I recently happened across this article from Slate.com (here) that I was quoted in a while back and I thought upon reading it again that it was worth commenting on the reader’s word choice when referring to sex workers.
“Prostitute” is a loaded term. And for people who work in my industry it has a lot of negative connotations. It’s why most people who sells sexual services prefers the term “sex worker”.
It’s a much more clear definition. It’s work. And it involves sex. We are sex workers.
Culturally the term “prostitute” is linked to exploitation, implies a lack of autonomy (individually and financially) and even a lack of legitimacy.
The idea that someone “had to prostitute themselves” to survive, or succeed is an inherently negative statement. “had to”. Not “chose to”. Or “wanted to”. “Had to” is the way we would most likely hear that described.
And this is where people who oppose sex work will say “But what about all of the women who have no choice?” (they rarely acknowledge that men do sex work too). The answer is that those people are generally what we call “survival sex workers”. Forced by economic, personal, or social realities to do work that they may not choose to otherwise – and they are often punished legally and socially because of that.
As sex workers we support these people and their right to survive however they have to, but at the same time what we fight for is to see the work decriminalised so that they can seek any and all physical, legal, and medical help that they may need to do their work in safety and good health.
Every society has sex work. It is a reality of humanity – but how we look at sex work and especially the words we choose when we are talking about it go a long way to how sex workers are treated and perceived.
So while “prostitute” may be a linguistically valid word to describe what I do, it is not the right word for todays society. I am not a “prostitute” I am a “sex worker”, with all of the connotations that carries.