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Sex Work, Sexuality, and the Left: Can They/We Coexist In The Same Boudoir?

This has been one of my basic obsessions for many years: how the Left has taken a schzophenic approach to the subject of sexuality and sex work; and how sexual Puritanism and sexual conservatism remains pretty
powerful in containing and devolving efforts to integrate sex worker activism within a broader Left-of-center programme.

This recent post over at the British “Green Left” blog Bronwen Maher in which the author calls on Green Party members to adopt the radical feminist position on sex work favoring “Swedish Model”-style criminalization of sex commerce consumers, is typical of a prevailing attitude amongst certain liberal/progressive/ Left activists that criminalizing sexual activities amongst consensual adults as a means of “protecting” women and children is a viable Leftist goal.

Obviously, as a Leftist myself, a member of the Green Party USA, and a sex-positive feminist supporter who happens to dabble in nonviolent porn and support sex worker rights to maintain their space in a safe, legal, and sane manner, I profoundly disagree with this analysis.

Although I would never, ever deny the darker, more tragic experiences of sex work, or that sex workers do indeed face many dangers as part of their profession, to simply wish away the voices of those who defend their right to their profession and only emphasize those who are most at harm merely to support abolitionist legislation, basically amounts to silencing and privileging some voices more than others. It also tends to mass scapegoating and ultimately persecution of innocent clients and consumers of sex work (scapegoated as “punters”, “pimps”, and “traffickers”) for even expressing a desire to engage in sex for
money rather than focusing on the actual abusers and abusive practices.

There is also the issue of how advocating abolitionist positions distract from the traditional Leftist theory and practice of focusing on institutional forms of inequality (economic and social) which evolve from the role of the State the traditional family, the Church, and the corporate sector in imposing conservative sexual mores and laws restricting or criminalizing sexual behavior not meeting particular restrictive standards of propriety. (“Decency” and “Holiness” and “cleansing fsociety of filth and smut” serves as the usual standard for the religious conservative, while “Patriarchy” and “protecting women and children from male sexual rapicity” serve the standard of most radicalfeminist anti-sex work activists.)

This “Puritan Left” attitude has been reenforced through ringing endorsements from philosophical Left luminaries such as Noam Chomsky, who has been the most recent convert to the most radical antiporn/
antiprostitution activism following an attempt by HUSTLER magazine publisher Larry Flynt to mine his (Flynt’s) antiwar activism.

In the absence of any public organizing from active Leftists who take a more sex-libertarian or anticensorship or sex-positive stance, the abolitionists and “neo-Puritan” Leftists have been enabled to claim hegemony for all of the Left concerning sex work and sex commerce…much to the disappointment and frustration of many sex worker activists who have taken liberal/progressive support for their causes for granted.

Considering the weakness of the Left these days, this is not a positive development at all…in fact, just as the total feality of the American Left to the Obama Administration just as the latter seems to be more obsessed with turning the party further and further away from even nominal progressive initiatives has weakened and eviserated the former to the state of irrelevancy, the move of the broader international Left towards sexually conservative abolitionist positions and towards repressive legislation that mostly empowers the
most reactionary elements of culture will simply serve to backfire on the Left as a whole.

If there was ever a time to return to the basic principles of equality, social solidarity, and militant defense of Left principles such as social justice, free and open expression, and self-autonomy and resources for free people to make informed decisions, then now is the time. Distractions like shaming men and women whose sex lives don’t meet certain narrow standards are not only wasteful, but dangerous.

Of course, I speak only for myself as as “sex-positive” Leftist…feel free to have your own opinion, and to accept or reject my views on your own.

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This entry was posted on 15 September, 2009 by in Uncategorized.
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