Sex Workers, language and slurs
This is the same stuff I’ve said a lot in more posts than I can remember but I want to make a specific post about it since I get a lot of questions about these things and I want to add it to my resources page.
Prostitute is a Slur
Prostitute is a word that is used entirely to criminalize sex workers.
The word refers specifically to exchanging sex acts for money, which is a crime in most places, and is part of the reason other terms like ‘escort’ came along; escorting is selling one’s time which may or may not include sex, and is paid by an hourly rate, whereas prostitution is paid by the sex act. In many places, ‘escorting’ allows a loophole for full service sex work though it also has some classist implications. It remains though that prostitute is a word that strips full service sex workers of our humanity and reduces us to criminals; this is the history and intention of it. It is a slur, so don’t use it except to self refer if you’re a full service sex worker yourself.
Hooker is a Slur
Hooker is a disparaging term for a full service sex worker, often linked to street-based work, which again has class issues. It is used to demean and degrade full service sex workers. Don’t use it.
Whore is a Slur
This is an area where a lot of people fuck up, believing bullshit like “but whore is used to target all women!” No shit, guess why? Because it refers to full services sex workers. That’s the entire reason why it’s offensive. When you call someone a whore, you are literally calling them a full service sex worker. Don’t do it, and don’t use it for yourself if you’re not a sex worker (the word can be applied to sex workers who don’t do full service in some situations, but only to self refer).
When you use any of the above words, you are contributing to whorephobia; the specific marginalization that sex workers, usually women, experience in every aspect of society from interpersonal relationships to the state. This stigma often results in discrimination, violence, rape, death and even murder. Language matters. Words are important.
Whorephobia is the term that sex workers coined in the 1970s to describe this oppression. This is the only instance where non sex workers can use the word whore. While there are problems raised with this word, it’s what we have, it’s been around for 40 years now so unless sex workers decide to change it (if that’s even possible) this is what we have whether we like it or not. The fact that this word contains a slur is no fucking excuse to attack people for using it, and the only people who complain about it are whorephobic fauxminists themselves who are trying to silence us by taking away our language to call them out on their bigotry while changing the subject, trying to paint US as misogynists. This is not a “new libfem term” and libfeminism has fucking nothing to do with sex worker rights anyway; sex workers have historically occupied the fringes of society, something which every brand of feminism likes to avoid.
If you don’t feel comfortable using this word, feel free to write it as wh*rephobia instead.
Street-Walker is a Slur
This word specifically attacks street-based workers, who experience the worst marginalization of all sex workers with all other things being equal. Even in sex worker spaces, street-based workers are often looked down on by indoor sex workers such as escorts or brothel workers. This is called lateral whorephobia and it’s fucked up. No one gets to use this phrase except street-based workers.
Pimp is another term that often comes up in these conversations. It has a complicated history and has strong anti-Black connotations. Pimping is a reality, it definitely does happen and there are situations where this word is appropriate. It’s also a concept used to attack sex workers by criminalizing anyone who assists us; legally, anyone who helps a sex worker organize their appointments or drives them to and from a client can be charged as a pimp. It’s a disparaging term that often targets friends and partners of sex workers. It’s also widely used by anti sex worker fauxminists to discredit peer-based organizations; SWERFs will baselessly claim that sex worker organizations are actually run by pimps. This virtually never happens as most organizations have strict policies regarding who can become a member; only sex workers can join peer-based organizations.
John is a term used to refer to the clients of sex workers. We virtually never use it, we call them clients cos that’s what they are though some sex workers call their clients tricks. That’s really up to them, but non sex workers would be better off using clients, especially since not all clients are men anyway.
The catch-all term for anyone who sells their sexual energy is ‘sex worker’. This includes strippers, peep show performers, brothel workers, cam performers and many more. The key point is that they sell their sexual energy; there are people in the sex industry who don’t and therefore are not sex workers, such as security staff, DJs, drivers, managers etc.
Since this is an umbrella term, you may need to refer to specific sex industry positions.
Full service sex worker is anyone who has sex with their clients. Sex can be a variety of things but usually involves genitals touching (some sex workers only do massage with hand relief, and they are not full service sex workers), though not necessarily every time. The term implies that some form of penetrative sex is an available activity. Porn performers aren’t usually referred to as full service sex workers even though they have sex because the people they’re having sex with are not their clients, though some porn performers do full service sex work in addition to performing in porn.
Indoor sex worker generally refers to any full service sex worker who works indoors. They may work for themselves privately in their own homes or from hotel/motel/rented rooms, for an escort agency, or in a brothel/parlor. Indoor sex workers generally experience lower risks of violence; from clients, strangers and police.
Street-based sex worker generally refers to sex workers who work outdoors or in public/semi public places. Some people consider sex workers who meet clients via the internet/newspaper advertisements and see them in semi-public spaces (e.g. cars, public toilets) to be street-based but more commonly, street-based sex worker means the sex worker meets their clients in a public place; sometimes a bar or club but more often, a stroll (a stroll is a street where sex workers tend to work; clients know to go to that street in particular to find sex workers and vice versa). Sometimes strolls are decriminalized; in Sydney for example, it’s not a criminal act for sex workers to meet clients at Kings Cross, though it isn’t legal to meet them in public anywhere else. Public sex is always illegal. Sometimes ‘outdoor sex worker’ is used, but less commonly.
Brothel worker is pretty self explanatory, I’ve not heard of another term to refer to sex workers who are based in brothels. Some brothel workers also do escorting, either privately or via the brothel.
Escort is an acceptable word to use to refer to independent full service sex workers who work indoors, though some (like myself) dislike it because it has certain class connotations as above.
SWERF is an acronym that means ‘sex worker exclusionist radical feminist’ and illustrates the fact that despite their protests, anti sex worker fauxminists actually hate us, including those of us who are forced, coerced and/or trafficked. They hide this behind false statistics and pretending that anyone with a tumblr account is too privileged to have an opinion, but in truth, they just want to silence us and force us out of our jobs.
I hope this covers all the language questions, if I’ve missed anything please let me know