A pervasive misconception held by society is that certain types of sex work are more valuable or “better” than others. The fact is that sex work is sex work, each subset of the field as useful as its counterparts.
Coined by sex workers’ rights activist, Carol Leigh, “sex worker” is a term that describes a person who is consensually employed by the sex industry. A sex worker includes anyone who works as a massage parlor employee, an adult webcam personality, phone sex operator, stripper, model for erotic photographs, professional dominatrix or submissive, pornographic actor, therapeutic sexual surrogate, elite courtesan, street prostitute, or survival sex partner. A sex worker can have expensive or inexpensive rates, have a fat body or a thin body, be short or tall. They can be male or female, transgender or cisgender, and any racial presentation and culture. A sex worker can have much formal education or little education, be old or young, queer or straight, of high or low socioeconomic status. All sex workers do not talk the same, look the same, think the same, feel the same, and behave the same. They do not perform their work in uniform. Like anyone in any profession, each worker and field subset has discernible differences.
Between the categories of sex work exist differences, too. Some sex workers never make physical contact with their clients while others perform sexual acts with their clients. There are sex workers who dress in expensive and elaborate outfits and sex workers who don more casual attire. Some sex workers never see their clients. Some groups of sex workers only work indoors while others must perform all of their work outside, exposing them to other danger. As with most professions, there are sex workers who love their job and sex workers who aren’t that inspired by it.
Among all of these differences are three inextricably connective elements that tie the subgroups of sex work into one cohesive field:
Sex workers provide therapeutic, educational, and social services to our community.
A sex worker creates a safe space for a client to explore their desire, feelings, needs, and wishes. A sex worker creates a safe space for clients to explore themselves. The client is then able to experiment with their vulnerability in a way that is not available to them in every-day life. This chance to be authentic, to be witnessed and accepted in their vulnerability by another human being is essential for human health. People who have suffered from a lack of intimacy, sexual touch, and eroticism in their relationships, those who have found it difficult to connect with others for various reasons experience powerful healing from seeing sex workers. Our sexual health informs our emotional and physical health. When our sexual selves suffer, the rest of us suffers. People who have felt misunderstood get to experience a nonjudgmental environment, healing touch and nurturing connection in the presence of a sex worker. Those who would otherwise experience an extraordinary lack of basic human fulfillment, an absence that can propel depression, low self-compassion, and low self-worth, get to experience support and treatment through sex work. The work can be cognitive, emotional, and somatic- the trifecta of a whole experience.
Sex workers possess a substantial amount of knowledge about human sexuality, health, and prevention for infectious diseases; they apply this knowledge to their work, and we benefit. Sex workers provide their clients and our community with information about things like how to have healthier, safer, and more satisfying sex. They inform us of better ways to effectively communicate with one another and help us find comfort in being our authentic selves. Professionals in the sex work industry allow clients to experiment with this knowledge and find out what works best for their bodies in a safe, professional, contained environment.
Sex work includes sexual content, ideas, images, and or behavior; it also includes other features. In addition to education, sex workers employ other therapeutic social interaction during their work. Like many providers, they tailor their sessions to the needs of the client. If a client has particular insecurities, the sex worker helps the client explore and address them. Sometimes this looks like going to dinner at a restaurant and engaging in conversation. Sometimes they try things they’ve thought about doing, but for various reasons, have been too afraid. They do this all while receiving astute and intentional feedback. This aids clients in gaining insight about themselves and developing self- awareness. The client often becomes inspired by what is happening in the relationship, and they begin to find belonging, acceptance, and rich connection. Eventually, the client can bring their practice of empowerment and connection outside their sessions with the sex worker, to other aspects of their lives. (This is a similar trajectory for any helping profession.) When individuals feel more resourced within themselves, they can provide more for their communities; thus, our community benefits both directly and indirectly from sex work.
While there are obvious and subtle differences between types of sex work, there are prevailing similarities as they provide us with essential, life-affirming elements.
Love and Be Loved,