Sex workers face so many hurdles and dangers in a society that both loves and resents them. Sex work is an umbrella term covering everything from strippers, exotic dancers to phone sex workers, dominatrixes, sugar babies, and prostitutes.
Why Sex Work Is Not Desperation
We live in a world where porn stars are household names and yet many protest at the thought of having a cam girl’s children over for a playdate.
We vilify and yet glorify the gamut of these professions. We run to a strip club for a birthday party, but roll our eyes at dating someone in the industry.
So, Why Do We Do This?
Much of this prejudice boils down to erotophobia, or a fear of sex and sexuality. We feel ashamed for watching pornography to masturbate to or desiring a more transactional relationship, like sugaring, so we shame the people who offer these much-desired services to divert attention from our own needs and desires.
“Saying that a client of a sex worker is desperate is like saying that a patron of a restaurant is desperate. Connection, touch, intimacy, love: these are intrinsic, primal, basic needs; just like thirst and hunger. When we are hungry we don't say that we are desperate. We do not make a snap judgment about someone when they say they need to eat. Why do we make a snap judgment out someone who needs to feel a human connection?
Clients of sex workers are taking the initiative to help themselves.
We bear the brunt of judgment when people accuse us of wrecking relationships. In reality, we save more relationships than we destroy. Because we offer an alternative to loneliness and resentment. We offer relief for the pain of disconnection.
Sex work is the oldest profession because it is a necessary profession.”
Sex Work Is Real Work
As a sex counselor, I often hear male clients in particular, comment that they don’t need the services of sex workers and won’t pay for higher quality porn because they can “get pictures and sex for free.”
What lies at the heart of this statement is the idea that sex work is only for the desperate and that sex workers are not skilled professionals that offer something the general public cannot.
The same way we can cook at home, but want to eat at a restaurant, or can do our own taxes, but choose to hire an accountant, sex workers are people who offer sex, erotica, and intimacy as a professional service.
Yes, you can get those things for free, but because of skill or ease, hiring a professional can be the most positive experience for your situation.
The construct of “desperation” in sex work goes both ways. In 2018, SESTA/FOSTA was passed. Two laws that equated consensual skilled sex work with human trafficking.
Many politicians and citizens believe the dangerous myth that all sex workers are desperate themselves. Hungry and poor, they offer their flesh as a way to survive. This removes all understanding of the knowledge, education, and craftsmanship that actually goes into these jobs. It also hurts actually victims, who are being kidnapped and raped, versus adults who enjoy their career vocation.
Sex Workers Are an Important Part of Our Society
Sex workers have been an integral part of society since human beings formed societies. Many primates also have sex workers in their societies- apes, and monkeys who exchange sex for tools or food. Sex work is a natural part of a society and one that helps many.
When we respect sex workers, we see the incredible good that they do. From teaching someone new to sex how to give and receive consent and pleasure, helping people heal from shame and trauma, and working with those who have mental and physical limitations that make finding compassionate sexual partners challenging.
Sex workers are often holistic healers, offering a service that is desired and yet under-appreciated. Their clients can be someone looking to explore parts of their sexuality that they often keep hidden to someone enjoying the gift of sexual expression, as well as people who have deeper and more specific needs.
By stopping the shame and stigma around sex workers and their clients, we are working to break down the barriers that inhibit healthy sexuality and safety for all.
Dr. Laura McGuire (they/them or she/her) is an internationally recognized consultant, survivor, researcher, seminarian, and author of the book Creating Cultures of Consent (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021).
Dr. McGuire is a certified full-spectrum doula, professional teacher, a certified sexual health educator, and a vinyasa yoga instructor. Their experience includes both public and private sectors, middle schools, high schools, and university settings.
They currently are earning their Masters of Divinity at Earlham Seminary where they are studying the intersections of Judaism, trauma-informed care, and restorative-justice in faith settings. Dr. McGuire lives in the United States, where they work as an adjunct professor at Widener University and consultant at The National Center for Equity and Agency.