“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ~ Alan Alda
“So I guess it’s hard having a boyfriend while you’re doing this, huh?”
“I bet you can’t tell anyone about what you do, that must be hard.”
“So, do you have a real job? Oh, this is all you do?”
“You must really hate being raped at work every day, even though you don’t know what’s happening. One day you’ll realise you need to be rescued.”
I know I do, when someone pulls out one of these gems during conversation.
I find I am regularly trying to explain the realities around certain ideas around sex work to people, and this past week I’ve been particularly annoyed by some of the wild assumptions that are often made. In the spirit of education and sharing ideas, I thought I’d write a little blog post outlining some of the most common and irritating ones. Ignorance is said to be bliss, but understanding is a whole lot better for everyone!
Don’t assume that we aren’t in control of our lives.
We are people, just like you. Just because we choose to do sex work, doesn’t mean we are somehow not dealing with life well, or that we have made the wrong choices for ourselves. Sometimes, sex workers do their job for a relatively short period of time, before choosing another job or moving into another career after they graduate with a qualification. For them, sex work has been a very valuable tool to assist them in that transition, and, often, has been essential in making it happen. And sometimes, sex workers are in the industry for the long term. They may have a formal qualification and/or previous work experience and have chosen to leave their field for a career in the sex industry, usually because they have decided it’s the best choice for them. They come to that conclusion the same way you decide things – by using their brain and assessing their own situation. And, they are often very happy with that decision, and enjoy a sense of pride around their work (I know I do).
That’s my personal situation – sex work is my choice, my decision, and as much as you might find it hard to believe – it’s the best fit for me, for various reasons.
Don’t assume what a sex worker’s boundaries are.
If I date you, and I’m a sex worker, it doesn’t mean I’m ok with casual sex. It doesn’t mean I can’t be monogamous. It doesn’t mean I want to have sex all the time with everyone and do everything, it doesn’t mean sex is meaningless to me. If anything, sex in a personal, intimate setting is probably even more special for me than it was before I started in the sex industry. It doesn’t mean I’m fine to be discussed amongst your friends like a fairground attraction, whether I’m out as a sex worker or not. It’s not up to you to out me. My job doesn’t define who I am as a partner. It also means I might not want to be monogamous. I may want lots of partners, or I may not want a partner at all. If you're assuming I'm waiting to meet Prince Charming and be "taken away from all of this", you may well be wrong. And, I might not want a Prince Charming - I might be more interested in a Princess.
If I see you in a booking, it doesn’t mean I provide all the services that other sex workers do. It doesn’t mean that I like all sex acts. Every sex worker is different. It doesn’t mean I’m ok to have the details of our appointment discussed on a review forum. I may be uncomfortable with certain topics of discussion. I might not like my nipples being tweaked and twisted between your fingers like you’re searching for a channel on a radio dial (I don’t).
You can always ask a sex worker about what they are comfortable with, if you’re unsure. Nobody is a mind reader, and I know I appreciate being asked and am always happy to answer.
Don’t assume we have lots of cash OR that we are desperate.
Having to justify my finances to people is really annoying, and inappropriate. You have no clue as to the financial situation of anyone, including a sex worker. Some people do a mystifying mental calculation, thinking, “she earns $450 per hour, so if she works 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, that’s a total of $18,000 per week!” This is ridiculous and not how a sex industry business model works. You also have no idea as to what commitments someone has, what debts they might have, who they may be supporting, or how much work they’ve been able to do. More to the point, it’s none of your business. So, don’t think that your sex worker friend is rolling in cash and can lend you money, or that you can compare your tragic financial situation with theirs “because you earn such good money, you wouldn’t know”. Also, don’t tell me what I should be doing with my money. Don’t demand to know how much I’m saving, and if I’m being smart, and that you hope I’m investing and buying property and blah blah blah because it’s not your concern, and if I was a lawyer or a dentist you wouldn’t even think to have this conversation with me. Don’t ask me how much I make, or allude to your amateur analysis of how much cash I’ve made this week, or how much rent I pay. It’s rude.
Alternatively, some people think “she fucks people for money, so she must be desperate.” This is also not an accurate assumption. Sex work is a legitimate job and sex workers don’t see having sex with their clients as something terrible and dramatic. We’re usually really very comfortable with sex, like having sex, and are confident when it comes to sexuality. It forms part of our job and is a service we provide which provides us with income. It really is, in many ways, that simple.
Don’t assume sex workers can’t have relationships.
To assume so is to send the message that there is something fundamentally wrong with our choices and our work.
It may surprise you, but many, many sex workers have fabulous and long-term relationships. Many are married, some are polyamorous or have open relationships, and many have monogamous relationships. Sex work does not preclude monogamy. Sex work is work. Intimate relationships exist on their own plane and are negotiated by the partners within them. A sex worker can have healthy, respectful, fulfilling relationships, and often are equipped with greater-than-average relational skills that have been developed and honed thanks to sex work – skills like communication, negotiation, boundary setting, assertiveness, and conflict management.
There is nothing that is flawed or damaged about a sex worker’s potential for intimacy and relationships – that impression comes from your judgment.
Don’t assume sex work is easy or unskilled or not a “real” job.
Sex work is a legitimate work choice. Anyone who thinks that sex work is an easy, Mickey Mouse type of pastime instead of a job, or barely encompasses more than opening your legs, is demonstrably unaware of what sex work really is. There is a lot to the job that you may not have thought about, and a wide and varied skill set that is required and, over time, finely tuned by knowledgeable sex workers. And, as a private operator, I am self-employed and running my own business. Comments like “I should just do what you do”, “I wish my job was easy like yours”, or, the client classic, “You should be paying me!” are annoying and misplaced. Honestly, you probably can’t do what we do, just like I quite possibly can’t do what you do (that’s why I do my job, and you do yours) – and I wouldn’t make light of your job and how hard you work to achieve what you do.
Don’t assume you can speak for me.
You may have met a sex worker or two. You may have been a client of sex workers. You may have read things about sex workers. You may have noticed a woman in a red mini skirt on Darlinghurst Road for a split second as you drove past in your Volkswagen Golf. Regardless, you don’t know my experience. Even if you are another sex worker, you don’t know my experience – but you are more qualified to speak about the industry than anyone who hasn’t done my job. Don’t tell me I’m a victim. Don’t tell me I need to be rescued from the fate of my own misguided decisions (incredibly insulting – I’m not an idiot), that I am suffering as a result of the patriarchy (I still know my own mind and am still a feminist), that there is a “better option” for me (I’m a grown adult and have assessed my options with aplomb), that I can “do so much more” (I’m actually really proud of my work and find great meaning in what I give my clients), or that I will never be able to have a relationship because of my job (I may already be in a long term relationship, which I may not have told you, and also, I know I am a valuable person in my own right and that there are lots of evolved people who love and commit to sex workers all the time).
I am the expert in my own life. Sex workers are people like anyone else and sex work does not define who they are. I would never tell you you’re an idiot due to your choices – how about you do me the same courtesy?
People who don’t have direct and lived experience from within the sex industry are not expected to know everything about it – you learn by asking, listening, and observing. Challenge your assumptions! Evolve! We are happy to help in any way we can. If you wonder about anything to do with sex work, don’t assume you already know the answer – let us share our voices with you.