Time Management.

This is a really good piece on the relationship sex workers have with time. What I find really interesting is how the author is aware of the stress caused by the commoditisation of time. It’s really thoughtful. I obviously think that it is important to start exploring sex work and time, given my research area, but actually there are many other forms of work for which this is relevant. There are much more informal jobs and casual contracts which emphasise the worth of time and also the insecurity or precariousness of work.

It also raises interesting and very worthwhile questions about consent and how this influences, and is influenced by, time as a commodity. Time is sold, but there are many boundaries in place for what can and cannot happen during that time. It is usually the responsibility of the sex worker to communicate these boundaries. And it points to the use of online advertising sites in a sex workers’ ability to manage the clients’ expectations as well as the sex worker’s safety.

Something that I have been very interested in during my research is how the service sold changes how time is experienced. For example, if a sex worker offers GFE during the time, does she have a different experience to when she sells a ‘quickie’ service. Does it warp the way she feels the time passing. Does the time go quicker if the sex worker gives a service that she enjoys, for instance? That’s just one example, and probably a bad one, but this article definitely touches upon these ideas about sex work and a sex worker’s relationship with time.

Sometimes, it's just a cigar

It’s usual for sites where sex workers advertise to put a disclaimer along the lines of “any money paid is for the time and companionship of the escorts on this site”. I have absolutely no idea if legally it holds any water, but it mentions one of the core ways sex work is organised (in the UK at least) and that is time.

Within the public consciousness there are a lot of misconceptions around sex work, and the biggest may be that clients pay for services, as in a guy comes along, asks for a blow job and is given the price. Various, fake, brothel menus, are circulated which directly link services and price, and reinforce this idea. (I am aware that in some countries services and price are linked, and for many street workers, however I am writing from my experience of indoor independent sex work, the issues of…

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Technology and the Sex Industry

The role of technology in the sex industry is ever-growing. The internet is now the predominant source of advertising for sex workers, but it also provides a space for sex workers to share resources, access support, as well as to campaign and lobby on sex worker rights. Teela Sanders reported that 17 of her indoor sex worker sample of 55 used the internet to advertise in her work published in 2005. Nowadays you would be hard-pressed to find an independent indoor sex worker who did not use the internet for some aspect of her work. Advertising sites have thousands of sex workers advertising across the world.

Until recently there has been little research into the role of the internet and the sex industry, although it is difficult to research with sex workers without acknowledging the ways in which the internet is used. Last year I was fortunate to work as a research assistant on a project which looked into the working practices of sex work facilitated by the internet. This was funded by the Wellcome Trust, led by Teela Sanders and with National Ugly Mugs and Laura Connelly, University of Leeds. There is a Guardian article and a findings summary available for more information. As well as exploring the working conditions of internet sex workers the research demonstrated the sheer volume of sex workers using the internet and the centrality of technology in organising the sex industry. Following on from this, a research team, Beyond the Gaze, are now exploring the internet and sex work more broadly, looking at how technology has shaped the industry and how this fits with existing regulation of sex work in the UK. I am really looking forward to the results of this study, which should hopefully be published just as my research draws to a close, to see how closely they fit in with my own findings. By the way, if you want to take part in their research they are still looking for participants.

Until then, I thought I would share a few of my early findings to hopefully spark some discussion. I am still looking for participants and my sample size is intentionally small anyway, so these findings may not be generalised to the entire sex worker population, but I’m happy to hear any feedback whether you agree or disagree in your own experiences. All the participants so far in the research use the internet for their work. This has many functions, which I will outline here.

  • Firstly, the internet is used to advertise. All participants had Adultwork profiles as well as some having profiles on some more specialist sites depending on the service being offered or any specialism. There are some costs associated with advertising on these sites, but generally they are considered cheaper than the maintenance of their own website. Only two participants have their own website but both cite these as secondary to their profiles on other sites for the time being. Online profiles allow sex workers to advertise to a large audience of online users, rather than the old-fashioned method of advertising in the newspaper or using calling cards. One participant still advertises in the newspaper as well.
  • Through online advertising, and perhaps also through changing attitudes towards commercial sex, the participants in this study have also found that a broader range of ‘type’ of client are requesting services. Some of the participants have been able to track the changes in clientele since advertising online, although there is not always agreement in how each participant believes this to be the case. Some have also expressed an opinion on whether they prefer today’s clients to those ‘old-fashioned’ clients. (I am using their words to describe).
  • The internet has also paved the way for sex workers to offer a broader range of services, such as offering webcamming, videos and photos instead of or in addition to direct sex work. One participant started with non-contact services such as these before moving into sex work.
  • By advertising online, most of the participants hope to save time. Online profiles allow users to list the services offered and sex workers insist that clients read the profiles in full before calling. This should, in theory, mean that sex workers do not need to provide details each time a potential client calls.
  • Some participants dislike how they are expected to be available for more hours of the day now that technology allows them to be accessible as such. For example, many keep their phone on at all times in case the opportunity to earn more money arises. They also have their availability on Adultwork always displayed as on for the same reason. Others have said that they are more strict at only work during set times.
  • The sample in my research have indicated how the internet allows a certain level of protection as it enables them to screen clients. Most participants read the reviews a client has previously received before accepting a booking. Further, by asking that clients fully read their advertising profiles, they use their internet profiles as a method of checking that a client is respectful enough to have taken the time to understand the sex worker’s service on offer. By clearly stating what they will and won’t do on the internet, the sex worker is setting clear expectations for the client in order to avoid disappointment and potential trouble later on.
  • However, there are worries of the level of privacy afforded on the internet with many open-access websites. Two participants have had privacy and anonymity issues arise as a result of online advertising. Many of the online profiles I have viewed have cropped photos in order to omit the sex worker’s face or other identifiable characteristics, although it is difficult to protect your anonymity completely. This has implications for those working without family or friends knowing, or those who do not generally want to be publicly ‘out’ as a sex worker.

So there are many implications for all of this. Although my work doesn’t cover it at all, it is really interesting how much identity work goes into maintaining an online profile. There is a need to ‘compete‘ with other profiles to gain business, and this is often done by having more pictures, or more erotic pictures, or more information about yourself, or offering specific services to set yourself out from the other profiles. I use the term ‘compete’ loosely, I know that this isn’t necessarily a conscious effort on many people’s part. In fact, many of the participants in my research stated that it was important to only display the realities of your service and yourself, and what you are comfortable in offering, rather than entering in any direct competition with others. But having pictures, for example, has become an expectation, and this is fairly recent – previous forms of advertising did not require so much information being displayed – and this change is what is interesting in terms of how much information we are all expected  to display on the internet and how much we have become accustomed to this.

The Beyond the Gaze will look more in-depth on issues such as working practices, regulation and safety, and will hopefully pick up on some of this. My research focuses on the aspects concerning time and relationships with clients. In the rest of my interviews I will be looking at these ideas and testing them with future participants, to see whether their experiences differ at all or whether they have any further insights.

In particular, I am interested in how the internet and other communication technologies affect the amount of time sex workers’ have and how sex workers use these technologies to monitor and manage their own time. Also, I find it really interesting how we start to form relationships with clients through the internet and how technology is used to screen.

Time and the Economy

We live in an age where all aspects of social life have become a commodity. Pretty much anything can be bought if you have access to the funds and capital to purchase it and there is a market for anything to be sold.

Time, in particular, has come to represent one of the most valuable commodities (Wright 2013) to be bought and sold within a neoliberal context. Within this context, efficiency is key. We are pushed to feel that we are producing enough output within a given time (Wajcman 2015). And it is usually an allotted time that is bought or sold, where you will gain access to a worker’s expertise or service within the allotted time.

For this and because of this there is a need to regulate our own and other’s time. Rather than governing their own natural sequence, workers must submit to a scientific time. This is a way of measuring time which is external to us: whereas humans would naturally work with how time is represented in nature (e.g. the rising of the sun), we now  use clocks and calendars to govern ourselves. Elias (1992) writes that in a covert way, time is also used as a form of regulation for the worker, who is expected to meet contractual arrangements in temporal form. This has been internalised in a manner that the sense that an individual’s time is their own responsibility is embedded, and time is very much linked to the economy in that it should not be ‘wasted’ and should be used for productivity.

The economy is governed by time and productivity or loss is quantified through time: if internet connection is lost, if public transport strikes occur, if workers are late; this is all quantified in a loss of company revenue because of the time lost. Time has become increasingly important, emphasised in the idiom ‘time is money’.

In Britain, our government have imposed conditions of ‘austerity’ in response to a financial crisis. These recessional economic conditions have placed further demands on the time of workers as companies push to do more for less. The norm is now to have less workers ‘working smarter’ in order to complete the same tasks.

There is also a need to consider the effects this has on our leisure time. Wright’s (2013) thinkpiece talks of how people feel they have less, and the implications this has for activities such as volunteering. This provides a problem for a society where more volunteer work is needed because funded support has been withdrawn or reduced.

The role of technology also has to be considered here. Wajcman (2015) talks about the contradiction of having so much technology to hand which has been designed to save us time, but yet we still feel like we have less time. I won’t talk too much about this because I’d like to save it for another post. But we can’t really have a discussion about time in the economy without acknowledging the role of technology.

This forms the context for the research on sex work and time. Time is integral to today’s economy as a commodity but also as a form of regulation. What is particularly interesting is how this is mirrored in informal economies, such as sex work but also other areas of informal work which is not officially regulated. Although these economies should sit outside of formal regulation, and therefore sit outside of normal temporal demands, there is evidence that they still have the same relationship with time.

 

Blurred Lines: The Contested Nature of Sex Work in a Changing Social Landscape, Graduate Journal of Social Science Vol. 11 No. 2

A free, open-access journal edition on the complexities of the sex industry.

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Available Here

In December 2015 we finally published the journal edition I had been working on together with Laura Connelly, University of Leeds (@laura_connelly5) and Gemma Ahearne, Leeds Beckett University (@princessjack).

It really does have some fantastic contributions so I recommend giving it a read and/or forwarding to those who may be interested. We tried to balance sex worker voices with pieces from academics, so you will find a number of articles from those working in the industry. Whats more, as both Gemma and I are particularly interested in visual methods having used them in our research, we really wanted to include some visuals. For this reason Toni Stone’s photo essay is a very welcome addition. All of the authors have put forward some great ideas and it really makes this a great guest edition.

It was a year in the making and while we all had great fun putting it together, I’d really like to thank Laura Connelly for driving it forward. And thank you to all of the authors, peer reviewers and copy editors who had so much patience with us while we put it together.

I’d love to hear any comments you have on the journal.

Sex Work is Work

Aren’t we all getting tired of saying this?

Most popular representations of sex work treat it as a deviant lifestyle choice rather than a job.  I’m not just talking about in the media either – so much academic research is based on why sex workers sex work and their lifestyle choices.  Make your own comparisons to other lives and it starts to sound silly… “His parents divorced when he was four so he because a database manager“.  Why are we constantly pressured into justifying sex worker status but not so much for other occupations?

I, of course, realise that in a legal and political context sex work is not treated as work. Sex workers are not afforded the same worker rights as others in more mainstream labour roles and suffer stigma and potential violence because of this.  This is why sex worker advocates continue to fight for sex work to be recognised as economic labour. The first step is decriminalisation! And it is a fight worth having.

But I am not going to reiterate the arguments for sex work being recognised as work here. Above all else they have been so eloquently argued elsewhere. See the lovely Gemma Ahearne’s earlier piece, Sex Work IS Work, for a thoughtful summary.  But also, it is becoming tiring having to address this issue as a justification for studying sex work as work.

So why am I writing a blog post about NOT discussing an issue?

This is my first blog post and I wanted to start from a place that forms the basis of the PhD research I’m completing. The research assumes that sex work is work and, as such, should be researched in the same way we research other forms of labour in more formal economies. The evidence I have collected so far clearly demonstrates that sex work as a form of labour is comparable to more mainstream work.

This has also been addressed elsewhere. @LauraAgustin published an article in 2005 entitled New Research Directions: The Cultural Study of Commercial Sex. Not all will have access to this academic journal but she calls for a more nuanced understanding of the industry through research which understands that sex work is culturally placed; a fact which is often sidestepped in order to debate the wrongs or rights of prostitution.

So forgive me for leaving the sex work is work debate to others. Instead I’m calling for more research and commentaries to just start talking about it as if it is work. Without the justification. Hopefully the government, councils and other official bodies responsible for morally regulating the work will catch up.

(Oh, the irony of justifying the omission of a justification).