Though I can't say the same for every individual, the first representation of prostitution that I can remember seeing was presented through the media, specifically TV. Movies like Pretty Woman, where the protagonist, played by Julia Roberts, is a prostitute paint a happily-ever-after narrative where she is "saved" from prostitution by a rich white attractive man who falls in love with her. Throughout the film, every beneficial thing that comes her way is a direct result of her profession. In shows like Game of Thrones, the depiction of prostitution is warped as well, showing passionate encounters between the prostitutes and their customers. Each one of them looks clean, well-fed, and carefully put together, dressed in enticing wear to draw in their customers. In various scenes, men and women can be seen drinking and laughing in brothels alongside the prostitutes. The ambience is warm, fun, and inviting. This, however, is rarely the case in real life.
Prostitution is not a glamorous lifestyle. It's not a dating network to meet your future Mr. Right nor is it a world where women and men are looked after and can flourish economically. What we fail to realize when watching depictions of prostitution is that in the real world, there is no one to yell "cut" if something goes wrong. There are no rehearsals to ensure that that the individuals are comfortable with one another. There is no huge paycheck waiting for them at the end of the day. There are no enchanting "ladies of the night." For most people, prostitution isn't a confident choice, but rather a result of the circumstance. People involved in the sex trade industry often come from environments of poverty, racism, broken welfare systems and abuse, especially adolescents. Prostitution serves as a way for vulnerable individuals to escape from violent/oppressive homes. Unfortunately for many sex workers, especially women, sex work is not particularly safe. Field research conducted in 9 countries by the US Department of State reported that 60-70 percent of women are raped, 70-95 percent are physically assaulted, and 68 percent meet the same criterion for PTSD as veterans and victims of torture. Julia Robert's version of a prostitute is a fantasy and nothing more, a dangerous illusion that's perpetuated through media and serves to shield us from the shocking reality in which actual prostitutes exist.
In short, the images of sex work that we are often shown are not only false, but harmful. Not only do we, as a society, need to become aware of this fact, but those who create such portrayals must recognize and change this rosy portrayal of prostitution that we have become all too comfortable in absorbing/enjoying.