What is the Sex Trade?

The sex trade is a complex economy where sexual or erotic services are traded for money or other items of value. Sex trade modalities include (but are not limited to) prostitution, stripping, web cam modeling, adult content creation, professional BDSM and fetish services, sugar dating, and escorting. 

Some people who sell sexual services refer to themselves as “sex workers”, signifying that they see their transactions as a form of labor. Some people identify as survivors of the sex trade, due to the exploitation or violence they experienced. 

People who trade sex are frequently subject to criminal punishment and discrimination, regardless of whether they are acting voluntarily, out of necessity, or by force. In the United States, the harms of sex trade criminalization and stigma can be compounded by bigotry for people of color, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants, and people experiencing poverty. 


Models of Sex Trade Governance
The legality of sex trade activities varies by jurisdiction

  • Full Criminalization – Sex workers and clients are subject to arrest.
  • Partial Criminalization – Clients are subject to arrest, but sex workers are not.
  • Full Decriminalization – Sex workers and clients are not subject to arrest.
  • Legalization – Sex workers and clients are not subject to arrest if they adhere to regulations.


The sex trade is connected to the issues of our time.
Click the buttons below to learn more about sex trade subtopics.




Educational Materials

New Moon Network publications

  • Comparative Models documents – Nevada, Oregon, who else?
  • Spectrum of Experience tool & stories
  • Subtopics – How sex work connects with other issues
  • A brief history of SWR in the USA (and other significant moments)

External Resources 

Deep South Decrim Toolkit – Women With a Vision & Sex Worker Advisory Committee