What I’ve Learned As a Sex Worker

I’ve been hopping in and out of sex work for a while, and despite recently turning 23, I think it is fair to say I have packed a lot into this short amount of time. Becoming a sex worker, it was a steep learning curve, not just for the industry but in life. Each of our experiences are different but these are just some of the things I have learned.

1 – Sex is not as important as intimacy

As most sex workers will tell you, the sex itself is not the most important part of the booking. As an indoor sex worker, I underestimated the emotional labour. Sometimes, clients would book just to cuddle up, hold my hand and talk. When they came in, I’d make them a drink and get them talking and it could easily become a therapy session if I didn’t hurry them into the shower. After sex, I could lay there and their arm would be round me, stroking my hair and talking about life. It truly was the Girlfriend Experience and thankfully, I was able to shut my mind on the client when I also shut the door. In fact, it was the intimate side of sex work I disliked more than the sex itself – it was a contributing factor that led me to street sex work, and kept me there too.

As you listen to the woes of many clients, I realise perhaps one the reasons they are here is because they have a lack of love in their life or crave the intimacy of their partner. Of course, this isn’t true of all clients and is not to be said as a sweeping statement. Nevertheless, there is definitely a category of client who perhaps wouldn’t even bother having sex and would happily sit on the sofa cuddling up, watching tele and chatting. They miss being paid attention to, being listened to and without judgement too. I make comments, but I try not to give say any conflicting opinion, more because of business and safety reasons!

I have never been in a long-term relationship, or any type of serious one at all. I’m unsure if this puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to these observations. If I ever find myself settling down into a relationship, I now realise just how important having a hug with your partner after a really crap day is, or listening to them talk about how difficult things are at work. Affection isn’t just physical or sex, it’s sometimes just chilling with each other or reminding them that you love them. I have been asked a few times by clients to be their girlfriends. I always says no because it’s not really me, it’s Amy, and they want me to love them, and I don’t. I am just perhaps the only person in their life who is paying attention to them and making them feel loved and special.

Sex is important, but it’s not integral.

2 – People hate me just because I’m a sex worker

If you know I’m a sex worker before you’ve met me, you might decide you dislike me already. Inversely, you could know me for years but once you are aware I am a sex worker, you will never want to know me again, and this extends to family too.

I wrote a blog post about working in the Managed Zone and when I posted it on Twitter, opposition groups found it and started tagging their friends. Within minutes, I was flooded with messages saying how awful the Zone is, how I’m hurting children, throwing condoms and needles everywhere and whatever else. I explained to her that this blog post literally talks about all of these issues that she raised. Yet, despite this, she told me she didn’t, and wouldn’t, read it. Why? Because she had made up her mind about me, about what I did and how I was as a sex worker. Apparently, she lived with this all the time and didn’t need to hear from me. I later found out she wasn’t even in a resident in the local area of where the Zone is. I realised then that no matter what I say, being a sex worker trumps that and therefore, I will never break free from her judgement.

Being a sex worker, you are chained with the stigma forever, even if you have left sex work. This means you are also chained to the stereotypes, connotations and judgement of others that comes with it also – you can’t escape it. Unfortunately, this means that people have made their mind up about me before they have got to know me; what I do with my vagina has suddenly blighted everything else about my life. I see it all the time where people who have been outed as sex workers later in their lives. We are sacked despite being loyal and good employees, or disowned from families despite being the perfect child. It is honestly the worst thing about being a sex worker, and is exceptionally hurtful when it is your loved ones dishing the shame.

This judgement extends to professional services too. The moment you disclose you are a sex worker, the opinion or attitude of your worker can change or how they treat you. There is a reason drug services have specific sex work support workers for example, because allies are not a natural occurrence. The worst is counsellors – I once listened to a story of a sex worker who was refused counselling because they said they could not work with someone who was engaging in it, as it would hinder how she would work with her. Ouch. Imagine building the confidence to access counselling to begin with and then be confronted with that.

3 – I was wrong about feminism

As Dr Victoria Bateman so accurately describes in her book, The Sex Factor, nothing divides feminists more than capitalism, with sex work being a close second.

I had no grasp of the feminist debates before I became a sex worker. Actually, at one point in my life, I was perhaps an anti-feminist without realising. I didn’t really care about it all and thought it was for people above me, who were much more intelligent and that in fact, my role in life was to grow up, get a job, family, have kids and die like every good working-class woman. As I grew up, I got angry at these expectations and appreciated feminism a lot more, but thought it was simply recognising the inequality between genders, and making efforts to reduce the pay gap, the disproportionate victims of domestic violence, and greater education for women. Oh how wrong I was! I always thought feminists were striving towards the same goal, until I became a feminist.

To be honest, I really underestimated that backlash I would face as a sex worker. Of course, I expected the typical things like being called a whore, or perhaps that I’m dirty, a vector of disease or a slut for having sex for money. I actually thought feminists would come to my defence about this and argue that a woman can do as she pleases with her body, and being called these things wasn’t appropriate. In reality, I was called the worse names from other women, not men. As I started getting involved in my local sex work project, I was naive and couldn’t understand why they faced so much criticism. Why would anyone be angry at people who support sex workers, who attend appointments with them, handed them condoms, do their sexual health screening and help us to report to the police? I didn’t understand. Until I got Twitter that is.

As a sex worker, my very being is a division for women, and as Victoria argues, in the two most divisive topics; using my own body for income. For some feminists, using your body is not okay in capitalism, unless of course you’re a coal miner, hard labourer, gas fitter or spent years working with asbestos or mercury. Although I’m not a big believer that sex work has to be empowering or that the female body has to be championed to be taken seriously, it doesn’t mean I can’t use it to my advantage – financially. As Victoria states, if women can make money from their brains, why not their bodies? I believe in this too, and thought other women did because after all, women have spent years being underpaid or not paid at all for hard work throughout history, especially care work which is physically and mentally taxing.

I thought feminism was about putting women on a platform to talk about their experiences and how then working improve whatever difficulties they faced. I still believe in this type of feminism because I realise just how much people don’t listen to me because I don’t suit the agenda that women want from me. In addition, I am not every woman. For example, I will never be a black woman and therefore, I will never have the perspective on issues such as institutional racism because I don’t experience it. However, that doesn’t mean I should shut them out because I don’t understand it or don’t want to listen; it means I should listen to what they have to say and have those difficult conversations, be confronted with this, and work towards change with them.

I felt disheartened by feminism, I didn’t expect it to be so political and nasty, and felt quite hurt by people I respected due their views about me or how I earned my money. It resulted in slamming women and becoming the antithesis of feminist ideology.

4 – I believe in stereotypes

Thankfully, this has significantly changed and as I go through life, I appreciate the need to speak to the group I am stereotyping rather than swallowing what I am told to believe about them. I am guilty of having accepted much of what I was told without challenging it.

Nobody sees anyone as a blank canvas and throughout our lives, we are bombarded with media information that has a belief or agenda behind it, resulting in false ideologies. This means we keep this in mind when people tell us things about them, remembering that being told prostitutes are bad, immoral people for example. As I watched the BBC Documentary: Sex, Drugs & Murder, I too believed what I was watching. It couldn’t be challenged, because of course, this is from the mouths of the sex workers themselves!? Yet, as I became a street worker and met a few of the women in the documentary, I realised how awful they were misrepresented. This was perhaps the first time in my life I had a serious awareness of the beliefs I held and the need to challenge them myself, not accept what people tell me.

Growing up, much of my family had a very poor attitude towards sex workers as well as other marginalised groups, and I believed everything they told me; sex workers were dirty, or beggars are drug users who will hurt you. Why wouldn’t I? I trusted the people who told me these things. Despite becoming a sex worker myself, I still held onto these views, and to an extent, applied them to myself and internalised them. Even when I MET the people from this documentary, I still didn’t believe what they were telling me because I had watched them on camera saying something different. Of course, I do not think these things now and realise just how awful and patronising that type of attitude is. There is no rationalising it, I was being a dickhead.

Now more than ever am I acutely aware of how damaging stereotypes can be and that is likely because I have not been in a marginalised group before. Yes, I grew up exceptionally poor and people thought I was a scumbag, but there was generally more understanding on causes of poverty and less personal blame. Also, you can hide your poverty and move up and down the social ladder. I was also born with an intersex condition and grew up incredibly stigmatised and examined in the medical field, but this was confined to the medical field and I was never open about it. However, I can’t hide being a sex worker because I work forward facing on the street. For the first time, I appreciated the need to listen and not speak for others, or assume.

I am still guilty of having stereotypes about other sex workers who I have little contact with such as male sex workers. However, I recognise this now, and do my best to challenge it and speak to them, rather than assuming. As I have made my way through sex work over the years, I realise just how little I know about it and I am forever learning. I hope I continue, so I can challenge stereotypes someone else holds about me in a way someone challenged mine.

5 – It’s okay to dislike your family

As mentioned previously, my family are not pro sex work at all. In fact, there are few in my family who are accepting of it at all. I can not change the fact I am a sex worker, and that means I will forever be subject to the views of others, including my family. However, that does not mean it is acceptable.

I grew up in a large family of eight, the house was always busy, there was never a dull moment and friends would come and go all the time in the summer. Like most siblings, we fought, shouted at each other, said regrettable things and then made up and acted as if nothing ever happened. I used to wear my sister’s clothes when I knew she hated it but also confided in her at the same time. Although we are all related, it does not mean I have to like the person they are or the views they hold. Indeed, it absolutely does not give anyone the right to disrespect me or treat me poorly either, even if we did come out the same vagina. I do not have to have unconditional acceptance of their actions because they’re related to me.

As much as my family are exactly that, my family, they are people too. They also have their own views, political standpoints, stereotypes and sometimes, nasty streaks. I always imagined being from a big family, we would be a tight knit one – especially because growing up, we all faced such hardship such as our house burning down, living in a hotel for 6 months, and the loss of two of our siblings amongst other things. Although these are experiences that bind us to together for life, they don’t have to be in my life. As I grew up, I realised families can also be political and it is harder to break away from because it feels too personal, even if it is ruining your mental health.

The family unit is considered sacred and when I tell people I haven’t spoken to my Dad in three years, I’m always met with responses like ‘you’ll regret it one day when he dies’ or ‘oh come on, he’s your Dad, you have to speak to him’. Of course I will be distraught when he passes, but that doesn’t mean I have to put up with years of being put down, shamed and bullied because we will all die someday. It is a privilege to be in your child’s life, it is not a right. I will not be shamed for being a sex worker because it is a moral judgement – I have not committed a crime, I have not hurt anyone except myself and I have not involved them in any trouble I have caused, therefore, I will not accept what they have to say about it.

I didn’t really come to terms with this until I became a sex worker and realised that in fact, my dependency on my family no longer existed and perhaps hadn’t for some time. As time has gone on and I realise I am capable on my own, their opinion and judgement matters less to me. I may share the same surname but that doesn’t mean I have to be chained to them, nor do I have to accept the vitriolic opinions that come with being a sex worker. Being a sibling or parent doesn’t give you a free pass to bring down the rest your family without repercussions and expect to make up. We are not under the same roof anymore, I have no reason to accept your abuse. Having boundaries with your own family is important too, otherwise they can easily do more damage than abusive partner or friend, especially if there are many of you.

6 – Money does make you happy

I am not going to sugarcoat it, sex work is driven by money, no matter how much you earn – it is the primary reason why we become sex workers to begin with. However, giving a blowjob for £20 with a hungry stomach really does make you evaluate the concept of money. I would have been happier if I had the money for a full tummy, and not be in this situation to begin with.

Money has the ability to give you choices you wouldn’t have otherwise, to make the decision to say no to a client when your gut instinct is saying don’t get in the car, but your gas company has cut off your supply and you have no hot water. People in general, are happier when they have more options in their life, because it means they have greater control over their circumstances. As a result, they can decide options which suit them better, weighing up options before reaching a conclusion. It also means they have evaluated the risks. When you don’t have money however, that control over your life is taken because your primary aim then becomes survival and the choices money affords you is secondary. Taking risks becomes greater because there are fewer options available to you.

I would be lying out my ass if I said money does not make me happier. I am not saying it is the most important thing in my life, nor do I ever aspire to be rich. Money is not my primary goal in life but feeling as though I am financially secure makes me feel fucking fantastic. Admittedly, it’s not something I feel often and is something I crave. In fact, I would argue that it is financially instability that keeps me in sex work more than any other contributing factor. Do I feel at times annoyed or upset about sex work because this feeling of unease? Absolutely I do. I would not be a sex worker unless I did not have a financial need to do so. Money makes me happier and I have yet to cry when a client hands me money. If they overpay me, I actually get excited and treat myself to a takeaway on the way home.

Of course, there have been times in my life when I was poorer that I was happier, but there have been many more where being poor led to great shame, desperate situations, and feeling frustrated that I had little control over my life and circumstances due to overriding financial limitations. When I was high-class escorting, I fucking loved the money I was making and it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my chest because I wasn’t running away from that awful feeling of ‘where the fuck am I going to find the money for X,Y and Z’. Growing up, I always hated school trips because I knew I couldn’t afford them so I didn’t ask. Isn’t it a nicer feeling when someone asks you if you wanna go somewhere, and you can say yes – even if it is just to Nandos?

We all know having money is strongly correlated with freedom and independence. We are not in the pocket of the bank, the quick cash loan company, the friends and family or the potential abuser in our life. I love being free from this and that feeling like I owe someone because they gave me money. I am not rich at all and as I look towards moving into my own home, I know I have no furniture and will be starting from nothing, but I know I can work and make sure I can make it my own without awful feelings hanging over me – one blowjob at a time!

Overall

Life is complicated and I have learned a lot on my short time on this Earth! I hope I always continue to learn, listen to others and challenge myself as much as other people. Being a sex worker, you are privileged to have a personal snapshot into the lives of your clients. You also often work in a marginalised section of society. Of course, my experiences over the years have shaped much of how I think and feel about many aspects in my life such as politics, family, relationships and general understanding of myself.

I have a lot of thanks to sex work, and not just financially either.

I always keep my blog posts free because advocacy and tackling stigma is my goal, but if you would like to support me, please consider:

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Thank you 🙂