Sex Worker Definition, Meaning History

A sex worker is an individual who sells sex services for a livelihood. However, most people tend to get confused between sex work and sex trafficking. It’s important to remember any female or male worker who offers sex services has not necessarily been trafficked.

Sex work indicates a person is willingly taking part in the sale of sex is consensual and doesn’t violate any human right. Sex work has been around since ancient times, however, the rules regulating to sale of sex are still relatively new.

In this article, we are going to take a look at Sex workers’ definition, meaning, history, types of sex work, sex workers’ rights along with the “Red Umbrella symbol” and much more. 

Who is a Sex Worker?

A Sex Worker is an adult who sells sex services, on a regular or occasional basis. Sex workers receive money or goods in exchange for sex services or erotic performances. It includes direct physical contact between the buyer and seller along with indirect sexual stimulation.

Sex work is voluntary sexual interactions is not linked to any forced or non-consensual sexual interactions and has not been trafficked or violated any human rights. Since a “sex worker” recognizes that sex work is work.

Over the years, there has been a massive change in the sex industry, and has introduced new types of sex work across the world including direct and indirect sexual exchanges.  

Types of Sex Workers

There are different types of sex workers involved in the industry. Some of them provide direct sexual services to customers, while some involve indirect services such as erotic performances.

  1. Escort services 

Clients contact escort agencies for an escort for sexual services. In this, the agency arranges a meeting between the client and escort, usually in a hotel or client’s house. In some cases, escorts are provided for a longer period of time in which the escort might stay and travel with the client throughout the trip. 

  1. Phone sex operators

These workers provide sexually oriented conversations or services to customers through means of telephones. This form of work doesn’t involve any direct physical involvement between the client and the worker and is strictly limited to virtual sex acts. 

  1. Webcam modeling 

Webcam modeling involves a model performing erotic acts online such as stripping, sexual acts, and more through a live broadcast. These kinds of sexual interactions are completely digital and don’t include any physical or direct contact with the client. 

  1. Pornography 

A pornographic performer or mainly referred to as a “pornstar” is an individual that performs sexual acts in front of the camera characterized as a pornographic film. Such videos are made in several distinct pornographic subgenres and aim to showcase various sexual fantasies. 

  1. Stripper

Stripping is another form of sex work, where individuals are referred to as “strippers.” This occupation involves the strippers or exotic dancers performing striptease in strip clubs. Stripping doesn’t involve any direct physical involvement between the client and the stripper and is often restricted to watching the striptease. In some cases, people are restricted from touching the stripper. 

  1. Sexual Surrogates 

Also referred to as surrogate partners are practitioners who are trained to address the issues of sexuality and intimacy. Usually, a sexual surrogate works with a sex therapist to help the client meet their desired intimacy goals.  

  1. Neo-Burlesque

This is a revival of traditional American burlesque performance. This type of performance includes classic striptease to modern dance theatrical mini-dramas and comedic mayhem. 

  1. Street Prostitution 

Street prostitution is a form of prostitution where prostitutes tend to solicit sexual services from customers in public places, mainly streets, parks, or benches. In the form of sex work is done in exchange for money or goods and involves direct physical interaction between the client and the worker. 

Sex Worker History

Sex work has been around since ancient times. Even the most primitive societies were reported to have transactional sex.

During ancient times, prostitution or sex work was highly existing in Greece and Egypt, where sexual acts used to be practiced at socioeconomic levels. The change in attitudes towards prostitution and sex work first since during the 16th century in the period of Reinaissance and Protestant Reformation. 

Prostitution is one of history’s oldest professions

Sex work has a long history in the United States. During the 18th century, sex work was deeply rooted from Louisiana to San Francisco. In the 19th century, the “Red-light district” was formed in major cities across the country.

The aim behind the formation of the Red-light district was to create a space where sex workers could work, it was isolated outside society and had correspondence stigma. 

Prostitution was controlled occasionally in the United States until the Mann Act (1910). This act prohibited the transportation of women for immoral purposes. In 1915, there was a major law passed across the states to ban brothels. During this time the majority of the states had labeled prostitution as illegal.

However, only some rural countries of Nevada have legalized sex work. Meanwhile, various Asian and Middle Eastern nations claimed prostitution as an illegal activity but it was still tolerated across the countries.

In the 1980s, the world saw a major change in perspective towards prostitution due to two major developments. The first was related to the increased rate of AIDS, which caused a major concern among people regarding the health issues created due to prostitution.

Meanwhile, the second influence development was caused by the renewal of feminist interest. Looking at the change in attitudes among people, a new neutral term “Sex Worker” was introduced in the 1980s to describe the people involved in commercial sex activities.  

The 21st Century saw an expansion in types of sex work across the world. Films and the internet result in the creation of new opportunities for sex workers including the ones that don’t require physical contact between the client and the worker. This included webcam modeling, adult content-subscription services such as “Only Fans” and more. 

Synonyms of Sex Workers

Some of the synonyms of Sex worker are as follows: 

  • Escort
  • Call girl 
  • Hooker
  • Streetwalker 
  • Courtesan
  • Prostitute 

Are Strippers Sex Workers?

Stripping is a form of sex work where the person’s occupation involves stripteasing in a public adult venue such as a strip club. Stripping is also considered a form of live entertainment, and strippers are often hired for performance at bachelor parties or private events.

Strippers are now turning into Onlyfans “models” after the explosive growth of the platform

Strippers don’t get involved in any sort of direct sexual acts with the customers and are limited to strip tease and dance performances where the workers strip down. In many localities, touching strippers is not permitted.

Before the 1970s the stripping industry mainly involved female strippers performing for male audiences, in strip clubs or private events.

However, there has been a change in the mainstream stripping industry since the 1970s and male strippers have also become an established form of entertainment for female audiences. 

How Much Do Sex Workers Make?

The income of sex workers varies depending on the sex work done by the individual. There are numerous types of sex work that take place such as Stripping, Escort services, Phone Sex service, Virtual Sex, Porn Star, and much more.

The price of each type of sex work varies based on various aspects such as set rates, whether the worker is employed with an agency or organization, independent worker, and more. 

For example, stripping is an inconsistent income and the income earned by a stripper might vary depending on the day and demand. A stripper is likely to make between $10 to $700 a night. Meanwhile, escort services are likely to earn $300 to $500 per call, while 20% to 30% of the earned income goes to the escort agency for booking and offering security services. 

Sex Worker Rights

The Sex worker’s rights were followed globally by people and organizations addressing crucial topics concerning the human, health, and labor rights of sex workers and their customers. 

This movement major focused on the legalization and decriminalization of sex work. With this movement, the sex workers strived to remove associations of shame and disgrace and regulate sex work by providing fair and equal treatment to the individuals working in the sex industry. 

Sex workers’ fight for decriminalization

The Sex worker’s rights movement first began in the 1970s. The movement was started to improve the working conditions of various sex workers along with aims to increase benefits and eliminate discrimination (legal or criminalized) against people working in the sex industry. 

In 1985, the International Committee for Prostitutes received human rights coverage, when they obtained the World Charter for Prostitutes Rights generating a worldwide community. 

The movement kept on growing globally and generated more and more recognition as members banded together to fight the crisis related to AIDS/HIV. The majority of the Sex workers’ rights movement progress pertains to developed countries.

However, currently, various organizations and NGOs are working towards expanding their knowledge and activism to numerous developing countries as well. Although research about the sex workers movements has majorly been conducted in North America and Western European countries.

Meanwhile, the sex worker-led mobilization has taken place across the world. Such actions help to influence people and help sex work get recognized as a profession and sufficient rights provided to the workers. 

Red Umbrella Symbol 

The Red Umbrella is widely recognized as a symbol of Sex worker’s rights which was introduced as part of the 49th Venice Biennale of Art which took place in Venice, Italy in 2001. 

Sex workers held street demonstrations, the Red Umbrella March to protest against the injustice, inhumane work conditions, and human rights abuses. The Red Umbrella symbol was later adopted by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) as a symbol of resistance to discrimination in 2005.  

North Macedonia Sex Workers March Against Violence

17th December is recognized as “Red Umbrella Day” an International Day to End Violence Against Sex workers. This day is held to remember and mourn all those sex workers who have died due to violence. 

In 2010, a non-profit organization was introduced called “The Red Umbrella Project” in New York City, which advocated people on behalf of sex workers and empowered them by giving them a platform to speak their voices.