Author Archives: Elizabeth Wood

Another Address Change

Some years ago we moved from this WordPress-hosted site to our community site at sexinthepublicsquare.org. Now we’re moving again. For archives from April 2007 through June 2011, visit http://sexinthepublicsquare.org

For new content beginning in June 2011, please visit me at my new home at Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance!

http://woodhullalliance.org

http://woodhullalliance.org/category/sex-in-the-publics-quare

I’m excited about this move. I’ll be joining folks like first amendment attorney Larry Walters, sexual freedom and education scholar-advocate Marty Klein, and the folks at AVN in providing commentary for Woodhull. In addition, the mission of Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance is to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right, and I’ve been working with them for two years now on human rights and sexual freedom issues. From their web site:

Woodhull envisions a world that recognizes sexual freedom as the fundamental human right of all individuals to develop and express their unique sexuality; to be personally autonomous with regard to bodily integrity and expression; and to enjoy sexual dignity, privacy and consensual sexual expression without societal or governmental interference, coercion or stigmatization.

That’s really what Sex In The Public Square has been all about, and I’m glad to be making Woodhull’s site my new home. Join us there and be part of an even bigger conversation!

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If you are looking for new material from Sex In The Public Square…

I had intended to keep this blog alive while transitioning to the community site I opened with Chris Hall a year ago. For most of that year I posted content both there and here. It is getting too difficult to keep this site updated given the work involved in managing the other one.

Please check out Sex In The Public Square dot Org for my writing and also for smart sex-and-society writing by Chris Hall, Michael Goodyear, Lou FCD and others.

Recent posts include:

IN SHORT: There is much more going on there than here, so please update your bookmarks, point them to http://sexinthepublicsquare.org and get more of what you’re looking for.

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SITPS.org: A Labor Day Call to Johns

From Sex In The Public Square dot Org, Friday, May 2008:

sex worker rights red umbrella logo only rights can stop the wrongsYesterday I’d intended to write a Labor Day post. It was going to be about the importance of workers organizing across all types of work, recognizing that we are all workers, and it was going to be the beginning of a conversation I want to have about why established unions need to support the organizing efforts of sex workers.

And then I read about Deborah Jeane Palfrey’s death and all that went out the window for a while.

This morning I went back and looked for last year’s May 1 post. I couldn’t remember what I’d written about. My breath caught in my throat when I found that I’d written this, also about Deborah Jeane and about my speculation that perhaps the exposing of high profile clients would help in the effort to reduce the stigma attached to sex work.

Obviously I’d been overly optimistic last year. While there continues to be the occasional exposing of a high-end john, we also continue to see sex work trivialized in the press and sex workers treated as criminals and victims and rarely as people making choices, sometimes difficult and sometimes obvious, but always from a range of options that is circumscribed by economic and social circumstances.

I no longer think that the exposing of clients is going to be the source of any great reduction in the stigma attached to sex work. Why? Because they always apologize.

They apologize by admitting their “sins” a la David Vitter or they apologize and resign their posts, a la Eliot Spitzer, but they always apologize, and by doing so they reinforce the impression that consciously and explicitly exchanging sex for money is wrong, and they reinforce the stigma. In fact they often refer to that stigma when they include in their apologies their regret for bringing shame on their families.

Note that they do not apologize for any mistreatment of the workers. They apologize for being clients in the first place.

So my new call on Labor Day is a call to the clients and not a call to the workers. Clients of the sex workers of the world: stand up for the people whose work you are paying for. Treat those workers respectfully and protect their safety and don’t apologize for paying for their services.

Yes, you may have much to apologize for:

Apologize if you have actively worked to keep the services you pay for criminalized.

Apologize if you have said insulting, demeaning or paternalistic things about sex workers.

Apologize if you have contributed to the shaming of sex workers.

Apologize if you have jeopardized the health of a sex worker.

Apologize if you have committed violence against a sex worker.

And by all means apologize if you have lied to your partner about sex you are having with other people.

But for being a client of a sex worker?

Please, no more apologies. We can’t afford them.


Links to sex worker organizing efforts:

Please add others in the comments on this thread and on Sex In The Public Square dot Org.

Technorati Tags: Deborah Jeane Palfrey, labor unions, labor day, prostitution, sex work, sexuality

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Filed under activism, human rights, labor organizing, News and politics, prostitution, public discourse, sex, sex work, sexuality

Melissa Farley in Scotland: Trivializing prostitution and trivializing violence against women

Melissa Farley and her fringe research mill Prostitution Research and Education have teamed up with a Scottish anti-prostitution group to produce a new ‘research’ report with the problematic title “Challenging Men’s Demand for Prostitution in Scotland: A research report based on interviews with 110 men who bought women in prostitution” (PDF here).

Readers of this site will understandably be rolling their eyes and groaning, “not again!” But it is important to remember, awful though it is, that other folks take Farley’s research seriously and that it deserves serious attention to help mitigate the damage it can do to real efforts to advocate for women’s safety and sex worker safety. Such ‘studies’ play to particular political positions, in this case pressure to export the Swedish ‘solution’ through Europe, but political expedience is not the same as sound policy. Check today’s Daily Record (Scotland) for the most recent orchestrated flood of bad news coverage of a poor study to support wrongheaded policy.

It is important to stress, again and again, that Farley’s research cannot be considered reliable and certainly doesn’t approach even basic scientific standards. The problems with the current study are many but can be summed up in terms of ethical concerns, bias and inadequate attention to detail in the write up. The write up is problematic enough that it is hard to judge the quality of the research, but the very clear bias is enough to call the findings into question. The bias also leads to the making of recommendations that are not proportional to the findings. Below I address just a few of the major problems. (Watch this space for links to critiques by other feminist sex worker advocates and researchers.)

Ethics and Methods

In the section describing the research methods we learn that most of the respondents were recruited via newspaper ads that read in part: “Ever been a client of a prostitute? International research team would like to hear your views.” We don’t learn what they were actually told about the study once they called the number listed. We do not know if they signed consent forms. We do not know if they were informed of the policy positions advocated by the sponsoring organizations. We do not know if there was any ethical review of the methods prior to the conducting of the study. Instead of any statement of ethics regarding the use of human subjects we have a long statement about the pain and anguish suffered by the researchers. While recognizing the subjectivity of researchers is an important aspect of feminist methodology, this statement is over the top:

“The interviewers reported feeling skeptical about the men’s professed ignorance about prostituted women, fearful about the possibility of being stalked by the interviewees, physically revolted, had flashbacks to their own previous experiences of sexual violence, questioned some aspects of their own relationships with the men in their lives, and at times felt the inclination to dissociate or drink alcohol in order to numb painful emotional reactions to the interviews. ” (p. 7)

I applaud the authors’ acknowledgment of the interviewers strong reactions, but the fact of those reactions causes me to be very skeptical about their ability to maintain, as the authors mention earlier, a “nonjudgmental and friendly rapport with the men.” Is it possible that the degree of revulsion felt by the interviewers is because they went in to the research prepared to be revolted, expecting to be revolted, and that they constructed the conversations in such a way as to make sure that the revulsion occurred? In fact, one interviewer even questions her own sanity for being able to participate in the research in the first place:

“What does it say about me? How did I manage to interview so many men and not lose my temper, not react angrily or indignantly with them? It is a comfort to me that I do feel anger now, and did after the interviews. It is a comfort to me that some of the things they said hurt me. This reassures me that I’m not some hard-hearted individual who is at ease with hearing about the abuse of women.” (p. 7)

While this interviewer reports that she maintained a calm demeanor with her interview subjects it is difficult to believe that all the interviewers did. And even if they did, it is hard to believe that, going in with the assumption that they would be hearing about the abuse of women that they had an open mind about the answers the men might give.

Of course the men apparently gave the kinds of answers that Farley’s team was expecting. Now, because of inattention to methodological issues and to the write-up itself, we are not given a copy of the 100-item questionnaire on attitudes toward prostitution, rape myths, and about sexual behavior and sexual violence. Nor are we provided a copy of the 34-item questionnaire about “hostile masculinity” designed by Dr. Neil Malamuth. Nor are we given a copy of the 64-item structured interview guide on men’s history and preferences around purchasing sex, their perceptions of prostitutes, their knowledge of pimps, and how they talk about prostitution with their friends. Since we can’t see the questions it is difficult to evaluate the findings.

Given, though, that some of the basic demographics can’t be trusted (the income categories overlap, for example, we don’t know whether a person with a family income of, say 20,000 pounds is in the 20,000 or less category or is in the 20,000-30,000 category) it is hard to have faith in the other data.

And perhaps the biggest methodological flaw, the one that Farley and her research partners commit most often, is the lack of any comparison group. We learn a lot about these 110 men, but we know nothing about any similarly situated group of 110 men who do not purchase sex. So we don’t know whether the propensity to violence or the misogyny has anything at all to do with these men’s purchasing of sex.

For example, the authors tell us that there was a statistically significant association between the men’s pornography use and the frequency of their purchasing of sex. They can say with confidence that among men who pay for sex, there is some kind of relationship between the amount of sex purchased and the amount of porn used. That may reflect nothing but differences in sexual interest levels. What we don’t know is whether the amount of pornography used by these men is at all different from the amount of pornography used by men who never buy sex. It is possible that those men exhibit the same range of pornography use. Likewise for the believing of rape myths, the violence toward partners, and so on.

Editorializing and unsupported statements

Another problem with calling this scientific research is the tendency of the authors to editorialize and make unsupported statements throughout the report. For example, in a section on men’s first purchases of sex, the authors note that for 17% of the men a commercial sexual transaction was their first experience of intercourse. Quoting one man as saying “It’s uncomplicated, it’s a good way to have your first sex,” the authors then dismiss their respondent with the unsupported claim that “the sex that men learn in prostitution – disconnected and unemotional – is the opposite of the sex that most women are interested in when they are in relationships with men” (p. 10). Based on what do they declaim that men learn disconnected and unemotional sex in prostitution? They don’t say. But it is hard to imagine they have talked to many escorts, who often put a tremendous amount of emotional labor into providing a connected and intimate – if temporary – experience for their customers. (It is ironic that the authors don’t note this given that they mention Elizabeth Bernstein’s work in the References section. Then again, there is no actual reference to Bernstein that I can find in the text, another indication of lack of attention to detail.)

Logic and proportionality

The authors find that, when asked, a vast majority of their respondents (89%) agreed that being added to a sex offender registry would deter them from buying sex (p. 27). They use this data to recommend exactly that policy. This is interesting given that just a few paragraphs earlier they note that “the men’s responses suggest that there are a number of equally effective alternatives that would reduce men’s demand for prostitution.” Why do the authors then go for the most damaging of the public humiliations? Precisely, I imagine, because it creates a legal connection between prostitution and sex abuse. It reifies the sense that buying sex is committing rape, which is exactly the starting point from which these authors began.

If cutting off hands were acknowledged by shoplifters as a reliable deterrent would we be pursuing amputation as a public policy? Sex offender registries are deeply problematic, and the conflation of truly violent sex offenses with offenses that might better be considered disorderly conduct, if anything, will only serve to ruin careers, families and lives — way out of proportion to the offense in question: the purchasing of a sexual encounter.

Why does this matter?

Deconstructing “research” like this is very important. Because this kind of work fits into dominant political and ideological agendas it is often accepted at face value despite its tremendous flaws. Policy should be based on scientific research and sound logic, not on biased research that simply fits into a political or ideological agenda.

Prostitution needs to be understood as a complex social phenomenon involving the exchange of sex for money in a multitude of ways and for a wide range of reasons. When we reduce it to “men violating women” we render invisible all of the male or transgender prostitutes, all of the women or transgender clients, and all of the respectful interactions between purchaser and provider.

We do no service to women, to families, to communities by accepting reductionist and reactionary analysis of sex work or of violence against women. There is no shortage of real research that looks at these issues carefully. Any of these would be a much better start for a conversation on sensible approaches to studying prostitution and the policies that control it.

(NOTE: This was first published on SexInThePublicSquare.Org – our community-building site.)

Technorati Tags: prostitution, Melissa Farley, Scotland, sex, sex work

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Sex 2.0 – a very brief recap

Sex 2.0 was amazing.

What do you get when one exceptionally talented organizer and her team bring together 80 or so people to talk about sex, feminism and social media in a gorgeous and very well appointed dungeon? You get Sex 2.0, which took place this past Saturday, April 12, in Atlanta.

It was a really amazing event. (Note: this was a conference, not a party. Despite the number of desirable and skillful people, and the amazing equipment, we all kept focused on the important discussions taking place.)

It was amazing because it brought together people will a huge range of connections to sex and the ‘net. There were sex workers, BDSM practitioners, bloggers, academics, sex educators, community organizers, outreach workers (please note that many people fit in more than one of those categories). It was amazing because of the range of topics covered.

I led a discussion about building and maintaining the sex commons, and you can read a brief outline of my remarks here.

According to Amber more than 80 people registered. There were twenty separate sessions plus an inspiring keynote address by Audacia Ray. Participants traveled from all over the country. Some of the people I met there included Regina Lynn, Stacey Swimme, Ren, Melissa Gira Grant, Minx, Kimberlee Cline, Furry Girl, Match Point, J. Brotherlove, Kristi Kane (who will be linked as soon as she gets a blog), Ellie Lumpesse, Subnouveau – and there were many others, some of whom are not mentioned just because I can’t remember what your privacy needs were and I wanted to err on the side of caution. I feel privileged to have had the chance to meet such smart people. Of course some of the very smart sex writing folks from NYC were there, too, and it was great to see Viviane, Twanna Hines, Rachel Kramer Bussel and of course Audacia Ray again. (Even though they live near enough that you’d think I’d see them here in New York, I’ve been too busy to make it to Viviane’s tea parties or to most of the other gatherings where we’d run into each other.)

You can see the list of sessions here, but let me just recap some of the important themes that ran throughout the conference.

• Identity: Who are we, how are our identities fragmented? How do we protect our privacy or maintain boundaries between parts of ourselves. What happens when those boundaries begin to dissolve?

• Community: Are we becoming increasingly specialized in our sex/community interests? Is there more cross-pollination between communities than there used to be because of the Internet? How do we create and expand spaces for sexual expression?

• Power: How do we retake control over how we are represented in the media? How do we resist the dominant culture’s sexual restrictiveness? How do we use technologies to advance our own sexual/cultural agendas? How do we teach each other what we know so that we empower ourselves and our communities?

I really hope that this will be the first in a series of annual events. The information sharing, the community building, and the pleasure of being with so many people who are so smart about such a wide range of sex-related topics are all so important as we work in our own ways to create a more open sexual culture.

Note: This post was originally published on Sex In The Public Square dot Org. Join us there for a more community-driven approach to intelligent sex conversation!

Technorati Tags: conferences, sex, sex 2.0, sexuality, feminism

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Important voices: Lisa Chavez and Liz Derrington tell their stories

A couple of days ago I posted about some stories we’re following on Sex In The Public Square dot Org. One of those stories was about a conflict in the English department of University of New Mexico over the investigation of Lisa Chavez, associate professor who also worked for a BDSM phone sex service where one of her graduate students and a former graduate student also worked. The investigation was apparently instigated by a colleague who felt that there was an improper relationship between Chavez and the graduate student, because they were photographed together for an advertisement for the phone sex service. The investigation did not find any impropriety, but some of Chavez’s colleagues are still pressing for sanctions.

Lisa Chavez and Liz Derrington, the graduate student who had been in the photograph, both tell their stories on Sex in the Public Square dot Org, and I am grateful to them both for their openness and their courage.

Click here to read my interview with Lisa Chavez.

Click here to read Liz Derrington’s story.

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Some recent blogging from Sex In The Public Square (dot org)

I realize I’ve been neglecting this space. I’ve been spending all my time either at work or over at Sex In The Public Square (dot org). If you enjoy my blogging that’s a good place to look for me these days. To give you an idea of what I’ve been up to over there, here are some glimpses:

A very strange story about a sexual assault case

Amber Rhea sent me a link to a news story about a very bizarre ruling in a sexual assault case. It is a strange story and I’m wondering if it has been accurately reported. It sounds too awful to be true. If it is being accurately reported, it is beyond outrageous.Here is what we can know based on the news story:

Melanie Ross alleges that she was sexually assaulted by Daniel Day at his Mercer University fraternity house in 2003. (According to the article, Day comes from a powerful Georgia family. His father is Burke Day, a State Rep and he is of the Days Inn Days.)

Melanie Ross is brought a civil suit against Day because of the assault.

A Bibb County judge ruled in the civil suit that the lacerations she had did not prove rape, and that she needed to provide a list of her sex partners because “only virgins can bring a case for sexual battery in civil court.” In addition, she was ordered to pay $150,000 of Day’s attorney fees. (READ MORE at SexInThePublicSquare.org)

When is it okay for faculty and students to be sexual in the same place?

If you ask it that way it’s kind of an odd question, isn’t it? I mean we’re basically sexual all the time. We just aren’t always acting on our sexual desires. But we are not without our sexuality. Still, any time personal sexuality makes itself visible in relationships like those between coworkers or between students and teachers things get very muddy very quickly

I ask the question because of this story. I read it about it first on the dankprofessor’s blog. (The dankprofessor is Barry Dank, and he writes frequently about the politics of sex on college campuses.)

Briefly the story is this:

A creative writing professor at University of New Mexico, posed on a BDSM web site in the company of at least one of of her graduate students. The web site was for an organization called People Exchanging Power, a national network of support groups for BDSM-oriented people, and for those curious about BDSM that Lisa Chavez*, the professor, learned about from two of her grad students. (The web site for the Albequerque branch does seem to focus heavily on phone fantasy exporation, as indicated in the news article.) It seems that after that, Chavez posed for some pictures that were shown on the web site, and at least one of those pictures included one of the grad students. An investigation was prompted, somehow, at the University, and the deputy provost found no use of college resources, no undue influence, no hostile environment, and no coercion. He said that while he thought she’d exercised poor judgement, that the incident “did not rise to the level of calling into question her ‘unfitness for duty’.” (Read more at SexInThePublicSquare.org)

We also have:

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Filed under BDSM, Carol Queen, Chris Hall, Daniel Day, Melanie Ross, pornography, public discourse, rape, sex, sex crimes, Sex in the Public Square