Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 196–217 | Cite as

Decriminalization of Sex Work: Feminist Discourses in Light of Research

  • Jacqueline Comte


Three main ideological stances exist regarding sex work issues: abolitionism, sex-positive feminism, and decriminalization. We argue for decriminalization based on decades of research results. Research on female sex workers is most often done through feminist theory and focus on gender relationships and on the experience of oppression and/or agency. Such studies examine the motivations to do sex work, the experience of being objectified, the stigma related to sex work, and, finally, the impact of this kind of work on self-esteem, on couple relationships, and on social relationships. Research on male sex workers examines power dynamics, representations of masculinity, self-perception, and the socioeconomic conditions that lead to sex work and influence safe-sex practices. Usually, feminist approaches do not take the experiences of male sex workers into account. However, taking these experiences into consideration would give a broader perspective to the understanding of sex work, as the experiences of male sex workers show many aspects similar to those of female sex workers. We contend that a woman’s sexual experience has been socially constructed as being part of her identity, in such a way that she becomes socially devalued whenever she does not comply to norms, thus making sex work a ‘degrading’ experience even though it is not intrinsically so.


Sex work Feminism Abolitionism Decriminalization Identity 



The literature review that is behind this paper was supported by a scholarship received from Fond Québécois de Recherche sur la Société et la Culture (FQRSC).


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.École de Service SocialUniversité LavalQuebec CityCanada

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