The F-Word’s position on sex work and sex worker discrimination

From Playing The Whore by Melissa Gira Grant: “We should, in fact, refuse to debate. Sex work itself and, inseparable from it, the lives of sex workers are not up for debate—or they shouldn’t be (p36).”

Introduction

Sex work and sex workers have long faced discrimination by society. The history of sex work and society’s attitudes towards it is long and complicated. In recent years particularly, second wave feminism has often portrayed those engaged in sex work as victims and has ignored the voices of sex workers themselves. The F-Word would like to make clear that we believe sex work is real work, that we wish to centre the voices of sex workers in any discussion of sex work and that we will not publish any article or comment that is discriminatory towards sex workers.

The F-Word also notes that different forms of oppression can intersect to further marginalise specific groups; for example working class, disabled, Black or trans sex workers are more likely to experience discrimination.

Sex work is a broad term and can include having sex with clients for money – also known as full service sex work – appearing in pornography and erotica, working in lap dancing clubs, working as an online cam model or selling explicit content on OnlyFans or other sites. The term ‘sex work’ was coined by Carol Leigh and is expanded upon in her book Unrepentant Whore: The Collected Works of Scarlot Harlot.

A note on historical articles: The F-Word has existed for 20 years, and for much of the earlier years of the site did not hold a specific position on sex work. This means there are some older articles on the site that are anti-sex work or promote organisations that are against sex work. We have added notes to some of these articles when we have come across them, but not all.

 

The F-Word’s position

  • Sex work is real work. Therefore, sex workers should benefit from the same protections as those who work outside the sex industry. A key aspect of tackling exploitative working conditions is recognising sex work as work and fighting for sex workers’ labour rights.
  • We reject any implication that sex work is inherently wrong, that all people who work in the industry have been trafficked and that all sex work is exploitative.
  • We believe that sex work should be decriminalised. We note that efforts for decriminalisation and sex worker rights are closely aligned with a wider need for labour rights and worker protections.
  • We reject the ‘Nordic model’, where those who buy sex are criminalised and those who sell sex are not. Mounting evidence shows that: “The law has had a detrimental effect on sex workers’ safety, health and overall living conditions.”
  • We acknowledge that sex workers are currently disproportionately affected by workplace rape, violence and harassment and police brutality. We see this as the result of sexist societal attitudes and whorephobic stigma around sex work. It doesn’t change our position that sex work is work, and it can’t be tackled by policing the activities of sex workers themselves or restricting their rights.

 

The F-Word’s commitments

  • We will not publish articles or comments that are discriminatory towards sex work and sex workers.
  • We will take our lead from women working in the sex industry. In particular we will look to the English Collective of Prostitutes, SWARM, Decrim Now and NUM to inform how we respond to proposed changes in the law, media representation of sex workers and how we report on the industry.
  • We will never describe sex work as ‘prostitution’, apart from when that is the word used by sex workers themselves. This is because:
    • the words ‘prostitution’ and ‘prostitute’ have historically been used to denigrate sex workers and have sexist associations
    • the term ‘sex worker’ clearly acknowledges sex work as a form of labour.
  • We will not slut-shame.
  • In our articles we will distinguish between sex work and trafficking and will highlight that improving sex workers’ rights reduces the incidence of exploitative and coercive practices.
  • We will reject any approach that views the stigmatisation of sex workers as necessary collateral damage from the supposedly respectable task of stigmatising punters (for example, refusing to support sex workers because of a fear it might ‘encourage’ punters in some way). We will always put sex workers first.

 

Further reading and listening

Revolting Prostitutes The Fight for Sex Worker’s Rights by Juno Mac and Molly Smith
​​https://www.versobooks.com/books/3039-revolting-prostitutes

Sex Power Money with Sara Pascoe (Podcast)
​​https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/sex-power-money-with-sara-pascoe/id1472725741

Global Network of Sex Work Projects
https://www.nswp.org/

Unrepentant Whore: The Collected Works of Scarlot Harlot by Carol Leigh
https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/622578.Unrepentant_Whore

Playing The Whore by Melissa Gira Grant
https://www.versobooks.com/books/1568-playing-the-whore

Graceyswer’s website
https://street-hooker.com/
Including the archives: https://street-hooker.com/archives/

Sex Sells on #NovaraFM (Podcast)
https://novaramedia.com/2022/02/14/sex-sells/