Same Sex Work Class, Different Course Design

So I did not get a job teaching a sex work class — there is a guy with more seniority who usually teaches it, and happens to be qualified for it, who was maybe gonna leave, but then he didn’t. I get to work as his TA, though, and the course he designed, while very different from what I would do (and therefore ALL WRONG), looks like it’ll be pretty cool.

Ditmore, Levy & Willman, Sex Work Matters

What struck me about it is that, despite having more or less the same analysis of sex work as work and work as a site of class struggle, and despite even using one of the same books, we produced very different courses. This is a product of our different disciplinary backgrounds. Dan Crow, the author of the syllabus pasted below, comes from a political science background, and my background is in literary and cultural studies. So my course design looks a lot more like a cultural studies course. With Dan’s permission, I’ve posted his syllabus here as demonstration of what a difference discipline makes — it’s not just a matter of who studies sex work or how they do it, but the different kinds of training we’ve had on what constitutes knowledge and how people go about “knowing” makes a big difference in what and how we want to teach about sex work and sex workers.

Another thing Dan’s class shows is an unexpected silence in two otherwise fantastic books on sex work, specifically around pornography and queerness. He’s used readings from other sources to make sure these topics are included in the course, but I was surprised to see that this was the only place he really had to go outside the chapters in the books. Is pornography less interesting to sex work scholars because we still look at it more in terms of the representation issues brought up by the sex wars? Why aren’t we talking more about the successes and failures of feminist and queer porn, as they attempt to address power relations in the workplace?

Listening to Sex Workers

The Red Umbrella Project, Prose & Lore

Dan’s course, like mine, includes a requirement for students to use sex workers’ writings in their essay assignments. This is something we concocted with another instructor last year, and Dan has been trying out with his classes. It addresses two problems: first, that students are getting the wrong idea about who the “experts” on sex work are by just reading books by academics about them. It’s a lot harder to ignore everything sex workers’ have to say about their lives that doesn’t fit your preconceived ideas about what should be done about sex work when you have to actually critically integrate their ideas into your arguments.

Second, it addresses the problem of students taking up sex workers’ time with their essay assignments. Requests for personalized sources for research are something most sex worker organizations and advocates deal with regularly. And while it’s great that students are thinking about how to learn from sex workers, their essays don’t go anywhere that serves sex working communities and they often don’t have the skills (and sometimes the desire) to do their research ethically. As noted in both of the links directly above, what sex workers want from researchers are (1) research that is useful to them, (2) a say in the design of studies and reports and (3) critical reflection on the researcher’s relationship to the sex industry. Most undergraduates aren’t at a place where they can offer that. Sending them to talk to sex workers about their essays puts them in a position that is not give-and-take, but all take.

van der Meulen, Durisin & Love, Selling Sex

By directing students to sex workers’ published writing, this assignment shows them how to seek out sex workers’ voices on sex workers’ terms, and to gather the background information about what sex workers are already talking about, without sending them out to waste sex workers’ time.

We also had the same (or very similar, anyway) list of essay topics, since I stole mine from the topics Dan used in previous years. I then added topics adapted from sex worker Olive Seraphim’s blog post “Conversations We Should be Having About Sex Work.” For any students or teachers who wander across this, thinking perhaps that they’ll write another “Is sex work feminist?” or “rescuing drug-addicted whores in Impoverished Region” essay, consider one of the following, much more interesting, topics instead (anyone who has had to read 20 “decriminalization vs. abolition” essays at a time will thank you):

  1. The relationship between sex work and neoliberalism
  2. Development of feminist perspectives on sex work
  3. Sex worker organizing
  4. Issues of Health and Safety for sex workers
  5. Sex work as a form of emotional labour
  6. Regulation of Sex Work
  7. Compare aspects of at least two different forms of prostitution
  8. Relations between dancers and other workers in strip clubs
  9. Compare the experiences of male and female sex workers
  10. Feminist Pornography
  11. The relationship between sex work and racism and/or colonialism
  12. Consent, rape-culture, and sex work
  13. Queer politics and sex work
  14. Sex work and technological change

Dan’s Class


In this course we will examine sex work from a variety of different angles. The course will begin by investigating a number of different theoretical perspectives on sex work, including liberal, socialist and radical feminist perspectives. Within the first few weeks we will explore such topics as ‘the feminist sex wars’, the political economy of sex work, and some of the factors that lead people to take up work in the sex industries. After these early discussions, we will explore the various forms of sex work. This will include a discussion of the different kinds of work (prostitution, pornography, stripping, etc.). But it will also include discussion of the relevance of a variety of labour studies concepts to the study of sex work. Later weeks will address topics such as social policy implications for sex workers, health and safety issues, and union organizing.

Writing Assignment: Due in Lecture on February 14, 2014

For this assignment you will need to read Prose and  Lore issues 1 and 2 (available in the Brock Bookstore) and Shawna Ferris, “The Lone Streetwalker: Missing Women and Sex Work-Related News in Mainstream Canadian Media” (available on Sakai). In the assignment you will need to make reference to chapters from both volumes of Prose and Lore, however it is not necessary to make reference to all of the writings in both volumes. Assignments will be evaluated in part on the appropriateness of the chapters that you select for comparison or contrast to each other and the stereotypes analysed in the Ferris article, as well as how well you use these to support your thesis on sex worker self-representation.

Write a 4 – 6 page essay (typed, double spaced in a 12 point font) evaluating the significance of sex worker self-representation to our understanding of sex work and sex workers. Why is it important to read sex worker writings, and what can we learn from them? What can we learn or better understand about the concepts we discuss in this course? How do these writings challenge or substantiate the material that is covered in the academic literature? Is there anything in sex worker self-representation that we cannot get from other sources? Are there any ‘silences’ in Prose and Lore?

Essay: Due in Lecture on March 28, 2014

Essays must be 10 – 12 typed, double-spaced pages in a 12 point font and must be based on one of the topics listed below. The topics below are relatively broad and general. You will need to focus the essay on a more precise research question in order to narrow the focus sufficiently to fit within the requirements of the assignment. Where relevant, essays may focus on one form of sex work, but may be based on a comparison between different forms of sex work. Similarly, you may focus on a single country or region, or make a comparison between two or more countries or regions. Essays must have a thesis statement, and must be based on sufficient research to substantiate the thesis. Lecture notes may not be used for this assignment. Hard copies of essays must be submitted. Emailed or faxed copies will not be accepted.

You must incorporate the perspectives of sex workers into your essay. However, under no circumstances should you do interviews with sex workers, or anyone employed in the sex industries. We do not have the requisite approval from Brock’s Research Ethics Board to conduct such research. Nor do we have the necessary resources to ensure that interviews could be conducted without potentially doing harm. Instead you should incorporate published (in print or online) writings by people who are working as, or who have worked as sex workers. Examples of these writings can be found in the course textbooks, including the books used in the writing assignment. In addition a folder including other examples of sex worker writings has been added to the Sakai site for this course. By no means is this an exhaustive list of sources, and the list might be updated over the course of the term. Feel free to find other sources. If you are unsure of the appropriateness of something that you have found, you should consult with your Teaching Assistant, or the Instructor.

[Dan’s list of essay topics is above, in my discussion of how he incorporates sex worker voices into the class.]

Required Texts:

Melissa Hope Ditmore, Antonia Levy and Alys Willman (eds.), Sex Work Matters: Exploring Money, Power and Intimacy in the Sex Industry, New York: Zed Books, 2010.

Emily van der Meulen, Elya M. Durisin, and Victoria Love (eds.), Selling Sex: Experience, Advocacy, and Research on Sex Work in Canada, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2013.

Prose and Lore: Memoir Stories About Sex Work, Issue 1 (Fall 2012/Winter 2013) and Issue 2 (Spring/Summer 2013).

All other readings will be available on the course LMS.

Lecture Schedule:

Part 1: Theories and Key Debates

January 10: Introduction

Sex Work Matters Introduction: (Willman and Levy, “Beyond the Sex in Sex Work”).

Selling Sex Introduction: (van der Meulen, Durisin, Love).

January 17: Sex Work and Sex Workers: An Overview

Sex Work Matters CH 1: (Brents and Hausbeck, “Sex Work Now”).

Selling Sex CH 2: (Redwood, “Myths and Realities of Male Sex Work”).

Selling Sex CH 4: (Fletcher, “Trans Sex Workers”)

Shawna Ferris, “‘The Lone Streetwalker’: Missing Women and Sex Work-Related News in Mainstream Canadian Media”, West Coast Line, Spring 2007, 41, 1, pp. 14 – 24.

January 24: Debating Sex Work: Abolitionist vs. ‘Sex Work As Work’ Perspectives

 Sex Work Matters CH 3: (Koken, “The Meaning of the ‘Whore’”).

Selling Sex CH 3: (Love, “Champagne, Strawberries and Truck-Stop Motels”).

Selling Sex CH 12: (Doe, “Are Feminists Leaving Women Behind?”).

January 31: Class Analysis and the Political Economy of Sex Work

 Sex Work Matters CH 7: (Willman, “Let’s Talk About Money”)

 Sex Work Matters CH 9: (Weldon, “Show Me The Money”)

 Sex Work Matters CH 10: (Petro: “Selling Sex”)

February 7: Colonialism and Sex Work

Selling Sex CH 6: (Hunt, “Decolonizing Sex Work”)

Selling Sex CH 5: (JJ, “We Speak For Ourselves”)

Sherene H. Razack, “Gendered Racial Violence and Spatialized Justice: The Murder of Pamela George”, in Sherene H. Razack (ed.), Race, Space and the Law: Unmapping a White Settler Society, Toronto: Between the Lines, 2002, pp. 123 – 156.

Film: Welsh, C. (2006). Finding Dawn. National Film Board,

Part 2: Varieties of Sex Work

February 14: Prostitution

Sex Work Matters CH 5: (Kaye, “Sex and the Unspoken in Male Street Prostitution”).

Selling Sex CH 13: (Lewis, Shaver and Maticka-Tyndale “Going ‘round Again”).

Selling Sex CH 15: (Lowman “Crown Expert-Witness Testimony in Bedford v. Canada”).

February 28: Strip Club Work

Sex Work Matters CH 4: (Bradley-Engen and Hobbs, “To Love, Honor, and Strip”)

Selling Sex CH 1: (Clipperton, “Work, Sex, or Theatre?”).

March 7: Pornography Part 1: The ‘Mainstream’ of the Industry

Sharon A. Abbot, “Motivations for Pursuing a Career in Pornography”, in Ronald Weitzer (ed), Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry 2nd ed., New York: Routledge, 2010.

James D. Griffith et. al., “Pornography Actors: A Qualitative Analysis of Motivations and Dislikes”, North American Journal of Psychology, vol. 14, no. 2, 2012, pp. 245 – 256.

March 14: Pornography Part 2: Porn and Diversity – Gay Male, Queer, and Feminist Porn

Constance Penley, Celine Parrenas Shimizu, Mireille Miller-Young, and Tristan Taormino, “Introduction: The Politics of Producing Pleasure”, in Constance Penley, Celine Parrenas Shimizu, Mireille Miller-Young, and Tristan Taormino (eds.), The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure, New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2013, pp. 9 – 20.

Jeffrey Escoffier, “Pornstar/Stripper/Escort: Economic and Sexual Dynamics in a Sex Work Career”, Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 53, no. 1/2, 2007, pp. 173 – 200.

Jeffrey Escoffier, “Gay for Pay: Straight Men and the Making of Gay Pornography”, Qualitative Sociology, vol. 26, no. 4, Winter 2003, pp. 531 – 555.

Part 3: Regulating Sex Work

March 21: Public Policy and the Regulation of Sex Work and Sex Workers

Selling Sex CH 14: (Goodyear and Auger, “Regulating Women’s Sexuality”).

Selling Sex CH 19: (Bruckert and Hannem, “To Serve and Protect?”)

Selling Sex CH 20: (van der Meulen and Valverde, “Beyond the Criminal Code”)

March 28: Health and Safety

Selling Sex CH 11: (MacDonald, Jeffrey, Martin and Ross, “Stepping All Over the Stones: Negotiating Feminism and Harm Reduction in Halifax”)

Tamara O’Doherty, “Criminalization and Off-Street Sex Work in Canada”, Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, April 2011, pp. 217 – 245.

Elizabeth Comack and Maya Seshia, “Bad Dates and Street Hassles: Violence in the Winnipeg Street Sex Trade”, Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, April 2010, Vol. 52, Issue 2, pp. 203 – 214.

April 4: Sex Worker Organizing

 Sex Work Matters CH 13: (Garofalo, “Sex Workers’ Rights Activism in Europe”)

Selling Sex CH 8: (Clamen, Gillies and Salah, “Working for Change”).

Selling Sex CH 9: (Arthur, Davis and Shannon, “Overcoming Challenges”).

Selling Sex CH 10: (Crago and Clamen, “The Sex Workers Movement in Montreal”).


    • sarah m

      Thanks, Olive! Your post is such a great source for essay ideas; I love being able to point to a sex worker’s work and say “see? Sex workers know what you should be writing about. Why don’t you?” I’m so happy to be able to riff on that work.

  1. Renato Martins

    Excelent! I’m posting your article on Red Umbrella Brasil (on facebook) and also (in Portuguese, as soon as we get to translate it) on Please follow both pages… and feel free to post there!

    • sarah m

      Awesome. Dan, the fellow who authored the course, will be pleased to hear that. Please link back here wherever you copy it, and feel free to pass on any feedback left by workers in your region. This class has improved so much with sex worker consultation in the last few years; we’re both really interested in hearing what sex workers think.

  2. Pingback: Just Say No: Why You Shouldn’t Study Sex Work in School | autocannibal
  3. Candi Forrest

    Interesting that despite noting that sex worker organisations expect “critical reflection on the researcher’s relationship to the sex industry” the author does not state what that is in the case of themselves or Dan. I want to know if either IS a sex worker

    • sarah m

      Hi Candi,

      That sort of disclosure can be a bit fraught in a professional context. I can assure you, however, that I have reflected both critically and extensively on my relationship to the sex industry. You can read quite a bit about where I come from on this blog and in my other writing, if you’re curious.

      Dan, to the best of my knowledge, has never sold sex, but he has been a very dedicated ally who truly “gets it” with regard to letting sex workers speak for themselves. He is an all-around good egg, and pretty cute to boot. 😉



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