Academics argue over a definition of sex work?
This blog does not!
Okay what exactly is sex work? Like so many new ideas – and this entire issue is indeed new – we should agree on some definitions. Or maybe we don’t have to agree. As I got more deeply involved in this issue I discovered many university academics, some feminists, and social researchers are in complete agreement with me regarding this issue. And that was a relief because I felt quite lonely for awhile. Of course those academics and researchers have very little influence. They choose to argue back and forth over definitions and nuances while television, movies, and rescue industry blogs form broad public opinion. Instead let’s get down to business – –
One of the definitions academics argue over is what exactly is sex work? What acts or businesses should be included under that name? Is a pole dancer or stripper in a bar a sex worker? Is an actor in pornography a sex worker? Does the quality of the movie determine whether those actors are sex workers or artists? Is cybersex sex work?
These seem to be irrelevant questions to many of us – a distraction, if you will – but this also distracts important academic study of trafficking that could make a difference.
For this reason I will tell you what sex work is here, right here, on this blog. On this blog the words “sex work” refers only to consenting prostitution, willing sex acts for money. This is clear enough for me. One meaning for one phrase.
I am a person who is opposed to throwing an umbrella over whatever is convenient to achieve a mission. But that is what is happening. This is a distraction in my opinion. A sex worker is a prostitute. Sex work is a mild euphemism for prostitution. No problem. But if a pole dancer in a bar is also thrown under the same umbrella as the prostitute, that is unfair to both. The pole dancer is associated with something she is not. Also numbers are artificially inflated and, thus, make the rescue industry appear to have a bigger job to do, when they do not. Specific words for each style of sex work are tossed together under one phrase, sex work, because different jobs have some aspect of sexiness associated with it. That is not enough for me.
What can a land of TEASE know about sex?
From my experience, in America especially, women who dance in an bar are rarely available for sex acts, even though blogs often imply they are. America is the home of sex tease. Dancers in bars in America often charge a fee, maybe $20, for what is called a lap dance. The woman still wears a bikini-style bottom and probably a bikini-style top too and will wiggle around on a man’s lap for money – but the man is not allowed to touch. I have seen this in Ohio, West Virginia and in Dallas.
Being the alert researcher I am, I had to give it a try. I was always looking for hints that more was available, for example a real sexual experience and not just the tease. It never was! I had to try a couple of lap dances to see what the thrill was. Bouncers literally looked over my shoulder to make sure I didn’t touch anything more private than my own ass during my lap dance. In some ways I consider this a sad commentary on what passes for sex work in America. It is impossible to say this is in anyway related to full service prostitution. But, by including the pole dancer under the same umbrella with prostitution, it is both dishonest and inappropriately exaggerates even minor physical contact some American laws considers a crime.
The same for cyber sex, something you will hear about at length elsewhere on this blog. No sex act has ever been completed online, never. Teasing, yes. The woman may do some personal probing. Some personal satisfaction is possible at the man’s own hand, yes, but no actual mutual sex. None!
It makes no sense to throw such widely diverse activities under the same umbrella. This only helps extreme feminist and conservative religious zealots make their issue of choice appear bigger than it really is. Prostitutes are prostitutes. But dancers in a bar are just that, unless they are also prostitutes in which case they are prostitutes. We have these words and each word is well defined. It is the catchall category, the umbrella, that is not well defined. And those umbrella words are not necessary when the other words work so well. We have the separate words we need.
Throughout this blog a sex worker is a person who has consensual sex for money. I may use a quotation from a source that uses a different definition, but that is my only exception. If the sex is not consensual the sex worker is most likely a victims and I do not argue with that. Sex without consent is rape. And rape is rape, not sex work.
I strongly contend that there are a lot more consensual sex workers than victims. That statement is routinely proven when newspaper stories use headlines like “Cops rescue 72 in brothel raids (Bangkok Post, 2/14/15) As you read the article you learn an anti-trafficking NGO was involved. One 15 year old Lao girl called the NGO. As someone under 18 she is officially a trafficking victim whether she is a willing worker or not. She was deceived, she said. She was told she would be a waitress. I want to believe her, as do the NGOs. It isn’t always easy when she is surrounded every day by many consenting sex workers. But traffickers should be arrested when they are traffickers who truly meet the definition by forcing, coercing, or deceiving someone. If not, they are a smuggler and much different.
But out of 72 women we have no idea how many were over 18 and consenting sex workers. Prostitution itself is not illegal in Thailand. Nevertheless any of the 72 women who were consenting sex workers and not under 18 – therefore legally doing their business – will be outed to their family and neighbors who might not know how they earned their money. Thai women will go to some kind of rehabilitation program that will look a lot like a jail. Women who are not Thai citizens will be deported back to their country regardless of the conditions they may have escaped from through this work. One 15 year was able to get help she wanted. We should assume the other 71 could have done the same if they wanted too, but they didn’t. Now all are punished.
This is a common story around the world. The rescue industry of anti-trafficking zealots lead rescues of people who do not want to be rescued. Many willing sex workers lose what maybe an important job which supports many family members.
Again, definitions used in this blog:
Sex work is consenting prostitution and nothing else. A term I would like to popularize is Compensated dating or a date, probably including sex, with cash as an equalizing factor since one man is not always as desirable as another, but money is a legitimate equalizer. Pole dancing and/or stripping are not sex work. They are pole dancing or stripping. Pornographic acting is not sex work. It is pornographic acting. Cybersex is not sex work. It is cybersex.
Sex work is NOT an appropriate umbrella word, not a catchall name for highly unrelated activities. The same applies to trafficking. Trafficking is not prostitution, trafficking is trafficking. Trafficking of persons is not smuggling of persons. They are NOT the same.
One word, one meaning.