Monday, Oct. 17, 2005 | 7:02 a.m.
American's acceptance of sexual images on ads and in the media has led to a new sexual revolution of sorts.
Labor conditions for sex industry workers have improved as sex has become more mainstream, two UNLV researchers say.
UNLV sociologists Barb Brents and Kate Hausbeck have witnessed the change. They've spent the last eight years researching what they call the "sexualization of culture."
Many of the women and brothel owners they have interviewed talk of their profession as if it is like any other service industry, Brents said at a recent research rountable sponsored by UNLV's Women's Research Institute of Nevada.
The sex industry, including all legal and illegal services that sell sexual fantasies, media, toys or physical contact, is at minimum a $10 billion a year industry, Hausbeck said. That's more than all major league sports combined.
Prostitutes read self-motivation books like any businesswoman needing to learn how to market herself, and they talk of needing to tailor their product to what customers want, like any salesperson would, Brents said.
Brothels also are loosening some of the previous tight restrictions on their workers, with some even allowing women to go home after they finish their shifts. Traditionally, once women contracted to work for a certain period, they were not allowed to leave the brothel until the end of their contract or only at specified times.
The mainstreaming of the industry has made brothel owners, particularly Dennis Hof of the Moonlight Bunny Ranch, more bold in promoting their houses and finding ways around the state's ban on advertising, Brents and Hausbeck said.
Despite the ban's questionable constitutionality, the brothels previously went along with it, wanting to portray themselves as good community citizens.
George Flint, lobbyist for the Nevada Brothel Owners Association, agrees that the mainstream media have grown more and more risque. But he doesn't think that has done anything to change his clients' businesses.
"The rank-and-file are not much more comfortable with the activity then they were 20 or 30 years ago," Flint said.
Local and state lawmakers have always walked a fine line between allowing the rural brothels to exist while at the same time refusing to give them any legitimacy. State lawmakers killed a bill in the 2005 Legislature that would have taxed the brothels along with other forms of live entertainment.
The mainstreaming movement has renewed efforts to decriminalize prostitution, Brents and Hausbeck said, a move they both support. But their goal in conducting the research is to gather information on an industry that has been left to regulate itself in the dark so that public policy experts can make their own decisions.
Although Flint believes the brothels are the best way to regulate the world's oldest profession, he thinks it is far more likely that state lawmakers will outlaw the houses than ever allow them to go mainstream.
"They're (Brents and Hausbeck) brilliant (academics) but they don't know the nuts and bolts when it comes to the brothels or prostitution," Flint said.
Brents and Hausbeck's research focuses purely on the political and economic issues that pervade Nevada's brothels. As sociologists, they do not address the moral quandaries or psychological issues facing prostitutes.
Brents said she became interested in the sex industry after discovering that several of her students worked in it. Hausbeck's curiousity in the industry was piqued when she was solicited for sex more than once shortly after moving to Las Vegas. Their research has led to dozens of presentations and articles on the topic, and they have a book in the works.
"We should view the sexualization of culture with our eyes wide open to both the pitfalls and the future promises," Hausbeck said.
Christina Littlefield may be reached at (702) 259-8813 or at clittle@ lasvegassun.com.