Revisiting Sex Work in the light of Capital and the Pleasure Principle.

PROSTITUTION is considered the world’s oldest profession. The entry of which marks the beginnings of capitalism as an ideological construct through which all labour is differentiated.

 It has been argued that women’s work is sex work, and therefore sex workers should be free to charge for their services, and in effect to gain a living wage.

I will argue that far from being an exchange of labour, the sex act is one of the focal points of human existence, and should rather be seen as vital to the well-being of our species, in effect, an important part of the medicamentum through which all of life is constituted and thus stripped of secondary meanings which various philosophical and religious traditions may attribute it. 

While the recognition of the crucial link between the exchange of labour, on the one hand, (for which very little gained), and the pursuit of pleasure on the other (through which most of humanity has been constructed), is an important part of the equation, a just and equitable work week necessarily includes p-leisure –the pursuit of wealth, health and happiness –, there is however something terribly ironic in attributing all acts of p-leisure to the exchange of labour.

What is lost by such an exchange? Are we not in danger of enforcing class differentiation in which each and every subject is, on the one hand, either a prostitute or pimp, or, on the other — in the terminology of consumer-clientism —  a mere consumer or client? 

In Sweden a social system has been set up that helps sex-workers get out of prostition, “ the system” if they so desire. Without welfare or social security, sex work is invariably the result of the extremes of capitalism, or as some would say, simple market facism.  

Without an equitable means of exchange, labour is mere slavery and critics of  the capitalist class system are often at pains to make such a distinction while avoiding the logic of sex work – reducing the sex act to an economic transaction.

The extraction of capital via wage labour in a process that leads to the exploitation of the working class has also been discussed ad infinitum. It is useful rather to examine the material conditions prior to the economic system of exchange. If one does,  it is apparent that there exist two distinct proto-classes of people upon which all other classes are differentiated: Clients -Those who are p-leisured, and for whom the act of leisure is considered, a free and happy occurrance, or Consumers, those who labour, and for whom the act of labour is a drudge and unhappy exchange in which surplus value is extracted only so that the capitalist class may make a profit. 

The spectre of today’s corporate business moving into the world of sex work is as tragic as the notion of organized crime, illegal work and the syndication of human flesh. While there may exist franchise opportunities for such labour and  persons who thus objectified into pleasure-making devices, it is only via a casual linguistic deception that the ancient art of hooking, streetwalking, whoring, prostitution call it what you will, has turned into an acceptable practice. 

Marx’s labour theories while necessary in understanding and deconstructing the labour system through which capitalist accumulation and class structure is created, are not all that important in understanding the sex act. In fact I know of very few well-adjusted Marxists, able to proclaim that their sex lives have been enhanced by reading Marx’s Capital and the reader is referred rather to other more illustrious books such as the Kama Sutra.

 Freud’s discourse on the Pleasure Principle on the other hand, is of far greater ideological importance in understanding that sex is the most basic human instinct or drive, that the pursuit of pleasure precedes the accumulation of capital.  Drawing such a link does us a disservice though, if it is merely to illustrate the fact that much of human existence, being as it is based upon biology, is not ideological, but rather tends towards , simulation/stimulation,  abstract constructs such as reorganization of human interpersonal conduct and equitable social relations. 

How does on go about tackling the issue of prostitution and sex-work in this day and age, without re-examining psycho-sexual-social relations? The attempt to move sexual relations and human intercourse out of the traditional sphere of marriage, community and the pursuit of p-leisure, in order to place them firmly within the hands of labour, is a gross miscarriage of justice, for while such a revolutionary act may expose the capitalism system in all its contradictions, by appearing to offer a more true form of capitalist discourse, the operation is by its very nature, a violation, an attempt to consign the sex act to the realm of private property, in effect to restate the original sin in which medico matera is either sold or exchanged for knowledge, power, material possessions etc. 

If sex is nature at its most bold and honest depiction (are we not thinking apes?) then sexual nature must be situated within a continuum of experience that includes the medicamentum, Sex cannot be construed as work, for to do so, is to turn all other sex acts (masturbating, etc) into future sales, financial gains which must be taxable, and if the state is to have a part therof, then who is to say what part is sold and what is not? 

 The problem inherent to the professionalisation of sexwork, in a debate which has no possible solution except if to offer intercourse as a medicine. A medico-sexual debate would be far more worthwhile in South Africa today, for it suggests that some forms of sex-work would be illegal, for instance, an HIV positive person might be barred from offering such a service, while those who are disabled might have the right to demand sex in the form of therapy. 



One comment

  1. Juliana

    Sex can be construed as work. It is and the fact of that functions very well for many people.

    You make assumptions about pimps and prostitutes – food is essential, shelter is essential – sometimes we commercialize getting or giving or experiencing these things – you assume an almost zero sum game scenario where clients become less than by virture of being a client and not a whore.

    When you deal in sex as a service, sometimes sacred, sometimes banal – you realize there can be great beauty in that transaction, great joy in knowing you can give this to someone or get this from someone when there may be no other way to do so.

    Sex obvioulsy can be commecialized and private at once.

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