Gender, equality and the sex trade

Sara Cantillon*, Monica O'Connor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article discusses the ethical limits of gendered markets in relation to sex “work”. While the market is widely regarded as the optimal way of organizing complex global economies, this does not imply that there are no limits to markets for goods or services considered to have intrinsic human value or whose purchase raises moral and ethical questions. The ethical limits to markets are questions of increasing interest to both philosophers and policy makers while sex ‘work’/prostitution has been the subject of extensive feminist debate. We argue that there are fundamental aspects of sex ‘work’ transactions which raise important ethical problems for a market framework: namely, the commodification of consent through monetary exchange; the unique nature of the embodied nature of sexual services; and the implications for gender equality. What does analysing the nature of these exchanges from a feminist perspective suggest about the gendered dimensions of the moral or ethical limits of markets? We argue that consent cannot be commodified through monetary exchange; that being paid for embodied sexual acts differs importantly from other forms of sexual intimacy or relationality; and that sex ‘work’ has unique aspects that distinguish it from other forms of gendered labour markets including domestic and care work.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102532
Number of pages8
JournalWomen's Studies International Forum
Early online date8 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • gender, equality, sex work

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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