Campaign to change use of word prostitute to sex worker

It’s no secret that, for many people across the country, sex work has a bad reputation. Words used to describe women working in the industry conjure up mainly negative images and a lot of people make judgements and assumptions without knowing anything about the person behind the label.

For many women in the sex industry, the most offensive label is ‘prostitute’. Used for hundreds of years to describe sex workers the word has a lot of associations, almost all of them negative.

What’s more, as today’s sex industry is incredibly varied, the term in often inaccurate and many women who work in the sex industry don’t consider themselves prostitutes at all.

To try and remove some of the stigma associated with sex work and change public perception, sex workers’ rights advocates are calling for the press to stop using the term ‘prostitute’ and use ‘sex worker’ instead. Their main focus is the Associated Press Stylebook. A document that most journalists turn to when looking for the correct term to use in a story.

If the AP Stylebook changes its listing from ‘prostitute’ to ‘sex worker’, it’s likely that, over time, more and more newspapers, magazines and websites will stop using the term and slowly public opinion will begin to change.

Though some people working in the sex industry will identify themselves as prostitutes, many would consider the term offensive, demeaning and stigmatizing. And as the sex industry is so varied, in many cases the term is simply inaccurate.

In reality, a large percentage of the people who work in the sex industry don’t actually engage in sex with clients. Instead, they perform web cam shows, sell photos, work as dominatrix or perform other types of sexual services.

Many of these services are in fact legal, and as the term ‘prostitute’ is almost exclusively used to talk about criminal acts, it’s even more outdated and inaccurate.

By replacing the word ‘prostitute’ with ‘sex worker’ the Associated Press can help to bring the media up to date. Sex work, unlike prostitution is not necessarily illegal so it gives those working in the industry a label that is not automatically negative.

Though some people argue that the term ‘sex worker’ normalises prostitution and hides the exploitation that can occur, many feminists and women who work in the industry have welcomed the proposed changes.

By changing the way that people think about the sex industry, we can slowly change public opinion about sex workers. This should make it easier for the women who work in the industry to get the help and support that they need to stay safe.


To find out more about the support available to sex workers, get in touch with Doorway Women’s Services today by sending us an email or calling 0808 800 1030 to speak to a friendly member of our team.