Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 47, Issue 5, pp 1541–1550 | Cite as

“Wear Some Thick Socks If You Walk in My Shoes”: Agency, Resilience, and Well-Being in Communities of North American Sex Workers

  • Theodore R. Burnes
  • Elizabeth M. Rojas
  • Irena Delgado
  • Tianna E. Watkins
Original Paper


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.


Sex 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

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.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Theodore R. Burnes
    • 1
    • 2
  • Elizabeth M. Rojas
    • 3
  • Irena Delgado
    • 4
  • Tianna E. Watkins
    • 5
  1. 1.Graduate Psychology ProgramsAntioch UniversityCulver CityUSA
  2. 2.Research and Quality Assurance for the Counseling CenterUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA
  3. 3.Psychological AssociatesLa PuenteUSA
  4. 4.Independent PracticeLa PuenteUSA
  5. 5.Independent PracticeLos AngelesUSA

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