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Making Love: Commercialized Sex and the Construction of Idealized Love

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Abstract:

“Love” and “sex” are often thought together, but commercialized sex troubles popular associations of the two. The properties of exchange rendered so explicit within commercialized sex highlight power dynamics that undergird even the most intimate of sexual encounters. The sale of sex is popularly imagined as an exchange lacking in, and even opposed to “love,” one that sullies the idealized space of sexual intimacy between loving partners.

My paper mines the relationship of “love” and “sex” through the prism of commercialized sexual exchange. I tug at the conception of commercialized sex as antithetical to love, and argue that sex work upholds the fantasy that conflates love and non-commercial sexual intimacy by acting as its opposite. My paper suggests that the rhetorical and material realities of commercialized sex are predicated on a logic of containment, by which the taboo of power imbalance highlighted by sexual exchange becomes relegated to the world of sex work. This containment simultaneously enables the performance of sexual fantasy within a commercialized sexual encounter and upholds the fantasy of unsullied, egalitarian, idealized love outside. In other words, by performing sex, the realm of commercialized sexual exchange makes love.

My paper turns to the history of Storyville, a zone of legalized prostitution that thrived in the heart of New Orleans from 1898-1917. As a site in which legality, commercial success and taboo were always in tension, I show that Storyville reincarnates the discursive intersection of race, sex, and commerce of the antebellum era against a racial field fundamentally transformed by Emancipation and the birth of Jim Crow. To propogate the sale of racialized sexual fantasies, however, the proprieters of Storyville and the legal apparatus set up to regulate them obsess about the boundaries which would contain that exchange. I argue that this obsession with boundaries betrays an underlying logic of containment by which the fantasies performed within Storyville can only function to the extent that they also maintain the fantasy of their isolation from non-commercial, “loving” encounters that take place outside their bounds. Storyville’s collection of guidebooks, advertisements, and regulatory codes offers a uniquely explicit archive for the study of sexual exchange that crystallizes the importance of material and discursive boundaries to the establishment and maintenance of commercialized sex. Putting Storyville’s history in conversation with contemporary sex districts, my paper concludes by returning to the central problem of love in the politics of sexual exchange.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p508966_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Owens, Emily. "Making Love: Commercialized Sex and the Construction of Idealized Love" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p508966_index.html>

APA Citation:

Owens, E. "Making Love: Commercialized Sex and the Construction of Idealized Love" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p508966_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: “Love” and “sex” are often thought together, but commercialized sex troubles popular associations of the two. The properties of exchange rendered so explicit within commercialized sex highlight power dynamics that undergird even the most intimate of sexual encounters. The sale of sex is popularly imagined as an exchange lacking in, and even opposed to “love,” one that sullies the idealized space of sexual intimacy between loving partners.

My paper mines the relationship of “love” and “sex” through the prism of commercialized sexual exchange. I tug at the conception of commercialized sex as antithetical to love, and argue that sex work upholds the fantasy that conflates love and non-commercial sexual intimacy by acting as its opposite. My paper suggests that the rhetorical and material realities of commercialized sex are predicated on a logic of containment, by which the taboo of power imbalance highlighted by sexual exchange becomes relegated to the world of sex work. This containment simultaneously enables the performance of sexual fantasy within a commercialized sexual encounter and upholds the fantasy of unsullied, egalitarian, idealized love outside. In other words, by performing sex, the realm of commercialized sexual exchange makes love.

My paper turns to the history of Storyville, a zone of legalized prostitution that thrived in the heart of New Orleans from 1898-1917. As a site in which legality, commercial success and taboo were always in tension, I show that Storyville reincarnates the discursive intersection of race, sex, and commerce of the antebellum era against a racial field fundamentally transformed by Emancipation and the birth of Jim Crow. To propogate the sale of racialized sexual fantasies, however, the proprieters of Storyville and the legal apparatus set up to regulate them obsess about the boundaries which would contain that exchange. I argue that this obsession with boundaries betrays an underlying logic of containment by which the fantasies performed within Storyville can only function to the extent that they also maintain the fantasy of their isolation from non-commercial, “loving” encounters that take place outside their bounds. Storyville’s collection of guidebooks, advertisements, and regulatory codes offers a uniquely explicit archive for the study of sexual exchange that crystallizes the importance of material and discursive boundaries to the establishment and maintenance of commercialized sex. Putting Storyville’s history in conversation with contemporary sex districts, my paper concludes by returning to the central problem of love in the politics of sexual exchange.


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