A stigma means labelling someone socially through attitudes. Sex work and the selling of sexual services are associated with a strong negative stigma. The choice to make a living selling sexual services is not considered generally acceptable and some even regard it as degrading to human dignity. The people for whom selling sex has not been a conscious choice, but related to coercion and pressuring, also have to suffer from this same negative stigma. Essentially, a stigma does not portray the characteristics of the stigmatized people, in this case those selling sexual services, but it portrays the attitudes and behaviour of other people towards them.
A stigma is a powerful force, and it is something that all people working in the sex and erotic industry have in common. There may be significant social consequences to people finding out that someone sells sexual services. Although the person selling sexual services or doing other work in the erotic industry may be at peace with the situation, outsiders’ reactions are hard to predict. Many find it a heavy burden to hide the matter and consequently lead a double life. It may feel overwhelming to talk about it even with your closest people. Fearing the consequences is understandable, because unfortunately there are still major risks involved: losing important social relationships, endangering future study and job opportunities, having your parenthood questioned, losing your apartment and other similar breakdowns in the basic building blocks of life. Luckily, the risks do not always materialize, but the fear of their materialization makes it easy to understand why so many want to keep their work a secret.
Anti-stigma work means influencing attitudes, and every one of us can do this for their part by examining personal attitudes. It is not our place to say what everyone’s opinion about the issue should be. However, it is a good idea for everyone to consider what they personally think about selling and purchasing sexual services, where their thoughts come from, what they know about the diversity of the phenomenon and what their knowledge is based on.
The anti-stigma work of Pro-tukipiste involves us supporting and promoting the hearing of the voices of people selling sexual and erotic services, as extensively as possible. We want to do our part in helping others understand the diversity of the phenomenon and the differences in people. There is no one ‘either-or’ truth about the phenomenon, but the reality is a ‘both-and’ diversity. We work towards our goal of making sure that the people who tell their story are truly heard without being labelled as representatives of a small minority or helpless victims. The communities of the diverse field possess the competence and strength help address various problems related to vulnerabilities and to promote their fundamental and human rights. The biggest responsibility for the success of anti-stigma work lies with the rest of us: how ready are we to engage in genuine dialogue that respects diversity?