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Inside Beat

Sex workers are real workers, give them respect

With thousands of workers in the industry contributing billions of dollars to the economy each year, it's about time sex workers got the respect and recognition that they deserve. – Photo by Wikimedia

In 2019, Pornhub received 115 million visits per day — that's almost more than the populations of Canada, Australia, Poland and the Netherlands combined.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it's likely that some of you reading this right now make up a portion of those clicks.

As we all know, the porn and sex work industries are incredibly profitable, and they only continue to grow by the day.

When we talk about sex work, it refers to anyone who works within the sex industry, not just porn stars. So whether that's doing pornography, prostitution, escort services, being a stripper or cam girl, phone sex workers, sex shop owners — all of these fall people under the umbrella of sex work.

For every kink, fetish or fantasy out there, there's a sex worker to match. As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that's why there are thousands of different categories and people involved in the industry.

Just like in nature, consumers have a natural niche in our economic ecosystem, and our role in this system is “voting” for the things we want in our society with our money. We make these decisions every day.

When we decide to shop local instead of at a big corporation, we are “voting” to give our money to small businesses. When deciding between Dunkin' and Starbucks, we are “voting” on which coffee is better. These individual transactions add up over time and form the tentative beginnings of an economic caste system from which we adapt our lives.

Free websites like Pornhub use a different currency. Instead of your money, they are competing for your vote in the attention economy. They are profiting off of something much more valuable — your time — making us unwilling, unknowing and unconscious foot soldiers in a war against sex work.

So every time we log on to Pornhub, we are choosing to vote for a $97 billion industry that's widely known for rape, sexual crimes and prioritizes profit over the health and safety of sex workers everywhere.

Pornhub is a tube website, meaning any registered user can upload whatever content they want. This makes the website especially susceptible to abuse content, sex trafficking circles and underage performers.

The website’s use of free adult content has monopolized the entire industry, and in the process has put thousands of sex workers at risk. When presented with two choices — a paid subscription to websites like OnlyFans, or free unlimited content on Pornhub — the answer is obvious.

What does this say about society? We all seem to support sex workers enough to engage with their content and masturbate to their work, but the support ends when sex workers start asking for real things like money, civil rights, safe and healthy work environments and respect. This speaks volumes about the disconnect between sex workers and society's understanding of them.

For some, sex work is a tool of empowerment in a field of work that they thoroughly enjoy. For others, it's a means for survival. But in either case, there are many stigmas around the industry that continue to harm the workers in it.

For one, sex work is often regarded as "easy" or "not real work," but it's not easy by any means. Lena The Plug, one of the most well-known adult content creators on social media, reveals on her YouTube channel the real behind the scenes of being an OnlyFans creator.

She tells her subscribers that you lose 20 percent of your earnings to the platform, but as a creator, you have to upload content weekly and remain engaged with people through direct messages in order to make money in the first place. And when you have thousands of subscribers, this is definitely a difficult task.

Evidently, sex work is a full-time job. And just like with any other job, these creators take pride in their work and strive to make the best content they can for the largest audience possible.

As for prostitution, America is still far behind countries like the Netherlands, where sex work has been legal for almost 20 years.

When people argue that prostitution should be illegal, it usually comes from a legitimate concern for the health and safety of others. But by imposing strict regulations and health codes, countries in Europe were able to improve the health of sex workers and the people who pay for their services.

Sex work becomes safer for all those involved, prostitutes are more willing and able to report abuse and licenses have to be obtained in order to operate brothels. 

The underlying concern with prostitution — and all sex work for that matter — isn't with the health and safety of the women involved. It comes from the patriarchal fear of a woman being able to leverage her sexuality and body for financial gain.

When you watch pornography, it's easy to delude yourself into thinking that the women in the videos are just regular people having consensual sex. There’s no money exchanged, no plans involved.

But with prostitution, there's major discomfort because it forces us to take a look at how sex and money are related and it becomes unsettling to accept that women would willingly choose this path on their own terms rather than by coercion.

The cost to sex work not being considered real work is eminent and oftentimes life threatening. Needless to say, this risky business comes with a hefty investment. It's time for sex work to come from out of the shadows of society and present itself for what it is, real work.

Sex work is talent and breeds self-expression, self-love and empowerment when we allow it to. We owe the individuals in this profession the same rights to unionize, to work in safe environments and to earn stable incomes as any other profession.

We can support sex workers by donating money and supplies, supporting decriminalization and demanding justice for those who have been incarcerated due to sex work. Here's a good place to get started if you'd like to donate.

But it begins with us, the foot soldiers. So the next time you’re “in the mood,” consider subscribing to a website like OnlyFans, rather than giving your vote to the immoral executives of Pornhub.

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