las vegas

What happens in Vegas … why consent matters in ‘Sin City’ and other sex tourism cities

Paul Maginn, Author provided

Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Aleta Baldwin, The University of Texas at San Antonio; Barb Brents, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Crystal A. Jackson, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Mention the phrase “sex tourism” in conversation and most people will cringe in disgust.

Why? People often picture old Western men visiting Asia for easy cheap sex with young boys and girls.

Stereotypes of sex tourism, as geographer Phil Hubbard notes, “obscure a more complex global economy of sex”. A wide range of people, regardless of age, gender, relationship status, race/ethnicity, ability/disability and sexuality, engage in sexualised tourism and leisure activities. We do this whenever we watch porn at home or in a hotel room when on holiday; go on a “romantic/dirty weekend”; visit a strip club, brothel, swingers’ club or bdsm dungeon when on a business trip; attend a gay/lesbian Mardi Gras parade; or go to a porn expo.

Consent matters in sexualised touristic spaces. It can’t be taken for granted just because a space is hyper-sexualised. Workers are continuously negotiating consent. They can and should be able to withdraw consent at any time.

Most people who regularly engage in these practices recognise this. Venues are increasingly taking responsibility for this issue too, but there is still work to do.

In the hypersexualised atmosphere of events like the AVN Expo, consent matters more than ever. Paul Maginn, Author provided

Sexualised tourism takes many forms

As we note in our recent research paper, the touristic gaze involves more than just looking. It includes “touching or being touched (physical or emotionally), buying, moving around and talking”.

Different cities are renowned for particular forms of sexualised leisure/tourism.

Sydney, for example, is globally recognised for its Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. The Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco is arguably the tourist capital for fetishists from around the USA and the world. Paris is the tourist city for romantic getaways. And in the UK the “dirty weekend” is synonymous with seaside towns such as Brighton and Blackpool.

Other UK cities such as London, Liverpool and Newcastle, plus European cities such as Amsterdam, Dublin and Prague, are popular destinations for stag or hen parties. These may include visits to strip clubs, brothels, sex shops and casual or hook-up sex.

Casual/hook-up sex in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Cancun and Cabo San Lucas is popular for US college students during “Spring Break”. During “Schoolies Week” in Australia, high school graduates hit destinations such as the Gold Coast, Byron Bay and Bali.

But if there is one city that personifies sexualised leisure tourism and hedonistic urbanism it is the US city of Las Vegas, Nevada – aka “Sin City”. Nevada has “built a tourist industry on turning deviance into leisure”.

Pascale Nédélec notes that Las Vegas has aggressively marketed itself as a “free-wheeling, anything-goes kind of place”. Its long-running advertising slogan is “What Happens Here, Stays Here”.

Managing issues of consent

The AVN Adult Entertainment Expo represents one key node in a global network of adult-oriented entertainment expos that attract fans and industry personnel. Examples include Exxxotica (USA), SEXPO (Australia), Taboo (Canada) and Expo Sexo y Erostismo (Mexico).

The sexualised touristic gaze ramps up at the AVN Expo.
Paul Maginn, Author provided

Every January the sexualised touristic gaze within Las Vegas ramps up when the AVN Expo sets up camp at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino (soon to be rebranded).

The largely LA-based adult entertainment industry relocates to Las Vegas for about a week, bringing with it performers, producers, directors and videographers. The porn community is in town for business-to-business events, to shoot porn, celebrate industry achievements at the AVN Awards – the so-called Porn Oscars – and meet and greet porn fans.

The meet-and-greet aspect is where the touristic gaze is particularly intense. In a panel we organised at the 2020 AVN Expo, performers Jessica Drake and Katy Jayne said they often felt an even more intense gaze when winding their way to their hotel rooms, restaurants and bars within Hard Rock’s broader spaces.

Admittedly the expo encourages a sexualised touristic gaze by largely heterosexual male attendees. But this in no way negates the importance of negotiated consent in interactions between fans and performers.

AVN requires all people attending its expo to sign a code of conduct. Paul Maginn, Author provided

A “mix of physical, social and institutional boundaries and formal and informal rules of engagement” prevails within the AVN Expo space. Attendees – performers, media and fans – must sign a “code of conduct”. Signage around the expo space reminds patrons of the AVN’s policy of zero tolerance of anyone found and/or reported to have engaged in assault, non-consensual physical contact, violations of privacy, and verbal or physical harassment.

While this code isn’t perfect, our research found it’s part of a “mix of physical, social and institutional boundaries and formal and informal rules of engagement”. These help keep non-consensual contact to a minimum and empower the performers to negotiate their own boundaries.

A charter of consent helps

When sexualised leisure activities are an important part of a city’s tourism or night-time economy, it is critical for government officials, local businesses and advocacy organisations that represent workers in sexualised tourism to come together and develop what might be termed a “charter of consent”.

Such a charter would set out the essential “rights, roles and responsibilities” of participants. It could also highlight the repercussions for those who transgress consensual boundaries.

This charter could be widely promoted via traditional and social media, creative marketing strategies (e.g. drinks coasters, receipts, online adverts, and posters in restrooms in bars, clubs and restaurants), as well as signage in sexualised tourism/leisure spaces to remind tourists consent is paramount.

With active promotion and demonstrated commitment by regulators, such a charter would help give those on the front line of providing sexualised leisure experiences the confidence to report non-consensual or inappropriate behaviours to their employers and relevant authorities.The Conversation

Paul J. Maginn, Associate Professor of Urban/Regional Planning, University of Western Australia; Aleta Baldwin, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology, Health and Nutrition , The University of Texas at San Antonio; Barb Brents, Professor of Sociology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Crystal A. Jackson, Assistant Professor of Sociology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Welcome to my world!

I have to say it! The admittedly clichéd, but sincere, desire to “change the world” drives my sociology. My work before tenure sought to understand the power dynamics that create laws, particularly the role of business and economic institutions, in creating social policy. I have always sought to be an activist, by putting these insights into practice, both inside and outside traditional political institutions, in the community, in teaching, and in research.

Prof Barb Brents

Prof. Barb Brents, UNLV Department of Sociology

But, my sociology has been profoundly affected by living in Las Vegas, where the objectification of women seems so blatantly transparent, yet complex and contradictory inequalities, tied to sexuality and gender, beg for fresh examinations. My feminism, activism and scholarship have turned to research on sexual commerce. Sexuality has been relatively ignored by political and economic sociology, yet it has become an important part of our economy and a powerful force for social change. Both my teaching and my research examine how struggles surrounding sexuality reveal contemporary forms of race, class and gender inequalities. I, now, see my work as at the forefront of a small, but growing, number of scholars interrogating the political economy of sexuality.

For the last 15 years, I have been involved in research, exploring the politics, culture, organization and labor, in Nevada’s legal brothel industry. Despite their uniqueness, I was surprised at how little research had been done on the brothels. Kate Hausbeck and I began a large ethnographic project, collecting data and doing early analysis, which culminated in several publications. The article ‘Violence and Legalized Brothel Prostitution in Nevada’, in Journal of Interpersonal Violence, is much cited for our finding that there is little violence in legal brothels, lending credence to the conclusion that legal indoor sex work is relatively safe for sex workers, and that legalizing prostitution may be a way to challenge global sex trafficking. The article ‘Marketing Sex: American Legal Brothels and Late Capitalist Consumption,’ in Sexualities, analyzes sexual consumption and furthers the argument that adult-oriented businesses are using mainstream, traditional forms of business organization and marketing. This article was reprinted in the most recent edition of Sex Matters: The Sexuality and Society Reader, by Stombler, et. al.

state of sex book cover

The State of Sex

The State of Sex: Tourism, Sex and Sin in the New American Heartland (Routledge Press), is the culmination of a decade-long research study of Nevada’s legal brothels. As far as I know, it is the largest and most comprehensive study of legal prostitution. Co-authors, Crystal Jackson, Kate Hausbeck and I, look at the context, history, organization and work in the brothels. The study of prostitution has been highly contentious, debating primarily whether prostitution is work or necessarily coercive. Our comprehensive approach shifts the focus from individual women’s choices, and puts it on the economic dynamics that drive gendered inequalities, gendered politics and gendered work, in this particular arena of consumption. We find that while prostitution may be unique in some ways, for good or for ill, the organization, consumption and work is much more similar to late capitalist interactive service businesses, touristic consumption and work than we typically believe.

I am now working to extend these insights and further use the sex industry as a site to understand the intersections of culture and economics. Recently, collaborative research, with British scholar Teela Sanders, resulted in the article ‘The Mainstreaming of the Sex industry: Economic Inclusion and Social Ambivalence’, in Journal of Law & Society, comparing Las Vegas, Nevada, and Leeds, UK, to show how neoliberalism effects the mainstreaming of sexual commerce. Other works in progress include studies of: the construction of ‘market morality’ in political debates around sexuality; the relation between tourism, consumption and sexuality; heterosexuality in the sex industry, the emotional and bodily labor of selling sex; and consuming sex. I am building on collaborations overseas and with other UNLV scholars, on a longer-term interdisciplinary project, for the study of globalization and sexuality.

Barb Brents Researching on Location

Prof. Barb Brents with Kate Hausbeck and Crystal Jackson

My academic research on sex work, sexual markets and sexual politics extends past work on social policy, political violence, and social movements. An article with colleague Robert Futrell ‘Protest as Terrorism: The Potential for Violent Anti-Nuclear Activism’, in American Behavioral Scientist, analyzes the potential for violent activism among protesters, drawing on my own research and activism, in anti-nuclear movement. I also include, in this dossier, an article written with graduate student Deo Mshigeni, ‘Terrorism in Context: Race, Religion, Party and Violent Conflict in Zanzibar’, in The American Sociologist, drawing on his research with a potentially violent youth wing of the minority political party in Zanzibar, where globalization and Islamic fundamentalism have impacted racial identity.

Las Vegas aka 'Sin City'

Las Vegas aka ‘Sin City’

I am also engaged in collaborative work on the political economy of contemporary culture, through a multi-year study of sustainability and community, in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Area Social Survey is a collaborative project, with the LVMASS team (graduate students and two other Sociology faculty), the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Commission, and the City of Las Vegas. The project gathers neighborhood-level data on the attitudes, knowledge, and opinions of Las Vegas residents on neighborhood, environmental and social sustainability issues.

~Prof. Barb Brents

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