Destigmatizing Sex Work

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When you hear the phrase “sex work”, you may immediately think about prostitution. If you’re from the United States, you may also have some negative connotations connected to sex work. Did you know, though, that sex work includes a large range of services such as erotic modeling, stripping, erotic massages, and many others? Sex work is defined by anyone employed in the sex industry. This includes the people who give these services directly as well as the staff employed.  Some other avenues of sex work besides full-service sex work (prostitution) are phone sex operators, those involved in pornography, those that give erotic dances (burlesque performers) and even sex toy testers.

If you’ve ever gone to a strip club for a bachelor party, then you’ve bought sex work.  If you’ve ever watched porn online, then you’ve engaged in the benefits of sex work. Sex workers, though, still face a stigma that causes many problems including discrimination and physical and emotional abuse. Destigmatizing sex work is important in the pursuit of sexual liberation. When we destigmatize sexuality in general, we allow people to have healthier, more satisfying sex lives. Sex is such an important part of life. We must have sex to populate. Good sex lives make for happier couples. Sexually happy beings are less likely to experience shame which is known to causes many emotional problems. 

When we destigmatize sex work, what we are doing is saying that sex work is valuable. When you say that sex work is valuable, you also say that sexuality is valuable. Destigmatizing sex work not only benefits sex workers, but it benefits ourselves as well.

Many single mothers can provide for their children through sex work. Sex work feeds families. Sex work also allows women freedom that they may not find in other jobs. Most sex jobs allow women to set their own schedule, take time off when needed, and be their own boss. Many women who strip can provide for their children during the day, make a good enough income to sustain their family, and work on their own time. Most women are not compensated enough for the emotional and physical labor they provide in regular jobs. Since most sex workers are independent contractors, they can make their own prices for their services and get the pay they deserve. 

Stigmatizing sex work, though, hurts sex workers. Men, women, and those within the trans community face physical danger from participating in sex work. 80% of sex workers have reported facing violence because of the nature of their job. 27% of those people faced violence at the hands of police. The homicidal rate for women that are sex workers is 204 for every 100,000. That’s higher than any mortality rate for any other group of women studied. 

The illegalization of full service sex worker increases the rate of the harm done to sex workers. Not only that, but it also costs the United States two thousand dollars for every arrest. Between 2001 to 2011, about 1.7 billion was spent arresting sex workers. Consensual sex work does not harm anyone, yet the government spends a ton of money on arresting them.

Another reason why the stigma of sex work is bad is because people who have engaged in sex work also find it harder to obtain jobs. Many pornography actors say that they truly loved their job but had problems finding a different one once they decided to try something new. Politicians are attacked just for their attendance to strip clubs. People look at sex workers as “dirty”. These assumptions disconnect us from sex workers; they disconnect us from humanity. 

Although full service sex work is illegal in the United States, this is not the case in other parts of the world. In New Zealand, all sex work is legal. Not only is it legal in New Zealand, there are also laws in place that protect sex workers. In New Zealand, since the implementation of the Prostitution Reform Act, "any person seeking to open a larger brothel, where more than four sex workers will be working requires a Brothel Operators Certificate, which certifies them as a suitable person to exercise control over sex workers in the workplace. [In addition,] sex workers operating in managed premises have access to labor rights and human rights protection and can pursue claims before the courts, like any other worker or employee.” New Zealand recognizes that full service sex workers are real people and deserve to be treated as such. 

When we destigmatize sex work, we take a step further in many communities. The stigma surrounding sex work is usually filled with xenophobia (because many sex workers are immigrants), transphobia (many trans women go to sex work because they are not employed elsewhere), misogyny (most sex workers are women) and racism (black women participating in sex work are more likely to be arrested than white women). When we acknowledge that sex work is valuable, real work, we also acknowledge and value many different types of people. We acknowledge and value women especially black women, immigrants, and the trans community. We also allow each other to be our true, most authentic sexual selves. When we acknowledge that sex work has a monetary value, we understand the importance of sexuality. When we protect sex workers, we protect our own sex lives. 

What I do, some would consider sex work since I help many people with their sexuality and their sex lives. I’ve had many experiences where people have gained an increase of positivity within themselves. They feel empowered. They feel loved. They feel happy. These feelings have been a result of the work I have provided them. I have lots of positive feels, within myself, knowing I am making a difference in supporting expansion and growth that will last a lifetime.  

Destigmatizing sex work allows sex workers to enrich others lives. Sex work can change people for the better. Sex workers are great entertainers, nurturers, and listeners. Above all, though, they are people just like you and I. They deserve to be recognized, loved, and valued for their work. Acknowledging the importance of sex work is a step towards liberation for us all.