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Temporarily Yours

Intimacy, Authenticity, and the Commerce of Sex

Temporarily Yours

Intimacy, Authenticity, and the Commerce of Sex

Generations of social thinkers have assumed that access to legitimate paid employment and a decline in the ‘double standard’ would eliminate the reasons behind women’s participation in prostitution. Yet in both the developing world and in postindustrial cities of the West, sexual commerce has continued to flourish, diversifying along technological, spatial, and social lines. In this deeply engaging and theoretically provocative study, Elizabeth Bernstein examines the social features that undergird the expansion and diversification of commercialized sex, demonstrating the ways that postindustrial economic and cultural formations have spawned rapid and unforeseen changes in the forms, meanings, and spatial organization of sexual labor.

Drawing upon dynamic and innovative research with sex workers, their clients, and state actors, Bernstein argues that in cities such as San Francisco, Stockholm, and Amstersdam, the nature of what is purchased in commercial sexual encounters is also new. Rather than the expedient exchange of cash for sexual relations, what sex workers are increasingly paid to offer their clients is an erotic experience premised upon the performance of authentic interpersonal connection. As such, contemporary sex markets are emblematic of a cultural moment in which the boundaries between intimacy and commerce—and between public life and private—have been radically redrawn. Not simply a compelling exploration of the changing landscape of sex-work, Temporarily Yours ultimately lays bare the intimate intersections of political economy, desire, and culture.


"This is an ambitious book—highly readable, compelling, and original. Bernstein’s claim is that the character and organization of sex work has shifted between the modern industrial to late-capitalist periods. Whereas the signature form of sex work used to be the non-white streetwalker working in largely marginal neighborhoods, today, she reveals, sex work is largely private, relying heavily on the Internet, and provided by someone that is as often white and middle-class as non-white and poor."

Steven Seidman, author of Beyond the Closet

“An analysis of contemporary sexual commerce that combines a sharp ethnographic eye with a trenchant theoretical mind. Whether you are a jaded prostitution scholar tired of debates that seem forever to re-chew the same contentious old cud, or someone who has never read a book on prostitution before, this wide-ranging study will both orient and challenge you.”

Don Kulick, author of Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes

“Combining bold claims about changes in the global sexual economy with deep empathy for sex workers themselves, Elizabeth Bernstein uses perceptive ethnography in San Francisco, Stockholm, and Amsterdam to illuminate contemporary change and variation in the sale of sexual services. We begin to see that in the world of commercial sex new forms of intimacy are emerging.”

Viviana A. Zelizer, Lloyd Cotsen ‘50 Professor of Sociology, Princeton University, author of The Purchase of Intimacy

“Elizabeth Bernstein’s Temporarily Yours is a first-rate piece of sociological investigation that reads like a novel. We will never look at commercial sex in the same way again.”--Kristin Luker, University of California, Berkeley, author of When Sex Goes to School

Kristin Luker

"A fascinating combination of ’macro’ analysis (i.e., the political economy of prostitution) and ’micro’ insights into a certain form of sex work--i.e., the kind that occurs indoors between middle-class/upper-class men and lower-to-middle class women."

A.M Cesario and L. Chancer | Qualitative Sociology

"This rich and multidimensional book looks at how individual practices and cultural contexts are shaped by economic structures. . . . I hope Temporarily Yours finds a wide audience among those interested in labor, emotions, gender, sexuality, urbanizm, and globalization. And public policy experts as well. Temporarily Yours is a terrific book. That it could be written and published today marks the coming of age of sociological work on sexuality and the maturation, too, of gender studies."

Arlene Stein | Culture and the Media

"Elizabeth Bernstein's Temporarily Yours succeeds wonderfully (and seems to have aimed) at providing insights into the 'big' political economic picture as well as some women's and men's 'micro' experiences of sex work.... Perhaps she is at her best when turning, as few books before hers have men and why they turn to prostitution."

Qualitative Sociology

Table of Contents


1     Sexual Commerce in Postindustrial Culture
2     Remapping the Boundaries of "Vice"
3     Modern Prostitution and Its Remnants
4     The Privatization of Public Women
5     Desire, Demand, and the Commerce of Sex
6     The State, Sexuality, and the Market
7     Sexuality Debates and Pleasure Wars

Appendix: Methodology


ASA Sex and Gender Section: Distinguished Book Award

Norbert Elias Foundation: Norbert Elias Prize

Sociology of Sexualities section, American Sociological Association: Sociology of Sexualities Section Book Award

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