What’s with the ‘sex positive’ response to prostitution?

I am writing in response to this post. In the blurb attached to a report on sex workers in India, the commentator writes:

“For these women in poverty working in the sex trade, sex itself is not the violation.

Being dehumanized, brutalized, infected, neglected and reviled because they are women is the great violation.”

Firstly, says who? I’ve skimmed through the text of the report, and it doesn’t come from there, it is purely the commentator’s own opinion. How is compulsory sexual activity itself not dehumanising and brutalising, and not an intrinsic part of what makes prostitution dehumanising and brutalising? Of course poverty is dehumanising and brutalising in itself, I am not denying that in any way, but why deny the harm of having to engage in unwanted sex, and why ignore the intersection between women’s low status and the status of women as the sex class?

This is what I really do not understand about the ‘sex positive’ response to prostitution; sex is a wonderful, important part of life, but if a woman is forced, through poverty or some more direct form of coercion, to engage in unwanted sex, suddenly, sex means absolutely nothing.

Surely to be truly positive about sex, to say that what happens to women really matters, would mean absolutely condemning any kind of compulsory sexual activity?

6 responses

  1. Jennifer Drew

    So the commentator did not in fact ask the women working as prostituted women whether they enjoyed men masturbating into their bodies, instead this commentator decided prostituted women must enjoy male strangers committing sexual violence against them. 92% women involved in prostitution want to exit but cannot because all too commonly support agencies do not exist in respect of helping women recover and learn skills which would enable them to re-enter so-called respectable society. Reference see CATW website.

    Instead we have claims that ‘sex’ is wonderful but this is male-centered and male-defined not female-defined or female-centered. If ‘sex’ is so wonderful why then do so many men demand and expect unlimited numbers of women and girls be made available for them to commit sexual violence against and masturbate into their bodies. Prostitution is not sex – it is male masturbation of and in female bodies.

    Such claims neatly invisibilise the fact it is men who are the ones demanding innumerable women and girls be made available to them. Prostitution would not exist if men did not demand it and ‘sex’ has nothing whatsoever to do with prostitution but male supremacy and male domination over women and girls most certainly is the real issue.

    Slavery was once seen as not dehumanisation but an opportunity for so-called dehumanised groups to do something constructive with their lives – such as providing labour, sexual servicing and reproducing more slaves for the white slave owners.

    Now slavery is recognised for what it is – a system whereby predominantly white men enacted their pseudo right to enslave non-white groups because they were seen as dehumanised commodities.

    But prostitution is ‘sex’ (sic) not the deliberate dehumanisation of all women and girls because prostitution is all about men’s pseudo unlimited sex right to women and children.

  2. I agree. What prompted the commentator to sum up the report as if it shows that the “sex” and dehumanisation were unconnected? If it wasn’t the “sex”-in-exchange-for-money that was dehumanising, then what was? Furthermore, *who* was it who “dehumanized, brutalized, infected, neglected and reviled [them] because they [were] women,” if it was not the men they were prostituted to? The authors declare they have no competing interests. No CONSCIOUS competing interests maybe but their conclusion to reduce HIV infection by “address[ing] the unfavourable legal environment” is ambiguous. That could imply either legalising prostitution so that women can be controlled in brothels by the authorities OR it could be taken to mean scrap the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act because it allows women to be held by the Police, OR it could even be a recommendation to “penalize…the exploiters or clients.”

  3. I should point out that the person commenting on the report at the blog I linked to was nothing to do with creating the report. The report itself seems to be little more than basic demographics; average age when entering prostitution etc. It certainly doesn’t address how the women themselves feel about their experience.

  4. Sex is one of our society’s sacred cows. Or rather, the centuries-old machismo view of sex is one of our society’s sacred cows. Any other view of sex is seen as ridiculous. Which is strange in an era where sex isn’t supposed to be a taboo anymore and where people are supposed to be free to think. But I can’t see how things will change unless the media stops favouring porn over sex, or machismosex over sexuality.

  5. Yes, very little has actually changed, we’ve swapped one form of oppression for another very similar one, but now we have to see it as freedom, or play along by committing ourselves to become the ‘rapist instead of the raped’.

  6. […] Tags: Laura Agustin, prostitution, Radical Feminism, sex positive trackback Following on from this post, and after reading this post and its comments thread (which lead me to the material for this quote […]

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