Thus, although the term sex worker is sometimes viewed as a synonym or euphemism for "prostitute", it is more general.Sex worker can refer to individuals who do not directly engage in sexual activity such as pole dancers and sex toy testers.
Exner, an American psychologist, worked with his fellow colleagues to create five distinct classes for categorizing sex workers.
One scholarly article details the classes as follows: "specifically, the authors articulated Class I, or the upper class of the profession, consisting of call girls; Class II was referred to as the middle class, consisting of 'in-house girls' who typically work in an establishment on a commission basis; Class III, the lower middle class, were 'streetwalkers' whose fees and place of work fluctuate considerably; Class IV sex workers have been known as 'commuter housewives', and they are typically involved in sex work to supplement family income; and Class V consists of 'streetwalker addicts', or 'drugs-for-sex streetwalkers' who are considered the lower class of the profession." The term sex worker was coined in 1978 by sex worker activist Carol Leigh.
Its use became popularized after publication of the anthology, Sex Work: Writings By Women In The Sex Industry in 1987, edited by Frédérique Delacoste and Priscilla Alexander.
The term "sex worker" has since spread into much wider use, including in academic publications, by NGOs and labor unions, and by governmental and intergovernmental agencies, such as the World Health Organization.
Sex workers can act independently as individuals, work for a company or corporation, or work as part of a brothel.
All of the above can be undertaken either by free choice or by coercion.
Another example of sex workers that would not fall under the term prostitute would be an adult talent manager, who negotiates and secures pornographic roles for their clients.
There are also erotic photographers that shoot and edit for adult media and porn reviewers who watch and rate adult films.
For example, one study of sex work in Tijuana, Mexico found that the majority of sex workers there are young, female and heterosexual.
Many of these studies attempt to use smaller samples of sex workers and pimps in order to extrapolate about larger populations of sex workers.
These motives also align with varying climates surrounding sex work in different communities and cultures. Sex work can take the form of prostitution, stripping or lap dancing, performance in pornography, phone or internet sex, or any other exchange of sexual services for financial or material gain.