It's understandable why sex workers often keep their occupation a secret—the stigma that surrounds their profession means it's difficult to tell friends, family, or lovers about their day job, even if they love their work. So here we speak to sex workers about the moment they decided to talk about what they do. They discuss rejection and acceptance, both from themselves and others.
Sarah, Sex Worker
I got into sex work for a number of reasons, but the main reason was because I like that feeling of empowerment. I got compliments. I felt beautiful, I felt strong, and I felt like a person. I avoided telling my family because they were incredibly emotionally abusive throughout my childhood.
One night my mum came up to me with tears in her eyes. My first instinct was to think someone had died but then she said, "I have to ask you something serious." I was quite panicked at this point and then she said, "Have you been working as a sex worker?" I calmly looked at her and said, "Yes, I have," and asked why she was so concerned. I have no idea how she found out but told me I had no idea how embarrassing it was for her and asked what the fuck was I thinking.
I just said: "first of all I made the decision to do this and it makes me feel powerful and beautiful." Then I pointed out that of all people, she should know what an achievement that is for me as I've struggled with eating disorders since I was 12. I made the decision out of my own free will and she cried and said that she understood that I felt good about myself but she wished I had a better outlet to express it.
Essentially, she's not happy about it but she's accepted it, to a point. My extended family has decided I'm the family whore. I'm fairly sure if my dad found out he'd be very upset and disappointed too. But, really, I think it comes down to a generation gap. It's the idea that if a woman takes off her clothes and uses her body for others then it's slutty and wrong and not empowering. But I couldn't disagree more.
I always find it easiest to tell my friends, but I'm still quite thoughtful about who I tell. I like to keep it somewhat private. Basically, if I can hide it I will, but if that person is close to me and I want to share my stories and my life with them, then I'll tell them. With my lovers, I tend to wait until the third date. By then, I should be able to tell if I want to continue something a little more intimate with that person. I've never had a bad experience telling a lover, although I've dated some guys who've eventually felt insecure about my job. I actually first got into stripping when I was with a guy I'd been dating for a while. At first he pretended to be okay with it, but it soon came between us. I chose the job.
I told my mother because I couldn't stand the lies anymore. We have a very honest relationship. She wasn't surprised; she's known about me working topless and in lingerie bars in the past, but we don't talk about my job.
I enjoy dressing up, role-playing and creating characters at work. I spend my money on travel and experiences—the job has allowed me to travel for years now! I enjoy how sexy I feel at work. I'm constantly complimented on not just on my image, but my personality too. I'm often paid just to sit with customers and talk with a drink. I love how good a customer can make me feel. I feel incredibly empowered by it.
Alex, Sex Worker
I was so scared to tell any of my family and friends, because I just knew they would judge me. There's so much discrimination surrounding sex workers in the general community: I expected my family and friends to view me that way too. I think as a male sex worker in particular the stigma can be twice as bad. It's hard enough to come out as homosexual, let alone as a homosexual sex worker. Some male workers feel too scared to even seek out services from health professionals for fear of judgement.
Society at large seems to think that people get into the sex industry for fast and easy cash. But there's a big difference between sucking dick for quick cash, and participating in sexual activities with paying customers because you actually enjoy it. I was literally living in fear of telling my parents but I was just so done with all of the white lies and dishonesty, so I finally told Mum and Dad what I did for work. The immediate response was not what I wanted, but sort of expected. Mum cried when I told her and blamed her parenting for the choices I had made. She believed that sex work was fundamentally wrong, and that it was her fault. She felt like she didn't bring me up to make the right decisions.
It was heartbreaking to see how disappointed she was in me. But once I told her about the amazing diversity of my job, how much I feel empowered by my work, and that it has allowed me to truly be confident within my own skin, Mum started to see the industry in a different way. I told her about how supportive and tight the community is for this kind of labour, and when she started to understand it all, I really felt pure joy and an enormous boost of confidence. But I will always continue to feel a fear of judgement and lack of acceptance in the future.
I felt pretty comfortable telling my Mum and my friends that I'm an escort. The moment after I told my Mum that I was taking men out on dates for money, there was a feeling of slight relief. She was accepting of it, but also wanted me to be aware that people who use escorts can be dangerous. She's not wrong.
One time, another escort friend of mine was on a date and she asked me to come meet her, because there were three men paying for the service. Everything was fine at first, but after dinner I felt so wasted out of nowhere—I'm pretty sure they spiked us. We went to another bar and by the time we were about to leave, my friend went to say goodbye and one of the men took her into this basement. I had a really bad feeling, so I followed them down there. He was fully naked and she was half undressed, so I just grabbed her and we left right away.
As long as you're careful, no matter what your role is in the sex industry I really don't feel that there is any reason to feel ashamed telling family and friends. I know that I have respect and love for myself. When I told people, most of them were pretty open-minded about it, but you could always tell if there was a slight tinge of judgement.
I definitely feel more empowered after telling my Mum. I'm able to use myself and my body as a means to make money and don't feel guilty or ashamed of it. I know that I respect myself and I'm careful.
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