How would a participatory economy handle sex work?

I saw a recent email thread from topaz, related to a conversation that I think poses a challenge to the participatory economy model – that is, how would a participatory economy handle sex work?

Here is what topaz wrote. The questions here are interesting and thought-provoking. What do folks on this forum think?

Honestly, the topic of sex work in a ‘participatory society,’ strikes me as more dystopian than utofallopian.

Even rounding down from the 60-90% of current sex workers who experienced childhood sexual abuse, that means that ‘in the future,’ only (about?) 40% of women who experienced sexual abuse and trauma as children 1) either remain untreated for the abuse or 2) live outside social norms or 3) believe that sex work is better than any other form of labor even though all other work is now evenly distributed and compensated for.

How would an ‘iteration committee’ determine the amount of compensation compared to let’s say, being a garbage worker, or dishwasher.

Since one of the primary ideas in the participatory vision is onerousness of work, then would sex work be more or less onerous? Would the ‘attractiveness’ of the client be included in onerousness? For that matter, if attractiveness is being taken into consideration, then where does that stop? Would a ‘more attractive’ cashier receive more compensation once attractiveness has a fixed value? Et voila - class now exists in the classless society. Why would anyone agree to receiving less compensation for their ‘sex work?’ The type of committee which decides compensation based on attractiveness has been ‘theorized’ by Vonnegut in Harrison Bergeron.

Seems like the ‘oldest profession’ is where a lot of the ideas of a participatory economy remain intangible. If in fact sex work is the oldest profession, then a case can be built, that if sex work can not be agreeably brought into the participatory umbrella corporation, (which seems unlikely,) then back to the drawing board. There is a world of difference between egalitarian and mandatory equality.

The March 1990 Journal of Economic History contains an article by Jane Humphries ‘Enclosures, Common Rights and Women…’ which traces the dependence of families on wage earners (men/proletariat) to the loss of commons areas, land becoming owned, instead of land being a resource of life. As we know, for all other life forms, land never stopped being a shared (egalitarian) resource.

Assuming that it is a service that people freely choose to provide and it is a service that is sought then how could it be treated differently to any service, hair cutting, massage, medical…

It’s more a challenge to a perfectionist and inflexible model of payment according to sacrifice than a challenge to the economic model as a whole. And in that regard, it’s just a special case of similar arguments made against that payment norm, including by people within PEP.

I agree with Fintan that this is mostly a matter of how to deal with services as opposed to mere distribution of goods. Services pose their own distinct challenges but again this is a special case.

I’d also throw in that it raises questions under the heading of self-employment in a participatory economy, which I also think is important.

Each of your comments, in my mind, shows that participatory vision is ‘not quite ready for prime time.’ While sex work could be called a service, comparing sex work to physical health seems like a cookie cutter approach. Fire fighters then, since they provide a service are to be compensated in the same way barbers are? I would think that though the actual service of fire fighting isn’t a significant amount of time, that the need for professionalism among the firefighters would be considered in any budgeting process, regardless of how often an actual fire takes place.

The word ‘mere,’ in relation to distribution of goods is a mind-blowing understatement, since goods and their distribution is structural to capitalism, and its’ viceroy advertisment. As Arundhati Roy suggests in Capitalism: A Ghost Story, the opposite of mindless consumerism is mindful appreciation. Happiness and fulfillment are found in culturally significant exchanges, essentially the opposite of ‘mere.’

Since these participatory ideas imply system/state taking precedence over individualism and diversity, perhaps setting the scope of participatory vision to more tangible goals is a good step. As services are a ‘special case,’ solving the ‘normal case’ first is necessary. A letter to the Economist recently spoke of rolling out company culture. Obviously, such a case is a top down structure. Curiously, even the idea of participatory vision is a type of rolling out a culture, instead of adapting a system which is in place. Improving what is present allows people to participate in the change, which creates comprehension of the changes, and why they are important is inherent and experienced in the result. A cultural shift from ghost story to growth story.

What happens if instead of participatory economics - participatory staples, or participatory infrastructure? Just for fun, why not participatory toiletries? Because honestly, to start mucking about with systems that have been in place for hundreds of years, maybe a good place to start is where no one gives a crap. :wink:

Hi Topaz,

I think you’re reading the preceding comments in pretty much the most uncharitable way possible, so I don’t find this exchange productive.

Thank you for your transparency. I wasn’t aware of the principle of charity as you posted.
In response, I suggest that even more uncharitable would be to not even converse.
As you have begun a ‘true conversation’ by outlining a definition of a word, i.e. a shared symbol which is comprehended.

From my perspective, and my unschooled definition of philosophy, focusing on what I disagree with the strongest, and still continuing to participate is charitable, as working to an agreement is the goal of the process. If I were not to share where and why I don’t agree about ‘trivial’ matters, then any ‘structure of thought’ may be built with different ideas of the word level. In an actual structure, different ideas of the word level would ruin the structure. In a philosophical structure, defining what ‘level’ is at the outset provides for further building.

I sent a letter to Mitchell, saying that I hoped my humor at the end wouldn’t be thought to mean I am not interested in the conversation, or the vision of change which participatory ideals consider.

Are you aware of the story of why Marconi is named as the inventor of radio and not Tesla? Marconi was working on one band/frequency and Tesla was building Oz, so to speak.The difference in scale is why Marconi is traditionally thought of as the inventor of radio. It seems that you are definitely engaged in big picture, while I’m focused on what meaning words carry, a difference in scale which I hope doesn’t conclude the conversation.

The difference between perception of words and how words affect thought is one of my primary interests, and perhaps won’t fit into the preestablished conversation. Yet, if I arrived in the conversation considering all your thoughts as gospel, would any of my thoughts be worthy of consideration?

Why do you say ‘mere’ distribution, since in a way the entire point of participatory vision is to challenge and change the current distribution of Earth’s resources?

I would enjoy continuing the conversation, and apologize for not being ‘charitable’ initially. My perceptions of the ‘ground rules’ are still being formed, as I’m getting to know people through the participatory community. Again, thank you for your transparency.

1 Like

Topaz, thanks for your comment. I am not against conversing, I just would like us to talk to each other and not across each other. Let me get back to you later with a more substantive response.

That’s a big assumption.
Most women and girls who are prostituted have been trafficled into it.
Women that haven’t been trafficked into it are almost all forced into it by poverty and lack of alternatives.
Most would get out of being prostituted if they there was a way out.

I am shocked to see this as a topic here.
Being forced into prostitution is not participating willingly in any sort of economy.
I recommend you all look at the Nordic Model Now website and in particular read the pages on Myths and on Facts about prostitution

Being prostituted is not work. It is more akin to forced labour, but because of the nature of the so-called “work” it means being raped repeatedly.


I just wanted to emphasize the first statements:

Honestly, the topic of sex work in a ‘participatory society,’ strikes me as more dystopian than utofallopian.

Even rounding down from the 60-90% of current sex workers who experienced childhood sexual abuse…

Utofallopian here being a conjunction of utopian and fallopian… in other words, I know exactly what you mean.

Perhaps the unfortunate reality is that you seem to be the one who most likely sees my points.

Thanks for your comments.

I’m disgusted that this was posted here

Is this what a participatory economy is? Just more abuse of women but under a flashy new name? No participation by women of course - how silly of me to even think that might happen

You know what w often remind ourselves in feminist circles? Right wing or left wing - its all misogyny. Right wing = private ownership of women. Left wing = public ownership of women.

No thank you

I don’t know why you think I’m going to agree with you.

Why on earth did you raise this topic in the first place?


This thread is weird really. I think Boudika is right. Even calling sex work/prostitution,
even just for argument sake, the “oldest profession” is f#$*ing ridiculous. It’s not a profession and never was. It was born out of extremely oppressive and exploitative patriarchal relations going way way back to small hunter gatherer communities: many wives is far more prominent than many husbands, sex slaves taken from the victims of war/battles, fathers selling daughters into marriage/sex out of tradition or to pay off debt (shit, check out Graeber’s book on debt) and on. How many male brothels are there…for women? Didn’t see many depictions of such on Game of Thrones or elsewhere. The mind boggles.

I find it rather bizarre anyone could contemplate that in a participatory society women would voluntarily opt to service men sexually, as if it’s a legitimate, beneficial to women personally, socially valuable “industry”. Only men would consider such a thing I figure. I doubt it would ever come seriously from women or any other LGBTQ+ group. Particularly within a society that has finally rid itself of economic oppression, exploitation, alienation, repression, slavery and the binary of the “legitimate” and “black” economy crap along with the myriad barriers of entry to just living life that the current abomination throws up and allows. (I mean, even among bullshit jobs and highly exploitative/alienating jobs and work, women are denied entry. F*@$, take a look at the number of Indian women protesting for recognition as legitimate farmers now they are alone after their husbands have committed suicide or died from stress as horrid and insidious companies such as Monsanto take hold of the industry). The current economy creates the sort of bullshit that basically says to the trans community in Latin America, if you can survive machismo culture, and subsequent barriers of entry into pretty much all aspects of work other than the “sex industry” and hairdressing, along with those that prohibit normal access to the health care, you might, if you’re lucky, live beyond your life expectancy of between 35-45 yrs. Quite frankly I can’t see members of the trans community willingly entering into that “service industry”…mainly for bloody men…when they would in a participatory society be able to choose among a myriad of other far more personally rewarding activities, socially valuable industries, professions, jobs.

Pornography may throw up a different set of conundrums. It is much easier to imagine couples or individuals with a penchant for certain kinds of extra-terrestrial activity, (see or hear Frank Zappa’s Penguins in Bondage), selling images or making them available within an “industry” that could have some value for those among us who may be destined for a more lonely kind of life devoid of “that kind” of extra contact, for whatever reasons. But certainly not without much discussion within the communities and councils.

At a stretch, a real stretch, one could consider therapeutical aspects but that would come under health and serious discussions about health.

But actual “sex work”, the “oldest profession”, a phrase that merely denies what it really was/is, to service f#$ing men, shit, f#$ off. Me thinks one would, in a participatory society, be dealing with many Boudikas rather than just one, to get any such proposal off the ground.