Shouldn't our hand-held devices be making sex work better?

Despite all its shortcomings, the internet provides endless possibilities for the future of many industries. Is the sex industry one of them?

We live in an increasingly online world. Everything is mediated. Everything is digitised. And (almost) everything can be accessed at the touch of a button or scroll of a mouse.

So the fact that the sex industry is now increasingly an online enterprise, should come as no surprise.

Like everything else, prostitution is increasingly an online enterprise.

In much the same way as one might use the internet to order a pizza or review a restaurant, escorts can advertise on personal websites and clients can read reviews before meeting up. This allows a two-way screening process to take place which has resulted in less disease transmission and improved safety.

There is no denying that these advances, otherwise known as prostitution 2.0, have made the sex industry safer for both workers and clients, but the question remains: how can it be done better?

You might also enjoy: She’s a mother of two. A media personality. And a sex worker.

As the University of Colorado’s Scott Peppet argues, there is still a lot of potential around internet technology to make the sex industry smarter and safer. He has called this “Prostitution 3.0”.

Using technology will make sex work safer for workers and clients – but there is something very important holding it back.

The Law School professor proposes that new technology could deal with problems of disease, violence, and coercion, but this would require “removing legal barriers to ongoing technological innovation in this context, such as state laws criminalising technologies that ‘advance prostitution.'”

Can technology increase sex industry standards?

It seems that the biggest obstacle in making sex work safer is the fact that aiding and promoting prostitution remains against the law.


As Peppet told Slate’s Jordan Weissmann, the key is not to eliminate these laws but to change them so that there are higher standards and expectations.

“We’re creating a chicken-and-the-egg problem. We dislike the market as it currently is, and we use it to justify prohibiting these kinds of exchanges,” he said.

Sex work is criminalised, so “innovation itself is illegal.” It seems we could have higher standards for the industry, but people can’t get past the association of the profession with their previous understanding of the dangers and risks.

Is “Uber for Prostitutes” the answer?

Modeled Behaviour’s Adam Ozimek also touches on the idea of using internet technology to improve sex industry conditions. He refers to Peppet’s idea as “Uber for Prostitution”.

“The black market nature of the industry means that there are serious problems that arise for participants, and an app could help improve a lot of these,” Ozimek wrote.

Want more? Try this: Is public sex the new black?

Technology is key to reform.

The use of an app, whether it turns out to be “Uber for Prostitutes” or something different, will allow for an open and regulated market with the capacity for users to form networks built on safety and standards.

By acknowledging that prostitution is not going to disappear anytime soon, maybe we can finally open up and have a dialogue about how best to improve standards for sex workers and clients. Technology may not form the full answer, but it sure will go a long way towards much needed reform.

What do you think? Would you endorse the creation and use of an “Uber for Prostitutes” app?