Sex Work/Sex Act: Law, Labor, and Desire in Constructions of Prostitution
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 22, p. 277, 1997
Posted: 16 May 2006
This article develops a feminist theory of prostituion that accounts for its pervasive criminalization. Existing theories tend to reduce prostitution to a form of sexuality or a form of paid work. What is most threatening about commercial sex, however, is its admixture of the erotic and the economic within a single transaction. Criminalization reasserts a divide between market work and personal or familial intimacy both by punishing its crossing and by tying prostitution to illicit sexuality. Prostitution, in its particular institutional forms and cultural significance, is thus in part a product rather than simply an object of criminal law. Therefore, subordinating aspects of contemporary prostitution may best be combatted through decriminizatlion. Moreover, the greatest liberatory potential may flow from articulating prostitution as sex work, where the dignity and protections of labor coexist with intimate relations and where sex acts may not reveal sexual identity.
Keywords: feminist theory of prostituion
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