sexwork activism


Jessie Nicole is an activist and writer focusing on sex workers rights. She is dedicated to fighting all forms of oppression, building strong communities, and education.

For more information please contact Jessie Nicole here.

Shorter: I moved to LA in August 2010 and became the director of Sex Workers Outreach Project – Los Angeles. I am a former prostitute, and a dedicated activist. I’m a queer, stubborn, committed, anarcha-feminist. I have a Masters in literature. I’m always open to learning and trying new things. I’m always open to meeting new people and having fun in new ways. I like Irish whiskey and dancing and am a terrible singer.

Longer: I’m going to try to keep this short and let my writing and my work stand as they are. But there’s some background information that will go a long way to inform where I’m at today.

I was both a sex worker and an activist for years before it occurred to me I could put the two together. When I first started in the sex industry I was an idiot, and I was alone. It’s embarrassing how little regard I seemed to have for my own safety. I really believe it was sheer luck that I was never arrested or assaulted. I later did some homework and learned a LOT just by dedicating hours upon hours to reading other sex workers’ blogs. I am deeply indebted to those women for helping me learn how to be safe and for helping me realize that I was not the first, not would I be the last, to go through what I did. Being a prostitute was one hell of an experience for me. Like any job, there were parts I hated and parts I loved. And I know that I had it relatively easy. I recognize the privileges I have and how those privileges shaped my experience in the sex industry.

Being a whore meant that I had to re-evaluate the way I thought about a lot of things, including myself. What it meant to be a feminist, or queer, or radical, or even part of a community, had profoundly changed. But I couldn’t articulate it to anyone, so I kept quiet about how alienated I felt. I felt isolated, scared, and ashamed of all the lies I had to keep up. I maintained my grades, my involvement in the radical activist scene, my friendships, and my relationship with my family. I even had lovers and casual romances. I practiced an odd sort of denial where there were two parts of my life that would never meet, and keeping up that kind of dual identity is exhausting, frustrating, and infuriating. Having a community of sex workers would go a long way towards preventing the necessity of that pain for future workers.

I’ve been involved with activism of various sorts since I was a child. From a miserable failure of an environmental campaign when I was in elementary school, to registering voters in high school, to the 2004 election, to anti-torture and shutting down the School of Americas, vegan cooking classes, a radical feminist girl gang (<3), writing a graduate thesis on the IWW… it’s all been part of lifelong work to change the world. It hasn’t been easy, and it never will be, but as I read and live and interact with people more my opinions and ideas continue to develop. I suppose I should probably have a longer explanation about my politics somewhere, but this is the brief introduction so I’ll save it.

Getting involved with Sex Workers Outreach Project has been the most empowering and liberating activist experience I’ve ever had. Every event and every meeting is building something much bigger. If you want to see specific goals I have in mind for SWOP LA check out the Activist Wish List page.

So, here I am. Happy, healthy, and working hard. I live with my partner and our turtle, Walter, in West Hollywood. I like to cook and experiment with new foods. I’m not sure what else to say about my personal life really. I’m sure bits will pop up here as my personal life is deeply intertwined with my politics.

Read More »


Sex Work Activist Burn Out / Sex Work Community Love

Ive taken giant steps backwards from activism and activist communities in the past year. There have been a lot of factors, some of which have been deeply personal and some of which have been struggles with activist institutions and communities themselves. However, despite my ambivalence about formal organizing and activism, one thing that has not wavered has been my dedication to sex work communities. While Ive been pulling back from sex work activism, Ive been much happier and successful as a sex worker and forming stronger bonds with other sex workers. Go figure.

Being the director of SWOP-LA wasnt good for me. It was never a position I particularly wanted, nor a structure I was completely comfortable with. I didnt want to speak for sex workers. I didnt want a leadership position. And I didnt want to do the enormous amount of bureaucratic work that went with the position. I think Im ok at it, but I dont think it plays to my best strengths. I was overwhelmed by the responsibility I felt, and then resentful because I felt like I didnt have a choice.

At the same time, I kind of got off on the recognition. It felt good to have business cards that had a real position on them. I liked the awe and respect people showed when I described what I did. And I took real pride in both mine and SWOPs accomplishments. I dont think that any of those are necessarily bad things. But it distracted from some of the toll the forms my activist efforts were taking on me.

Writing, presenting, conferences, email lists, conference calls, and fundraisers were never what I wanted my top activist priorities to be. Building strong communities of sex workers was, and is. Again, its not that any of those are bad or unproductive things. They just took time from other goals. One of the things Im most proud of helping to organize as a sex work activist didnt happen through any official organizations. It happened because sex workers and allies could be connected through a network of mutual friends and acquaintances. Maybe its weak or depoliticized activism, but thats what I want to focus on.

In that spirit the next Sex Worker Social is much more informal. So informal, in fact, that its also a birthday party for Vanessa and not limited to current or former sex workers exclusively. Weve built some pretty kick ass friendships and camaraderie in LA, and were going to keep strengthening that.

More to come soon.

Read More »



Sex Work 101

This presentation addresses the basics of sex work and the movement for sex workers rights. Starting with an introduction to the terms used in sex work activism, it is designed for audiences with little to no familiarity with the sex industry, and who may have never considered sex workers rights before. Mixing in personal stories and interactive discussion, you will hear a summary of the current work being done in sex worker activism, the specific challenges of organizing a highly stigmatized community, and how these lessons can be extrapolated to other social justice projects.

Sex Work & Feminism

Historically, the relationship between sex work activists like escorts from and mainstream feminist activists has been contentious at best. From the sex wars of the 80s and 90s to the current debates over decriminalization and the Swedish model, sex workers frequently find themselves at odds with feminist thought. This presentation will explore some of that contention as well as successful collaborations between sex work activism and feminists with classic and contemporary feminist theory. The very definition of feminism is troubled, and issues of gender and sexuality within sex work activism are emphasized.

Sex Work & Popular Media

A large part of the struggle for sex workers rights consists of confronting misconceptions of sex work and of what sex work looks like. Confronting popular conceptions of sex workers drawn from the portrayal of sex work in popular media is an essential part of that struggle. With the happy hooker, Captain-Save-A-Ho, the perpetual victim and the hardened criminal, sex workers are frequently reduced to nothing more than caricature, or more often, an anonymous pair of fishnet clad legs. Besides highlighting these negative images, the audience will explore the connections between these stereotypes and their own assumptions about sex workers. The relationship between activism, pop culture, and independent media (including social media) will be discussed, with a particular emphasis on blog culture and the sex worker blog genre.

These are just some of the topics I can speak about. Contact me for more information or to discuss a presentation with a different focus.

Selected Past Presentations
“Intro to Sex Work / Sex Work Activism” – presented at California State University San Marcos, University of Southern California, Pasadena City College, University of California Irvine, University of California Los Angeles May 2011-February 2013

Sex Work, Organizing, and the Academy: Tenuous Relationships Between Scholarship and the Sex Industries
Panel Facilitator and Presenter
“Framing Sex Work: The Limits of Feminist Theory in Sex Work Activism”
National Women’s Studies Association Conference, Feminism Unbound: Imagining a Feminist Future
November 10, 2012

“Sex Workers Outreach Project: The Struggle for Rights in a Violent Structure”
Women’s History Month Conference – The Naked Truth: Women’s Education and Empowerment
University of Texas El Paso, March 28, 2012

“Sex, Work, and Community: How Sex Workers Outreach Project Works Towards Social Justice”
Young People For, West Regional Training, August 13, 2011

Read More »