Most Common Sex Worker Stereotypes

Posted by Ruby Rae on September 21, 2017

In mid-August I was randomly checking my Twitter feed and I noticed a significant amount of my brothel colleagues enraged over a recent episode of the Showtime series, Ray Donovan. In the episode titled “Las Vegas” some of the main characters find themselves headed to a legal Nevada brothel after one of the characters had an encounter with a prostitute who ended up stealing a precious ring from him. Two of the main characters pose as a couple who are wanting BDSM services from said prostitute. They end up tying the working girl to a chair and threatening her with extreme violence if she does not return the ring. The working girl tells them where the ring is and the two characters leave the brothel. Many of my fellow coworkers in the Nevada brothels were discussing how the episode was not an accurate portrayal of first, working girls in brothels, and second, what the brothel experience is like when a client comes here. I, myself, was also enraged and disappointed in the show’s writers for representing sex workers as thieves and dishonest human beings.

Negative or inaccurate portrayals of sex workers and sex work are not new in the entertainment business. I’ve taken the time here to go through what other tropes Hollywood likes to put on sex workers and why these tropes are a problem to us and our industry.

"Pretty Woman" Ruby Rae from Dennis Hof's Love Ranch North near Reno, Nevada
“Pretty Woman” Ruby Rae from Dennis Hof’s Love Ranch North near Reno, Nevada

Damsel in Distress or Needing to be “Saved”

(Examples – Pretty Woman, Moulin Rouge!, or really any sex worker character in a movie that does not have feminist ideals)

The damsel in distress trope is often put on women in Hollywood movies. Women in most societies are seen as the “weaker” sex and “need” strong, brave men to save them from the struggles of life. Unfortunately, our society also sees sex workers, especially prostitutes, as the ultimate damsel in distress situation. This is because there are many people who don’t believe that sex work is an occupational choice that women can make with a sane mind. We are labeled as women who choose sex work because we are damaged, weak, or desperate. This is certainly not the case at all for many women who work in the Nevada legal brothels. I personally chose this job because it allowed me to fund my undergraduate education without working a 40-hour work week in an office. Now, I have stayed in the business for going on five years while currently pursuing graduate school because it gives me the flexibility I need. I have also learned through this work that I adore and appreciate all the connections and intimate moments I share with my clients. There are so many women who love their sex work occupations, and Hollywood has a hard time showing that with any prostitute character. A lot of us don’t need or want to be saved at all.


Hooker with the Heart of Gold or “Tart with a Heart”

(Examples – Pretty Woman, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Moulin Rouge!)

Sure, we all like movies where the characters are lovable and charismatic, but the problem with movies that portray a prostitute as being the Hooker with the Heart of Gold is that it sometimes comes across as a perspective of sex work that has been shown through rose colored glasses. Whether it’s because the main character falls in love with the client, or there is never a hard day at work, or the work is all glitz and glamour, this is not always the case for sex workers. Furthermore, the characters are shown as soft and good-natured women, but not necessarily strong women. They are often times shown as not being able to defend or take care of themselves. Most women I have met through this business are very liberated and self-sufficient women – that’s why we like this job because it allows us to be independent contractors. Hollywood depicting female sex workers as only having those stereotypical female characteristics (such as nice, kind, soft, warm), is a disservice to all the strong and independent female sex workers in the real world.


On Drugs or Sells Services for Drugs

(Examples – Requiem for a Dream, The Basketball Diaries)

Drug addiction is a serious problem all over the world, but there are many Hollywood movies that showcase sex workers having a drug problem, whether they are main characters in the movie, or just background characters. It’s a nasty stereotype that drug addiction and sex work go hand in hand. I am not trying to claim that there are not women (and men) in this industry who have addiction problems, but most research that is done on drug use in relation to sex work is done using data collected from street work prostitution, which only makes up about 10% of all types of prostitution (others being brothels, agencies, independent escorts, etc.). The drug addicted sex worker trope is not only disrespectful, but Hollywood should aim to break away from something that is terribly overused.


Sex Trafficking or Sex Slaves or Underage Sex Workers

(Examples – Taken, Taxi Driver, Blue Velvet)

There is a moral panic about sex trafficking in the United States right now. While sex trafficking has always been an issue, there is a societal focus on it currently because of media attention. While I and many other sex workers care about this issue deeply (I participated in anti-sex trafficking movements and organizations for a whole year in 2016), many feminists, media outlets, and anti-prostitution activists do not differentiate between forced entry into prostitution and women who have chosen this line of work with complete autonomy.

Unfortunately, Hollywood has followed this path in the past by choosing to focus on women characters who are either forced into prostitution by being kidnapped, women who are actual “sex slaves” not by choice, or under-aged girls who are engaged in prostitution. In a Nevada legal brothel, the ladies have to be over the age of eighteen, and in some counties twenty-one. We are only sex slaves if that is a part of a specific roleplay fantasy that is agreed upon by both lady and client, and we are certainly not forced into doing this by anyone, since we are the ones who have to sign the paperwork with our own signatures. Furthermore, there are many documentaries about sex trafficking that is happening all around the world, and while I agree that we should all be educated on what’s going on around us, even when we are not affected directly by it, I wish there were more documentaries on the positive side of sex work. Instead of showcasing prostitution as only something ugly, bad, and evil, there should be equal amounts shown that tell the stories of the women, and men, who thrive in this line of work.

Ruby Rae

Ruby Rae

Graduate student and luxury companion Ruby Rae is a lovely and sophisticated young woman with a passion for film, yoga, reading, and traveling. Her favorite type of encounter is one that includes dinner, dessert, and time beneath the sheets.

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Ruby Rae

Author: Ruby Rae

Graduate student and luxury companion Ruby Rae is a lovely and sophisticated young woman with a passion for film, yoga, reading, and traveling. Her favorite type of encounter is one that includes dinner, dessert, and time beneath the sheets.

15 thoughts on “Most Common Sex Worker Stereotypes”

  1. Somewhere on Wall Street, some Analyst has just finished reading this post and is yelling at their screen “YES! I know how you feel! I’ve been stereotyped too!”. Hollywood writers and Climate scientists need to use stereotypes and “common sense” to make their pathetic stories seem more interesting. They should get their facts straight before publishing their fiction.

  2. I LOVE this blog and the new pictures as well!! You can tell just by reading it that you know what you’re talking about and that this was written by a very intelligent person!! We’ve never met but I’m hoping that will change sometime soon!! I follow you and read everything you write and save all your pictures!

  3. As you know, I love the article and the many issues it discuss. The pictures are just a work of art, but that is any picture you are in.
    While I don’t recommend the sex work for all women wanting to liberate themselves, I can say that is it’s for myself, as a woman. I’ve made my own choice to pursue the sex work job and that is satisfying an rewarding in so many ways. I truly believe there should be a documentary with the real us.

    1. I think it takes a special kind of woman to do sex work and to actually feel liberated by it. It’s definitely not for everyone, but for those of us who thrive in this business and love it – it’s the best! Thank you, sweet Jade! xoxo

  4. In one of my classes a long time ago, a class mate presented her thesis on sex work, and it was all negative. She focused more on third world sex trafficking, and lumped the Nevada brothels into the same thing. I asked if she’d done any research on the Nevada scene, and mentioned that I have been to brothels in the past and have never encountered anyone that was “forced” into this kind of work. Because of my response, I think I made a few enemies in that class.

    My thesis was about metalheads, and we get stereotypes a lot, too.

    1. I know a couple of “researchers” who have done projects on just that. They look at third world countries or even sex trafficking in the US and put Nevada brothels into the same category without any hard evidence. It’s nonsense. Thanks for reading! xoxo

  5. Great response! Hollywood and TV are terrible when it comes to telling the true story. Always be wary of the line “based on a true story”. The writers tend to beef up their stories and bend the truth. Westerns have men gunned down in the street all the time, when in fact it rarely happened. People watch these movies and TV shows and think it’s telling the real story. They forget it’s just a show for entertainment and nothing more. Watch a documentary if you want the truth about something.

    1. Yes, exactly. It should be “based loosely on a true story with added dramatic storylines” haha. People should definitely think more critically when consuming anything media wise.

  6. Fantastic article, Ruby. Love your perspective and it covers the same points that I hammer home to the few hemmers and hawers in my life. I feel empowered as a sex worker and we as women need to band together to modernize society’s outlook. This article takes us one step closer, so thank you 🙂

  7. My first brothel experience was, to say the least, misinformed. Looking back, I don’t know what I expected, but I think it was some… thing – a sex toy made of flesh. I was astonished to meet, instead, a person! Intelligent, strong, capable, self-possessed, and a good conversationalist who very gently disabused me of my preconceptions. Not just any person, either, but someone I quickly came to like and admire.

    You mention the Pygmalion tropes: women in need of being saved or lifted out of the gutter by some socially superior “gentleman.” It’s high time someone turned that on its head and wrote a story about a pig-head (like me) who gets straightened out and learns to respect sex workers. (And no Hollywood squishy-soft-cuddly ending. It’s business, tough and professional.)

    The most difficult thing to convey, I think, would be the complexity of a relationship that can evoke strong emotions that, for most of us, are exclusive, or illusory. If I tried to do your job, I would feel like a surgeon who experiences each cut I make as if it were in myself.

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