email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
269 Amazing Sex GamesA History of MarriageA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyActionAll the WayAlways Forever MaybeAmerica UnzippedAmerica UnzippedAmerica's Sexual TransformationAmerican EugenicsAmerican GirlsAmerican HookupAn Interpretation of DesireAnarchism & SexualityAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of LoveAnthony GoicoleaAnticlimaxArt and HomosexualityArt/PornAssuming a BodyAutoportraitBachelors and BunniesBecoming OrgasmicBehind the Red DoorBest Sex Writing 2005Better Sex Through YogaBetter Sex Through YogaBetter Than EverBetween Mom and JoBeyond Diversity DayBeyond SexualityBeyond SpeechBeyond ToleranceBig Porn IncBill HensonBodies in DoubtBody ImagesBonkBoys Don't CryBreasts - A DocumentaryBrothelBuying SexCase Studies in Communication about SexCase Studies in Sexual DevianceCaught in the WebCelibaciesChildren and SexualityChildren and the Politics of SexualityChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChristy ReportClay's WayClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthClose toYouClumsyCold HitCollege SexComing of Age in AmericaConfessions of the Other MotherCybersexCyborgasmDare... to Make Love with 2, 3, 4... or MoreDare... to Try BisexualityDating: Philosophy for EveryoneDeadly ButterflyDebating Same-Sex MarriageDeep GossipDeparting from DevianceDesire, Love, and IdentityDigital DiariesDilemmas of DesireDirty MindsDirty StoriesDisorders Of DesireDisorders of Sex Development:Doing ItDoing ItDoing It Down UnderDown and Dirty Sex SecretsDude, You're a FagEarly Embraces IIIEmerald City BluesEmotionally InvolvedEnjoying Guilty PleasuresErotic CapitalErotic InnocenceErotic PassionsEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEveryday PornographyEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorExploring TranssexualismFade to BlackFagbugFaking ItFamilies Like MineFast GirlsFinal JeopardyFinding H. F.Fire on the Mountain DVDFor Lesbian ParentsFor The Bible Tells Me SoForbiddenFrictionFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Shame to SinFuckologyGay, Straight, and the Reason WhyGender in the MirrorGender OutlawsGeography ClubGetting OffGetting RealGetting the Love You WantGirls & SexGirls Gone MildGirls Gone SkankGLBTQGoddess WorshipGoing DownGood GirlsGood PornGood Sex IllustratedGreat Answers to Difficult Questions About SexGuide To Getting It OnHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHard to GetHardcore from the HeartHear Us Out!HeterosyncraciesHit & MissHomosexualitiesHookedHooking UpHow Sex Became a Civil LibertyHow Sex ChangedHow Sex WorksHow To Be GayHow to Do Things with Pornography How to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Have Magnificent SexHow to Make Great Love to a ManHow to Make Great Love to a WomanHow to Make Love Like a Porn StarHow to Think More About SexHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenHysterical MenI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'll Be Your MirrorIf Men Could TalkImpotenceIn a Queer VoiceIn Praise of the WhipIn the Mood, AgainInsatiable WivesIntense Games DVDInvestigating Young People's Sexual CulturesIt's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalItís Your HourJane Sexes It UpJock SturgesJust Between UsKama-Sutra--The Secrets to the Art of LoveKids Gone WildLegalizing ProstitutionLegalizing ProstitutionLet's Get This StraightLets Talk about SexLetters to Penthouse Vol. 50Likely to DieLittle ChicagoLoose GirlLosing Matt ShepardLoveLove and DesireLove and SexLove JunkieLove Lust DesireLove SickLustMad for FoucaultMagical ThinkingMaking American BoysMaking Babies the Hard WayMaking Chastity SexyMaking Peace with PornMaking ScenesMale SexualityMalefemaleMaster BreastsMating in CaptivityMedicalized MasculinitiesMelancholia and MoralismMenMental Health Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities MiddlesexMoney ShotMoral Panics, Sex PanicsMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy HeartbeatMy Horizontal LifeName All the AnimalsNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew Sex Now DVDNightswimmingNone of the AboveNormalNormalNot GayNot My ShameNot The Marrying KindNot Under My RoofNothing PinkOedipus WreckedOn Being RapedOne Hot SecondOne Hour in ParisOpenOrgasmOrgasm Inc.OrgasmologyOrgasmsOver 100 Truly Astonishing Sex TipsOverexposedPeekPeriod PiecesPervPhilosophizing About Sex Philosophy of Love, Sex, and MarriagePin-up GrrrlsPINSPlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPolicing SexualityPolyamory in the 21st CenturyPornPorn NationPorn StudiesPorn UniversityPornifiedPornlandPornographyPornographyPornography, Sex, and FeminismPosition Of The Day PlaybookPray the Gay AwayPredatorsPremarital Sex in AmericaPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPrivate Dicks - Men ExposedPrivate Practices DVDProblem GirlsPrudePsychopathia SexualisQueer PhilosophyRapeRape Is RapeRated X - A Journey Through PornRazmatazRecruiting Young LoveRedefining GirlyRedefining RapeRegulating SexRelax, It's Just SexRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRethinking RapeRunning with ScissorsSatan's Sex BookScreening SexSelling Sex ShortSexSex & Single GirlsSex (Ed)Sex and SpiritSex and the American TeenagerSex and the SoulSex and the Soul, Updated EditionSex and WarSex at DawnSex by NumbersSex DetoxSex Fiends, Perverts, and PedophilesSex in CrisisSex ObjectSex OffendersSex on the BrainSex PositionsSex Q & ASex, Family, and the Culture WarsSex, or the UnbearableSex, Therapy, and KidsSex, Time and PowerSextasySexting and Young PeopleSexual ArtSexual Boundary ViolationsSexual DevianceSexual DisordersSexual EcstasySexual EthicsSexual FluiditySexual IntelligenceSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySexual Orientation and School PolicySexual PleasureSexual PredatorsSexual Teens, Sexual MediaSexuality in AdolescenceSexuationSexyBookShameShamelessShy GirlSlutWalkSmall FavorsSmutSocial Control of Sex OffendersSome Assembly RequiredSplit ScreenStir-FryStraight to JesusStrange BedfellowsStripped BareSurviving Sexual ViolenceSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTalk to Me FirstTechniques of PleasureTestosterone RexThe Anthropology of SexThe BabiesThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Big Book of PornThe Birth of the PillThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe BodyThe Breast BookThe Breath of Tantric LoveThe Busy Couple's Guide to Great SexThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Chemistry Between UsThe Clitoral TruthThe Dangerous Art of Blending InThe Education of SophieThe Emergence of SexualityThe End Of AliceThe End of SexThe Erotic EdgeThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Essential KamasutraThe Evolution of BeautyThe Fate of GenderThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Gay Baby BoomThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Happy Hook-UpThe Hite ReportThe Humble Little CondomThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Illustrated Story of OThe Love CureThe Madness of WomenThe Men They Will BecomeThe Mirror of LoveThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Moral Panics of SexualityThe Naked Truth About SexThe Nature of Sexual DesireThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New Gay TeenagerThe Notebook GirlsThe Only Girl in the CarThe Order of the Poison OakThe Origins of SexThe Other HollywoodThe Other PlaceThe Other Side of DesireThe Perils of MasculinityThe Perversion of YouthThe PervertThe Philosophy of PornographyThe Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary ReadingsThe Pleasure's All MineThe Politics Of LustThe Porn TrapThe Pornographer's GriefThe Pornography IndustryThe Praeger Handbook of TranssexualityThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Purity MythThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Right to Be ParentsThe Secret Lives of GirlsThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Sex MythThe Shared HeartThe Sleep of ReasonThe Smart Girl's Guide to PornThe State of AffairsThe Story of SexThe SurrenderThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Tenth CircleThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Trauma MythThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Vagina MonologuesThe ValleyThe Violence of CareThe Virgin BlueThe Virginity ClubThings Tom LikesThinking KinkThinking XXXToo Hot to HandleTransTransTransgender Children and YouthUltimate JudgementUltimate SexUndoing GenderUnlikelyUntangling the WebUntrue VirginVirgin NationVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysVirginity LostWhat Does Consent Really Mean?What Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?What's Wrong with Homosexuality?When Jeff Comes HomeWhen Sex Goes to SchoolWhen the Piano StopsWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Who Has What?Who's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWilhelm ReichWired for IntimacyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWomen and MadnessWritten in the FleshYou Know Me WellZen Sex
Why would a work on legalizing prostitution have thirty five pages of closely printed notes and a bibliography running to almost sixteen pages? The answer lies in the incendiary nature of the subject matter. Emotions frequently run high when it comes to discussing the sex trade and there doesn't seem to be any middle ground. Ronald Weitzer, Professor of Sociology at George Washington University is determined to bring some calm dispassionate reasoning based on solid research to the debate. Too often, he says, this debate is still stuck in what Popper termed the pre-scientific stage. Arguments are formulated on impressionistic, untested assumptions. Hence when it comes to prostitution, given that only a minority of the population ever experience prostitutes in the flesh as it were – between 15 – 18 per cent across the Western world - then the debate is coloured by impressions gathered from the media, from literature, from films and plays and from the more high profile street prostitutes on view in any large city.
My own impressions were formed when the neighbourhood where I live, at the time a decaying inner city suburb of large Victorian houses, many of them sublet, was invaded by a posse of street prostitutes who had been driven out from the city's traditional 'red light' area by angry residents taking direct action. His broadly researched description of this form of selling sex match my own observations as we, as residents, strove with the help of the police, the civil courts, city officers and social workers to get them to desist or move on and stop using our neighbourhood as their place of work and all the attendant ills it visited on us. He lists these: the initial transaction is in a public place: the sex act takes place in a public or semi-public place: many underage prostitutes are runaways in a new locale with no resources and little recourse but to engage in some kind of criminal activity - theft, drug dealing, selling sex. They sell sex out of dire necessity or to support a drug habit.
Many street workers use addictive drugs, work in crime-ridden areas, are socially isolated and disconnected from support services, engage in risky sex, are exploited and abused by pimps, and are vulnerable to being assaulted, robbed raped or killed on the streets. Professor Weitzer is adamant that street prostitution should not become the paradigm that stands for prostitution as a whole. It should be treated as an exception and discouraged as an activity. It is associated with myriad problems that would not exist in a different context and with protective legislation. That is why he chooses to restrict his comments to the sexual practices that take place in an indoor setting where most prostitution occurs and on which a regulatory system can be imposed.
But anyone attempting to formulate proposals to align the sex industry with modern work practices needs to pick their way through the heated debate that rages round this topic. Weitzer divides the warring camps into two -- the followers of the empowerment paradigm and the followers of the oppression paradigm.
The empowerment paradigm highlights the ways in which sexual services qualify as work, involve human agency and may be potentially validating or empowering for workers. This paradigm holds there is nothing inherent in sex work that would prevent it from being organized for mutual gain to all parties -- just as in other economic transactions. But some writers go further and make bold claims that, according to Wietzer, romanticise sex work, neatly summed up by Camille Paglia when she argues that the prostitute is the "ultimate liberated woman, who lives on the edge and whose sexuality belongs to no one."
The oppression paradigm is a formulation of radical feminism. According to this paradigm sex work is the quintessential expression of patriarchal gender relations and male domination. Not only does the sex industry objectify and commodify women's bodies; it also gives men the idea that they have 'a right' to buy erotic entertainment from women, thus reinforcing women's subordination to men. Supporters of this paradigm argue that exploitation, subjugation and violence are intrinsic to and ineradicable from sex work. Their solution is the total elimination of prostitution, pornography, strip clubs and all other commercial sex. The author notes that this paradigm focuses exclusively on the negative. They also neglect in their writings male and transgender sex work for the almost exclusive theorizing of prostitution as an institution that victimizes women and girls.
These two paradigms, says, Weitzer, are one-dimensional and essentialist. The oppression paradigm especially is first and foremost a pres-scientific ideology. Its central tenets are not derived from carefully conducted research, which would contradict or radically qualify those very tenets. It is not powered by the canons of scientific objectivity but by its advocates' overriding commitment to abolishing sex work. He proposes instead a more nuanced paradigm, one he calls polymorphous, based on the current state of research which identifies a constellation of occupational arrangements, power relations and participants' experiences.
A growing body of research, he says, documents tremendous international diversity in how sex work is organized and experienced by workers, clients and third parties, undermining some deep-rooted myths. Victimization, exploitation, agency, job satisfaction, self-esteem and other dimensions should be treated as variables (not constants) that differ between types of sex work, geographical locations and other structural conditions. He brings forward evidence to show prostitution can have positive benefits for both worker and client on terms of equality.
Weitzer says his book can be read as a first step in imagining an alternative to the conventional wisdom, where sex work is characterized, in the words of the philosopher, Christine Overall, by "relative safety, security, freedom, hygiene and personal control." Most countries which have brought a degree of regulation to the sex industry, which Weitzer examines in the book, have, in his opinion, registered a degree of success in achieving one or more of these goals for at least some categories of sex workers, although none has fully realised all of these ideals.
Weitzer sets out an exhaustive schedule of standards which should be present in any legislative programme. His starting point is that consensual adult prostitution be officially recognised as work and that participants be accorded the rights and protections available to those involved in other occupations.
Notwithstanding the evidence that Weitzer cites, that prostitutes can enjoy job satisfaction and high self-esteem in their work: that they can supply something akin to therapy for those unsuccessful in their personal relationships: that the demand for their services is rarely predatory, he does acknowledge that there is still a large stigma attached to this activity which can prove a stumbling block for those wanting to frame legislation that satisfies all parties.
What he proposes will call for negative capability on the part of society, that is why being discreet, almost to the point of invisibility tops his list and not having any dedicated urban red light zones. A society that has evolved a system of socializing and supporting its new members through monogamous relationships and the family unit, is bound to feel conflicted by an industry whose values militate against these social arrangements. However, a significant number of our citizens persist in supplying and availing themselves of these services. By not taking thoroughgoing legislative action to regulate this industry, we are leaving the field open to ruthless criminals, national and international, operating in this twilight world. It is estimated, for instance, that 800,000 women are trafficked into the EU every year. Nine out ten of these are forced to be sex workers in brothels. A thorough reading of Professor Weitzer's book and its recommendations would help our legislators bring some order to situations like these and follow in the steps of Western Australia whose legislature in 2008 voted to legalize prostitution because of its harm-reduction potential.
© 2012 Chris Vaughan
Chris Vaughan writes about himself: I live in Birmingham, England. I am now retired after a career in the pharma industry and am very much involved in community activities. I am a board member of the Birmingham Environmental Partnership and chair a local patient network. I have written a book on the British Health Service and I currently write for a health website. I am very interested in the mind-body.