Sex work is a controversial topic even in the most liberal circles. The conversation can vary from ethics, to feminism, to the law, and more. Issues of stigma and criminalization are the realities of sex workers all around the world. Furthermore, sex workers are often queer people and people of colour and thus face overlapping oppression.
Having discussions about the realities of sex work is extremely important in order to destigmatize it. If you are interested in feminism and sexuality, or you participate in the world of the sex industry, I can recommend any of these books. The best way to begin the conversation around sex work is to listen to the workers speak.
General content warning for these books; mentions of violence, homophobia, transphobia, sexual assault/abuse, drug use, and pedophilia.
The concept of “coming out” is not unfamiliar to anybody who identifies as LGBTQ+, but what about other types of coming out? What else can you come out as? In this unique anthology, genderqueer performer Jiz Lee introduces us to a collection of 50+ essays written by porn stars. These essays detail their coming out stories, from hilarious to heartbreaking. This anthology includes famous porn stars and new porn stars, as well as people across the gender and sexuality spectrum, and many voices of people of colour. Coming out is never easy, and it seems nearly everyone has a story to tell.
Hustling Verse Edited by Amber Dawn and Justin Ducharme
Amber Dawn and Justin Ducharme bring us a different sex worker anthology, this time it is all poetry! Hustling Verse explores various styles of poetry and storytelling. The featured poetry covers topics including sexuality, relationships, and trauma. Contributions come from sex workers from all walks of life and across North America, Asia, and Europe. Additionally, the cover art is by Exotic Cancer, an Aussie sex worker and illustrator.
Revolting Prostitutes by Juno Mac and Molly Smith
In this book, Juno Mac and Molly Smith guide the reader through the sex worker rights movement. Revolting Prostitutes explores how the law harms sex workers and what they want instead. The questions of the law and how to support sex worker rights are situated in a discussion of white supremacy, migration, and feminism. In essence, this book advocates for the complete decriminalization of sex work all over the world.
Whip Smart: The True Story of a Secret Life by Melissa Febos
Melissa Febos’s book covers her transformation from a college student into being a professional dominatrix. Whip Smart explores a deeply personal story; when Febos breaks the boundaries she set for herself, she finds herself in a precarious situation. Febos delves into issues of power, sexuality, and dangerous truths in this intimate memoir.
How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir by Amber Dawn
Written in 2013 by one of the editors of Hustling Verse, this memoir is about how writing became the author’s lifeline. Through prose and poetry, Amber Dawn reveals the story of her life hustling the streets of Vancouver. In addition to Dawn’s experience as a sex worker, How Poetry Saved My Life navigates the personal terrain of sexuality, queer identity, and survivor pride. Above all, this memoir is about a love of poetry and literature and the transformative power of these arts.
Thriving in Sex Work by Lola Davina
Coming at sex work from a place of self-preservation and self care, Lola Davina brings us Thriving In Sex Work. Davina challenges the perception that sex work is “easy money” and addresses the pitfalls. This book navigates how sex work relates to friendships, money and life. In addition to the day-to-day, Davina delves into broader topics as well. Thriving in Sex Work explores sex work myths, how to survive emotional burnout, and how to cultivate a healthy body and mind. However, that’s barely scraping the surface.
Playing the Whore by Melissa Gira Grant
Grounding her book in her ten years of experience as an activist, organizer and sex worker, Melissa Gira Grant takes on major issues in the sex industry. In a short 150 pages, Grant critiques the policing of sex workers, the conditions of the industry, and the ongoing discussions surrounding how we see the sex industry as well as the sex workers themselves. Grant hits the major points of these huge topics and takes a powerful stance on the rights of sex workers.
Insatiable: Porn – A Love Story by Asa Akira
In this memoir, Asa Akira recounts her life as a stripper, dominatrix, and one of the most hardworking and extreme porn stars in the business. In addition to her over 300+ films, she has won many awards for her work. This memoir was named after her best-selling series, Asa Akira is Insatiable. Doubling as a personal memoir and a commentary on the industry, Akira shares her perspective on sex as a part of our lives and culture. In short, Akira’s memoir is shameless, passionate, funny and endearing.
Striptastic by Jacqueline France
This coffee table book is educational, funny, and tongue-in-cheek. A celebration of femininity and shamelessness, Striptastic! contains illustrations and interviews collected from 300 sex workers around the world. This book is an unapologetic and entertaining journey through the day and night lives of strippers.
To Live Freely in this World by Chi Adanna Mgbako
Chi Adanna Mgbako is the first to fully tell the story of the people at the heart of the sex worker activism movement in Africa. Activists from Kenya to Nigeria to South Africa are challenging anti-prostitution movements as well as taking on issues that affect the trans, queer, and HIV-positive members of their community. Mgbako gathered stories and testimonies from hundreds of sex workers participating in the movement. Her work has helped to fill in the blanks in studies of sex work and African feminism.
The discussions around sex work are ongoing. It is a complicated and taboo subject. As with any difficult topic, educating yourself and listening is one of the best ways to engage in controversial subject matter.