The meaning of purchase: desire, demand and commerce of sex

Elizabeth Bernstein About the author

Feminists and other scholars have debated theoretically what exactly is being purchased in the prostitution transaction and whether sex can be "a service like any other", but they have scarcely tackled these questions empirically. This article draws upon field observations of and interviews with male clients of commercial sex-workers and state agents entrusted with regulating them to probe the meanings given to different types of commercial sexual exchange. Manifested by client arrests and re-education, vehicle impoundment, stricter laws on underage prostitution and the possession of child pornography, recent state efforts to problematize male sexuality throughout the USA and Western Europe have been developed alongside an increasingly unbridled ethic of sexual consumption, as evidenced by soaring demand for pornography, strip clubs, lap-dancing, escorts, telephone sex and "sex tours" in developing countries. By situating commercial sexual exchange within the broader context of post-industrial transformations of culture and sexuality, we can begin to unravel this paradox.

Prostitution; Masculinity; Desire; Commodification; Intimacy; Sex-Work; Gentrification


Núcleo de Estudos de Gênero - Pagu Universidade Estadual de Campinas, PAGU Cidade Universitária "Zeferino Vaz", Rua Cora Coralina, 100, 13083-896, Campinas - São Paulo - Brasil, Tel.: (55 19) 3521 7873, (55 19) 3521 1704 - Campinas - SP - Brazil
E-mail: cadpagu@unicamp.br