Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 20: Sex Workers

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HealthWiki > Where Women Have No Doctor > Chapter 20: Sex Workers


smiling women in t-shirts that say, "Your condom is your protection"
Sex workers’ unions are demanding protection of their legal and human rights.

Sex workers, like other women, are working to make a living.

A sex worker is anyone who trades sex for money or other favors. Many people picture sex workers as women who do not wear many clothes, flirt with men, and work in brothels or on the street. But women who sell sex are a diverse group. A sex worker may be a young girl or an older woman with 6 children at home. She may work in a brothel, in a bar or a club, on the street with a pimp, or in her own home. What most of these women share in common, though, is that they sell sex because they desperately need money.

In this book we use the term ‘sex worker’ instead of ‘prostitute’. We do this because many people think of a prostitute as a bad woman who should be punished. The term ‘sex worker’ emphasizes that sex workers, like other women, are working to make a living. For the same reason, we call the men who buy sex ‘clients’ or ‘customers’.

There are also many women who do not think of themselves as sex workers, yet occasionally they trade sex for favors, like a place to live, food, or a job. This is sometimes called ‘survival sex’. These women face many of the same problems that sex workers face.

The purpose of this chapter is to provide information on the health problems sex workers face, and about ways sex workers can help themselves. It also helps people understand what life is like for women who must trade sex to survive.


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