Sexual Cultures in East Asia: The Social Construction of Sexuality and Sexual Risk in a Time of AIDS

By Evelyne Micollier | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1

SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE OF COMMERCIAL SEX WORK: IMPLICITLY SHAPING A SEXUAL CULTURE?

EVELYNE MICOLLIER

This chapter discusses the role of sex work in the social construction of sexuality, mainly in the context of Chinese culture as well as a few examples from the Vietnamese or the Korean context. In our approach to sex work, one of the main working hypotheses is the relevance of cultural constraints such as the Confucian ideas or the Taoist lore on the analysis of sexual cultures. Cogently, the aim is not to overestimate cultural factors at the expense of social and economic factors, but to identify the different factors involved in the social construction of sexuality. All these factors are closely interrelated to shape a sexual culture where sex work lies at the core of the ideological and behavioural configuration-sex work thus becoming part of an 'unspoken' set of sexual norms and values paralleling the 'straight' set (heterosexuality, connubiality, intimacy, and reproduction over pleasure). One should bear in mind that a culture undergoes a continuous process of interpretation, and is not therefore a fixed system giving a ready reference to all the beliefs and behaviour of the people in society. Indeed, at the present, sexual cultures are in transition and produced within a complex nexus of divergent forces, including traditional sexual mores, modern medical discourse, women's movements, patriarchal imperatives, consumerism, and corporate globalization. In this context, representations of sexuality and sexual behaviours are embedded in a social world structured by and saturated with power relations of gender and class. Sexuality therefore provides a consistent site for exploring the various aspects of the social sphere. Our approach explicitly diverges from those relying perhaps too easily on the notion of 'structure' to define culture and comprehend tradition.


SEX WORK: PAST AND PRESENT IN THE CONTEXT OF CHINESE CULTURE

A dialectical relationship bridges past and present, tradition and modernity in the context of contemporary societies. To speak of traditions and heritage

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