The discussion of sex work has long been shrouded in taboo and stigma. Sex work is any type of work related to the sexual marketing, exchange, and/or performance of commercial activities related to it. This can include a variety of activities from street-based to online services, from escort services to sex clubs and strip shows. This controversial and often misunderstood topic has been in the public eye for generations and opinions regarding it remain largely divided. As sex workers have become more visible and vocal, trends have continued to shift, and people’s perceptions of the topic have evolved.
In this article, we will explore some of the most common myths and facts surrounding sex work. Along the way, we will consider the social, health, and safety implications of this profession, as well as the legalities and rights regarding these types of services. While we will not address every issue at hand, this article will look to introduce the most common topics.
What is Sex Work?
The definition of sex work may vary depending on the context, but generally it includes activities such as escorting, stripping and lap dancing, webcamming, phone sex, pornography, and sometimes prostitution.
It is important to note that sex work is a type of labor, and in many places, highly regulated. It can refer to a variety of activities, however, these activities can be broadly divided into three major categories: full service, partial service, and non-service.
Full-service sex workers provide explicit sexual services such as intercourse, oral sex, kissing, and fetishes. Partial-service sex workers provide services such as lap dances, striptease, mutual masturbation, and domination. Non-service sex workers are those who do not provide any physical contact, such as erotic phone or video call operators or video producers.
Facts About Sex Workers
Sex workers have been around for centuries, and while there is no one-size-fits-all experience, there are a few things that are true for many in the industry.
Sex work is work – Sex workers are often seen as criminals, deviant, or victims, but in reality, they are often responsible professionals that provide a vital service. In many cases, sex workers provide a much-needed emotional and physical connection that some of their customers may not be able to get elsewhere.
Sex workers are diverse – According to interviews conducted by the Human Rights Watch, sex workers come from all walks of life, many of whom do sex work part-time while also balancing school, children, and other full-time professions.
Sex work is not only a profession for those experiencing financial vulnerability – According to multiple studies, financial vulnerability may lead to sex work, but not necessarily. Sometimes, choice plays a role, as many sex workers enjoy the flexibility and autonomy that comes with the profession.
Many sex workers are entrepreneurs – Many sex workers consider themselves entrepreneurs, as they manage their own bookings and advertising and offer a variety of services. This is especially true of those working online, who often use new technologies to market their services.
Sex workers have the same rights as other citizens – Sex workers have the same rights as any other worker, and have the right to a safe and secure job environment, to negotiate payment and services, and to report any violence or harassment that occurs during a job.
Myths About Sex Workers
Despite laws and policies designed to protect sex workers’ rights, there are still many misconceptions about sex work and the women and men who do it. Here are some of the most common myths about sex work:
All sex workers are trafficked – This is patently false. The overwhelming majority of people in the sex industry in the US and around the world are there voluntarily, with many of them seeing it as an empowering profession with flexible hours, low overhead costs, and high pay-out potentials.
Sex workers are criminals – This is likely one of the most pervasive myths associated with sex work. This, however, is false. The majority of sex workers are law-abiding citizens and do not engage in criminal activity.
All sex workers are victims – While some workers in the industry are victims of abuse or exploitation, this is not universally true. As with any profession, there are those who may have experienced certain hardships, but the majority of sex workers are there voluntarily and many have reported enjoying the experience.
Sex work contributes to societal ills – This is simply not true. Studies have found that the legalization of sex work has been beneficial to areas where it is practiced as it reduces prostitution- and drug-related crimes, decreases transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, and creates economic benefits for both sex workers and the neighborhood in which they work.
All sex workers are abused by clients – This myth is simply wrong and perpetuates the stigma that sex workers are helpless victims, when in reality, many view their clients as any other customers. Studies have revealed that many sex workers believe that their job is empowering, and do not feel unsafe, with some reporting low levels of abuse.
Legal and Rights Issues Surrounding Sex Work
When it comes to thinking about the legal and rights issues surrounding sex work, the debate is two-sided. One side advocates for the decriminalization of sex work, while the other side argues that it should be prohibited. Here are some of the key issues that are driving the debate:
Criminalizing Sex Work – Many countries criminalize sex work and prohibit it entirely, which has not been proven successful in reducing the amount of sex work in these countries. On the contrary, criminalizing sex work has been found to create an environment in which sex workers are more vulnerable, due to an increase in stigma and lack of access to protective services.
Harm reduction tactics – Rather than looking to criminalize sex work, other countries have looked to enact harm-reduction strategies. Harm reduction is a public health approach that looks to reduce the negative outcomes of a certain activity, and can include things such as providing education, harm-reduction resources, and legal services.
Evidence-based policies – Advocates of decriminalization argue that policies must be evidence-based and should empower sex workers to make decisions about their bodies and profession, as opposed to criminalizing and punishing these activities. This approach is often supported by international organizations such as the United Nations and the International Labor Organization.
Sex work is a highly-stigmatized profession, and many of the myths that surround it are based on outdated ideas and wrongful assumptions. When exploring the facts and fiction regarding sex work, it is important to remember that the people in the industry are not only diverse, but also hard-working individuals that have the same rights as any other worker. This means that they should have access to safe and secure working environments and be able to report any abuses experienced on the job.
At the same time, governments must look for evidence-based solutions that will help to protect the health and safety of sex workers, while also creating an environment in which they are able to make decisions about their own bodies. With continued advocacy and education, more informed conversations can be had regarding the legal and rights issues surrounding sex work, and misconceptions can be replaced with facts.