Fuck You, Pay Me: Sex Work is Damn, Hard Work & Nothing to Joke About.

As an activist and ally of sex workers for nearly a decade, my purpose for this piece is to facilitate a discussion in the larger community on what it means to be a sex worker.

With the events surrounding COVID-19, I have started to see a trend online wherein young women are expressing their desires to turn to camming as a means to make money during the quarantine period. While some of these sentiments are intended to be playful, I have witnessed others taking it quite literally and establishing OnlyFans sites to pay for and view their sexualized content.

Several folks online have pushed back on such individuals, stating that sex work is hard work and nothing that should be taken lightly. Not to mention that almost every sex worker I know has now moved their services online, as if this weren’t the worst possible time for the industry to be saturated with bored millennials who are hoping to make some extra cash. The sex worker community is one that is being impacted greatly, with folks who are desperately trying to make ends meet during a worldwide health crisis that impedes their ability to meet safely with new clients, all the while coupled with major economic uncertainty.

I’m certainly not criticizing those who want to take it upon themselves to feel good or commodify their sexuality for business, or pleasure, or whatever reason you are doing it for. What I don’t respect is when you are doing it, not out of necessity, but at the expense of those that work their asses off on the daily. And, honey, sex work is not easy money.

This then begs question; what, in fact, entails sex work?

I posed this very question online to the CUMmunity and turned up quite a varied response from sex workers and those in the sex industry. I received messages from those that work in strip clubs, brothels, as well as online and street-based, and folks that work both. Some believe that sex work is limited to transactional sexual acts performed between a worker and a client. Others believe that this can also include online sexual acts such as camming and pornography, and consider performance-based sexuality such as stripping and burlesque to be a form of sex work as well.

Every person that answered this survey question currently works or has worked in the sex industry in some form or another. And to say that one person is more valid than the other does not seem like a very productive way of approaching the subject. What I do think is important to consider in what you believe may or may not constitute sex work, is to look at whether or not these acts are done in exchange for money from a willing client.

Perhaps some sex workers prefer to work exclusively online due to privacy concerns, disability, or health and safety risks — does this make them any less a sex worker than someone that chooses to meet with a client in person? And perhaps there are sex workers that get naked on stage and have money thrown at them rather than choosing to offer physical touch or exchange sexual services. Does this make them any less a sex worker?

Sexuality, sexual acts, and how we choose to partake, or even define sex is so different for everyone. There is not one set way to do it. Humans have found a plethora of creative and unique ways to pleasure one another, and it will only continue to expand. I say we celebrate the sexual liberation of others rather than force it into a hierarchy or presume that your methods are more, or less, legitimate.

The most important takeaway, is that there are those who are far more marginalized and at risk for sex-based violence — including BIPOC and QTPOC street and brothel sex workers — and this is something that definitely needs to be at the forefront of the conversation.

Some food for thought.

With love,

B.

Image by: Clayton Cubitt (IG: @claytoncubitt)

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