How does the sex industry look? a facebook album

With all uproar focused on the morality of buying and selling sex, most people have little idea what much of the sex industry actually looks like. Or rather, the media repeatedly show the same images of women in short skirts and high boots leaning into car windows, giving the impression that street hooking is the dominant situation, which is far from the truth. And, of course, we are constantly shown horrifying images of the worst sites and victims of trafficking and exploitation (you can provide those yourselves, so no link).

At the same time, millions of people the world over work in the sex industry, in jobs other than providing sexual services. And more millions visit, drive or walk past sites without even thinking about it because they look ordinary.  I’ve created a theoretical framework for doing research about the sex industry in all its detail, called the Cultural Study of Commercial Sex, and other researchers are doing this ethnographic and evidence-based work. So I think it’s interesting to show some ordinary pictures, and I’ve made an album on Facebook that’s accessible to everyone (even people who would rather die than join social networking sites themselves – you know who you are). You can click on each photo to see it larger, with its caption, and comment on it if you like.

Photos include strippers, a Soho walk-up, brothels in the Czech Republic, Austria, Cambodia, Mexico, Australia, the USA and Germany, Soi Cowboy and Pattaya in Thailand, sex shops in Finland and Taiwan, hostess and karaoke clubs in Japan and China, brothel paintings by Toulouse Lautrec and Vincent Van Gogh and historical pictures. See the album here. It’s a work in progress, so if anyone has pictures to contribute, let me know, as long as you have permission to send them.

12 thoughts on “How does the sex industry look? a facebook album

  1. Pingback: The Sex Round Up « Neuroanthropology

  2. Pingback: Sociological Images » What Does The Sex Industry Look Like?

  3. Molly

    Posted this same comment at soc. images where your site and album were noted, but am posting it here too as you’ve really got me thinking and asking some questions and here they are:

    Is there a reason soc. images (and Laura herself at her blog) chose to show only pictures of European or American brothels (with the exception of the old 19th century pic from Japan)? In the facebook album, there are few pictures of Asian brothels as well as non-European sex workers, though the European exterior shots seem to dominate there as well. Is the assumption here (interesting in and of itself) that westerners will find sex trafficking or sex work more palatable and acceptable if it’s show as being “European”-ized? Thus, in an album attempting to show how sex work is (or should be thought to be) normalized, are we intentionally being shown the Euro/American/first-world/unionized and/or legalized vision, as opposed to less salubrious but nonetheless equally real visions? I appreciate the effort to get people to think outside of the box, but it also seems a little bit like we’re white-washing the box here, and that doesn’t seem to help us think critically, no?

    Also, is the question that we should be focusing on here really that of the exterior? It seems to me that what a brothel looks like on the outside matters far less than what is going on on the inside and in the individual lives of the sex workers. Shouldn’t our focus be not on the exterior presentation, but on whether or not we’re looking at the homes of sex workers with agency and some measure of safety, or that of sexually trafficked people (mostly women) working against their will? How does looking at a building help us address either end of the spectrum, or those in between?

  4. laura agustin Post author

    Hi Molly

    The facebook album is a small recent project situated within research and analysis I’ve been doing on all kinds of sex-industry issues since the early 1990s. I suggest you look through my blog and publications. I do not focus on brothels per se, or search for some bottom-line truth. The album depends on the availability of photos in the public domain and on my finding something interesting about them. I am not an encyclopedia. A third of the photos are not from Europe, but that’s by chance, perhaps in a few months the proportion will be greater or lesser.

    You may not be interested in exteriors but many people are, and such an interest does not negate another in interiors. Your use of ‘should’ implies you believe there’s a single politically correct way to study something, and I don’t agree.


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