The Sexuality Blog: Sex work is not prostitution

Yeah I said it, sex work is not prostitution.

Part of acknowledging that the world is far more complex than we previously conceived is being willing and ready to change the language we use to describe thing. Language matters; to name a thing is to have power over it. The checkered history of the word ‘Nigger’has taught us that, and even we as Africans are learning that in spite of our mutual biological heritage and similar skin colour doesn’t accord us the privilege of using the word as a self descriptor, a term of endearment or any other way we use it. It is time we took that mindset to what we currently refer to as ‘prostitution’.

Here are some statistics about prostitution. If you google the word, every single article on the first page references slavery, torture and human trafficking. Let’s bring it home to Nigeria; reports suggest that between 250 – 400,000 women have been trafficked from Nigeria to Europe and sold to prostitution rings. These are the kind of numbers last recorded during colonialism. This Guardian article suggests that 80% of the women who enter Italy illegally by boat will be sold into sexual slavery by the end of the 2016. That means 8 out of every ten women who leave Nigeria to Italy in search of a better life will end up forced into prostitution. 8 out of 10, in one year alone. It scares me shitless.

These numbers are similar across the world. Women across the world are forced, threatened or cajouled into prostitution. They are beaten, raped into submission, forced to swear fetish oaths, their families are threatened. They are told they no longer own their lives, working instead to enrich their pimps and whoever lies at the apex of the food chain. There is nothing pretty, rebellious or consensual about prostitution.

However prostitution has been painted as the exact opposite; the past time of ‘bad’ girls and ‘loose’ women, who not only enjoy sex outside of the religious and moral bounds society has placed around it for women, they have the temerity to ask to be paid for it. I have seen men and women call prostitution a ‘bad habit’, as though prostitution were a rabid form of promiscuity and suggested ostracization.

Sex work on the other hand is pretty self explanatory. Humans have monetized every other part of their existence. We pay for other people’s time, skill, intelligence, experience; we even go as far paying for their attention. So why is a woman asking for compensation so taboo. Because a woman can have sexual agency, and demand compensation for labour, but not at the same time.

Men already explicitly offer money in anticipation of sex and women are allowed to receive these gifts. But a woman is forbidden for pre-empting this often tiresome chase and cut straight to the negotation. A woman like that terrifies men who are used to women waiting quietly until they are offered money.

Sex work is merely that, work, no matter how undignified. And people should be able to exit their work and continue their lives without irrevocably changing said work. Categorizing sex work (which is often infrequent for most young women) as prostitution lumps victims and non-conforming sex workers as complicit in the horrors that go on in the prostitution industry. And honestly that helps no one.

There are no prostitutes, only victims of prostitution.

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Comments

1 Comment

  • Sulaiman says:

    This is a story,we are Nigerian both Muslims and Christians knows that isn’t in our religious and cultures.
    I have a question?
    Will you like your mother to be a sex worker? if not,why are you like some ones mother to be.

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