Dr Hilary Caldwell

Postgraduate Research

Graduation Year: 2018

Research Areas: Sexuality, Health & Education, HIV & Sexual Health Risk & Risk Reduction

Research Topic: Women who buy sex in Australia: From social representations to lived experiences
Supervisors: Prof John de Wit, Dr Philippe Adam

Description: The idea of women buying sex has the potential to disrupt and challenge highly gendered debate about the sex industry and social narrative about female sexual agency. Until now there is very little empirical evidence of women buying sex outside the field of female sex tourism. This thesis aims to address empirical shortfalls regarding women buying sex, explore heteronormative roles of gender and sexuality, and to inform and challenge theoretical perspectives about power in a postfeminist era. Social discourse about women who buy sex were examined in a textual analysis of a media portrayal of possible female sex tourism, related intertexts, and associated comments from an online audience. The results reveal that people have broad and often polarized opinions about female agency to buy sex, gendered double standards regarding expected behaviour, and commercial sex as being exploitative.Experiential data was obtained through Skype interviews with 17 sex workers, and the results of thematic analysis provide a thorough description of the market for women buying sex in Australia. Sex workers said their female clients were diverse and unlike stereotypical representations. Sex workers thought that female clients possibly bought sex from female providers more often than male and they considered the female market to be growing. Interpretative phenomenological analysis of data collected from Skype interviews with 21 women who had bought sex supported sex workers’ assessment of diversity in clients. The women had various motivations to buy sex from seeking therapy to fun. They said they generally felt empowered however, they feared stigma and criminalisation.Australian based research on the sex industry is internationally important because the sex industry is at present, largely legalised/decriminalised, meaning participant and researcher efforts are not skewed to clandestine or illegal activities. The importance of exploring women buying sex extends beyond academic debate about female sexuality and into socio-political spheres. Thus far, a lack of scholarly research about women buying sex contributes to maintaining their erasure or misrepresentation in debate. This thesis provides the first empirical evidence of women buying sex in Australia.

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