The Sex Industry

The sex industry is sometimes referred to as the adult entertainment industry. Although many disciplines could be argued to be “sex industry,” most people think of street-based sex workers, exotic dancers, phone sex operators, dominatrices, adult film stars, and escorts, when they think of the sex industry.

Sex industry workers are people who provide a sexual service — be it fantasy or reality — for money.

For the purposes of Trade Secrets, we use the term “sex industry workers,” “sex workers,” and “adult entertainers” interchangeably.

The sex industry is made up of many different genres and disciplines. We provide these examples to assist your understanding of the guide as you read. For a more extensive list, see “Our Language” located at the end of the guide.

Adult Film

Adult Film and Photography
Movies and photos with adult oriented sexual content, including but not limited to categories such as soft-core, hard-core, max hard-core, BDSM and fetish activities.

Adult film and photography talent/model/performer
Adult who performs and/or models in adult-oriented films and photo shoots.

Adult film and photography companies
Private businesses that operate adult film and photography studios, productions, and sessions for DVD, Internet or photos.

Person who sexually arouses adult film actors on set in order to prepare them to perform.


An acronym for ‘B&D’(bondage & discipline); ‘D&S’ (dominance and submission); and ‘S&M’ (sadomasochism). A ‘Sadist’ is one who obtains sexual enjoyment by watching and/or inflicting pain on another. A ‘Masochist’ is one who obtains sexual enjoyment from receiving pain, humiliation and/or being dominated.

The term “BDSM” describes any situation or practice that involves erotic power exchange – dominance and submission, pain play, bondage, sensation play, or anything related to these activities.

BDSM work refers to any consensual activities between adults including some or all of these things, but on a professional level (we’re getting paid for it).

Dominants and Submissives are employed in this industry. An additional role includes those who work as ‘Switches.’ A Switch is one who changes from dominant to submissive roles, depending on the scene.

Fetish Work

With respect to sexual activity, a ‘fetish’ is defined as anything that sexually arouses a person, such as a foot fetish or a leather fetish. Fetish work is when someone offers fetish services for money. It can involve practices relating to BDSM.

Female Exotic Dancer

A female exotic dancer is an entertainer who performs seductive striptease to music, taking off her clothes until she is naked, or wearing very little. An exotic dancer may perform for a large or small audience; individuals or couples; in strip clubs, nightclubs, or at private parties. The term exotic dancer encompasses features, showgirls, and house dancers.

The highest paid exotic dancer performing at a club is called the feature. Feature shows are generally interactive, with elaborate costumes, props, and themes. In Western Canada, although she is usually the highest paid showgirl, she shares a common job description with the other dancers who are paid for their shows. In Ontario and Quebec, the feature is often the only dancer paid to dance on stage.

A showgirl is skilled at holding an audience’s attention using dance and/or other specialized skills (pole work, acrobatics, gymnastics, fire shows, theme shows, etc) and by responding to the audience’s reaction(s).

Common in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba, showgirls are usually booked on stage for week-long contracts and work Monday to Saturday, with a day off and/or switch clubs on Sunday. They do not have a home bar and travel is often required. Showgirls are paid per show and are not compensated for their entertainment expenses, additional time, floor time, or travel expenses. A strong advantage of showgirl work is a guaranteed paycheque at the end of the week.

Private Dancer / VIP Dancer / House Dancer
A house dancer is an exotic dancer whose primary income comes from selling dances that occur one-on-one in a private booth for individuals or couples. While on shift, house dancers are often required to do stage rotation, performing on stage for free, or for little pay. House dancers may be on shift by the bar, or pay a drop in fee to the bar in order to work. House dancers have the advantage of sleeping in their own bed at night and have the stability of a steady place of employment. However, income can fluctuate dramatically as it depends on the sale of dances. Private dancing is common in Central and Eastern Canada, and becoming more popular in Western Canada.

Male Exotic Dancer

A male exotic dancer is a man who performs erotic dance or acrobatic movements while removing all or part of his clothing for an audience of gay men or heterosexual women. Male exotic dancers are often body builders and are usually very well-toned and muscular.

Contracted under different rules and regulations than female exotic dancers (in part due to there being fewer opportunities for paid male performance), male dancers are generally paid more for their shows with their shows lasting longer than female exotic dancers shows. Male dancers usually have another job that provides the bulk of their income.

Male exotic dancers perform in either a group (troupe or revue) or solo format to pre-recorded music that may follow a theme or exhibit similarities from song to song. Solo performers are required to perform more often than revue/troupe performers.

Male dancers commonly “tie off” which is a process that consists of tightly wrapping a thick elastic around the base of the penis when fully erect to maintain its girth for an extended period of time, presenting the visual effect of full arousal. This can be done as often as necessary.

Many clubs do not permit nudity, so the dancer is prohibited from exposing his penis. In some Alberta communities, licenses are required for nudity whether the dancer is male or female.

Live Erotic Performer
“Live erotic performer” is a general term to describe people who provide sexual shows that may or may not include contact with the audience or an individual customer. The performance may be on stage or in person. Some examples are exotic dancers, burlesque dancers, peep show workers, auto-erotic performers (who masturbate in front of an audience), fetish performers, or anyone who performs sexual acts on stage or in front of clients during private sessions.

Peep Show Performer (Booth Baby)

A peep show performer engages in sexual activity – usually provocative dance, striptease, masturbation, or by sexually engaging with another performer – while the customer watches from a private booth. The booth is fitted with a window or shutter that opens when money is inserted into a coin-box or money slot. Typically, private booths surround a stage, separated from the performer by glass, and there is no contact between the performer and the audience. In some places, the performer may have the option to perform privately inside a customer’s booth for an additional fee.

Some peep show establishments offer coin-operated booths showing adult films, and in some places, video booths have replaced live performers.

Phone Sex Operator (Phone Sex Actress, Adult Phone Entertainer)

A phone sex operator is a paid professional who engages customers in sexual fantasies over the telephone via what are known as adult chat lines. Phone sex operators may use suggestive language, role-play, sexual confessions, and real or simulated masturbation with customers.

Webcam Worker

A webcam worker performs sexual acts online, such as role-playing, striptease, masturbation, ejaculation, urination, BDSM, or other fetishes. He or she performs before a camera with the content displayed on a website that customers pay to access. On many sites, webcam workers may engage with clients in a chat room while they are performing. Webcam workers may perform alone, with a sexual partner, or with other performers (i.e. duos, orgies, circle jerks). Many adult web sites are geared towards particular themes (i.e. amateurs, fetishes, age, ethnicity and/or sexual orientation).

Sex Worker / Escort / Courtesan

A sex worker directly provides agreed upon sexual services in exchange for money or other payment.

Street-based Sex Worker
A street-based sex worker finds and/or serves his or her clients outside. Many cities and communities have specific areas (called strolls) where outdoor workers can be found. Sometimes these are strategic locations where, for example, there is a lot of traffic, convenient places for a client (or “john”) to pull over, or in the vicinity of a target market. However, often times they are forced to work in dark, isolated and/or industrial areas to reduce their visibility to police and other community members.

Escort Service Worker
An escort service worker is a sex worker who traditionally only visits clients on an “out call” basis, meaning the worker would attend the patron’s residence or hotel room for the encounter. Escorting may or may not include sexual contact, however, the client generally expects that sex will occur. Escort service workers are sometimes employed to travel with their clients on vacations or business trips or to accompany them for dinner or to an office party.

An Independent is a sex worker who does not work for an escort agency, massage parlour, or health enhancement center, but works as a sole proprietor or free agent. An independent may entertain clients in their home while some rent other locations such as studios or hotel rooms, as a work site. An independent may or may not do outcalls or travel with clients. Services offered vary significantly.

Massage Worker/ Health Enhancement Center Worker
A massage or health enhancement center worker is a sex worker who works in a retail or licensed business establishment on an “in-call” or on-site basis. Sex or full service is not always provided but a body massage followed by sexual release in the form of a hand job is generally expected. The level of contact is usually the choice of the worker with a wide variety of work environments ranging from fantasy rooms to beauty parlours.

Escort Service
An escort service or agency is a sex industry business that is intended to enable sex industry clients and workers to meet safely on an ‘out-call’ basis. An escort service traditionally provides advertising, security in the form of a driver, a call back service in the form of a booking girl, and access to the business owner’s regular clientele. An escort service covers its costs and makes a profit by collecting a percentage of the escort worker’s hourly wage.

Massage Parlour/ Health Enhancement Center
A massage parlour or health enhancement center is a sex industry business that operates as a retail or licensed business establishment on an “in-call” or on-site basis. The business traditionally provides a secure work environment, advertising and access to the business owner’s regular clientele. A massage parlour or health enhancement center business covers its costs and makes a profit by collecting a percentage of a worker’s wage or by charging a fee for the use of an on-site room where services are performed.

Glory Hole Worker
A glory hole worker is a sex worker who, for a fee, provides sexual services anonymously through a hole in a wall or door. Some glory hole workers erect false walls in the entrance of their residence where the client enters, inserts his penis through the wall and receives sexual service. Others establish a more discreet location such as a public bathroom. A glory hole worker may perform, fellatio (BJ), a hand job, or full service however fellatio is generally expected. A glory hole is an anonymous and safe work environment and is generally run by independent sex workers.

Transgender Sex Worker
Transgender sex worker is a broad term that refers to any individual selling sexual services whose gender expression (physical, emotional, spiritual) differs from their biological or genetic gender. Transgender sex workers may choose to alter their appearances as a personal expression, feeling that they have been born into the wrong physical body and/or may do so in order to appeal sexually to a customer’s specific fantasy or fetish.

Hustler is a slang term often used by men to characterize their involvement in sex work, however, not all hustlers are sex workers. A hustler can be anyone who works freelance for themselves to make fast money in order to survive. Hustlers are typically clever, cunning, quick-witted and develop a keen sense of street smarts. Some classic examples of a hustler are pool sharks, card tricksters and sleight-of-hand artists.

H.U.S.T.L.E.R. as an acronym sums it up well and may stand for- ‘How U Survive This Life Everyday…Resourcefully’.

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