Panel Talk given to The London Anarchist Forum ‘Sex Work From an Anarchist Perspective’ meeting at the London Anarchist Book Fair 2009 on Saturday 24 October 2009

I began by challenging the final point of the previous speaker who said that until we lived in a utopian society “transactional sex will be necessary”. I said,

We have to challenge the notion that men are entitled to sex. That it’s their right and women should just ‘do their duty’ and supply it. Sex isn’t a human ‘need’—you don’t die without it. If you see it as necessary; see male sexual demand as paramount, then what happens when demand exceeds supply? Do you encourage women into the industry? Force them? What happens when men want under 16s? Under 13s? Are men sexually entitled to anything they want? Should young women or men have their benefits withdrawn if they don’t want to do the lap dance jobs that are beginning to be advertised in jobcentres?

You can’t look at either sex work or the sex industry outside the context of extreme global inequality based on gender, class, race and capitalism. That the facts around who services who, are connected to the WHO gender demographics (which they have been compiling since 1975) indicating that males own/control the vast majority of the world’s wealth, land, water, food, access to health care, means of production and means of reproduction in the world. Which means that females suffer huge inequality. In other words, globally, women do the work and men get the profit. It is in this context that people, women and children end up servicing sometimes violent, not very nice, ill-smelling strangers.

‘Sex workers rights’ professionals tend to claim to speak for ‘sex workers’. Their literature categories everyone—from a shop assistant in a sex shop, to owners of chains of escort agencies, to African woman working off debt bondage in a European brothel—equally as a ‘sex worker’. Recently ‘sex workers rights’ professionals have focused almost solely on defeating Clause 14 of the Policing and Crime Bill now being read by the Lords, a clause which seeks to regulate demand by requiring punters to ascertain that the person they are buying sex off has not been coerced. ‘Sex workers rights’ professionals tell us that ‘sex workers’ main aim is to defeat this and other regulatory legislation; that worldwide, ‘sex workers’ want only total legalisation so as to be free to ply their trade in a deregulated industry

Problems with this approach include:

1. People throughout the global sex industry (which is massive and up there with Big Oil, Big Construction, Big Pharma and Agriculture/Biotech) have different agendas. Managers and bosses have different agendas than on the ground workers.

2. ‘Sex work’ is not a consciously chosen profession that young people aspire to enter and want to remain in and want to promote as a profession. Even when not actively forced it is for many women an incidental default occupation

3. ‘Sex work’ is not gender neutral, with equal numbers of men doing it or women demanding. It is driven by male demand for women and girls and boys.

4. ‘Experts’ speaking for workers is particularly dangerous in such a profitable industry as this. It is imperative for people to do their own research, talk to people (and not just white men) ON THE GROUND who sell sex and find out what the conditions of their lives and work are.

4. If you are not a ‘sex worker’, why not? Imagine (whatever age or gender you are) having young children and no assets/savings/support, needing money immediately. Which would you rather do, be a cleaner or service the middle aged men who are the demographic purchasers. Obvious — ‘Sex work’ is so much more glamorous and better paid, right? And you only need to see a few punters a week, right? Ok, do it for six months. Then evaluate.

5. The physical realities for women selling sex are frequently ignored by libertarians and ‘sex work’ experts. Physical violence aside, they include: the constant pressure to not use condoms, the demand for more extreme sex like DP TP DA etc. driven by porn. STDs. Chronic internal injury. Anorgasmia (the chronic inability to come) from the combination of numbness and over stimulation of the pelvic area. Compromised immunity. And the psychological waste. Which there is no point in denying exists until you have actually done your own, grassroots research with people (again, including people who aren’t white middle class college students doing it for a few months). Why not get out there and get the full picture?

The desire to protect ‘sex work’ (‘sex’ in quotes because it isn’t real sex for the person doing the servicing) stems from a desire on the part of the white middle class imperialist elite to continue to have an underclass of workers, some but not all migrants, servicing their lives and deflating the cost of their commodities. (Workers who want nothing but to service this the elite for slave or no wages). Cheap veg, cheap clothes, cheap domestic labour, cheap sex. ( For example, workers in east London lap dancing clubs work for no wages, just tips, but don’t seem to get a mention in any of the ‘sex worker’ rights organisations’ literature.)

Hence unionising; eg a union for ‘sex workers’. Indeed maybe such a union would be viable IF it tackled (lack of) wages, just working for tips, an end to rip off £300/day walk up flats, violent punters, organising to limit numbers of clients, industrial relations, problem managers, organising to withdraw labour when necessary, and provide exit strategies.

The intensity of the desire to be cheaply serviced means that even people who claim to have an anti capitalist analysis, and support other health and safely legislation and precautionary regulations in other industries, totally roll over re. the sex industry when it demands more freedom, normalisation and expansion. Ultimately for all the discourse about ‘rights’ and authoritative claims about ‘what sex workers want’ the ‘rights’ lobby’s hostility to regulation is based on an extreme neoliberal freemarket ideology.

I’d say, bring it back to the women, the children on the street. Talk to them. Listen. Then decide.