Sex worker-exclusionary radical feminism

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Activists holding a flag expressing solidarity with transgender individuals and sex workers. (Credit to Charles Hutchins from London, United Kingdom.[1])
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Why then the insistence on calling themselves radical? When your attitude to porn is ban it, when your attitude to sex is only with the lights off and never with any acts that might not be papally approved, when your views are those that reinforce patriarchal tropes of the whore /madonna split, what is radical?
—Ann Tagonist[2]
Claiming that a sex worker somehow transfers ownership of her own body to someone else would be farcical if it was not used so often, especially by those opposed to sex work. What they are actually saying is that once a person has sex for money with someone they lose all rights over their own body. Dig deeper into the “selling your body” trope and what you discover is people saying sex workers cannot be raped, cannot be assaulted, cannot be beaten up, because their autonomy over their own bodies ceases the moment money is exchanged. Tied up is the idea that we do not fully control ourselves in the way non sex workers do.
—everyday whorephobia[3]

Sex worker-exclusionary radical feminism (abbr. SWERF) is a flavor of feminism that sees no place for sex workers in the movement, because it holds that any sort of sex work is part and parcel of the evil patriarchy.[4] Since sex worker-exclusionary radical feminism opposes pornography and prostitution, it overlaps with sex-negative feminism.

The term used to refer to adherents of this pseudofeminist ideology are better known as SWERFs.[4] The designation "SWERF" is quite similar to TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminism), as both labels serve to identify feminists who assail disadvantaged people, via purporting them to be detrimental to feminism. SWERFs are those who believe that sex workers are both victims and enablers of patriarchy. This ideology is quite present in radical feminism, hence the name.

It's not certain when the term "SWERF" came to be, but likely within the past decade.[4] It flourished in sex workers' rights blogs (such as Everyday Whorephobia) for some time.[4]


In 2018, the federal government of the United States passed a set of bills known as Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA).[5] FOSTA-SESTA is in violation of rights to privacy and jeopardizes sex workers, rather than sex traffickers.[4][6] [7] Despite sex workers perpetually speaking out against these laws, they have yet to be abolished. Consequently, those who supported FOSTA-SESTA were referred to as SWERFs.[4]

Aotearoa decriminalized sex work in 2003 when the Parliament of Aotearoa passed The Prostitution Reform Act 2003 (PRA), which seemingly is an anti-SWERF bill — till you realize it only was meant to aid Sex Workers with citizenship. If you are a Migrant Sex Worker on a temporary visa, you aren't protected by PRA, thus you're subject to criminalization and feasible deportation if the police find out you're doing sex work. Putting on the no bullshit goggles, this means that a lot of Sex Workers of Color have their services criminalized.[8]

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  2. SWerfs/Terfs, the Westboro Baptist Church of Feminism." everyday whorephobia, 20 Nov. 2021,
  3. "It’s not even for rent." everyday whorephobia, 23 Dec. 2021,
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 "SWERF.", Accessed 16 October 2021.
  5. "H.R.1865 - Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017.", Accessed 16 October 2021.
  6. Romano, Aja. "A new law intended to curb sex trafficking threatens the future of the internet as we know it." Vox, Accessed 16 October 2021.
  7. House, Briq and Andrews, Alex. "SWOP-USA stands in opposition of disguised internet censorship bill SESTA, S. 1963." Sex Workers Outreach Project USA, Accessed 16 October 2021.
  8. "Who can do sex work?" Community Law NZ, 23 Dec. 2021,