Written by Jessie Sage, originally published in the Pittsburgh City Paper.
Sex workers hold men’s secrets. Many of these secrets are the type you’d expect. They talk to us about their marriage frustrations, the kinks that they are afraid to tell their partners about, their anxieties, their relationship regrets, and the panties they wear under their suits.
What I didn’t expect when I started doing this work is that many of these secrets are about their conflicting desires in women. Much ink has been spilled on the way in which women are negatively impacted by rigid conceptions of beauty, and for good reason. Women feel pressure to mold their bodies to fit rigid standards, but men also feel pressure to only desire the women who do this well, despite the fact that men are often attracted to a much more diverse range of women. These oppressive beauty standards make men feel ashamed of and confused by their desires because what they like does not line up with what they’re expected to like, so they keep their feelings a secret.
With sex workers, however, things are different. First, our interactions are primarily private; clients do not have to negotiate the expectations of their peers, family, and colleagues when relating to us. And second, the entire interaction breaks social norms, so beauty norms can relax too. In this context, men are often eager to lavish praise on women who they’ve otherwise been unable to express attraction too.
In light of these positive interactions, many sex workers describe sex work as having transformed their relationship with their own bodies. I spoke with several sex workers about overcoming hang-ups.
Regarding weight, Amber says “Sex work has really opened my eyes as to what men actually find attractive. I’m soft and squishy, and I always get compliments.” Conversely, Harmony Rey talks about having fears about being too skinny prior to going into sex work, saying, “In the past I tried to gain weight because I wanted to be thicker (a positive in the Black community), sex work has really opened my eyes to [the idea that] there’s beauty in every body type.”
Sex workers I spoke to for this piece similarly talked about body hair. Lily commented, “It took a long time for me to love myself in all my fuzzy glory. Stepping into this line of work has made me realize that sexy has many faces, and hairy can definitely be one of them.” Many sex workers that I spoke to also said similar things about areola size, cellulite, C-section scars, nose shape, and belly rolls.
What we all can learn from these sex work/client relationships is that beauty and desire is more expansive than what mainstream culture would have us believe. And more, we should stop this miserable cycle of women trying to be something they think is desired, and men working hard to try to desire that thing. We would all be a lot happier if we would just bravely be who we are and like what we like.