The Category “Prostitute” in Scientific Inquiry

Pheterson, Gail (1990): The Category “Prostitute” in Scientific Inquiry, in: The Journal of Sex Research Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 397-407.

Social science research is infected with prejudices against prostitute‐branded women. Even the category “prostitute” is based more upon symbolic and legal representations of the bad woman or whore than upon an actual set of characteristics within a population of persons. Two recent articles in The Journal of Sex Research, one which concludes that prostitutes are a devastating health menace to men, women, and babies and the other which concludes that prostitutes experience greater sexual satisfaction than other women, illustrate the problem. Researchers are criticized for limiting their study of sexual‐economic behavior to prostitutes and for relying upon a status variable, “prostitute,” in designing a broad range of needed research in which status is either irrelevant or one variable among many. Deconstruction of the category “prostitute” is necessary to counter prejudice and to conduct scientifically valid inquiry.

Gail Pheterson, Ph.D., a social psychologist, is the co-director of the International Committee for Prostitutes’ Rights, based in Amsterdam. She is a consultant to several European governments and commissions on prostitution and immigration. She recently edited A Vindication of the Rights of Whores (Seal Press, 1989).

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