When I started sex work about a year ago, it was around the time I started dating my partner. We had agreed to be non-monogamous, and late one night I had gone on a sugar daddy site on a whim. After getting out of a sexless relationship, it was the most empowered I had been in my life – sexually satisfied, free to sleep with who I wanted and be unapologetically me (I stopped shaving my body hair and no one turned me down). I wanted to know if men would pay to spend time with this new version of myself—someone who didn’t look like a model, who had hairy armpits and didn’t give a fuck if men liked it or not. So when I started meeting men off the site, it was the most exciting time in my life. Not only did they treat me better than most of the guys I dated, but I got paid to try things I’d never experienced before—like having threesomes and going to sex clubs.
Despite how happy I was, I carried around a lot of anxiety about keeping my new line of work from my partner. Since I lived on disability for dyspraxia, it was hard to hide that I suddenly had more money. I felt like I had this whole other life that I had to keep from him. He had told me he didn’t need to know who else I was having sex with, but I realized early on that I’m the kind of person who needs to have transparency in a relationship. I wanted to tell him all about my fantastic new adventures. However, it was one thing to see other people—it was another to get paid for it. How would he react to me doing sex work? When he asked how my day was, I felt like I had to lie instead of telling him a man paid me hundreds of dollars to make me lunch. He didn’t want to hear that, right? How could anyone want to date me after?
One morning when my partner and I were having breakfast, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I had been trying to drop hints and see how he might respond if I told him—like watching documentaries on escorting and looking for his reaction. But even though he was liberal-minded, there was no way to know until I told him. Finally I blurted out that I had been meeting men off a sugar daddy site, and revealed how much money I had made that week. Half expecting him to get quiet and protective, I was surprised when he stood up from the table and gave me a long, enthusiastic hug. He told me how proud he was that I was making money, and how excited he was for me to keep doing it. From then on, we became much closer as I was able to vocalize my joy after meeting a new client or fear of not vetting one well enough. Knowing how stigmatizing and lonely it can be to be a sex worker in society, I felt incredibly lucky to have a partner who not only supported me but who I could share this part of my life with.
One night after an amazing date with a client, I was high on endorphins and tipsy on a bottle of bubbly. I started swiping through Tinder, wondering what men as a whole thought about dating a sex worker. If my partner and I were to breakup, would I have a hard time finding someone else who was as accepting of my work? I had dated a few men briefly who said they were OK knowing what I did—but since I’m polyamorous, the men I date may be better at working through jealousy than those who are monogamous. However, could it be that times were changing where guys stigmatized sex workers less? Surely in 2017, where they go to strip clubs or watch porn on the regular, they couldn’t possibly think the women who entertained them weren’t worthy of dating?
“I won’t pay for it,” said one of my Tinder matches. I had swiped right on as many men as possible, and after a flood of new match notifications, I got to work on asking every single one of them, “how would you feel about dating a sex worker?” I wanted to get to the point before they had any stake in me, instead of asking them over drinks while they were trying to get in my pants. I was getting tons of messages, but the results were mixed. As they kept popping up, they both discouraged and renewed my faith in guys.
“I would be okay with it.”
“Sure, I’m just looking for fun.”
A lot of men thought I was either joking, looking for clients or didn’t respond. One said he was a sex worker too. Most had questions, like, “what kind of sex work do you do?” and “do you use protection?” One guy wanted to hire me, and when I told him how much it was to spend time with me, he asked if I could drop the price down and if he could go without a condom. When I turned him down, he said he would be open to dating instead.
One response that kept coming up in various forms was that I either looked “too nice,” “too pretty” or too much of a “good girl” to be a sex worker. While these men seemed to mean well, it made me furious. What exactly did guys think sex workers were like? Did they not think we were real people who wore every-day clothes and did normal activities? Were we supposed to only exist on the webcam, or the porn site, or the strip club or the incall and not have romantic relationships and get married and have kids?
This is unfortunately the reason why a lot of sex workers aren’t open with guys they date until they get to know them better. Recently I met a woman who was in a monogamous relationship and considering trying out to be a Suicide Girl. She had been ecstatic for months about shooting boudoir for the first time so that she could see how she felt about it. The day before, she messaged me about how she got into a fight with her new boyfriend because he didn’t want her to do it. He said that he had magnets of strippers on his fridge, but he didn’t have respect for those women. He didn’t want her to take her clothes off. He told her if she wanted to be empowered that she should go volunteer or learn a skill—not show off her body. She decided to go through with the shoot anyway, despite her boyfriend’s feelings about it.
In my experience it seems like a lot of men struggle with the Madonna/whore complex—where they have trouble seeing women as entire beings who can both be respected and sexual. When my partner’s friend found out that I’m an escort, he said he never would have guessed because I seemed like such a nice girl. In an attempt to understand and protect his friend from what he saw as a threat, he asked if I was doing it because I was on drugs. “Are you doing it out of necessity?” he said—as if any other job isn’t based on necessity. After my partner and I eased his concerns, he said he didn’t understand how my partner could be okay with me seeing other people—either personally or professionally. “I’m too insecure,” he admitted. “I’d always be wondering if someone was outperforming me in bed.” But,” he added, “it seems like you have a healthier relationship than me.”
Perhaps men have an easier time dating a sex worker when they’re non-monogamous. On Tinder I matched with a guy who previously dated an escort—and although their relationship was casual and only lasted briefly, he said it worked because he’s polyamorous. As well, I have sex work friends who are both poly and are in happy, long-term relationships. Like my relationship of almost a year, being able to work through insecurities like possessiveness together makes communication skills better, and our relationship healthier. This goes for monogamous relationships as well—but people in poly relationships likely make a point of working through these issues more often because they date multiple people.
While many guys I talked to were OK with me being a sex worker initially, they seemed to want to be able to justify it to themselves. “How long are you planning on doing it for?” they asked. “Looks fade,” they insisted. While some were OK with some forms of sex work like stripping, they weren’t able to be in a relationship with an escort. It appeared that in order to settle down with someone like me, they had to know that down the road I was going to eventually only be part of their fantasy—not somebody else’s. But as far as them not continuing to go to strip clubs, or watching cam models, or getting off to porn stars or seeking out escorts after 20 years of marriage—that wasn’t clear.
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