Sex work is work

I love the slogan ‘Sex work is work’ because it helps reform the conversation from the morality of sexual activity to the labor issues of exploitation and abuse. I think it’s beautiful that it acknowledges the effort that goes into erotic and emotional labor. In this post, however, I’m going to point out the slogan’s biggest weakness.

I don’t really agree that sex work is just like any other service industry. There are enough parallels that, practically speaking, labor rules governing other intimate service industries (massage, mental health, etc) work well here and so on a policy level I think we should frame our arguments from there. Emotionally speaking, it is different.

Pretty much anyone can, with minimal training and little emotional fallout, stock shelves, operate a Zamboni, clean a house, or serve food. Most people in general find service Industries tolerable or at least not morally repugnant. Even if they can’t see themselves behind a check stand, they have no strong moral opposition to someone else doing it. Unfortunately, sex has such strong moral stigma that sex work carries double that.

But not with everyone. Sex workers have a wide range of feelings toward their ‘work sex’ from seeing themselves as a conduit for God’s love to seeing their clients as worth nothing more than the cash they leave behind.
One colleague, talking about seeing a male provider for personal pleasure, put it like this: “With work sex, it’s 90% me, 10% them sweating and grunting. With civvie sex, it’s still 70% me, 30% them expecting me to be grateful for their attention. With a male provider, I get to do exactly what I want and put out exactly as much effort as I want. I don’t have to worry about them ripping off the condom or whether they come or not, it’s all me.”

Another colleague will cancel appointments if she’s not in the mood so she rarely sees full service clients unless she’s genuinely interested in sex. Yet even her ease to orgasm and sexual interest doesn’t satisfy her the way sex with non-clients does. There’s a selfless and perform active aspect to it that makes it distinctly different.

Yet another provider I know is a lesbian and only has sex with men for cash, never for fun. We fall everywhere in between on our feelings toward ‘work sex’ but we all know there’s a difference and we all share one critical attitude: we all consent to sex we wouldn’t normally have in exchange for a financial incentive.

For me, when I was escorting, it didn’t feel different than my ‘regular’ sex because I was banging people who sucked at it. This was before I learned about my body and what it was capable of. If I were to take up FS work again, I’m not sure I’d be able to just show up for whomever and settle for ‘work sex’. Three years ago, I was happily done when he was done. Now, he’s not done until I’m done, and that’s not how sex work works.

So even within my own self, I have complicated feelings around sex. My colleagues all have their own feelings around sex. Our friends, families, and strangers on the internet have their own feelings about sex and until we can acknowledge that feelings are the root of most policy disagreements, we can at least be more thoughtful in our discussions of it.

This is why I have to question the simplicity of the slogan “sex work is work”. I don’t question the truth of it; anyone who has been an erotic services provider whether it’s a porn performer, escort, cam girl, whatever knows that work sex is work, even when it’s awesome. The exclusion of emotional issues around sex gives the slogan a weak point. No one wants to think of the sex they’re having with their partners as work; they don’t want to complicate an already complicated issue and that’s smart.

So how can we strengthen the slogan? Focus on the strength of it: that labor issues are universal; exploitation and abuse is not limited to sex work and this industry can be regulated like many other intimate service industries. So maybe “Sexual service is a service” or “Erotic laborers need labor rights”? Something that acknowledges the difference between the sex you have at home and erotic labor however it’s rendered and focuses on the need for non-criminal regulations to prevent or mitigate abuses instead of painting the entire industry as some combination of morally wrong and inherently exploitative.

Because until you’ve been a provider and had work sex, you can’t know the difference and that’s ok. You just need to listen to those of us who have when we ask for what we need.

2 Replies to “Sex work is work”

  1. I like the current slogan, “Sex work is work”. It already differentiates the sex at home and sex as work by specifying “sex WORK”. It doesn’t say “sex is work”. I do agree with the points you make – all are valid. But a slogan has to be short and memorable for it to land the core message. If we try to make it technically perfect, it may fail to catch on. Cheers.

    1. I have been trying to lift of the #SWunity we need to stand together non Fs workers are no better or worse than full on escorts, strippers may do the most in the game lol we are all disrespected by civs or clients and we need to stand strong together. Providing intimacy, sensuality often healing is not just work. SEX WORK IS WORK THAT HAS VALUE.

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