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10 Myths about Sex Work You Probably Still Believe

by David Long
fact checked by Rachel Jones

While it may be the oldest profession, sex work is also the most looked down upon. There have been many problems with this unregulated industry, but there are also those who are trying to change the stigma around it. You’ll probably be pretty familiar with many (if not all of) these ten myths about sex work, but that’s likely because there’s been a lot of evidence to back them up over the years.

These are considered “myths” not because they are completely untrue but because they are not true for everyone. That’s an important distinction to make here. But as sex work becomes a legitimate profession for many, it’s a good idea to learn what the differences are.

Related: 10 Surprising Sexual Beliefs in the Bible

10 Myth: All Sex Workers Are Victims

Sex workers rally

One of the most pervasive misconceptions is that all sex workers are forced or coerced into the profession. While human trafficking and exploitation exist in the industry, some sex workers choose this profession voluntarily.

One study found that the number of sex workers who had been human trafficked was “less than 6%.” You’re probably wondering why people would choose this career path. But the answer will definitely surprise you. Many of them claimed they preferred it to the exploitation they faced in typical careers. It really makes you think about how terrible working conditions are becoming in the typical “working world.”

While some are forced into the industry as children, there is also a surprising number of consenting adults. In fact, the average age of people becoming indoor sex workers is about 23. So while this may not be the job of your dreams, you have to acknowledge that there are some people out there who enjoy what they do.

9 Myth: Sex Work Is the Same as Human Trafficking

Surviving Sex Trafficking [Full Documentary] – BBC News

Human trafficking is a serious crime and human rights violation—no normal person will disagree there. But it is distinct from consensual sex work. Not all sex workers are trafficked, and it’s essential to differentiate between the two. So let’s talk about the difference between the situations.

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to make a person provide labor, services, or commercial sex acts. It is a form of modern-day slavery where individuals are exploited for profit. Victims of human trafficking are often deceived by false promises and are forced to work under deplorable conditions with little or no pay.

Consensual sex work, on the other hand, refers to the exchange of sexual services or erotic performances for money or goods. In this case, all parties involved have given their consent to the transaction. It is a form of sex work where individuals choose to enter the sex industry by choice. The term “consensual” emphasizes that the exchange is voluntary and that all parties involved have agreed to the terms.

8 Myth: Sex Work Is Solely for Financial Reasons

Sex work is integral to the feminist movement | Tilly Lawless | TEDxYouth@Sydney

While economic factors can influence some individuals’ decision to enter sex work, there are other reasons to dive into this unique career choice. Many sex workers do feel cornered into the profession as a last resort to pay for their expenses or support their families. But that’s not the case for everyone.

Many sex workers are able to set their own schedules, allowing them to balance their work with other aspects of their lives, such as education, childcare, or other jobs. And some sex work communities often offer a strong support network where individuals can connect with others who understand their experiences.

Like any profession, sex work requires skills and communication abilities. Some individuals find that they excel in creating meaningful connections with clients, negotiating boundaries, and providing emotional support.

Sex work can provide a level of autonomy that might not be available in traditional employment. They can decide which clients to work with, which services to offer, and how they want to conduct their business.

7 Myth: Sex Workers Are Morally Corrupt

Sex Work is Moral. Exploitation Is Not! – Capitalism Hits Home

Judgments about the morality of sex work vary widely based on cultural, religious, and personal beliefs. It’s a good idea to avoid blanket assumptions about the character of sex workers.

In Thailand, for example, the idea of sex workers with strong religious beliefs is not as frowned upon as it is in the West. In a study by Loma Linda University that examined the lives and beliefs of twelve sex workers there, they found that about 66% of them attended religious services regularly and reported that religion was an integral part of their lives.

Not to mention that sex work has been part of religious practice for centuries. From the Hittites to India and Ancient Greece, there are records of religious prostitution. So while it may not be part of your religion, keep your mind open to the beliefs of others. You don’t have to agree with it, but respect and tolerance are always a good idea.

6 Myth: Sex Work Is Inherently Degrading

Why does feminism have such a problem with sex work? | #AllAboutWomen

The perception that sex work is inherently degrading ignores the diverse experiences and perspectives of sex workers. Some find empowerment and fulfillment in their work. While a large portion may not, knowing the reasons why this is a myth can help you understand the perspective of people who choose this lifestyle intentionally.

Some sex workers enjoy helping others explore their sexuality, providing companionship, or fulfilling specific fantasies. They find a sense of empowerment in making choices about their own bodies and sexuality. They see their work as a way to reclaim control over their lives and bodies.

5 Myth: Sex Workers Spread More Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

STDs and STI Prevention from a Porn Star

Like any sexually active population, STI rates among sex workers can vary, but it’s unfair to single them out as major vectors of transmission. Safe sex practices are essential in all sexual encounters.

The more that sex work has become decriminalized, the more community efforts have begun to raise awareness and prevention for STIs. According to the National Library of Medicine, there have been global efforts to increase condom use and a 32% reduction in HIV infection, thanks to community empowerment.

4 Myth: Criminalizing Sex Work Improves Safety

Why Public Health should support the decriminalisation of Sex Work | Georgina Perry | TEDxLSHTM

The criminalization of sex work can push the industry underground, making it riskier for sex workers. It pushes the industry underground and creates an environment where sex workers are more vulnerable to violence, abuse, and exploitation. They are less likely to report abusive clients or situations to law enforcement due to fear of legal repercussions, which leaves them with limited protection.

Criminalization can also hinder sex workers’ access to healthcare services, including HIV testing, STI screening, and contraception. Sex workers may be less likely to seek medical help for fear of arrest or discrimination, leading to potential public health issues. And it reinforces the stigma associated with sex work, making it difficult for sex workers to access housing, education, and other opportunities.

With criminalization, sex workers are less able to negotiate the terms and conditions of their work, including safety measures. They’re often more afraid to report crimes committed against them due to fear of arrest or judgment.

3 Myth: All Clients of Sex Workers Are Exploitative

Sex Workers Explain the Difference Between a Good and a Bad Client

While some clients may engage in exploitative behavior, others seek out sex work for various reasons, including companionship, emotional support, or sexual exploration.

On Reddit, one escort commented, “I’ve substantially helped many clients with anxiety, loneliness, depression, emptiness… I listen to these men, actually listen,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times I have sat down with a client and gave them advice on how to better connect and restore their relationship.” There are plenty of people out there looking for support and help, but more typical forms of help aren’t available to them.

2 Myth: Sex Work Is Only Done by Women

From TV shows to the big screen, Hollywood tends to focus only on female sex workers. But men, transgender individuals, and gender non-conforming individuals can also be sex workers.

Based on prostitution studies, there are over 10 million male prostitutes in the world. That makes up about 20% of the world’s prostitution.

And thanks to the social prejudice toward the trans community, it’s a life that many trans people are pressured into. According to a 2015 report, 99% of trans people surveyed in Columbia relied on sex work as a source of income. Alarming numbers were also reported in other countries like Turkey and Venezuela.

Recognizing this diversity is important when it comes to addressing the needs of the entire community. Understanding these statistics opens up doorways to helping people of any gender who are forced into sex work. No matter your stance on this industry, it’s clear to see how prejudice against trans people is causing a serious issue.

1 Myth: Sex Work Is Inherently Different from Other Forms of Labor

The Economics of Sex

Like any job, sex work involves providing a service in exchange for payment. Viewing it as fundamentally different from other forms of work can lead to further stigmatization. For sex workers who are consensually and willingly pursuing a career in the field, they want their financial contributions to be recognized just like any other field.

The Office for National Statistics reported in 2009 that prostitution alone put over 5 billion pounds into the UK economy. Based on prostitution studies, the yearly revenue of prostitution in the U.S. is $99 billion. Some also argue that taxing this industry would help make more money available for public programs. From an economic perspective, this form of labor is certainly on the same playing field as your typical 9-5 job.

fact checked by Rachel Jones