“Wear Some Thick Socks If You Walk in My Shoes”: Agency, Resilience, and Well-Being in Communities of North American Sex Workers
Using a participatory action research (PAR) paradigm, this study investigated how 35 individuals involved in the sex work industry exemplified aspects of agency and intentional well-being under harsh work environments. Using PAR and qualitative research, sex workers were asked to identify research questions and help to design a study investigating the relationship between well-being and sex worker agency. Participants in the study each completed one semi-structured individual interview to share their experiences in the sex work industry. Data from these interviews were analyzed using constructivist phenomenology; standards of trustworthiness were accounted for using multiple tools. Four themes emerged from the data that described how the participants understood their own resilience and areas of needed attention with respect to their mental health: (1) validating sex work and eliminating whorephobic oppression; (2) safety and mobility within practice environments; (3) sexual boundary setting; and (4) social support for sex workers. Implications of the findings on theory, research, practice, and advocacy are discussed.
KeywordsSex workers Agency Well-being Participatory action research Qualitative research
This study was not funded by any grants or outside funding sources.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The four authors of this manuscript individually and collectively declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Human and Animal Rights
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Institutional and/or National Research Committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by the authors.
- Abel, G., Fitzgerald, L., Healy, C., & Taylor, A. (Eds.). (2010). Taking the crime out of sex work: New Zealand sex workers’ fight for decriminalisation. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.Google Scholar
- Benjamin, H., & Masters, R. (1964). Prostitution and morality. New York, NY: Julien.Google Scholar
- Brode, T. (2004). A critical analysis and resulting considerations: Psychotherapy with clients working in the sex industry (Unpublished master’s thesis). San Francisco, CA: Alliant International University.Google Scholar
- Chapkis, W. (1996). Live sex acts: Women performing erotic labor. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Charmaz, K. (2000). Grounded theory: Objectivist and constructivist models. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 509–536). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
- Chateauvert, M. (2014). Sex workers unite: A history of the movement from stonewall to slutwalk. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
- Creswell, J. W. (2012). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
- Gall, G. (2012). An agency of their own: Sex worker union organizing. New York, NY: John Hunt Publishing.Google Scholar
- Hays, D. G., & Singh, A. A. (2011). Qualitative inquiry in clinical and educational settings. New York, NY: Guilford.Google Scholar
- Kabeer, N. (2001). Resources, agency, achievements: Reflections on the measurement of women’s empowerment. In B. Sevefjord & B. Olsson (Eds.), Discussing women’s empowerment: Theory and practice (pp. 17–55). London: Sida Studies.Google Scholar
- Klesse, C. (2007). The spectre of promiscuity. New York, NY: Ashgate.Google Scholar
- Lerum, K. (1998). 12-Step feminism makes sex workers sick: How the state and the recovery movement turn radical women into ‘useless citizens’. Sexuality and Culture, 2, 7–36.Google Scholar
- Minichiello, V., & Scott, J. (Eds.). (2014). Male sex work and society. New York, NY: Harrington Park Press.Google Scholar
- Nagle, J. (Ed.). (1997). Whores and other feminists. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Patton, M. Q. (2014). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
- Sanders, T. (2013). Sex work. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Stombler, M., Baunach, D. M., Simonds, D., Windsor, E., & Burgess, E. O. (Eds.). (2013). Sex matters: The sexuality and society reader (4th ed.). New York, NY: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
- Strauss, A. L., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
- Surratt, H. L., Kurtz, S. P., Weaver, J. C., & Inciardi, J. A. (2005). The connections of mental health problems, violent life experiences, and the social milieu of the “stroll” with the HIV risk behaviors of female street sex workers. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 17, 23–44. doi: 10.1300/J056v17n01_03.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- World Health Organization. (2006). Defining sexual health: Report of a technical consultation on sexual health, 28–31 January 2002, Geneva. http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/sexual_health/en/
- Zheng, T. (2013). Ethical research design. In S. Dewey & T. Zheng (Eds.), Ethical research with sex workers: Anthropological approaches (pp. 23–38). New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar