Oppression and abuse exists in the sex industry. It is not just by chance that there are many feminist groups vocally rallying against it.

Browsing the internet, it is easy to find anti-porn or anti sex-work feminists bring up cases of sex traffic and violence by or against prostitutes and porn actors to back up their arguments. Those situations they denounce are real. Those evils should be eradicated.

But what solutions are these groups proposing? Judging by available literature, the main option being proposed seems to be for women to stay away from everything sex work-related, as it will inevitably lead down a road of pain, destruction and subservience to men. End pornography! End prostitution!

But wait. There is a difference between being forced to do sex work and choosing to do sex work to make a living. And it seems like that distinction is rarely made in arguments against sex work.


To Emma, a feminist punk rocker, ‘zinester and occasional sex worker, the distinction is very clear.  “I am not one to say that the sex industry isn’t oppressive, but the people who are involved in it aren’t just naturally oppressed. I think that that’s when the nuance comes in that some people don’t want to talk about. Yes, sex trafficking is awful and terrible and we need to talk about it, but the answer to that isn’t to obliterate the lives of everyone else [who wants to have the option to do sex work].”

Instead of rallying against sex work in general, without distinguishing between slave labor and a means of voluntary employment, how about making sex work safer for those who want to have this employment option? How about fighting for sex workers’ right to legitimacy and protection? How about making it more difficult to prey upon workers in the sex industry?

Painting everyone in the sex industry with a single brush relegates them –and their struggles– to anonymity, increasing the danger in the profession. As Annie Oakley noted in her introduction to the anthology Working Sex: Sex Workers Write about a Changing Industry, “[w]hen you refuse to recognize someone’s humanity, you don’t have to worry about their working conditions, their safety, their health, their ability to make a decent living. Thus the cops, pimps, club owners and minimoguls at the head of petty fiefdoms like the Girls Gone Wild porn empire get to run the industry with little outside interference or regulation.”

Many women who choose to do sex work are simply deciding between two employment options: the “straight job” with long hours and miserable pay or the sex job that allows them to set their own schedule while making more money.

In both cases, the worker faces hard work and the regular condescending client who ruins their day. And sex work, as Emma puts it, “is just a job” that can be just as degrading as having to deal with a nasty customer at any other type of service job. To her, sex work isn’t empowering or sexually liberating, it’s just a job.

So why should one job provide more rights or be considered more dignified than the other? Labor conditions for sex workers can and should be improved. Just like they can be improved for retail workers scraping by on wages so low they also require taxpayers’ help.

Maybe it’s because charging for sex or sexual acts is considered morally hazardous for all women.

Well, that has a heavy undertone of patriarchy-induced religious oppression. As if it were inherently bad for women to tap into their sexual selves.


If a woman is comfortable with sex work, why shouldn’t she practice it? Why is it bad for a woman to be promiscuous while it’s just fine for guys? Who determines that?

Sex workers are not some nymphomaniacs trying to cash in on an exotic pathology. Neither are they all innocent runaways who fell into the hands of sleazy underworld lords. Many people became sex workers because they felt it was their best –or least worse– employment option. People in the sex industry are workers, just like those in any other industry. And they are human beings. How about they be offered the same protections as any other employment?

By having an honest dialogue about sex work and the diversity of its audience, it is also possible to make the sex industry more inclusive. After all, judging from what Emma describes as “big-box porn,” you’d think only guys enjoy sex. Even “lesbian” porn is geared towards straight men!

By taking production out of the minimoguls’ hands, many people are producing content for women, queers and transgendered people and those who love them. Porn films with women as the real protagonists start to pop up. Portrayals of erotic sex, as opposed to “wham, bam, thank you ma’am" (or mister, or both) sex, begin to be produced.  Even BDSM porn, containing actual interviews with the actors, is out there to be consumed. As there begins to be a little something for everyone, maybe the sex industry’s workers could finally obtain improved working conditions and less exploitation. And maybe they could just have a regular job without being cast as throwaways.


T. Rosa

T. Rosa

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