“Vital reading for students of the meanings of sex and sex work and an important ethnographic case study of what happens when prostitution is organized into legal workplaces.”  Kari Lerum, University of Washington, Bothell,  Gender and Society, August 2011.

The State of Sex: Tourism, Sex and Sin in the New American Heartland (Routledge 2010) is a study of Nevada’s brothels that situates the nation's only legal brothel industry in the political economy of contemporary tourism. Nevada is part of the "new American heartland," as its pastimes, people, and politics have become more central to the nation. The rise of a service and leisure economy over the past 60 years has propelled sexuality into the heart of contemporary markets. Yet, neoliberal laws in the United States promote business but limit sexual commerce.

How have Nevada's legal brothels survived, while the rest of the country criminalizes prostitution? How do brothels operate? Who works in them? This book brings social theory on globalizing economies, politics, leisure consumption, and emotional labor in interactive service work together with research on contemporary prostitution and sexual commerce. The authors employ an innovative, multi-method sociological approach, combining historical analysis of how the brothels came to be with over a decade's worth of ethnographic research on the current state of the industry.

State of Sex has been reviewed in Contemporary Sociology, Gender & Society, The Journal of Sex Research, International Criminal Justice Review, The Humanist, Journal of Tourism History, Wagadu: A Journal of Transnational Women’s and Gender Studies, Choice Reviews and its research featured in articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Huffington Post, and Time online as well as in local media. 

Here is what reviewers are saying...

  1. “The State of Sex is the most comprehensive analysis of the Nevada brothel industry ever written, and a must-have for scholars of sex work....Impeccably detailed is their depiction of the actual work of brothel women in a way that recalls Robin Leidner’s (1993) Fast Food, Fast Talk.”  -- Greggor Mattson, Oberlin College, Journal of Sex Research.

  2. “Of the structure of the book, the authors explain, “This book brings social theory on globalizing economies, politics, leisure consumption, and emotional labor in interactive service work together with research on contemporary prostitution and sexual commerce” (p. 1). The deep understanding of the authors of each of the subject areas mentioned above is readily apparent; and the intricate interweaving of the themes, amazing.” --  Edward J. Schauer, International Criminal Justice Review.

  3. “Overall, this is an important contribution to the study of sexuality and the global political economy, and will be of interest to any reader who wants to learn about the sex industry in the US as well as the changing meanings of sex and work in today’s world.  Highly recommended.”  -- H.Y. Choo, University of Wisconsin Madison,  Choice Reviews Online

  4. “The State of Sex constitutes a welcome addition to contemporary sociological treatments of commercial sex, and a much needed examination of Nevada’s burgeoening leisure industry.”

  5. --Elizabeth Bernstein, Columbia University Contemporary Sociology

  1. “The State of Sex tells the fascinating story of how a state whose economy is based on tourism made sex another legal recreation for sale in the leisure industry, and how brothel owners and the women who work there manage and market this commodity.  In a book that ranges from the global economy to identity management when emotional connection is part of a paid sexual experience, the authors tell a story of how the service industry is changing all of us.”

  2. --Nicola Beisel, Northwestern University

  3. This book brings together rich empirical data that builds new sociological theory to help explain the state of commercial sex in the global leisure consumer society.  The voices of sex workers from the Nevada brothels make this book an essential for anyone reading about or studying the sex industries.”  --Teela Sanders, University of Leeds, U.K.

  4. “Very little is known about legal and government-regulated prostitution.  This landmark study sheds light on this world of legal sex work and indicates that legalization can pay dividends for all concerned -- workers, customers and local communities that benefit materially from the legal brothels.  The State of Sex explodes several myths about prostitution in general and legal prostitution in particular.”

  5. --Ronald Weitzer, George Washington University

  6. It seems that far too often the women involved in sex work are used as pawns (by both sides) in the political debates about legalizing prostitution. This book, at the very least, gives some voice to the women for whom this is a very personal, and not political, issue.”  OR What makes this book interesting is the act of stripping—not by the women in question, but by the authors, who have removed much of the titillation that usually accompanies discussions about legalized prostitution. As fascinating as HBO’s reality show Cathouse may be(spotlighting the women of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch), the authors succeed in this book by exploring the basic dignity of those working in brothels.

  7. Jende Andrew Huang, the Humanist Magazine

  8. The State of Sex is a decade-long, collaborative, and multi-method study of Nevada’s legal brothels--and it was worth the wait.  The thick descriptive style should appeal to experts and lay readers alike as the authors take us on a journey through the everyday operations of a brothel, an exploration of the experiences and concerns of the workers inside, and into the details of negotiations between customers and prostitutes.”

  9. --Katherine Frank, Anthropology, College of the Atlantic

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: The State of Sex 2. Contexts of Sexual Commerce 3. The Making of Nevada Prostitution 4. The Business of Selling Sex 5. Paths to Brothel Work 6. Brothel Labor: Making Fantasies 7. Conclusion: Learning from Nevada

Barb Brents

Barb Brents studies sexuality, gender and politics in market culture.


Department of Sociology

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Las Vegas, NV 89154-5033



Frequent Links

  1. Globalization, Sexuality & the City

  2. UNLV library

  3. UNLV faculty info

  4. ASA (American Sociological Association)

  5. SSSP (Society for the Study of Social Problems)

  6. NSF Sociology program

  7. SSSS (Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality)

  8. SWS (Sociologists for Women in Society)

  9. NSRC Dialogues

  10. National Sexuality Research Center