Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Barbara Brents

Second Committee Member

Ranita Ray

Third Committee Member

Kate Korgan

Fourth Committee Member

Olesya Venger

Number of Pages



While most research on commodified intimacy, especially in the sex industry, has explored gender dynamics, sex work researchers are beginning to also explore intersectional dynamics in the industry. But little research has examined whether or how workers may navigate these dynamics differently through the ways in which they understand and perform service labor. Much research has explored commodified intimacy in different settings, but very little attention has been paid to the different ways that workers in the same setting perform intimacy. In this dissertation I ask how do different performances of intimate service in the brothels- the girlfriend experience (GFE) and pornstar experience (PSE)- reflect intersectional dynamics? To answer this question I conducted an ethnography in which I worked in two Nevada brothels as a participant observer and interviewed 50 workers across five brothels. I examined how the performances of GFE and PSE implicated race, gender, and class. What I found is that both performances require workers to construct an identity based upon how much emotional and/or body labor they choose to provide and these decisions and performances are infused with class, race and gendered ideologies and stereotypes. Because brothel work consists of females selling sexual services to males, most all the performances of intimacy reproduce traditional heterosexual gender and sexual norms at some level, but they do so in different ways. Girlfriend experience providers reproduce active male sexuality and passive female sexuality in their performances by distancing themselves from the sex act and reproducing gender norms of women as prudish, nurturing and caring for male’s emotional needs. By marketing and performing relationship intimacy and sex, GFE providers have a more holistic sense of self and see less of a need to fight stigma by distinguishing their work selves from their home selves. The different ways that workers perform gender are affected by the raced and classed implications of their performances, and an examination of intersectional dynamics will further our understanding of why and how different workers perform labor differently, as well as the consequences of different performances. In contrast to GFE workers, PSE workers subvert gender role norms by embracing an active sexuality, eschewing emotional labor and embracing the body labor of providing recreational sex as a “bad” girl. PSE providers draw hard boundaries between work intimacy and home intimacy, constructing a work self to differentiate from their authentic self, saving certain acts for their partner and valuing heterosexual relationship norms such as monogamy. By contrast, GFE workers define their work as labor of the mind, and define themselves against PSE providers seen as “bad girls,” a conception that reflects educated middle class whiteness, and often intersectional privilege. The PSE provider’s “bad girl” identity and its link to racial stereotypes of women of color as hypersexual and less valuable than “good girls” has consequences for PSE workers, who generally make less money and receive less attention from brothel management. Finally, I find that the brothels themselves reproduce intersectional systems of oppression in how these performances are valued by customers and management and management assigns workers based on their characteristics and accompanying stereotypes.


brothel; intersectionality; prostitution; service labor; sex trade; sex work


Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Gender and Sexuality | Labor Relations

File Format


File Size

1135 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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