Working on the Sex Industries—What I Have Learned

For years I have thought about, and worked on, for myself, the issue of the sex industries. It is not an easy topic for any of us to look at—we all have such bad, hard feelings about sex, about violence, and about anything connected to this. But I realized that much of the work that I have done in counseling has been to clear my mind to be able to take on working toward the complete elimination of the sex industries in our society. For me, there can be nothing less.

There are a number of reasons this work is important to me: I am Filipina American (as well as Cherokee, Osage, and European American). The sex industry has affected my life as a Filipina, and it has affected my people and the whole country of the Philippines for decades. Because of the colonization, racism, militarization of the islands, and most recently, the globalization and economic depression that so many in the Philippines live under, all aspects of the sex industries operate heavily there and with those of us around the world in the diaspora. I know also that because of early hurts, reclaiming my ability to think and act powerfully in this area is inextricably tied to my re-emergence and liberation.

I have done a lot of work on early sexual memories, on Filipino/a oppression, and on sexism—in particular women and physical power work and discharging on sexual victimization and violence, pornography, and other aspects of sexism and internalized sexism. This work has gotten me to where I can begin to think about the institutional aspects of this industry and begin to discharge on how big and overwhelming it seems.

At the Contemporary Women’s Issues Workshop in October of 2009, I led an issue group of six women and five men on “The Sex Industries.” Diane Balser had said that we should use these groups primarily for discharge, and also for looking at the effects our particular institutions have on the lives of women and how they play a role in reinforcing and perpetuating sexism in our society.

One of the best things was getting to do this work with others. I have mostly felt like I couldn’t tell other women about this and I couldn’t tell that any women (or men) would want to do this work with me. It is heavy material and it is huge in our society.

It was clear to all of us in the group that this issue has deep impact on the life of every woman on the planet—whether you think you have had direct contact with it in any way at all. The industry is big, pervasive, and growing at an alarming rate.

The sex industries include pornography, sex tourism, human trafficking; “mail-order brides” and Internet dating, prostitution, strip clubs and adult bookstores, lads’ mags (magazines for men with sexualized images of women); sex toys and clothing; cable and television channels. The recent acceleration of the sexualization and objectification of women is related to the ways that this industry (this particular “mechanism of sexism”) has gone mostly unchallenged. It has grown exponentially in the last twenty or thirty years, the Internet having massively increased the spread of the distresses and wide-scale oppression experienced by millions of women and children. The brutality of the oppression is well documented. Its effect reaches each woman, whether she knows it or not.

The driving force behind the sex industries is greed. Advanced capitalism, coupled with vicious sexism and patterns of male domination, helps these distresses—and therefore the institutions—to stay entrenched. Women and children are completely disrespected and de-valued. They are seen and treated as commodities for profit, not as humans. The Internet industry has earned billions from the rapid increase in the online porn and other sex industries. There has been relatively little regulation of this in any country, especially not in the United States. The combination of our undischarged early abuse, early sexual memories, sexism, other early hurts, and the rapidly advancing state of capitalism has set up our distresses to be organized and manipulated by the society to keep us confused, scared, and not moving in a concerted way to stop the spread and growth of these distresses.

An advancing sense of “normalcy” is being conditioned into all of society about pornography and all other forms of the sex industries, seen in the increasing number of things showing up as mainstream, for example:

a) Because of porn, women are being asked and coerced to do things in their relationships that wouldn’t have occurred before.

b) Girls are aspiring to be porn stars because of the money they can make.

c) Women are learning “pole dancing” as a recreational activity.

d) Women are making money by organising tupperware-type parties to sell sex toys to other women.

In addition, there is confusion about the difference between what society sees as “sexual liberation” and liberation from sexism, which requires the transformation of society. People will defend working in the sex industries, and they’ll defend pornography created by “feminists.” And increasing numbers of young women are addicted to porn or use it regularly in their sex lives.

The way that the sex industry ties in with Asian female oppression is intense—everything from the Internet dating sites to the massive presence in print of Asian women. A lot of pornography is produced in Asia, which fits in with the way Asian women are “exoticized” in Western society. Mail-order brides have now become dating services online—showing picture after picture of Asian women. These are good examples of the intersection of racism and sexism.

What I learned in the Sex Industries group about working on these issues is as follows:

1) It was helpful for me to state that I have a picture of us working toward the complete elimination of the sex industries, and that it is completely possible for us to do so.

2) It was also helpful for me to remind us that our minds are bigger than the institutions, especially that there is nothing we can’t figure out when we are working together.

3) Working together, we gained an understanding of the sex industry as an institution; and we understood that even though we all have individual hurts to heal from in relation to sex and closeness, we have to be simultaneously discharging on and acting against the institutional forms of sexism that affect us every day as women. If we don’t discharge, our distresses can be easily and unknown-to-us restimulated and manipulated. As Diane put it, the distresses get laid in by society and are then “organized” to be exploited. The sex industries and the constant restimulations of our early sexual hurts are a prime example.

4) Working together on this issue is a reminder that our feeling bad about ourselves and everything around us gets manipulated by the oppressive society.

5) It is necessary to take a principled and uncompromising stand against these industries, and all women need to get clear on this. We need to make a clear policy about the difference between true women’s liberation and “sexual freedom” as portrayed by society, and not go permissive when counseling on these things or when taking stands against them in the wide world.

6) Working in a group is important for contradiction, for resource, and for working off of (in a good way) other women’s turns.

7) Each woman should also look at why you want to know more about this (and why you don’t want to know more about this). It is easy for women to think, “This has nothing to do with me.” That is not true. Women can discharge on any of these topics. And if you stick with discharging, change will happen. But the idea that the issue “doesn’t affect me” is part of the sexism and classism.

8) The tools of the sex industry affect the sexual relationships of every woman with a sexual partner, and in turn this affects their whole relationship.

The group was at the same time hard and hopeful. It is great to get a chance to discharge on these things together. In addition, it was hopeful learning about women in the group who are doing work actively challenging the sex industries in their countries. It was inspiring to see what can be done when clear thinking and policy are put out and action taken. Truly, these institutions and the distresses connected to them are no match for the minds of women and men like us!

Teresa Enrico
Portland, Oregon, USA

Last modified: 2014-10-06 21:19:01+00