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Last updated on: 5/12/2008 12:18:00 PM PST
What Is Sex Work?


General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2006 fourth edition) defined sex work as:

"The performance of sex acts for hire; prostitution."

2006 - American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 

The 2006 Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work provided the following:

"'Sex work' is a phrase created in the last 30 years to refer to sexual commerce of all kinds. Prostitution has varying definitions in different contexts. Some of these are based on the definition of prostitution in law, or what is illegal. Legal definitions change over time and place, leading to great confusion if one relies on one definition from the criminal code or one from the civil code, as they do not travel well. Despite the difficulty of terminology, prostitution as a sexual exchange for money or other valuables is the general definition of prostitution for this work. In that sense, the term 'sex work' is appropriate in its inclusivity.

'Sex work' was conceived as a nonstigmatizing term, without the taint of the words 'whore' and 'prostitute.' The point of the term was to convey the professionalism of the sex worker rather than her lack of worth as seen by much of society."

2006 - Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work 

The Network of Sex Work Projects and Jo Bindman, Former Information Officer with End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT), in the 1997 report "Redefining Prostitution as Sex Work on the International Agenda," provided the following:

"The terms 'sex work' and 'sex worker' have been coined by sex workers themselves to redefine commercial sex, not as the social or psychological characteristic of a class of women, but as an income-generating activity or form of employment for women and men...

We propose the following definition of sex work:

Negotiation and performance of sexual services for remuneration

1. with or without intervention by a third party

2. where those services are advertised or generally recognised as available from a specific location

3. where the price of services reflects the pressures of supply and demand.

In this definition, 'negotiation' implies the rejection of specific clients or acts on an individual basis. Indiscriminate acceptance by the worker of all proposed transactions is not presumed -- such acceptance would indicate the presence of coercion."

1997 - Jo Bindman 
Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) 

The UNAIDS Inter-Agency Task Team on Gender and HIV/AIDS, in its fact sheet "HIV/AIDS, Gender and Sex Work," published in its 2005 Resource Pack on Gender and HIV/AIDS, stated:

"A broad definition of sex work would be: 'the exchange of money or goods for sexual services, either regularly or occasionally, involving female, male, and transgender adults, young people and children where the sex worker may or may not consciously define such activity as income-generating'. There is a widespread view that occasional engagement in transactional sex, or sexual barter, constitutes 'sex work'...

Sex work may be formal or informal. In some instances, sex work is only a temporary informal activity. Women and men who have occasional commercial sexual transactions or where sex is exchanged for food, shelter or protection (survival sex) would not consider themselves to be linked with formal sex work. Occasional sex work takes place where sex is exchanged for basic, short-term economic needs and this is less likely to be a formal, full-time occupation. Commercial sex work may be conducted in formally organised settings from sites such as brothels, nightclubs, and massage parlours; or more informally by commercial sex workers who are streetbased or self-employed."

2005 - UNAIDS Inter-Agency Task Team on Gender and HIV/AIDS