‘The Worst Thing is the Screwing’ (1): Consumption and the Management of Identity in Sex Work

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Abstract

This paper reviews qualitative data from academic research into prostitution, accounts from prostitutes themselves in the UK and Australia, and data from one of the authors' own research in New South Wales to analyse the ways in which female sex workers negotiate and construct their sense of themselves. This analysis is informed by the suggestion that, in the act of commercial sex, the prostitute's own body is being consumed by the client, which can be seen to place certain pressures on the relationship between sex workers' professional and personal identities. Our review suggests that individual workers' tactics for managing the contradictions of working as a prostitute and preserving self-esteem are both similar and different, even within two broadly culturally commensurable contexts, and, moreover, that not all prostitutes necessarily want to maintain a strict divide between work sex and non-work sex in every encounter. Moreover, even for those who do, the trials of maintaining the divide are considerable, as is the permeability of boundaries between work and intimate sex.

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