Who benefits when we promote “sex work” to students?

We have written before about how key beneficiaries of the normalisation of the sex industry are the pimps, both individual and corporate, as their profits increase and their operations become less risky and more socially acceptable. But the beneficiaries don’t end there.

Dr Gail Dines wrote in her book, Pornland, about how many mainstream industries indirectly benefit from the sex industry – the companies who provide the advertising platforms, the broadband and streaming services, the financial services, etc. – and how their bottom line is increasingly dependent on the sex industry. So when brothels and “sexual entertainment” venues proliferate, the industries that provide services such as bouncers, drivers, property maintenance, and cleaning and laundry all expand too.

But this doesn’t explain why the drive to normalise the sex industry and to decriminalise pimps and brothels has been adopted so readily and widely by so many students and academics. Both the University and College Union (UCU) and the National Union of Students (NUS) have formal policies supporting the full decriminalisation (full decrim) of the sex industry – including pimps and brothel owners.

On many campuses saying that you don’t agree with full decrim is social death. It’s taken as proof that you’re “whorephobic” and hate “sex workers”. Confoundingly, this even happens to women who have themselves been in prostitution – which really does give the lie to the explanation that the promoters of full decrim are simply following what “sex workers” want.

Students don’t usually side with the capitalists and profiteers en masse. So, what could possibly explain this?

We know that men are beneficiaries of the sex industry – it provides orgasms, and, perhaps more importantly, ego massage and flattery. For the duration, it makes them the unequivocal master. This might explain a lot of the male support for the full decrim cause.

But many of the most vocal activists for full decrim are women – often women from relatively well-heeled backgrounds. It is certainly true that women are behind the Leicester University project to promote the idea that “sex work is real work” to universities and decision makers in the UK.

Without these women cheerleaders, the movement for full decrim would be much less successful. If it were just men arguing for the sex trade to be opened up to the full fury of the neoliberal capitalist markets, I suspect most people would say, Yeah, right! You would say that, wouldn’t you? You absolute tosser.

A while ago, I had a conversation with someone who works for a prestigious left-wing think tank. He told me that the organisation had adopted the “sex work is real work” propaganda wholesale. To question this, he said, would be career suicide. Interestingly, he claimed that the enforcement of this position was almost entirely down to young women. The men and the older women would shrug their shoulders. But the young women would get you sacked if you even suggested there might be another way of looking at the issue.

These young women, he said, all had degrees from good universities and were now on a career path that should see them on six figure salaries within a decade or two. So not women who are at any realistic risk of having to let randomers sodomise them in order to pay their rent any time soon. And yet, this they think is a reasonable option for other women. In fact, they think it’s a normal job and anyone who disagrees should be excommunicated.

Why is this?

What happened to the wisdom of our mothers and grandmothers whose knowledge, deep in their bones, that prostitution is a terrible fate drove them to fight for real alternatives for women and all the things that are required to make that a reality – education, training, equitable divorce settlements, property rights, social security, women’s refuges, contraception, abortion, childcare, equal pay, and more. More than a century of feminist activism so that women would no longer be faced with that Hobson’s choice of marriage or prostitution.

Who could have predicted that young women who have benefited from all that those decades of feminist struggle achieved would now be promoting prostitution as a normal job?

This tragic irony is compounded by the fact that they write us off as “white feminists” who know nothing about the lives of “sex workers”. They ignore or deny that the Nordic Model Now! campaign includes a significant number of women who have lived experience of the sex trade. Women like Harriet, Megan, and Lily. These are without doubt the most passionate members and their experiences and wisdom inform everything we do. And yet we are told we don’t listen to “sex workers”.

We must ask, what other forces are at play here? What hidden vested interests?

Tragically, generally girls are raised to be compliant, to be “good”, to look pretty, to please in particular men. Nice girls don’t challenge men about their porn consumption. Nice girls won’t acknowledge men’s porn consumption, even when it spills into their own sex lives with all its BDSM brutality. Nice girls are against unfairness – but not when it involves challenging men. So nice girls campaign about climate change and Palestinian rights but definitely not women’s rights. Ooph no. That might make the men uncomfortable. Or it might remind men they didn’t get their privileges on the basis of their brilliance – but rather because they are winners in a rigged system.

Obviously, THAT must never be mentioned. And nor must prostitution, because it is a key part, a foundation stone, of that rigged system. It positions men as masters, as full human beings, and women as men’s servants, as not quite human. The corollary of this is that women are not entitled to get their needs met unless they suck up to men and allow them to always have their way.

Wait – don’t tell me. I know! About 0.001% of prostitution buyers are female. But they act as if they are men. And maybe 10 or 15% of those involved in prostitution are male. But they are treated as if they are female. Neither of these facts change the basic dynamics or the meaning of prostitution for the culture.

Is this why so many women scream and shout for full decrim and “sex workers’ rights”? Because they never found their feminist spine? Because they fear for their career trajectories if they say that actually, NO! Men should not buy sex; it serves only to brutalise us all; and all women, even the most disadvantaged, should have better options?

Is it a form of TAKE HER! NOT ME!?

Or are there other forces at play here? As mentioned, many of the women promoting full decrim are relatively well-heeled – they have degrees of privilege, family money, jobs – and so are unlikely to ever need to resort to prostitution because that’s the only option left open to them. Maybe they dabbled in a bit of webcamming or opened an OnlyFans account. But it was as a hobby, not a lifeline. But that doesn’t inhibit them claiming to be “sex workers” and to know what all “sex workers” want.

Is their enthusiasm for promoting the idea that prostitution is a normal job really about heading off the opposition? Reducing the numbers of bright young women competing for the ever-decreasing pool of salaried career jobs?

Is it about sabotaging the prospects of the young women from less advantaged backgrounds? Because make no mistake, early involvement in the sex industry is likely to ruin their prospects not only in the short term but also over their lifetimes, as we explain in our Handbook for Universities.

And are the neoliberal elite condoning this because it suits them too?

It’s a solution to ‘elite overproduction’ that is unlikely to pose much of an obstacle to the success of their own children. And it keeps people busy denouncing the heretics in their midst who refuse to agree that “sex work is real work” so they won’t notice or put up a resistance as the oligarchs siphon off the public wealth built up by working people over generations.

What can I say? Only that women, it’s time to revisit the work of our feminist foremothers. To relearn what they understood: that feminism is a collective struggle that we will not win alone. In the words of Audre Lorde: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

Further reading

2 thoughts on “Who benefits when we promote “sex work” to students?

  1. It seems that if a woman is to succeed under a patriarchy she has to sign up to the patriarchy’s rules. Unfortunately, like most converts, those women who succeed are more vociferous and bigoted than those simply born to rule. Once you have what you have within a system that is letting you in on probation as it were, you have to stay in line, or you lose your place.

    Look at Nicola Sturgeon and Jacinda Ardern, neither of whom are supporting women in the gender wars, but actually taking their countries to a place where women have no existence, and thus no rights, as quickly as they can. I think history will be contemptuous of them, but herstory definitely will.

  2. Great article – thank you!

    “Interestingly, he claimed that the enforcement of this position was almost entirely down to young women.”

    Unfortunately, that’s true. Here in Austria, I have met several women who claim to be “feminists” (“intersectional feminists”, or “queer feminists”), and who are absolute cheerleaders for prostitution (“sex work”, as they call it). That’s faux “feminism” that very much harms women and the fight for women’s rights and women’s liberation. I think these women live in the bizarre illusion that prostitution is “sexual liberation” and “empowerment” – completely nonsensical, as we know. They also often hate older, “traditional” feminists (like Alice Schwarzer from Germany), and love to attack these real feminists as “bad”, “evil”, “moralistic”, “racist” (!), “SWERFs”, “transphobic”, etc., pp.

    This anti-feminism must be rejected and fought, full stop!

    Greetings from Austria,


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