Sliding Scale Of Prostitution
Prostitution can vary from a fate worse than death to a dream job


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Depictions of prostitution and other sexual professions are common in fiction, but the way in which such roles are portrayed varies greatly from work to work. At its worst, a life of prostitution can be the ultimate employment nightmare: a job that is literally a Fate Worse than Death; at its best, prostitution pays better and is less stressful than just about any other job in the setting.

Usually, this scale correlates linearly with the Sliding Scale of Cynicism Versus Idealism; in works featuring a Free-Love Future, prostitution may be a perfectly respectable career goal; in a work that takes a much darker view of humanity, prostitutes are often portrayed as the faceless victims of the general state of dystopia. However, this can also be reversed: prostitution might be one of the last unsightly blemishes in an otherwise utopian society or a one of the more pleasant aspects of a Crapsack World.

See also The Oldest Profession.

The Scale:

From worst to best:

Prostitution is rape (AKA human trafficking)

Prostiution is depicted as a crime committed against women tantamount to serial rape. Prostitutes are frequently murdered, frequently underaged, and virtually always unwilling or at least coerced. They are often viewed by their bosses as little more than business equipment or living sex toys with no human rights, and regularly refer to their "employees" as "merchandise". Prostitutes are typically depicted as being either extremely subservient, or subject to frequent punishments. The men who seek sex with prostitutes often do so not in spite of the cruel treatment of prostitutes, but because of it, being sadistic misogynists, sexual predators, etc. Those that aren't are either ignorant or wilfully ignorant of the prostitutes' plight.

Unfortunately, sometimes Truth in Television.

Tropes:
  • A Red Light District can be home for sex workers from here all the way to the top.
  • Sex Slaves usually fall here in more realistic works; in more fanservice - heavy or lighthearted works, they'll be indentured servants, and usually have a kindly, if very perverted, owner.
  • Sex Tourism can cover the full range of the scale, but usually there's a dichotomy: the more depraved tourists will opt for underage sex workers (this), while the more sympathetic tourists will typically end up with an experienced partner (see “Prostiution ain’t all that bad”).

Prostitutes are the lowest social class.

Prostitutes are regarded as somewhere between peasants and slaves in social status at best, and below slaves at worst. Becoming a prostiute means you are automatically a Disposable Sex Worker - police dutifully fill out the reports of slain prostiutes and then immediately toss them in the trash. Prostitutes may be subject to dystopian laws or social mores that prevent them from going into certain parts of town, forcing them to disguise themselves in public, causing high - ranking customers to loose social status simply by being spotted with them, etc.

Often found in dystopian settings where Fantastic Racism, or the real thing, is near - universal.

Tropes:

Prostitutes are indentured servants.

Prostitutes are slaves, but slavery is apparently not quite as bad as you might think. Families willingly sell their children, and many desperate young women volunteer for the job, mainly to avoid worse fates, such as starvation or less desirable forms of slavery. Most hope to pay off the family debt, save enough to buy their freedom and start a second career, or find a kindly boss or customer who will free them, or promote them to a High-Class Call Girl. They're usually depicted as subservient and loyal, but having other interests and talents beside their profession. Customers and bosses are depicted as a mixed bag; some are cruel, others are gentle and kind. Occasionally, a customer will fall in love with a prostitute, and often finds the only way for them to remain a couple is to buy her.

Often found in a Crapsack World which is nonetheless on the more hopeful side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.

Street Walker

Prostitutes depicted as either on their own, living on the streets, or with several other women and a pimp, reduced to advertising themselves on public street corners wearing outragous outfits in a desperate bid to attract business.

Often found in gritty police dramas as these are, of course, also Truth in Television.

Tropes:

Prostitution is just another lousy job (AKA sex work is boring.)

Prostiution (and sometimes other jobs with a sexual element - stripper, porn star, etc.) are depicted as jobs no one would ever want to have when they grow up, but clearly preferable to starving to death, and not necessarily worse than the worst minimum - wage positions. No one wants to grow up to be a sex worker, and those who are find it unsatisfying at best. Prostitutes look forward to Friday (or whatever the start of their weekend is), but how many janitors or fast-food workers are happy, though?

Tropes:

Law school prostitute

Prostitution is depicted as a gateway profession that pays the bills while working toward a better position; often a sex worker will be a college student who can't afford to pay both rent and tuition, or a huge debt acquired by other means, with a minimum - wage job, so you do what you gotta do.

Prostiution ain’t all that bad (AKA sex workers are boring.)

Prostitution and other forms of sexual employment are depicted as a career choice that has both drawbacks and perks. Sure, there's risks and drawbacks, but it's easier and pays a lot better than working many minimum - wage jobs. Sex workers are often depicted as being otherwise completely normal people. For the Good Bad Girl in a repressed society, it may be one of the few jobs she doesn't get fired from for being an Innocent Fanservice Girl.

Can be Truth in Television where sex work is legal.

Tropes:
  • A Band of Brothels usually employs higher - end prostitutes, though the girls may have to start as indentured servants in some settings.
  • Compensated Dating typically occurs here. Most are students and housewives who could get by without it, but it pays for their lifestyle.
  • A paid Dominatrix is probably most often a case of this, though they may range from “prostitution is just another lousy job” on up.
  • Miss Kitty usually falls here if not above.
  • Professional Sex Ed "teachers" often fall here, though any properly trained sex worker can do the job.

High-Class Call Girl

Prostitutes are depicted as skilled professionals who speak several languages, and stylish enough to mingle with the rich and famous without attracting attention.

Milder versions of this can be Truth in Television, as certain high - profile scandals will attest to.

Tropes:

Unproblematic Prostitution

Prostitution is seen as an idealized profession; risks and inconveniences are minimalized in the depiction, and prostitutes are depicted as being quite happy with their role in society.

Prostitution is a dream job

Unproblematic Prostitution Turned Up to Eleven:
  • All prostitutes are Good Bad Girls who wouldn't be happy living a celebate or monogamous lifestyle.
  • Prostitution is easier and nicer than having lots of (unpaid) one nighters realistically would be... and they get paid too!
  • The bosses, coworkers, and customers are all pleasant, if not attractive, and are gentlemen or ladies with good personal hygiene; all the colleagues are friends or at least civil to each other.
  • The premises are pleasant too, with soundproof walls, floors, and ceilings, nice furnature, comfy props, etc.
  • There is no fear of violence, pregnancy, or ST Ds.
  • No one is a prostitute out of necessity, such as to afford food or to get their crack fix.
  • Sex on the job is always great and leaves no nasty mental vibes.
  • No one needs to lead a rending double life.
  • The pay is great; prostitutes often own homes or rent apartments comparable or better than those of successful middle - class families.
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