The term is used in reference to all those in all areas of the sex industry including those who provide direct sexual services as well as the staff of such industries.
Some sex workers are paid to engage in sex acts or sexually explicit behavior which involve varying degrees of physical contact with clients (prostitutes and some but not all professional dominants); pornography models and actors engage in sexually explicit behavior which are filmed or photographed.
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The term "sex worker" has since spread into much wider use, including in academic publications, by NGOs and labor unions, and by governmental and intergovernmental agencies, such as the World Health Organization.
The term is strongly opposed, however, by many who are morally opposed to the sex industry, such as social conservatives, anti-prostitution feminists, and other prohibitionists.
Many of these studies attempt to use smaller samples of sex workers and pimps in order to extrapolate about larger populations of sex workers.
One report on the underground sex trade in the United States used known data on the illegal drug and weapon trades and interviews with sex workers and pimps in order to draw conclusions about the number of sex workers in eight American cities.
The motives of sex workers vary widely and can include debt, coercion, survival, or simply as a way to earn a living.
These motives also align with varying climates surrounding sex work in different communities and cultures. Sex work can take the form of prostitution, stripping or lap dancing, performance in pornography, phone or internet sex, or any other exchange of sexual services for financial or material gain.The term "sex worker" was coined in 1978 by sex worker activist Carol Leigh.Its use became popularized after publication of the anthology, Sex Work: Writings By Women In The Sex Industry in 1987, edited by Frédérique Delacoste and Priscilla Alexander.Sex worker advocates have identified this as whorephobia.The legality of different types of sex work varies within and between regions of the world.Some sex workers perform erotic dances and other acts for an audience (striptease, Go-Go dancing, lap dancing, Neo-burlesque, and peep shows).