Human Sexuality and Anthropology Interest Group
Invited - Oral Presentation Session
Sex work provides a particularly good example to ponder the relationships of money, authenticity, and intimacy. Many scholars who research intimacy have pointed to fact that seeing sex work as pure and simple exchange of money (or goods) for sex is a simplistic and reductive approach (Bernstein 2007; Hann and Hart 2011; Prasad 1999; Zelizer 1994). Building on the existing research that complicates the idea of sex work as an emotionally detached sex-for-money transaction, in this paper, I look at the co-existence of the references to gift exchange and service economy in the narratives of street sex workers from the cities of Kropyvnyts’kyi and Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine. Focusing on sex workers’ attempts at discursive legitimization of sex work and on their narratives of their relationships with clients, I argue that the market rhetoric and the gift economy are not always incommensurable for my participants. I show that though on the one hand, sex workers’ local “workplace ethic” is permeated with references to competition and productivity; on the other, they do not see sex work as qualitatively different from other forms of intimacy (in fact, they sometimes even see it as superior to one-night-stands) and they do not treat their clients as mere customers because of multiple emotional and affective attachments that exist between sex workers and clients.