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July 31, 2017 | by  | in Features |
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Sex Work and Self Care: The Taboo of the Unrepentant Whore

CW: Sexual violence and rape

 

There is this meme that goes: “Don’t ever be ashamed of who you are, unless you are a whore.”

My name is Min, I am 23-years old, and I am a whore.

Before entering into the “Oldest Profession”, my primary knowledge of the industry came through the lens of mass media; I was familiar with interventions on Dr Phil in which vulnerable women were dragged in front of gleeful housewives to confess the salacious details of their lives — how they degraded themselves and “sold their bodies” to pay for drugs or alcohol, or because they had been abused.

I had frequently seen sex workers portrayed as the butt of jokes or helpless victims in the media. There were also the “more acceptable” sex workers: the hookers with hearts of gold who found themselves in the job due to external factors and a lack of agency, opportunity, or economic tools. There were also the “bad” sex workers: the nymphomaniac deviants who had chosen this life and could be killed off or violently assaulted in horror films and video games without the audience feeling squeamish.

I had heard “jokes” at school ranging from:

“How do you make a hormone?”

“Stick a rusty chainsaw in her.”  

to

“How do you know when the hooker in your trunk is dead?”

“She smells better.”

Like many, I internalised the idea that sex workers were defined only by their job and promiscuity, and subconsciously believed them to be disposable and undeserving of respect and dignity. I am thrilled to inform you that I was very wrong.

My identity is not defined by my status as a sex worker: I am also an artist, a graphic designer, an enthusiastic dancer, an obnoxious singer, and the owner of two (!) living house plants. I perform physical labour for money, just as a plumber or a coal miner may, only with considerably more orgasms.

I didn’t become a sex worker on purpose; in fact the job came as something of a surprise. I grew up in in a large Protestant family in which masturbation, let alone sex before marriage, was considered immoral. When I was 18 my mother banned me from watching Friends because Rachel was a “slut”. This was the latest in a long line of bans that included having male friends visit, holding hands with boys, and attending sex education at school. I didn’t find out what an erection was until I had one jammed inside me, a week before my 21st birthday.

My lack of education resulted in an abusive relationship with a partner who seemed to isolate my sexual function as my primary value. Following this I was sexually assaulted and even raped by someone who took advantage of my trusting nature and low self-esteem. I developed PTSD, depression, and extreme anxiety around sex. I felt as though being raped was my punishment for being sexually active, so I stopped having sex.

Perhaps at this point you are filing me into the category of “acceptable sex worker.” Someone whose trauma forced them to take up sex work. I certainly know of fellow sex workers who have experienced assault (and others who have not), but in a country where an estimated one in three girls is sexually abused before the age of 16, conflating correlation and causation would be a mistake. The idea that people do sex work because they are damaged by abuse to the point where they can no longer see sex as enjoyable, or something that they have any kind of control over, is one that I have come across many times but, while I can not entirely separate my experience of sexual assault from my decision to take up sex work, it would be incorrect to say that I am a sex worker because I can not get past that trauma.

While people like to imagine sex work as a passive experience in which we simply wait for Johns to “use our body,” my experience has been vastly different. Sex work allowed me to move past my trauma by experiencing consensual sex in a safe environment with men who value my time and body. Since engaging in sex work I have begun to reclaim my sexuality and ownership of my body. For the first time in my life I fully enjoy sex without feeling self-conscious or guilty. I feel beautiful and strong, and no longer allow myself to be pressured into sex. I have been able to come off all of my meds and the symptoms of my PTSD and depression have all but vanished. I am able to tell people how I like to be touched and the the flexible hours and generous payment means that I have time to focus on self-care and recovery.

Despite what people think, I fully enjoy every day of sex work, and if I am not in the mood to share my body, I do not. I take the day off. I read a book. I trust myself to know what is right for my body. I get excited about meeting new clients and learning about their body and how they like to have sex. Sometimes I discover things that I like or am attracted to, that I never knew about. Sometimes I have amazing sex or sometimes I help someone with low self-esteem feel attractive. There are many reasons why someone may take up sex work, but mine was an act of self-care and reclamation of my body and consent. And I do not regret it one bit.

***

Now to move on to the salacious details; the questions I get asked again and again. The questions that would make Dr Phil’s herd of suburban housewives wet themselves with glee, here they are:

 

  1. When will you get a proper job?

I get asked this a lot — by friends and clients. The implication is that I should be studying or working a mainstream job. In fact I have an honours degree, do freelance graphic design work, write, and do illustration.

It just so happens that the income I make from sex work is more than all of these jobs combined. But sex work is work, as much as anything else.

 

  1. You are too clever to do this.

Wrong. I do this because I am clever; I am using my most lucrative commodity to generate income and I am doing something that I enjoy.

 

  1. You must see a lot of dick heads.

Yes. I do. As in any job, some clients are nice, some are dicks. Mostly I am lucky enough to see people whose company is entertaining or enjoyable. If I see someone I dislike, I choose not to see them again.

Consent is a vital part of sex work and I may withdraw that consent whenever I want.

 

  1. Are you addicted to drugs?

I took a Lemsip today. Other than that, I am painfully boring. I sit at home sewing, painting, and reading. I like a glass of red wine on occasion but I am hardly Johnny Rotten.

 

  1. You must LOVE sex.

I do love sex. I think if I disliked sex this job would be difficult. However, a lot of the sex I have is not great sex or sex with someone that I am attracted to. I still enjoy it, but it is completely different from sex in real life.

Besides, a great deal of my job is in the emotional labour — listening to clients talk about their problems and insecurities and making them feel important and desirable. Sex is a secondary part of the job.

 

  1. How can you see married men?

I am not in a relationship with them. I am providing a paid service. At any rate, not all clients disclose their relationship status. I tell my own sexual partners what I do, but I am not dating my clients and it isn’t my job or business what they choose to do.

I use condoms, I get frequent STD tests, and I do not get involved in contacting my clients or their families. Their business is their business.

 

  1. Do you like sex work?

Mostly yes. Like any jobs, some days are hard, but I have the luxury of only working on days when I feel like it.

I have regular clients who I get on with, my job gives me the means to travel and have spare time, and my partner is understanding and supportive.

 

Sex work has changed my life in so many ways, but mostly it has made me more confident, self-assured, and in charge of my sexuality. It gives me orgasms, money, and endless anecdotes — as of today, I am a terribly happy, healthy whore.

 

***

Need to talk?

Rape Crisis — 0800 883 300

Lifeline — 0800 543 354

New Zealand Prostitutes Collective Wellington — 04 382 8791

If you’ve experienced a sexual assault you can report it to NZ police by dialling 111, or learn more here.

 

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