Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 21, September 2009
Vanessa E. Munro & Marina Della Giusta (eds)

Demanding Sex:
Critical Reflections on the Regulation of Prostitution

Hampshire and Burlington: Ashgate, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-7546-7150-3 (hbk), 204 pp.

reviewed by Larissa Sandy

  1. Demanding Sex: Critical Reflections on the Regulation of Prostitution examines regulatory responses to sex work, their ideological grounding and the practical outcomes of regulation for women and men working largely in the UK sex industry. A key theme of the collection is the overwhelming failure of regulatory approaches to respond to the complexities involved in transactional sex, and a focus on the supply/demand dynamic in the regulation of sex work ties the collection together.
  2. 'Supply and demand' is a relatively recent analytical and regulatory framework and the collection's focus on this is timely, given that the UK Home Office was undertaking a review of measures the government could take to reduce the demand for sexual services at the time of publication.[1] Since the early 1990s, 'supply/demand' has become a popular framework for abolitionists and others who argue that the eradication of the sex sector can be achieved through 'tackling demand.' While such regulatory approaches are yet to take hold in Australia, 'tackling demand' has quickly become the dominant framework for the regulation of the industry in Europe and the UK. Heavily informed by the Swedish model, which takes as its starting point the abolition of sex work through criminalising demand, the recommendations made in the Home Office report included criminalising the purchase of sexual services, with particular reference to buying sex from a person who is 'controlled for another person's gain' (i.e. those who have been trafficked or exploited), closing down businesses linked to 'sexual exploitation' for a period of time and nation-wide public shaming campaigns of those who buy sex.[2]
  3. The book is a collection of eleven papers, with an Introduction by Vanessa Munro and Marina Della Giusta, on various aspects of the regulation of sex work, theorisations about this (especially feminist theory and thought), supply and demand, social construction of sexuality, women's agency, the impact of regulations on the sex sector and exploitation and trafficking. Departing from the norm, Demanding Sex is a welcome addition to the field of sex work research as it brings together contributions from a range of disciplines. This includes economics, law, gender, anthropology, human geography, criminology and philosophy. Traditionally, publications within the field have focused on a single discipline, typically sociology, criminal law or history, so Munro and Della Giusta's volume makes for a refreshing change. By bringing together a range of different frameworks and perspectives, the collection provides a wide-ranging critique of current laws and policies regulating sex work and demonstrates the importance of more nuanced approaches to understanding sex work, which is a key point raised by Munro and Della Giusta. In this way, the collection very clearly demonstrates the importance of, and dire need for, multidisciplinary approaches in research on sex work.
  4. The first four chapters by Jane Scoular and Maggie O'Neill, Jo Phoenix, Sophie Day, and Gill Allwood openly challenge the abolitionist approaches heavily informing regulation in UK and Europe. The four papers critique current policies in the UK and elsewhere, which, these authors argue, fail to acknowledge the complexities involved in sex work. They cogently argue against current and proposed regulatory approaches to sex work and sex trafficking in the UK and Europe that criminalise clients and third parties as a means to addressing demand. The papers demonstrate how such policies fail to address the structural factors underpinning entry into sex work, which are part of 'supply,' and as a result, do little to tackle the sexual and social inequalities upon which both entry into sex work and vulnerability and exploitation within the industry rests. They also challenge much of the rhetoric surrounding the victimhood of women who sell sex—rhetoric which is central to such approaches. The papers by Phoenix and Scoular and O'Neill are of note as they provide an in-depth examination of the effects of this discourse of totalising victimisation which underpins policies in the UK and Europe. Their contributions show how these frameworks have allowed for even tighter control and regulation of some of the more economically-, socially- and politically-marginalised people in sex work.
  5. Chapters five and six explore the rather nebulous concept of 'exploitation' in sex trafficking and sex work. I particularly enjoyed Vanessa Munro's thought-provoking paper which examines inconsistencies in the use and divergent understandings of the term 'exploitation' in sex and labour trafficking. Sharron Fitzgerald's equally insightful chapter on the influence of feminist approaches to sex trafficking in debates on migration highlights some of the risks connected with feminist perspectives that align too closely with anti-immigration laws and border control agendas, which, she argues, may ultimately serve to curtail women's mobility.
  6. The last five chapters focus explicitly on demand. It is unfortunate, however, that throughout the book, and in particular in these latter chapters, demand is only considered in terms of a male demand for sex (with women). This does seem to reinforce rather than challenge conventional, heterosexual ideas about supply/demand and social constructions of sexuality and sex work.
  7. Marina Della Giusta's chapter provides an example of how economic modelling can inform policy development, with her analysis suggesting a framework though which policy-makers can evaluate the costs and benefits associated with different regulatory approaches to sex work. Allan Collins and Guy Judge's paper on client participation and behaviour in the sex sector describes the impact of regulatory approaches on clients. David Archard's paper raises many philosophical and deeply ethical questions surrounding the prosecution of male clients who buy the services of sex workers who have been trafficked. I particularly enjoyed Teela Saunders and Rose Campbell's exploration of the vilification of men who pay for sex. This contemporary shift in Western attitudes to sex work is part and parcel of approaches that aim to reduce the demand for sexual services. Their paper also shows how, in reality, the criminalisation of 'demand' further penalises women working in the sex industry, contributing to their re-marginalisation and stigmatisation, thus increasing their exposure to exploitation and violence and pushing the industry underground. By drawing on conditions for workers in Australia and New Zealand, Saunders and Campbell argue that legalisation rather than further criminalisation may be the best way to regulate the sector and monitor exploitation, as such legislative frameworks entail minimum working conditions and rights.
  8. In stark opposition to Saunders and Campbell's paper, Madeline Coy argues against approaches that lead to the normalisation of the sex sector, such as legalisation. Coy suggests that as sex work is a form of violence against women, regulatory frameworks should work towards the ultimate aim of the abolition of the industry, a position that is in line with approaches to criminalise demand. Her chapter examines aspects of the objectification and commodification of women within sex work, and female street-based sex workers' own internalisation of this. However, her argument is grounded in the understanding that women who sell sex are always reduced to their bodies. Thus, for Coy, female sex workers can only ever take part in a highly sexualised sense of self and subjectivity inherent in male domination, which forecloses on the possibility of this being experienced by her participants as empowering.
  9. In a field where the quality of scholarship is, at times, questionable, I must say that the quality of the papers in this collection is excellent. Some of the papers have much to offer current efforts to reconsider definitions and frameworks for understanding sex trafficking and exploitation. In addition, I would recommend this collection for the insight it provides into current regulatory frameworks in Europe and the UK. Policy-makers may also find the collection useful as most of the papers would assist in the development of sex industry policies.


    [1] 'Tackling the demand for prostitution: A review,' Home Office, 2008, online:, accessed 18 July 2009.

    [2] 'Tackling the demand for prostitution,' p. 5.


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