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A Study of Sexwork in Finland

In this study I examine reasons for selling sex as experienced by sex workers. Forced prostitution is rare in Finland as a result of free education, low unemployment and social security benefits that guarantee a minimum standard of living for everyone. I?m interested in why a person in Finland decides to sell sex and thus expose himself/herself to the risks of violence and marginalization involved, when there are other options available.

The study is based on three years of ethnographic field research in the world of the Finnish sex business. My main material consists of the messages on the sex workers? closed internet discussion channel (11,000 posts from 2003 to 2006) and interviews with 25 sex workers (20 women, two men and three transgender). All my interviewees are prostitutes, but I call them sex workers, since the term is often used to emphasize the agency of workers.

Prostitution is a highly marginalized, stigmatized and invisible phenomenon in Finland. Street soliciting is illegal, foreigners are not allowed to work at all and even offering sex services in private spaces is strictly regulated. Still, the position of sex workers is relatively good. Most of prostitutes work as independent call girls and stay in business for fewer than five years. As the new communication technologies are becoming more and more common, the internet is gradually replacing streets, restaurants and newspapers as a way of finding customers.

For these sex workers, selling sex is an alternative to low-paid and highly controlled jobs in the service sector. They choose sex work because it offers them more autonomy in their work but also because it gives them more free time: one half-an-hour meeting with a customer per day guarantees higher standard of living than full time service jobs available for them.

Even if the sex work research has concentrated on talking about work, it should also be noted that some prostitutes sell sex because of their sexual orientation and interests. It is possible to find many examples of how the experience of control has emancipated sex workers towards more independent sexuality. Sometimes sex work in itself can be pleasurable, but even if we remember that perhaps the most common rating for clients or acts would be indifferent, there are no clear-cut distinctions between private and commercial sex in relation to prostitutes sexual pleasure.

The study shows that it is hard to make any universal statements about sex workers experience. In the life of an individual prostitute, depending on different times and contexts, sex work can be either a supporting or a destructive factor. Instead of arguing that commercial sex is inherently an abusive practice, we should consider under what kinds of conditions the sex work takes place.

Helsingin Sanomat (the biggest newspaper in Finland) wrote about Anna's research in September 2008.
Anna Kontula speaks on behalf of sex workers

Anna Kontula: The Sex Worker and Her Pleasure Article in Current Sociology, Vol. 56, No. 4, 605-620 (2008)

Helsingin Sanomat, October 2007. Sex service marketing: off streets and online
Researcher criticises HS test advertisement
Finally some comments of mine

The Red Exodus of Anna Kontula is the first contemporary proper research on sex workers in Finland.

This study tells about things that I already "knew", for example: Finnish sex workers are mainly doing rather well, there are no big problems with violence or police. But before this book I could not be quite sure if I really KNEW these things or just thought I knew.

There are also lot of things that have not been discussed so much, for example: some of us enjoy our work - not just as work but also as sex. Or: managing the client situations and being whore can be viewed from different points of views: labor, intimacy, identity, ethics.

Since I have been in business for over 12 years, nearly all of the things were somehow familiar. However I enjoyed reading Anna's research very much. It gave some refreshing points of view. And what is really important for us: now there is research based knowledge on Finnish sex workers. Now I do not have to say: " I think that..." Now I can say: "According to Dr Anna Kontula's research..."

This is exciting and important study. I hope that it will be published in English too. Anna told that there has been a publisher from Germany contacting her. But I do not know if it is going to lead to something. If you know publishers who could translate and publish Anna's book in English, please tell them about Anna's book and/or contact Anna. Her e-mail is

Greetings from Finland!
(You may forward this message.)
Johanna Sirkiä
Seksialan Liitto SALLI ry
PL 3, FI-01451 VANTAA, Finland

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