What is sex work?

Originally posted at: Medium By Maria Ma

Sex work is an umbrella term for the exchange of sexual services, performances, and products; it is not to be confused solely with prostitution. Often regarded as the “down below” in society, sex workers have to overcome the inherently negative labels that our society has continuously justified through the years. The stigma attached to the sex work industry as a whole creates an often dangerous environment for those that choose to do exactly what sex work is: work.

Whorephobia, best described as the fear or the hate of sex workers, is something that affects all women in the hatred and violence it brings. The article by Thierry Schaffauser, Whorephobia Affects All Women describes how women who engage in sex work are often perceived to be “a public nuisance, spreaders of disease, offenders against decency or unskilled victims who don’t know what is good for them and who need to be rescued.” People often grow up with all these negative assumptions of sex workers because it is what they’ve been taught. This stigma that sex workers carry around with them can, at it’s worst, be fatally dangerous as “sex workers are far more likely to be murdered than the rest of the population” This however does not only affect sex workers as it further perpetuates these negative images of women as prey in the minds of murderous men. In most aspects of our society, we are brought up to believe that sex workers are bad people, often accused to be spreading diseases and high on drugs. As these allegations are often untrue, the negative image of them has yet to change. The article explains how “whorephobia operates as a way of controlling and policing women’s behaviour,” because women are expected to act and behave a certain way, and anything outside of that “norm” is considered to be deviant. In essence, a mechanism used to force women into a role that has been predetermined for them. This is fundamentally wrong as people in our modern-day society should not be policed into acting or behaving a certain way, especially when unjustified. Once people are educated to understand that sex workers should not be associated with all this negativity, and once sex work is recognized simply as work, perhaps the stigma can begin to lift.

Part of the stigmatization of sex work includes the notion that sex workers are trafficking victims, or maybe just victims in general, as women who are able to make their own decisions would and could not possibly choose to be a sex worker. It is unfathomable that women with free agency over their body would voluntarily choose this type of work. But why? It should not matter whether a woman derives pleasure from, or simply chooses sex work as their source of income. Part of Melissa Gira Grant’s article Let’s Call Sex Work What It Is: Work describes the ideologies of those opponents of sex work, who characterize sex work as fundamentally lesser than that of their work as “ sex work does not — and cannot — resemble their work.” They argue that the real hard workers are those lobbying against sex work, because they are the ones “elevating womanhood, while the tramps loll about down below.” Whether a person works as an Uber driver or is the CEO of a large corporation, what they do from a day-to-day basis is considered to be work. So why then would a woman providing a service, albeit one that involves sex, not considered to be working the same way everyone else is? I believe that if a woman chooses to be a sex worker, they deserve every right to be considered a worker and not be stigmatized for what they do.

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