Paying to Listen: Notes from a Survey of Sexual Commerce


As the study of sexual commerce has grown dramatically in recent decades due to interest in HIV/AIDS, an expanded literature has scrutinized how research teams manage the operational challenges of accessing spaces that typically resist scrutiny. This paper ventures a combination of both scholarly reflections on the utility of ethical listening and specific methodologies for working with hard-to-reach populations, and selective use of field notes to illustrate the ethical and operational challenges of data collection with marginalized youth. The paper highlights several pivotal commitments and procedures for generating an effective community-based research project, the extent of time demanded for such research, and collective reflections on the potential for both harm and good in such projects. Efforts to understand the social context in which young adults engage in sexual exchange—both on the street and in erotic dance clubs—requires a commitment to ethical listening, and to progressive learning.