It's been called "the world's oldest profession," but despite its storied history, sex work often remains shrouded in shame and mystery, particularly in the U.S.
Because the vast majority of states criminalize most direct points of entry into the sex trade, the people who make a living doing this work are often forced to operate in the shadows. It's an experience that some say is exhilarating and fulfilling, while others say their decision to enter the industry was born out of necessity, when other opportunities were denied.
Irrespective of the ongoing discussion about the cultural value of sex work (or lack thereof), the people who best understand the intricacies involved in this line of work are, of course, the professionals who work in the field.
In an effort to elevate the voices of people so often silenced, The Advocate asked current and former sex workers to share their own definition of the work they do and elaborate on the way they frame their work. We also asked each participant to share a photo of themselves, if they were willing, or of something in their life that brings them joy, to help readers connect with the many aspects of these people's identities.
Those who were willing and safely able to respond come from as far away as Uganda and overwhelmingly identify as women — particularly when at work. The LGBT sex workers featured below have a wide range of experiences, and even so, represent only a small sample of the diversity within the profession. Each person who engages in sex work has a distinct, personal reason for pursuing this line of work, and may or may not agree with the conclusions presented here.
But what appears on the following pages is the truth about sex work, according to four individuals who have, in some cases, been doing this work for decades.