Collage by Imogen McKay
CW: sex work, sexual assault
I am a sex worker. I am a feminist. I am myself and I refuse to let labels define me.
For many people, sex work is a difficult topic to talk about or digest. For me, it’s a coffee date conversation or an icebreaker on a first date.
Feminism, in my eyes, exists only as sex-positive feminism. My work has never clashed with my activism. In fact, it has only strengthened it. I am often confronted by the question: “How can you be a sex worker and still be a feminist?” The short answer is that my work is consensual and it does not take away from who I am as a person. The long answer is this:
I have endured many setbacks throughout my journey in discovering, exploring and taking control of my sexuality. Time and time again, I have been coerced into sex, sexually assaulted and slut-shamed. I have been the target of hatred and rejection because of how I choose to display my sexuality. At times, I have felt shame, guilt and immense self-disgust as a result. But my decision to choose sex work and my experiences in the industry have never made me feel this way.
In fact, being a sex worker has empowered me in ways that I didn’t expect. It has also taught me invaluable lessons. I have become much more assertive. I never let the fear of ‘ruining the mood’ prevent me from voicing my dislikes or discomfort. I have grown to be so much more confident in myself, and I have learned how to channel this confidence in my everyday life. I have learned to be unapologetic when I know what I have done is right. I have learned to disregard non-constructive criticisms and to avoid whorephobic people who continuously seek to bring me down. These are only a few of the invaluable lessons sex work has taught me.
The relationship between sex work and feminism exposes the sinister and dangerous nature of the ‘superficial’ brand of feminism. We are told to take charge of our sexualities; we are told that our bodies are our own. We are told we are strong, independent women capable of making decisions for ourselves. But when I acted in such a way, I was met with reactions that surprised me. “By all means, cut your hair short! Offer to pay the bill on a first date! It’s even okay to be the breadwinner in the family! But my god, how can women possibly be feminists if they willingly choose to sell their bodies?” To cast a scope on the limits of a woman’s ‘liberation’ shows how this brand of surface-level feminism is still deeply rooted within patriarchal constraints. Sex work allows me to take complete ownership of my body. I am able to take complete control of the objectification of my body. I am selling a service, not my body.
The perceived tension between sex work and feminism baffles me; I think it comes from misinformed ideas about the industry. The media actively seeks to demonise sex workers for greater viewership, and legislations make no efforts to differentiate consensual sex work from sex trafficking. In the wake of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), the conflation of consensual adult sex work and sex trafficking has become more dangerous than ever and must be dispelled. While such bills are set up around the prevention of sex trafficking, major SESTA supporters are part of the religious far-right who seek to eradicate sex work altogether. Since the emergence of SESTA and FOSTA, we have already witnessed an increase in violence targeting an already marginalised group. The dialogue about sex work in the current political atmosphere should be about the ways that we can keep consenting adult sex workers safe, and it is more important than ever. Sex worker rights are human rights, and in the battle for human rights, we must all play a role.
Sex work is work. Just like any other job, there are days when I love it, and there are days when I feel exhausted and burnt-out. But I have never felt coerced as a sex worker. Money and financial security are undeniably the major factors which motivate my work, but isn’t that the case with almost any other job? Sex work has provided me with the means to be completely financially independent since the age of 18. I am able to afford my rent, pay for my studies and live comfortably, all thanks to sex work. For this, I am entirely grateful.
I refuse to let my actions be dictated by a society that clings to suffocating ideals of sexual morality. I refuse to allow whorephobic comments, opinions and slurs define and limit me as a person. I am unashamedly slutty. And I am proud.