Dispelling Six Myths
About Sex Work and Sex Workers
By Tia Keenan
Planet Waves Digital Media
.......From frequently-used expressions to commonly held ideas about public health, sex work and sex workers suffer some of the most unchallenged biases. The following is a modest challenge to a few of the most popular untruths. It is only a minor contribution to the fight to de-stigmatize sex work and sex workers. I look forward to the increasing amount of analytical, intellectual and personal writing by sex workers, who are constantly challenging the public ignorance and indifference surrounding the profession.
1. Most (female) sex workers have been sexually abused and/or raped as children.
.......Because sex workers have exhibited their sexuality in a public or semi-public setting, their sexual personas receive unparalleled scrutiny by the public and/or strangers. This results in the subjection of many intimate, taboo questions that are rarely asked of "ordinary" women. While it is true that many sex workers have a history of traumatic, violent sexual incidents, they are not very different from the general female population, who have simply not been asked. Sex workers also tend to be more frank about such experiences, and are often more comfortable with the language of sex and power.
2. "So and so 'dresses/looks/acts like a hooker'."
.......What does a hooker dress like? Look like? Act like? We have been told throughout 20th century film of her uniform: miniskirt, fur trimmed coat (perhaps three or four years out of fashion), high heels, ratted hair, oversized pocketbook. This image sometimes resembles most closely the female "street walker," the most publicly viewed sex worker. (Note that although male prostitutes are a sizable, visible contingent, especially in the Western-European urban street scene, to apply the phrase, "He dresses/looks/acts like a hooker" would seem ludicrous and leave an unclear image of description. This is because the male "street walker" uniform is often (though not always) more subtle, and male sex workers are virtually invisible in the popular concept-image of the prostitute). There are endless forms of prostitution in the United States alone. To say someone (female) "looks/dresses/acts like a hooker" is to perpetuate several stereotypes of the prostitute by manipulating the public accessibility of the "street walker" and negating the prostitution diaspora. Because prostitutes' private and work lives are interpreted solely within the context of their occupation, the phrase "dresses/looks/acts like a hooker" positions the prostitute as a pathological personality, rather than a worker. At a bare minimum, even the prostitute must do her laundry, shop for groceries, and tend to the mundane activities of living. Look at the woman beside you next time you are at the dry cleaners. Is she a prostitute? She doesn't look like one
3. "Do you like it?"
.......This is almost always the first question asked of a sex worker when her/his occupation is discovered. While this question is not offensive in and of itself, and displays a genuine curiosity about the nature of sex work, the assumed context of the question is quite different when asked, for example, of an electrician (though when an electrician reveals her work, she may not be asked if she likes it at all, because her like or dislike of her work is not regarded as a reflection of her moral character), it's "just work." When someone asks the electrician if she likes her work , they are asking her to rate the working conditions, salary, time investment and the intellectual/creative fulfillment electrician. When someone asks the same question of a sex worker, what they really mean is "Do you like the sex?" A sex worker is rarely probed regarding the amount of time she spends working or the conditions (besides sexual) of her work. The question "Do you like the sex?" is more straightforward and specialized to sex work, though some sex workers might take offense at so probing a question. The curious tend to avoid the "Do you like the sex?" question because it reveals the biased nature of their preconceived ideas about prostitutes.
4. Prostitutes spread STDs.
.......Long before the HIV/AIDS epidemic, prostitutes were targeted in ad campaigns as the spreaders of syphilis, among other sexually transmitted diseases. While it is true that anyone who has unprotected sex is potentially contributing to the spread of STDs, prostitutes have been unfairly held responsible the proliferation of HIV/AIDS, especially in Africa, where the disease is a leading killer. First, the statistics: HIV/AIDS is 24 times more efficiently transmitted during heterosexual intercourse from male to female. This means that it is easier for a woman to contract HIV/AIDS during heterosexual intercourse then men. In Africa, women are infected at a rate of 2:1. Because of the inferior personal/political status of women in relation to men (to varying degrees, in every part of the world), they are often not in a position to demand the use of condoms. This is particularly the case for prostitutes, who often have to make the choice between "risking it" or losing their livelihood when a client refuses to wear a condom.
5. Women are prostitutes because they desperate and have no other options.
.......Prostitutes come from all class strata. While the "desperation" factor may be true for some women, even very poor women may choose to work as prostitutes because it is the best option for them in a selection of meager choices, including, but not limited to, undocumented, unskilled, sweatshop labor. Many choose the profession because they can earn a living without working an inordinate amount of hours (and spend more time with their children, or painting, or any other number of unprofitable activities), in some cases make their own schedule, and/or because they enjoy creativity the profession can demand. Some do it to supplement their incomes, preferring to work in the "straight" world and "under" world at the same time or because they can be their own bosses. Many prostitutes also prefer being paid to have sex with many men instead of committing to a husband "who will take care of them." Some just like to fuck.
6. Sex workers are stupid.
.......Sex work requires many varied business, social, and survival skills, including knowing how to assess a client's character in a couple of seconds. The belief that sex workers are stupid has no basis in reality, and simply serves to objectify and dehumanize.++
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