My Experience of Sex Work

Greta Christina posted an invitation for sex worker voices to be heard on her blog as a retort to that post that went up last week, wherein blogger Taslima Nasreen said that sex work was always exploitative and horrible for everyone involved:

As regular readers of this blog know, my fellow blogger in the Freethought Blogs, Taslima Nasreen, wrote a post a few weeks ago positing that all prostitution is always patriarchal oppression, always sexual exploitation, always sexual violence, that women are always forced into it, that it is never a vocation choice, that it is always human rights abuse, that all of it harms women.. I wrote a post in response, saying that I understood that there were often terrible abuses in the sex industry and that many prostitutes are forced into the work, and that of course I fervently opposed this — but also saying that there are many sex workers who freely choose the work, and like it, and do not find it abusive or exploitative.

Nasreen and I had a private email conversation about this. I’m not at liberty to disclose her side of that conversation. But I will tell you that I asked her, repeatedly, to put up a post on her blog asking sex workers what their actual experience was working in the sex industry — so she could hear for herself the tremendous variety of experiences that prostitutes and other sex workers have, and so she could take those experiences into account when she considers the questions of how abuses in the industry should be handled.

As of this writing, she has yet to do this.

So I’m going to do it myself.

I’m a little frustrated that there’s a lot of defensiveness when people have written and said their experience was really bad. I understand it- often these people say that no one could ever willingly go into sex work, that it’s obviously degrading and bad for people, etc. I understand the desire to say “hey, wait a minute, speak for yourself here!” Sex workers are told all the time how they must feel like we have no consciousness of our own. it’s annoying.

But I can also understand that when you’ve had a traumatizing experience, it *is* really confusing how other people don’t share that experience. Like when someone tells me that they voted Republican, I am completely accusatory- “how can you do that knowing all the bullshit that has come from that party! WTF is wrong with you!” because, to me, voting Republican is voting for all sorts of homophobia, sexist, racist, classist bullshit. But then, I’m not really listening- they might have some reasons I hadn’t considered, and if I take a step back and try using non-violent communication, we can both walk away potentially having learned something, even if we still go our different ways at the end of the day. In that way, I appreciate the nuanced stories.

Here’s my answers to the interview questions- probably you all know this anyway, but just in case!

-Why did you get into the sex industry?

I was working three jobs at the local mall, with next to no time for myself, and I was still barely scraping by as I was being paid minimum wage. I was severely depressed, my quality of life was crappy, I didn’t know what to do. I moved to California to live with family, and ended up answering an ad to work as a pro domme in a local dungeon. I hated the space and the madam, but loved the work- so I went independent and started charging more. Then I moved to the UK and decided to try my hand as prostitution, as it was legal there. I discovered my favourite was combining sex and kink, so I stuck with that.

Ultimately I chose sex work because I could control my own business and marketing, take time off whenever I wanted, and made more in an hour giving a hand job than I did in a week juggling three shitty jobs. My quality of life was increased and I had more time to follow my other passions- school, activism, writing.

-Did you freely choose this work? Were you in any way forced or coerced into it? Were you pressured into it by economic or other pressure?

Well, I freely chose this instead of my other options. I could work in an office- I tried it, I hated it, I felt exploited and depressed by my lack of independence and value there. I could work at a restaurant, but the hustle for tips doesn’t appeal at all. I could work retail again. Ugh. I do freelance writing and social media marketing, and then I have sex for money here and there to supplement. Yes, the money is a part of that decision process, but I don’t know that I felt pressured into it, except by my own desire to have more personal time and less time catering to other people.

-Why did you go into the particular lines of sex work that you did?

I was already in open relationships and kinky, so figured why not do what I like? Also being a fat girl meant that stripping wasn’t suitable. I tried webcam but found those clients annoying and the hustle humiliating for me, especially as I would get insulted regularly on some sites. :/ The lack of respect sucked. In person, I was treated like a proper courtesan- probably because that’s how I focus my ads and marketing style, to get those sorts of clients.

-What, if anything, do you like about the work?

A lot of things! My freedom, mostly. I like being able to take time being ill, or travelling, or fighting for sex worker rights, while not panicking about the electricity being shut off. I love talking politics with my clients, who really listen and ask questions and enjoy my brain. I love meeting new people and figuring out what makes them work. I love creating space for men to be vulnerable. I love helping clients with disabilities discover how they can invoke more sensual/sexual energy in their lives. I love helping trauma victims learn how to accept sensual touch again, and how to state their boundaries. I often leave my job feeling like I’ve really made a difference and that’s rad.

-What, if anything, do you not like about the work?

The social stigma and oppression. I hate that I can never have a bad day at work without people jumping on me and saying I should quit. That never happened when I worked in the marketing dept. I hate knowing I can’t report violence against myself or sex worker friends because the police will laugh and/or abuse us further. I hate feeling like my safety is at risk when I see a new client. I hate that legalities insist I can’t negotiate a scene on the phone or via email, which leads to potential misunderstandings and issues. I hate when people judge me because I have sex for money, regardless of how articulate or well-adjusted I am. I hate all the dead hooker jokes that suggest on some level my death would be funny.

-On the whole, do you like the work, dislike it, or feel neutral about it?

I like the work. I hate working in the US. I hate fearing the cops, and knowing that johns can attack me and have limited consequences. I hate the way people feel they can make judgments about me without knowing me, simply because of the work I do. I hate feeling like I have to constantly fight to be heard or respected when it comes to my own autonomy.

But that’s not because I have sex for money, or because I spanked men for money. That’s because the system oppresses consensual adult people doing sex work to “save” us. THAT’S what I ultimately hate.

-What are your feelings about your customers?

I’m privileged in that I have other income so can turn clients away. I have found all my British clients bar one to be immensely respectful, sweet, easy going, and careful of my boundaries, along with finding them actually interested in sex work politics. So I really like them, and I care about how they’re doing and am happy to see them again. I think they’re great people who treat me well.

I have not had as good of an experience with American men, which is interesting. I wonder if the legality and the difference in social stigma makes a difference- I can’t see why it wouldn’t.

-Have your feelings about the work changed with time?

I used to be more frivolous about it- now it’s a career for me. I do job training in various specialities- sex and disability, erectile dysfunction, massage, dirty talk, dirty dancing, etc. I market myself uniquely and regularly. Before, it was something I treated as a lark- now I treat it like a business. A business I enjoy running, mind, but also take seriously.

-If you still work in the sex industry, do you feel free to leave it?

Sort of. It’s more complicated than yes/no. The market is bad, finding jobs isn’t easy, and, while I maintain a fairly low standard of living (I live in a cheap place, cook a lot of my own food, don’t go shopping for clothes much) and am happy with that (so don’t need to worry about maintaining a standard) the ease with which I can earn money or, more importantly, take time off, is really valuable to me. I *could* leave, but my standard of living would decrease drastically. More likely, I’ll move back to London and work legally there, down the line.

-Is there anything else you want people to know about your experience of sex work?

Sex work is complicated, because our relationship to sex and our relationship to money is fucked up. But for me, sex work is anti-capitalism and a freedom of choice. I am happier doing it than I was doing anything else, and I’m going to keep fighting to make it as safe as possible for other sex workers.