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Since I’ll be talking about sex work as a labour issue at the Anarchist Bookfair, I thought I would re-run an early academic publication of mine, A Migrant World of Services. In my quest to understand why so many people disqualify selling sex as a potential job, I looked critically at traditional economic concepts such as the distinctions between productive and unproductive labour and between formal and informal employment sectors. I discovered these concepts are entirely arbitrary and out-dated and produce oppression for no good reason. For example, the majority of women’s work inside homes is labelled unproductive, and probably the majority of women’s jobs outside the home are also disqualified as real and productive by relegating them to the informal sector of the economy. I couldn’t see, and still cannot, how an economic sector  named Services, which takes in a raft of jobs, could exclude so many women’s jobs, so I also investigated ideas about emotional and caring work. Not only migrants are ripped off by these disqualifications – all are, and when men do these jobs they are as well.

A Migrant World of Services (pdf)

Social Politics, 10, 3, 377-96 (2003)

Laura Maria Agustín

Abstract: There is a strong demand for women’s domestic, caring and sexual labour in Europe which promotes migrations from many parts of the world. This paper examines the history of concepts that marginalise these as unproductive services (and not really ‘work’) and questions why the west accepts the semi-feudal conditions and lack of regulations pertaining to this sector. The moral panic on ‘trafficking’ and the limited feminist debate on ‘prostitution’ contribute to a climate that ignores the social problems of the majority of women migrants.

In a variety of scenarios in different parts of Europe, non-Europeans are arriving with the intention to work; these are largely migrant women and transgender people from the ‘third world’ or from Central and Eastern Europe and countries of the former Soviet Union. The jobs available to these women in the labour market are overwhelmingly limited to three basic types: domestic work (cleaning, cooking and general housekeeping), ‘caring’ for people in their homes (children, the elderly, the sick and disabled) and providing sexual experiences in a wide range of venues known as the sex industry. All these jobs are generally said to be services.

In the majority of press accounts, migrant women are presented as selling sex in the street, while in public forums and academic writing, they are constructed as ‘victims of trafficking.’ The obsession with ‘trafficking’ obliterates not only all the human agency necessary to undertake migrations but the experiences of migrants who do not engage in sex work. Many thousands of women who more or less chose to sell sex as well as all women working in domestic or caring service are ‘disappeared’ when moralistic and often sensationalistic topics are the only ones discussed. One of the many erased subjects concerns the labour market—the demand—for the services of all these women. The context to which migrants arrive is not less important than the context from which they leave, often carelessly described as ‘poverty’ or ‘violence.’ This article addresses the European context for women migrants’ employment in these occupations. Though domestic and caring work are usually treated as two separate jobs, very often workers do both, and these jobs also often require sexual labour, though this is seldom recognised. All this confusion and ambiguity occurs within a frame that so far has escaped definition.

For the rest, get the pdf.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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When I first began reading about people who sell sex and people who want them to stop, in the late 1990s, I was struck by the repetitive nature of the majority of books and articles, both academic and non-academic. When research was done, it produced the same knowledge over and over, generally about women who sell sex in streets – which was odd since many were already pointing out the diminution and even dying out of most street prostitution. The Internet is the New Street, it was said – and that was 15 years ago.

When what I read was ideological, it centred on an abstract term, prostitution, but it soon became obvious that this term has no stable meaning, signifying a raft of different things to different people of different social classes and cultures. A great deal of academic research did exactly what had been done before but now in a new city – or country – or part of town! Identities tended to be essentialised, particularly regarding race, drug use and low income.

In 2005 I proposed that researchers use a broader framework to take in all exchanges of sex for money, presents or other benefits, anywhere and anytime (historical research included, in other words). I followed this up in 2007 when invited to edit a special journal issue for Sexualities that contained eight articles using the cultural framework. Given that so much research – not to mention campaigning for better laws and policies – relies on scanty knowledge of what is actually going on, this is more relevant than ever. Otherwise, you get collateral damage, penalising people and activities unintentionally (I am assuming most people do not approve of collateral damage, but some actually claim it is ‘necessary’ for the Greater Good).

The Cultural Study of Commercial Sex- Sexualities, 8, 5, 618-631 (2005). Click the title to get the pdf.

The article begins like this:
Why create this framework

Societies’ twin reactions to commercial sex – moral revulsion and resigned tolerance – have paradoxically permitted its uncontrolled development in the underground economy and impeded cultural research on the phenomena involved. Affirmations that the global sex industry is growing and its forms proliferating are conventional in government and non-governmental fora, in the communications media and in scholarly writing. Commercial sex businesses and trafficking for sexual exploitation are blamed for massive violations of human rights, but the supporting information is unreliable, given the lack of agreement on basic definitions, the difficulty of counting clandestine objects and the fact that much of this stigmatized activity forms part of conventional social life.

Little work exists in a sex-industry framework, but if we agree that it refers to all commercial goods and services of an erotic and sexual kind, then a rich field of human activities is involved. And every one of these activities operates in a complex socio-cultural context in which the meaning of buying and selling sex is not always the same. The cultural study of commercial sex would use a cultural-studies, interdisciplinary approach to fill gaps in knowledge about commercial sex and relate the findings to other social and cultural concepts. Recent work has demonstrated how people who sell sex are excluded from studies of migration, of service work and of informal economies, and are instead examined only in terms of ‘prostitution’, a concept that focuses on transactions between individuals, especially their personal motivations. With the academic, media and ‘helping’ gaze fixed almost exclusively on women who sell sex, the great majority of phenomena that make up the sex industry are ignored, and this in itself contributes to the intransigent stigmatization of these women. While the sexual cultures of lesbian/gay/ bisexual/ transgender people are being slowly integrated into general concepts of culture, commercial sex is usually disqualified and treated only as a moral issue. This means that a wide range of ways of study are excluded. A cultural-studies approach, on the contrary, would look at commercial sex in its widest sense, examining its intersections with art, ethics, consumption, family life, entertainment, sport, economics, urban space, sexuality, tourism and criminality, not omitting issues of race, class, gender, identity and citizenship. An approach that considers commercial sex as culture would look for the everyday practices involved and try to reveal how our societies distinguish between activities considered normatively ‘social’ and activities denounced as morally wrong. This means examining a range of activities that take in both commerce and sex.

The purpose of this article is to point out the scarcity of research in these areas and reveal the kinds of issue that are up for study. Although public debate and academic theory on commercial sex abound, few participants are familiar with the wide variety of forms and sites involved; most are dealing with stereotypes and interested solely in street prostitution. This is an area where more information and images need to be disseminated, a project for which I make a small beginning here with some descriptive material from Spanish sex venues.

Since this is the beginning of what I hope will become a new field, I do not here offer any solutions to what is too often characterized as a ‘social problem’. Rather, I hope to interest others in taking up the call to study not ‘prostitution’ but the sex industry in new ways and to gather much more information on the object of governance before offering blanket solutions. This does not mean that important moral and ethical issues are not at stake nor that there is not widespread injustice in the industry. On the contrary, my proposal takes these injustices very seriously, laments the absence of workable solutions up to now and hopes that with better research these may be found.

Further headings are How study has proceeded so far, Definitions of the sex industry in general, Local particulars: examples from Spain, Elements of culture and researcher positionality and a raft of good References.

More examples of writing on sex-industry cultures outside the well-worn paths:

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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A couple of years ago I was asked to write for a special edition of The Commoner on Care Work and the Commons (Silvia Federici and Camille Barbagallo, editors). Atypically for people considering caring and reproductive labour, they wanted to include sex work. They asked me a series of questions, some of which did not feel natural for me to answer. Their language was a certain kind of marxian, which I don’t speak fluently, and I had to keep asking for clarifications. Finally their special edition came out earlier this year, with my Sex as Work and Sex Work in it.

Now it has appeared in Jacobin. It starts with a joke, and I see I published another different joke about the idea of sex as work a while back: that one involves a Polish woman, her husband and a leaky faucet.

Sex as Work and Sex Work

Laura Agustín, 16 May 2012

An army colonel is about to start the morning briefing to his staff. While waiting for the coffee to be prepared, the colonel says he didn’t sleep much the night before because his wife had been a bit frisky. He asks everyone: How much of sex is ‘work’ and how much is ‘pleasure’? A Major votes 75-25% in favor of work. A Captain says 50-50%. A lieutenant responds with 25-75% in favor of pleasure, depending on how much he’s had to drink. There being no consensus, the colonel turns to the enlisted man in charge of making the coffee. What does he think? With no hesitation, the young soldier replies, ‘Sir, it has to be 100% pleasure.’ The surprised colonel asks why. ‘Well, sir, if there was any work involved, the officers would have me doing it for them.’

Perhaps because he is the youngest, the soldier considers only the pleasure that sex represents, while the older men know a lot more is going on. They may have a better grasp of the fact that sex is the work that puts in motion the machine of human reproduction. Biology and medical texts present the mechanical facts without any mention of possible ineffable experiences or feelings (pleasure, in other words), as sex is reduced to wiggly sperm fighting their way towards waiting eggs. The divide between the feelings and sensations involved and the cold facts is vast.

The officers probably also have in mind the work involved in keeping a marriage going, apart from questions of lust and satisfaction. They might say that sex between people who are in love is special (maybe even sacred), but they also know sex is part of the partnership of getting through life together and has to be considered pragmatically as well. Even people in love do not have identical physical and emotional needs, with the result that sex takes different forms and means more or less on different occasions.

This little story shows a few of the ways that sex can be considered work. When we saysex work nowadays the focus is immediately on commercial exchanges, but in this article I mean more than that and question our ability to distinguish clearly when sex involves work (as well as other things) and sex work (which involves all sorts of things). Most of the moral uproar surrounding prostitution and other forms of commercial sex asserts that the difference between good or virtuous sex and bad or harmful sex is obvious. Efforts to repress, condemn, punish and rescue women who sell sex rest on the claim that they occupy a place outside the norm and the community, can be clearly identified and therefore acted on by people who Know Better how they should live. To show this claim to be false discredits this neocolonialist project.

Loving, with and without sex

We live in a time when relationships based on romantic, sexual love occupy the pinnacle of a hierarchy of emotional values, in which it is supposed that romantic love is the best possible experience and that the sex people in love have is the best sex, in more ways than one. Romantic passion is considered meaningful, a way for two people to ‘become one’, an experience some believe heightened if they conceive a child. Other sexual traditions also strive to transcend ordinariness in sex (the mechanical, the frictional), for example Tantra, which distinguishes three separate purposes for sex: procreation, pleasure and liberation, the last culminating in losing the sense of self in cosmic consciousness. In the western romantic tradition, passion is conceived as involving a strong positive emotion toward a particular person that goes beyond the physical and is contrasted to lust, which is only physical.

It is, however, impossible to say exactly how we know which is which, and the young enlisted man in the opening story might well not understand the difference. Sex driven by surging or excess testosterone and sex as adolescent rebellion against repressive family values cannot be reduced to a mechanical activity bereft of emotion or meaning; rather, those kinds of sex often feel like ways of finding out and expressing who we are. And even when sex is used to show off in front of others, or to affirm one’s attractiveness and power to pull, ‘meaningless’ would seem to be the last thing it should be called. Here it is true that one person may not only lack passion but totally neglect another’s feelings and desires, but just as often this other person is engaged in the same pursuit. The point is that reductions like lust and love don’t go very far towards telling us what is going on when people have sex together. Moreover, while real passion is meant to be based on knowing someone long and intimately, a parallel story glorifies love at first sight, in which passion is instantly awakened – and this can occur as easily at a rave or pub as at the Taj Mahal.

Part of the mythology of love promises that loving couples will always want and enjoy sex together, unproblematically, freely and loyally. But most people know that couples are multi-faceted partnerships, sex together being only one facet, and that those involved very often tire of sex with each other. Although skeptics say today’s high divorce rate shows the love-myth is a lie, others say the problem is that lovers aren’t able or willing to do the worknecessary to stay together and survive personal, economic and professional changes. Some of this work may well be sexual. In some partnerships where the spark has gone, partners grant each other the freedom to have sex with others, or pay others to spice up their own sex lives (as a couple or separately). This can take the form of a polyamorous project, with open contracts; as swinging, where couples play with others together; as polygamy or temporary marriage; as cheating or betrayal; or as paying for sex.

The sex contract

Even when love is involved, people may use sex in the hope of getting something in return. They may or may not be fully conscious of such motives as:

  • I will have sex with you because I love you even if I am not in the mood myself
  • I will have sex with you hoping you will feel well disposed toward me afterwards and give me something I want
  • I will have sex with you because if I don’t you are liable to be unpleasant to me, our children, or my friends, or withhold something we want

In these situations, sex is felt to be and accepted as part of the relationship, backed up in classic marriage law by the concept of conjugal relations, spouses’ rights to them and the consequences of not providing them: abandonment, adultery, annulment, divorce. This can work the opposite way as well, as when a partner doesn’t want sex:

  • I will not have sex with you, so you will have to do without or get it somewhere else

The partner wanting sex and not getting it at home now has to choose: do without and feel frustrated? call an old friend? ring for an escort? go to a pick-up bar? drive to a hooker stroll? visit a public toilet? buy an inflatable doll? fly to a third-world beach?

People of any gender identity can find themselves in this situation, where money may help resolve the situation, at least temporarily, and where more than one option may have to be tried. Tiring of partners is a universal experience, and research on women who pay local guides and beach boys on holidays suggests there is nothing inherently male about exchanging money for sex. That said, our societies are still patriarchal, women still take more responsibility for maintaining homes and children than men and men still have more disposable cash than women, making the overtly commercial options more viable for men than for others.

We don’t know how many people do what, but we know that many clients of sex workers say they are married (some happily, some not, the research is all about male clients). In testimonies about their motivations for paying for sex, men often cite a desire for variety or a way to cope with not getting enough sex or the kind of sex they want at home.

  • I want to have sex with you but I also want it with someone else

This is the point in the sex contract many have trouble with, the question being Why?Why should someone with sex available at home (even good sex) also want it somewhere else? The assumption is, of course, that we all ought to want only one partner, because we all ought to want the kind of love that is loyal, passionate and monogamous. To say I love my wife and also I would like to have sex with othersis to seem perverse, or greedy, and a lot of energy is spent railing against such people. However, there is nothing intrinsically better about monogamy than any other attitude to sex.

If saving marriages isa value, then more than one sex worker believes her role helps prevent break-ups, or at least allows spouses to blow off steam from difficult relationships. Workers mean not only the overtly sexual side of paid activities but also the emotional labor performed in listening to clients’ stories, bolstering their egos, teaching them sexual techniques, providing emotional advice. Rarely do sex workers position clients’ spouses as enemies or say they want to steal clients away from them; on the contrary, many see the triangular relationship – wife, husband, sex worker – as mutually sustaining. In this way sex workers believe they help reproduce the marital home and even improve it.

Sex as reproductive labor

In support of the idea that sex reproduces social life, one can say that people fortunate enough to experience satisfying sex feel fundamentally affirmed and renewed by it. In that sense, a worker providing sexual services does reproductive work. Paid sex work is a caring service when workers provide friend-like or therapist-like company and when they give a back rub – whether the caring is a performance or not. The person providing the caring services uses brain, emotions and body to make another person feel good:

  • Leaning over to comfort a baby
  • Leaning over to massage aching shoulders
  • Leaning over to kiss a neck or forehead or chest
  • Leaning over to suck a penis or breast

If the recipient perceives the contact as positive, a sense of well-being is produced that the brain registers, and the individual’s separateness is momentarily erased. These effects are not different simply because the so-called erogenous zones are involved rather than other parts of the body. In this sense, sex work, whether paid or not, reproduces fundamental social life.

The argument against sex work as reproductive labor is that sexual experiences, while sometimes temporarily rejuvenating, are neither always felt as positive nor essential to the individual’s continued functioning. Humans have to eat and keep our bodies and environments clean but we don’t have to have sex to survive: the well-being produced by sex is a luxury or extra. Sex feels as essential as food to a lot of people, and they may be very unhappy without it, but they can go on living.

Sex as a job

The variability of sexual experience makes it difficult to pin down which sex should properly be thought of as sex work. My own policy is to accept what individuals say. If someone tells me they experience selling sex as a job, I take their word for it. If, on the contrary, they say that it doesn’tfeel like a job but something else, then I accept that.

What does it mean to say it feels like a job? There are several possibilities:

  • I organise myself to offer particular services for money that I define
  • I take a job in someone else’s business where I control some aspects of what I do but not others
  • I place myself in situations where others tell me what they are looking for and I adapt, negotiate, manipulate and perform – but it’s a job because I get money

There are other permutations, too, of course. All service jobs involve customer relations, which are eternally unpredictable. Some clients are able to specify exactly what services they want and make sure they are satisfied, but some cannot and may end up getting what the worker wants to provide. To imagine that the worker is always powerless because the client pays for time makes no sense, since all workers jockey for control in their jobs – of what happens when and how long it takes. This is a simple definition of human agency. And it’s important to remember that a very large proportion of sex work is spent on selling: the seduction and flirtation necessary to turn atmosphere, potentiality and possibility into an exchange of money for sex.

Furthermore, although we like to think about the two roles, salesperson and customer, as separate, in the sexual relation roles can be blurred. Theorists want to think about the worker doing something for the client or the client commandingthe worker to act. But carrying out a command does not exclude doing it one’s own way, nor, for that matter, enjoyment, feelings of connectivity and the reproduction of self.

Non-partner sex in the home

Many would like to believe that non-commercial (or ‘real’) sex takes place in homes, while commercial sex lurks in seedy other places. However, sex outside the partnership easily takes place while one of the partners is not there. This can be sex that is ordered in and paid for or adulterous, promiscuous, play or non-monogamous sex. Sometimes the non-partner is consideredalmost one of the family’ – a live-in maid or nanny. Other times the non-partner is someone who’s come to perform some other paid job – the proverbial milkman or plumber. There’s also sex in the home online, via webcam, or over the telephone, as well as images or objects that enhance a sexual experience in which no partner is necessary at all. The sex industry penetrates family residences in many ways and cannot be, by definition, the family’s Other.

Most commentary on how the sex industry is changing focuses on the Internet, where apart from more conventional business sites, sexual communities form and reform continuously. Social networking sites like facebookprovide spaces where the commercial, the aesthetic and the activist intersect and overlap, also complicating the traditional divide between selling and buying. Chat and instant messaging provide opportunities for people to experiment with sexual identities including commercial ones. Much of all this is unmeasurable, taking place on sites where all participants are mixed together, not sorted into categories of buyers and sellers. Statistics on the value of pornography sold on the Internet focus on sites with catalogues of products for sale, but the sphere of webcams, like peep shows of old, blurs the wobbly line between porn and prostitution.

Although some (like Elizabeth Bernstein 2007) claim that sex workers offering girlfriend-like experiences are a manifestation of post-industrial life, I am not convinced. Sex worker testimonies from many periods reveal the complexity always waiting to happen when brief encounters are repeated, when clients seek again someone with whom they felt a bond as well as a sexual attraction. Nor am I convinced that the experiences of upper-class clients patronising courtesans, geishas or mistresses are inherently different from the socialising of working-class men and women in ‘treating’ cultures. Instead, it is clear that the lines between commercial and non-commercial sex have always been blurry, and that middle-class marriage is itself an example.

Scholars of sexual cultures won’t get far if they follow dogma that considers marriage to be separate and outside the realm of investigations of commercial sex. In societies where matchmaking and different sorts of arranged marriages and dowries are conventional, the link between payment and sex has been overt and normalised, while campaigners against both sex tourism and foreign-bride agencies are offended precisely because they see a money-exchange entering into what they believe should be ‘pure’ relationships. We have too much information now about non-family forms of love and commitment, non-committed forms of sex and non-sexual forms of love to hold on to these arbitrary, mythic divisions, which further oppressive ideas about sexually good and bad women. We know now that monogamy is not necessarily better, that paid sex can be affectionate, that loving couples can do without sex, that married love involves money and that sex involves work.

I see no postmodern crisis here. Some believe that the developed West was moving in a good direction after the Second World War, towards happier families and juster societies, and that neoliberalism is destroying that. But historical research shows that before the bourgeoisie’s advancement to the centre of European societies, with the concomitant focus on nuclear families and a particular version of moral respectability, loose, flexible arrangements vis-à-vis sex, family and sexuality were common in both upper- and working-class cultures (Agustín 2004) . In the long run it may turn out that 200 years of bourgeois ‘family values’ were a blip on the screen in human history.

Sex, equality and money

Understanding professional sex work has not been made easier by making ‘equality’ the standard for gender relations. We can only really know whether sexual experiences are equal if everyone looks and acts the same, which is not only impossible but repressive of diversity. In sexual relations, equality projects run into the problem of dissimilar bodies, different ways of exhibiting arousal and experiencing satisfaction, not to mention differences in cultural background and social status. Those who complain about other people’s perversity and deviance are accused in return of being boring adherents of repressive sex.

In terms of the work of sex, we run into a further difficulty vis-à-vis equality, the cliché that sees participants taking either an active or a passive role and identity. But many people, not just professional sex workers, know that the work of sex can mean allowing the other to take an active role and assuming a passive one as well astaking the active role or switching back and forth. Sometimes people do what they already know they like, and sometimes they experiment. Sometimes people don’t know what they want, or want to be surprised, or to lose control.

For some critics, the possession of money by clients gives them absolute power over workers and therefore means that equality is impossible. This attitude toward money is odd, given that we live in times when it is acceptable to pay for child and elderly care, for rape, alcohol and suicide counselling and for many other forms of consolation and caring. Those services are considered compatible with money but when it is exchanged for sex money is treated as a totally negative, contaminating force –thiscommodification uniquely terrible. Money is a fetish here despite the obvious fact that no body part is actually sold off in the commercial sex exchange.

Sex work and migrancy

In many places, migrant women and young men do most of the paid sex work, because:

there are enormous structural inequalities in the world, because there are people everywhere willing to take the risk of travelling to work in other countries and because social networks, high technology and transportation make it widely feasible (Agustín 2002). Migrants take jobs that are available, accept lower pay and tolerate having fewer rights than first-class citizens because those are less important than simply getting ahead. Even those with qualifications for other jobs, whether as hairdressers or university professors, are glad to get jobs considered unprestigious by non-migrants. While many view migrants in low-prestige jobs as absolute victims too constrained by forces around them to have real agency, social gain or enjoyment, there are other ways to understand them (Agustín 2003).

Critics hold that migrants who work in private homes reproduce the social life of their all-powerful employers but accomplish little on their own behalf. This is strange, because low-prestige workers who are notmigrants are acknowledged to gain a connection to society, knowledge of being a useful economic actor and more options because of having money.

We look at migration as neither a degradation nor improvement . . . in women’s position, but as a restructuring of gender relations. This restructuring need not necessarily be expressed through a satisfactory professional life. It may take place through the assertion of autonomy in social life, through relations with family of origin, or through participating in networks and formal associations. The differential between earnings in the country of origin and the country of immigration may in itself create such an autonomy, even if the job in the receiving country is one of a live-in maid or prostitute. (Hefti 1997)

One of the great contradictions of capitalism is that even unfair, unwritten, ambiguous contracts can produce active subjects.

Ways forward

I have proposed the cultural study of commercial sex (Agustín 2005), in which scholars are free of the constraints of the traditional study of prostitution, where ideology and moralising about power, gender and money have long held primacy. Cultural study does not assume that we already knowwhat any given sex-money exchange means but that meaning changes according to specific cultural context. This means we cannot assume there is a fundamental difference between commercial and non-commercial sex. Anthropologists studying non-western societies consistently reveal that money and sex exchanges exist on a continuum where feelings are also present, and historians reveal the same about the past (for example, Tabet 1987 and Peiss 1986).

Sex and work cannot be completely disentangled, as the officers knew and the enlisted man would some day find out.

References

Agustín, Laura. 2005. The Cultural Study of Commercial Sex. Sexualities, Vol 8, No 5, pp 618-631.

____________ 2004. ‘At Home in the Street: Questioning the Desire to Help and Save.’ In Regulating Sex: The Politics of Intimacy and Identity. E. Bernstein and L. Shaffner, eds., 67-82. New York: Routledge Perspectives on Gender.

____________ 2003.‘Sex, Gender and Migrations: Facing Up to Ambiguous RealitiesSoundings, 23, 84-98.

____________ 2002. Challenging Place: Leaving Home for SexDevelopment, Society for International Development, Rome, Vol. 45.1, March, 110-16.

Bernstein, Elizabeth. 2007. Temporarily Yours: Intimacy, Authenticity and the Commerce of Sex.Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hefti, Anny Misa. 1997. ‘Globalisation and Migration.’ Paper presented at European Solidarity Conference on the Philippines, Zurich, 19-21 September.

Peiss, Kathy. 1986. Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Tabet, Paola. 1987. ‘Du don au tarif. Les relations sexuelles impliquant compensation’.Les Temps Modernes, n° 490, 1-53.

 

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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What do Mrs Robinson, the Pope and Julian Assange have in common? They all got caught in sex scandals, which will be considered on a panel at the mega America Anthropological Association conference in Montreal in November.

Excerpt from the Abstract

. . . The papers do not look past sex scandals to ask what they are ‘really’ about. Instead, they take the scandals seriously as significant social and cultural events that have their own genesis, configuration, cadence and course. Anthropologists are well-placed to understand sex scandals because extended fieldwork and familiarity with different groups and with conflicts in society allows us to place the scandal in historical, political, and cultural context. . .

I am on this panel, giving a talk called Assange’s Sex in Sweden, because I was an expert witness for him in the UK earlier this year, having written about rape in Sweden a while ago. This is the sort of academic-industrial conference I have always avoided, but for various reasons I am going to this one. I can’t say how much I will be there apart from my own panel, though!

AAA Conference, Montreal, Canada 2011
4-0430 Notes on a Scandal

Friday 18 November 2011: 10:15-12:00

Organizer and Chair: Don Kulick, University of Chicago

10:15
On Julian Assange
Laura Maria Agustín (Independent scholar)
10:30
On Jacob Zuma
Bjarke Oxlund (University of Copenhagen)
10:45
On Silvio Berlusconi
Roberta Raffaetà (Università di Trento)
11:00
On Mrs. Robinson
Thomas Strong (National University of Ireland, Maynooth)
11:15
On Aussie Footballers
Lenore H Manderson (Monash University)
11:30
On Thai Monks
Peter A Jackson (Australian National University)
11:45
On the Holy See
Nancy Scheper-Hughes (University of California, Berkeley)

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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With all the End Demand rhetoric around, it’s hard to remember that the word demand actually means many things. Hunt Alternatives Fund and people like Melissa Farley have put most of their eggs into a basket that makes men who pay money for any kind of sex the single important cause for all injustices and unhappinesses associated with sex work, child prostitution and sexual exploitation.

The issue of young people on the street who have a home somewhere they don’t want to live in – runaways – is always charged because of a widespread refusal to accept that everyone has a sexuality – babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, old people. In a recent discussion about End Demand campaigns in the United States, Johannah Westmacott made an interesting comment about the whole idea of demand. I first met Johannah when we were interviewed for an NPR show in Nevada last year on the topic of child sex trafficking. She is Coordinator for Trafficked Minors at Safe Horizon Streetwork Project in New York.

There are real demands out there that are forcing people (of all ages and genders) into the sex trade and if these demands weren’t there the people would be free to make other choices, and studies show that many people in the commercial sex trade say that if not for these demands they would leave the sex trade tomorrow. The three biggest demands that coerce people unwillingly into trading sex are the demand for safe shelters, affordable housing, and living wage jobs. Also low-threshold and supportive substance abuse treatment, but I’m not aware of that one being included in studies. Almost everyone I know who has participated in any way in the commercial sex trade has listed at least one of these things as the force that pressured them into the sex trade. The whole men demanding sex thing seems like a red herring to me. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it certainly doesn’t happen at the same rate as poverty and homelessness. Why aren’t we trying to impact those demands since they have a much larger influence?

In example, in NYC there are approximately 4,000 unaccompanied homeless youth every single night. The city funds approximately 200 youth shelter beds. We are providing safe, age-appropriate shelter to less than 10% of the youth in our city who need it. When these young people have no safe way of sleeping indoors, and when they have already experienced violence from being on the streets, or when the weather outside is nasty, what choice do we give them for taking care of themselves and sleeping indoors? Maybe the young person is making a choice to go home with someone for the night, but until we actually offer them another option, we can’t judge them for making a forced choice. Decisions are really only as empowered as the options available.

If there were safe, low-threshold, voluntary youth shelters available on demand in NYC to everyone who requested them, without a waiting list involved, it would absolutely impact the number of youth involved in the commercial sex trade. I’m not saying that funding youth shelters would 100% eliminate youth involved in the commercial sex trade, but I am saying that it would be a game-changer. It would probably also be the most cost-effective and efficient way to impact the most number of youth either at-risk for coercion into the sex trade or who are already in the sex trade and want to exit or even take a break. Funding shelters would not only provide an alternative for youth currently in the commercial sex trade, it would also prevent a huge number of youth from feeling pressured to be involved in the first place. Again, I’m not saying 100%, but I really would guess that this impacts the majority of young people trading sex in NYC right now.

It may be noted also that a recent study in Massachusetts found a trend towards greater numbers of homeless among lgbtq youth. One sort of marginalised sexuality can contribute to another, unfortunately. Doesn’t the suggestion that shelters would make a huge difference make sense?

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

 

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This article addressing the idea of ‘sex’ in sex trafficking was published a few years back in American Sexuality. I wonder if they would invite me to say such things again? Everything having become so extremely moralistic now, an anthropological view like this is seen as the work of the devil. It is still on their website, though and is now available in French courtesy of Thierry Schaffauser.

The Sex in ‘Sex Trafficking’, American Sexuality, Autumn 2007

Why do we think migrant sex workers need rescuing?

By Laura Agustín

The title of this publication notwithstanding, I don’t believe there are national sexualities. But our language reflects vague impressions of how people in other cultures do sex—a tongue-kiss, ‘French’; anal penetration, ‘Greek’; penis-between-the-breasts, ‘Cuban’. They are stereotypes most of us don’t take seriously, and the national tags vary according to what country we’re standing in. But everywhere we have notions that out there somewhere are strange, wonderful, and exotic kinds of sex waiting for us to try.

But what about sex trafficking, denounced in the media as a rampant crime linked to global gangs and insecurity at borders? The U.S. government, claiming to be the world’s moral arbiter, spends millions issuing an annual report card rating other countries’ efforts to combat this crime and trying to rescue victims around the world. The implication is clear: ‘American’ ideas about sex and morality are the right ones for the planet. In other words, if the ideal of ‘American’ sexual relationships is accepted everywhere, the enslavement of women and children will end.

In the West, in the present, many people believe that sex should express love. This ‘good’ sex is also said to provide a key way to discover personal identity—who we really are, our innermost selves. It is assumed that feelings of love increase pleasure (quantitatively) and intensify it (qualitatively), resulting in meaningful passion that is expressed through long term, emotionally committed relationships. Other sexual relations then seem wrong, among them anonymous, public, and ‘promiscuous’ sex. Above all, ‘real’ love and sex are said to be incompatible with rationality and work—at least that is the way many wish it to be.

At the same time, people wonder: Is there a boom underway in the buying and selling of sex, part of a general sexualization of contemporary culture? Since objective data is impossible to gather when businesses operate outside the law, we cannot know whether sex-and-money transactions are going on more than ever, but we certainly know we see and hear about them more. So although we tell a powerful story about sex and love belonging together, we also understand that people want other kinds of sex. We hear about people who buy and sell sex from our friends, acquaintances, the media, and sometimes through reporting on migration—which is where ‘sex trafficking’ comes in.

In a context of increasing hostility toward migrants, it grates on people’s nerves to think that many might prefer to use sex to earn money instead of washing dishes, babysitting, working in a sweatshop, or picking fruit—for much less money. But migrants—who come in all sizes, shapes and colors, and from infinitely varying backgrounds—are just trying to get by as best they can on what can be a very rocky path. Migrants who cross borders to work need to be flexible and adaptable to succeed. They often do not know beforehand how they will be living, and they may not know the language. They may not find the food, music, or films they like, or the mosque, temple, or church. Everything looks different; they feel lonely. They may feel enormous pressure to pay back debts contracted to undertake their journey, and they may fear being picked up by the police. But they have arrived with a plan, some names and addresses, and some amount of money.

When migration policy is tightened at the same time that low-status jobs are abundantly available, a market opens up to help migrants cross borders. Some of this looks just like legal travel, but much of it involves bigger risks and higher costs, and some entails egregious exploitation—whether migrants are destined to work in mines, private homes, sweatshops, agriculture, or the sex industry.

Some migrants prefer to do anything rather than sell sex—for instance, ‘mules’ who take on the job of carrying drugs inside their bodies. Once across a border, past work experience and diplomas, whether white-collar or blue, are usually not recognized. Migrant schoolteachers, engineers, nurses, hairdressers and a range of others find only low-status, low-paying jobs open to them. Many of them, from everywhere on the social spectrum, would rather work in the sex industry—in one or the other of a huge variety of jobs.

Bars, restaurants, cabarets, private clubs, brothels, discotheques, saunas, massage parlors, sex shops, peep shows, hotel rooms, homes, bookshops, strip and lap-dance venues, dungeons, Internet sites, beauty parlors, clubhouses, cinemas, public toilets, phone lines, shipboard festivities, as well as modelling, swinging, stag and fetish parties—sex is sold practically everywhere. Where these are businesses operating without licences, undocumented workers can easily be employed: the paradox of prohibition. For migrants who are already working without official permission, these jobs may well seem no riskier than any other.

To understand why headlines insist that all migrant women who sell sex are ‘trafficked’, we need to go back to the popular idea that the proper place of sex is at home, between ‘committed’ lovers and family. When only this kind of relationship is imagined to be equitable and valid, it becomes easier to think that women from other cultures are poor, backward, vulnerable objects passively waiting for exploitation by rapacious men. With these notions, from the point of view of the comfortably sheltered, no one would opt to sell sex and migrants must be forced to do it.

What can we know about the actual sex involved in this moral conflict? We know all ‘sex acts’ are not the same in the context of loving relationships, and they are not all the same just because money is exchanged for them. Migrant workers sell millions of sexual experiences every day around the world to customers from different cultures, learning and teaching through experience how physicality mixes with skill, sophistication, hostility, tenderness, insecurity, respect.

When we have sex with others we influence each other, and although a single interaction may not have a lasting impact, many sexual agreements are complex or often repeated. Occasionally, a single experience can change the course of a life. In a commercial relationship, on one side are people flexible about how they make money, on the other are people wanting to fulfill a desire or experiment. These relationships take place in actual social contexts—indeed, sex itself is often subsidiary to the conspicuous consumption of alcohol or entertainment, to cruising or just to men being men together. Since everywhere men are granted more permission to experiment with sex and have more money to spend, their tastes help determine what’s offered and with whom, whether they be women, men, or transsexuals.

These millions of relationships, which take place every day, cannot be reduced to undifferentiated sex acts or eliminated from cultural consideration just because they entail money. Both client and sex worker may be acting seduction, flirtation, and affection when they are together, but camaraderie, friendship, love, and marriage also occur. And both sides are fascinated by sexual differences, imagined to be ‘national’, exotic, and real.

How we perform sex, what we feel when we do particular things, depends on our cultural (not national) contexts: how we were taught to do them and by whom, what we were permitted to try out, whether we talked to others about what we were doing and what we wanted. When we engage sexually with others, we learn and teach, we influence each other and change how we do things—often without knowing it. Because people are poor, or have left their countries to work abroad, or take money in exchange for sex does not change their humanity, their capacity to feel, respond, learn, or teach, whether sex is at issue or not.

Sex trafficking headlines claim that all migrant women who sell sex are invariably being abused, without regard to their diverse backgrounds and without asking them how they feel. But many reject being defined as sexually vulnerable and in need of ‘rescuing’ and protection. Everyone does not feel the same way about sex—in rich countries like the United States, or in any other country. Nationality is a poor way to understand human beings and their sexualities.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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I’m pleased to say that the editors of this textbook included a chapter on migrant sex work and trafficking, and I wrote it. Imagine: undergraduate students actually learning how complicated these issues are, and in a general sexuality text. Boggles the mind. My bit is near the end.

Introducing the New Sexuality Studies 2nd edition published 14 February 2011 by Routledge, Edited by Steven Seidman, Nancy Fischer, Chet Meeks

Table of Contents Part 1: Sex as a Social Fact 1. Theoretical Perspectives by Steve Seidman 2. The Social Construction of Sexuality interview with Jeffrey Weeks 3. Surverying Sex interview with Edward Laumann Part 2: Sexual Meanings 4. Popular Culture Constructs Sexuality interview with Joshua Gamson 5. Sexual Pleasure by Kelly James 6. Purity and Pollution: Sex as Moral Discourse by Nancy Fischer 7. Sex and Power by Kristen Barber 8. Sexual Politics in Intimate Relationships: Sexual Coercion and Harassment by Lisa K. Waldner 9. Gay and Straight Rites of Passage by Chet Meeks Part 3: Sexual Bodies and Behaviours 10. Medicine and the Making of a Sexual Body by Celia Roberts 11. The Body, Disability and Sexuality by Thomas Gerschick 12. Sexualizing Asian Male Bodies by Travis S. K. Kong 13. Sex and the Senior Woman by Meika Loe 14. Polishing the Pearl: Discoveries of the Clitoris by Lisa Jean Moore 15. Orgasm by Juliet Richters 16. Anal Sex: Phallic and Other Meanings by Simon Hardy 17. Sexual Intercourse by Kerwin Kaye 18. Viagra and the Coital Imperative by Nicola Gavey Part 4: Gender and Sexuality 19. Unruly Bodies: Intersex Variations of Sex Development by Sharon E. Preves 20. Transgendering: Challenging the ‘Normal’ by Kimberly Tauches 21. Transsexual, Transgender, and Queer interview with Viviane Namaste 22. Gender and Heterosexism in Rock-n-roll interview with Mimi Schippers 23. Adolescent Girls’ Sexuality: The More it Changes, the More it Stays the Same by Deborah L. Tolman 24. Not ‘Straight’, but Still a ‘Man’: Negotiating Non-heterosexual masculinities in Beirut by Ghassan Moussawi 25. How Not to Talk to Muslim Women: Patriarchy, Islam and the Sexual Regulation of Pakistani Women by Saadia Toor 26. ‘Guys are just Homophobic’: Rethinking Adolescent Homophobia and Heterosexuality by CJ Pascoe 27. Mis-conceptions about Unintended Pregnancy: Considering Context in Sexual and Reproductive Decision-making by Jennifer A. Reich Part 5: Intimacies 28. Romantic Love interview with Eva Illouz 29. Gender and the Organization of Heterosexual Intimacy by Daniel Santore 30. Shopping for Love: On-line Dating and the Making of a Cyber Culture of Romance by Sophia DeMasi 31. Covenant Marriage: Reflexivity and Retrenchment in the Politics of Intimacy by Dwight Fee 32. Interracial Romance: The Logic of Acceptance and Domination by Kumiko Nemoto 33. Lesbian and Gay Parents by Yvette Taylor 34. Parners of Transgender People by Carey Jean Sojka Part 6: Sexual Identities 35. Straight Men by James Dean 36. Sexual Narratives of ‘Straight’ Women by Nicole LaMarre 37. Lesbians interview with Tamsin Wilton 38. The Disappearance of the Homosexual interview with Henning Beck 39. Gay Men and Lesbians in the Netherlands by Gert Hekma and Jan Willem Duyvendak 40. The Bisexual Menace Revisited: or, Shaking up Social Categories is Hard to do by Kristen Esterberg 41. Bisexualities in America interview with Paula Rodriguez Rust 42. Multiple Identities: Race, Class, and Gender in Lesbian and Gay Affirming Protestant Congregations by Krista McQueeny Part 7: Sexual Institutions and Sexual Commerce 43. One is Not Born a Bride: How Weddings Regulate Heterosexuality by Chrys Ingraham 44. Change and Continuity in American Marriage by Erica Hunter 45. The Political Economy of Sexual Labor interview with Elizabeth Bernstein 46. Sex Sells, but What Else Does it Do? The American Porn Industry by Chris Pappas 47. Sex Workers Interview with Wendy Chapkis 48. Conflicts at the Tubs: Bathhouses and Gay Culture and Politics in the United States by Jason Hendrickson 49. Queering the Family by Mary Burke and Kristine Olsen 50. Pleasure for Sale: Feminist Sex Stores by Alison Better Part 8: Sexual Cultures 51. Sexual Liberation and the Creative Class in Israel by Dana Kaplan 52. Internet Sex: The Seductive Freedom To by Dennis Waskul 53. The Time of the Sadomaschoist: Hunting with(in) the ‘Tribus’ by Darren Langdridge 54. Secret Sex and the Down-lo Brotherhood by Justin Luc Hoy 55. Wait… Hip Hop Sexualities by Thomas F. DeFrantz 56. Gay Men Dancing: Circuit Parties by Russell Westhaver Part 9: Sexual Regulation and Inequality 57. Sexuality, State and Nation by Jyoti Puri 58. Iran’s Sexual Revolution by Pardis Mahdavi 59. Christianity and the Regulation of Seuxality in the United States by Joshua Grove 60. The Marriage Contract by Mary Bernstein 61. Healing Disorderly Desire: Medical-therapeutic Regulation of Sexuality by P. J. McGann 62. Schools and the Social Control of Sexuality by Melinda Miceli 63. Law and the Regulation of the Obscene by Phoebe Christina Godfrey Part 10: Sexual Politics 64. Gay Marriage: Why Now? Why At All? by Reese Kelly 65. The US Supreme Court and the Politics of Gay and Lesbian Rights by Gregory Maddox 66. The Politics of AIDS: Sexual Pleasure and Danger by Jennifer Gunsaullus 67. The Pro-family Movement by Tina Fetner 68. Politics of Sex Education Interview with Janice M. Irvine 69. Gender and Sexual Politics: American Gay Rights and Feminist Movement by Megan Murphy 70. Sexual Dissent: A Post-identity Culture of Sexual Resistance in the Case of Lebanese Nonheterosexuals by Steven Seidman 71. War and the Politics of Sexual Violence by Margarita Palacios & Silvia Posocco Part 11: Global and Transnational Sexualities 72. Condoms in the Global Economy by Peter Chua 73. Sexual Tourism Interview with Julia O’Connell Davidson 74. Migrant Sex Work and Trafficking by Laura Agustín 75. The Public and Hidden Sexualities of Filipina Women in Lebanon by Hayeon Lee 76. Mexican Immigrants, Hetersexual Sex and Loving Relationships in the United States Interview with Gloria Gonzalez-Lopez 77. Gender, Sexuality, and the Lebanese Diaspora: Global Identities and Transnational Practices by Dalia Abdelhady

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Given the considerable confusion about Julian Assange’s sex with a couple of women in Sweden, perhaps what I wrote last year about Swedish rape law can be clarifying.

As regular readers know, I’m trying to figure out how the lovely utopian goal of Gender Equality landed us in a future I never expected, where ‘progressive’ and ‘feminist’ could be associated with policies that position women as innately passive victims. Activists interested in sex-industry legislation usually cite Swedish prostitution law as the fount of all evil, with its criminalisation of the buying of sexual services. This law is a cornerstone of an overall Swedish policy to foment Gender Equality, and so is rape legislation that has led to bizarre statistics commented on in this story published in Sweden’s English-language daily The Local.

The Local, 11 May 2009

Is rape rampant in gender-equal Sweden?

Laura Agustín

from okejsex.nu

Rape is a complicated crime. A research project funded by the European Commission’s Daphne programme reveals that Sweden leads Europe in reports of rape. At 46.5 per 100,000 members of the population, Sweden far surpasses Iceland, which comes next with 36, and England and Wales after that with 26. At the same time, Sweden’s 10 percent conviction rate of rape suspects is one of Europe’s lowest.

The report’s comparative dimension should probably be ignored. Instead of assuming that there are four times as many rapes in Sweden as in neighbouring Denmark or Finland, as the figures suggest, to understand we would have to compare all the definitional and procedural differences between their legal systems. It is significant that Sweden counts every event between the same two people separately where other countries count them as one. Most of Sweden’s rapes involve people who know each other, in domestic settings (Sweden report here).

The countries reporting highest rates of rape are northern European with histories of social programming to end violence against women. In Sweden, Gender Equality is taught in schools and reinforced in public-service announcements. Should we believe that such education has no effect, or, much worse, an opposite effect? Raging anti-feminist men think so, and raging anti-immigrant Swedes blame foreigners. Amnesty International says patriarchal norms are intransigent in Swedish family life. Everyone faults the criminal justice system.

In contemporary Sweden, women and girls are encouraged to speak up assertively about gender bias and demand their rights. Public discussions have revolved around how to achieve equal sex: Gender Equality in the bedroom. We can consult okejsex.nu, an official campaign whose homepage shows pedestrians obliviously passing buildings full of scenes of violence, suggesting it is ubiquitous behind closed doors. Okejsex defines rape as any situation where sex occurs after someone has said no.

In many countries, and in many people’s minds, rape means penetration, usually by a penis, into a mouth, vagina or anus. In Swedish rape law, the word can be used for acts called assault or bodily harm in other countries.

That may be progressive, but it’s also confusing. You don’t have to be sexist or racist to imagine the misunderstandings that may arise. If younger people (or older, for that matter) have been out drinking and dancing and end up in a flat relaxing late at night, we are not surprised that the possibility of sex is raised. The process of getting turned on – and being seduced – is often vague and strange, involving looks and feelings rather than clear intentions. It is easy to go along and actively enjoy this process until some point when it becomes unenjoyable. We resist, but feebly. Sometimes we give in against our true wishes.

Sweden is also proud of its generous policy towards asylum-seekers and other migrants who may not instantly comprehend what Gender Equality means here, or that not explicitly violent or penetrative sex acts are understood as rape. That doesn’t mean that non-Swedes are rapists but that a large area exists where crossed signals are likely, for instance, amongst people out on the town drinking.

Discussions of rape nowadays use examples of women who are asleep, or have taken drugs or drunk too much alcohol, in order to argue that they cannot properly consent to sex. If they feel taken advantage of the next day, they may call what happened rape. The Daphne project’s Sweden researchers propose that those accused of rape ought to have to ‘prove consent’, but attempts to legislate and document seduction and desire are unlikely to succeed.

What isn’t questioned, in most public discussions, is the idea that the problem must be addressed by more laws, ever more explicit and strict. Contemporary society insists that punishment is the way to stop sexual violence, despite evidence suggesting that criminal law has little impact on sexual behaviour.

We want to think that if laws were perfectly written and police, prosecutors and judges were perfectly fair, then rapes would decrease because a) all rapists would go to jail and b) all potential rapists would be deterred from committing crime. Unfortunately, little evidence corroborates this idea. Debates crystallise in black-and-white simplifications that supposedly pit politically correct arguments against the common sense of regular folk. Subtleties and complications are buried under masses of rhetoric, and commentaries turn cynical: ‘Nothing will change’, ‘the police are pigs’, immigrants are terrorists, girls are liars.

Is it realistic or kind to teach that life in Sweden can always be safe, comfortable and impervious to outside influences? That, in the sexual sphere, everything disagreeable should be called rape and abuse? Although the ‘right’ to Gender Equality exists, we cannot expect daily life to change overnight because it does.

-Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Something to celebrate: Leaving Morality Debates Behind and instead considering commercial sex as a field: to study, to be interested in, to struggle about – but not to address in terms of Is it bad or good that people sell sex? It’s five years since I published the article presenting this theoretical framework – already familiar to people who know that you cannot research something well if you come to it with Big Moral Issues.

Leaving Morality Debates Behind: The Cultural Study of Commercial Sex

Public Lecture by Laura Agustín- all welcome

24 November 2010 18:15-20:00

University of Zürich, Rämistrasse 71
Hörsaal KO2-F-153

With the academic, media and ‘helping’ gaze fixed on women who sell sex, the great majority of phenomena that make up the sex industry are ignored. People who sell sex tend to be examined in terms of ‘prostitution’, focussing on transactions between individuals and personal motivations. A cultural-studies approach looks at commercial sex in its widest sense, examining its intersections with art, migration, ethics, service work, consumption, family life, entertainment, sport, economics, urban space, sexuality, tourism, informal economies and criminality, not omitting issues of race, class, gender, identity and citizenship. The object is to study the everyday practices involved, to reveal how our societies distinguish between activities considered normatively ‘social’ and activities denounced as criminally and morally wrong and to look for ways out of a seemingly intransigent social conflict.

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Warning: Both these come from the Global Post and should be looked at critically, as both reveal certain problematic attitudes. On the other hand they are not vastly victimising and provide pictures, and most news services simply avoid sex-industry material.

Gay-4-Pay in Prague, by Iva Skoch for Global Post

Slide show and video as well as story.

. . .  gay men want to see straight guys but imagine them as gay, which is partly why 90 percent of the Czech men he uses in his films are heterosexuals, or at least “that’s what they like to call themselves.” . . . likes to recruit men who have typically never done porn or had sex with men before and market their inexperience as an asset, not a drawback. To this day, he enjoys filming the first-timers, especially if they don’t really like it. He zooms in on their faces clenched in pain. It makes it real, Higgins says. . .

There is a transsexual prostitute on every floor, by Nicholas Dynan for Global Post

Slide show and story..

Near one of the busiest streets in Istanbul, a row of nondescript houses holds a secret unknown to most foreigners here. The houses are the work place of some of Istanbul’s transgender and transsexual sex workers.

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