Even writing the words “sex work,” or better yet, “porn,” is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable for men to speak about their taboo hobby, where they are four times more likely than women to have reported watching porn in the past month. It is uncomfortable for women, who, because of the patriarchy, mostly shame their fellow women who participate in sex work. It is seen as immoral, dirty, and disgraceful. With this said, it is no secret that the sex work industry is extremely corrupt and has been since the dawn of time. There is an immense amount of work that needs to be done to radically change the industry.
However, in the seemingly eternal meantime, we as a society, especially as those who identify as women, can interpersonally work to change the way we view sex work — and those who choose to participate in it. Being a feminist is not conducive with cherry-picking women’s empowerment. Lately, the biases of what is “empowering” to women seem very rigid in many spaces. “Women in STEM” is the magnum opus of “the empowered woman.” She’s smart, courageous, and worthy of praise. I believe this stems from one of the elementary principles of feminism; where women can do what men can do. And yes, it is amazing that women are finally able to trailblaze in industries they once were unable to. However, female empowerment comes in all forms. Women who choose to be housewives, and women who choose other industries that have historically been women-dominated, are still just as strong and empowered as those who choose male-dominated industries. The same applies to women in the sex work industry, where there is an undertone of disempowerment. This doesn’t have to be the case.
Female sexuality and sex work have a negative connotation simply due to the patriarchal structure that it exists under. We see women as “sluts” and “whores” when they use their sexuality in any way similar to a man, or if they do not maintain a low “body count” and act in conservative ways. We see women who choose to stray away from stereotypical submissive roles as rebellious, or “asking for attention.” As the patriarchy holds the idea that men are superior to women, this makes complete sense — that women who choose to pursue their sexuality in a radical way are breaking out of the common order, and therefore must be punished or shamed.
When we break down the act of sex, we can see the objective nature of it, and thus see the fabric from which it is woven. Sex is innately not a promiscuous or shameful behavior. It is simply a human desire, started from the animalistic need to mate and reproduce. Because of the societal values built and developed in the six million years of human existence on earth, we have created a social perspective of female sexuality being an inherently shameful topic. Women’s bodies are sexualized in almost every corner of society. Women are not taken seriously if they are attractive, or they get better treatment if they are attractive, and even a young girl’s shoulders showing in a classroom setting is grounds for her to be sent home for inappropriate clothing. It is no secret that women are treated iniquitously in society, and as women, we must hold this truth to be self-evident if we want to maintain our permanence in feminism. Women are shamed simply for masturbating, when men are praised for doing so, and where men are praised for having multiple sexual partners and being womanizers, women are shamed and looked down upon when they choose to do so as well. Where both women and men choose to have sex, since it is a part of human nature, there is a stark difference; women are far more sexualized for the act and this becomes a highlight of their character, whereas men maintain their dignity, and their sexuality is secondary to their character.
Sex work mainly came into play when participation in a capitalistic economy became something necessary for survival. When there is a disparity in equality in jobs, income streams, socioeconomic statuses, etc., there is a larger population of those choosing seemingly alternative industries such as sex work or pornography. Many people would argue that these women must not be capable of getting real jobs, or they are choosing to disrespect themselves because they are too “lazy” or “undignified” to get another career. However, why does this even matter? Regardless of these women’s credentials or skills, they chose the industry for whatever reason they did, and this should result in unconditional acceptance from others in what they chose to do as legal adults. They are working to make a living, or they are in school, doing their career on the side, and this is simply the society that has been created surrounding them.
Of course, none of this applies to those who are underage or exploited, which is another entire discourse, and there is a rightful shame on the industry for permitting and promoting this work.
While there are so many nuances and so much discourse about this topic, there is a truly simple point that it can be boiled down to. When we exist in a society where sex work exists, there can only be one reaction: acceptance. No matter the nuance of the work, or the character of the individual, to truly work in feminism, which is meant to empower all women, we must support and empower women in every single line of work imaginable, even those with a negative connotation. When we can see sex work as simply another profession, instead of something that is immoral because of its promiscuous nature, we will be able to radically change the fabric of society which says that women are innately sexualized beings, and only there will the start of equity begin in the sexual roles of men and women.