Drawing on an interview-based study with indoor-based sex workers of different genders in Great Britain, this paper explores the disparity between dominant policy representations of sex workers and the working lives of people selling intimate services. I argue certain policy discourses reinforce narratives of vulnerability and coercion when discussing female sex workers and responses to perceived ‘problems’ of prostitution and neglect the needs of male and transgender sex workers. I contrast messages in policy discourses with the experiences of sex workers across indoor sectors. My study found considerable diversity in working experiences, influenced by factors such as work setting, personal circumstances and aspirations. While some people may view sex work as a short-term option, for others it represents a longer-term career. For some, sex work may offer greater job satisfaction and control over working conditions than other jobs available. Nonetheless, external constraints sometimes make it difficult for them to work safely. I argue state discourses fail to reflect the diverse experiences of sex workers and undermine their agency, perpetuating disrespect and excluding them from human and labour rights. I suggest the need to consider policy approaches shaped according to varied circumstances and settings, drawing on the expertise of sex workers.
- sex work
- labour relations