Challenging Common Misconceptions About Sex Workers

Sometimes I scour the web in search of information for people in my profession, insider tips on how to manage work and a personal love life. I was on such a search last night, which brought me to a message board where people weigh in on whether or not they would seriously date/marry an escort/stripper/porn star, current or former. I was encouraged by the ones who said yes, they would consider it. But it’s hard not to get sad about the many who say no. Not because their rejection hurts me (it doesn’t) but because they are writing me off without knowing anything about me other than my profession.

So now, rather than absorb the shame messages, I have decided to confront them head-on in this ranty blog post. Here goes:

Sex workers hate sex. They only do it for money:

First, it’s impossible to categorically say that all sex workers have the same relationship to sex and money. Second, why do we rarely hear this about other professionals? Psychologists just hate listening to people. They hate it so much that they go to school and hone their therapeutic skills so that they can charge a respectable hourly rate. That would sound silly. Now, granted, there are people in the industry who do not enjoy their work, who have gotten into it because the high earning potential outweighs the psychological costs and physical risks. Because money is necessary for survival in a capitalist society. That said, it is very possible to approach sex work as a conscious choice and even a calling. I have spent a lot of time studying sexual techniques and fetishes, and those skills, in addition to my interpersonal skills, make my work highly rewarding. It feels great to do something you enjoy (most of the time, we all have bad days) and get paid a respectable wage for it.

You can never trust a sex worker. If she dates you, she’s only using you.

People of all professions have been known to use and abuse the people they become involved with romantically. A sex worker is probably pretty unlikely to want a personal relationship to resemble a professional client/escort relationship. An escort already makes good money at work. We are human beings with other needs and desires. I know for myself, despite the thrills and the money that come with work, I crave honest human connection. I’m dating someone who is not rich, but who is kind and giving, warm and funny and smart. While I do know some escorts who will not date outside of work, who claim that ‘smart girls never fuck for free’ I know more who enjoy loving personal relationships, or who would like to when the conditions of their lives allow for that to happen.

Sex workers are all emotional train-wrecks/were abused as children/have no self-esteem

This myth comes from a basic patriarchal myth about women: namely that we are so fragile that we can only enjoy sex within the context of committed love, which translates to lots of sandwich-making, service to our lover/husband. Men, on the other hand, are expected to be sexual. A man going out and having a lot of sex is seen as normal. We don’t feel the need to pity him and comment on how he must be acting out abuse from his past. Our culture is so threatened by a woman who owns her sexual desire, so threatened that we must disempower her by saying that she is to be pitied. Now, granted, some people in the sex industry are troubled people with drug habits and emotional problems. Then again, I’ve known plenty of people who serve food for a living who were also troubled people with drug habits and emotional problems. How well-adjusted to the work you are depends on your own personal relationship to yourself and to the work. And, in fact, most of the women I know in the industry are tough, confident, witty, driven and fun to be around. Certainly working as an escort gives you a different perspective on committed, long-term relationships (hard to idealize the concept of happily ever after when you’ve fucked enough married men in the ass), but to categorically say that only people with problems get into this industry is flawed thinking. It also bears mentioning that it takes considerable confidence and self-esteem to be able to get naked in front of a stranger or group of strangers, negotiate boundaries, pleasure yourself, dance, or fuck. People need to recognize that whores are gutsy and beautiful.

Also, I am so sick of this tired trope of ‘oh, she must have been abused as a child, that’s why she’s so fucked up’ being trotted out. Unfortunately, many people in our society have been abused. A history of abuse does not guarantee a lifetime of bad choices and emotional issues. We are all able to heal from whatever happened to us in the past and go on to live full, healthy, productive lives. Which may or may not include sex work.

Sex workers are disgusting and full of scary STIs:

I would love to see the shaming of sexually active people, women in particular, just die already. It is a myth that someone who has a lot of sex with a lot of people will automatically have a host of STIs. Although sex workers have various degrees of empowerment around safer sex negotiation, most sex workers have above-average knowledge of safer sex practices and above average consistency in using these methods. An escort is not likely to ‘forget’ to use a condom in the heat of the moment. She will carry her own bag of safer sex supplies and insist on using them correctly and consistently. At the agency where I work, it is considered trashy and disgusting to perform oral sex on a client without a condom, generally. Very few girls make the exception and forego rubber for oral sex. Also, every escort I know gets a full checkup for STIs every one to three months, which is more than can be said for the average person.

Also, this fear-mongering about STIs really needs to stop. Yes, STIs are a real danger and a lot of them are scary, and we need to talk about them and deal with them. But could we please have the dialogue without all the stigma and ‘only dirty disgusting people contract STIs’ rhetoric. Any sexually active person is potentially at risk of an STI. We all need to be getting tested regularly and taking care of our health. And if we consider it simply a health issue, rather than a moral issue, we’d get a lot further. Many common STIs are easily treated. HPV infection is present in 98 percent of sexually active people, and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, causes no symptoms whatsoever. Genital herpes is found in one in four people, and many people who have the virus do not know they have it because they either have never experienced an outbreak, or the symptoms of it were so mild that they attributed it to something else, like chafing or razor burn, or a yeast infection. HIV remains a scary virus, but, with new treatments, it is becoming a chronic manageable condition rather than an automatic death sentence. Also, a person who is HIV positive and on medication to lower viral loads to undetectable, is unlikely to pass the virus on to sexual partners. I would still recommend condoms, because I’m a safety freak, but I am against fear mongering. Learn the facts, practice safer sex to the best of your ability, get tested regularly, and please chill the fuck out. I have had a lot of sex in my life, and I have never contracted an STI (except probably for the HPV virus, which is likely present in my body just like it is in practically every sexually active person on the planet).

I could not be with a sex worker, because she would never truly be with me:

Can we ever say that anyone is ever truly ours? Our lovers, even if they are sexually exclusive with us, will always notice other people, fantasize about them, or reminisce about a past lover from time to time. That is normal and healthy and just  part of being human. We would all be way happier if we got over it. I would love to see love divorced from the idea of ownership. I’ve done a lot of work myself on letting go of this desire to possess and control the ones I love romantically. I am happier for it.

Back to the sex work thing. Do you ever hear someone say about a daycare worker ‘I hope they don’t have kids. They would never truly be able to parent a child after working with kids and caring for kids all day long.’ No, you never hear that. Because childcare is not stigmatized the way sex work is. Sex can mean different things depending on the context. When I am with a lover, I am completely with them. When I am at work, I am performing a role, either a theatrical or therapeutic role, depending on the circumstances. All it means is I have had a lot of opportunity to hone my skills, which makes my lovers veeery happy indeed.

A sex worker has no respect for herself:

I have noticed that the term ‘respecting yourself’ when used in relation to women, simply means ‘act like a good girl according to the patriarchy.’ In my mind, a woman who chooses to engage in sex for her own reasons, provided she is not harming others in the process, is very much respecting herself and owning her desires. I would not be respecting myself if I had no boundaries in the sex work that I do, if I allowed clients to forego protection, if I did not speak up when they did things that put me at physical or psychological risk. As I practice sex work now, I have deep self-respect.

A sex worker has no skills. That’s the only reason she would do this work.

This one really gets to me. Sex work is skilled work. It is an art form to be truly good at sex. It takes practice and time and effort to learn the skills. Plus the interpersonal skills, conversation, reading people, figuring out what they want and need from a session. The ability to communicate about difficult topics and deal with challenging situations such as a client processing a trauma, or wanting to explore a kink that you are not as knowledgeable about as you’d like to be. The skills in this work are considerable. They are just not acknowledged because sex is seen as dirty, disgusting and trivial.

Sex work is dangerous and therefore should not be allowed:

A lot of work is dangerous. Being a miner is dangerous. Being a police officer is dangerous. Being a social worker can be dangerous. The difference is that we don’t stigmatize miners for being in a dangerous profession. Condoms and lube and gloves and dams are the hard hats of the sex industry. Please think of us as another profession that requires work safety knowledge. Thanks.

Also, a lot of other interpersonal situations are statistically dangerous. Marriage is statistically dangerous with 30 percent of female murder victims being killed by their current or former husbands. Dating is dangerous. Romantic relationships are dangerous. Abusive types exist. However, we never tell women to stop dating or stop getting married, because marriage and dating are seen as socially acceptable activities for a woman. Sex work, however, is seen as subversive and threatening, so it is painted as often more dangerous than it actually is in an effort to scare women away from working in that industry, because a sexually and financially independent woman won’t make you a sandwich just because you want her to.

That has been my sex worker related rant for today. Thank you for listening.

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