Finding Sex Work in LCSH

I read Beacher Wiggins’ response to Sanford Berman, [courtesy of Tina Gross, and I suggest you give it a read too!]. Now obviously the first thing I note is that he checks this very blog [thought not by name], but AFTER that fannish-squeeing, I absorb the rest.

There’s a tremendous in there to unpack, and I can’t do it all right now. One pull-out that I do want to highlight is the term ‘Sex workers’.

Wiggins:

Sex workers. This phrase was added as a “see” reference to the heading Prostitutes in 2008.

Berman:

I’m well aware that SEX WORKERS is presently a see-reference to PROSTITUTES. The trouble with that is that “sex workers” is a much broader term, encompassing not only prostitutes, but also exotic or pole dancers, stripteasers, phone sex operators, and erotic film actors, among others.

Side note: that this isn’t the first time criticism has been made of this entry, Hope Olson, the latest and MUCH DESERVED! recipient of the Margaret Mann Citation, notes in her work: “Confirming this perspective, the general heading ‘Prostitutes is a narrower term under the heading ‘Women'” [The Power to Name: Representation in Library Catalogs. Hope A. Olson. Signs, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Spring, 2001), pp 639-668. The University of Chicago Press]

I don’t know when this was changed — as it stands, Prostitutes is not an NT of Women but despite searching the PCC site, I couldn’t turn up the editorial meeting when this was changed. As I’ve lamented before, LCSH is frustratingly bad at version history.

But back to the business at hand.


First, terminology: let’s go to the sources — this is to indicate the scope of the term ‘Sex worker’ covers a variety of services and to also demonstrate its preferred usage.

What is Sex Work?

Sex work is any type of labor where the explicit goal is to produce a sexual or erotic response in the client. Sex work includes prostitution, but it also includes a bunch of other things like erotic dancing, pro-dom/pro-sub work, webcam work, sensual massage, adult film, phone sex, being a sugar baby, etc.

http://www.new.swopusa.org/learn-about-sex-work/

International Union of Sex Workers

We’re a group of people who work in the sex industry and adult entertainment, together with allies who support our aims.

We believe that everyone in the industry, whether they are there through choice, circumstance or coercion, deserves the same human, civil and labour rights as other citizens.

We’re a grassroots organisation, founded by a migrant who worked in a range of jobs in the sex industry. The organisation brings together people from all sectors – people who sell sexual contact or BDSM services, people who work for or run agencies, websites or brothels, strippers, erotic dancers and glamour models, porn actors and film makers, phone sex workers and web cam models; men, women and transgender people; straight, gay and bisexual.

http://www.iusw.org/iusw-who-we-are/

Sex Workers’ Rights are Human Rights

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/08/sex-workers-rights-are-human-rights/

Sex workers were the first to use the terms sex work and sex worker. The terms have been adopted by numerous international health, labor and human rights organizations, including the United Nations and its affiliated agencies.

The term sex worker is neutral, descriptive and informative without being judgmental. It recognizes sex work as a reality, whatever the speaker’s opinion about the work itself. It does not distinguish by gender, race, ethnicity or creed. It allows the possibility of the worker’s dignity and ability to make decisions. Most of all, it affirms the humanity of the person.

http://sexworkersproject.org/media-toolkit/downloads/03-WhatsInAName.pdf

When discussing sex work using existing LCSH, there are a substantial number of terms collocated on the business side of things:

Sex-oriented businesses which has NTs of Adult movie theatersBrothelsGay BathhousesMassage parlorsPornographyProstitution, and Sex tourism.

Following the chain of NTs, we pick up additionally: All-male adult movie theaters, Internet pornography, Male prostitution, Pornographic films, and Telephone sex. [I’m picking only the ones that I think fall into the ‘business-ey’ side of things]

I pause to note that Escort services is an NT of Service industries and has no connection this hierarchy, despite being a pretty well-known euphemism for same.

But there is no overarching BT term for the providers of sexual services. I have identified the following terms which could be usefully placed as NTs.

Lap dancers, Prostitutes, Sex surrogatesStripteasers

Some terms that we don’t have in LCSH but probably should, there’s plenty of literary warrant:

‘Dominatrices’

Interestingly, all the memoirs I found written by dominatrices [I have not determined if the plural ‘dominatrices’ is actually a better choice for the preferred term] used Sexual dominance and submission in some capacity rather than following the standard practice for biographies of:

600 [Person’s name]

650 [Class of person] — Biography

which I suppose would’ve necessitated proposing the term. Here’s some good literary warrant:
‘Webcam models’
[note that many of these works are assigned the heading Computer sex which is also not in the hierarchy of Sex-oriented businesses perhaps because it is intended to cover freely exchanged cybersex?]
‘Telephone sex operators’
[As above, Telephone sex  is not in the hierarchy of Sex-oriented businesses]
This is not an exhaustive list, and many other terms as seen enumerated by the organizations are possible — but I think it’s very unlikely LCSH would ever authorize “Pornographic film actor” or anything like that because they don’t have any terms for other genres of actor.

A note: there is a problem in creating an LCSH BT of ‘Sex worker’. And that’s what to do with the term Prostitute itself. In reading for this blog post, it seems that many sex workers would prefer that were the term to be used. But how then to differentiate the category from the specific?
Berman is correct in that we need a BT term ‘Sex workers’. Perhaps I’ll put together a proposal.
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4 thoughts on “Finding Sex Work in LCSH

  1. Great article! However I debate this subject with my clients often, I’m an independent masseuse based in London and performing sensual massages such as tantric and nuru. They tell me that my massages are more a therapy than a work, as a sexual satisfaction. I would categorize “Sex Work” in multiple sub-sections. Sex satisfaction work, sexual therapy, sexual domina. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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