Regulating Sex: The Politics of Intimacy and Identity

By Elizabeth Bernstein; Laurie Schaffner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5

At Home in the Street:

Questioning the Desire to Help and Save

LAURA Ma AGUSTÍN

Western discourses of “prostitution” have changed little since the late eighteenth century, when populations outside nuclear-family units began to be feared by “society.” Medical, sociological, criminological, and psychological discourses have been fixated on those selling sex rather than on those buying it, on women rather than men, on individuals rather than families or communities, and on particular body parts rather than whole persons. A wide variety of commercial-sexual relations are essentialized as “prostitution”-an isolated, two-party, sex-for-money transaction, which “deviate” from a supposed norm: sex with a loved partner or between spouses in a nuclear family. Yet vast numbers of people every day, all over the world, want to spend time, sometimes having sex, outside the family, and away from spouses. Not only state agencies of social control but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), feminists, and others interested in bettering society continue to ignore the limitations of “home” and “family.”

My own work during a number of years has concerned migrants (men, women, transgender people) who work in the West's domestic, “caring, ” and sex industries. I have interviewed migrants (potential, current, and returned) in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Australia, and Thailand, and I have studied social agents (governmental, NGO, religious, academic, and other workers) proposing to support and “help” them (Agustín 2001a, 2002a, 2003). 1 I began studying the relationship between European supporters and non-Europeans looking for work in Europe when I noticed the disturbing difference

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