Stigma in the Adult Industry and Why Sex Work is Work

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According to Gira Grant, the sex industry encompasses a broad spectrum of activities from, Escorting to street hustling and stripping to performing for webcams and everything in between. (1) This article is about the stigma and  cultural baggage associated with the word prostitute. It is also about how Sex Work as a broader term helps sex workers take “ownership of the individual’s career choice.” (2)

The word prostitute carries negative connotations due to stereotypical mainstream cultural narratives that are pervasive in our society. For example, the stereotype that only dirty old men frequent Sex Workers is untrue but a commonly held cultural belief. (3)

The term ‘Sex Work’ was coined by Carol Leigh who is an artist, film-maker as well as Sex Worker rights activist at a convention in the 1970’s. (4) During this time she was a member and sex worker activist with COYOTE an American Rights Organisation that describes itself on its website as ‘politically incorrect’ and that ‘recognises the rights of all Sex Workers and prostitutes.’ (5) The acronym COYOTE stands for “Call Off Your Tired Old Ethics’. (6) Which is a call for society to re-examine how it views Sex Work and challenge the status quo which defines Sex Work as ‘other’ and therefore marginalises the Adult Industry.

Despite activism in the US and Australia as well as many other European countries the Sex Industry still suffers significantly from societal stigma. This stigma is displayed itself in a variety of ways. This societal stigma includes banks discriminating against the adult industry by not allowing workers access to loans or EFTPOS facilities. The media is also adept at conveying long-held stereotypes that also work to stigmatise the Adult Industry and Sex Workers further. These are just a couple of examples of stigma at play in our culture.

It’s interesting to note as Dr Kate Lister does in her essay, ‘Sex Work Stigma in Historical Research’ – that “attitudes to selling sex are not fixed but culturally and morally determined.”  The Adult Industry has been around for a long time and isn’t going anywhere – it’s here to stay. Isn’t it time that Sex Workers got the recognition and rights they deserve? In the words of Gira Grant: “To do so is to insist that those who do sex work, in all of their workplaces and in varied conditions, deserve the rights and respect accorded to workers in any other industry”. (8)

Sex work is not your traditional (or societally expected) nine to five kind of employment, but it’s still work. The term “Sex Work” is an umbrella term that encompasses many types of jobs in the Adult Industry. The word still has much stigma attached to it, but it allows individuals to have many facets and not be solely defined by their job. (9) There is still a long way to go before society puts to rest the tired old expression that prostitution ‘is the world’s oldest profession’ and recognizes that Sex Workers deserve the same rights and treatment as any other worker.

References
Jeffreys, Elena, “Sex Worker Politics and the Term ‘Sex Work’,’”
https://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/R4SW%202015_issue14_PDFV.pdf (accessed May 26, 2018)
(2)(4)(7) Wikipedia contributors, “Sex worker,”  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sex_worker&oldid=842416013 (accessed May 26, 2018).
(1)(8)Grant, Melissa Gira, “Let’s Call Sex Work What It Is: Work.” https://www.thenation.com/article/lets-call-sex-work-what-it-work/ (accessed May 26, 2018)
(6) Lister, Dr Kate,“Sex Work Stigma in Historical Research” https://www.thewhoresofyore.com/kates-journal/the-oldest-profession-in-the-world-historical-stigma-around-sex-work (accessed May 27, 2018)
(5) (6)Wikipedia contributors, “COYOTE,”  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=COYOTE&oldid=840369657 (accessed May 28, 2018).