What is a Commercial s*x Worker?
A commercial s*x worker (CSW) is an individual who exchanges s*x for money or other valuable goods, such as drugs. Scientists prefer to use this term, rather than the more derogatory terms below, because it is descriptive rather than judgmental, and not associated with as much negative cultural baggage.
Also Known As: prostitute, whore
Commercial s*x Workers, Safe s*x, and STDs
In the United States, commercial s*x work is highly stigmatized.
The most common forms are also illegal in most states. However, the risks of engaging in commercial s*x are not always the same. They vary based on a number of factors — including the types of activities engaged in. There are, for example, forms of commercial s*x, such as professional domination, that are relatively risk free — at least from the perspective of STDs. There are other forms of commercial s*x that are high risk, such as unprotected vaginal, oral, or an*l s*x.
Furthermore, although not all commercial s*x workers are knowledgeable about safe s*x precautions, many are and are quite proactive about safety and self care. Those s*x workers who have the power and autonomy to be able to consistently negotiate safe s*x with their clients, may be smarter and more sensible about their s*xual activity than people who have lots of casual s*x for free.
Conflating s*x Work and s*x Trafficking
Many activists and academics, not to mention members of the general public, conflate s*x work with s*x trafficking.
However, they are not the same thing. s*x trafficking is defined, . the Department of Homeland Security as the use of “force, fraud, or coercion” to lure individuals into commercial s*xual exploitation. Some people engaged in s*x work have been trafficked. Others have chosen to engage in commercial s*x work for their own combination of financial, personal, and/or other reasons.
Unfortunately, the current enforcement climate around commercial s*x work in the U.S. focuses on prosecuting s*x workers rather than their clients or the people who traffic them. It is easier to blame and stigmatize s*x workers than to question the activity of their, often highly privileged male clientele.
In 2015 this was seen in the discussion of Charlie Sheen’s HIV diagnosis. Sheen attempted to shift the stigma of that diagnosis on to the s*x workers he had repeatedly hired — using highly negative language to talk about them without ever discussing his own culpability in his actions. In addition, news reports suggest that he refused to use condoms with s*x workers. He also continued to engage in risky s*x after he was diagnosed with HIV, showing no respect for safety or bodily autonomy of the women he hired.