Written by Jessie Sage, originally published by the Pittsburgh City Paper.
I have a client, let’s call him Joe, who has been a regular for at least two and a half years. He calls me every few weeks, and we often text in between calls. He’s in a bowling league, and I keep track of when he’s playing because I like to send him naughty pics to throw him off his game. While he likes the flirty attention, it doesn’t work. He almost always wins.
We talk about what is going on in our lives and with our jobs, he tells me about his home improvement projects, I make fun of him for nervously stammering around me. Once we’ve run through these pleasantries, we make each other come — often over and over. Our fantasies line up in ways that don’t always happen with clients; we have an easy and natural rapport, and the sex leaves us both dizzy and satisfied.
With Joe, the work isn’t hard. It is playful, fun, and pleasurable. For this reason, he was the first person I thought of when a Vice documentary filmmaker who was working on a short feature about me and my husband PJ asked if I would be comfortable having him shoot one of my client interactions.
Joe said yes immediately when I approached him about this. He told me that he can’t wait to get me back for all of my bowling alley teases by making me horny in front of a film crew, and asked if we should practice before the big day. I told him that the previous 100 times that we had phone sex was probably pretty good practice.
What I didn’t know when I was setting the production schedule, which included this call, is that the week before this was set to happen we would find out that my husband’s cancer was back, and that the very day we were planning would also be PJ’s first day of chemo.
We decided to go ahead with the plans and work around his chemo. Given that this particular scene was one that PJ wasn’t going to be a part of, we decided that I would set him up at the hospital for treatment and then go home for a few hours to talk to the filmmakers about some of my solo work and take Joe’s call on camera.
When it came down to it, though, I couldn’t leave my husband at the hospital by himself, despite the fact that he insisted he would be fine. While I may have been able to talk abstractly about my work in the interview format, I realized I couldn’t actually take a call with a client when my head and my heart were elsewhere.
The relationships that I have with my clients are not something that I have ever felt conflicted about in relation to my marriage. They are different sorts of relationships that don’t pose a threat to one another. But what I had to come to terms with when I canceled my call with Joe was how sex work can be emotionally laden. As someone who loves the work that I do, and generally speaking has a great deal of emotional and sexual energy that I can throw at it, I can forget how much it takes to be present and available for another person; that so much of sex work, as is the case with any care work, is opening yourself up, and doing it on command.
The best clients, though, are ones who understand that we are human beings outside of the services we provide for them, and who give back to us the support and care that we typically extend to them. Joe did just that.
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).