Sex work dates back to 2400 BC. It existed before our abuelitas were born and will continue to exist long after you and I are gone. Despite it being one of the oldest professions to exist, over time it has been widely stigmatized and criminalized in the majority parts of the world because of political and religious oppressive beliefs. Sex work is the exchange of sexual services for compensation either in money or something of value. There’s a wide range of work that falls under sex work’s umbrella, and new forms of it have been created over the years, especially with the advancement of technology and the digital era.
People choose sex work for many reasons similar to why anyone chooses any job at all. Some do it out of survival, others do it for the pay, and others do it because they simply want to. But quite frankly, an explanation isn’t owed to anyone.
Many of us grew up hearing negative stereotypes about sex workers. Women would be compared to or accused of being a sex worker for the way they dressed or carried themselves. Machismo in Latine cultures teaches us that having lots of sex and indulging in our sexual pleasure is something to be ashamed of. Catholicism and Christianity condemn sex before marriage, and the Bible made it clear that sex work would send you even deeper into hell.
Despite these unrealistic ideals, sex workers in Latin America have a long history of advocating for their rights. In 2018 in the Dominican Republic, Congresswoman Jacqueline Montero, a former sex worker, spoke out against the detention of dozens of sex workers although there is no law that prohibits sex work. In 2019, sex work was decriminalized in Mexico City thanks to sex worker rights groups.
The United States is often portrayed as more progressive than other countries, but it still has a long way to go. The United States is obsessed with sex, and yet, it offered outdated and non-inclusive sex education and continues to pass laws that further endanger those in the sex work industry.
Removing the stigma around sex work benefits us all. Sex workers are multifaceted beings who don’t need saving, they need their rights respected and protected. Destigmatizing sex work won’t happen overnight, but it’s possible. Below, four Latines share with Somos how they are destigmatizing sex work and creating change in their communities.
There are many occupations where it's completely normalized to sell our bodies for money, like models and athletes. If we're viewing certain professions as more worthy of respect than sex workers, then whorephobia is likely at the root of our belief system.
Che Che Luna
My existence is how I destigmatize sex work. People have so many misconceptions about sex workers, and I push back against that by existing in my totality. I can have more than one career. I’m a licensed psychotherapist and owner of Blue Pearl Therapy, a virtual mental health therapy practice where I work with a lot of clients that have sexual trauma. I co-own Royal Fetish Films, an adult film company that we produce, perform, and direct erotica with my partner King Noire, showing the full expression of sex for Black and brown folx. I’m also a fetish trainer, providing workshops and helping clients explore their fetishes in a safe way. Pretty much sex is my jam.
Right before turning 30, I had a revelation that my identity revolved around being a mother. I realized there was so much I didn’t know about myself or what I liked, even sexually. I began hosting sex-toy parties and it all sparked from there. I had previously dabbled in sex work as a stripper, but that came with shame. I was taught growing up that having a child out of wedlock or being promiscuous were the worst things a woman could do.
When I met my partner, King Noire, who was already in the industry and making music, we talked about the gap in the adult industry when it came to Black and brown representation. We wanted folx to see themselves not in harmful stereotypes, but in true forms of our personal pleasures. As a Black, Filipina and Panamanian woman, I was aware that there was no space for Afro-Latinas in porn. I knew the minute I appeared in an adult film there was no going back, and I decided then that the shame I had internalized wasn’t mine to carry anymore. I get to decide where I stand, where I put my faith, and what is my personal philosophy.
Creating sex content is a way that I feel really empowered to be creative with my body. From a decolonization standpoint, my Black body has been commodified in this country. Our bodies have literally been used for labor and to reproduce to support capitalism for more unpaid labor and or low-wage labor, so making a living off of my body in the way that I want to is my personal protest. And I love it. We all use our bodies in different ways, whether it’s to type, lay bricks, or get up and speak and we’re all at risk of being exploited by capitalism. This is just how I choose to use my tool.
As a Latine growing up in a Catholic household, not only was I taught to fear sex and sex work, but I was also born into a culture that sexualized me from a young age. I wish that I was taught about consent and bodily autonomy, that my pleasure is mine, and that no one should be allowed to devalue or censor my truth or existence. In my 20s, I was blessed to meet a lot of amazing people that helped me shed the armor I had built to survive.
I'm neurodivergent, queer, kinky, trans, mixed, and I'm polyamorous. I'm a sex and pleasure educator, activist, dancer, and sensual embodiment facilitator. I aim to bridge the gaps in pleasure accessibility. This way, as a community, we can rebuild consensual, affirming expansive relationships with ourselves and with each other. I was a competitive gymnast and then later became a professional dancer, both of which really inform the sex and pleasure education and sex advocacy work that I do because movement taught me lessons of body communication, self-trust, courage, embodiment, pleasure and play. I want to share this with as many people as I can.
One of the ways that I advocate for the destigmatization of sex work is by publicly educating and having conversations about the ways that sex workers are impacted by the harms of stigma. I'm committed to inviting people to take a deeper look at their internalized biases and where they come from and how we get to rewrite them. There are many occupations where it's completely normalized to sell our bodies for money, like models and athletes. If we're viewing certain professions as more worthy of respect than sex workers, then whorephobia is likely at the root of our belief system.
We can't mobilize sex work destigmatization without dismantling racism, classism, ableism, transphobia, all of the isms, and the internalized oppression that we are carrying as a collective. Therefore, to be in a collaborative movement with sex workers is absolutely essential. Interdependence is the only way forward when navigating all the systems of oppression. Lack of care and safety for sex workers is a systemic issue. The more that we're having these conversations, the more we're in community, and providing comprehensive pleasure-forward sex education, the more we're gonna get to collectively move towards sex workers being respected and having safety within their work.
When we talk about sex work, we really need to be careful with the image of sex work we have in our heads. Sex workers are not all cis-gendered women. There are sex workers of every gender that are multifaceted and multidimensional.
In 2019, I founded Trans Equity Consulting, where we’re committed to building the leadership of transgender women of color and centering sex workers, immigrants, and people that are incarcerated as experts in creating a better world. We recently partnered with Callen-Lorde, a global leader in LGBTQI+ healthcare, to create COIN Clinic, which provides free healthcare for sex workers regardless of gender, age, or immigration status. COIN stands for Cecilia’s Occupational Inclusion Network and was named in my honor.
I always knew I was different, but growing up in the countryside of Argentina in the 70s and 80s, we didn’t have the terminology. I didn’t know anyone who was transgender that would help me understand who I was, so when I was 17 and moved to a big city I finally met another trans person and began my transition. It became clear to me that I wasn’t going to have the same opportunities as a cis-gendered person in terms of education and employment, and sex work was a way for me to make a living. When I was 28 years old, I immigrated to the United States from Argentina and continued to support myself as a sex worker out of survival. I experienced a lot of shaming from cis-gendered people who didn’t understand that sex work is a way of making a living. There’s already a lot of shame around sex and pleasure, and that only intensifies when it comes to sex work. The stigma around sex and what a sex worker is is ingrained in society, and the criminalization of sex work only reinforces the stigma because sex workers are labeled as criminals.
I also understand that there are people that unfortunately experience trafficking. I experienced trafficking as well in my life, and I believe that the decriminalization of sex work will help us all, even people that are being trafficked. By decriminalizing sex work, we open opportunities for people to report their abusers.
When talking about the destigmatization and decriminalization of sex work, let's not forget about our friends who work in massage parlors, Latine and not, who are consistently criminalized by police raids while trying to make a living. People who engage in sex work are people who have lives, feelings, families, lovers, and issues like anybody else and we are deserving of love and care.
In 2015, when I was 18 years old, I was looking for a gig that was flexible with my school hours. A lot of times when people talk about sex work, they think we do it out of desperation, but for me, it was out of curiosity. I was a webcam artist, a dancer for music videos and clubs, and also did some sugaring (sugar dating). I found that when I started doing sex work, it became challenging to make friends outside of the industry because a lot of people would either glorify me or shame me, there was no in-between.
After I left the industry, I decided to move to Las Vegas, Nevada to be closer to other sex workers. That’s where I found The Cupcake Girls, a nonprofit organization that provides confidential support and resources that empowers sex workers. I didn’t know they existed before and I cried for about an hour when I learned about them because it was the first time in my life that I came across an entity that fully supports sex workers. The staff and volunteers consist of folks with lived experience in the sex industry and allies. I have been volunteering with them ever since.
When it comes to bodily autonomy and sexual expression, it’s not as prevalent in Latine cultures. Being Dominican, I saw a lot of machismo growing up, and doing sex work was actually liberating. I found out who I was, gained confidence, and learned about boundaries all through sex work. However, it’s not something I ever talked about with my family because they wouldn’t understand.
Although I left the sex industry in 2020, destigmatizing sex work is still very important to me because of my personal experience. People made assumptions and jumped to conclusions about me when they found out I was a sex worker. When we talk about sex work, we really need to be careful with the image of sex work we have in our heads. Sex workers are not all cis-gendered women. There are sex workers of every gender that are multifaceted and multidimensional. This is why we need better representation of sex work in the media and pop culture.