Saturday, March 22, 2008

Where is “Sex” in the NAICS?

This business with Eliot Spitzer is bringing up issues in labor economics for me. In particular, how should we refer to Ms. Dupré’s occupation? Some people insist that she was a “sex worker.”

I have a number of problems with this terminology. For one thing, is there any other occupation where the title includes “worker” and the hourly billing rate can be in the quadruple digits? I mean, there are a few cinematic production workers who make that kind of pay – but they’re known invariably by other titles (actors, directors, etc.) – and a few sports workers – but they’re known as athletes – and quite a few finance workers – known as investment bankers, fund managers, and such – and quite a few…I guess I’d have to call them generic workers, since they can be in any industry…but they’re known as corporate executives – and a few legal service workers known as attorneys, and a few professional service workers known as consultants, and maybe a few health care workers known as doctors and surgeons, and so on.

Which brings me to my second, related point, which is that we don’t normally identify an occupation by the industry to which it belongs. The exceptions are sort of residual categories: we do call some people “health care workers” if we can’t think of anything better to call them, but most people in health care occupations (nurses, for example) would probably find it insulting to have their occupation identified as “health care worker.”

According to Wikipedia, a sex worker is someone (anyone, apparently) who works in the “sex industry.” I have a feeling that many people who work in the “sex industry” would be insulted to be called “sex workers” (rather like nurses, if you call them “health care workers”). I mean, really, doesn’t everyone know that the phrase “sex worker” is a euphemism for “prostitute”? (I know, technically, that’s not the case, but in real life, other “sex workers” seem to use the phrase for themselves only when they’re trying to make a show of their solidarity with prostitutes.)

But here’s the real problem: What the hell is the “sex industry”? And more to the point, what kind of industry is it?
  • An information industry? (The adult video industry, as best I can tell, is part of NAICS 512110, “Video production,” an information industry.)

  • A personal service industry? (Officially, Miss Dupré was probably working in NAICS 812990, the “Social escort services” industry, a personal service industry. As to what she was actually doing, it seems to me that prostitution is clearly a service, and it’s about as personal as services get.)

  • A food service industry? (I know that doesn’t make much sense, but where do strip clubs fit in the NAICS? As best I can tell, they are part of NAICS 722410, “Night clubs, alcoholic beverage,” a food service industry.)

  • An entertainment industry? (It’s really tough to find a NAICS code that would actually apply here, but aren’t strippers entertainers? Of course strippers also give lap dances, which are really more of a personal service than a form of entertainment. In fact, in that respect I have to question whether strippers are really more like prostitutes than entertainers.)

  • An amusement and recreation industry? (That’s pretty much just a wild guess. But where the hell do brothels fall in the NAICS? There are legal brothels in Nevada, so I assume they must have a NAICS code.)

As far as I can tell, the whole concept of a “sex industry” makes a mockery of the way we normally classify industries. I don’t have a problem with changing the occupational title of prostitutes to something that has less of a stigmatizing history. But “sex worker” just doesn’t do it for me. I’m going to try “personal sexual service provider” (PSSP for short) and see if it catches on. Otherwise I’ll just call them hookers – a term which doesn’t seem to offend people even though its etymology is rather scurrilous.

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Blogger Marc Shivers said...

The BEST economics trivia question ever: "What's the NAICS code for whorehouses?"


Sun Mar 23, 11:20:00 AM EDT  
Blogger S. Lee said...

A few thoughts from a self-identified sex worker...

Many people who work in the sex industry do feel comfortable using the label sex worker because it has an emphasis on the belief that what we do is legitimate labour and as such has helped us in our fight for human rights and workers rights. The term also brings together people who work in different areas and allows us to share the same umbrella in terms of community, activism and solidarity. There are other broad terms that people use to describe themselves and their work: sex professional, service provider, erotic labour - but sex work and sex workers are the two that have been the most useful and powerful for us.

Tue Mar 25, 02:33:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Serpentlibertine said...

Here is something I wrote. Maybe it will give you a better understanding on who a sex worker is-

Who is a sex worker?

If you are...

A Prostitute
An Escort
A Whore
A Hooker
A Streetworker
A Madam
A Courtesan
A Dominatrix
A Master
An Erotic Masseuse
A Full Body Sensual Masseuse
A Stripper
An Exotic Dancer
An Adult Film/Porn Performer
Someone Who Shoots, Directs, or Produces Porn
A Fluffer
An Erotic Writer
A Phone Sex Operator
A Tantra Provider
An Agency owner
A Pimp
Someone supported by A Sugar Daddy/Mama
Someone who has had sex for food, drugs, or to get the money you needed to survive
A Clerk at a Sex shop
An Owner of a Sexually Oriented Business
A Peep Show Dancer
A Webcam Performer
A Fetish or Nude Model
A Fetish/Erotic Photographer
An Online Domme
An Adult Webmaster/mistress
A Burlesque Dancer
A Sex Advice Columnist
A Sex Toy Reviewer
A Sex Worker Advocate/Activist
A Publisher/Editor of A Sexually Oriented Publication
A Hustler/Ho
A Waitress at A Strip Club
A Phone Operator at an Escort Service
A Fantasy Sex Provider
A Curator at A Sex Museum
A Sex Educator
A Sex Surrogate
A Sex Therapist
Rent Boy/Girl can consider yourself a sex worker. A sex worker isn't necessarily someone who has sex with her/his clients. While all these professions may be vastly different from one another, we are linked by one thing-our knowledge and expertise in a specific profession related to sex. We are asking you to come share your skills and knowledge with us this summer at the 2008 Desiree Alliance Conference in Chicago. From July 16-21 sex workers from all over the country will gather in Chicago for the national convergence, "Pulling Back the Sheets: Sex, Work, and Social Justice."

Please join us as either a presenter or attendee. Your voice is important to us.

For more information on registration and call for submissions, go to

Wed Mar 26, 04:07:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Karl Smith said...

How about an Erotician, though this should also probably include dominatrices and strippers.

Perhaps we could say full service Erotician if we want to restrict attention to prostitutes.

However, I think clearly the skill set and industry class should be based around the fact that the goal is to generate arousal through personal interaction.

Wed Mar 26, 01:28:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arousal through personal interaction. Interesting idea. Does it work online?
I bet it does, but I swear I've never had such an experience.

Wed Mar 26, 10:03:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Robert D Feinman said...

I know your focus is on euphemisms, but there is also this interest legal twist.

Paying someone for sex is illegal in most places, but paying two people to have sex together while performing in front of a camera is part of the "adult entertainment" industry. It's is not only legal, but the industry has it's own lobbying organization and the "workers" are organized as well. In places like California there are health and safety regulations to protect the workers as well.

So, would it be legal if the john was paid to participate by the "producer" while filming the event? The producer would then decide that the film wasn't suitable for distribution and turn it over to the john, who would then reimburse the producer for the expenses involved in making the film.

Many actors in films also have a financial stake as an investor, so there is nothing unusual about getting paid to act and getting profits (or losses) from the capital contribution.

Thu Mar 27, 11:17:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NAICS 81299 of course. It covers pimps, prostitutes, and most people in the sex industry, as well as lots of other 'other services'.

Tue Apr 15, 04:07:00 PM EDT  
Blogger lo said...

I agree that "sex worker" and "prostitute" are both fairly stigmatized words, and I try not to use them myself. Still, I don't see how you can find the word "hooker" to be any better. Personally I find it just as demeaning and stigmatizing as most of the words used to describe someone in this industry - you might as well just say harlot. Why not just call everyone working in the sex industry by their job title - not sex worker. You made an excellent point with the "health care professionals" thing. I say, the same way "health care professionals" go by seperate titles depending on what they do(surgeon, pediatritian, nurse, cardiologist, etc), sex workers should be referred to by the services they offer: dominatrix, escort (not hooker, prostitue, strumpet, or ho!), etc.

It also really depends on what the individual wants to be called. For example someone who gives handjobs for a living can be called a sensual/erotic/full body/tantric masseuse, all depending on what falls within their comfort zone. Personally, I prefer to go by full body masseuse, or sensual masseuse (although legally you have to say you are giving a "body rub" not a massage - you can't even use the word masseuse - if you don't actually have a massage liscence).

Sensual bodyrub artist, perhaps? (after all, it is a bit of an art. It's more complex than grab-dick-and-pull, atleast if you want the experience to be above mediocre!)

Wed Apr 30, 08:41:00 AM EDT  
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