There are many biases and stigmas surrounding sex work.
Although one of the largest industries continuing to expand, the sex industry is undoubtedly misunderstood.
As a result of this, it’s an industry where speculation is rife, spurring negative impressions about sex workers in general.
- Where misconceptions in sex work stem from
- Why misconceptions are harmful to sex workers
- 13 most common misconceptions in sex work
However, sex work is much more comprehensive than many think, in terms of the types of people who offer sexual services, the various types of sex work, where sex work takes place, and why people engage in it.
Below, we’ve debunked the most common misconceptions in the adult industry to highlight the reality of what sex work is really like, and most importantly, #BreakTheBias.
Where misconceptions in sex work stem from
Many people question why such a large thriving industry breeds so many misconceptions.
Most of these stigmas about sex work largely come from inaccurate portrayals displayed in the media.
It’s not unusual to see films depicting the sex industry as sordid, seedy, and criminal. Likewise, when sex workers hit the front-page headlines, it’s often for scandalous or criminal associations.
In turn, these misconceptions are damaging to both the industry and sex workers. They create a stigma whereby people assume to know, albeit incorrectly, what the sex industry is all about, despite having any real knowledge or understanding.
Why misconceptions are harmful to sex workers
For those working in the sex industry, negative misconceptions and stigmas can be demoralising for them.
Portraying sex workers as “bad”, illegal, or second-class citizens, encourages unfair mistreatment, discrimination, and harmful stereotypes that can negatively impact their lives.
This type of attitude and response to sex workers can also incite bad clients to treat sex workers with disregard and a lack of respect, putting them at greater risk of danger.
Many sex work advocates and organisations have worked hard to bring the sex industry out into the open and continue to fight for protective legalisation for all sex workers while challenging common biases and stigmas.
As an example, here at Vivastreet, we’ve created an online space to allow sex workers to advertise their services safely and without judgement.
But with negative attention regularly applied to the sex industry, the threat is that some sex workers will be forced to disappear underground.
Negative press also works to shame the clients of sex workers, making them feel less inclined to use the services of a sex worker in fear of being named and shamed. In turn, this means less paid work for the sex worker.
Ultimately, the incorrect portrayal of sex workers brings a slur on the reputations of those who make a living in the sex industry. And for women, in particular, this is especially disconcerting when it begins to encroach on their basic rights.
13 most common misconceptions in sex work
- Sex work is sex trafficking …
Sex trafficking is when a person is forced or coerced into sexual activity without their consent for financial or personal gain. Sex work, however, involves people taking part consensually and legally in the sale of sex. It’s important to know the difference between sex work and sex trafficking so you can spot the signs and help someone if you suspect that they are a victim or at risk.
- Sex workers are breaking the law…
In the UK, the exchange of sexual services for money is legal. Despite film and media regularly portraying the sex industry as rife with crime lords and regular drug users, most sex workers are also drug-free and have a zero-tolerance policy regarding drugs and alcohol.
- Sex workers are women…
According to experts, there is an estimated 100,000 sex workers operating in the UK. Although the vast majority of sex workers are women, 1 in 5 sex workers are men, meaning that sex work is NOT just for women.
- Sex workers are single…
Sex workers can be single, married, in a relationship, a mother or father, a grandparent, separated, divorced, or widowed. Regardless of occupation, everyone is deserving of an intimate relationship. Many people recognise sex work as work and accept their partner for what they do.
- Sex workers are not normal people…
Sex workers are normal everyday people and their occupation does not define them as people. Some sex workers make their profession known while others prefer to keep their job title private. Sex workers live in normal houses, have families and friends, and shop in the local supermarkets just like you. The only difference between you and them is their job.
- Sex workers should not be treated the same as other workers…
For many, sex work is simply a job that pays the bills. Therefore, despite personal opinions on sex work, sex workers have the right to be treated with common courtesy and respect as any other person in the workplace.
- All sex workers are victims…
Regarding all sex workers as “victims” is insulting to those sex workers who have chosen this profession and get paid for their work. Most sex workers don’t refer to themselves as victims; neither do they wish to be identified as one. To suggest they’re incapable and weak is to undermine their strength in working in one of the toughest of environments.
- Sex workers do not use condoms…
Sex workers use condoms when carrying out sexual services and often refuse clients who initiate unprotected sex. Sex workers understand the importance of safe sex and work to ensure their health and their client’s health remain a priority.
- Sex work is not work…
Some people believe sex isn’t classed as work – and therefore sex workers should not be paid for it. This is damaging, as it suggests that sex should be offered for free – yet this is a sex worker’s job. The client wants a service, and the sex worker is legally offering that service. So, just like any other service, it should be paid for.
- Language does not matter in the sex industry…
The term ‘prostitute’ encourages a slur of negative connotations. While this title was once used widely, the sex industry has worked hard to enforce the title ‘sex worker’. This acknowledges the work they do, ensures there’s no misunderstanding, and that by utilising the services of a sex worker, a client is expected to pay.
- All sex work laws help sex workers…
Though the laws are improving and being constantly challenged, unfortunately, they still don’t offer full protection to sex workers. Sex workers have the right to report any client who behaves violently, yet there are still many sex workers left vulnerable, finding themselves criminalised for doing their job.
- Sex work is a street job…
There are many types of sex work that fall under the umbrella of the adult industry. These include webcamming, exotic dancing, phone sex, pornography, erotic massage, selling explicit photos and videos, and working independently or via legitimate escort agencies.
- Sex work is illegal…
In the UK, it is legal for sex workers to sell sex. However, street soliciting (which is highly dangerous) and sex workers selling services as a group (e.g. via a brothel) is illegal. Sex workers who advertise their services via an escort website or escort agency site are considered legal in the UK.
Overall, most misconceptions about sex work are formed by those who know very little about how the adult industry really operates.
With the inaccurate portrayal of sex work being constantly shown on TV, in films, and highlighted incorrectly by the media, these stigmas, unfortunately, gain momentum very quickly.
Not to mention the negative stereotypes that come with certain terminologies, such as ‘prostitute‘, which is a derogatory term that holds stigma, discrimination and historical and cultural baggage.
The key is to adopt a non-judgemental attitude, avoid making assumptions and judging others by their job title, and heighten your awareness about sex work by conducting your own research.
Ultimately, regardless of the opinions and feelings some of us have about the sex industry, every sex worker has the right to receive a wage for their job and work in a safe environment, which respects their basic human rights.