Written by Jessie Sage, originally published in the Pittsburgh City Paper.
As a writer who openly reflects on my own experiences in the sex industry, I often have folks of all genders tell me that they are interested in becoming sex workers. When I ask them why they are considering sex work, their answers overwhelmingly fall into a category of what I would call sexual exploration, with a few exceptions. They often say that they feel like it would be a safe way for them to explore their sexual interests outside of the context of romantic relationships, dating, or hooking up.
While I do not believe that there is just one reason to go into sex work – people enter into the sex industry for a variety of complex reasons – this particular reason seems misguided. While being a sex worker will expose you to a vast array of sexual fetishes and desires, and while this may open your mind to new enjoyable sexual experiences (I won’t lie, the work can be fun), these experiences are not primarily for or about you or your exploration.
Sex work is a customer service job that is other-oriented. While we often develop intimate bonds with our clients and can have positive sexual experiences, these interactions/transactions are not symmetrical. As sex workers, we get paid to create a fantasy or meet the needs of our customers. Moreover, not only are these not necessarily our needs or desires, they are often not even about us. We are fill-ins for other people in their lives.
Sex is often a small part of the work itself. Part of the work of creating fantasies is behind the scenes, and isn’t particularly sexy. This includes a constant and carefully curated maintenance of social media/marketing; diligent attention to safe practices which include doing gymnastics with our identities and bank accounts; weeding through endless time-wasters who want our attention for free and distract us from paying customers; accounting; and expensive and time-consuming beauty regimens, photoshoots, and more.
The social cost of doing sex work can be really high. Many forms of sex work are criminalized, and all forms of sex work are stigmatized. You have to think about what will happen when your family finds your porn; when your bank account gets seized and you lose your money; when your custody gets challenged; when you are publicly ostracized; when you are arrested, or worse. Sex work is serious, and the consequences are real. There are certainly easier paths to sexual fulfillment.
Sex work burnout can impact your personal sex life. Earlier this year, I interviewed Nina Hartley for the Peepshow Podcast. She reflects that it takes a special kind of person to do sex work because, “It is one thing to have a soul-killing job, but at least you can go home and wank off. It is very bad when your soul-killing job is wanking off.” While for most people sex is a respite from work, sex workers have turned sex into their work, and this has to be done with care, otherwise it can harm your personal sex life.
Sexual exploration and fulfillment are worthwhile goals and deep human needs. No one knows this more than sex workers, who spend their lives helping folks meet these needs. For this reason, my first impulse when people talk to me about wanting to do sex work in the way I previously mentioned, is that what they want is to be a sex work customer. When wanting to explore your personal sexuality, I would suggest patronizing sex workers; it is what we are here for.
Jessie Sage is a sex worker and writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s also the co-founder of Peepshow Magazine and the co-host of the Peepshow Podcast. Her words can be found in the Washington Post, VICE’s Motherboard, Hustler Magazine, Men’s Health, BuzzFeed, and more. She’s currently writing a book on sex work, motherhood, and illness called An Unexpected Place (forthcoming on West Virginia University Press).