“Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self”, by Kajsa Ekis Ekman – book review

This review is of “Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self”, by Kajsa Ekis Ekman, (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1742198767/).

In “Being and Being Bought” Eckman argues that prostitution entails the exploitation of women by men. Women are (in Ekman’s view) “prostituted” (the word being used by her to denote the lack of free agency of those engaged in the world’s oldest profession).

Ekman contends that many of those who are “prostituted” develop a “split self”. The “prostituted” woman attempts to convince herself that she is “selling sex” rather than her very self. However for Ekman the act of selling sex can not be separated from the person (the “prostituted” woman who is doing the selling, for they are one and the same. Sex does not walk around the market place selling itself, for it has no existence independent of the “prostituted” woman. Likewise, Ekman contends one can not sell one’s body without selling oneself. Consequently the customers of “prostituted” persons are not merely buying a “sexual service” they are purchasing a living being.

Ekman gives the example of a woman engaged in the sex industry who, on returning home in the evening drew away from her partner thinking (at some level) that he was a customer. Both the woman and her partner where shaken by the experience which, for Ekman demonstrates the malign effects of prostitution on “prostituted” women.

Ekman is a left-wing Feminist, but she attacks those Feminists (some of whom are on the left) who argue that prostitution should be viewed as “sex work”. In no other work, Ekman argues, would the rate of violence and deaths suffered by “prostituted” women be tolerated. Women engaged in prostitution suffer, according to Ekman, from the kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) suffered by the armed forces. Again in no other industry/line of work would this be tolerated (outside of the military). For Ekman the unionisation of “prostituted” women promulgated by Feminists on the left who are “pro prostitution” (to use Ekman’s words) is no answer to the “exploitation” which, she believes constitutes a fundamental component of prostitution. Indeed she argues that very few of those engaged in prostitution are, in fact members of unions.

For Ekman those on the left who oppose the criminalisation of sex buyers are in an unholy alliance with right-wing free market proponents who argue that there is nothing wrong with consenting adults selling sexual services in the market place.

Eckman argues in favour of criminalising those who pay for sex as (in her view) prostitution is essentially exploitative and it is the buyers of sex (not the “prostituted” women who drive demand. Therefore the selling of sex should remain legal but the buying of it prohibited as is the case in Sweden, Norway, France and Canada (please note that when Ekman’s book was first published the buying of sex was not criminalised in France, Canada or the Republic of Ireland, these bans came in at a later date).

Ekman does accept that “a minority” of prostitutes may genuinely enjoy what they do. She puts this number at around 9 percent. However, in her view this “minority” should not prevent the needful measure of outlawing the purchase of sex from being taken. Sex purchase bans have, in Ekman’s view greatly reduced the demand for “prostituted” women.

A number of arguments have been advanced against the perspectives contained in “Being and Being Bought” including by many engaged in (or working with those engaged in) prostitution. It is contended that the sex purchase bans have made the lives of sex workers more dangerous. Prior to their introduction, it is argued that those selling sex could pick and choose their clients. If they didn’t like the look of a particular man they could reject him and accept a client who was more to their liking. However the sex purchase ban has, in the view of some prostitutes driven away the “nice” clients who are fearful of prosecution, leaving the sex worker (who needs money) with little option other than to accept “dodgy” punters (the latter not being put off by sex purchase bans).

It is also contended that while street prostitution has declined this has far more to do with the growth of online prostitution than with the introduction of sex purchase bans. Prostitution still takes place behind the closed doors of massage parlours and in private homes out of sight of the authorities.

It is further argued that clients are increasingly nervous so are reluctant to go to the homes of prostitutes for fear of being arrested by the police. Consequently they make arrangements to pick up prostitutes and take them to their own homes which is more dangerous for the prostitute as she is on unfamiliarity territory. Nervous clients are also more likely to behave in unpredictable ways.

Ekman gives the example of the owner of an escort agency who says that he never discusses sex over the phone, however both the client and the woman going to visit him know perfectly well that escorting almost always entails sex. Just how (short of banning all escort services) could one prevent escort prostitution? Even if the authorities where to monitor the communications of all escort businesses, if no sexual services are discussed either over the phone or the internet, then just how are the police to prove that sex is being bought? The answer is with considerable difficulty and probably not at all.

There is, of course also the argument of individual liberty (I.E. the view that the state has no business in involving itself in what “consenting adults” do in private). For the state to poke it’s nose into such matters is, in the view of the libertarian (with a small and a large l) illiberal and should be opposed by all those who care about individual freedom.

Ekman’s view that most prostitutes are deeply traumatised by the experience of prostitution or (as she puts it) by being “prostituted” is also contested by many with knowledge of the “industry”. Opponents of Ekman’s view contend prostitution is just a way of paying the bills as with most other kinds of work. It may well not be a woman’s first choice of occupation, however Ekman greatly exaggerates the unhappiness suffered by most prostitutes. Yes they may well “clock watch” waiting for the end of a sexual encounter, but many other workers look at the clock in offices up and down the land willing the end of the working day. Its Also argued that large numbers of sex workers do take pride in their work, for example some escorts speak of the pleasure they derive from bringing companionship (and other things) to the lonely and the disabled.

Whatever one’s view of prostitution “prostituted” persons may be, “Being and Being Bought” is a thought provoking read and I recommend it to you.

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