Read the full article by Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng at TeenVogue.com

In this op-ed, Tlaleng Mofokeng, MD, founder of Nalane for Reproductive Justice, explains why she believes sex work should be decriminalized across the globe.

The government of Amsterdam, a city known worldwide for its Red Light District, will banthe popular guided tours through that area starting in 2020. The ban stems in part from complaints calling the tours a nuisance that lead to congestion in the narrow canal-side streets. But city officials have also said the ban is out of respect for sex workers. “It is no longer acceptable in this age to see sex workers as a tourist attraction,” city councillor Udo Kock said, according to The Guardian. There’s one problem: Many sex workers are opposing this plan.

Sex work is legal in Amsterdam, but it isn’t in many other places, though some people are working to make it so. In South Africa, where I am based, for instance, sex workers are callingfor decriminalization and legal reform. They argue that sex work is work, as affirmed by the International Labor Organization (ILO), a specialized agency of the United Nations. This situation in Amsterdam, and the continued criminalization of sex workers around the world, is yet another example of how we disregard the needs and opinions of the people most impacted by policies. But even more so, it’s another example of how we misunderstand what sex work actually is. 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?

So, what exactly is sex work? Not all sex workers engage in penetrative sex, though, undeniably, that is a big part of sex work. Sex-worker services between consenting adults may include companionship, intimacy, nonsexual role playing, dancing, escorting, and stripping. These roles are often pre-determined, and all parties should be comfortable with them. Many workers take on multiple roles with their clients, and some may get more physical while other interactions that may have started off as sexual could evolve into emotional and psychological bonding.

The clients who seek sex workers vary, and they’re not just men. The idea of purchasing intimacy and paying for the services can be affirming for many people who need human connection, friendship, and emotional support. Some people may have fantasies and kink preferences that they are able to fulfill with the services of a sex worker.

I find it interesting that as a medical doctor, I exchange payment in the form of money with people to provide them with advice and treatment for sex-related problems; therapy for sexual performance, counseling and therapy for relationship problems, and treatment of sexually transmitted infection. Isn’t this basically sex work? I do not believe it is right or just that people who exchange sexual services for money are criminalized and I am not for what I do. Is a medical degree really the right measure of who is deserving of dignity, autonomy, safety in the work place, fair trade and freedom of employment? No. This should not be so. Those who engage in sex work deserve those things, too.