March 3rd, 2013

International Sex Worker Rights Day 2013

Today (March 3) is International Sex Worker Rights Day.

redumbrellaYears ago—and I don’t remember what exactly prompted me to examine the issue—it occurred to me that prostitution should be decriminalized (or more accurately, I could find no compelling reason for prostitution to have been made illegal in the first place). After I felt that way for a while, it occurred to me to question just what exactly was immoral about it as well. I accept that for some people, an answer to that would be easy to formulate. I hold too that for others (myself included), the answer would be nonexistent. And that makes sense, because sexuality and its correlative ethics are very individualized things. Despite valiant societal efforts to make everyone conform to the same standards and behaviors in the sexual realm, they have continued to be and will continue to be personally unique. As well they should.

While I understand sex workers to be anyone who works in the sex industry, such as strippers, pornographic performers, phone sex operators, etc., I am choosing to focus in this post on whores (so that from this point on in this post when I use the term “sex worker,” I am referring to that particular variant).

Two of the ways I feel we do the greatest disservice to sex workers and actually, the general population, are by 1) refusing to acknowledge and devote attention to nuance and degree in discussions about sex work and 2) repressing and avoiding sincere examination of sexuality in general. To start with the latter, if each of us was to attend to ourselves, to explore how sexuality operates in us and influences us on conscious and unconscious levels, society would begin to open up around this realm—instead of acting in the pubescent, oppressive, puritanical, unconscious way I feel it has tended to act. This in turn would allow us to interact and engage in sexual—and other—ways so much more consciously that I suspect a lot of the discomfort around sex work would disappear (as a lot of our discomfort around sex in general indeed dissolved).

Until or unless that happens, recognizing the nuances surrounding sex work seems essential to me in supporting human beings practically and recognizing sexual and gender rights and autonomy ideologically. Some sexual labor is forced, which is hideous and unacceptable. Some sex work is not done enthusiastically but is chosen over other options to earn a living—which probably describes a lot of people’s jobs. And some is chosen freely from a position of the privilege to choose from a number of other professions or options.

These are just three basic scenarios, along a spectrum on which numerous further distinctions exist. Yet as basic as they seem, these kinds of considerations frequently seem utterly absent to me in discussions about sex work and especially potential “responses” we have to it. Some people, indeed, seem to treat the sex industry as if the entirety of it is a problem to somehow try to eradicate. (I of course find this both nonsensical and arbitrary.)

This especially seems the case to me in regard to female sex workers. Sometimes it has seemed to me that society finds the female whore so unnerving that it doesn’t actually even want her to be in control. As if, deep down, we would rather have her be a victim—doing something she desperately doesn’t want to do, that is abnormally and intrinsically degrading her, than sexually comfortable and autonomous and flouting society’s rules. In this way, even those who are sympathetic to sex workers still take, through their condescension, a degrading stance toward them—or at least toward their profession, which if it is indeed freely chosen, amounts to the same thing. If she’s a victim, she’s not so threatening to the cultural constraints by which we generally live without question. We aren’t—don’t have to be—so afraid of her.

Regardless of one’s profession, it is not acceptable for individuals to be treated cruelly and have their rights arbitrarily violated and disrespected. This happens to sex workers all the time, but society justifies its lack of caring by noting the profession’s supposed inappropriate nature and subsequent illegality. What it appears to me we are saying when we do this is that people who have determined that their circumstances, perspective, or interests allow for them to provide sexual acts as a professional service and thus not conform to some proposed societal sexual standards have somehow relinquished their fundamental humanity and correlative rights. Our dismissal of the dangers sex workers may experience in their line of work (largely due to its illegality and the general sexual unconsciousness of our culture) as “deserved” or at least inevitable demonstrates, upon reflection, that we would rather have sex workers be assaulted or even dead than sexually in control and providing their expression of such as a service for money.

At this point I feel a sharp, chilling horror at the ease with which we despise sex workers and consider them almost universally unworthy of respect. Ideally, we take our proclivities and capacities and offer them as a service in some fashion, developing and refining them along the way. I truly do not understand why it seems so difficult to recognize this phenomenon in sex work as in any other industry where we don’t seem to have a problem seeing it. I continue to aspire to support society in understanding this and to support sex workers in whatever way(s) I can. Wishing all the best on this International Sex Worker Rights Day, March 3, 2013.


“It is not sex work that exposes sex workers to violence; it is our willingness to abandon sex workers to violence in an attempt to control their behavior.”
-Melissa Gira Grant “The War on Sex Workers”


  1. […] see the following for previous years’ posts: “International Sex Worker Rights Day 2013”” (2013) “An Open Letter to Rush Limbaugh” (2012) “Bittersweet Balloons” […]

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