Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 20: Sex Workers

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In this chapter:

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

How to use this chapter:

This chapter describes what life is like for people who do sex work. It provides information about some health problems sex workers may have, especially sex workers who have a vagina, womb, and cervix and who are able to get pregnant. It also shares ways sex workers and other community members can organize for change. This information is for all people who do sex work and for the people who support them.

Sex workers are working to make a living.

A sex worker is someone who willingly trades sex for money or other necessities. 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 people who sell sex are a diverse group. A sex worker may be a teenager, a transgender person, or an older woman with 6 children at home. They may work in a brothel, in a bar or a club, on the street with a pimp, or at home.

In this book we use the term “sex worker” instead of “prostitute.” We do this because the word “prostitute” is used to judge sex workers negatively. Using “sex worker” emphasizes that these are people who are working to make a living. For the same reason, we call the people who buy sex “clients” or “customers.”

There are also many people who do not think of themselves as sex workers, but who occasionally or often trade sex for things they need, like a place to live, food, or a job. This is sometimes called “survival sex.” These people face many of the same challenges that sex workers face.

This page was updated:22 Jan 2024