Let’s Talk About Sex (Work)

When most people are asked to picture a prostitute, the image that comes to mind is probably something like Wendy from Breaking Bad. Addicted to drugs, terrible childhood, history of sexual and physical abuse, prostitutes merit pity from the rest of the population as their last resort was to sell their body. This stereotype is prevalent and yet untrue for many (read: most) sex workers.

It’s been three weeks of working at PASTT, an association that serves the needs of the trans community and sex workers in Paris, and within my first hour I met more sex workers than I have in my entire existence. After some reflection, I’ve realized some of the harmful and untrue stereotypes that we possess regarding sex work, which is still illegal in France.

When many people think of prostitution, they mention “selling your body”. Plenty of other jobs require physical labor for pay, and yet no one would tell a construction worker that they’re selling their body. This disconnect between the concept of manual labor and sexual labor is toxic. In a world where 30% of the data transmitted across the Internet contains pornographic material, the way we have commoditized sex work for our personal benefit while condemning the people who work in the field hurts not only sex workers but also those of us who aren’t involved in sex work.

This thought process is relatively new for me, as before starting college, I was relatively against sex work in all forms (prostitution, porn, etc.). Having developed a lot in the past two years as a feminist/social justice fanatic/more woke person, I realized that the problems that exist within “sex work” are related to problems on a larger scale (i.e., pimps, sex trafficking). However, if someone takes agency and chooses to have sex for profit, it should absolutely be their right and we should do everything in our power to make sure the profession is as safe as possible (discussion on effective govt. regulation to come later).

Most of the sex workers I’ve met have been, well, normal people, with normal lives, with a job that is simply different than mine. They compliment me on my earrings, we talk about what we want to eat for lunch, we laugh about the French (as many of the women who are sex workers in Paris are immigrants), and we go on with our respective lives.

I’m living between two societal perspectives right now, but both Americans and the French have societies so entrenched in sexuality, but so afraid to honestly talk about sex work. When I tell my new French acquaintances “Je suis une stagiaire pour une association qui s’occupe des personnes trans et des travailleurs du sexe” (I am an intern at an association that takes care of trans people and sex workers), I’m almost always met with saucer-like eyes and “Prostitutes?”. Usually I laugh and explain what I do there, but nonetheless, I’m shocked that even in a city with pretty well-known red light districts, I’m still met with such surprise when I tell people that yes, I work with sex workers, and yes, their jobs are a legitimate form of work, and yes, I really, really, love it.

Some articles I’ve read lately on the subject that I found interesting:

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