Monkeypox Has L.A. Sex Workers Fighting the Virus, and the Stigma

Monkeypox is spread through intimate contact, but sex workers say they refuse to be further marginalized

Los Angeles sex workers are getting increasingly nervous about the spread of monkeypox and taking new safety precautions with clients.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, the lesion-causing virus has primarily been connected to gay and bisexual men so far, but due to its spread from skin-to-skin contact and “spread in intimate encounters,” many in the industry are recalling the emergence of the AIDS virus and the way it was treated (or not treated) at the time.

“With monkeypox, they’re like, ‘we’re not falling for that,” Trisonda Marbury, senior outreach coordinator with Project S.H.E.E., a sex worker support program, told the Times.

Monkeypox was first detected in California when a patient tested positive in Sacramento in late May, and the first case in L.A. County was reported on June 2, with the second case following less than a week later. As of August 23, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the number of cases in California at 2,663, while the number of cases in L.A. surpassed 1,200 on Monday.

The question of how to protect oneself from a virus spread by intimate contact, when most of your job is intimate contact, is proving tricky for many, from exotic dancers and adult film actors to dominatrixes and escorts.

One dancer named Divine explained the challenge of trying to avoid touching: “It’s kind of a necessary component of the dance and my job,” they said in the story, adding that avoiding contact would result in a drastic drop in tips, which had already gone south during the pandemic.

It’s still not clear to officials how many ways the virus is spreading, the Times reports.

“The rapid rise in U.S. cases has sparked questions about whether oral and anal sex itself is driving swifter transmission through semen and other bodily fluids, with some experts arguing that the way it is spreading is consistent with a sexually transmitted infection. Other experts have suggested that monkeypox may be spreading more readily during sexual encounters because infectious lesions in the rectum or urethra can be especially hard to detect—which means a person might not realize they have the virus until the rash spreads beyond the genital and anal areas.”

L.A. County has now moved to expand vaccine eligibility, which will help sex workers access the jab. The adult industry health and safety group Performer Availability Screening Service Inc. has warned that sex workers are at a higher risk, and has released a list of safety guidelines and advice about obtaining the vaccine.

There is also the question of hate crimes being committed against people suspected of being vulnerable to monkeypox, as a recent Washington Post story explored. In L.A., activist Soma Snakeoil tells the Times that “people are going to be targeted as if they are either trans or sex workers for receiving the shot.” They’ve suggested officials offer other vaccines at the same locations so as to reduce the focus on people receiving monkeypox-specific treatment.

Some in the industry are getting creative with changes in protocol. Transgender dominatrix Lady Kay told the Times, “I want to get more into making sure my limbs are covered. I definitely want to more judiciously wear gloves—latex gloves. Which adds to the aesthetic anyway.”

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