Diversity in Sex Work in India: Challenging Stereotypes Regarding Sex Workers

Abstract

Sex work is often characterized by images of coercion, poverty, destitution and lack of agency, but research indicates that sex work in India is more diverse than these popular representations. Moving beyond inaccurate tropes of sex workers as solely being oppressed victims, this paper aims to shed light on the diversity of sex work in India by sharing themes found across four studies conducted in three different urban areas of India: Mumbai, Kolkata and Hyderabad. Our research highlights that within the diverse umbrella of sex work in India, there are unique subgroups of sex workers whose particular issues often become lost in a monolithic and reductionist narrative of sex work. From our research, we found that, contrary to popular myths, (1) sex workers are not passive recipients of the trade; (2) sex workers often live in families and have multiple identities as mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers; (3) sex workers increasingly operate from non-brothel-based settings; (4) sex workers are not only women, but also identify as cisgender male and third gender/transgender; and finally, (5) HIV is often not the most pressing, self-reported health concern for sex workers.

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Funding

This study was partially funded by SAMHSA and the Council on Social Work Education’s Minority Fellowship Program, which was awarded to the first author.

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Correspondence to Sameena Azhar.

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Azhar, S., Dasgupta, S., Sinha, S. et al. Diversity in Sex Work in India: Challenging Stereotypes Regarding Sex Workers. Sexuality & Culture 24, 1774–1797 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-020-09719-3

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Keywords

  • Sex work
  • Sex trade
  • India
  • South Asia
  • Gender
  • Stereotype