

    But you can’t separate them. That’s the point. The divide is not simply between the highly-privileged, totally-willing, sex-positive feminist sex workers and indigent, drug-addicted, coerced, trafficked streetwalkers. There’s a whole lot in between; if you wanted to have a separate discourse for each layer you’d end up with dozens of different conversations and advocacy groups. When you’re talking about organizing to effect political or social change, you need strength in numbers.

    So the question is, what common ground do those at the top and those at the bottom have? And what about those in the middle – people (I’m not going to say women because it really isn’t just women) people who have chosen to do sex work, to do prostitution, because they’re low-skilled workers and if they have to do demoralizing, dehumanizing work they’d rather be well-payed for it, even if it comes at a severe physical cost, even if it means compromising their safety and the regard of their family, friends, significant others? For people who do not have the luck to be surrounded by a warm, sex-positive feminist community, the risks of sex work aren’t just from the johns, pimps, madams – it’s also rejection from the community at large should their profession come to light.

    In the last major conversation about prostitution on this blog, I told my personal story; I’m not going to rehash it. I’ll simply say this – I’m not so blinkered and narrow-minded that I’m going to argue that women who say they enjoy sex-work are deluded and brainwashed etc. I take them at their word. I also happen to believe that sex work is inextricably tied to patriarchy and misogyny, and that believing that sex can be commodified is inherently problematic.

    BUT.

    That still doesn’t mean that people on the top, middle and bottom of the sex worker food chain don’t have common interests around which they can organize, even if there are fundamental disagreements about the nature and value of sex work in society. What are those interests? Safety – safety from cops, safety from johns, safety from stigma in the community and in their families. Access to judgment-free birth control and healthcare. Protection from coercion and trafficking at the hands of pimps. At the minimum. There’s more. I believe in the incredible creativity and strength of women who organize for the betterment of their condition. I am an idealist. I believe that human beings are in fact capable of overcoming their differences – differences of privilege, philosophy, race, nationality – to effect change. I am an idealist who is pragmatic enough to compromise.

    I think I’m going to buy this book.

  5. matlun
    matlun April 21, 2012 at 3:56 am |

    I am not sure that I find the article convincing. Her central argument seems to be

    To continue making the statement that many sex workers have a good experience of the sex industry without also including those whose experiences are negative and making space for them to speak up reveals a deep doubt about the validity of the sex positive argument.

    But is she really pointing to a marginalized and ignored perspective here? Those whose experiences are negative will find no problems with being recognized by society since theirs is still very much the mainstream narrative.

  6. Sarah
    Sarah April 21, 2012 at 5:42 am |

    I completely agree with Audacia Ray’s article. To cite one example…the attitude she talks about formed the “intellectual” underpinning for a Freakonomics article, which compared a highly paid escort to a poorly paid (and frequently assaulted) woman working the streets. The ultimate conclusion of the Freakonomics article was that the woman working the streets was doing well as well economically because she didn’t like sex or men as much as the escort.

    People have occasionally mentioned on Feministe how the manner in which sex-positivity is discussed and promoted (and even the name) can “prude-shame” people who are not sexually active, who are suffering from culturally-imposed sexual inhibitions or have PTSD or SSTD from sexual trauma, who are asexual, and so forth.

    OF COURSE that is also going to affect sex workers. Women who engage in survival sex, or choose prostitution or other sex work primarily because of financial need, should not feel that they are simply interpreting their experiences incorrectly, or feel like somebody with a “healthy” sexuality would enjoy prostitution (and while I’ve never seen anybody say that explicitly, I can see how Ray would think people would get that impression from reading sex-positive literature discussing sex work).

    Sex positivity requires we accept that, if it is financially coerced and not freely chosen, sex work is not like any other job. No one should be pressured into sexually engaging with someone if they don’t want to, and for me that’s the most meaningful distinction between somebody engaging in sex work and somebody being sexually exploited – a sex worker knows s/he/ze can say no at any time, to any client, for any reason. Somebody doing survival sex does not have a meaningful option to say no.

    And Audacia Ray is also correct that the sex-positive movement does tend to seriously downplay the role of coercion and trafficking in the sex industry. While discussions about trafficking are not relevant to the experiences of sex workers, issues surrounding trafficking are relevant when discussing things like the legality/decriminalization of prostitution and johns.

    The chasm between the experiences of sex workers and trafficking victims is wide, but would-be clients have few ways to distinguish the difference (and in some cases they have no ways whatsoever). Similarly, law enforcement targeting sex trafficking can’t often distinguish between voluntary sex work and coerced prostitution except in the most obvious cases of coercion. What does it mean for sex workers that trafficking exists, and how can we empower sex workers and free trafficking victims? But that very important question is all-too-rarely raised, out of concerns about how the specter of sex trafficking affects sex workers in the public perception. I’ve actually seen comments in Feministe threads which claim that sex trafficking statistics are deliberately inflated and that sex trafficking is a very rare phenomenon, which is very silencing to the realities of the many, many sex trafficking victims out there. Sex-positivity requires we be DEEPLY concerned about the existence of sex trafficking, not that we hand-wave it away.

    I’m glad that Audacia Ray brought these issues up in such a thorough and thoughtful way.

  7. rox
    rox April 21, 2012 at 12:09 pm |

    “sex workers who are in the industry because they have no other options the same way we treat advocacy for those who want to do the work”

    The problem is that I’m not sure this is as distinct as people want it to be. I personally have dealt with what could be called “histrionic personality disorder”– basically the fact that I was unable to function and happen to have a very giddy outgoing personality lead me to be easily consumed by interested males who were offering attention I could not get at home.

    The definition of “want” vs “not want” is way more complex that black and white. I wanted to be wanted and valued. I was excited that someone thought I was special when my parents thought I was really bad and choosing to be bad and until I fixed my badness I would never make it in the world (which was my own fault. BAD!)

    I can’t manage time or be on time for work easily. I space out and sit there for long periods and can’t function. I have had problems with thyroid dysfunction (graves disease), seizures, various delerious states of consciousness, states of not being coherant or having working memory or ability to process events right in front of me.

    These are all debilitating conditions and in reality they are more mild then they sound. I can manage them other than that I can’t be at work on time or function optimally at work. I also can’t find people who want to be friend without demanding that if I just did XYZ I would be better. I have done XYZ. I have done ABC. I have done just about every letter in the alphabet including medication, therapy, EEG’s, brain scand (I do not have brain lesions, YAY!)

    Men who want sex are more willing to interact with me. Am I grateful for the interaction? Yes. Do I want to have anal sex in order for someone to agree to regularly hang out with me and be in the same room with me and talk to me? No. Are there times when the isolation of not having anyone willing to really be a close friend and spend ongoing amounts of time with me make it feel worth it to have degrading sex in order to have attention, be seen, feel like I have something positive to offer? Yes. Am I sexual being that actually wants to share sexual experiences somewhere within that as well? Yes.

    I just don’t see “wants to be in sex work” vs “under durress to be in sex work due to complicated circumstance” as a clear black and white condition. And what’s more while I do not judge myself for choosing to be with men that required me to do sex acts I did not want to do in exchange for emotional support/physical proximity/”friendship” etc– I can say that it was extremly damaging to my emotional well being to participate that way and the men I was with knew that. The reality is, for some of us no one wants to be around us or provide real needs for us (and no we do NOT have the infrastructure to support people with needs like this)– and offering sex can inspire people to be willing.

    And it’s very easy to lose yourself and not even know what sort of sex you actually want to have vs what kind of sex you don’t mind having to get other needs met. And the kind of men who tend to negotiate these relationships? They tend to be older, to understand these confusing feelings better than the younger and more burdened other person and the imbalance is really very cruel. And once you’ve gotten all funked up with these issues, I think making a clear decision about how sex work will affect you IS really hard.

    While people love to throw out “Trust women’s agency to make decisions” it’s not about the fact that women are less capable than men. It’s about the fact that women face very real issues relating to their sexuality and worth and how they interact that are often very unique to women. (Any man who goes through the same thing deserves the same sorts of supports though.) We don’t tend to trust people’s agency to consume large amounts of mercury in food when they are starving and that’s the only food available. We deliberately require that food producers refrain from using dangerous ingrediants because hunger is stronger than will power and if there were nothing but gas stations around you that served up toxic metal filled food- people would eat it. And it would not be their fault how they were harmed by that, and yelling “respect people’s agency to decide for themselves if they want toxic nastiness!” would be missing the entire point of the issue.

  8. rox
    rox April 21, 2012 at 1:58 pm |

    BTW I do actually think there are exchanges that involve money/emotional resources for sexual involvement that are based in respect and desire to mutually benefit each other. Money exchanging hands, or a power imbalance being present is not what makes it callous and cold or not. It’s just a dynamic that easily lends itself to treating people in very meaningless ways during an act that most humans (and yes in my experience more often females) associate with deep emotional connections. I find the whole thing problematic and it DOES affect me because when I was being abused I believed all kinds of weird things about what I did or didn’t deserve, and what I did or didn’t enjoy, or how I felt about being treated as meaningless in relation to sex.

    I could have easily wound up sex work and had offers and fortunately I found family willing to help support me or else I would have potentially wound up taking those offers. All the people I have known who have done sex work were in similar places as me and had a lot to work through. And I am thankful for this article because I think it addresses the women who face these kinds of issues and reasons for being in sex work.

  9. the_leanover
    the_leanover April 21, 2012 at 5:11 pm |

    Good article, and also a nod of agreement with Alexandra’s, Sarah’s and rox’s posts. I’ve always felt deeply uncomfortable with both of the more vocal sides of the sex work debate, so I’m always glad to find people engaging with it in a more nuanced way than we’re used to seeing. I’m not usually one for gentle compromise or the wishy-washy ‘middle ground’, but in this particular issue I can’t help but feel I’d love to see a more vocal middle ground emerge where we don’t have to insist on absolutism about the principles of sex-positivism or anti-prostitution (both of which, I believe, are restrictive narratives that come at the expense of erasing huge worlds of experience and political reality).

  10. Nia
    Nia April 21, 2012 at 7:47 pm |

    As one of those sex workers who has enjoyed some aspects of my job, but got in it for the money and mostly stay in it for the money, it’s nice to see an article advocating an emphasis on “work”, not “sex”.

    For me, it’s a workers rights movement, primarily. That’s why a lot of what I see in the academy frustrates me, and the conflation between sex work and slavery bothers me. It’s my job. That’s it. There’s things I like a lot, and things I’ve hated. Lots of people like some things about their job and hate others.

    Personally I don’t feel silenced by the “sex positivity” movement, but I understand how it could be intimidating for some. Mostly my feeling is just frustration that the workers rights aspect of things sometimes gets silenced in the face of the “sex” aspect of things. I mean, I’ve done some “edgy” porn work, and some work that has incidentally expanded the boundaries of BDSM porn and all that, and that was cool don’t get me wrong, but listen, at the end of the day, would I have done it without that check? Probably not.

    I don’t think that makes my experience less, or makes me a tortured victim. But when it comes to sex workers rights, I kinda care less about orgasms than being safe and getting paid. All I’m sayin’.

  11. Anon21
    Anon21 April 22, 2012 at 12:51 am |

    the_leanover/9: I completely agree. I don’t fully trust anyone who has not themselves been part of the sex industry and yet is 100% sure that they have The Solution to the issue. I think the baseline that all feminists should be able to agree on is that enforcement efforts (if there are to be enforcement efforts) should never be targeted at prostitutes themselves. As to the rest, I think the wisest stance is simply to be willing to listen to the experiences of the people directly affected. I would hope that a greater willingness to listen could lead us towards some kinds of policy responses that achieve major harm reduction, but I don’t know what those policy responses should look like.

  12. Azalea
    Azalea April 22, 2012 at 10:34 am |

    Why is it so hard for people to accept that not everyone will feel degraded by the same things? Sex work is not degrading for all sex workers that doesnt mean it isnt degrading for those who say it is. Telling someone they SHOULD feel degraded or shaming them for being vocal about not being degraded is awful. Sex workers need rights they dont need to be told how horrible the work they do is for THEM if they dont feel that way.

  13. the_leanover
    the_leanover April 22, 2012 at 12:10 pm |

    Anon21: absolutely, but I also think the point made in the article is an important and difficult one: that both sides of the debate do, to varying extents, listen to the people affected, but on each side specific kinds of voices and experiences dominate the discourse (happy hookers or exploited victims) at the expense of any dissenting voices. When the reality of experience is surely much more diverse and complex and also really difficult to meaningfully quantify in terms of either ‘choice’ or ‘harm’ (which both sides like to use as if they’re completely self-evident and measurable terms). This is why it can seem so hard to reach any common ground, I suppose; it’s easy to advocate ‘listening to sex workers’, but it’s also very easy to privilege the voices of sex workers who fit your ideological narrative (because happy hookers and exploited victims both exist!) – whether that’s the narrative that sex work is always going to be inherently misogynist and exploitative, or the narrative that sex work is exactly the same as any other job and there are no ethical issues with commodifying sex. I have difficulty fully accepting either of those stances, but as you say I certainly can’t claim to have any kind of ‘solution’ of my own…

  14. piny
    piny April 22, 2012 at 12:48 pm |

    “sex workers who are in the industry because they have no other options the same way we treat advocacy for those who want to do the work”

    I think this is a bad idea from a labor perspective and a human rights perspective. When I think of other jobs wherein workers are supposed to work for fulfillment primarily, I come up with a lot of professions that are underpaid, unprotected, exploited, and denigrated. I can’t imagine sex work would be less vulnerable to those problems.

    I think that for most of us, work isn’t voluntary; even a job you love is a job, and women who do sex work voluntarily also deserve protection from exploitation and abuse.

  15. rox
    rox April 22, 2012 at 1:24 pm |

    I think the hard thing is where women who thought they were ok with it and later realized they felt harmed by it fit into the discussion. If we put all the blame for that on the woman “You should have known how it would affect you!” that is really not very empowering.

    No one should be told they SHOULD feel degraded by sex work. Ever. But where is the space for a woman who thought she could handle it to say “You know I thought I was ok with this and as I learned more about myself I found that there was a lot of damage that can’t be easily undone from my participation in this.”

    I think it’s understandable that women who worked in sex work and later felt that the experience had very large negative affects on them– to want to let women know that is potentially possible for them to think they are ok with it and later realize they felt really harmed. It’s also valid to let women know that many women participate in it and look back and feel like what they gained was worth it and they had a lot of good/negative/nuetral memories from it like any job but were glad for the work and wouldn’t change their participation in sex work.

    You can’t really know who you will be until much later, and that is the difficult thing about educating women about what it means to choose sex work. And as feminism really SHOULD care about giving women information about how different kinds of women may be affected by their sexual and work choices (not the same as controlling women’s choices)– the full spectrum of possible outcomes should be available– and not squashed.

    The way work affects us— any kind of work– should be information available to human beings. I really liked a comment I read somewhere else about how the best way to do this for sex work is to do the same for all industries. Keep track of mental and emotional affects, future well being, how future careers and relationships and health and quality of life may be affected– and value both giving people that information and trying to make industry specific changes to improve human health and well being in the work place and after their participation in it.
    Improving human options to jobs that are healthy for them, pay a living wage, and match their skill sets and do not cause negative affects to their health is part of this as well.

  16. Amanda
    Amanda April 22, 2012 at 4:01 pm |

    I’m a sex worker and am thrilled to see this great discussion at Feministe.

    However, my response to sex-positivity is to instead discuss WORK-positivity. There is a huge and important difference to all sex workers. (My post on this here: http://www.texasgoldengirl.com/afterhours/sex-work-positive/) Work-positivity is part of current debate going on over at the NYTimes.

  17. Jamie
    Jamie April 22, 2012 at 9:53 pm |

    It can’t be stressed enough that marginalized women are forced into survival sex work, while privileged women can choose whether or not to sell sex for a living, and so tend to be the happy hookers we’ve talked about.

    That’s why I see criminalizing sex work as a band-aid solution. If the systems of oppression that marginalize women in the first place got better – or if there were better support systems in place to help women facing barriers and considering survival sex work – sex work wouldn’t be a last resort, and you could be pretty sure that those still doing it were doing it from free will. This shit all sounds pretty divide-and-conquer to me.

  18. Athenia
    Athenia April 23, 2012 at 9:11 am |

    As one of those sex workers who has enjoyed some aspects of my job, but got in it for the money and mostly stay in it for the money, it’s nice to see an article advocating an emphasis on “work”, not “sex”.

    I agree! But I also think only focusing on the “work” part is limiting as well. Abuses in the sex industry aren’t going to magically going to go away if we change labor laws. As long as our societies–and men–value vulnerable labor, I’m not sure how we can fix it with laws (besides decriminalization).

    I mean, in some cases, people are cool with children not working, but how will this be solved in the sex “industry” where children are specifically sought out?

  19. EG
    EG April 23, 2012 at 10:30 am |

    I’m not sure how child labor enters into it; that’s statutory rape/child pornography regardless of labor laws, and with respect to labor, wouldn’t it be handled the same way child labor was handled with respect to mining and chimney sweeping, where it was in demand because children were small enough to fit into crevices that adults couldn’t get into? There are very few areas in which child labor is considered acceptable; acting is one, but I can’t think of any others off the top of my head.

    I may be–and probably am–misunderstanding. Maybe you would elaborate? I’d appreciate it.

  20. Jennifer Green
    Jennifer Green April 23, 2012 at 1:27 pm |

    I’m a little confused about the issue here sometimes being framed as about sex-positive sex work universally affecting “people” — as if the overwhelmingly majority of workers globally (including the sex tourism “industry” in some countries) are not women and girl childen. Yes, certainly, any boys and any men in the sex-worker field deserve human dignity and receiving respect and civil rights as human beings just as any women and girls do. However, the reality behind the closed doors of sex-worker liaisons (call them assignments if worker-chosen) is that vast numbers of girls and women (as well as a relatively smaller number of boys and men) are hurt physically and emotionally by what happens. Sex work is not like typing or selling cars. Too much of the time it is like rape with a bonus of payment at the end (and sometimes, as recent Secret Service, etc., scandals reflect, the ‘client’ shorts the ‘worker’ much as employers using illegal immigrants often fail to pay for their work and as many mainstream corporations are now also asking and implicitly requiring, informally of course, their workers to work off the clock).

    These are not times — economically and politically speaking in the mainstream where CEOs are skimming millions of dollars off the top in personal salaries from mainline businesses — that we can realistically expect sex workers to receive their due in basic human respect and dignity from mainstream culture or male-led governments. That is not to say that our hearts do not go out, or that we do not extend our concern foreverybody in what has been called by mainstream media the sex-work “industry.” Even the sanitized language about this industry makes me sad, because it is mainly women and girls (some trafficked into it) who are being required (or sometimes initiate choosing) to perform the “work.” There’s a point that seems to get overlooked when orgasms are discussed, but when men rape and impregnate their female victims, obviously the rapists had an orgasm so not all orgasms are necessarily “positive,” are they? This topic presents a multi-layered concern where our basic foundation of agreement can be that the people involved in providing the sex-worker services are valuable, worthwhile human beings we would be honored to befriend. My love to all.

  21. Athenia
    Athenia April 23, 2012 at 2:56 pm |

    I’m not sure how child labor enters into it; that’s statutory rape/child pornography regardless of labor laws, and with respect to labor, wouldn’t it be handled the same way child labor was handled with respect to mining and chimney sweeping, where it was in demand because children were small enough to fit into crevices that adults couldn’t get into? There are very few areas in which child labor is considered acceptable; acting is one, but I can’t think of any others off the top of my head.

    Child labor is still used around the globe–there was just an article about child servants being abused in India recently in the NYT. There was also an article highlighting how children are sex trafficked in the US. I know one of the ways that we can lessen abuses is to give marginalized sex workers other choices; but I’m just not sure how we can solve for this message that we tell men that “having sex with” with a kid is a score for their masculinity. I mean, obviously, we all need to work hard to work to fight sexism, rape culture etc.

    I hope I’m not derailing. It just seems that there might be a third thing to consider–not just the work aspect or the sex positive aspect, but well, sexism? patriarchy? Because paying to “have sex with” with a kid doesn’t have anything to do with work or sex positivity. Or maybe it does? Sorry, I’m not sure if I’m explaining clearly.

  22. D
    D April 23, 2012 at 3:22 pm |

    “It can’t be stressed enough that marginalized women are forced into survival sex work, while privileged women can choose whether or not to sell sex for a living, and so tend to be the happy hookers we’ve talked about. ”

    also:
    20
    Jennifer Green

    (this)

    but this still most often a privilege conversation.
    glad its happening though…..

  23. Charlie
    Charlie April 23, 2012 at 3:41 pm |

    Because paying to “have sex with” with a kid doesn’t have anything to do with work or sex positivity.

    Without wanting to derail, I think this is an important facet of this. IMO, a sex-positive response to the question of children and sex work is that, by definition, children can’t give meaningful consent (which is the foundation of statutory rape laws). So even without the issue of child labor coming into it, paying to abuse/rape a child is simply not the same thing as paying for sex with a consenting adult.

  24. EG
    EG April 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm |

    Child labor is still used around the globe–there was just an article about child servants being abused in India recently in the NYT. There was also an article highlighting how children are sex trafficked in the US.

    Right, I know that. I was under the perhaps-mistaken impression from the Ray piece that we were specifically talking about the US.

  25. NBarnes
    NBarnes April 23, 2012 at 7:55 pm |

    To briefly restate what I said on another site re: this article;

    After all, we don’t call it ‘auto assembly positivity’, for all we do want people to like their work. We call it ‘unionization’.

  26. Jennifer Green
    Jennifer Green April 23, 2012 at 10:08 pm |

    NBarnes 4.23.2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink
    To briefly restate what I said on another site re: this article;

    After all, we don’t call it ‘auto assembly positivity’, for all we do want people to like their work. We call it ‘unionization’

    Totally I understand why unionization might be desired in hopes of redressing the unfairness. Sex work, like pornography, is a billions-upon-billions-of-dollars business run primarily by men. Only a minute fraction of the billions of dollars is annually paid to the sex workers (and filmed subjects) who make it possible. This is really unfair economically.

    I don’t know much about the legalization model for sex workers in Nevada, or if there was also unionization, but I surmise that the women actually doing the sex work in Nevada have not received the lion’s share of the financial benefits.

    It’s worth considering, I hope, in our compassion for all women, that female sex workers (here assuming adults) who have not been trafficked into their daily work by force nonetheless face greater and unpredictable risks to human health and safety (STD risks including AIDS, for example, as well as potential violence) than do auto assembly workers.

    The gals-and-guys who assembled my car had not only federal unionization rights but also state and federal OSHA requirements to protect them from quantifiable risks in the factory. In risk management terms for human resources, it’s quantifiability that seems to count in the employment (including unionization) systems invented by men.

    Most dentists and dental assistants now have strict physical protocols to protect them against the viral risk of HIV (AIDS), HBV and HCV, as do hospital and similar health workers, for procedures carried out and database-recorded. What they don’t also have is the additional risk of STDs as well as pregnancy, abortion and/or childbirth as does a female sex worker (in that no birth control method is 100% effective).

    There isn’t a database for sex workers (given the field’s technical illegality, most places, despite common activity by male demand) comparable to the anecdotal reports coming out of the pornographic movie industry. But I can recall reading about several mainstream pornographic film stars (not trafficked obviously) who sadly have contracted AIDS along with other STDs. Also there’s been the condom debate about making pornography in Hollywood, and the industry claims that if condoms are there required for pornographic filming, in this global economy they will just move someplace else where condoms are not required. The reason? Men will not watch pornography (won’t pay for an online click-through) where safe-sex condoms are shown.

    Surely this tells us something about the risk factors caused by the male client base of the female sex worker. Can we ever from a health standpoint call this “positive” for her?

    At the level of women’s hearts, bodies and minds, given the health and safety risks, I so greatly wish we had a different social model generally than sex work by women where men are the client mainstays. This topic gives a whole new meaning to the feminist phrase, “off our backs.” I’m not talking about vanilla versus more exotic positioning but instead about my hopes for the creative (and sexual) autonomy of all women everywhere without the risk of harm from any man.

  27. April
    April April 24, 2012 at 6:36 pm |

    I think this is a bad idea from a labor perspective and a human rights perspective. When I think of other jobs wherein workers are supposed to work for fulfillment primarily, I come up with a lot of professions that are underpaid, unprotected, exploited, and denigrated. I can’t imagine sex work would be less vulnerable to those problems.

    I think that for most of us, work isn’t voluntary; even a job you love is a job, and women who do sex work voluntarily also deserve protection from exploitation and abuse.

    Right, I absolutely agree. But that’s not really what I was talking about — I just mean that conflating the advocacy needs of sex workers who choose without coercion and enjoy their jobs, and those who someone above referred to as “survival sex workers,” is not helpful. While, for one example, legalizing and unionizing the sex industry would be helpful for those who desire that job, it would mean only a small improvement for those who are quite literally being raped every day, because that’s what being coerced into sex is called. And sex trafficking is entirely different than either of those — being forced to work without pay is slavery, and being forced to have sex against one’s will is rape. Neither of those things are happening with people who are in the profession happily and without coercion. (Not that you mentioned trafficking in the comment I’m replying to, but others continue to conflate trafficking with voluntary sex work all the time, to my never-ending frustration.)

  28. Amblingalong
    Amblingalong April 25, 2012 at 11:34 am |

    Neither of those things are happening with people who are in the profession happily and without coercion.

    The happily part is irrelevant. As many people have written above, a lot of people don’t particularly like their job- they do it to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Coercion and consent are the key here.

  29. April
    April April 26, 2012 at 2:50 pm |

    ^True,

  30. Chiara
    Chiara April 26, 2012 at 3:31 pm |

    The happily part is irrelevant. As many people have written above, a lot of people don’t particularly like their job- they do it to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Coercion and consent are the key here.

    There’s a difference between doing some office job that you find dull and not liking it very much, and having to have sex with strangers every day which you’d rather not do and not liking it very much. You’re a guy I guess which is why having sex sounds just like some kind of thing that’s just like ‘whatever’. But it’s a big deal. So sex workers actually being happy with their job is important. You can’t just say it’s the equivalent of some other worker being unhappy with their job.

  31. I.N.
    I.N. April 27, 2012 at 11:39 am |

    *There’s a difference between doing some office job that you find dull and not liking it very much, and having to have sex with strangers every day which you’d rather not do and not liking it very much. You’re a guy I guess which is why having sex sounds just like some kind of thing that’s just like ‘whatever’. *

    Women respond to sex in different ways.
    I have been a sex worker for about 6 years (now retired) and I worked in an office job. The dead-end office job was far worse for my psyche than having sex with strangers. In fact, I preferred having sex to stripping as it involved more money for less time and effort, and was a lot easier than the hustle of lap dances, even though the actual sex was the most unpleasant part.

    At the same time, I went to an event where I met another former sex worker, who said that with every client, a piece of her soul died. Every time I see people say how sex work is rape for people who don’t like it, I think about me and her. For some, it is.

    For others, it is just a job, where pay and flexibility justify working with the bodily manifestations. I cannot imagine doing the job of a nurse who routinely assists people with bathing or going to the toilet. That to me is many times worse than having sex with people whom I occasionally found physically repulsive.

  32. Cara
    Cara April 28, 2012 at 12:37 pm |

    The happily part is irrelevant. As many people have written above, a lot of people don’t particularly like their job- they do it to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Coercion and consent are the key here.

    There’s a substantial difference between not liking a job because you’re having things shoved into your orifices you wouldn’t choose otherwise, and not liking a job because you smell like french fries at the end of the day.

    Coercion to clean a toilet and coercion to remove your clothes and have your normally-heavily-protected body parts penetrated (which, by the way, often HURTS WOMEN IF THEY’RE NOT ALSO EMOTIONALLY REALLY IN THE MOOD FOR IT) are not even in the same ballpark as far as “worker exploitation” goes. I won’t even address the physical and emotional risks involved because it should be self evident.

    Good grief. What is wrong with people’s heads? What possible gain could there be in trying to rationalize the commodification of one’s physical being? How is this not slavery? How is this even a job in a civilized society?

    That being said. If someone has themselves convinced that it’s a great gig and totally voluntary, go for it. I maintain that in an actually equal, progressive society sex work will disappear because there will no longer be a market for it.

  33. Cara
    Cara April 28, 2012 at 12:43 pm |

    For others, it is just a job, where pay and flexibility justify working with the bodily manifestations. I cannot imagine doing the job of a nurse who routinely assists people with bathing or going to the toilet. That to me is many times worse than having sex with people whom I occasionally found physically repulsive.

    Okay. One question, none of my business, but still. Would you rather have a job that gave you decent pay, some flexibility, and some emotional satisfaction while not having to have sex with someone you found physically repulsive?

    1. I.N.
      I.N. April 28, 2012 at 3:31 pm |

      Cara, in response to your question I am currently training to be a counselor, precisely to have “decent pay, some flexibility, and some emotional satisfaction”. But in a perfect world, in which sex work is not stigmatized, my social circle would be okay with me being in the open, and my partner would not be jealous, I could see myself finding equal satisfaction in the work of an erotic masseuse. As an erotic masseuse, you could combine giving acceptance, supportive conversation, and physical pleasure and relaxation while staying more professional/detached than as an escort. Using just hands for me is more detached, more clinical, and there is no need to act like you want your client sexually, which always bothered me in escorting – but you can still be warm to him as a person.

      I had no idea of the the sex-positivity Audacia refers to until I started working in a massage parlour, where I spent about a year as my introduction to the business. In fact, I mostly knew about sex work from popular culture that presented it as exploitative and damaging. But my Eastern European upbringing made me okay with serving men sexually and I really needed money, so I thought I’d try it. It was experiencing it from ground up that made me start looking for alternative views, because I did not know how to interpret the moments of connection I had with many clients.

  34. On My Personal Sex-Positive Theory & Sex Work | AGodlessStrumpet

    [...] are and thus undermining the arguments we make in support of sex worker’s rights as well. As comment #6 of this thread states, “And Audacia Ray is also correct that the sex-positive movement does tend to [...]

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