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It's Time to DeStigmatize Sex Work

"You’re My client… I mean my sugar daddy".

I was trying to think of a way to lighten this one up before the chat, but we gotta do this one with no lube. This subject will be raw and uncut and needs to be a direct attack on its stigma and what we can do now! Hold your pearls now.

The definition of what falls under the red umbrella can be broad or direct depending on who you ask. Sex work is any type of labor where the explicit goal is to produce a sexual or erotic response in the client. The sex world includes prostitution, but it also includes a bunch of other things like erotic dancing, pro-dom/sub work, webcam work, sensual massage, adult film, phone sex, being a sugar baby, etc.

I consider any situation where sex is used as a means of negotiation to be a form of sex work. Cash exchange is not a requirement. This definition can include negotiations between married couples or any suggestion of potential future sex to get what you want in the now—what some might call “flirting.” I understand this is a controversial opinion and an incredibly broad demarcation of sex work. The reason I keep my definition of sex work so broad is so that it normalizes the behavior. The more parallels I can draw between prostitution and sexual labor within civilian relationships, the weaker the arguments for intimate labor being an inherent evil become.

There is then no difference in terms such as “escort”—which would get me targeted by law enforcement—in favor of “sugar baby” or “spoiled girlfriend”—even though nine times out of 10 they mean the same thing, though one of them has clear legal implications. I hear women all day talking about how their pussy is powerful…. Explicit and implicit that is the currency we sell it for and how it is used to get what we want when we want… But yet somehow when it is done boldly it is attacked…. I’ll say it reeks of unconscious jealousy and envy. But today we will use this blog to just chat and not therapize!

Have you noticed I used the term sex worker and not a prostitute? I know, I know! The more inclusive language that you have to learn and manage and you have just rolled your eyes. It’s ok. Learning is a lifelong process. The term “sex worker” recognizes that sex work is work. Prostitution, on the other hand, has connotations of criminality and immorality.

Many people who sell sexual services prefer the term “sex worker” and find “prostitute” demeaning and stigmatizing, which contributes to their exclusion from health, legal, and social services. If women are to support and value other women would we not want to see all women with access to healthcare…. Do we have the same fight and admonishment for what the supreme court did to abortion rights? I would hope so.

Right, so I heard you say I love women, but why must they be sex workers? Why can't they just get a regular job like the rest of us? Sex workers sell sexual services to earn a livelihood. The vast majority of sex workers choose to do sex work because it is the best option they have. Many sex workers struggle with poverty and destitution and have few other options for work.

Others find that sex work offers better pay and more flexible working conditions than other jobs. And some pursue sex work to explore and express their sexuality. Often sex workers are marginalized youth. BIPOC, trans, immigrants, and refugees. The system isn’t built to help and often current laws against sex workers perpetuate a system that forces them back into sex work.

If you made it this far I am proud of you. The next step is addressing what can be done now that you have a mind shift on the issue. The criminalization of sex work compromises sex workers’ health and safety by driving sex work underground.

Criminalization includes everything from criminalizing the sale and purchase of sexual services, to blanket prohibitions on the management of sex work. Criminalization makes it harder for sex workers to negotiate terms with clients, work together with other sex workers for safety, and carry condoms without fear that they will be used as evidence of prostitution.

Sex workers in many settings report extreme levels of violence and harassment in connection with their work, including from clients, managers, and police. Criminalization makes it difficult for sex workers to report rights violations, especially by the police, because they are vulnerable to incarceration, further abuse, and retribution. This perpetuates stigma, violence, and impunity, which further endangers sex workers’ health and safety. We need to decriminalize sex work.

Decriminalization means the removal of criminal and administrative penalties that apply specifically to sex work, creating an enabling environment for sex worker health and safety. For decriminalization to be meaningful, it must be accompanied by a recognition of sex work as work, allowing sex work to be governed by labor law and protections similar to other jobs. While decriminalization does not resolve all challenges that sex workers face, it is a necessary condition to realize sex workers’ human rights.

The Open Society Foundations support decriminalization of sex work as the best way to protect the health and human rights of sex workers. On September 16th I will air a podcast with myself and a sex worker and we will dispel myths, discuss our options, and expand our views here. I hope you join us.

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