TOP 10: Songs About Sex Work

February 1, 2024

BY Derek Mekita

Ladies of the evening. The world’s oldest profession. Working girls. Sex workers have inspired innumerable works of art throughout the ages. Fine art! Theater! Film! And yes, plenty of amazing songs have been created devoted to sex workers. So many that we could create a list of them!

So here are my personal picks for the Top 10 songs about sex work in popular music. Did we forget your favorite? Drop it in the comments below!

10. “Roxanne” by The Police

This mega-hit for The Police was inspired by sex workers near their Paris hotel in late 1977, with the song’s titular focus named for a character in Cyrano de Bergerac, a poster for which hung in the hotel’s foyer. You don’t have to turn on that red light… but maybe you want to?

9. “Love For Sale” by Ella Fitzgerald

This classic, penned by Cole Porter for his musical The New Yorkers, was written from the perspective of a sex worker advertising her services. It has been covered many, many times — the most famous of which is arguably Ella Fitzgerald’s recording from 1956. When first released, it was thought to be in poor taste. But we find it delicious!

8. “Lady Marmalade” by LaBelle

Millennial and Gen Z audiences will recall this song from the hit movie musical Moulin Rouge, but it first seductively sauntered into the pop culture zeitgeist with LaBelle’s 1974 recording. It was inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2021, in recognition of its cultural, historical, and artistic significance! We only have one question: Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?

7. “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer

This title track from Donna Summer’s blockbuster 1979 album embodies everything we love about those steamy disco nights. In fact, it spent five weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Not bad for a song inspired by police mistaking one of Donna’s assistants for being a sex worker! Toot toot, heyyyyy, BEEP BEEP!

6. “Call Me” by Blondie

A rare entry into this Top 10, as this song is about a male sex worker, portrayed by Richard Gere in the film American Gigolo. And for anyone who got a glimpse of Gere in the early 1980s, we 100% see the allure. It’s one of Blondie’s most enduring hits to this day.

Top 10 Lists

5. “Killer Queen” by Queen

This 1974 hit from Queen, inspired by a high-class call girl, is certified double platinum. It paints an alluring picture of sex work as only Queen can, with sumptuous harmonies and operatic rock.

4. “Private Dancer” by Tina Turner

This 1984 hit is brought to scintillating life by the seductive sound of none other than Tina Turner! One of the few entries on this list sung from the sex worker’s perspective, we cannot deny its staying power, and we’d gladly pay money for this private dance.

3. “Sweet Painted Lady” by Elton John

The lyrics of this 1973 song by Sir Elton John paint, in vivid detail, the sex workers awaiting the sailors newly returned from the sea. We just know a good time was had by all, and this deep cut from Sir Elton’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album is a memorable one.

2. “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves” by Cher

This 1971 song is one of Cher’s earliest solo hits, and one forever indelible in pop culture. It has everything: snake oil, teenage pregnancy, implied sex work… While it was certainly scandalous at the time, this song helped launch Cher’s solo career, and woo-wee! What a career she’s had, spanning nearly seven decades.

1. “Walk On The Wild Side” by Lou Reed

This Lou Reed hit from 1972 was an absolute anthem for the counterculture of the time, touching on themes like transgender people, drugs, male sex work, and oral pleasure. It received wide-spread radio play in its day, and has been described (by The New York Times) as “a ballad of misfits and oddballs.” For our part, we are all in!

Want these collected into a playlist — with a few bonus songs about sex work thrown in — here’s a playlist for you:


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