This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Last week, a Conservative politician dismissed the idea that anyone would willingly become a sex worker.
Speaking to NDP MP Laurel Collins after she urged Parliament to consider decriminalizing sex work, Conservative MP Arnold Viersen said, “I do not think any woman in this country ever chooses this as a job. This is something that they are trafficked into.”
Victims of sex-trafficking do exist. The issue is an extremely serious one which deserves the time, attention, and funding required to help eradicate it.
However, what Viersen, and many others are missing, is that consensual sex work and sex trafficking are inherently different.
Nearly four years ago, I purposely left a comfortable nine-to-five corporate finance career for the opportunity to be a sex worker.
At the time, I had spent six years working in the finance industry, taking on roles in both banking and asset management.
There were elements that I absolutely loved, particularly the business relationships I developed with my clients. I was fortunate enough to work for firms that valued customer service, and as such, became very close with my clientele.
However, something was missing. While I craved financial stability and security, I also craved wiggle room for personal growth, creativity/expression, and self-care. As a 20-something at the beginning of my career, the two seemed mutually exclusive.
If I wanted to advance in my career, I could not count on room for a fulfilling personal life.
I could not plan to travel, take a Spanish class, improve my health and fitness, and finally master the stock market. Hell, I could barely catch up on laundry.
There were so many days at the office I’d catch myself fantasizing about what it might be like to have a random Tuesday afternoon free. How it might feel to have a leisurely lunch, or walk my dogs without having to rush.
The hustle of the Bay Street lifestyle dominated my week, and, like most of my colleagues, I found myself frequently staying late, and taking on more projects then I could handle, in the race for the next promotion.
I stumbled upon companionship by accident. I came across a movie called Sugar Babies one evening. It was a fictional story on a college student’s adventures in the sugar dating world. Although the movie was presented in a stereotypically negative light, I found the concept fascinating and decided to do some googling. From there I discovered the world of sugar babies, escorting, and companionship. It seemed exciting, and a little daring. I had no idea that such an industry existed right here in Toronto.
I decided to give it a shot, and experiment with sugar-dating, initially. Sugar dating, or sugaring, is an arrangement style form of sex work, where the sugar baby and sugar daddy see each other regularly. Parties meet each other through sugar websites, not unlike regular online dating, and negotiate a mutually agreed upon period of time and price.
The problem with this form of sex work is there is no screening, and very few boundaries. I decided to transition into escorting, where I would have the benefit of clearly marked hours together, and a clearer value for my time.
After only four weeks of dipping my toe into the sex work industry, I quit my job. I was quickly falling in love with my newfound career, and I couldn’t imagine spending another day under fluorescent lighting, wondering what I might do if I had more agency over my time.
I discovered that the relationship building model I loved so much in finance, is the absolute core of sex work, but at a much deeper level.
Sex workers are emotional labor chameleons. It’s our job to take nervous, vulnerable, or stressed individuals and make them relaxed and comfortable. We offer friendship, support, and love in a society that’s so clearly over-worked, burnt out, and in need of tenderness.
Sex workers are also full-blown entrepreneurs. So many of the skills that I learned studying business and in my finance roles transferred to sex work.
Many of us have created a brand, identified a niche market, designed and directed our own content creation, maintain social media presences, answer all our own emails, and customize the experiences we provide to suit our clients. Additionally, many of us do our own web-design, SEO, and monitor our analytics.
Not only has sex work allowed me to expand on my administrative skill set in a way that my finance roles couldn’t, it’s taught me how to truly connect with another person on an emotional, spiritual, and physical level. It’s made me into a better partner, and friend, and, because it’s proven to be more lucrative, allowed me the flexibility and freedom to spend more time on myself.
Of course, every job has downsides, and it’d be amiss not to mention them. Not unlike many other careers high in emotional labor (therapists, counsellors, etc.) this kind of work can, at times, be mentally draining. I’m still working on finding balance between providing emotional/physical care to my clients, and recharging my own batteries. The overwhelm of administrative work can also be challenging, and like any other entrepreneurial venture, time management is key.
I think collectively, many of us agree that the worst downside is the stigma. The general public still has a very misconstrued opinion on sex work, which forces many workers into secrecy. Many sex workers struggle with isolation, loneliness, and live in fear of being doxxed or ‘outed’ to our families and friends, due to the misguided reactions surrounding our chosen line of employment.
For me personally, the positives outweigh the negatives. So yes, nearly four years ago I wholeheartedly chose sex work, and continue to do so. Regardless of what a particular MP may tell you.
However, our laws need to catch up to the reality sex workers face.
In Canada, it is illegal to buy sexual services. The problem with our current model is that clients are in fear of being criminalized, and are now unwilling to provide personal information for screening. This leaves many sex workers without critical details that might be vital to our safety. Without screening information, some sex workers may be forced to unknowingly accept bookings from problematic and/or dangerous clients. Two sex workers were recently found dead in Quebec on the same day, including 22-year-old Marylène Levesque, who was allegedly murdered by a convicted killer out on parole.
Sex workers are routinely denied housing and evicted, have our bank accounts closed, are denied entry and/or banned at international borders, and are kicked off dating apps and banned from web hosting and advertising platforms.
Challenging these notions in the pursuit of full decriminalization is something I’m incredibly passionate about. I’ll continue to use my platform, unapologetically, to advocate for sex workers and reduce stigma because quite frankly, we’re badasses.
I hope that one day, sex workers are given the respect we deserve.
Follow Madison Winter on Twitter.