The sex industry in Canada

Most sex workers do not feel exploited and most sex buyers are not oppressors

While there are a small number of people who prey on the vulnerable in the sex industry, just as there are in almost any other industry, most of the buyers surveyed for a recent national study are simply individuals seeking to purchase a service they feel they need. Most do not see themselves, nor are they perceived by those they pay, as exploiters or even as enjoying a position of power in the transaction. Overall, the responses indicate that sex workers have a significant amount of control and that transactions are in most cases experienced by both sides as amicable.

Much of the vulnerability experienced by some sex workers has little or nothing to do with sex work

As a group, sex workers experience lower than average levels of physical and mental health, higher levels of stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, higher rates of disability and a variety of other factors that contribute to poor health outcomes. For some, these health outcomes relate to various experiences of disadvantage in childhood and adolescence. While these factors frequently interact to constrain opportunities, increase risk and negatively impact health and wellbeing, they often have little or nothing to do with sex workers’ interactions with clients which usually go smoothly for both parties.

Sex work provides an opportunity for some individuals

The two most commonly cited reasons for first selling sexual services are money and flexibility. The evidence suggests that many sex workers choose to sell sexual services because they are able to make more money and sex work provides them with more flexibility and autonomy compared to other jobs available to them. For many this means being able to care for themselves and their children. It is important to consider how this story of opportunity – often opportunity to meet basic human needs – operates across the age spectrum for those who engage in selling sexual services.

Stigma, fear and isolation are common experiences in the sex industry

Stigma, discrimination, fear and isolation increase the potential for interpersonal tensions between sellers, buyers and managers to develop into conflict and escalate. Efforts to reduce stigma, increase social integration and reduce barriers to services and supports will decrease conflict and violent victimization. This will require attention to changing the social structures of power.

Chart on experience of discrimination

Related publications

Building on the evidence: A working paper on the sex industry in Canada

Science fact or science fiction: Are all sex workers victimized?

Note: The content on this page comes from Gender, violence and health: Contexts of vulnerabilities, resiliencies and care among people in the sex industry, a national research program that involves five interconnected studies. These studies have examined the perspectives and experiences of each of the following: 1) those who sell sexual services, 2) intimate partners of workers, 3) those who buy sexual service, 4) those who manage the services, and 5) those involved in regulating the industry or providing health and social services. Further information about the research program is available at www.understandingsexwork.com.