Sex workers don't deserve to be stigmatised - and we don't want your pity either

I have a theory and it is simply this - I don't believe that sex work is inherently harmful


The Oxford English dictionary defines stigma as - 'a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person'. Invariably, when it comes to sex work, stigma applies right across the board, regardless of what form of sex work you undertake. Similarly, stigma bears no relation to your background, ethnicity or chosen faith. It's a badge which is acquired the first time you accept payment for sex, whether you like it or not - and it's what stops so many sex workers 'coming out'.

Time and time again I get emails from sex workers thanking my colleagues and I for the campaigning work we do but saying - 'I'd love to help you but you know what it's like'. I certainly do, and I'm not suggesting for one moment that every sex worker should come 'out', not at all. It's a huge decision to make and can have ramifications you hadn't even thought of, for instance read the piece here by Maggie McNeill and also the comment from Dr. Brooke Magnanti.

This is a society where should I wish to, I can go out on a Friday night, get hopelessly drunk and jump into bed with Mr. A. Random. Because I'm non compos mentis then the chances are any form of protection will go out the window, as will any form of valid consent. As a society, we deem that okay, because everyone does it, right ? If I go to a hotel, meet Mr. A. Random in the middle of an afternoon, spend a couple of pleasant protected hours and get paid for it - pearls everywhere are clutched and horror levels soar. But in my second example, I'm safer. I know his name, his phone number, where he is staying and I am in a hotel surrounded by people. I'm in charge of what I'm doing and am completely free to say 'no'. Once money changes hands, what started as a mutually beneficial and pleasurable experience becomes demonized, because stigma enters the equation.

I have a theory and it is simply this - I don't believe that sex work itself is inherently harmful, what is more harmful is the scorn, social isolation and constant questioning of integrity poured upon those of us who choose to sell sex, by a society filled with hypocrisies. Keeping what you do for a living a secret is very hard work and involves layers of deception and secrecy. For those who have been 'outed' against their will, it's even harder as large groups of people make huge assumptions about your identity and your standards and to have to defend yourself against those who rail against you on a continual basis is nothing short of exhausting.

If you're wondering what I mean by a 'society filled with hypocrisies' let's consider the 'Cougar'. Here is a woman who will proactively seek younger men to partner on an almost predatory basis and certainly because she can give him a better lifestyle in exchange for great sex. There's nothing wrong with that as far as I'm concerned but I do wonder why that exchange is free from stigma whilst the exchange of cash is not. A long time ago and in a brothel far away, one of my colleagues remarked - 'this is the most honest money you'll ever earn in your life', and I believe she's right. No strings, no bows, no promises of being elevated to a higher social echelon - I simply date for cash.

Although I am blessed to be surrounded by an amazing support system of friends and allies, I still experience stigma, albeit to a lesser degree. It's the beatific smile filled with pity, it's the group of women who fall silent as soon as I enter the room and it's the man who shook my hand in a green room and when he thought I wasn't looking, wiped his hand 'clean'. And that, my friends - is what needs to change.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an enthusiastic Maths Tea...

Urgently looking for Qualified Teachers and NQT's

£110 - £120 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Urgently looking for Qua...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you that teacher who c...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you that teacher who c...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Palestinian natural resources lie beneath this terrible conflict

Shawan Jabarin

The daily catch-up: heatwave update; duck tape and market socialism

John Rentoul
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform