Teen Vogue is facing backlash for “promoting prostitution” after publishing an article which advertises sex work as “real work” to its audience, which is made up mostly of girls between the ages of 12 and 18.
The article, headlined “Why Sex Work Is Real Work” was originally published in April, but has received renewed attention and criticism after the magazine decided to promote it again on Twitter this week.
In the piece, Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng argues for the decriminalization of sex work across the world, citing global efforts to ensure better labor rights for the women involved. The continued criminalization of sex work is “a form of violence by governments and contributes to the high level of stigma and discrimination” around prostitution, she argues.
Yet, large chunks of Mofokeng’s article come across more as an advertisement for sex work as a potential career path than a simple argument for decriminalization – with little said about the dire circumstances which often lead young girls into that world.
Mofokeng tells teen readers that people often “misunderstand” what sex work actually is, writing that “sex-worker services” can include “companionship, intimacy, non-sexual role playing, dancing, escorting and stripping.” She also suggests that relationships that started off as sexual could “evolve” into “emotional and psychological bonding.”
The idea of “purchasing intimacy” can be affirming for people in need of “human connection, friendship and emotional support,” the article says, seeming to promote prostitution as a kind of caring profession serving people in need.
Mofokeng even compares her work as a medical doctor offering advice and treatment for sex-related problems to sex work, arguing that she is not criminalized for her work, so “sex workers” should not be either.
“I am a doctor, an expert in sexual health, but when you think about it, aren’t I a sex worker? And in some ways, aren’t we all?”
Teen Vogue’s tweet on Sunday with the caption “Yes, sex work is real work!” received instant backlash, with many accusing the magazine of promoting prostitution to vulnerable minors.
One user pointed out that girls are often forced into prostitution by human trafficking gangs and not all “sex workers” are campaigning to have the so-called “work” they are forced into be made legal – a side to the story never explored by Mofokeng.
Responding to the piece in May, former prostitute Dana Levy argued that support for full decriminalization, which would turn the sex industry into a “legitimate financial business” is “not shared by most people in prostitution.” Levy argued that adolescent girls from dysfunctional and poor backgrounds can become confused when they see the sex industry lobby presenting prostitution as a “social mobility tool” and succumb to the myth of “easy money.”
Yet, Teen Vogue was obviously unmoved by the stories of rape, drug abuse, lack of control, PTSD and ruined lives that emerged after it published the story – and decided to keep promoting the article anyway.
It’s not the first time Teen Vogue has courted controversy with articles arguably inappropriate for the age-range of its target audience. In 2017, it published a “guide to anal sex,” which it said can be “awesome” and encouraged readers to “give it a go.” Earlier this month, it was also criticized for advising minors on how they could obtain abortions without their parents’ knowledge.