Sexworker, slut, hooker, whore, escort, stripper, porn actress, dominatrix ... you know us by many names, and you acknowledge us with stigma, disgust, or sadness. We exist in the dark corners of society and we are not invited into the light.
For many people, the worst career they can think of is that of sexworker. In our society it's normal for someone to say "I had no choice, I could either prostitute myself or take the job as a blah blah blah." And since of course they were not going to prostitute themselves, they went with the option and became a barista, customer service rep, receptionist, blah blah blah. Criticism of sex work is how people justify the misery of their actual awful job. People think “the happy hooker” is a myth and that it’s a funny joke when parents say to their daughters "do anything you want, as long as you don't end up as a stripper.” Because what could be worse, right?
Well, I'm a sexworker... and I’m proud of what I do for a living. I am an empowered woman and a pro-sex activist. I'm proud that I've studied at university, that I have never done drugs, that I have a supportive and amazing relation to my family,. Perhaps knowing these things about me makes a difference in how you see me, and how you feel about me working in the sex industry.
But if so, that's a problem. To believe that sexworkers only deserve respect if they are happy with their choices or can recognize themselves as being "empowered women" is counterproductive and wrong. All sexworkers deserve respect and recognition. They deserve to be talked about and cared about. So why are we not doing that? Why is the world still so hung up on criminalizing sexwork? Why do we, in a modern day society, still have so little understanding of the work in sexwork? It's taboo, but why? It's the oldest profession in the world but despite 10,000 years of social progress we seem no closer to accepting it as an actual profession.
Let me ask you this: Do you believe in your own freedom? I do. I believe we are born into the world free and able to make our own decisions. Along the way, though, we get corrupted by society and begin to be limited in our choices by notions of shame, fear of exclusion, and ambition for social approval. Our society teaches us to assess our success based on how much money we earn, to be ashamed of our bodies if they don’t fit some societal norm, and to fear being excluded by, and being different than, the majority. In other words: We are constantly enslaved by society instead of being empowered by it.
The worst part about being a sexworker is the stigma and damage this results in. As a sexworker you are expected to explain and justify your decision. This is not true of any other job. We are the embodiment of everything that we as a society are taught to reject. In many ways I believe that in order to change this we have to start somewhere else. We have to start with the Madonna / Whore Complex.
As women, we are sexualized from when we are teenagers. Whether it's a male fantasy about a schoolgirl uniform, a cheerleader, a babysitter, or a simply the desire of the pure and untouched female body, it's sexualization. Women are treated as sexual fantasies no matter what our choices and experiences. Our fathers left us growing up? We have “daddy issues” and that's sexy. We wear a suit and glasses? We’re tapping into the sexy secretary fantasy. We at a hot dog? We are an oral sex fantasy. We become stewardess, nurses, police officers, sailors, prom queens, cheerleaders, doctors, lawyers, chemists… we are sexual fantasies. No matter what we do and how we look we are someone’s sexual fantasy.
At the same time, we are manipulated into accepting the Madonna / Whore Complex very early on. Consider the phrase "losing your virginity”. No one says that someone “loses their state of never having had friends” or “loses their state of having bad grades in school.” But the state of “never having had sex” – that’s something you “lose”. Women are taught to be scared to lose their virginity. We are taught to fear the aftermath. This is when the "slut shaming" appears for the very first in a woman's life. Even as society sexualizes before our first sexual experience, it simultaneously defines us as fallen, lost, impure, and slutty after our very first sexual experience. This toxic combination lingers on our souls. We are taught to be ashamed of our sexuality, and of sex in general – as if sex is only for men’s benefit, as if to enjoy being sexual is let yourself be reduced to an object of desire.
Because we live in a world with other people who have their own sexual desires, we can’t control when we are perceived or considered sexual or suggestive. We can’t control how people think and feel. All we can do is control how we react to them. The smart woman should know that by taking ownership of her own sexuality she can get ahead – and, if she wants, use it make a profitable business. Granted, being a sexworker can have emotional and psychological impacts on a person - but so can any other work; that’s just a pretext people use to condemn sexwork. It's not the “work” part, it’s the "sex" part that is so difficult to accept for many people and governments alike.
Let's imagine a young woman who grows up to be a stripper. Stripping is a job that is glamorized in movies and music videos, and its fashion styles are amazing enough to be exploited and monetized by big fashion companies. Still, the woman herself who chose to be a stripper is considered somehow less respectable than the barista, the customer service rep, the receptionist.
Why can’t society accept when women choose to profit from this sexualization? Is it a fear of losing power and control over us? Do they think society will collapse? What is it that makes profiting from sexualization so shameful and so horrible that we are introducing laws against it?
Last year, the American government passed the SESTA/FOSTA bill, and a year later we can see the truly horrible effects of this. The bill has lowered the safety standards for sexworkers; impacted the mental health of a lot of sexworkers; introduced predatory third parties; shifted the power dynamics with clients; and increased street based work. It has led to websites shutting down or censoring their users – not just the community websites that were the only way sexworkers could stay safe, but even major networks like Tumblr. In the aftermath a year later, we can now see that this has started to affect platforms such as Instagram too, which recently announced that they will start to demote content that can be considered “sexually suggestive.” Instagram’s new policy was not much of a surprise; for months Instagram had been deleting entire accounts without showing any violated any community guidelines. And who owned these accounts? You guessed it: sexworkers and sexually-empowered female models.
Legal and platform censorship is why I teamed up with the talented artist and stripper Exotic Cancer to start the campaign #stopcensoringsluts. We have tolerated this injustice for far too long and it became time to fight back! We women hold no ownership of our own bodies or our own sexuality... UNLESS WE CLAIM IT!
Just because a woman chooses to share a man’s fantasy doesn't mean she's letting anyone else define her sexuality. Being a sexworker is work. And if we don't start to acknowledge the industry and its workers as work, there are no way to help those who are being victimized by the sex industry.
I'm tired of fashion brands profiting off of our industry while doing nothing to acknowledge us. It's trendy to make clothes and entire aesthetics directly inspired by our industry; it’s trendy to do a music video in a strip club and its trendy to give the illusion of being a sexworker; hell, its even trendy to be a sugar baby. But somehow that doesn't reflect on how our careers and our industry are considered - in the public eye, we are still compared to the lowest of the low, to criminals and drug pushers, and I'm not okay with that. Are you?
This was a long read and I could go on and on about this. Just because I'm ending this blog post now doesn't mean I will stop talking about this, or stop trying to change it or stop trying to end stigma. Sexworkers shouldn’t be left in the dark corners of society when in reality sexworkers are the foundation of the biggest, most profitable, taxpaying industry there is!