I’ve always been a little bit over the top about hygiene and cleanliness. I’m one of those people that folds their underwear and vacuums daily. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I have always been anal (excuse the pun) about my sexual health.
When I started working in a brothel, I would perform intricate health checks on my clients while wearing gloves before going ahead with the booking. I thought allowing clients to give me oral without a dental dam was disgusting. And oral without a condom? Not a chance. Forget about it.
I was definitely up on my high horse.
Seriously, my horse was as high as a horse could get.
When my partner and I started dating, I worked in a brothel and had only just started to dip my toe into the world of private escorting. I remember him and I discussing boundaries and what we were comfortable with in our relationship. During this conversation, he mentioned that some sex workers give blow jobs without a condom. I was genuinely shocked and disgusted (I told you I was up on my high horse). I couldn’t believe that sex workers would do that – didn’t they realise they were putting their health at risk?
Internalised whorephobia? Yeah, I definitely had it.
Subconsciously, I think I pictured myself as a “good whore”. I followed the law to the letter, I had “safe” sex, I paid my taxes. Only “bad whores” who didn’t follow the rules would get STIs, right?
Fast-forward a few years later.
By this stage, I’d definitely worked through a lot of my internalised whorephobia. I no longer scoffed at escorts who offered blow jobs without condoms – after all, every adult is capable of choosing the level of risk vs reward that best suits them. But I hadn’t entirely shed my views around STIs. And so, when my doctor told me I had an STI, I immediately burst into tears.
I honestly couldn’t believe it. I was always so careful. How had *I* ended up with an STI? *I* didn’t deserve this (which begs the question, who does deserve it? Why did I view this as a punishment?)
I felt so much shame. I felt dirty and disgusting. All of the horrible insults I had heard about sex workers over the years bubbled to the surface.
So, I did what any modern-day woman with a health concern does: I Googled it—[Sidebar: I did get appropriate advice and treatment from my doctor].
As I trawled through Google, I was shocked at how little I really knew about STIs. The fact that you can contract an STI, even if you use a condom perfectly? Well, that was news to me. The fact that you can transmit oral HSV to a partner’s genitals? News to me.
The more I read, the more ridiculous my shame began to feel to me.
Why is getting bacteria or a virus on your genitals shameful, but catching a cold is no big deal? Why is having a cold sore acceptable, but having the virus on your genitals is icky and taboo? Why does HIV carry so much stigma when excellent medications can help to reduce viral load and risk of transmission?
I couldn’t quite fathom where the rhetoric of STIs being dirty had come from. STIs are literally just bacteria and/or viruses. What’s the big deal?
Logically, I knew it wasn’t a big deal.
Emotionally, it still felt like a big deal. I felt (and still feel) that it was too difficult to talk about – what if people judged me as dirty and irresponsible? By contracting an STI, was I reinforcing the narrative of the nasty prostitute?
I know this is a difficult topic for many sex workers.
We don’t want to reinforce the narrative that sex workers are ~diseased whores~ or whatever the media wants to say on any given day.
And standing up on a pedestal, believing that you are a “good whore,” believing you who won’t be affected because you do all the right things… Well, it feels a lot safer than admitting that we are all fallible humans who may, in fact, contract STIs.
Remember, there is no such thing as “safe” sex, only “safer” sex.
I am with you.
You are not alone.
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