Recently a Tory MP ex-wife was outed as a sex worker in newspapers. Photographs were taken from her advert without her consent and exposed to the reader’s satisfaction. As long as it is to denounce those scandalous prostitutes, the media have a good excuse to publish pictures of half naked women. But what stroke me the most was the moral condemnation of having been married to a sex worker, like if a ‘decent’ man willing to make a political career could not love a sex worker.
This story says a lot about how this society sees us. It reminds me people saying to my ex-boyfriends things such as “do you know what he does?” or “you’re worth better than that”. It seems that we still live in a world where there are those men fuck and those they marry.
Many sex workers will prefer to remain secret about their work even to the persons they love the most. Living a double life is extremely difficult. I know I am not able to lie so I always tell the truth. I can afford it because everyone knows I am a sex worker and nobody can blackmail me. I prefer to tell the truth also because I don’t need to waste my time with men who will finally leave me for the wrong reason. Things are clear from the beginning and they know what to expect.
However, I understand those sex workers who prefer to hide their job. Often, they do it more for the persons they love than for themselves. They want to protect their relatives from the whore-stigma. Contrary to other stigmatised identities, being a sex worker is something you choose to improve your economic situation. Therefore many sex workers internalise a feeling of guilt or act as victims because it is the only way to avoid bearing the blame.
From my own experience, sex work has had a huge impact on my relationships. My last boyfriend left me because of my job. It was difficult to understand the reason why he felt he couldn’t accept it. I don’t think it was necessary the fact to have sex with other men. Nowadays, it is more and more accepted especially in the gay community. I think it had more to do with his own values, and his fear to introduce me to his friends, colleagues and relatives.
Many people probably think that I should have stopped working for love. I thought about it and I tried. But I couldn’t find a job that would bring me as much money to pay my rent and my student’s fees. I asked him to wait that I finish my studies because if I stopped sex work I would have had to renounce to them and forget any possible social improvement in my life.
Also I find it unfair if I am asked to stop working. Now that women have the same right to work and being independent economically from men, sex work remains the last job men can ask their partner to give up. In my whole life, I never let anyone tell me anything about my sexuality or my choices and I don’t see why I should start with a husband.
Some people think that we are with our lover for his money. Some men feel that they can’t really trust a sex worker. They think that we are going to take advantage of them. People think that someone who is ready to ‘sell his/her body’ is desperate for money and would be ready to do anything. Symbolically, sex workers are those who betray their nation and their gender. We are those who sleep with the enemy and deserve to have their hair trimmed.
I think it is a huge misconception about who we are. For example most sex workers refuse unprotected sex despite better offers from clients. I think sex workers are actually more honest than other people. The contract is clear from the beginning and we don’t pretend. You know how much you pay and what you get. If I really wanted money from a boyfriend I would just ask him. In fact, they were often more those who benefited from my income than the opposite, which is again a problem since legally they could be considered as pimps.
These considerations about sex and money tell us a lot about a system of class division. Everyone can have sex with everyone, but most people will have relationships only with people of the same class. Working class people don’t want to feel controlled by someone who may behave like a jealous client who buys them, while richer people are afraid of someone who is with them just for their money. Sexual-economic transactions are in fact everywhere. There are just some legitimate while others are stigmatised.