“Prurience”, “Titillation”, “Outrage” and “Disgusting” are used to exemplify sex workers in legal, cultural and social discourses. Women working in the sex industry- whether it be pornography, erotic performances, brothel-work, street-work, or live webcams sit in the crosshairs of a remaining dispute regarding sexuality and health to economics and morality. With over 42 million sex workers worldwide and women making up almost 80% of the proportion, only in extremely rare cases are their health and safety protected by the legal and justice systems. While sex work is largely viewed as immoral and degrading to women, society clings to puritan ideals of what is “right” and “wrong” based on their moral objective and this is constantly shifting over time. In a world where misogyny is still heavily rooted, gender-pay gaps still prevail and employment opportunities are still scarce, how will a woman ever redeem herself?
For thousands of years, the practice of sex work progressed in many different forms of exchanged sexual services, but despite its consistent attempts at regulation, it remains nearly unchanged. Sex work has been practiced throughout ancient and modern times, making its mark as the “world’s oldest profession”. Finding its prevalent in Egypt and Greece, the practice varied from socio-economic levels. Most notably, the Greek “Hetaerae” and Japanese “Geishas” were given an advanced level of reputation for their artistic, sexual and non-sexual, political and social elegance. Overall, they both were seen as these prestigious and very educated women of society for their higher class of companionship. The idea of selling sexual services initially was tolerated but not celebrated in the Middle Ages, until the “Renaissance” and “Protestant Reformation” reinforced its movement and extensively initiated a wide turn against sex work. These moral reforms were remarkably directed towards the restriction of women’s autonomy, regulating on their bodies and sexuality more heavily and consequently disproportionally impacting the poor. While this traditional quintessence has been reduced to a smaller amount over the centuries, it is undeniable that multiple forms of oppressive social power continue to divide the hierarchy of sex workers. Women from the lowest socioeconomic classes including from lower level of education, disadvantaged racial and ethnic minorities- are overrepresented in sex work across the world. Racism in education, economic and political system highly affects the choices of women of colour. It is an undeniable fact that racism is the key factor to shaping a woman’s entry into sex work, because it makes women more vulnerable as clients demand racialised women in sex work. In just one click through various porn websites, sexualised racism, particularly hypersexualizing black and Asian women, are oversexed and submissive or otherwise available for sex work contributes to the demand for specifically racialised women. Women working in massage parlours, strip clubs and other sex businesses are often located in poor racialized neighbours, allowing clients to harass and abuse women, making women in vulnerable to sex work related harassment and women working in those neighbours more likely to accept their use in sex work as normal.
“Whore”, “Prostitute” and “Hooker” are utterly one of the most demeaning terminologies used by many conservative politicians, religious firms, and radical feminist divisions to stigmatize sex workers. Prostituta derived its term by the Italic Tribes which defined women in the era ‘to offer up for sale or ‘to place forward’ and has been carried down through various languages to the modern-day western society ever since. The sexual double standards between women and men are shaped by the social norms that society dictates as different values to what is appropriate and acceptable for gender roles. Generally, the idea of a woman benefiting from sex or having frequent multiple sexual partners is “especially loathed” and “considered unethical” in a society that seeks to control a woman’s sexuality. Study shows that according to the public, Men, on the other hand, are indisputably permitted more sexual leniency and seen as more “accepted” and “tolerated” for engaging in the same heterosexual behaviour and having numerous sexual partners. . The notion of the “whorephobia stigma” has been pigeonholed by society to degrade sex workers, specifically women, who embody eccentric gender norms including selling their body for sex, satisfying sexual fantasies and transmitting STDs or HIVs. Due to the intense stigmatization and prejudice, sex workers are hindered from reporting the violations of their rights, especially by policy and law, because they are vulnerable to discrimination, imprisonment, further maltreatment, and retribution. This patriarchal construct of sexuality believes that a woman’s sexual pleasure is irrelevant and that her only role in sex is to satisfy a man’s sexual demands. Society is cajoled into believing that women engaging in “one-night stands”, “casual sex” or “sex outside of marriage or a relationship” are seen as shameful. Misogyny has deeply entrenched in our society that the perpetrators of slut-shaming, victim-blaming, and whore phobia are not limited to any gender, strengthening the iniquitous power relations between men and women.
While many women who engage in sex work find enjoyment and empowerment in it, the grim realities of the patriarchal and moralist views of sex is only a step back to normalizing sex work. Carole Pateman’s 2006 essay, “what is wrong with prostitution?” argues that sex work is an embodiment of patriarchy, relating to the historical societies in which men has ownership over their wives, and says that while men no longer have complete ownership of women in our society, sex work provides a way for men to exercise ownership over women’s bodies temporarily. While this is simply not true, men do not own a woman when they are buying sexual services any more than a businessman owns his factory workers. If sex workers are given the right to choose their clients and to stop sex at any point in which they feel discomfort, sex work is not a question of temporary ownership. Sex work can provide female empowerment and instill a “sense of self-worth, self-confidence, and self-esteem.” Sex work can provide endless beneficial outcomes if society destigmatizes and normalizes a positive role of sex workers in society instead of seeing them as immoral and dirty people. The idea of puritan views on sexuality and human nature must be reversed. Once society accepts that human beings are sexual and are allowed to express and explore our sexuality and sexual desires, only then will sex work begin to be treated with respect in society.
To deduce that all sex workers partake in the sex industry because of oppression, past sexual abuse, and lack of opportunity only further perpetuates a critical division on the road to gender equality and feminism. It is important to understand that some women choose to become sex workers of their own volition, not because they are oppressed, but because of their love for sex and desire for power. Sex work is a legitimate form of work that is predominantly female trade, with many smart, independent and strong women. Women can benefit from working in an industry populated predominantly by women, who can provide each other with friendship and support.