Understanding Sex Work

Why Sex Work?

Sex work is complex. Sex workers come from many different walks of life and reasons for participating in sex work are tremendously varied. Sex workers are male, female and transgender/transsexual or gender non-conforming. Sex work does not discriminate against any age, class or ethnicity. Many assumptions are made about sex workers and their experiences that are not accurate. There is tremendous diversity and complexity in the sex work industry.

Circumstances such as poverty, addiction or mental health can have have profound impacts on one’s ability to freely make choices in their lives as shown in the chart below.


Other reasons include:

  • Some sex workers become involved through curiosity, flexible hours and high pay.
  • Some sex workers start out as dancers and move into other areas of sex work over time.
  • While some sex workers enter the industry through choice, others become sex workers through coercion (by pimps, friends, family, and acquaintances), force, poverty, economic duress, lack of choice, drugs and alcohol, violence and abuse, isolation and enticement. Some are drawn in as a result of being a runaway or being sexually exploited as a young person.
  • Aboriginal sex workers may be coping with the legacy of colonization and residential schools.
  • Some adult sex workers were sexually exploited as youth and continued into adult sex work.
  • Statistics show that a high percentage of sex workers were in the care of the provincial government at one time.
  • Some adult sex workers have few alternatives and feel that their only viable option is sex work.
  • Some adult sex workers become involved in the industry through their use of illicit drugs.
  • Many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender or gender non-conforming youth exchange sexual services at an early age because of homophobia. Homophobia in society can lead youth to experience abandonment, isolation, loss of personal security, running away from home and identity crisis. This leaves them more vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
  • Male sex workers may enter the sex industry for many of the same issues, including poverty, and because they don’t fit into the normal societal expectations of men.
  • Some transgender/transsexual/gender non-conforming people enter sex work because they don’t feel comfortable, face discrimination or are ostracized in other communities, even in the sex work community.