Louise Jane* dispels some of the myths around being a sex worker
When I first met my partner, one of the things he said to me about the sex we were having was, "I love that there's no guessing." He reckoned it was a consequence of being a sex worker and I do too. When you have sex with five or more different people in a day you get quite well practised at communicating what works and doesn't work in the bedroom. If you don't communicate clearly then you risk having long days of boring or bad sex. If you do communicate clearly, sex work can be a pretty enjoyable job.
Before I started, I'd already thought about doing sex work every time I was a bit strapped for cash. I finally took the plunge after I had booked a trip to Europe and wanted more spending money. I was never the type to save myself for meaningful sex and always thought of sex as sporty, something physical and fun to do with my body. Still, I was shaking with nerves as my first client knocked on the door. What if he rejected me for being "too fat" or not pretty enough?
Turns out, most clients of sex workers are just ordinary people looking to have some fun with their own bodies, happy with a bit of skin-on-skin, friendly chit-chat. Also turns out that when the thought crossed my mind that I was being paid for sex, I had an orgasm. So that was a good start.
Itold my best girlfriends that I was doing sex work. One of them said, "Well, if we think it's messing with your head, we'll have an intervention." They never needed to but I appreciate that sex work isn't for everyone.
People experience sexual intimacy in different ways. When I was pregnant with my first child, my midwife said not to listen to anyone's birth story (or watch One Born Every Minute) because you can't use someone else's experience as a reference for how the birth will go. I think it's the same with sex.
When I tell people now about my sex work, they're often shocked. How can a nice middle-class suburban mum have ever been a sex worker? Well, plenty of us have been. We joke that we don't wear badges or go to the supermarket in fishnets and red stilettos. Then the questions follow about the weirdest requests or how much money I made, as if my worth as a human was connected to my hourly rate.
I used to think I was "high class". I was well-travelled, well-spoken and well-educated. I always wore expensive lingerie. I attracted businessmen on lunch breaks and shy computer geeks at night. I'd always try and get them to book extra time so we could chat and lounge around naked for longer. Heaps of my clients liked the pillow talk. But I am not everyone's cup of tea.
What I have learned is that identifying as "high class" is just another way to stigmatise sex workers. I no longer buy into this idea that a show of wealth makes one more worthwhile. Also, you cannot tell what people will be like once they get naked. The sweet-seeming man might want to pound you (there are ways to avoid this, FYI), the alpha male full of bravado might cry halfway through and the young 19-year-old whose ID you checked might have skills that it takes some men 30+ years to learn.
Sex work can be a pretty mundane job. There is a lot of laundry, changing sheets (or spray and wiping vinyl mattresses), showering, getting dressed and undressed, reapplying makeup, cleaning, texting and waiting around. The compliments can get pretty boring too. I know I have beautiful eyes, thanks very much.
For some sex workers it's a stopgap, for some it's a career. It's one of the few (if only) occupations where the gender pay gap favours women. The worst thing about it is the stigma. I never liked lying about my job (I "worked in a call centre") or anticipating a reaction when I told someone. I have never listed it on my CV.
For me, being a sex worker has enhanced my life. I now have a career supporting sex workers' rights, I've made lifelong friends and even get emails every year on my birthday from an old regular client. I've had both memorable and forgettable sex and could probably fill a couple of chapters of an autobiography with fun stories. And thanks to our laws in Aotearoa New Zealand, I have always been able to choose the boundaries of my sexual consent, whether I've been having sex for love, money, or just because it's a fun thing to do.
Louise Jane is not her real name.