The sex worker terminology dilemma

On Twitter, I follow quite a few current and former sexworkers, partly as a side-effect of involvement in the kink community (e.g. I follow a couple pro dommes), partly because once I got going, I started discovering a lot of really interesting feeds. One place I have to disagree with most of them, though, is on the use of the word “prostitute.”

The problem is, it’s widely considered offensive by sex work activists, and their preferred alternative is just “sex worker”… but that can also refer to strippers, porn performers, camgirls, etc., making the term ambiguous. “Escort” is fine for some types, but would be potentially confusing, not to mention sounding like an ugly euphemism, if used to refer to streetwalkers.

If the sex work activists’ community comes up with a better alternative, I’ll be happy to use it. But until then, I’m going to occasionally say “prostitute” when necessary for clear communication. Or maybe “hooker,” I’ve had one person tell me that “prostitute” is worse than “hooker.” Does anyone know how common that view is? I did apparently get away with using “hooker” in this Tweet that got massively RT’d.

(Note: partly writing this so I can just link people to it quickly in case of future arguments.)

Edit: Some time after writing this post, I encountered the phrase “full services sex worker” – a mouthful, but may be the best of a bunch of bad alternatives.

  • L.Long

    Prostitute hooker?
    Tomata Tomatoe…
    Everyone has their oddities about certain words.
    Prostitute has come to mean those who take money for sex but the range is from street walker to penthouse resident.
    Hooker is the same thing but usually means lower class street walker type.
    But this is my experience and also not using any BS religious bigot opinion.
    They have a bad reputation only because it involves sex. No one thinks badly of some guy ‘prostituting’ his skills for money.
    With sex worker I tend to think of someone who also help with your personal sexual performance problems. But words are distorted by people, just look at the word gay! I use to be a gay guy but then had to be sad.
    So they can call themselves anything they like, it will do no good, because the bigots will still turn it into a dirty word.

  • Richard Norris

    What is “sex work”? Sex by itself is only ever sex. There is no such thing as sex work, there is only sex you get paid for having, or have to pay for having. That is called prostitution, and trying to dress it up so it isn’t so nakedly illegal is pathetic wordplay. You might as well call drug-dealing pharmacological work.

    • Quintin van Zuijlen

      Over here prostitution is legal and as a result getting paid for sex is not a problem, it’s not getting paid (enough) that is.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

        Where is “here”? Netherlands? (As moderator, I can see your e-mail, looks like Netherlands.)

    • Holly leonhard

      Does the dealer manufacture their own chemicals for recreation? wait, are we just arguing semantics now?

  • badgerchild

    I had a friend once who was a professional sex worker, who did have sex for money. She called herself a “hooker” and requested that I use that word in preference to others.

  • Sven2547

    Courtesan?

  • Darren

    Conjugal contractor

  • Sauls Thomas

    all brains no balls

    for the lying “mental cases” @ FTB

    groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/alt.atheism/WHwp_OkxH34

    ;’;’;’;’;’;’;’;

  • Holly leonhard

    prostitute is associated with institutinal use and how many institutions use that word in a non-judgemental way? Hooker is acceptable in the same way the n-word is acceptable. Some ladies of the evening are more sensitive to it’s meaninf but for the most part your tone is what declares it offensive or not with that one. Does that help?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      Thanks. That’s helpful.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

    I dunno. Netherlands is the one that’s famous for hooking being legal, but same is true in Australia, Nevada, other places too I think, but I’m no expert.

    • Quintin van Zuijlen

      I wasn’t exactly serious.

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