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Is Prostitution Psychologically Harmful to Prostitutes?

PRO (yes)


Rae Story, former sex worker, in a Dec. 8, 2016 guest post for titled “I Didn’t Think of My Prostitution as Traumatic but It Left Me with PTSD,” wrote:

“It took me a long time to fully understand my symptoms; the irritability, the anger, the fear, the strange existential sense that life no longer had any purpose… Not all women in prostitution will suffer from PTSD, but many of us do; even in the most conservative findings, prostitutes are shown to be significantly more likely to suffer from PTSD than the general population. For us it is the site of our suffering and the cause of our enfeeblement. Only by confronting that, have I begun to heal.”

Dec. 8, 2016


Melissa Farley, PhD, Founding Director of the Prostitution Research and Education, wrote “Bad for the Body, Bad for the Heart” in the Oct. 2004 Violence Against Women, that stated:

“Laws that justify legalization or decriminalization of prostitution to safeguard women’s health fail to address the psychological harm of prostitution…

PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] is characterized by anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, flashbacks, emotional numbing, and hyperalertness. Symptoms are more severe and long lasting when the stressor is of human design. PTSD is normative among prostituted women. Farley et al. (2003) found a PTSD prevalence rate of 68% among those in prostitution in nine countries. This rate was comparable to the rates of PTSD among battered women seeking shelter, rape survivors, and survivors of state-sponsored torture…

Dissociation occurs during extreme stress among prisoners of war who are tortured, among children who are sexually assaulted, and among women who are battered, raped, or prostituted. Dissociation, depression, and other mood disorders are common among prostituted women in street, escort, and strip club prostitution. Dissociation in prostitution results from both childhood sexual violence and sexual violence in adult prostitution. At the same time, dissociation is a job requirement for surviving prostitution.”

Oct. 2004


Hilary L. Surratt, PhD, et. al., in the study titled “The Connections of Mental Health Problems, Violent Life Experiences, and the Social Milieu of the ‘Stroll’ with the HIV Risk Behaviors of Female Street Sex Workers,” in the July 2005 Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, wrote that:

“This study… documented elevated prevalence rates of current depression and anxiety among the sample of street-based female sex workers. These data are supported by similar studies reporting high levels of past year depressive symptoms in 64% to 70% of street sex workers, and well exceed the rates of current depression in both incarcerated women (10%) and women in the general population (5% to 9%). Moreover, these levels of depressive symptoms are significantly higher than those of other female drug users who are not necessarily sex workers. For example, in a study of 420 African American female, out-of-treatment drug users in St. Louis, only 11% reported depression during the past month.”

July 2005

CON (no)


Sarah Romans, MD, et al., in the Feb. 2001 Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry article “The Mental and Physical Health of Female Sex Workers: A Comparative Study,” wrote:

“There were no differences in mental health… or in self-esteem… between the two groups [female prostitutes and females who weren’t prostitutes]…

Overall, despite any personal problems arising from the particular nature of their work, these women described as adequate relationships with partners, friends and work colleagues. Two papers have suggested that sex workers have high rates of psychological symptoms; however, both used convenience samples and lacked a comparison group making interpretation of the results difficult. Our results challenge prevailing ideas that sex work and psychiatric morbidity are inevitably associated.”

Feb. 2001


Ine Vanwesenbeeck, PhD, Manager of Research at Rutgers Nisso Group, Dutch Expert Centre on Sexuality, in the Dec. 2005 Archives of Sexual Behavior article “Burnout Among Female Indoor Sex Workers,” wrote:

“This study provided evidence that female indoor sex workers in the Netherlands do not exhibit a higher level of work-related emotional exhaustion or a lower level of work-related personal competence than a comparison group of female health care workers (mostly nurses)…

The fact that findings were partly contrary to expectations and contrary to suggestions from others that sex work is intrinsically traumatizing may be explained by sample differences. Here, indoor sex workers were studied, whereas many other studies focus almost exclusively on street workers.”

Dec. 2005


Diana Hsieh, writer for The Objectivist Journal, wrote the Oct. 12, 2003 post “The Psychology of Prostitution” on her website Noodlefood, which stated:

“Certainly streetwalkers are not paragons of mental health, but it is doubtful that prostitution made them that way. And what of the higher-end prostitutes? And some women may be drawn to the profession due to past sexual abuse or somesuch, but even if they are thereby damaged further, prostitution cannot really be blamed for the negative outcome. And some women might simply be dispositionally unsuited for the profession, such that they would be damaged if they entered it. But none of these facts shows that the profession is itself psychologically harmful. It might be positively beneficial for some women in some circumstances — or at least no more psychologically harmful (and much more lucrative) than alternative professions.”

Oct. 12, 2003