The Purchase of Sex : Perceptions, Experiences, and Social Work Practices

Abstract: The aim of this study is to explore sex buyers’ perceptions and experiences of purchasing sex, and to study how the purchase of sex is constructed as a social problem in Swedish social work practice. The empirical material consists of interviews with 30 men with experiences of purchasing sex and with ten social workers conducting counselling or outreach work with men who purchase sex. The dissertation is a compilation thesis that consists of four papers, that have been published in international peer-review journals. The first paper focuses on how men who buy sex as one-time visitors navigate between commercialization and intimacy in a national context criminalizing their actions. The paper explores the construction of meaning and intimacy in commercial relationships for Swedish men buying sex, and how these men describe relational practices and strategies used when they purchased sex. The second paper explores the construction of intimacy among men engaged in longterm transactional relationships with women. The paper focuses on the meaning of transactions for intimacy in long-term paid sexual relationships. The third paper explores how men who purchase sex in a context in which their activities are criminalized understand and perceive risk. The paper focuses on individual assessments of risk in relation to experiences of crime, exploitation, and stigma. The fourth paper aims at exploring social workers’ understanding of the purchase of sex as a social problem. The study focuses on social workers’ approaches to the purchase of sex in relation to values, professional practices, and political goals, and how they navigate these aspects in their encounters with individuals who purchase sex. The four papers show how individual experiences are understood, navigated, and conceptualized in relation to social interaction and social norms. The participants in both sub-studies navigate between their own experiences and perceptions, moral values, and social norms in regard to the purchase of sex in Sweden. Both the sex buyers and the social workers conceptualize and make sense of the purchase of sex based on their individual experiences as sex buyers or as social workers meeting sex buyers, but they also relate to normative ideas about the purchase of sex and about ‘sex buyers’.

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