The Anatomy of ’Free Choice’ Prostitution
Julia O’Connell Davidson“
This paper draws on an ethnographic study of a self-employed prostitute, her receptionists and her clients. It describes the prostitute’s business and her working life, and considers the dynamics of power and control within the prostitute-client exchange. The paper argues that issues of control and consent in prostitution are more complex than many current feminist analyses suggest.

rostitution has proved to be a divisive issue amongst feminists (see McIntosh 1994).For those radical feminists who hold all heterosexual intercourse to be an expression of patriarchal power (for example, Dworkin 1987; MacKinnon 1984; Jeffreys 1990), prostitution is perhaps the purest expression of male domination. The client secures direct control over the prostitute and such authors further contend that ’Free prostitution does not exist ... prostitution of women [is] always by force ... it is a violation of human rights and an outrage to the dignity of women‘ (Barry 1991 quoted in Van der Gaag 1994, p. 6). Other academics and feminists, especially those involved in campaigns around prostitution, find the radical feminist analysis over-simplistic. They point out that prostitution is not a unitary phenomenon - the term encompasses an enormously diverse range of activities performed under very different terms and conditions - and argue that a firm distinction must be made between ’free choice’ prostitution by adults and all forms of forced, unfree and child prostitution (see Brussa 1991; Delacoste and Alexander 1988; Mr A. de Graaf Foundation 1994).Liberals in this ‘sex work’ camp view ’free choice’ prostitution as a form of work like any other. It is the ’mutually voluntary exchange of sexual services for money or other consideration’ (Coyote 1988, p. 290). Some even claim that ’implicit in the demand that women have control over their own bodies is that they also have the right to sell their sexual services’ and that because of her financial and sexual autonomy, the ‘whore is dangerously free’ (Roberts 1992, p. 355). Freedom, however, ’like love and beauty, is ... better experienced than defined‘


(Patterson 1991, p. l), and this paper is concerned with the nature of the ‘free choice‘ prostitute’s freedom. Drawing on an ethnographic study of a prostitute (who will be referred to as Desiree), her receptionists and her clients,’ it begins by examining the problems which confront people who wish to make a living as self-employed prostitutes, then moves on to describe the dynamics of power and control within the prostitute-client exchange. The aim is to show that issues of control and consent in prostitution are rather more complex than either the radical feminist or the liberal ‘sex work‘ model suggest.

The self-employed prostitute’s business
Desiree is an extremely independent and able businesswoman who reaps substantial financial rewards from self-employed prostitution, regularly turning over between €1,000 and €2,000 per week. After only four years in the business full time, she has saved around €30,000 in cash. She also now owns two properties, a BMW and another small business. Obviously, just as self-employment in general is not a homogeneous phenomenon (Casey and Creigh 1988), neither is selfemployed prostitution, and Desiree is hardly likely to be representative of all selfemployed prostitutes. However, her experience may be illuminating both theoretically and empirically precisely because it is atvuical. On the one hand, it would be unfair * Address fox t d ;valuate the claim that prostitutes are ’dangerously free’ against empirical data on Julia OConnellsociology, Department of Davidson, more vulnerable and less financially University of Leicester, , successful sex workers. On the other, an Leicester ~ E ~IR H UK.

0 Basil Blackwell Ltd. 1995,108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1 JF, UK and 238 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA.

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examination of how Desiree operates usefully highlights the key problems that confront the self-employed prostitute as a small business-person, and shows how, if success is measured purely in terms of avoiding prosecution and reaping financial rewards, they can be resolved.

monotonous clerical work). It proved so lucrative financially that she was able to sell her flat and buy a house in a residential area of a Midlands town from which she has developed what is, effectively, a small business selling sexual services.

The legnl franzework
The legal framework regulating the sale of sexual services differs from that which governs the sale of other personal services such as hair-dressing, chiropody or counselling. In Britain, ’contracting to provide sex for money is not in itself unlawful. The law is invoked only to criminalize concomitant activity’ (Kennedy 1993, p. 145). It is against the law for a ’common prostitute’ to loiter or solicit in the street, it is illegal to solicit custom by advertisement, it is against the law to run a ’house of ill-repute’ or to organize the work of prostitutes and it is illegal to financially or materially benefit from ’immoral earnings’. For an individual to work as a selfemployed prostitute and simultaneously avoid falling foul of the law therefore requires some capital and a good deal of ingenuity. Without any capital, an independent sex worker will either have to engage in street prostitution (and nearly 9,000 women were convicted for loitering or soliciting in 1988, see Lopez Jones, 1990, p. 659) or work from rented premises and hope that the landlord, who could be prosecuted for living off immoral earnings, does not find out. A sex worker attempting to work from a premises privately owned by a friend or spouse would be exposing them to the same risk. The law thus serves to reinforce the vulnerability of the already disadvantaged sex worker. It is those who are not owner-occupiers that are most likely to end up in court, where prostitutes were fined some €500,000 in 1990 (Furedi 1992).More disturbing still, in Britain as in the USA, the police and courts often take possession of condoms as evidence that a woman is loitering for prostitution (Furedi 1992; Lockett 1988), so that those who are forced to work from the streets are actually at greater risk of prosecution when they practice safer sex. The owner-occupier prostitute has no such disincentive to protect herself. When Desiree first started working as a prostitute, she did so from a flat which she herself owned. In fact, it was because she was experiencing problems meeting her mortgage repayments that she decided to use prostitution as a means of topping up her income from her regular employment (extremely

Although sex workers like Desiree attract a certain amount of custom by word of mouth, they need to advertise their business in order to attract custom. However, laws on soliciting make marketing sexual services more difficult than marketing other personal services. Again, money and/or credit helps the selfemployed sex worker to negotiate these legal restrictions. Installing a telephone is absolutely vital, and it is then best to advertise the telephone number under ‘Massage’ in the classified section of newspapers and in ‘contact magazines’ which can be purchased in sex shops. A cheaper alternative is to leave cards in phone boxes, but British Telecom (a company whose righteous zeal is curiously absent when it comes to making profit from 0898 sex lines such as ‘Bent over Sir’s Desk and ‘Black Girl wants to be used for a quickie then hang up on her’) has recently taken to sending letters to prostitutes threatening to block their incoming calls if they do not remove their cards (Furedi 1992; Kennedy 1993). Since sex workers are prevented by law from stating the nature or price of the services they offer, advertising this form of prostitution does not and cannot centre on extending ’product’ awareness, but rests fundamentally on attracting the custom of men with existing knowledge (if not experience) of the service. To ensure a steady flow of custom, it is also essential to advertise daily Though the cost of this type of marketing cannot be described as high, it is not insignificant. Money has to be put up front for the advertising, and also, because of its efficacy in terms of attracting interest, advertising in a national tabloid makes it almost essential to hire the services of a receptionist to deal with the phone calls it generates-upwards of seventy a day in Desiree’s case. Desiree spends around €100 per week on advertising, and it costs her a further €150 to pay her receptionists.

Translating enquiries into business transactions
A large proportion of the responses to advertisements for sexual services are simply
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‘wank calls’. There are vast numbers of men for whom the act of making a fictitious appointment with a prostitute serves the function of a masturbatory fantasy. This is a problem for both heterosexual and homosexual sex workers (see West 1992, p. 229). Desiree estimates that of the enquires she receives, less than 10% actually translate into custom. This is not just because so many phone calls are solely for masturbatory purposes, but also because many men make numerous preparatory calls. Perhaps arranging to visit a prostitute is a source of anxiety, perhaps the preparation is itself a source of sexual pleasure to Desiree’s clients just as much as it is to those men who make use of street prostitutes (see Hoigard and Finstad 1992), but either way, there are many men who phone to enquire several times and book two or three ‘definite’ appointments before actually arriving on the door step. The fact that so many appointments are broken makes it extremely difficult to control and manage the throughput of customers, and this problem is considered in the following section. Dealing with telephone enquiries is also complicated by legal constraints on prostitution. It is illegal to openly state the nature of the services that are on offer on the phone any mention of their sexual nature could be construed as solicitation. The prostitute or receptionist thus treads a difficult line between attracting custom and attracting unwanted legal attention. The way in which an enquiry is dealt with on the phone is probably the most critical factor affecting whether or not a genuinely interested caller ever actually arrives at the front door. But even after a man has entered the building, certain conditions need to be met in order to ensure that a business transaction takes place. He may simply leave if he does not care for the look of the premises or of the prostitute, or if he is kept waiting too long. This, combined with the problems of controlling the throughput of customers, presents the prostitute with some very real organizational difficulties.

reapply her make-up, but she must keep herself psychically prepared for work and cannot settle to anything else, as a punter might knock on the door at any moment. The fact that around 90% of men break the appointments they make further contributes to this inability to control or reliably predict demand. If a man phones and asks for a 4 o’clock appointment, Desiree can hardly refuse on the grounds that someone else has already booked in for that time since it is highly likely that neither will arrive. Desiree will therefore make appointments with any number of men for the same time, on the basis that the chances of them arriving simultaneously are low, and this holds true as a general rule. However, sometimes two or three men (more on occasion) do turn up during the same hour, and Desiree does not want to lose their custom. Again, this underlines the importance of employing a receptionist. If Desiree is busy with a client, the receptionist can answer the door and invite the next customer in. She then tries to keep him there until Desiree is ready to deal with him by reassuring him that he will not have to wait long, offering him coffee and asking whether he would like to watch a video while he waits. Another approach to the problem of controlling and predicting demand is to try to build up a regular clientele. ’Regulars’ generally do keep the appointments they make and they provide a more steady and reliable stream of income. Desiree therefore goes to some lengths to keep a regular’s custom, investing in new outfits or equipment and planning novel activities to sustain their interest and loyalty. Her ideal would be to service a small number of high paying regulars each day, since this would obviate the problems of managing throughput which have just been outlined. This ambition is probably unrealistic, but Desiree does manage to achieve some degree of control over the nature and volume of demand through her pricing system, skills and specialisms.

Managing throughput
One of the most difficult aspects of the prostitute’s business is that the flow of custom (and therefore of cash) is so erratic. Desiree has days when only one or two men turn up and others when clients seemingly arrive in droves. A great deal of her time is spent sitting or pacing around in a state of restless boredom. She can chat to the receptionist, drink cups of coffee, endlessly
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Pricing system and specialisms
Because Desiree wishes to run her business legally, she cannot expand her income by employing other sex workers. It is not feasible, therefore, to pursue a low-price high-volume strategy. There are physical limits to the volume of demand she can hope to accommodate by herself (though these are more elastic than it might be assumed domination clients are sometimes left tied up

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whilst Desiree serLrices another client in another room), and since it is her own sexual labour rather than an employee’s which is being exploited, she has an interest in supplying as little of it as possible for as much money as possible. Her pricing policy represents a method of controlling both the volume and nature of demand. Where local street prostitutes charge between f20 and €25 for penetrative sex, and men using women employed by massage parlours will pay about f35 for the same service, Desiree’s rate is f70. Prices for hand, breast and oral ’relief’ are also significantly higher from selfemployed prostitutes like Desiree. It seems likely that the market for heterosexual sexual services, like that for homosexual prostitution (see West 1992) is segmented, with street workers catering primarily to men who want cheap ’quickies’ (perhaps also the excitement of doing something dangerous and seamy), and women like Desiree catering to men who are better off and/or more fearful and inexperienced, as well as to men who have more diverse and demanding requirements in terms of skill, equipment and props. Though the latter group is more demanding in terms of psychic energy, such men are willing to pay high prices (upwards of €80) and often ask for services which afford Desiree some personal satisfaction (to be beaten or verbally humiliated, for example). Desiree has a range of specialist equipment and garments, has read widely and devoted a great deal of thought to developing her skills as a dominatrix, and financially, this has proved a worthwhile investment.

Coping nzedznnisn~s
Prostitution is extraordinarily stressful work. As will be seen below, it calls for emotional labour of a type and on a scale which is probably unparalleled in any other job. Because the flow of work is erratic and unpredictable, the self-employed prostitute must keep herself in a constant state of readiness for tasks that are emotionally demanding and intrusive, many of which she personally will find repulsive. Furthermore, prostitution carries with it a social stigma SO great that a woman who makes her living in this way is deemed unworthy even of proper protection from murder, let alone rape, physical violence or robbery. As Kennedy (1993, p. 149) observes: ’So entrenched is the idea that prostitutes have it coming to them that, in order to allay speculations and emphasise the seriousness of the risk to real women, the police often feel obliged to

stipulate that female victims are not prostitutes.‘ Hoigard and Finstad (1992, p. 64) elaborate on the contention that prostitutes employ defence mechanisms which are designed to create ‘a clearly defined split between the “private” and the ”public” self’. They outline the defence strategies used by street-working prostitutes and conclude that all serve the same basic purpose ’non-participation, maintenance of distance, protection against the invasion of the self’ (1992, p. 74). Desiree’s coping strategies are likewise directed primarily towards this end. She keeps her eyes closed during penetrative sex, keeps towels, sheets and everything used by clients separate from her own personal belongings, and does a certain amount of ritualistic house cleaning. She has recently begun to advertise more specifically as a dominatrix. This can be seen as a defence strategy as well as a business move, since, when domination clients touch her in ways she particularly dislikes, her role as Mistress allows her to hit them and command them to stop. Desiree does have other, less positive methods of coping, neither of which are distinctive to prostitutes. Like many people in stressful jobs, she sometimes uses alcohol and/or other stimulants and her consciousness of the stigma attaching to her work leads her to limit her social life. However, prostitution is not the only form of work which has a negative impact on workers’ social lives. Above all else, Desiree relies upon humour as a means of distancing herself from the clients, the work and the stigma. When her favourite receptionist is there, an almost continual flow of extremely funny one liners are exchanged between them, and their jokes savagely ridicule the clients and the hypocrisy of contemporary social attitudes towards women, sex and prostitution. Desiree also copes with boredom by playing practical jokes over the telephone and by devising comic schemes for money making or entertainment. This defence mechanism is absent from Hoigard and Finstad’s (1992) list, perhaps because it is more difficult for street workers to make use of such strategies.

Health and sufety issues
In terms of safety, it is probably the case that a self-employed sex worker like Desiree is at less risk than a street-working prostitute who may have to get into the client’s vehicle or provide services in a secluded, outside location, which by definition gives her less control over the situation. In West’s (1992) study of male prostitutes, rent boys were
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more likely to report having suffered assault than were self-employed masseurs. Estimating the safety risks associated with prostitution is difficult and there are certainly other women workers who are equally if not more vulnerable to assault, such as nurses and police officers. One thing that is certain, however, is that prostitutes cannot rely on the protection of the law or law enforcement agents to the same extent as women in other occupations (see Alexander 1988; Kennedy 1993). Desiree takes a number of precautions to protect herself from assault and robbery by clients. The presence of a receptionist who is aware of the risks and ready to intervene if necessary is one of them. She tries to prevent theft by making sure that waiting clients are not left alone downstairs, and in the past four years, she has been affected by nothing more serious than a few scuffles and the theft of a couple of videos and magazines. In terms of the risk of sexually transmitted disease, Desiree is probably less vulnerable than either street workers or employed sex workers, and certainly less vulnerable than most women who are sexually active noncommercially. Her own reading of the literature on AIDS and on safer sex, as well as advice sought from the Terrence Higgins Trust has led her to take the following precautions. With clients, she refuses to receive anal penetration with or without a condom, she refuses to fellate or to allow vaginal penetration unless the man wears a condom, she keeps a cap in permanently, she wears protective gloves to perform anal stimulation. Again, it should be reiterated that her relative security is connected to her relatively advantaged financial position. Some clients offer huge sums of money for unprotected sex. She earns enough to make it easy to turn down such offers and she is not at risk of being stopped, searched and charged by the police because she takes steps to protect herself. Thus far it has been shown that, unlike a majority of workers, Desiree has chosen, designed and owns the physical environment she works in. She plans and controls all aspects of her business; where and how to advertise, who to employ and what tasks to assign to them, the pricing system, what services are and are not on offer, the hours and days of business. It has also been observed that Desiree manages to secure substantial financial rewards from her work. On top of this, as the following section shows, Desiree exercises a great deal of control over the details of transactions with individual clients.
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Power and control within the prostitute-client exchange
It would be not only over-simplistic but wrong to describe Desiree as powerless in relation to the individual client. To begin with, it is important to recognize that Desiree has far more experience of prostitute-client encounters than does the average punter. Many clients are fearful and guilty about visiting a prostitute. The man with very little experience of buying sexual services is diffident and uncertain when he phones to book an appointment, and when he arrives, he approaches the house with trepidation, looking over his shoulder, keeping his head down. He knocks on the front door, unsure what to expect. As one client put it ‘You don’t know the set up, you don’t know who’ll be behind the door. It might be a con. You might get robbed or anything’. Providing Desiree is not already with a client, she unchains and opens the door herself, standing half hidden behind the door, wearing a low cut shirt, a barely visible lycra skirt, suspenders, stockings and very high heeled shoes. As soon as the man steps over the threshold, she shuts the door behind him, beams at him ‘Hi, how are you? Would you like to come up?’ and walks him up the stairs to the massage room. The whole house has a sterile feel to it. It is decorated entirely in pink and grey, scrupulously clean and neat, like a fashionable private dentist’s surgery, and nowhere is this more the case than in the massage room. This is a small room with a tiled floor, a trolley that is suggestive of a medical setting with its stock of oils, creams, surgical gloves, tissues and condoms, and a couch of black plastic and tubular steel, covered by a paper sheet of the type used by doctors and dentists. Here, Desiree tells the client to take off or loosen his clothes and lie down, whereupon she gives him a brief and spurious massage. During this, the more confident or experienced client will generally tell her the kind of services he is interested in (often in a somewhat coded form). But with the inexperienced client, it is Desiree who has to lead the conversation to discover whether he wants hand relief or penetrative sex and so on. If the client wants penetrative sex, Desiree leads him from the massage room to another room which is similarly impersonal in ambience, but equipped with a double bed. A range of uniforms and outfits hang in view of the client, as do a selection of whips, crops, restraints and chains, so that he can see what is on offer and ask for any ’extras’he happens to fancy. Many clients rely on Desiree to script the encounter and she can get nervous and

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inexperienced men in and out of the house in fifteen minutes flat. But even when dealing with punters who regularly visit prostitutes, who are confident and who know exactly what they want, Desiree’s far greater sexual skill and knowledge allows her to exert control over how much of her sexual labour she provides in exchange for a set fee. She knows, for example, that most clients become extremely aroused by the site of her masturbating with a vibrator, and they will come to orgasm during penetrative sex far quicker having watched her do so beforehand. She also spends a great deal of time doing exercises which strengthen her pelvic floor muscles, so that she can, as she puts it ’milk’ the client. She knows the best position from which to bring a man with erectile problems to orgasm, she knows that many men come more quickly if they can admire themselves in the mirror as they perform their manly feats. In short, Desiree is highly skilled at getting clients to come (and therefore to go) very speedily. Though the receptionists tell prospective customers over the phone that the €70 fee for a ’full personal service’ entitles them to an hour of her time, and though many men fondly imagine themselves to be such studs that an hour will not suffice, in practice it is rare for any non-domination client to stay more than half an hour, and that includes time spent in the massage room, showering and getting dressed. Desiree also dictates the limits and terms of the exchange. She will not perform acts that she believes endanger her own health, she will not agree to practices which she finds too repulsive (like giving enemas), too intimate (like kissing) or too hostile (like ejaculating in her face). If, having asked for hand relief, the client decides half way through that he would also like penetrative sex, Desiree will charge him for both. A client who asks for another go after coming to orgasm very quickly will either be turned down flat (if other punters are waiting) or charged for two ‘full services’. And while some clients may feel discontented, even grumble, it is important to recognize the fact that most clients actually feel too uncertain and vulnerable to insist or to refuse to pay. They do not know who else is in the building and are often fearful of blackmail or embarrassment. Certainly, Desiree does not see herself as powerless in relation to individual clients. She even describes herself as ’exploiting‘ the weaknesses and ’perversions’ of those clients who wish to be dominated by her sexually, and almost by definition, there is a level at which such clients surrender themselves to

Desiree’s control. One man recently arrived asking to be bound and gagged, but no sooner had Desiree trussed him up than another punter arrived, and another, and another. Desiree finally left the domination client tied up in her bedroom for two hours whilst she consecutively serviced four other men in another room. In another sense, however, domination clients could be said to exercise control by relinquishing it (see Stoller 1991), and they certainly seem to exact more for their money than do straight clients. Indeed, it is when we turn to the question of what exactly is being purchased by the client and thus at what exactly is being commodified by the prostitute, that issues of power and control begin to look rather different.

What do clients buy?
Since radical feminists tend to assume that all heterosexual activity is an expression of patriarchal domination, they argue that in buying the use of woman’s body, men secure an opportunity to exercise their patriarchal rights of access to women and so to positively affirm their masculine identity. Any sexual pleasure they may derive from the encounter is dismissed as irrelevant or secondary to this end. The demand for masochistic pleasures deriving from ‘bondage and discipline’ obviously generates problems for feminists who insist that male sexuality necessarily involves mastery of a subordinate woman, and Pateman attempts to get around this problem by denying that the commercial acts of a dominatrix can ’appropriately be called prostitution’ (Patemen 1988, p. 199). The client’s desire for sensual pleasure should not be dismissed so lightly, and to define prostitution as involving only those activities which constitute or are associated with ‘the sex act’ in order to sustain the argument that ’the institution or prostitution ensures that men can buy ‘the sex act‘ and so exercise their patriarchal right’ (Patemen 1988, p. 199) is so transparently tautological as to be disingenuous. However, having insisted that clients are typically paying for some kind of sexual pleasure that results from the prostitute’s physical labour (in whatever form), it is important to recognize that this is not all that they are paying for. The client also pays to step outside the complex web of rules, meanings, obligations and conventions which govern noncommercial sexuality. No punter is too old or too ugly, no punter’s penis is too small or too flaccid. No desire is too ’perverse’, too insulting or too disgusting to be confessed to
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a prostitute (although, of course, some requests are refused). In this sense, clients are often better described as escaping from the constraints and contradictions of masculinity and/or the social conventions governing sexuality than characterized as affirming ‘contemporary expressions of masculine sexuality’ (Pateman 1988, p. 199). Clearly, escape will mean different things to different men. Sex with a prostitute is sex without commitment, but it does not follow from this that prostitutes simply provide ’a hole to fuck’, to use Dworkin’s terminology. Though some men desire uncommitted sexual encounters that are nasty, brutish and short, others have very different fantasies. The common thread is that Desiree must become whatever the client wants her to be variously nothing but a cunt, their own beloved paramour, the firm Mistress waiting to discipline them, the ’working girl’ who has never been fucked by a real man before, even their lesbian lover. Indeed, the prostitute’s skill and art lies in her ability to completely conceal all genuine feelings, beliefs, desires, preferences and personality (in short, her self) and appear as nothing more than a living embodiment of the client’s fantasies. As Desiree puts it, ’I’m just a role, a fantasy for them. I don’t exist for them as a person’. The client’s money buys him access to a sort of twilight sexual realm wherein a man can have sex with a real, live, flesh and blood person and yet side-step all the social obligations that go along with sexual relations between real, live people. For some clients, this represents freedom from the obligation to engage in what they consider to be ’normal’ sex. Many of Desiree’s domination and transvestite clients tell her that they are married (as a large proportion of prostitutes’ clients appear to be - see McLeod 1982; Kinnell 1989), but would not dream of telling their wives or indulging their tastes with any ’respectable’ woman. One unmarried domination client told me: You couldn’t, on your honeymoon, ask your wife ‘Do you do S&M?’. She‘d think ’What am I marrying?’... If I ever meet a girl and settle down and marry, I don’t think I would want her to be that way. I can’t really imagine that. It’s not the sort of thing you could do with your wife then say ’Shall we have a cuppa?’. I don’t think it would work. Clients who pay for ‘straight’ sex often want both physical and psychic pleasures which they would not permit themselves in non-commercial sexual encounters - to
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perform cunnilingus, to wear nipple clamps, to have objects inserted in their anuses, to have Desiree dressed as a school girl, to call her a ’bitch’ or a ‘whore’ as they approach climax. Others actually want to simulate a romantic attachment. They go to elaborate lengths to conceal the commercial aspect of the transaction, hide the cash payments, send valentine cards, bring chocolate and flowers, and generally enjoy the pleasures of a ‘romance’ without any real threat of intimacy. In short, the client feels able to transgress the rules which he believes apply to sexual relationships (whether they be to give flowers or ’respect’, long-term financial or emotional support, or whatever). He is freed from the confines of masculinity, whether that be the ’burden’ of machismo or the ’burden’ of being a protector. He is liberated from the codes and conventions which tyrannize noncommercial sexual encounters. The client purchases ’time out’ of those facets of gender and sexual ideologies which he finds oppressive. Because dull economic compulsion drives so many women to prostitution and because so many men have the financial power to buy sexual services, it is possible for them to have their cake and eat it. Money buys a temporary release from the constraints imposed by contemporary myths about male sexuality (see Segal 1990, pp. 207-17) and an opportunity to indulge in the pleasures of transgression. As well as paying for the sexual pleasure, physical labour and/or the making available of body parts, the client is effectively paying the prostitute to be a person who is not a person. The prostitute is what Patterson (1982) might term ’socially dead’ for the duration of the transaction, that is, a person without power, natality or honour. Patterson holds that the slave is not distinguished by the fact that others exercise property rights over him or her (since these are also exercised over people who are not enslaved husbands, wives and children, for example), but by the fact s/he cannot exercise claims, rights and powers over things or other persons. Likewise, the prostitute cannot be distinguished from other sexual partners by the fact that clients make claims over her or demands within the sexual encounter (people do this in non-commercial relationships as well), but only by the fact that she is not entitled to make claims over or demands of the client. The prostitute is without natality in the sense that her real identity and personal history is invariably concealed from the client, who has no real interest in it, and she is without honour in the sense that the degraded status of the ‘whore‘ dissolves

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her entitlement to the protection and respect accorded to non-prostitute women. What is it that leads the self-employed prostitute to embrace these transitory but serial experiences of social death? No man (client or pimp) exerts direct, personalistic power over a woman like Desiree. The client, like all individuals in capitalist societies, ’carries his social power, as also his connection with society, in his pocket’ (Marx 1973, p. 94), and not in his Y fronts.’ But accepting that clients’ power over prostitutes is primarily economic, not sexual, does not require us to join ranks with liberals in the ‘sex work’ camp and view prostitution as a voluntarv, mutual exchange.

’Free choice’ prostitution and ’free’ wage labour
I n alienating her ‘services’ in exchange for cash, Desiree renders herself temporarily unfree in relation to her own body. She can impose limits on which parts of it can be used and how, just as certain groups of waged workers can set constraints on how and how much of their labour power an employer can use. But unless Desiree allows clients to exploit some part of her body as a resource for their own ends, whether that be her vagina, her hands, her breasts, or whatever, the deal is off. The essence of the deal is that the client obtains certain rights and claims over her body. It makes no sense to say that she is not contracting out her body, only her ’services’, because these services, like human labour power, are embedded in and cannot be detached from the body (Pateman makes this point very clearly, 1988, pp. 202-3). The ‘freedom’ to alienate property in the person (whether labour power or sexual services) is thus only a freedom to surrender certain freedoms. One obvious difference between a selfemployed prostitute like Desiree and a wage worker is that the self-employed prostitute does not enter into a relationship with one employer. She is not dependent upon any individual client, and does not make her living by transferring rights of command over her person to anyone or any firm in particular. Does the fact that the prostitute ’hires out’ her ‘services’ to numerous different clients make her more free than the wage worker who ’hires out’ her ‘labour’ to one employer? The answer is surely no. In order to make a living from prostitution, it is actually imperative that Desiree sees clients not as a series of separate individuals, but as one unified, collective body. Desiree cannot

use her own desire as a criterion for entering into transactions, volunteering only to engage in acts which bring her pleasure or only to entertain those clients she finds attractive. If she did, her income would plummet to next to nothing. She would no longer be making a living from selling her ’sexual services’, but merely indulging a personal taste for anonymous sexual encounters involving the exchange of cash. To actually make a living from prostitution, it is necessary to surrender control over who to have sex with and how and when, just as it is necessary to surrender control over who directs your labour power and to what ends when you enter employment. The prostitute-client exchange is thus ’voluntary’ only in the extremely limited, abstract and theoretical sense that the capitalist employment relation is a ’voluntary’ one.

Mutual or unequal exchange?
Is the exchange between prostitute and client an equal one? If emotional labour is taken to be ’the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display’ (Hochschild 1983, p. 7), then the intensity of the prostitute’s emotional labour is quite phenomenal. Furthermore, like most selfemployed workers (see Rainbird 1991) Desiree works extremely long hours - a ten hour day, six days a week - in order to earn the kind of money which makes such work tolerable. The social, psychological and health costs of such work are immense. The proposition that clients pay enough to cover the cost of reproducing the emotional, psychic and physical inputs that the prostitute parts with, as well as to compensate for the risk of prosecution and the social stigma that goes with the prostitute’s work, seems improbable. Moreover, the prostitute exchanges across a market something that is not fully or universally commodified in this society and hence has no meaningful or measurable exchange-value. Sayer (1991, pp. 25-6) observes that, for Marx:
In the process of exchange ... all commodities are routinely compared and equated to one another: they have in addition to a use value, an exchange value ... The exchange value of all commodities, relative to one another, are expressed in quantities of a single equivalent, money. The price-tag on a given commodity tells us in what proportions it can exchange for every other commodity: how many units of commodity x would have to be sold in order to purchase commodity y or z.
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The concept of value presupposes exchange, and sexual services, unlike human labour power, are not generally exchanged in this society. In capitalist societies, it is the norm to sell labour power and people are not dishonoured by temporarily ’contracting out’ this form of ‘property’ in their person. But sexual acts are not typically viewed as commodities, and sexuality is not regulated by the ideology of the market. Instead, a complex set of pre-capitalist and non-market ideas - including honour, shame, love, pleasure, loyalty - generally govern people’s sexual interaction. Prostitutes and clients alike are socialized in a world where particular meanings are attached to human sexuality (meanings which underpin the codes and conventions governing sexual interaction), a world in which it is widely held that the only legitimate sex is between men and women who love each other and that ’money can’t buy you love’. In buying access to the ’sexual property’ that a prostitute has in her person, the client thus draws the prostitute into a marginal social world where ’sexual services’ are assumed to have an exchange value and where the ’normal’ codes and conventions regulating the interaction between sexual partners do not apply. The working life of the prostitute thus takes place in a space between two worlds, incompletely dominated by the ideology of the free market and yet detached from pre-market values and codes. The client exchanges money (the universal medium for the expression of the exchange values of commodities) for something which is riot universally recognized as a commodity. Unlike other parties to commodity exchange in capitalist societies (see Sayer 1991, pp. 58-9), then, prostitute and client are not socially equated as equals through their transaction. The client parts with something that is alienable, permeated by his will, a mere commodity. The prostitute parts with something that is socially constructed as an integral part of her identity, her honour, her position in society. She is not posited and confirmed as the client’s equal through the exchange, but stigmatized as his, and everyone else’s, social inferior. To a majority of people, often even the woman herself, the prostitute, unlike the wage labourer, is genuinely and irrevocably dishonoured through the contracts she enters into with clients. Even substantial sums of money will not necessarily buy a woman an escape from this stigma and its social and psychological consequences. Those in the ’sex work’ camp insist that destigmatizing ’the whore’ is an urgent political

priority. Roberts (1992, p. 357), for example, observes that ‘no woman can ever be free in a society which perpetuates the division of all women into whores and madonnas’. Of course, it is vital to campaign for prostitutes to be accorded full civil rights and of course we should campaign to reveal the hypocrisy and misogyny behind the whore stigma. But what would de-stigmatization alone mean for prostitutes? To begin with, if it is right to suggest that the demand for prostitute’s services stems in large part from the contradictory and repressive ideologies which surround human sexuality, then, paradoxically, the prostitute’s livelihood actually depends on the maintenance of the very ideology which degrades her and makes her into a social outcast. Her liminal status as a person who is not a person is simultaneously the source of her stigma and her subsistence. But even if the demand for prostitute’s services did persist, there are other grounds for questioning the idea that prostitution would be empowering if only it were destigmatized. Few people would suggest that women who work as auxiliary nurses on geriatric wards are somehow liberated because they are changing the incontinence pads of strangers in return for cash rather than performing this task for their own relatives out of a sense of duty, and though it might be objected that some prostitutes enjoy their work, the number of women who actually derive any great personal satisfaction or fulfilment from spending day after day sticking vibrators up strange men’s bottoms, feigning orgiastic delight as they sit on limp penises and so on, is probably insignificant. How would the de-stigmatized prostitute’s situation differ from that of women working in other menial ’caring’jobs? People only elect to ’hire out’ any kind of ’property’ in their person in the absence of any better alternative means of subsisting. The ’freedom’ involved in ‘free choice’ prostitution could only ever have the same abstract and ephemeral character as the wage worker’s ‘freedom’. At present, inequalities structured along lines of class, gender and ‘racialized’ identities mean that the people for whom prostitution becomes a rational economic ‘choice’are predominantly workingclass women and within this, disproportionately women of colour.3There is no reason to suppose that de-stigmatization would significantly change this pattern, and the idea that women could ever be empowered by entering an industry that is gendered and ’racialized’ to the extent that the sex industry is, therefore seems more than a little dubious.



I . The research has been in progress for over a vex, and has employed a number of techniques; interviews and informal conversations with Desiree, her receptionists and clients, obsenrations of clients arriving, leaving and waiting at her premises, tape recordings of Desirec’s sessions with clients, questionnaires on client requirements completed by Desiree after clients leave, and participant observation as a receptionist. The ethical and methodological problems and issues posed by the research are discussed at some length in O’Connell Davidson and Layder (1993). 2. Of course, his greater economic power is not unconnected to what he has in his Y fronts, but tor reasons of political strategy, as well as others, i t is important to avoid making an over simplistic equation between male economic m d social power and male sexual dominance as well as to recognize that male sexuality is not ‘irredeemably violent, coercive or connected with emotions of domination’ (Scgal 1990, p. 216). 3. I n the USA, it is estimated that approximately 4O”b ot street prostitutes are women of colour (Alcxander 1988, p. 197), and in Amsterdam‘s red light district, the Mr A. d e Graaf Institute, a rescarcti organization which campaigns for the decriminalization of prostitution, estimates that over 50”%of prostitutes are of African, Latino and South East Asian descent. My own preliminary analysis of British contact magarines suggest that women of African-Caribbean descent are hugely over-represented in this form o t work, constituting around 18% of prostitutes using this advertising medium.

Alexander, P. (1988) I’rostitution: a difficult issue for feminists. In E Delacoste and P. Alexander (eds.) St7.r Work: Writings by Women iti the Sex Industry London: Virago. Barry, K. (1979) Fewzole Sexual Slaziery. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Barry, K. (ed.) (1984) Interrintional Feniinisim: Netulorkirig Agoinst Femnle Sexual Slavery. New York: International Women’s Tribune Center. Barry, K. (1991) The Penn State Report on Sexual Exploitation, Violence and I’rostitution, UNESCO/Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. Brussa, L. (1991) Survey on Prostitution, Migration and Traffic in Women: History and Current Situation. Seminar on action against traffic in women and forced prostitution as violations of human rights and human dignity, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, 25-27 Sept. Casey, B. and Creigh, S. (1988) ’Self-employment in Great Britain’, Work, Employment nnd Society, 2 3 , 381-91.

Delacoste, F. and Alexander, P. (eds.) (1988) Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry. London: Virago. COYOTE. (1988) COYOTE/National Task Force on Prostitution. In F. Delacoste and P. Alexander (eds.) Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex industry. London: Virago. Dworkin, A. (1987) Intercourse. London: Secker and Warburg. Furedi, A. (1992) Who’s Screwing Who? In Nuw Woman, Dec. Hochschild, A. (1983) The Managed Heart. Berkeley: University of California Press. Hoigard, C. and Finstad, L. (1992) Prostitution, Money arid Love. Cambridge: Polity Press. Jeffreys, S. (1990) Anticlimax. London: The Women’s Press. Kennedy, H. (1993) Eve Was Franied: Women a d British Justice. London: Vintage. Kinnell, H. (1989) Prosbitutes, Their Clierits and Risks of HIV. Birmingham: University, Dept. Public Health Medicine. Lockett, G. (1988) Destroying condoms. In F. Delacoste and P. Alexander (eds.) Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry. London: Virago. Lopez Jones, N. (1990) ’Guilty Until I’roven Innocent’, N e w Lou) Joirrnnl, 11 May. MacKinnon, C. (1984) Comments. In Signs, 10,l. Marx, K. (1973) Grundrisse. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Mclntosh, M. (1994) The Feminist Debate on Prostitution. Paper presented to the BSA Annual Conference, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, 28-31 March. McLeod, E. (1982) Womeri Working: Prostitution Noui. London: Croom Helm. Mr A. d e Graaf Foundation. (1994) Prostitution in the Netherlands: The Current State of Afiairs, Westermarkt 4, 1016 DK Amsterdam. O’Connell Davidson, 1. and Layder, D. (1994) Methods, Sex and Madness. London: Routledge. Pateman, C. (1988) The Sexual Contract. Cambridge: Polity Press. Patterson, 0. (1982) Slavery and Social Death. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Patterson, 0. (1991) Freedom in the Making of Western Culture. Vol. 1. London: I.B. Tauris. Rainbird, H. (1991) The self-employed: small entrepreneurs or disguised wage labourers? in A. Pollert (ed.) Farewell to Flexibility? Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Roberts, N. (1992) Whores in History. L.ondon: Grafton. Sayer, D. (1991) Capitalism and Modeniify. London: Rou tledge. Segal, L. (1990) Slow Motion: Changing Masculinities. Changing M e n . London: Virago. Stoller, R. (1991) Pain and Pnssion: A Psychoanalyst Explores the World ofS 0 M . New York: Plenum Press. Van der Gaag, N. (1994) Prostitution: soliciting for change. The N e w Internationalist. No. 252, Feb. pp. 4-7. West, D. (1992) Male Prostitution. London: Duckworth.

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