The Global Sex Trade

Module code: SY2082

Module co-ordinator: Dr Jackie Sanchez Taylor

Please note that from 2016 this will be a third-year module.

What is prostitution? Should we legalise sex work? Does prostitution turn women into objects?

Prostitution is a difficult issue because most people are socialised to think that sex is not a commodity and should be governed by ideas such as love, duty, and care. Yet the commodification of sexual services is a large and profitable global industry that straddles both the legal and illegal sectors.

We are also socialised to think that sex is a private matter that takes place within the private sphere and is of no concern to the state, the local community, or national governments. However, society is worried about who individuals have sex with and how they do it, and regulates sexual behaviour in a number of ways.

In this module we will unpick some of the key issues surrounding prostitution by looking at how the global sex industry is organised and regulated. We will consider political and moral debates about sex work and investigate topics such as sex tourism and trafficking. In doing so, we will discover how society organises sexuality.

We will start by thinking about how prostitution and gender have been conceptualised and the ways in which western societies have constructed sexual norms. We will look at the contemporary global sex industry as well as the legalisation and commodification of sexual services. We will study how gender intersects with racial and ethnic inequalities to shape the structure of the sex industry.

You will be expected to contribute to our discussions, drawing on current debates in the news relating to the topics we explore.

Topics covered

  • What is prostitution and sex work and what does the industry look like?
  • Feminist debates on prostitution
  • The commodification of sex
  • Legalisation debate
  • Globalisation and the development of sex tourism
  • Female sex tourism
  • Trafficking and migration debates


  • Eighteen one-hour lectures
  • Eight one-hour seminars


A timed portfolio task of 4,000 words comprising:

  • A critical review of an aspect of the sex industry (50%)
  • One essay-style question (50%)