Sex for Sale by Ronald Weitzer (Editor)

Sex for SaleThis book is an excellent resource for anyone interested in better understanding the sex industry. The 14 essays in this collection are all based on empirical research and the contributors are practically all Ph.D holders and most are in academia as professors or assistant professors. So, for the most part, this is top-notch information. There are essays based both on quantitative and qualitative research, and the compilation is brilliantly categorized into four main sections: I-Pornography, II-Stripping and Telephone Sex, III-Prostitution and IV-Trends

The first essay, ‘Sex Work: Paradigms and Policies’ is more of an overview essay that touches on most of the topics to be discussed in more detail in the pages that follow. It acts as a perfect introduction to the collection and contains much statistical evidence to lay the groundwork for the kind of data one can expect from the more quantitative essays.

The second essay, ‘Motivations for Pursuing a Career in Pornography’ focuses on why people enter pornography but also, on why and how they can remain in the industry. Money, Fame and Glamour, Freedom and Independence, Opportunity and Sociability, Being Naughty and Having Sex are all factors researched as motivational causes while Making a Name, Career Strategies, Commitment and Mobility are looked into as reasons for remaining in the industry. “Those who remain must build a career for themselves in an industry that centers in the temporary.” – S. A. Abbott.

The third essay, ‘Gay Male Pornography Since Stonewall’ gives a brief overview of the history of gay pornography and the changes undergone since 1990. The research also looks at data on HIV and AIDS, and the stigma around this subject in conjunction with gay porn. The essay concludes with looking at who watches gay porn. “Public displays of same-sex affection like those enjoyed by heterosexuals are dangerous and generally forbidden for gays. Whereas the mass media constantly and openly affirm heterosexual identity, gay pornography is one of the few venues for seeing gay sexuality presented in a positive light.” – J. A. Thomas

The fourth essay, ‘Woman-Made Pornography’ focuses on women who make pornography particularly for a female audience. The research looks at the avenues by which women become involved in alternative pornography and the motives and justifications that underpin their work. Research shows that many women here (including actresses) have a sex education background and like to use this format to ‘instruct’. The research also shows that many of the women have a background in activism which “translates into a desire to create pornography that is an alternative to the mainstream: their porn places women’s pleasure at the center…” – J. A. Bakehorn

In ‘Gender and Space in Strip Clubs’, the research is comparative, comparing the creation of strip club space for heterosexually identified customers and BSSDW (black same-sex desiring women). In making such a comparison, the authors were able to compare issues of race, gender, privilege and regulation. “Engaging in sexualized or eroticized encounters with dancers in a public place, and in the presence of a live audience, was significant to the meanings of the experiences for both (groups). For the men, such encounters could secure heterosexuality, at least temporarily or in fantasy, through a public desire for women. For the BSSDW, individual performances and experiences of desire at strip events are connected to understandings and experiences of being part of a political and erotic community, and contribute to an atmosphere of acceptance, belonging, and safety.” – K. Frank & M. Carnes

In ‘Commercial Telephone Sex: Fantasy and Reality’, there is a brief overview of the telephone sex industry and its growth; after which, interview with phone sex workers shows that “because they are in a stigmatized profession, they have learned techniques to conceal or misrepresent the nature of their employment. The research sheds light on workers’ perception of the callers and the callers’ treatment of the workers (some fantasies are disturbing and different workers have different boundaries and ways of handling such callers).” – K. Guidroz & G. J. Rich

In the seventh essay, ‘The Ecology of Street Prostitution’, the quantitative research focuses on three groups in Philadelphia, white prostitutes, african-american prostitutes in the park, and african-american prostitutes in hotels. Research shows that the link between drugs and street prostitution is high, where many of the prostitutes work for little money to maintain their addiction. Those with husbands or pimps also benefit from the money earned by the prostitute for drugs as well. There is also a lot of statistics on HIV and AIDS amongst these prostitutes, transmitted mainly by shared needles for drugs, but also by lack of safe sex.

In ‘Call Girls and Street Prostitutes: Selling Sex and Intimacy’, the research focuses on the selling of “intimacy” i.e. GFE (the Girl friend experience), which is more commonly available from call girls. A variety of findings are shown from data analyzed such as: some clients are regulars with certain call girls; the most common sexual activities are also the most intimate – vaginal intercourse and fellatio; clients are usually from the upper income bracket; the majority of call girl clients are single and so on. “Call girls’ higher prices could be justified by access to cleaner, safer, more comfortable, and more private environments as well as more attractive sex partners, but, in addition to all those advantages, male clients have come to expect more affection and intimacy as well as sex.” – J. Lever & D. Dolnick

The ninth essay, ‘Male and Female Escorts: A Comparative Analysis’ studies the differences between freelancers, workers at escort agencies, and those that do both. It looks at the advertising strategies used to reach clients but also how a worker distinguishes him/her-self from others. It looks at escorts who offer talents in niche markets like BDSM or tantra, and even those that use their different physical attributes like BBW (big beautiful women). “Unlike other industries, women have a distinct financial advantage in escorting.” – J. Koken et al.

In ‘Prostitutes’ Customers: Motives and Misconceptions’, research looks at men who are arrested by sting operations and sent to rehabilitation centers. The data reveal that the biggest consumers of street prostitution are white men (a distant second and third are hispanic and asian men respectively), and the majority of consumers have had some college training followed by those with a bachelor’s degree. Although the married group is also the biggest consumer, so are single men that have never been married, and most consumers have full time employment. But this research goes further to try to discover why men go to prostitutes. “Clearly, there are many motives for seeking prostitutes and many variables that predict whether a motivated individual will follow through with behavior.” – M. A. Monto

In ‘Nevada’s Legal Brothels’, research focuses on the development of the legalized brothels, licenses and taxes gained by the state, the heavy regulation and the cultural context. “The integration of brothels into their communities, a state tradition that permits the sale of sexual services, the profitability of the brothels for savvy owners and the cities or counties in which they operate, clients’ demand for safe, legal, and personalized commercial sexual encounters, and the promise of potentially lucrative employment options for the women who choose to prostitute, are all powerful forces supporting the continued existence of legal prostitution.” – K. Hausbeck & B. G. Brents

The last part of the book ‘Trends’ consists of 3 essays: ‘Remaking the Sex Industry: The Adult Expo as a Microcosm’, ‘Sex Tourism and Sex Workers’ Aspirations’ and ‘ Sex Trafficking: Facts and Fictions’. The focus here is, respectively, on the ongoing changes in the adult industry (trends, products, growth), sex tourism in the Dominican Republic and how sex workers there maintain relationships via correspondence with European clients in the hopes of migration (which implies selling the illusion of love), and the skewed data and stringent policies of right extremists who make sweeping generalizations (like all prostitution is traffic based or forced) in order to promote anti-prostitution policies and criminalize the industry. These essays are briefer and less data oriented than the previous ones, and they seem to be included for the sake of completion as a source on current debates and changes in industry or attitudes. And on that end, this is precisely what they accomplish.

Overall, this collection has much valuable data and a wealth of various researches carried out on prostitution and the sex industry. This is a book about facts so shocking details and morbid scenarios (as some researches reveal) are all the more effective in jolting the empathic reader. There are common themes in many of the essays that are looked at such as HIV, STDs, forced versus willing participation, physical abuse, drugs, income and so forth and the differences depending on the research samples are quite interesting. Above all, there is much to think about on policy and legislation as well as on humanitarian grounds.

Samir Rawas Sarayji

5 thoughts on “Sex for Sale by Ronald Weitzer (Editor)

  1. I have to admit, “Sex” in the title drew me right in and I was all ready for a titillating and naughty read. But thanks for something even better–a review that caused me to stop and think about a profession that touches every fabric of every society, no matter what our personal stance or opinion about it. This is a book I certainly want to check out and I appreciate your detailed overview. Nice work!

  2. Very thoughtful review, Samir. Did you ever find the book I’d mentioned (the one I couldn’t recall the title of) written by an American call girl/prostitute who tried to glamorize and justify her participation, but ended up revealing just the less than savory side?

    1. I didn’t find it, no. But having read more literature and research on the subject, I’m not sure I’d be as interested in autobiographies on this subject as they tend to be sensational. I have another review coming up soon on a nonfiction text on this subject… again ๐Ÿ™‚

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