Yesterday, a friend asked me if I thought sex-work would, or even could, exist in an anti-capitalist society. Having never considered the issue before, I decided to explore my feelings on it, as I think it's a really interesting question.
Disclaimer: What I say here, I say as a person who is very pro-sex worker rights, and do so purely as an intellectual activity in a hypothetical scenario.
Would sex-work exist in an anti-capitalist society?
The first important thing to define here is what is meant by 'sex worker'. My base definition of this would be 'someone who engages in sexual activity with another person for a material reward, where the other person's reward is the sexual activity'. For reasons of simplicity, I won't include creators of pornography (i.e. actors, actresses, models etc.) in this definition, because there are different issues surrounding that (I can explain this in greater detail at a later point if required).
The second important question is 'what would my definition of an anti-capitalist society be'? I'd envisage a society based on co-operation where everyone's basic needs are met by the people around them. For instance, house building, food growing, education and child rearing could be done in collective groups where everyone brings forth their skills to help reach the end goal. Natural groups would form to cover other desires and aims - for instance, organising gigs, theatre, etc. This may already be seen in several UK anarchist social centres such as Kebele in Bristol and the Cowley Club in Brighton, who organise practical, social and educational events from the skills of their members.
So, would sex work exist in this type of society? I think to examine that we must look at the reasons people get into sex work. Firstly, you have people who are forced in to it through trafficking, abusive partners etc. Hopefully this would not exist, and to discuss it further would cloud the issue. Secondly, you have people who are forced through poverty and personal circumstances into seeing sex work as their best option. In my utopian idea mentioned above, there'd be no one threatened with eviction or starvation to the point where their only realistic choice was sex work, so I will discount these people too.
Finally, there are people who get in to sex work because they genuinely like it and enjoy it as a job, and it is on these I will focus, since they are the ones making the truly free (issues of patriarchy in our real society notwithstanding, and also I am talking about all genders) decision to enter into sex work. I think it would be perfectly possible for people in this category to do sex work in an anti-capitalist society, being a sort of working group (like the plumbers), with the reward they are given being living in a society which takes care of all their other needs. However, a very strong caveat should be the belief that no one ever has a 'right' to sex, and I do not think it should be necessary in a society where I would hope that everyone was liberated enough to make most of the reasons people visit sex workers (can't meet partners, have peccadilloes they feel the need to hide etc.) would be obsolete. This, conversely, could also possibly have the effect of more people wanting to get in to sex work, by de-stigmatising the issue.
I'd like to know people's thoughts on this in the comments. Please, however, remember to be respectful and also that we are debating hypothetical scenarios which have no bearing on the society we are currently in.