A recent study on Canadian sex workers indicates that most are only active for brief periods of time and that currently active sex workers are part of a much larger inactive population. The findings have been published in the scientific journal PLOS One.
“There is very, very little demographic research on the topic of sex work in industrialized democracies,” said study author Lynn Kennedy of the Sex Work Population Project (@SexWorkPopCA). “Nevertheless, many governments have implemented repressive and possibly dangerous policies to regulate the industry. The aim of this study was to fill in some of the gaps regarding how sex work is actually practiced in Canada.”
“Because sex workers are a difficult population to study, the approach taken has been to look at the extensive archival record in the online advertising space to see what could be understood. The main questions were: how many people practice sex work in Canada and how long are they likely in the industry?
Kennedy analyzed 3.6 million web pages from prominent Canadian classifieds sites used by contact sex workers. The web pages were published between November 1, 2014 and December 31, 2016
Those advertising sex work were active for 73 days on average. Sex workers also appeared to frequently enter and exit the industry. In any given week, 13,575 workers were estimated to be active on average. The number of active sex workers fluctuated between 10,955 to 22,408.
“Sex workers are by and large gig workers in Canada,” Kennedy told PsyPost. “The archival data and follow up research that is currently underway show that the majority of sex workers are not in the business for long periods of time typically. This means that the majority of sex workers choose to be in the industry, which reflects previous Canadian research, and that there are more people in the industry than we might think.”
The majority of those advertising sex work identified as cis female. In contrast, approximately 5% identified as cis males and approximately 2% identified as transgender females.
Kennedy was surprised to find that about one in ten advertisements represented more than two workers. “Cluster analysis showed that, while most workers were independent or worked with one or two other people, some could be part of very large ad-hoc groups,” she explained. “The workers represented in these may not realize how connected they are with other workers.”
She also found that there “is significant a minority of workers that restrict who they see based on ethnicity. Follow up research is needed to better understand why this is the case.”
But the study, like all research, includes some limitations.
“The main caveat is that this is archival research and the limitations of the data sources need to be taken into account,” Kennedy said. Follow up research is in progress but additional studies combining archival and other techniques are needed to confirm the findings of the paper.”
The study, “The silent majority: The typical Canadian sex worker may not be who we think“, was published November 15, 2022.