Last updated on: 1/31/2008 | Author:

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.”


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.”


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.”