Every sex worker has experienced it. You share with someone not in the sex industry that you do sex work, and almost immediately you sense a shift in their judgement of you, however subtle it may be. You can bet one of the first questions they ask is ‘But do you enjoy it?’ or ‘But is it really empowering?’
Some people (people being my mother), wouldn’t even bother to ask these questions, because they don’t even think it’s a question to be asked. In their minds, there is absolutely no doubt that in doing sex work, you are completely and utterly disrespecting yourself.
And as a sex worker, you start to realise that this is the underlying opinion that everybody in society who isn’t a sex worker has: sex work = you don’t respect yourself. And if you protest that you do enjoy it, you are lying. You do not enjoy it.
There’s this fierce aggression behind the people asking whether you enjoy sex work. They are very invested in your answer, much more than they would be when asking say, a nurse if they enjoy their job. They seem to think that you owe them an answer.
As a sex worker, you start to feel that you owe them an answer. You begin to believe that you must prove yourself.
Because if you happened to say, like every other person in the world with a normal job, ‘Well yeah, I like it, but sometimes I don’t. Some days it’s bad.’, you would be immediately victimised.
This is partly why the whole ‘empowered sex worker’ thing began. Because sex workers knew that they would forever be judged, backed into a corner and have their story rewritten as a victim narrative if they said they didn’t enjoy their job.
The only thing to do was to push the positive side, and claim that sex work was always fun, always empowering, always easy… As if that could ever be the reality in any job ever.
So nowadays, sex workers face the positivity pressure. The ‘woke’ feminist generation tend to believe something along the lines of, ‘yeah sure, it’s cool to be a sex worker, as long as you enjoy it and feel empowered.’ Which is of course ideal, but it shouldn’t be required.
You might ask a doctor, a teacher, a bartender the same question, ‘do you enjoy it?’ and if they say no, you might talk it through with them, but you wouldn’t judge them for saying no. You wouldn’t try and ‘save’ them from the industry they’re in.
I know what you might be thinking…that sex work isn’t quite like other jobs. Can you really compare them? It’s true that sex work can be a lot more intimate than many professions, and it some may believe it to be inherently wrong to know that you can pay money to gain access to another human being’s body.
But guess what, sex work is very likely to continue nevertheless, at least in the near future. Even if you don’t respect the industry and concept of sex work, you should respect the workers. How can you do that? Listen to them.
Sex workers ask you to treat their job like a normal job. To treat sex work as work, which is the reality of it for them. It’s three dimensional, it has good days, bad days, good periods, bad periods, you can be ill-treated by clients, ill-treated by others in the industry. You can feel very empowered in your work, you can also feel shitty in it. It’s just a job. It pays the bills.
Humanity deserves choice. No one should have to do something they don’t want to do. I believe that the word we should focus on when we think about sex work, is choice, first and foremost. Everyone should have the right to choose what they do and to do it as safely as possible, which is why decriminalisation is so important to sex workers.
Afterwards, comes enjoyment and empowerment. There were times when I loved being a sex worker. I know friends who love being a sex worker. To really like the job that we do is ideal. But, like any other job it’s not always the reality. Let’s try and reduce the positivity pressure on sex workers and focus first on sex workers achieving autonomy and utmost safety.
If you haven’t been a sex worker yourself, please don’t try and claim you know better. All we ask is for you to listen.
If you have been a sex worker, your story is important, and worth sharing. However, remember that your experiences don’t necessarily represent the experiences of every sex worker out there
Artwork by Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907)