Center for Sex & Culture
Sex Worker Media Library

Sex Workers Digital Library Preserves History of a Movement

Sex Worker artist Carol Leigh (AKA Scarlot Harlot) and the Center for Sex & Culture (CSC) present the opening of the CSC Sex Worker Media Library. Created with the goal of preserving sex worker culture and discourse, funded by a grant from the Creative Work Fund, the library features a pathfinder-based delivery system of digital materials documenting the stories, artistic expressions, history, and legal and social positions of sex workers internationally.


T he CSC Sex Worker Media Library is a database of videos by and about sex workers from around the world, created with the goal of preserving sex worker culture and discourse. The library is located on-site at CSC and available for viewing by application only. Project director Carol Leigh explains, “This resource is designed to assist researchers, scholars and activists (including sex workers) in their efforts to understand and support sex workers rights and culture. This resource is sorely needed as we survive in a world of stigma, discrimination and criminalization.”


Library categories includes art and performance documentation; political demonstrations, marches and street theater; festival films by and about sex workers; interviews/oral histories of sex workers and allies; and documentation from conferences around the world.

The CSC Sex Worker Media Library is funded by a grant from the Creative Work Fund, a San Francisco foundation that supports collaborations between Bay Area artists and nonprofit organizations. The Creative Work Fund's highly competitive awards celebrate the role of artists as problem solvers and the making of art as a profound contribution to intellectual inquiry and to the strengthening of communities. According to Creative Work Fund Director Frances Phillips, grant recipients, "...push artistic boundaries, benefit social and medical services, and reflect the vibrancy and vitality of the Bay Area."

“This is an essential resource because so much of the history of sex worker activism is on video and not in print,” adds SWML advisor Dr. Melinda Chateauvert, a historian at the University of Maryland.

“We are very honored to be able to house these important materials,” says Center for Sex & Culture Executive Director, Dr. Carol Queen. “The Creative Work Fund award our project received reflects respect for sex workers within the arts communities and a recognition of the valuable cultural contributions made by sex workers.”

In sharp contrast, our communities have been subject to a new wave of repression. George Gascon, the newly appointed San Francisco police chief is proposing policies which further punish sex workers and their clients, despite strong support in the 2008 elections for a referendum to decriminalize sex work.

“The CSC Sex Worker Media Library is a crucial resource to preserve and encourage the courageous efforts by the community of sex workers in San Francisco, and around the world who resist this oppression as they survive,” says SWML Project Manger and University of California (Davis) instructor, Katrina Fullman.

San Francisco has been central to the development of the international sex worker rights movement. The city's unique history as ‘the Barbary Coast’ set the stage. The sex workers movement began in the early 70s gaining national attention with the founding of COYOTE by Margo St. James. The First National Hookers Convention took place in San Francisco in 1973 at Glide Church. CSC Sex Worker Media Library creator, Carol Leigh, coined the term ‘sex worker’ in San Francisco in 1978. Bay Area sex workers, activists and educators inspired and sustain the international political and social sex workers rights movement including: Margo St. James, Annie Sprinkle, Robyn Few, Susie Bright, Gloria Lockett, Rachel West, Tamara Ching, Priscilla Alexander, Carol Queen, Victoria Schneider, Johanna Breyer, Joseph Kramer, Dawn Passar and many more.


Many performers and musicians from the Bay Area have earned their living as dancers, phone sex operators, prostitutes, dominatrixes, adult film actors and models. Documentation of festivals, performance and cabaret events includes Jennifer Blowdryer's ‘SmutFest,’ Dee Dee Russell's ‘Anti-Fashion’ events, Tallulah Bankheist's ‘Whore Church,’ Annie Oakley's ‘Sex Worker Art Show Tour,’ and SF Sex Worker Festival performances like ‘Lick My Kitty’ (after the deceased Kitty Kastro), Mariko Passion's ‘Whore-A-Palooza’ and Kirk Read's ‘Army of Lovers.’

Conference documentation includes a wide range of international sex worker rights conferences from ISWFACE/Los Angeles COYOTE's 1997 ‘International Conference on Prostitution,’ the ICRSE ‘European Conference on Sex Work, Human Rights, Labour and Migration,’ Desiree Alliance conferences including ‘Re-visioning Prostitution Policy: Creating Space for Sex Worker Rights and Challenging Criminalization,’ Ziteng of Hong Kong's ‘Out In The Sun-Legal Constraints and Possibilities in Protecting the Rights of Sex Workers,’ COSWAS of Taiwan's ‘First International Action Forum for Sex work Rights’ and many more. International resources include sexworkerspresent.blip.tv and Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee at durbar.org.

Access to the video materials is location based at San Francisco's Center for Sex & Culture. Applications are available online for on-site access to these collections. Please fill out this online application to request on site access to our library

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