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Sex Work Is Work | Boston Review

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Sex Workers Protest Parliament Square | by David Holt

—and why consent isn’t the same thing as good sex. An International Whores Day reading list.

Forty-four years ago today, more than one hundred sex workers occupied the Saint-Nizier church in Lyon, France, for eight days in order to protest fines and police reprisals that were forcing them into increasingly unsafe working conditions.

June 2 has been celebrated as International Whores’ Day ever since, with activists calling attention to the exploitative conditions that sex workers endure. Unfortunately, these conditions haven’t changed much since 1975: in 2018, President Trump signed into law a controversial set of bills that criminalize online solicitation and effectively force sex workers back onto unsafe streets.

To recognize International Whores’ Day, we have gone into our archive to select pieces that put sex workers—and sex—front and center. Starting off are excerpts from Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers’ Rights and Screw Consent: A Better Politics of Sexual Justice, and then a host of essays that explore sex education, the sex offender registry, and cyborg (as well as alien) sex.  

—Rosie Gillies



Sex Is Not the Problem with Sex Work
by Juno Mac and Molly Smith

“The aim in decriminalizing sex work is not to advocate for a ‘right’ for mento pay for sex. On the contrary, naming something as work is a crucial first step in refusing to do it.”

• • •

Toward a Democratic Hedonism
by Joseph J. Fischel

“The consent-as-enthusiasm paradigm divides sex into the categoriesawesome and rape and leaves unaddressed all the immiserating sex too many people, typically women, endure.”

• • •

On the Job: Debating Sex Work
by Michaele L. Ferguson

Sex workers have lives, lovers, families, desires, needs. Their work—much of which involves marketing, building Web sites, scheduling, communicating with clients, and managing money—is not reducible to sex.”

• • •

A History of Cyborg Sex, 2018–73
by Cathy O’Neil

Sex with robots was much safer than sex with actual men—and better than anything women had previously experienced.”

• • •

Going Nowhere
by Judith Levine

For those convicted of a sex crime, life becomes one of needless punishment. Restrictions cordoning off ‘child-safe zones’ from 300 to 2,000 feet around daycares, schools, parks, and bus stops, makes it is impossible to live anywhere.”

• • •

Sex Education in the United States
by Maureen N. McLane

“Because sex-ed debates are, strikingly, almost always debates about sex ed in public schoolsthey unsurprisingly reflect conflicting ideas about the place of religion, parents, experts, and curricular reform.”

• • •

Campus Rape Rules Are About Punishment, Not Sex
by Judith Levine

“Yes-means-yes will not encourage good sex. It will not discourage good sex. It is irrelevant to good sex. The new standard applies to bad sex: intercourse while strong arms hold down weaker limbs, fellatio enabled with date-rape drugs, groping engaged in deadened, drunken unconsciousness.”

• • •

Sex Is Serious
by Elizabeth Bruenig

“Feminists and conservative Christians may differ on what constitutes ‘everything’ in terms of sex, but they agree that reservations, however minor, wreck the whole project.” 

• • •

The Agent Probii Exploration
by Yuri Herrera

“Copulation is the planet’s lingua franca. The planet’s inhabitants copulate in every imaginable way and with every participant needed in order to express themselves with precision.” 

• • •

The Online–Sex Predator Panic
by Judith Levine

“If adults want to protect young people from violence, either sexual or otherwise, they should keep them out of juvenile detention or prison and off the sex offender registry, where even a misdemeanor offense can land a minor.”

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