I was laughing with my support worker, asking her why wasn’t she a sex worker when after all, it is better pay and she knows the support, safety, laws and everything else like the back of her hand. After years of supporting sex workers, why did she never make the jump after saying it has crossed her mind? As someone who put my thoughts into actions, I often wondered why more people didn’t. At uni, I would often listen to my mates talk about becoming a sex worker or sugar daddying for money, but very few, if any of them, make the jump and put their words into a reality. In recovery groups, I listened to people talk about being in absolute destitution, that they had no money, were desperate, rattling and were close to being homeless. Some would speak about becoming a sex worker, but again, they never made did it, but why?
Sex work can be enticing, and if it wasn’t, nobody would be a sex worker. Perhaps I jumped into it with a lot of naivety.
Listening to my friend talking about how desperate she was, I was thinking in the back of my mind that sex work could cure her ills she was talking to me about. However, I didn’t mention it, because I didn’t wish to plant the seed. Sex work is work, but I would never be the person to encourage others, especially when I know someone is feeling desperate. It just doesn’t sit well with me. A week later, she rung me up saying she was thinking of becoming a sex worker (she didn’t know I was one). I offered safety advice, resources and charities to contact, but out of nowhere, she said ‘No, I could never be that desperate to actually become a dirty prozzie, there must be another way’. I was taken back, and everything in me wanting to unleash a barrage of information about stigma and stereotypes, and tell her I was a sex worker – but I didn’t. There are times to pick your battles, and that wasn’t the time. The last thing she needed was me ripping her throat out to add to her troubles.
Survival sex work is very much a thing, but even the most desperate still reject becoming a sex worker. I don’t blame them, it’s a personal choice. It’s not for everyone and I respect everyone’s decision not to. However, I can’t deny that social stigma is one reason for rejecting it. As demonstrated by my friend, the thought of becoming a ‘dirty prozzie’ was too much. Although I reject what she said, there is no denying that by becoming a sex worker, you take on these stigma and stereotypes, whether you like it or not. This was a line too far for her and she didn’t wish to be branded as a ‘prozzie’ which she associated with as being ‘dirty’. It upset me that she thought that, and I did eventually tell her I was a sex worker and she didn’t take it very well. Social stigma runs deep in sex work, despite knowing someone as a friend, sex work it too much of a barrier to overcome. Children are rejected by their family, friends turn their back on each other and loved ones shame you.
I describe stigma like a weight you have to drag around with you at all times. You can’t get rid of it, and depending on what country you’re in, the weight is heavier. I’d see it as a weight that surrounds your entire body, because you’re constantly having to deflect and it is integral to you. Why would anyone want that? My support worker knows well how badly stigma impacts you, much more than I did before I started working. I didn’t realise it would lock me out of services; be refused mental health support; have people assume I’m dirty or full of STIs; nor did I anticipate people expecting I was sexually abused as a child, or something went wrong in life ‘to end up’ as a sex worker. Stigma runs deep personally also and is reflected in how I present myself, how I act and how I feel about myself. I can’t deny I try to present better than how I feel in fear of being judged for being a sex worker. I carry the social stigma myself, and is a heavy burden on my mental health. Every once in a while, the heavy weight collapses in on me.
I later reflected on the conversation I had with my support worker and realised that although she knows sex work perhaps better than I do, there are reasons she never became a sex worker. Many of the reasons are possibly personal, but I also realise that she sees the bad side of sex work a lot more than me. I have my own personal experiences, but her entire role is supporting sex workers who have experienced sexual violence and are going through reporting to court. Unlike me, she would enter the sex industry with all the knowledge in mind – I can’t imagine that’s easy. I think ignorance can be bliss sometimes, because I did not have the same experiences before entering, and was quite naive. Although we always offer safety advice, we don’t tell people horror stories of awful attacks on sex workers (rightly so), but it can be a reality for some.
In fact, the idea of violence is a core reason people don’t become sex workers. For some, they almost see sex work as synonymous with sexual violence, and deem that it is inevitable. I reject this idea too, but again, we can’t deny violence does happen in sex work, whether that be rape, robbery, exploitation or any other form of abuse. The blame lies with the perpetrator, not with sex work itself however. It is a hard reality to swallow that these things do happen, and it is something people need to think of when becoming a sex worker. Violence is the core reason sex worker orgs push safety information, because it does happen. It’s the reason why we screen clients, have Ugly Mugs to warn other sex workers and why working with a friend is integral, even if it is considered illegal due to brothel-keeping laws. For those such as my support worker, they know this all too well. Even the small risk of this happening isn’t worth it, and I completely empathise and understand that.
I’m quite open about my bad experiences in sex work. Although I don’t reveal everything, I think it is important for people to realise that there is bad amongst the good, and sex work isn’t all what it is marketed to be. I will always be critical of those who try to silence those who have had bad experiences, in fear of abolitionists weaponising it. Let them, it should demonstrate why we need safety and decriminalisation more than ever. We can’t keep up the marketing facade when we are offering safety advice, or when someone is thinking about becoming a sex worker. We have to be realistic about what can be the realities of it, even if it hasn’t happened to you personally. Yes, you may earn lots of money in a short time span, but you could also be raped, robbed, abandoned on street, or ultimately killed. It’s why sex work is high reward, because it’s high risk.
The reality of sex work
One of the reasons I don’t talk about sex work is because I don’t like to encourage people. If I start talking about the money you can potentially earn, you quickly find people salivating at the mouth at the thought of the idea of a quick fix. They become so blindsided by the thought of earning a lot of money in a short space of time, they forget the actual reality of sex work. I am speaking from experience; I confided in a friend that I earned money from sex work and I didn’t realise just how interested she was. I didn’t brag or glorify it, but I forget how enticing it must seem to others. I sometimes feel I have to quickly balance this out by reminding people if they aren’t ready emotionally and physically ready to be a sex worker, as well as the challenges that comes with it, then don’t take it on if you can avoid it. She became a sex worker without telling anyone, and she hated it. When telling me about this later, she felt that it burst her bubble of what she thought sex work would be. She quickly stopped working.
The truth is, sex work isn’t what the marketing makes it out to be. There is a reason I love following anonymous or shit-posting sex workers on Twitter, because they’re generally the ones I relate to the most. They’re anti-client and talk about the crapness of sex work in general. In fact, there are times where sex work can really shit or take a toll on your mental health, and it has mine. Sometimes, a client can make my skin crawl, or I have a panic attack when they do certain things or I feel generally uncomfortable with them. As mentioned above, I swallow the stigma and stereotypes myself and I feel the internalised whorearchy too. All of which have an impact on how I act, respond or feel about myself. Also, sex can be very personal to some people, and they don’t like the thought of sharing something they feel is so personal with others. There is nothing wrong with this either.
Sex work can also be quite boring, lonely and stressful. There are long periods of time when you may not get work, and you don’t see anyone other than other clients; resulting in you feeling isolated and stressed about money. If you work from home, you may find this difficult to separate work and personal life, which is a challenge for me at times. The reality of sex work is that it can be as dull as any other job, except you deal with clients who message ‘hi’, which they wouldn’t do to any other service provider. Sitting in your lingerie in a hotel room all day on your own, trying to weed out the time wasters is not as fun or glamorous as it perhaps looks.
You need some guts
It isn’t easy being a sex worker, especially when you first start out. I remember one of my first jobs, and I was extremely nervous. I told myself not to go but couldn’t afford not to. It was a sex worker’s worst nightmare. Client arrived and he was about 6’6 and a hefty guy, he told me was schizophrenic and sometimes snaps, that his wife is bipolar and due to their mental illnesses, she pays for him to see escorts four times a year. What a brilliant opening job, but I didn’t feel as nervous as this scenario sounds. I must have hidden my inner thoughts and worries that he might ‘snap’ as he described it because he left me a good review. I wasn’t really deterred by this, and kept going without too much worry. When I recount this to others, they are horrified and can’t believe I didn’t run for the door due to his height, size or mental health disclosures. To be honest, I’m glad he told me, although like I said earlier, sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Let’s be honest, it can take some real guts to be a sex worker. You are meeting complete strangers, sometimes inviting them into your home, to have sex with them. There is a lot to manage such as the conversation, expectations, firm boundaries, getting rid of them at the end and safety. When you’re a sex worker, or have been for a while, you do these things naturally without thinking. When you first get into it, it’s a lot to manage especially if you’re anxious. Even when I stopped working and restarted, I still got nervous again and the butterflies in my stomach came back as I arranged my first booking. The job isn’t for the faint hearted because once you’ve handed out your postcode or full address, that’s it, you have to deal with whatever comes after. You are also balancing stigma, potential assault and not knowing what to do if something goes wrong – the police aren’t your friends, and a local sex work charity is a postcode lottery.
Street sex work takes a lot of courage or desperation, often both. It is not uncommon for street workers to smoke crack (if they are drug users) before they start working because it gives them more confidence to do the job. You get a lot more shit off punters and passers by when working street, and it really is not an easy place. Unlike indoor, you are completely exposed both to clients, the abusive passerby and the elements. You can’t hide your face, and discretion isn’t your best friend in this situation, even worse if the police are following you when you get into a car. Street workers often risk getting a criminal record, or slapped with a fine. Not to mention the higher dangers and stigma that comes with it. I don’t believe anybody walks down to the local street sex work areas for the first time without questioning their guts to do it. I used to deliberately distract myself or listen to music so I didn’t have to think of the practicality and reality of it – they’re not nice thoughts.
Losing your job
This one is quite simply explained in the title. Being a sex worker means you can risk losing your ‘civvie’ job. Although I would argue this is discrimination, many sex workers who have been fired from their jobs do not feel comfortable tackling it with their employer, and I understand why. I empathise with that because it’s not easy to bring up sex work at an employment tribunal and have your whole life scrutinised. Even worse is when they say you have brought the company into disrepute due to being a sex worker – how disgusting. Morality clauses are the enemy of sex workers, and this is largely due to stigma.
I know a street sex worker who left sex work, she got a regular job but was recognised by a client, who then subsequently told her employer. She was fired on the spot for something she did years ago. Despite having spent years building her life back up from drugs and sex work, she found herself back at square one and even more entrenched in sex work. It ruined her entire life, and she was so proud of her little job. It gave her a life and stability she craved. Firing employees for sex working only pushes them further into sex work. You are forcing them to rely on it even more so as it becomes their sole income. You are not helping anyone in this situation. You can’t either support sex workers, or want to rescue them, if you fire them.
Many fear that a small time in their lives will come back to bite them. Almost like revenge porn. Where for a few months of your life you sold nudes, videos or was an escort, but years down the line, it comes out. Suddenly, you’re sacked from your professional job, been humiliated in front of your colleagues who you’ve worked with for years and hide yourself in shame. Once again, this only fuels the cycle of sex work further. This is also true if you have a job alongside escorting and is the main reason people cover their faces in pictures, or online. It has serious financial and mental consequences. It can truly flip your life upside down. This is even worse if you are a porn performer and it is uploaded to a popular porn site.
I have met some of the fiercest sex worker allies tell me they could never be a sex worker for personal reasons. I respect all their reasons, but I challenge them to really consider how true that is if you have children at home, the bills are stacked high, you’re about to lose your house and your kids are hungry. I wonder how enticing sex work, which has no barrier to entry, would become their reality. In fact, single mothers are a large majority of sex workers. Many of which work in the margins because they have the most to lose, as they fear losing their children due to their job.
Ultimately, sex work is up to you, and whichever reason you feel is not worth it, that’s absolutely fine, and requires no justification. I would never encourage someone, nor would I bombard them with all the positives. I am a sex worker who made the jump of turning my thoughts into my job, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect those who don’t do the same. I wrote this blog post because I found it interesting to listen to people from the other side, who weren’t sex workers, or feel they could never become one. It also helped me reflect on sex work itself, and actually, how difficult it can be. Sex work, like all jobs, if you find the negatives outweighing the negatives, or it is having a detrimental impact on your life, stop if you can.
To other survival sex workers who feel they are unable to stop, I recommend speaking to other sex workers. Get it off your chest how you feel, rant about how fucking angry you are, how trapped you feel; how you’ve had enough; how much you dislike clients; how you feel money has a hold over you. Speak about your life, your experiences, what bothers you about sex work and be unrepentant when relaying how it makes you feel – either good or bad. Cry about it if you must, scream into a pillow or write it all out. I recommend putting on angry songs and singing as loud as you can – it ain’t easy! But I recommend Cranberries – Zombie.
I always keep blog posts free but if you wish to support me, please consider: