The Stigma of Sex Work
Sex work is displayed in various ways throughout society, exposing modern generations, especially Generation Z, to a surplus of misconceptions. Many don’t know the difference between sex trafficking and sex work. Sex trafficking uses coercion, leverage, and power dynamics to sell others for sex services without providing any compensation, whereas sex work includes consent (1). More often than not, media sources display sex work inaccurately. My peers and I have seen examples of this through social media, music videos, and influencers. For instance, introducing improper terms like “hoe” and “hooker” and romanticizing sex work can harm sex workers and add to the certain stigma society applies to their occupation. To even understand why that stigma exists, why we should dismantle it, and how we should dismantle it, we must understand what sex work really is.
So, why should we fight for sex workers? Because, more often than not, sex workers are victims of capitalism. Capitalism pushes them into poverty and offers limited ways out. By definition, sex work is “the provision of sexual services for money or goods,'' and sex work may be the only way out for a person struggling with poverty. An article on the dire realities of sex workers explained how transactional sex allowed a woman in Zambia to purchase a bag of cornmeal for her children. As useful as sex work can be to those who are struggling, it also creates danger to any who pursue the occupation. Along with the stigma, sex workers face the potential hazards of sex trafficking, abuse, and systematic discrimination. Women of color are disproportionately affected by these hazards, and as a young person of color myself, I feel strongly that we must fight the social injustices of capitalism, colonialism and the patriarchy.
One might wonder how to combat the difficulties sex workers face and how to help. One small but critical step in dismantling the stigma surrounding sex work and supporting sex workers is to remove negative synonyms from your vocabulary. The term "sex workers" informs others of the narrative that sex work should be treated just like any other work because in many ways, it is like any other work. While that narrative can be controversial, the act of informing others and using accurate definitions is not controversial at all.
An essential part of activism around sex work is empathizing with the cause. Campaigning, protesting, and advocating for sex workers passes the knowledge you have to others. Informing yourself and others creates a path for greater ease and acceptance for any marginalized group. An article explaining how people can dismantle sex work’s sitmga reads, “Anyone can join the movements and become an advocate for progress by reading, discussing, and spreading awareness of these campaigns. By reading this blog, you have already become part of the movement. It is now your choice to embrace it” (2). Activism requires perseverance, but spreading knowledge can go a long way.
This blog is part of a series developed through the Teen Talk Writing Internship. The internship was carried out remotely during early 2021 with a group of high school students who have participated in the Teen Talk High School sexual education course. The ultimate goal of the group was to build connections between students as they worked together to exercise their writing and health advocacy skills.
Albright, Erin. JD. D’Adamo, Kate. “Decreasing Human Trafficking through Sex Work Decriminalization” AMA Journal Of Ethics. Jan, 2017. https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/decreasing-human-trafficking-through-sex-work-decriminalization/2017-01
Berthe, Paul. “The Stigmatization Behind Sex Work” Samuel Centre For Social Connectedness, 10-11. Samuel Centre For Social Connectedness, May 4, 2018 https://www.socialconnectedness.org/the-stigmatization-behind-sex-work/
Human Rights Watch. “Why Sex Work Should Be Decriminalzied.” August 7, 2019. https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/08/07/why-sex-work-should-be-decriminalized