What is Sex Work?
Sex work refers to many different ways that sexuality is exchanged for money or goods and services. It can include things like prostitution, stripping, and pornography.
Some people also refer to the exchange of sex for food and shelter as "sex work." However, there are other terms that can describe such situations more accurately.
Transactional sex refers to sex that is done to obtain something that is needed. For example, someone might have sex with the person who fixes his car in order to get the car fixed, or with a landlord to cover the rent.
Survival sex refers to sex that someone has in order to get their basic needs met. Teens who are homeless may engage in survival sex in order to find a place to sleep at night or to get food to eat.
What Are Some Reasons GLBT Teens Become Involved in Sex Work?
The reasons that a gay teen might find him or herself exchanging sex for money or some other service are complicated. But for many GLBT teens this occurs because they lack basic necessities, or are a direct result of being homeless.
Though they are a very small percent of the overall population, some estimates have GLBT teens making up as much as 40% of the homeless youth population, and homeless teens are often in great need of things like food, shelter and clothing. Indeed, according to the National Network for Youth:
"Over one-third of homeless youth report exchanging sex for food, shelter, or drugs.7 Of the youth who engage in prostitution/survival sex, the overwhelming majority trade sex for money. Approximately half also trade sex for temporary shelter, and one fifth trade sex for drugs. Most all homeless youth report that they engage in survival sex only when they are homeless."
Yet while homelessness can be related to a teen's involvement in sex work, not all GLBT teens involved in transactional sex are homeless. As a gay teen who is not homeless explains on the forum, "I've been in trouble for playing around with other boys and taking trades or lunch money for it."
Nor do all teens in these situations have emotional problems or difficulties at home. However, for many teens, there is a link between problems at home and exchanging sex for money, food, shelter or other items.
Teens who are found to be involved in sex work often become wrapped up in confusing legal situations, especially if the person that the teen had sex with was an adult.
Technically it is against the law for an adult to have sex with a minor who is under the age of consent. However, if the minor takes money for sex, he or she can be charged with prostitution and treated as a criminal, rather than as a child in need of help or services.
Some states do have laws to protect minor prostitutes. These laws allow minors to be viewed as victims of sex crimes and not charged with crimes themselves. However, most states do not have such provisions and many teens who have turned to sex work during times of crisis, or who have been pushed into sex work by others, have found their crisis compounded by prostitution charges.
Getting Help and Support
Most people would agree that it is very risky for teens to be involved in any form of commercial sex. Not only can teens be at risk for things like sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, and physical and emotional harm, but they can get into trouble with the law as well. And it is a sad truth that regardless of the circumstances, many people view someone who has ever done sex work very harshly.
If you are involved in a risky sexual situation, please consider talking to a supportive adult. One option is a GLBT-friendly therapist.
You might also want to contact your closest gay community center and ask if they have any references for teens involved in sex work.
Reaching out might seem hard, or embarrassing, or even dangerous, but staying isolated tends to only make things worse.