The sex industry – busting the myths

Despite being the world’s oldest profession, sex work is often shrouded in mystery and euphemism. There are a million different words for women who sell sex – ladies of the night, streetwalkers, courtesans, escorts. There are some less flattering ones too, which many campaigners are trying to put an end to. Because of its underground nature, sex work is subject to a lot of urban legends and misconceptions. I’m here to bust a few myths.

Sex workers are poverty-stricken and desperate

In past centuries, selling sex was one of the few ways a woman could earn her own money. Marrying a man would mean that he had rights to your income, which doesn’t sound much fun. Selling sex put a woman in charge of herself, in time when there was very little chance of doing so. Women could earn far more this way than they could as a maid, and besides that, your only option was to marry well and hope your husband was generous. In the 17th and 18th centuries, courtesans were some of society’s high rollers. Take, for example, Nell Gwynne. No one is totally sure if Nell Gwynne was a prostitute or not, but she certainly had a colourful life. She worked selling oranges in the theatre and as an actress, and worked in brothels as a maid (and possibly more besides. Known as ‘pretty, witty Nelle’ by Samuel Pepys, she had a silver tongue. She eventually became the mistress of King Charles II, making her one of the most high-profile and notorious women in London. She stayed with him until he died, and he sure that she was taken care of. Legend has it that on his deathbed he said ‘let not poor Nelly starve’. While it is sadly true that some women turn to sex work out of desperation, this is not always the case. Some women choose the industry because it works for them because the money is good, or simply because they like sex! In modern times you don’t have to get into bed with a king to make it, some high-class escorts earn upwards of £200,000 a year!

It’s illegal

In the UK the exchange of money for sexual services is legal, but other things such as pimping, curb crawling, soliciting in a public place, or forcing a woman into prostitution, are illegal. Laws differ depending on the country but one thing seems certain – it’s pretty much impossible to wipe out! Many sex workers and activists campaign for laws to be lifted, except in the case of human trafficking or coercion. They say that legalising sex work would make it easier and safer and allow for better control over the industry.

It’s dangerous

This forms a big part of the legalisation argument. Activists argue that when sex work is illegal, women may not go the police if they have been abused by a client for fear of getting arrested themselves. Obviously, some parts of the industry are more dangerous than others. But for the most part, client screening, safe sex and regular testing eliminate a lot of risks. Working out of established parlours can also decrease risk. Centuries ago, many prostitutes were heavily at risk from sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy, and early condoms were made from animal intestines! Now, it’s a lot easier to stay clean and safe.

Sex workers indiscriminately sleep with everyone

Many industries are quite fussy when it comes to their clients, and the sex industry is no different. Most require that the client showers beforehand, and many do checks for signs of venereal disease – bumps, sore etc. Condoms are basically required universally, and refusal to wear one usually ends in a quick dismissal. They also follow laws on age of consent and most sex workers have strict limits on what they will and won’t do.

Sex workers have to be skinny, young, with porn-star good looks

Sex workers come in all shapes and sizes and there is no age limit! Despite media portrayals, men have very varied tastes when it comes to women, and this is reflected in the sex industry. Take a look at the back pages of a tabloid paper and count how many ‘Granny chat’ and ‘mature ladies’ ads there are. Sexy seniors are big business! Or google BBW – that’s big beautiful women. Ladies with generous curves have some huge online followings, with some men even paying to watch them eat or to be sat on! Myths, assumptions, and lies can make life very difficult for sex workers. The best way to combat this is to listen to the sex workers themselves! You may find they have a lot of interesting things to say, in more ways than one!

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