Stories of Sex and Stigma: Work and Life in Nevada`s Legal Brothels

By Sarah Blithe and Breanna Calvin

The CBS Seminar Series invited Sarah Blithe, Assistant Professor of Communication at UNR, to talk about her research with Breanna Calvin about Nevada`s legal prostitution. Sarah is a gender and organizational communication scholar, whose interests lie in the role that discourse and communication play in shaping our social identities and organizational policies. Her research takes a social justice approach to examine inequality in organizations and occupations.

In their upcoming book Stories of Sex and Stigma (New York University Press), Sarah and Breanna focus on the organizational communication strategies of legal brothels, which they frequently visited in order to gain insight into the daily life of legal prostitutes. Their ethnographic perspective allowed the researchers to go beyond the two reigning approaches of feminism to prostitution: one that considers it oppression thwarted by unfair labor practices, and the other that endorses prostitution as potentially empowering, and calls for improved work conditions. The truth is more complex than either of these perspectives suggests, Sarah argues.

Sarah`s talk departed from the premise that, in spite of the fact that it`s legal, prostitution remains a “tainted” profession of moral, physical, emotional and social stigmatization. The author emphasized the urgency of stigma management practices in “the world`s oldest profession,” which inspired a lively Q&A session. Many thanks for the fascinating lecture, Sarah!