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Thus, although the term sex worker is sometimes viewed as a synonym or euphemism for "prostitute", it is more general.
Some people use the term to avoid invoking the stigma associated with the word "prostitute".
In regions where sex work is illegal, advocates for sex workers' rights argue that the covert nature of illegal prostitution is a barrier to access to legal resources.
However, some who oppose the legalization of prostitution argue that sex work is inherently exploitative and can never be legalized or practiced in a way that respects the rights of those who perform it.
For example, while pornography is legal in the United States, prostitution is illegal in most parts of the US.
However, in other regions of the world, both pornography and prostitution are illegal; in others, both are legal.
These motives also align with varying climates surrounding sex work in different communities and cultures. Sex work can take the form of prostitution, stripping or lap dancing, performance in pornography, phone or internet sex, or any other exchange of sexual services for financial or material gain.
Depending on local law, sex workers' activities may be regulated, controlled, tolerated, or prohibited.
In most countries, even those where sex work is legal, sex workers may be stigmatized and marginalized, which may prevent them from seeking legal redress for discrimination (e.g., racial discrimination by a strip club owner), non-payment by a client, assault or rape.
While demographic characteristics of sex workers vary by region and are hard to measure, some studies have attempted to estimate the composition of the sex work communities in various places.
For example, one study of sex work in Tijuana, Mexico found that the majority of sex workers there are young, female and heterosexual.