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It's prostitution not 'sexwork'!

Sex work is not work.  A Marxist Feminist analysis of Prostitution

February 2021

Laura Briggs exposes the fraudulence of the notion, popular on the centrist Left, that the sale of sex is simply a commodity exchange, posing the question; “if sex is a commodity freely available in the domestic sphere why do 'customers' buy it in the marketplace?”

All workers suffer alienation during commodity production and this is included in the exchange value of a commodity but, as Briggs points out, that alienation is vastly multiplied in prostitution.  The social context in which commodity production occurs is assessed and contrasted between workers and 'sex workers' and while workers in industry can be found to suffer from “stress, slips, trips, falls and repetitive strain injury”, prostitutes suffer hazards that are monstrously severe in comparison; a mortality rate 12 times the average in the general female populace, rape, murder, suicide, vaginal and anal tears, sexually transmitted disease and addiction.  So, in a Marxist analysis “the exchange value of 'sex work' must reflect this extremely high labour cost to the 'sex worker'. In other words, due to the enormous harm … inherent in prostitution, commercial sex should be one of the most expensive products on the market.  Yet it is not.”  So, the description of prostitution as “sex work” plainly does not fit with the Marxist theory of value.

Briggs examines the “specialist development”, such as education or skill, which Marx saw as taking workers beyond the exercise of “basic labour power”, which all of humanity was universally capable of, and compares the “specialist” qualities which predisposed people to working as a prostitute.   She reveals that the “overwhelming predisposing factor” was “being female”.  Overwhelmingly, sex is “sold by the oppressed sex and consumed by the oppressor sex” reflecting the misogyny and violence of bourgeois society.  Drug dependency and childhood history is a strong predisposing factor, for those working in prostitution 73% suffered physical abuse, 32.4% suffered sexual abuse, 86.8% emotional abuse, 84.5% suffered physical neglect and 93%, emotional neglect.  These were the so-called predisposing factors favouring a “specialisation” in what some euphemistically refer to as “sex work”.

It is ludicrous indeed to see these predispositions as an advance on these most oppressed of women's “basic labour power”.  As the author questions; “Are we seriously entertaining the possibility that this is how Marx intended his work to be interpreted?”  The reference by some on the left to prostitution as “sex work” is an attempt to gloss over or palliate the brutally misogynistic sex industry and must be rejected by Marxists.

Laura Briggs' excellent three-part series can be viewed below.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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