A sex worker is a person who works in the sex industry. The term is used in reference to all those in all areas of the sex industry including those who provide direct sexual services as well as the staff of such industries. Some sex workers are paid to engage in sexually explicit behavior which involve varying degrees of physical contact with clients (prostitutes, escorts, some but not all professional dominants); pornography models and actors engage in sexually explicit behavior which are filmed or photographed. Phone sex operators have sexually-oriented conversations with clients, and do auditive sexual roleplay. Other sex workers are paid to engage in live sexual performance, such as web cam sex and performers in live sex shows. Some sex workers perform erotic dances and other acts for an audience (striptease, Go-Go dancing, lap dancing, Neo-burlesque, and peep shows). Sexual surrogates often engage in sexual activity as part of therapy with their clients.
Thus, although the term sex worker is sometimes viewed as a synonym or euphemism for prostitute, it is more general. Some people use the term to avoid invoking the stigma associated with the word prostitute.
History of the concept
The term "sex worker" was coined in 1978 by sex worker activist Carol Leigh. Its use became popularized after publication of the anthology, Sex Work: Writings By Women In The Sex Industry in 1987. The term "sex worker" has since spread into much wider use, including in academic publications, by NGOs and labor unions, and by governmental and intergovernmental agencies, such as the World Health Organization. The term is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster's Dictionary.
The term is strongly opposed, however, by many who are morally opposed to the sex industry, such as social conservatives, anti-prostitution feminists, and other prohibitionists. Such groups view prostitution variously as a crime or as victimization, and see the term "sex work" as legitimizing criminal activity or exploitation as a type of labor.
Depending on local law, sex workers' activities may be regulated, controlled, tolerated, or prohibited. In most countries, even those where sex work is legal, sex workers may be stigmatized and marginalized, which may prevent them from seeking legal redress for discrimination (e.g., racial discrimination by a strip club owner), non-payment by a client, assault or rape. Sex worker advocates have identified this as whorephobia. Social inequality and poverty are often seen as driving forces.
Sex worker's rights advocates argue that sex workers should have the same basic human and labour rights as other working people. For example, the Canadian Guild for Erotic Labour calls for the legalization of sex work, the elimination of state regulations that are more repressive than those imposed on other workers and businesses, the right to recognition and protection under labour and employment laws, the right to form and join professional associations or unions, and the right to legally cross borders to work.
Demographics of sex workers
The majority of sex workers are young, female and heterosexual. Transgender people are more likely than the general population to do sex work, particularly trans women and trans people of color. Transgender sex workers have very high rates of HIV.
In a study of female Indian sex workers, illiteracy and lower social status were more prevalent than among the general female population.
- Agustín, Laura Maria. Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry. London: Zed Books (2007) and The Naked Anthropologist.
- Chateauvert, Melinda. Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk. United States: Beacon Press (2014)
- Stark, Christine. Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography. Australia: Spinifex Press (2005)
- Weitzer, Ronald. 1991. "Prostitutes' Rights in the United States," Sociological Quarterly, v. 32, no.1, pages 23–41.
- Weitzer, Ronald. 2000. Sex For Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry (New York: Routledge Press).
- Weitzer, Ronald. 2009. "Sociology of Sex Work," Annual Review of Sociology, v. 35
- "Decriminalize sex trade: Vancouver report", CBC.ca, June 13, 2006.
- International Human Rights Protection in the Citizenship Gap: The Case of Migrant Sex Workers
- BAYSWAN (San Francisco, California, USA)
- COYOTE (USA)
- Feminist Sex Wars
- International Sex Worker Foundation for Art, Culture and Education
- International Sex Workers' Day
- International Union of Sex Workers
- Scarlet Alliance (Australia)
- Sex Workers Outreach Project USA
- St. James Infirmary Clinic (San Francisco, California, USA)
- Stella, l’amie de Maimie (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)
- Oxford English Dictionary, "sex worker"
- Oxford English Dictionary, "sex industry"
- Weitzer, Ronald. 2000. Sex For Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry (New York: Routledge Press)
- Lumby, Catherine. "Sex is not dirty work". The Sydney Morning Herald. June 10, 2012
- Sex work: writings by women in the sex industry edited by Frédérique Delacoste & Priscilla Alexander, Cleis Press, 1991 (2nd ed). ISBN 0-939416-11-5.
- "The Etymology of the terms 'Sex Work' and 'Sex Worker'", BAYSWAN.org. Accessed 2009-09-11.
- Whores and other feminists, edited by Jill Nagle, Routledge, 1997. ISBN 0-415-91822-7.
- "Violence Against Sex Workers and HIV Prevention" report published by the World Health Organization
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "sex worker"
- "Prostitution, trafficking, and cultural amnesia: What we must not know in order to keep the business of sexual exploitation running smoothly" by Melissa Farley, Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 18(1):109–144, Spring 2006. "Some words hide the truth. Just as torture can be named enhanced interrogation, and logging of old-growth forests is named the Healthy Forest Initiative, words that lie about prostitution leave people confused about the nature of prostitution and trafficking. The words ‘sex work’ make the harms of prostitution invisible."
- Baptie, Trisha (2009-04-29). "'Sex worker' ? Never met one !". Sisyphe.org. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
- Ethiopia: Poverty forcing girls into risky sex work
- Kenya: Desperate times: women sell sex to buy food
- Weitzer, Ronald. (1991). "Prostitutes' Rights in the United States," Sociological Quarterly 32(1):23–41.
- Katsulis, Yasmina. Sex Work and the City.
- "Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey".
- Demography and sex work characteristics of female sex workers in India. April 2006.
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- Sex Worker Education And Advocacy Taskforce (South Africa)
- Sex Workers Outreach Project - NSW Australia
- Scarlet Men - initiative of the Scarlet Alliance
- South Australian Sex Industry Network
- Resourcing Health & Education - Victoria
- Magenta - Sex worker support projects - Western Australia
- International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe
- UK laws regarding prostitution updated for 2006
- Information for sexworkers in german language
- Red Umbrella Project (New York, USA)
- Different Avenues Community Organizing for sex workers rights through Reproductive Justice, organizing by and for sex workers of color, based in Washington, DC
- History of Sex Work in Vancouver (downloadable PDF book written by sex workers)
- Commercial Sex Information Service (CSIS) (Canada)
- HIPS social services based in Washington, DC
- Sex Workers Project legal services based in New York City
- PROS Network (Providers & Resources Offering Services to Sex Workers) (USA)
- SWANK (Sex Workers Action New York), New York, NY, USA
- Bay Area Sex Worker Advocacy Network-Prostitutes Education Network (San Francisco, CA USA)
- Stepping Stone (Halifax, Canada)