This is a guest post by Kitty Stryker, a queer BBW porn star who writes about sex worker rights. To read more perspectives on the sex work industry as part of Ravishly's special conversation series, click here.
I’ve been all over the sex industry, from nude modeling and escorting to working as a Dominatrix and as a porn performer. As such, I’m often asked if sex work empowers me, if it’s safe, or if I feel morally corrupted by it.
To provide context—I have never been asked these questions in reference to working as an unpaid intern. I’ve never been asked that about my job—both underpaid and overworked—in the marketing department of an athletic company. I’ve never been asked that about working retail—a job where sexual harassment was routine and reporting it could get you fired.
I’m only ever asked about my working conditions, my financial security, and my health on the job when the job in question, is sex work.
Financial security is not something my generation or class has grown to expect. Like an oasis, it looks luxurious and attainable, yet somehow always remains just out of reach. Being a sex worker allowed me space to breathe—the ability to put money into a savings account while going to school. Yes, I felt empowered. Yet as long as the only industry where women consistently earn more than men carries such stigma—and even then, this is only as performers, not as producers or distributors—and as long as we live under a capitalist patriarchy, I have to question how empowering sex work can really be.
But not because of the nature of the work itself, or because it involves sex—it’s far more complex than that.
I think it’s the stigma that prevents sex work from being empowering—a stigma that long outlives your sex work career. You can be fired if you are found out to be naked on the internet. You can lose your apartment, or your kids, or your lover. You can lose your privacy, have your name and address posted for people to harass you … and people will say you deserved it. Unlike any other job, where you are allowed to change careers, society brands sex workers for life.
The same people who consume pornography still say they would never want their daughters to do it because ultimately, we as a culture still believe that porn performers are “those” kinds of women—not ivy league students, not loving mothers, not business owners. Sex work may empower some and humiliate others, or we might start feeling one way and eventually feel another. This also holds true for food service, though we ask that question far less often. Stigma actively prevents sex workers from being able to do other work, even when they want to.
Work, of any kind, is as empowering as the amount of agency the employees have. Sex work is no different, hence we need rights … not rescue. I wish anti-sex work feminists would address that side of the issue, rather than just pushing women to quit the only job willing to pay a living wage without an exit plan. We need to look, honestly, at how we treat "labor."