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Culture

In conversation with sex workers: The porn filmmaker fighting stigma of the sex industry

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Erika Lust's new five-part mini docu-series 'In Conversation with Sex Workers' aims to tell one essential truth: that sex work is real work

Anna Freeman

06 Junio 2018 17:13

Photo credit: Erika Lust

The sex industry occupies a liminal space. It is simultaneously nowhere and everywhere; shapeshifting. It is forced to skulk in the shadows of street corners, internet pages and magazines as if it is too sordid for social acceptance, even though most us will have watched pornography at least once in our lives, if not regularly.

Stigma and shame thrust upon sex workers from those outside the community does more damage than most of us will ever know. Refusal to acknowledge that sex work is, in fact, work by the law, media, and society at large, makes conditions for those who inhabit the industry far more precarious and dangerous, and feeds into a polarised conception of legitimate vs. illegitimate.

Erika Lust, a Barcelona-based feminist porn filmmaker who has risen to worldwide notoriety, is frustrated by seeing sex workers ‘constantly ignored, shamed, victimised and criminalised by society and media’. Without a diverse community of porn performers, Lust’s work would be impossible. As an ode to their ‘amazing work’, and to put a spotlight on the everyday lives of sex workers and the issues they face, Lust has created a five-part mini docu-series entitled In Conversation with Sex Workers, which was recently uploaded for free to YouTube. It follows her XConfessions two-part project, Sex Work is Work, featuring Argentinian feminist sex worker, Maria Riot.

Maria Riot/Copyright Erika Lust

‘I know that a lot of my users already understand the issues facing sex workers, so I felt that I needed to reach more people outside of my community to say loud and clear that sex work is real work,’ Lust says, ‘ I wanted to use my platform to help amplify their voice.’ The series comes at a particularly challenging time for sex workers’ rights in the US. In April, Donald Trump signed into law a controversial set of bills, known as FOSTA-SESTA, which were touted as anti-sex trafficking measures but in reality severely harm the lives - and livelihoods - of sex workers and trafficked victims.

As Lust points out: firstly, it is a gross misinterpretation to conflate sex work with sex trafficking. Many individuals who enter the industry do so by choice, and the archaic notion that all workers are begging to be rescued is simply untrue. Secondly, the bills are making sex work more dangerous, not less. Online forums, such as Reddit and Craigslist, provide sex workers with a space to share details of violent clients, protect themselves from police abuse, vet new clients and work independently where state-sponsored or ‘official’ bodies refuse to. In the absence of these online spaces, sex workers are being pushed to work on the street and are cut off from a community that was protecting them from dangerous situations, Lust explains.

‘Backpage was shut down and seized by the FBI and stripper hashtags disappeared from Instagram,’ she adds, ‘The Craigslist personals section disappeared. Sex related subreddits vanish which were being used as forums for sex-work news, tips and questions. FOSTA-SESTA is attacking free-speech rights while… quite likely making trafficked individuals and sex workers’ lives worse.’ This is why Lust’s new series is so pivotal at this current moment. The call for increased rights for sex workers is getting louder from within this politically-charged community, but progress will only be made when those outside it deem their work worthy of transformation.

Below, you can watch In Conversation with Sex Workers, which tackles a range of issues from privacy and coming out, to feminism within the industry.

Coming out

Stigma

Sex work and clients

The law

Feminism

You can purchase access to Lust's XConfessions here.

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