Listening to Prostitutes

Many theoretically minded pundits, myself included, have weighed in on the pros and cons of decriminalizing prostitutions. Notably missing on this debate (at least in mainstream outlet) are the voices of those most directly involved: the prostitutes themselves and their customers.This is a shame because sex work advocates (who are often former or current prostitutes) are often the most eloquent and incisive critics of current legal regimes. If anyone wants to hear what prostitutes themselves say, one good source is an interview Doug Henwood conducted with the staffers of $pread magazine (which is published for and by sex workers). Henwood’s interview can be found here.

Complimenting that interview is another one Henwood conducted with Laura Agustín, author of Sex at the Margins, who usefully dismantles the bogeyman of trafficking. That interview can be found here.

There is an interesting side issue that comes up in the interview with the $pread crowd: the relationship between prostitution and socialism. Sex work involves selling sex for money. As a social democrat, I’m not bothered by the sex part but the money is a little disturbing. Prostitution is often exploitive but so are almost all forms of labour under capitalism (see the intriguing arguments of the German-English social theorist K. Marx).

So the question arises as to what prostitution will be like under socialism. Holland provides an interesting model. In that humane and sensible society there is a push to have the state pay for prostitutes to have sex with disabled men and women. There are also reports, difficult to verify, that Holland also has a more informal version of this idea, with volunteers rather than paid professionals.


2 thoughts on “Listening to Prostitutes

  1. Interesting notion, Jeet. A socialist approach to prostitution might well look and feel something like the practice of temple prostitution that many ancient religions provided for — see especially the role of the temple prostitute in the epic of Gilgamesh, who uses sex (days of it) to civilize the wild man Enkidu.

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