When I started sex work, I didn’t know any sex workers in real life. A friend had lent me the Secret Diary of a Call Girl book, and I obsessively read it. I watched the TV series, imagining myself as Belle Du Jour. It seemed glamorous, exciting, and as though it would solve my financial problems. So, I Googled brothels in my city, sent a few emails, and the next thing I knew, I was a sex worker.
In retrospect, it was a pretty poorly thought out idea. Luckily, everything turned out a-okay, but the point is I did very little research into sex work before I dove right in. To me, there wasn’t a mental block or any moral issues. I thought it sounded kind of fun and I needed money. 1 + 1 = 2.
It wasn’t until I was already knee-deep in the world of sex work that I started to ponder the moral implications of sex work. I started paying more attention to the news articles that talked about prostitutes and studied the depictions of escorts in the media. I spent more time Googling and reading and researching. And as I did this, I became more and more confused about sex work.
I discovered that sex workers are used as the scapegoats of society. Sex workers are blamed for everything from HIV to cheating husbands to human trafficking. I remember pondering the issue of human trafficking, genuinely confused and upset. People were saying that sex work contributes to sex trafficking, and to stop trafficking, we need to stamp out sex work. End the demand for sexual services, they cried.
I couldn’t reconcile this in my mind. When I read these articles, they talked about sex workers as though they were some distant evil beings, walking around the world, throwing children into sex slavery. But here I was, in my pretty normal apartment, living a pretty normal life, in a pretty normal city. It just happened that I had sex for a job. Nothing FELT terrible about being a sex worker to me. I didn’t feel evil. And I couldn’t quite make the connection between what I was doing and sex trafficking. After all, if we blame sex workers for sex trafficking, then shouldn’t we blame restaurant workers for labour trafficking?
I spent a long while being confused about who I was, what my job meant, and what my place in society was. Could I be a feminist and a sex worker? Was it okay to be a sex worker, or did that mean I was contributing to human suffering? Why were the depictions of sex workers in the media SO DIFFERENT from my everyday life?
Eventually, I happened upon the empowerment narrative of sex work. That is, the idea that sex workers are reclaiming their sexuality and power back from men. This narrative states that sex work is empowering because we charge men for our time, and enjoy doing it, rather than giving our time and sexuality away for free.
I clung to the empowerment narrative of sex work. I guess I felt empowered? I went to work and earned money, and I didn’t feel bad about it. I certainly didn’t feel the pits of shame, disgust and moral breakdown that the media depicts. Did that mean I was empowered?
This narrative allowed me to calm my mind and stop worrying that I was somehow inadvertently contributing to sex trafficking, even if it didn’t make complete sense to me. It allowed me to feel accepted by those who I previously felt rejected by – people seemed to be able to tolerate sex work if women were reclaiming sexuality and power. So, I decided that I was an EMPOWERED sex worker, which was apparently a hell of a lot better than just being a regular old sex worker.
But at some point, somewhere along the line, this narrative became really boring to me. Instead of feeling empowered (and I’m not really sure I ever did feel empowered), I felt irritated by this depiction of sex workers.
Why on earth do sex workers have to feel empowered for their work to be acceptable?
Why must sex workers enjoy every second of their jobs to be tolerated by society?
I don’t find sex work empowering. Most of the time, I find sex work immensely boring. Sure, sometimes I get to glide through a 5-star hotel lobby wearing designer heels while stashing hundred-dollar bills in my purse and it feels fabulous. But most of the time, I give blow jobs with the same feeling of mundanity that a cashier must feel while bagging groceries for the fifth day in a row.
The reality is that most of the time, sex work just isn’t that exciting. My day-to-day life is just like any other job – some customers are nice, some are assholes. Sometimes my job is a bit of fun, sometimes it’s so boring that I’m planning my grocery list while a dude is going down on me. But it’s definitely not some empowering feel-good after school special every day. And it shouldn’t have to be for my choice to be valid.
Photo by Unsplash.
Disclaimer: I cannot, and do not, speak for all sex workers. I speak from my experience of working in a legal brothel and as an independent escort in Australia. Where possible I try to be inclusive. However, I can’t relay every experience of sex work – especially if I haven’t experienced it myself. This blog is for entertainment purposes only.