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Sex Panic!/Sex Work
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Sex Panic | Sex Work

Time: TBD

Room: TBD

Instructor:: Daniel Joslyn


Office Hours: TBD

Course Description

Between Onlyfans, online porn, Q-Anon and SESTA-FOSTA, we are living in the middle of a sex panic. As the movement for sex-worker rights has burst into national popularity, and advocacy groups have emerged in every major city, even Manhattan’s incoming District Attorney is promising to decriminalize sex work. Yet, despite their visibility, we as a society hardly have a language in which to talk about sex work and sex workers. This is not a new problem.

This course will explore the long history of sex panics in the twentieth century and the nature and experience of contemporary sex work in New York City, the United States, and online.

In doing so, the class asks: What does centering sex workers in history and their contemporary lives tell us about American history? What does the history of sex work and sex panics tell us about the connections between race, gender, labor, empire and American capitalism? What demands are sex workers making for the future of sex work, and how do these intersect with other movements, like democratic socialism, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, LGBT liberation, Reproductive Justice, defunding the police, and criminal justice reform?

In order to answer these questions, this class will read center produced by and for sex workers, speak with sex workers and historians of sexuality, and listen to the demands made by competing contemporary movements for sex-workers’ rights.

Trigger warning: I take very seriously my role in ensuring a safe, comfortable, and respectful space for students and speakers, alike. This course will deal extensively with sexual violence, homophobia and transphobia, racism and pornography. It will feature discussion of sex and sexuality. I will offer explicit trigger warnings about each week’s readings and class discussions in advance, and encourage students to reach out to me about any concerns in advance and am very open to negotiating alternative assignments for students uncomfortable attending particular sessions. I will make every effort to offer comprehensive trigger warnings, but the nature of the class is such that some trigger warnings cannot be predicted in advance. In such cases, I encourage students to leave the classroom and know that they can raise such issues during class and/or directly with me as they arise.

Learning Objectives

Grading Policy

In-Class participation: 15%

Group Work: 30%

Response Papers: 30%

Final Project: 25%

Response papers:

There will be three response papers required in this course, each 500 words long.

  1. In week two, you will Read two stories from Coming Out Like a Porn Star: Essays on Pornography, Protection, and Privacy and connect them to this week’s readings.
  2. In week four: compare or contrast one historical sex panic that we have studied with another, or with the present era.
  3. In week five: How do you feel about liberation as a framework within which to understand sex work? Is sex work inherently liberating? Is it a form of slavery? Does that question even make sense?

Group Work

  1. In each class, you will split into groups and produce brief summaries of one individual reading, which you will then submit via our in-class discord server.
  2. For each guest speaker that we host, you will work in groups to produce questions for them, which you will submit for a grade.

Final Project

Produce a reflective piece in whatever media format you would like, of equivalent work to a ten-page research paper, responding to one of the following prompts:

  1. Interact with the politicized sex-worker movement by attending an event, a meeting or engaging otherwise directly with people and produce a piece tying what you gathered to readings in the class: how are you tying what you learned in this class to interacting with these communties?
  2. Self-reflective: how has this class and/or learning about various communities of sex workers challenged your conception of yourself? What lessons have you taken away, and how do you plan to apply these going forward?
  3. Pick one week’s reading, one topic, or one question that emerged out of the readings from this course and critically research it further.



Readings must be completed prior to class as there will frequently be in-class assignments designed to help you process and synthesize what you have read.

The readings will be available on NYU Classes in PDF format.


In class, we will work together to learn how and when to skim and how and when to read deeply, and time will be delegated in this course to developing the skill of reading for the humanities. For more information on how to read for the humanities, see: How to Gut a Book, How to Read for Grad School




I am acutely aware that we are in the second year of an unprecedented crisis, and that this crisis brings with it many complications for our everyday lives. In this time of distress, I only ask that you be open with me to the extent to which you feel comfortable and share with me any needs you may have, or any ways in which this class is not serving you. Similarly, I want you to know that in grading your writing and your work I will take into account how the world around us seems to be falling apart.  


For students with disabilities:


If you are student with a disability who is requesting accommodations, please contact New York University’s Moses Center for Students with Disabilities at 212-998-4980 or You must be registered with CSD to receive accommodations. Information about the Moses Center can be found at The Moses Center is located at 726 Broadway on the 2nd floor.


Safe Space Policy:


This classroom is intended to be a safe zone for individuals of all ethnicities, abilities, religions, sexual orientations, and gender identities. For NYU’s full diversity statement, which outlines this policy in more depth, please see

Sex Worker Organizations in New York City to be aware of:

Red Canary Song

DSA Socialist Feminist Working Group

Decriminalize NY

Sex Workers Project

Readings/ Class Schedule

  1. Thinking About Sex Work 1: Work
  1. Thotscholar, “a working theory of proheauxism”
  2. Lorelei Lee, “Cash/Consent” in We Too: Essays on Sex and Survival
  3. Heather Berg, “Introduction: Porn Work Against Work” in Porn Work
  4. Marxism for Whores
  5. Melissa Grant, “The Industry” in Playing the Whore
  6. Michael Hardt and Kathi Weeks, "Exploitation is the rule, not the exception"
  7. Media:
  1. Liberal Cook, Capitalism and the Body
  1. Sex Work, Stigma and Exploitation
  1. Janet Lever and Deanne Dolnick, “Call Girls and Street Prostitutes: Selling Sex and Intimacy,”
  2. Molly Smith and Juno Mac, “Borders” and “Prison Nation” in Revolting Prostitutes
  3. Zine, Ho Lover: About Dating and Friending Sex Workers
  4. Melissa Grant, “The Stigma” in Playing the Whore
  5. Media:
  1. Intelexual Media, Sex Work is Not Empowering
  2. Documentary: Sex(ual) Healing
  3. The Anti-Sex-Worker Law That Made Sex Work Worse
  4. Broey Deschanel, Stripping the Layers of Exotic Dancing in Film
  1. First response paper:
  1. Read two stories from Coming Out Like a Porn Star: Essays on Pornography, Protection, and Privacy and connect them to this week’s readings
  1. New Women and the First Sex Panic
  1. Sylvia Federici, “Origins and Development of Sexual Work in the United States and Great Britain” in Beyond the Periphery of the Skin
  2. George Chauncey, “Introduction” in Gay New York
  3. LaShawn Harris, "'I Have my Own Room on 139th Street': Black Women and the Urban Sex Economy,"
  4. The ‘White Slavery’ Law That Brought Down Jack Johnson is Still in Effect
  5. Sarah Haley, “Race and the Sexual Politics of Prison Reform”
  6. "A Telescoped History of Marriage and the Progressive Era Debate" in Until Choice Do Us Part
  7. Manhood, Tarzan and the Perfect Man, OR The First Sexual Revolution
  8. Media:
  1. Intelexual Media, A Brief History of Hating Sex Workers
  1. Imperial Panics
  1. Michelle Mitchell, “The Righteous Procreation of the Nation" Or "The Strongest, Most Intimate Hope of the Race" in Righteous Propagation
  2. Eileen Findley, “Introduction” in Imposing Decency: The Politics of Sexuality and Race in Puerto Rico, 1870–1920 OR Laura Briggs, “Sex and Citizenship: The Politics of Prostitution in Puerto Rico, 1898–1918” in Reproducing Empire
  3. Anne Butler, “The Women” in Daughters of Joy, Sisters of Misery: Prostitutes in the American West, 1865-90, OR Michale Rutter, "The Worlds Oldest Profession Thrives in the West" and "The Chinese Sex Trade" in Upstairs Girls OR Chapter from Kazuhiro Oharazeki, Japanese Prostitutes in the North American West, 1887-1920
  4. Victor Román Mendoza, “Racial-Sexual Governance and the U.S. Colonial State in the Philippines,” Metroimperial Intimacies
  5. Media
  1. Intelexual Media, Sterilization, Abuse and Reproductive Justice
  2. Video on or excerpts from Birth of a Nation and/or the racist panic around interracial sex
  1. McCarthyism: Red, Pink Scares and the ERA
  1. Jeffrey Escoffier, "Pornography, Perversity and the Sexual Revolution" in Sex, Society and the Making of Pornography
  2. Genevieve Clutario, It's Time to Reckon with the History of Asian Women in America
  3. Elaine Tyler May, “Explosive Issues: Sex, Women, and the Bomb,” in Homeward Bound
  4. Moira Weigel, “Likes” and “Freedom” in The Invention of Dating
  5. Media
  1. Intelexual Media, history of dating and teenagers
  2. Pages of Death film
  3. MST3K What to do on a date
  4. Audre Lorde, To Be Young, Lesbian and Black in the 1950s
  5. American Experience, Summer of Love
  6. The Lavender Scare Documentary
  7. Episodes from The Deuce
  1. The Porn Wars, the violence against women act, and the long battle over reproductive freedom
  1. Nan Hunter, "Contextualizing the Sexuality Debates: A Chronology" in Sex Wars
  2. Kathi Weeks, “Working Demands: From Wages for Housework to Basic Income,” in The Problem With Work
  3. Aya Gruber, “Fighting Patriarchy with Purity” The Feminist War on Crime: The Unexpected Role of Women's Liberation in Mass Incarceration
  4. “Those Few Came on like Gangbusters,” in Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk
  5. Joe Thomas, “Gay Male Pornography Since Stonewall” in Sex For Sale
  6. Elizabeth Bernstein, “Seek Justice” in Brokered Subjects
  7. Media
  1. Loretta Ross on Reproductive Justice 101
  2. Little Hoot, How Did We Get AIDS
  3. Did Q Win In the End?
  4. TERF Fascism
  1. Radical Sexualities?
  1. Terrence Kissek, “The Right To Complete Liberty of Action,” in Free Comrades
  2. Saidiya Hartman Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments
  3. Audrey Lorde, “The Uses of the Erotic”
  4. Margot Weiss, “Introduction,” in Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality
  5. Sarah Schulman, "How Change is Made" in Let the Record Show: a Political History of ACT UP New York
  6. Rafia Zakaria, "Sexual Liberation is Women's Empowerment," in Against White Feminism
  7. Media:
  1. Mainely Mandy, Polyamorous in the Pandemic
  1. Sex Work as Work
  1. “Jeffrey Escoffier, "Porn Star / Stripper / Escort: Economic and Sexual Dynamics in a Sex Work Career" in Sex, Society and the Making of Pornography
  2. Barbara Brents, Crystal Jackson, Kathryn Hausbeck, "Brothel Labor: Making Fantasies At Work,” in The State of Sex
  3. Jo Weldon, “Show Me the Money: A Sex Worker Reflects on Research into the Sex Industry,” in Sex Work Matters
  4. Mireille Miller-Young, "Theorizing Black Women's Labor in Pornography" in A Taste for Brown Sugar
  5. Heather Berg, “A Scene Is Just a Marketing Tool: Hustling in Porn’s Gig Economy,” in Porn Work
  6. Media
  1. Sex Work is Work
  2. Revolutionary Left Radio, Women’s Liberation and the Sex Trade
  1. Sex Work as Business
  1. Julia Stern, “Pipeline of Violence: The Oil Industry and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
  2. "The Contemporary Camming Market," in Camming: Money, Power, and Pleasure in the Sex Work Industry
  3. Melinda Chateuvert, “Assembly-Line Orgasms” in Sex Workers Unite!
  4. Jessica Berson, “Introduction” and Jessica Berson, "Taking Stock; Striptease, Stratification, and the NASDAQ”in The Naked Result: How Exotic Dance Became Big Business
  5. Ariane Cruz, “Techno-Kink: Fucking Machines and Gendered, Racialized Technologies of Desire,” in The Color of Kink
  6. Media
  1. CC Marie, The Rise of Onlyfans
  2. We’re in Hell, Mind Geek and the P0rn Industry
  3. Jordan Teresa, Only Fans and Sex Work
  4. Probably Cancelled Podcast, Realities of Life in a Brothel
  1. Thinking About Sex Work 2: Liberation?
  1. Melissa Grant, “The Debate” in Playing the Whore
  2. Jennifer Nash, "Race-Pleasures: Sexworld and the Ecstatic Black Female Body" in The Black Body in Ecstasy
  3. Proletarian Feminist, “A Socialist, Feminist, and Transgender Analysis of “Sex Work””
  4. Ana Valens, Tumblr Porn, 26-30; 64-80.
  5. Bernadette Barton, "Be the Man That Treats Her Like a Lady, But Still Grab Her Ass," in The Pornification of America, 81-108
  6. Media
  1. Melina Pendulum, Purity Culture & Fandom
  2. Maya Morena, Response to Esperanza Fonseca
  3. Mexie, How We Talk About Sex, Sex Work and Liberation
  4. Mexie, Let's talk about the politics of buying sex…
  1. Revolting Prostitutes
  1. Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk
  2. Antonia Crane, “Dispatch from the California Stripper Strike” in We Too: Essays on Sex and Survival
  3. Thotscholar, “A New Sex Positivity Dichotomy”
  4. Melinda Chateauvert, "Sluts Unite" in Sex Workers Unite
  5. Afirm Hawai’i, Ain’t I A Human? Why Full Decrim of the Sex Industry is Full Anti-Black
  6. Melissa Grant, “The Movement” in Playing the Whore
  1. Media:
  1. Policing our bodies
  1. The Sexual Politics of the Future: What Do Sex Workers Want? Which Sex Workers?
  1. Heather Berg, “Fuck Jobs,” in Porn Work 
  2. “Junkie Communism” OR Sarah Schulman, "Harm Reduction as a Value, an Ideal, Way of Life and Death” in Let the Record Show: a Political History of ACT UP New York
  3. Bernstein, “Imagining Freedom” in Brokered Subjects
  4. We Too: Essays on Sex Work and Survival
  5. Adrienne Marie Brown, “Love as Political Resistance,” and  Pleasure Activism
  6. Anna Srinavasan “Sex, Carceralism, Capitalism,” in The Right to Sex
  7. Media:
  1. Newsbroke: Will Legalizing Sex Work Protect Women?

People to invite:


Ana Valens

Intelexual Media

Heather Berg


Maya Morena