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Destigmatizing Sex Work Can Make Room For Healthy Sexual Growth

Author: Tsara Shelton
Author Contact: @TsaraShelton on Twitter
Published: 18th Jul 2022 - Updated: 6th Sep 2022
Peer-Reviewed Publication: N/A
Additional References: Discrimination and Abuse Publications

Summary: Sex workers, when given respect and a safe working environment, can help us thrive sexually.


Sex Worker

A sex worker is someone who offers sexual performances or services in exchange for material compensation.

Main Document

If we, as a society, worked at destigmatizing sex work, allow it to be like so many things that are not good for everyone but not because it is not good at all, we will have more room for safety and learning.

Sex is interesting. We're naturally inclined to have strong reactions to it, we're predisposed to wanting it, but as we build societal norms we too often choose to build unhealthy stories around those reactions and desires.

We teach each other conflicting things: You should never do it! You should always do it! If he wants it your job is to give it! You must never use contraception! If you want it with someone the same gender as you, you have been brainwashed! You should be free with it, be a sexual individual and explore! Wait until marriage and don't you dare enjoy it! Don't you dare wait until marriage or you may never enjoy it! And on and on. None of these is factual. None of these, as a rule, is a healthy way to think about sex.

When my mom was a call girl her clients were largely people who had learned unhealthy beliefs about sex, or people with disabilities that had a hard time finding organic opportunities for sex. My mom, in her role as Romance Therapist, cared deeply for these people and did her darndest to help them get what would feel good: during their hour with her and into their futures.

My mom happens to be a brain and behavior expert. She also happened to be, all those years ago, a single mom with eight kids, several with disabilities, who didn't have room for dating, who enjoyed sex, and who finds joy in teaching people how to live better. The more people need, the more my mom insists on seeking answers needed to help. It is a beautiful way my mom helps herself. (It is truly a remarkable story that she wrote about in her first published book which I reviewed here: Jeff: A Sexually Realized Spiritual Odyssey of Stepping Into Love)

Not all sex workers are brain and behavior experts. But they are all workers. And it is legitimate, desired work.

It can be healthy work, too. My mom is only one example of someone for whom the work can be well suited. Often, because it is draining work, it is occasional work. But for some it is a career that they navigate well. They provide something that can be transformational, life affirming, or simply exciting in healthy ways.

It can also be, and often is, unhealthy work. It can hurt people, providers and consumers alike, and often does. Physically and/or emotionally. It can be traumatic.

But if it wasn't such a confusing controversial industry, if it wasn't so uncomfortable to talk about, it would be less unhealthy and dangerous.

It's confusing. As a culture we seem comfortable making jokes about everyone having to delete their browsing history, because - well, porn. We are often comfortable seeing the industry portrayed on tv, in sitcoms or crime shows, and will even feel as though we're open minded and cool about it. But the punch lines and too often one-dimensional characters presume we are not "them". And we rarely seem okay with the idea that people we know work in the sex industry, and that they can be perfectly regular people going to an interesting job. Instead, "Thanks for letting me get off while you perform for me, you unscrupulous thing," seems to be a common attitude.

Or, if you are like me and don't look at pornography, it's easy to feel like they're good people making mistakes they might have to heal from. Watchers and performers alike.

But that's not true either.

Few of the "this is what it is to be involved in sex work" stories are true. The work is diverse and in demand for a multitude of reasons. The people doing the work and the people purchasing the services are diverse and desiring for a variety of reasons.

Having the ability to speak freely, to expect respect, to set up for safety, will make a difference in our world and in the work.

I admit, I'm tempted to be overly judgmental myself sometimes. I think because the reaction feels like it happens to me before I can even decide what reaction I want to have. Sexual images or stories can evade my carefully crafted inner-self like a ninja and cascade me in confusing physical and emotional feelings I was not prepared for. It's tempting to call it - or something about it - bad. Sinful. Wrong.

But that is just not the case.

For some, the job is a wonderful way to live. Learning what people want sexually, discovering what you yourself enjoy and are willing to give, practicing saying so with clarity and kindness, saying no without judgment and yes without judgement, not needing to spend too much money on overhead or loving the spending on costumes and toys. Sex can be a beautiful thing and wanting it to be experienced in this transactional way is not inherently bad.

Too many of us, almost all I would venture to say, are harmed by the hard-to-talk-about hurts and misguided beliefs we encounter as we attempt to find and express our sexual selves.

My own personal fantasies, until only recently, were almost all built around a central character (me, but never me) who was passed out or pretending to be. Why? Because then I didn't have to navigate the question of what is sexy. How does sexy act? How does sexy look? What does sexy do? So, in my fantasies sexy was a girl so sexy that even passed out a separate someone couldn't resist her. (I am always a girl in my fantasies.)

Now, as I have grown to love sex with my partner, I imagine the me character participating. Doing things I have learned I think are sexy to think about. Because I've learned to discover what I think is sexy, without shame.

You know, if I had grown up in a world that didn't give me so many darned inconsistent and confusing ideas about sex, I'm quite sure my path to this place would have been smoother and less traumatic. And I'm lucky. I've gotten here.

Some people are less likely than me to find a healthy love of sex - one that can be both personal and reciprocal - without help from experts.

Imagine being comfortable - and legally permitted - to have someone come to you, show you what sex is actually like, let you explore them and yourself, let you practice asking and giving. Perhaps you have extreme anxiety, or your social skills are terrible and meeting someone who will want to have sex with you seems next to impossible, or you have noticed a sexual inclination in yourself that is cruel and you want to change, there should be the option to find a sex worker capable of working with you.

Films and erotic stories are ways to explore sex, but they are generally less realistic. They have a tendency to lie about sex, which is part of the fun, but it is rarely the right place to learn about having sex with someone else. Better would be having sex with someone else. Consensual sex with communication.

Date rape, sex with an incapacitated person, sex with someone you don't like, these things are uncomforably common. Why? Partly because we don't teach or talk about sex well.

Yet being paid for sex, paid to strip or otherwise perform and entertain sexually, is considered nasty, or perverted, or lazy, or corruptive, or pathetic. It is not. It is a place where we can consent and learn.

Why is there so much work in the sex industry? Because it is an innate interest, a desire, even a need we all have, sex. But we don't have equal access. And we don't all have sexual interests we're comfortable talking about.

We ought to be open about this as we create our culture, allow it to be explored and questioned.

And, yes, transactional.

Author Credentials:

Tsara Shelton, author of Spinning in Circles and Learning From Myself, is a contributing editor to Tsara's personal blog can be found at Keep up to date with Tsara's latest writings by following @TsaraShelton on Twitter.

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• (APA): Tsara Shelton. (2022, July 18). Destigmatizing Sex Work Can Make Room For Healthy Sexual Growth. Retrieved September 23, 2023 from

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