Sex Workers Face Stigma Daily – Here’s How We Can Support Them

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Sex Workers Face Stigma Daily – Here’s How We Can Support Them

Sex work is one of the oldest professions in the world. It dates back to over 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. Yet, in 2024, the concept of whether sex work is legitimate work still remains a human rights issue marred with controversy. This profitable career choice allows many to celebrate and express their sexuality. It also offers a legitimate way to earn a lot of money. So why is it so threatening to a large group of people? 

Some believe that sex work degrades women and that people who enter this line of work always need to be rescued. However, it’s the lack of acceptance and legal regulation in society that forces consensual sex workers into unsafe conditions. When governments make sex work illegal, they take away the right of individuals to make informed decisions about their own bodies, and the measures to keep themselves safe whilst they do so. 

It begs the question, do we not all sell our bodies in late-stage capitalism? Unlike other workers, though, sex workers are not protected by any legislature which protects their safe labor.

The importance of decriminalizing sex work

Sex work is essential. It allows people to explore their sexual desires safely and teaches boundaries. It gives them a space to be vulnerable and normalizes conversations about sex. By disallowing it to thrive legally, we make space for abuse against sex workers to happen in the shadows.

In many ways, these workers are heroes. They’re leaders in advocating for bodily autonomy, which is threatened in countries all over the world. Decriminalizing sex work helps everyone and connects directly to decisions like Roe v. Wade being overturned. Nobody’s body deserved to be criminalized. When sex workers win, so does everybody else that the government tries to silence and gain control over. 

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How sex workers are discriminated against

Beyond facing bias, sex workers constantly deal with criminalization, incarceration, deportation, and various forms of discrimination. Especially marginalized groups like POCs, immigrants, and trans people. They’re over-policed digitally and, in real life, pushed into the margins. 

Financial discrimination is a reality they deal with daily. While most people you know use a credit card or debit card easily, sex workers aren’t always afforded these rights. They’re banned from financial apps and bank accounts, which consider them “high risk.”  They get their accounts randomly canceled and deal with restrictions from credit card companies. They get business loans denied. All of this drastically obstructs the ability to earn income and their financial independence. It encourages illegitimate transactions to occur just so people can pay their bills.

The same goes down on social media platforms, where sex workers face censorship daily. They’re frequently shadowbanned and forced to find loopholes in their language, thus obscuring the meaning. Meta displays its disdain for sexual freedom under the banner of ‘explicit content’ as accounts often get suspended or deleted without notice. As a result, this obliterated many channels of income for sex workers who built their following.

The lack of decriminalization and proper laws and regulations outlining protection also means a lack of protection from the police. In fact, police often get away with abuse and violence against sex workers due to this lack of legislation. Rather than having legislation in place that keeps them safe, the opposite is in effect. For example, one law says that group solicitation isn’t legal, which causes isolation and, hence, potentially risky situations.  

What legislation is getting wrong

In 2018, FOSTA-SESTA was supposedly created to minimize sex trafficking and protect its victims. But this misguided legislation has done more harm than good. In fact, it further stigmatized sex workers and perpetuated misinformation that all sex workers are trafficking victims. 

While many think that legalization is the answer, decriminalization will have a more positive effect. Legalization could lead to more restrictions and a hierarchical approach that creates even more barriers for workers. Decriminalization, however, provides more autonomy and protection while lessening the likelihood of over-policing. 

Similarly, in Canada, the Conservative government enforced the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA). This act made the purchase and advertising of sex work illegal, as well as communication with the sole purpose of selling sex. Many of these laws, enforced globally, force sex workers to go the “underground” route, exposing them to high-risk situations. 

The public needs to realize that even if sex work is decriminalized, trafficking and underage prostitution will remain illegal. It’s completely different from consensual sex work that adults can decide to partake in. 

How sex workers are furthering sex-ed in society 

While sex work in its own right is an entirely valid and noble line of work, many sex workers use their years of lived experience and wisdom to provide sex education online and offline. Like the rest of us, sex workers realized that the sex-ed that you find in school curriculums or mainstream porn is often misleading. And given their connection via life experience, there’s no one better to spread accurate information. Not to mention education on under-discussed topics like the dangers of cheap sex toys and ethical porn platforms that encourage consent and healthy attitudes.

Influencers like Alice Lovegood, who is active on OnlyFans, started her Better Sx blog as a way to help people shed stigma and gain more sexual satisfaction. She connected with online audiences and used that connection to spread awareness on topics like polyamorous lifestyles, kink, intimacy, and body confidence. 

Timothy Lagman, a certified sex educator, pole dancer, and former sex worker, regularly hosts workshops and gives public talks on sexual health and queer sexuality. His award-nominated Sex Ed with Tim podcast dives into a variety of sex-ed-related topics with people in different fields, like sex workers, trauma counselors, and other experts. Lagman is no stranger to stigma, commenting,

“When I was a sex worker, I was the subject of much ridicule and derogatory statements such as never being able to genuinely connect with another person or that I was too dumb or too lazy to do anything else. I had a boyfriend, worked a part-time job and an internship, and graduated with honors. I was labeled as immoral and disease-ridden. 

But I was going to therapy every week and the clinic every month! There was also this misconception that I was rolling in money. The reality is that all my sex work money went towards my tuition, paying bills, and saving for a rainy day and I lived in a shoebox of an apartment.”

Sex work is a human rights issue – what can we do?

No one deserves to fear going to work every day. Nor should they be unable to pay expenses because they’re locked out of their accounts. This job isn’t just a route to “easy money.” it demands a huge amount of admin combined with hard work. The daily stress that sex workers have to deal with isn’t just frustrating – it’s dehumanizing. 

We all have to do better. Pride month is here; there’s no better time to use your platform to support these workers and use your voice. Stand up in solidarity for their rights. 

Use your power in whatever capacity you can. That might be doing work within your field, donating to organizations like Red Umbrella Fund, or saying something when someone makes an offensive joke about this line of work. When sex workers are deemed as an “other”, it endangers the freedom of everyone. As fellow workers in the pleasure realm with clients like ERIKALUST and Alice Lovegood, no one understands that better than us. 



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