This article presents a discursive analysis of 43 men’s narratives about paying for sex, collected using a combination of online and traditional face-to-face interview methods. It argues that the societal pressures placed on men to “perform” sexually help to produce conditions that make paying for sex desirable. Paying for sex provided men with a “safe” space where they felt exempt from expectations to display sexual experience, skill, and stamina. Moreover, men valued paid sexual encounters with experienced sex workers as spaces where they could acquire sexual experience and skills to better approximate idealised versions of heteronormative male sexuality. The article explores the emotional aspects tied up in men’s desires to pay for sex and attends to the question of power within the paid sexual encounter, shedding light on the complexities, nuances and multiplicities within client-sex worker relationships. In conclusion, this paper discusses the value of addressing the broader social structures, sites such as media, online spaces, and medical industries, where heteronormative discourses on male sexual “performance” continue to be reproduced and maintained.
Accounts of the governance of prostitution have typically argued that prostitutes are, in one way or another, stigmatised social outcasts. There is a persistent claim that power has operated to dislocate or banish the prostitute from the community in order to silence, isolate, hide, restrict, or punish. I argue that another position may be tenable; that is, power has operated to locate prostitution within the social. Power does not operate to ‘desocialise’ prostitution, but has in recent times operated increasingly to normalise it. Power does not demarcate prostitutes from the social according to some binary mechanics of difference, but works instead according to a principle of differentiation which seeks to connect, include, circulate and enable specific prostitute populations within the social. In this paper I examine how prostitution has been singled out for public attention as a sociopolitical problem and governed accordingly. The concept of governmentality is used to think through such issues, providing, as it does, a non-totalising and non-reductionist account of rule. It is argued that a combination of self-regulatory and punitive practices developed during modernity to manage socially problematic prostitute populations.
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Victim framing in public discourse on sex trafficking does make a difference, and the reasons these frames elicit different responses are complex and moderated by respondents’ exposure to information and knowledge about the issue.
Paradoxically, in the 19th century, an era very concerned with public virtue, prostitutes were increasing being represented in Western European cultural expressions. Prostitution was a prevalent social phenomenon due to the rapid urbanization of Western Europe. People were on the move as both urban and rural areas underwent considerable material and normative change; the majority of Western European cities grew rapidly and were marked by harsh working and living conditions, as well as unemployment and poverty. A seeming rise in prostitution was one of the results of these developments, but its centrality in culture cannot be explained by this fact alone. Prostitution also came to epitomize broader social ills associated with industrialization and urbanization: “the prostitute” became the discursive embodiment of the discontent of modernity.
The surge in cultural representation of prostitutes may also be seen as an expression of changing norms and a driver for change in the public perception of prostitution. In particular, artists came to employ the prostitute as a motif, revealing contemporary hypocrisy about gender and class.
In recent years, many European countries, including Italy, have witnessed an increasing penalisation of uncivil (anti-social or nuisance) behaviour at the local level (Peršak, 2017b; Selmini and Crawford, 2017). In England and Wales, Belgium and Italy, this has been the result of the enactment at the national level of vague legislative provisions, which have entrusted local authorities with enhanced powers in the area of urban safety and security (Di Ronco and Peršak, 2014). Local authorities have used their increased public order powers to target a wide range of behaviour, which they considered to be “anti-social”, a “nuisance” or a “threat” to public safety and urban security (Di Ronco and Peršak, 2014). This behaviour also included the nuisance caused by street prostitution. Punitive measures against street prostitutes and their clients have been taken at the local level, for example, in England and Wales, where Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) were issued against street sex workers and clients until 2014 (see Sagar, 2007, 2010; Scoular and O’Neill, 2007). In addition, administrative sanctions have been imposed in Spain (Villacampa, 2017), as well as in Belgium and Italy (Di Ronco, 2014).