It’s hard enough breaking it to your nearest and dearest that you’re involved in the devil’s work; the ungodly,  deplorable profession that is being sexy and getting paid for it.

But being a sex worker from the UK- in other words the most emotionally repressed place on Earth, makes spilling the tea double hard.

I spoke to three sex workers: a sugar baby, a cam girl, and a stripper about their experience in the sex industry and whether or not they told their friends and family.

Lilya (Sugar Baby)

sugar baby london

 

Lilya* (24) is a good friend I have in London. We haven’t seen each other for a couple of weeks. It’s Friday and we’re in Peckham chain-drinking cosmos in a cosy bar on Rye Lane.

We’ve been here for almost two hours, catching up. Dusk is settling. She sits opposite me, looking just like what she is, an artist. She wears a denim boiler suit splattered with little flecks of paint and she radiates with energy, as always.

As we sit by the window, I watch her eyes taking in the hustle and bustle of the finishing day outside. I’ve been holding off asking about her sugar life until we start the interview. And so it goes…

Isobel- You’ve been sugaring for four years now, right?

Lilya- Correct. I started when I was twenty.

Isobel- How’s it been? 

Lilya- I love it. I won’t do it forever, but I know it’s the right thing for me at this point in my life. As an artist, I need money to live on, whilst still having free time to do my creative stuff. I’m just a normal person, making money in the most efficient way I can.

I’ve met amazing people, had amazing experiences, and become so much more sexually and emotionally confident. That’s not to say I haven’t had bad experiences- but every job has bad days. And in my case, the good significantly outweighs the bad. 

I don’t want to waste my early twenties working 9-5 in some crappy job that I despise. To me, that’s selling myself. Selling my time, which I value above anything else. I don’t care if it’s a cliche phrase, I do find sex work empowering!

Isobel- So…I know you recently told your mum after much deliberation. How did it go? 

Lilya- Terribly! Like, ten times worse than I expected, but it had got to the point where I needed to tell her. We’re a very close knit family, and I have a long term daddy who I was going away with a lot.

I was having to lie so much, and she had noticed that I was spending a lot of money. She knows I’m quite sexually liberated, so she had started to add things up. I told her in the end because I didn’t want her to worry about me for nothing, because I’m actually in the best place I’ve ever been in right now.

Isobel- How did you expect her to react? 

Lilya- She’s a very liberal person herself,  but she can be weird when it comes to me and my sexuality. So, I expected her to be a bit taken aback, and a bit judgemental, but I didn’t think it was going to cut as deep as it did.

Isobel- So what happened? 

Lilya- I told her when she came to visit me in London. I said I had been seeing an older guy for about a year and that he helped me out with rent sometimes. I mentioned that we had been away a couple of times and that he was an incredibly positive influence on my life.

At first she seemed okay, but we went for dinner afterwards and this is sudden anger all came out. She said how ashamed she was, how I clearly had no ambitions and was practically ‘prostituting myself’- which is no insult to me, because I’m obviously pro-sex work anyway! 

I feel as though she’s deciding to believe I’m being ‘groomed’ and making me into a victim, because she finds the idea that I actively chose to do this and enjoy it, even harder to accept.

Isobel- You forget how traditional so many people still are. I don’t see what ambition has to do with it. You do have ambition- your ambition is partly why you’re doing this, so that you have time to pursue your real dreams. And even if you didn’t have ‘ambition’, who cares? Sex work is some people’s ambition. 

Lilya- I know. Like, sorry that I don’t want to waste my early twenties working 9-5 in some crappy job that I despise. To me, that’s selling myself. Selling my time, which I value above anything else. I don’t care if it’s a cliche phrase, I do find sex work empowering! I feel so confident doing it. Whereas I’ve been made to feel so small in other jobs that I’ve had. 

Isobel- That’s so true. Did you say that to her?

Lilya- Yeah. But it doesn’t sink in, it’s a complete clash of generations and mindsets. I was living in a bubble of my sugaring life, and my friends, who are so accepting of it; they’ve even met my sugar daddy and think he’s lovely.

I forgot that the rest of the world doesn’t feel the same way. She cried a lot before she left. We’ve spoken over text since, but it’s not any better. She is certain that I’m being groomed and in a lot of danger.

She thinks I’ve fallen into some dark underworld or something. It’s so far from the truth. She’s ignored everything I’ve told her and spun her own narrative. Now she is planning on telling the rest of the family her version of all of this-  something I thought she would never do.

Isobel- I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this. It must be weird. Did anyone else know apart from your friends?

Lilya- My older sister knew. She was shocked when I first told her, and a little bit judgy, but I think she accepted from the beginning that it’s my life, and as a 24 year old, I can do what I want with it. 

Isobel- It seems like it really just depends on each person you tell. Parents are always going to be hard, because they worry so much anyway. 

Lilya- True. I feel as though she’s deciding to believe I’m being ‘groomed’ and making me into a victim, because she finds the idea that I actively chose to do this and enjoy it, even harder to accept.

Isobel- Yep. If you’re a victim, you’re still ‘pure’, but if you actually want to be sexual as a woman, you’re evil, you can’t be saved because you don’t want to be saved. Do you regret telling her? 

Lilya- In a way I do, because her reaction is causing me so much hurt. It’s ironic, because she’s so worried about me, but the only thing actually causing me harm right now is her reaction. I was so happy before. But I had to tell her, because she was worrying so much anyway. I wish I had been better at keeping it secret, so that she didn’t worry, then I probably would never have told her. 

In other ways I don’t regret it. I’m unashamed of who I am and it means I no longer have to lie.  I just hope I can eventually help her to accept it. That would make this bad time right now totally worth it. 

Isobel- She’s your mother. I’m sure she wants to understand. I hope she will. What would you say to people who are going to tell their family or friends? 

Lilya- Before telling, just double check that you can trust them with this information and they won’t tell others or use it against you. Also, if you’re only telling them because you feel obliged and not because you want to, then don’t. Unless they’re a partner, you don’t owe them anything, it’s your private life.

Once you’ve decided you definitely want to tell them, have a plan for how and when you’re going to do it. I would say give them enough information so that their imagination doesn’t run wild and they start assuming the worst.

Clear up basic facts, and try to show them in the best way you can that you’re happy and safe. After you’ve told them what you need to and answered questions (don’t feel obliged to answer everything), give them space to process it.

Try and be patient- I’ve learnt that it’s going to take much longer than I imagined for my mum to accept this. I also think it’s good for them to know that other people do this, that sex work is widely popular and becoming more and more normalised. So again, in any way you can, try to help them see this.

Isobel- Great advice. That was such an insightful conversation!

Lilya- It’s good for me to talk about it now whilst it’s happening and very fresh. I hope it helps others who are going through it. You’re not alone in this!

Isobel- Thanks so much. 

Lilya- Pleasure! 

M (Camgirl)

cam girl london

 

M* (24) is an old acquaintance of mine. We grew up in the same town together. It’s been a few years since I’ve spoken to her, and I only recently found out she did some sex work.

It’s the lead up to Christmas, I’m in my family home, lounging on the rug and gorging on Celebrations, carefully avoiding the Bounties, as I type away to her. She tells me she’s now living in Manchester. She’s in her flat: pizza in the oven, joint in hand. The conversations gets going…

Isobel- When did you start start sex work, and how long did you do it for?

M- So I started during lockdown, and it was kind of in and out for just under a year, I had an Only Fans the whole time then did a few weeks of camming full time, then dropped down to camming when I could be arsed.

Isobel- I feel like loads of people did it during lockdown. I tried out camming during that time.

M- I’ve weirdly always wanted to do SW so I was kinda glad lockdown and unemployment pushed me into it. OF was more work than camming I think. 

Isobel- Me too to be honest!  Why was OF more work?

M- Camming you can kinda just log on and off whenever, whereas with OF you have to keep your subscribers there every month, so you have to be really interactive and they expect more polished content.  Surprisingly though, I keep thinking of doing it again just for fun. 

I’m open with it but I don’t tell people who don’t need/want to know.

Isobel- Was it quite exciting then like even though it was harder work?

M- Yeah, OF means you can do more of your own brand, whereas camming feels very performative. Also OF feels less personal because it’s usually all pre-recorded and you’re  not directly one on one. So some of my pals also had OF and we’d just have content creation nights and get stoned.

Isobel- Sounds like my kinda night. Aside from your friends that did it too, did you ever tell any other friends and family?

M- Oh yeah- I’m open with it but I don’t tell people who don’t need/want to know. So like my sister knows but not my mum. I’d never deny it though. 

Isobel- If your mum asked, would you admit it? 

M- I’d say 99% yes. Depending on the context, but I’ve made loads of jokes about it in general before, and she is more worried than judgy.

Isobel- Do you think any part of you wants her to know?

M- I don’t think I care enough either way? Like, I don’t think I’m deceiving her. It’s more that I just don’t think she would want that info in her head.

Isobel- Have you had to lie much?

M- Definitely not. The only lie I told was pretending not to know what OnlyFans is. Camming wasn’t a huge part of my life at the time and it was kind of temporary, so it’s definitely not something I felt obliged to share. But like if she straight up asked me I’d be like ‘ok yeah.’

I hate that the male gaze and capitalism is part of it all, but I can’t pretend that money and men paying to see me didn’t make me feel like a god some days.

Isobel- When you told your sister how did she react?

M- She was intrigued and had questions but didn’t wanna know the stuff that’s like, weird to hear. She wasn’t judgy though.

Isobel- Telling families is weird because it’s sexual, and I guess you don’t normally talk to your family about your sex life. 

M- Yeah. I think it’s healthy to have one outlet. I had my friends, so I didn’t feel the need to tell my mum etc. 

Isobel- I get you. What would you say the best and worst parts of your sex work experience were?

M- Best is probably the amount of confidence it gave me, like I have become so much more confident in my body, both clothed and not. I hate that the male gaze and capitalism is part of it all, but I can’t pretend that money and men paying to see me didn’t make me feel like a god some days.

Worst is probably the feeling that for me, I describe as being covered in a layer of psychological honey, when I would be camming with someone and they made me uncomfortable, or I would suddenly be very aware of my performance. I’m not attracted to men at all so it always felt a little icky.

Isobel- I feel that. Sex work can personally feel really empowering, to be getting money and all this attention. But then also it feels a bit fucked when at times, you feel like you’re being performative/pandering to the male gaze. 

M- It’s such a difficult one, I always boil it down to the fact that I wouldn’t blame women for sleeping with men to get parts in Hollywood, rather the institution that upholds that. 

Isobel- Exactly. 

M- There’s a lot of 90’s discourse on sex work touches on all of that. It’s deffo worth a read. 

Isobel- Oo! Send over your reccs. I love reading about this kind of stuff. And thanks for sharing all of that. It’s really great to talk about it. 

M- No worries!  Lemme know if you’re ever around for a bev in manny! Always happy to chat shit about sex n media!

Violette (Stripper)

Violette* (23) and I have mutual friends on Instagram. She’s from Australia. It’s 10AM, Monday morning in London and I’m sat sipping coffee in Pret. Down under, it’s 9pm and Violette is just winding down for the evening. Practically strangers, we type away on our phone screens across the world from each other, and share secrets.

Isobel- So how long did you strip for and when did you stop?

I feel like knowing that people did and would spend thousands on me made me realise that I was worth being treated better than how a lot of people treated me before that.

Violette- I started stripping five years ago, and was doing it for about four years with a few months here and there off. 

Isobel- How did you find it? 

Violette- It was super interesting! Never knew how it was going to go. Some days you met some nice people, sometimes horrible people. There were regulars, big spenders, people who just wanted someone to talk to. I got super comfortable with nudity, my confidence grew, my social/conversation skills grew and I gained a lot more respect for myself.

I feel like knowing that people did and would spend thousands on me made me realise that I was worth being treated better than how a lot of people treated me before that. I felt empowered, really.

It came with issues, of course, with so much importance being put on how I looked, and some terrible people you had to be around, but I feel like it was such an enormous learning experience and I grew a lot in that time. So it was all worth it.

Isobel- That’s so cool to hear, about your confidence not only with your body but socially. 

Violette- Right? But a lot of disrespect was also thrown my way when people found out what I did and people tried to shame me a lot. I am lucky to have my mum as such a supportive person though, as she was also a sex worker for many years.

Isobel- Oh! That’s great about your mum! Did you tell anyone else? 

Violette- Ah! I never told my dad, because he is very anti-sex work. He thought I worked there as a bartender. My mum and grandma helped me make the decision to do it in the first place and were super supportive through the whole thing. My partner at the start was anti-sex work and kept trying to get me to stop, but my partner later on was supportive of it. 

It’s super circumstantial. I feel like if someone is going to shame you for it, then they’re not worth being around, but also to be a bit careful about who you tell. People often think that because you’re in the sex industry, they can touch you however you want.

Once when I told someone to come for a dance at my club in the street, they started groping me and when I asked them to stop they started verbally abusing me and then chased me down the road, until I hid in a shop and they called the police. I feel like you need to gauge the situation and if it’s worth telling them.

A whole lot of people say they’re pro-sex work until they’re actually faced with it, and then they’re disgusted. 

Isobel- Jeez, sorry to hear about that experience with the guy in the club. Did you find it hard not telling your Dad? Was he ever suspicious?

Violette- I did find it a little hard, but we didn’t live together which definitely made it easier. He was suspicious, and said he was going to come to the club to see, but I talked him out of it.

I said if he’s not going for a dance then he shouldn’t come into the club because it is very rude, and that people are going to be flirting with me ‘behind the bar’ and girls will be chatting him up so it’s just going to be weird and uncomfortable.

So, he agreed not to, but I was still nervous that he would so I gave a photo of him to the security guards so he’d be banned from entering haha.

Isobel- Fuck, thank god you did that with the security guards.

Violette- Also my housemate I had when I started was very unhappy about my job and I think it was partly jealousy that I had that kind of confidence and was earning so much so she was bitter towards me. 

Isobel- Did she try to give reasoning for why she was unhappy about it?

Violette- She didn’t, no. Once she found out what I did, she had no interest in being my friend anymore, and would shame me behind my back. A whole lot of people say they’re pro-sex work until they’re actually faced with it, and then they’re disgusted. 

Isobel- I think that’s so true!

Violette- It is no one’s business in the end, it is a job that you are choosing, and no one has a right to an opinion about it to be honest. Sucks that people feel so entitled to feel that way about your job.

I would say to work out beforehand how they feel about sex workers in general, see what their true feelings are. It is not important to tell people unless you seriously feel the need to and are 100% comfortable telling this person.

Isobel- Literally! Sorry that you had to deal with that. Were any of your other friends suspicious about what you did? 

Violette- My friends weren’t really suspicious because I just told them I was a bartender which is why I worked so much on the weekends and nights. My friend did come in to get strip dance though and saw me working as a dancer and was like what the hell lol, but then he got a dance from me so it wasn’t like a bad reaction which is nice.

Then he bought in our mutual friends and they all got dances from me which was ? Weird but funny and kind of nice knowing they supported me, but I didn’t really tell other friends.

Isobel- Hahahah! Love that for you. Is there any advice you would give to people in sex work deliberating whether to tell their friends and fam?

Violette- I would say to work out beforehand how they feel about sex workers in general, see what their true feelings are. It is not important to tell people unless you seriously feel the need to and are 100% comfortable telling this person. \

It is your private information and no one needs to know, it is entirely your decision. If you don’t feel completely comfortable lying, do a white lie like saying you work in a bar like I did. Made the whole thing a lot easier really. I feel it is important to tell partners, but other than that, it’s not important to tell people. 

Isobel- I fully agree. Thanks so much for talking to me! I really appreciate it. 

Violette- No worries! Much love. 

The Verdict

Of course, it’s super cool to have the courage to be open about your sex work and help to destigmatise it as a profession. We all want to be on the right side of history. However, no one is going to blame you for keeping it private. People will ask ‘If you’re unashamed of your work, why do you keep it secret?’

The answer is- We might be ready to tell, but the world isn’t necessarily ready to hear. When making your decision, base it upon how it will affect your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those you’re thinking of telling. Will they be able to handle it?  Will you be able to handle their reaction?

Never feel pressured to talk about it. It’s your business, nobody else’s’. Take whatever measures you must to stay happy and stay safe. 

 

*Names and minor details have been altered to protect subject matter.

 

Advice
camming
Sex Work
stripping
Iso

Iso

Author

Iso is a writer and filmmaker based in East London. She is passionate about all things erotic and leads a sexy, shame-free life in hope that she can inspire others to do the same. Originally from a Northern seaside town, she is naturally drawn to the best things in life: candyfloss, trashy karaoke bars and heart-shaped sunglasses.


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