What is it about?

Little recent information is available on who does sex work in Canada. This study fills in the gaps by carefully reviewing a large corpus of online archival data to understand population dynamics of Canadian sex workers in 2014-2016. The study considered all genders. The number of sex workers active weekly was growing during this period, following the passage of the "Nordic Model" PCEPA legislation in Canada, with an average of 16846 (SD 5858) workers of all genders estimated to be active weekly. About 0.2% of the 20-49 year old Canadian female population was represented. However, over the two year period there was evidence that many people had left the industry. The corrected median days active advertising was 71 (IQR 38-195, see note attached to paper). Over the two year period many more people had been active - an estimated 169473 workers (95% CI 166870–172226).

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Why is it important?

This study is important for two reasons. Firstly, it shows that much of the Canadian qualitative research is likely not representative of the actual population of sex workers in Canada. The online advertisers self-identify as mostly White, straight and cis-female albeit with significant representation of cis-male, trans-female and even trans-male in the data. However, the proportions of First Nations, and gender non-conforming workers is far less than what is typically used in previous research. Furthermore, policy makers have been given the wrong impression that the average sex worker is active for 10 years - which is clearly contradicted by the advertising data. Sex workers have lives outside of sex work. Secondly, sex work is clearly a normative, if intermittent, activity for many Canadians and maybe we need to start thinking of this larger pool of (mostly inactive) sex work involved people as a distinct sexual minority. The numbers suggest a similar population proportion to people who are exclusively gay.


As someone who has had involvement with the industry in Canada it is important that our stories be represented in the scientific literature. This study provides much needed background context for other work. It is my hope that other researchers will expand and refine the findings of this research.

Lynn Kennedy

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The silent majority: The typical Canadian sex worker may not be who we think, PLoS ONE, November 2022, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0277550.
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