A Feminist's Argument On How Sex Work Can Benefit Women
Carol Leigh advocates for sex work in her essay, “Inventing Sex Work.” She acknowledges that sex work is a legitimate form of work (1997). Sex work is a predominantly female trade, and many sex workers are smart, strong women. Women can benefit from working in an industry populated predominantly by women, who can provide each other with friendship and support. Leigh also asserts that sex work can be interesting and fun. She denies the myth that working in the sex industry ruins the experience of sex in ones personal life. She states: “Sex in my personal life became very exciting. Sex with clients annoyed me sometimes and interested me other times.” (Leigh, 1997, p. 228). This statement by Leigh denies another common argument against sex work: that sex work eliminates the pleasure from sexual activity for the worker and therefore impairs a basic bodily function (Schawzenbach, 2006).
In her chapter, “Contractarians and Feminists Debate Prostitution”, Sibyl Schwarzenbach presents the idea of sex workers, here specifically referencing prostitutes, as sexual therapists (2006). She asks the reader to imagine a society in which frequent, satisfying sexual experiences between consenting adults is seen as a healthy and necessary part of life. These sexual experiences could be of great variety, between men and women, two men, two women, multiple partners, or any other variation the current sexual norm: a man and a woman in a monogamous relationship. In such society, she claims that sex work would be seen as a valuable profession. Sex workers would be both men and women, who were respected in society for their expertise on human sexual needs and their ability to fulfill these needs as a service to others.
Sex work would not need to conform to the heteronormative, sometimes oppressive model of men paying women for sex. Men and women could hire sex workers of either sex to help fulfill their sexual desires. In this society, sex work could surely be a good career for women and men, as they would be highly respected in society and compensated appropriately for their work. The existence of such a sex work industry would benefit not only those working in the industry, however, but society as a whole. The existence of open and available commercial sex would allow individuals to express and explore more fully their sexuality and sexual desires. As religious and patriarchal beliefs have historically denied women these opportunities, women especially could benefit from the existence of a sex work industry, as it would finally be acceptable for them to embrace and explore their own sexuality.
Apparently, there are many ways in which sex work can be beneficial to women. There is no logical basis for the argument against sex work or the criminalization of the field. I have proven that sex work is not necessarily exploitative of women. Sex workers face a danger of exploitation today only because of the criminalization and stigmatization of sex work in our society. Laws that criminalize prostitution and other forms of sex work are outdated, impractical, and harmful. Laws governing sex work deny women control over their own bodies in the same way that laws governing reproductive rights do. As stated by Riddler & Woll, "When we talk about women's rights, we can get all the rights in the world- the right to vote, the right to go to school- and none of them means a doggone thing if we don't own the flesh we stand in” (Chandrachud, 2006). Priscilla Alexander echoes this sentiment: “I believe that as long as women are arrested for the crime of being sexually assertive, for standing on the street without a socially acceptable purpose or a male chaperone, I am not free” (Alexander, 1997, p. 84).
The right to control our sexuality is as essential to feminism as the right to control our reproduction. Any law that denies a women’s control over her body is a law that labels women as second-class citizens and places them under the control of men. Counter to Carole Pateman’s argument that prostitution allows men control of women, I argue that it is not prostitution itself that allows men control of women, but prostitution laws. Were these laws to be eliminated, and sex work placed under the control of those who work in the industry, women could finally begin to claim their sexuality, express and explore their sexual desires, and work legitimately in a field that offers great pay and flexible hours. It is time for feminists everywhere to recognize the potential value in sex work, and to lobby for change in the way sex work is currently perceived in society.
Alexander, P. (1997). Feminism, sex workers, and human rights. Whores and other feminists (Nagel, Jill ed., pp. 83-93). New York: Routledge.
Chandrachud, A. (2006). The substantive right to privacy: Tracing the doctrinal shadows of the Indian constitution.
Clare, E. (1999). Freaks and queers. Exile and pride (pp. 67-101) South End Press.
Leigh, C. (1997). Inventing sex work. In J. Nagel (Ed.), Whores and other feminists (pp. 226-231). New York: Routledge.
Pateman, C. (2006). What's wrong with prositution? In J. Spector (Ed.), Prostitution and pornography: Philosophical debate about the sex industry (pp. 50-79). CA: Stanford University Press.
Query, J., & Montoya, J. (Producers), & Query, J. and Funary, V. (Directors). (2000). Live nude girls unite! [Motion Picture] San Francisco, CA: First Run Features.
Schwarzenbach, S. (2006). Contractarians and feminists debate prostitution. In J. Spector (Ed.), Prostitution and pornography: Philosophical debate about the sex industry (p. 209-238). CA: Stanford University Press.