Say It With Me—Sex Work Is Work!

To every camgirl, pornstar, stripper, and sex worker—we respect you for keeping the oldest profession alive. Let’s drop the social stigma and listen to sex workers and sex experts!

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This article is a product of conversations with female escort Rahel Kaléko, male escorts, sexual therapist Anna Dillinger, and friends.

Sex work is considered to be the oldest profession in the world for good reason. So why do we continue to stigmatise it so relentlessly? Delving into history, we find a period before the 18th century where there was more appreciation, openness, and respect for sex workers.

In ancient Greece, the Hetaerae, regarded as high-class prostitutes, were esteemed not only for pleasuring the physical body but also for stimulating the mind and soul. As early as 1750, the Oirans— high-level Japanese courtesans—were expected to be well-versed in performative arts and engage in intellectual conversations with upper-class clients. When Tullia d’Aragona, a celebrated female Renaissance poet-courtesan, showcased her intellect, literary prowess and social graces, she entertained powerful men and influenced many renowned male philosophers, thereby raising the status of women to be on an equal footing as men.

These highly educated and influential women led relatively independent lives. Despite occupying a distinct place in society as courtesans, prostitutes, escorts or exotic dancers, their special status wasn’t always negative.

In the eyes of many, the modern sex worker is often unfairly reduced to being either a victim of circumstance or a product of poor lifestyle choices. Despite the freedom of expression literature affords, it seems that most writers, male and female, have fallen short in crafting a genuine depiction of the complexities within the life of a sex worker.

Writers have been fascinated with sex workers for as long as their respective professions have existed. Authors like Shakespeare, Balzac, Kerouac, Llosa, and others have explored this theme in their works. However, to this day, many writers continue to perpetuate lazy myths about prostitutes instead of accurately conveying the realities of the contemporary sex industry.

This article aims to break away from those stereotypes and paint a more open-hearted, nuanced picture. It might be relieving to start healing the stigma.

“Sex work is the consensual, transactional labour that adults of all genders may engage in by trading sexual services for money or goods.”

When I spoke with Rahel, a female escort, she shared the joy of dressing up, performing, creating different roles and experiencing different worlds. Rahel said she loved making people feel great and working with the body. She underscored the significance of touch and the anticipation that follows hours of preparation, leading to a potential new connection with another human being.

This work is important. Sex is not a crime. There are so many people in this world who are lonely, scared or traumatised, people who have specific fetishes and no place to act them out, as well as people who don’t know where to put their sex drive to begin with.

Of course, sex itself—without the work—is already stigmatised. How many people even know about their fetishes? How many talk about their sexual desires with their (sexual) partners? How many find it easy to go out and find a quick fuck or a partner? How many people don’t know how to touch and be touched?

Certain types of sex work can support people in a therapeutic way. Everyone should be able to experience tender touch, as well as physical and emotional love. This is only one of the reasons that sex work is important work. Sex workers bring fantasies to life, they can guide you to your desires, they can listen to you, they can perform for you, they can hold you.

Like any other job, it is crucial to have fair and good working conditions. Unfortunately, the persistent stigmatisation and partial criminalisation of sex work (in some parts of the world) hinder the establishment of such conditions, which is why we keep running in circles.

When talking to Rahel, she shed light on the struggle of sex against restrictions like the Nordic model. The Nordic Model aims to decriminalise all those who are prostituted, by providing exit services and making buying sex a criminal offence, to reduce the demand that drives sex trafficking. Because of this model, prostitutes are losing their homes and their children, creating a rise in forced prostitution.

This approach highlights the deeply ingrained stigma around sex work. As long as people—that aren’t radical feminists—see all sex workers as victims and all sex work as an act of rape, we will keep running in these circles.

Sex work is non-conforming, sex work is queer. That may be why it’s more accepted in the homosexual community. I was amazed when my friend told me that you can simply create your escort profile on PlanetRomeo and how many people happily engage in it. It seems as if the power struggle of the patriarchy does not exist as predominantly in the homosexual sex work scene—which isn’t that surprising.

When I start thinking about acquiring or offering same-sex services, it doesn’t evoke as much resistance inside my culturally influenced self. I can see it as a genuine service to another equal human being. However, conversations with heterosexual escorts have confirmed that 98 per cent of the time there is mutual respect between the client and the performer, muse, harlot, whore. Thinking about it—maybe consensual sex work for all genders and orientations could free society from the patriarchy.

Sex work encompasses a diverse range of career options, including sexual therapy, erotic massages, pornography, sexual assistance, street work, stripping, erotic performance, escort services, phone sex, BDSM, shibari, sex education, and various other specialisations. Let’s provide these jobs with protection at work like most people have.

Consider this: What if sex work were your means to express yourself sexually? What if it provides you an avenue to adopt different roles and engage with your body without the enduring sexist comments you hear waiting tables? What if your pay is great and you enjoy financial independence? And what if it’s just another job?

If sex work were treated just like any other job, you have good days and bad. Sometimes you’d look forward to going to work, and other times you would not. The expectations placed on sex work are disproportionately high, yet the working conditions often fall disproportionately low. If sex work were socially recognised as a legitimate profession, practitioners could access training, attend workshops, receive fair compensation, and benefit from health, unemployment, and pension provisions. Improved working conditions translate to reduced instances of violence, rape, human trafficking, and forced prostitution.

I acknowledge that the complexities surrounding this issue are vast, and this article has only scratched the surface of underlying problems such as patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, racism, prudery, outdated morality and reasoning, bodily and sexual self-determination, the legal environment, and the misconception that sex serves reproductive purposes exclusively.

To be clear, I am not condoning the violence and rape culture associated with forced prostitution or the cruelty and inhumanity of human trafficking. These are inhuman acts that must be vigorously prosecuted and remain illegal. However, they are distinct from consensual sex work. It is crucial to distinguish between criminal activities and personal agency. Our role is not to patronise but to recognise women’s autonomy, their capacity to make decisions, and the right to say yes or no. Otherwise, what is the point of feminism?

Consensual adult sex work stands as one of the oldest professions. Like many other professions, some people choose sex work because they love what they do, those who go in and out of sex work, and those who may not have many options based on lack of resources. Such diversity in the field doesn’t discredit sex work. By creating a safe work environment for sex workers, in terms of financial security, physical integrity, mutual agreements, boundaries, self-determination and social acceptance, we might be able to start solving some of the other problems as well.

Our sexual body is connected to our emotional body, and we need to tend to it. A step towards this can be exploring the products of consensual sex work on platforms like CHEEX.

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