Sex Work – How My Views Have Changed

sex work
Picture from Pixabay

I will be your doll
I will be your toll
At the gates of hell
That is what I’m for
I will be your flesh
I will be your end
Then on to the next
I will start again

“Slut” – Velvet Acid Christ

When I was a kid, I didn’t know anyone who wanted to go into sex work. Being a whore was a bad thing, it was something that only the poor and addicts did. Even with “Pretty Woman” in the 1990s, most of my friends looked down on the idea of women using their bodies to make a living.

These days I like being called a whore during sex, and if my Master would want to whore me out, I’d probably be up for it. It might never become a job for me, but I can see the why it would interest some people, that it could give you a certain kind of excitement. Not only that, the amount of people who actually walk the streets these days in the Western world is much smaller than it used to be. Instead, being a sex worker can mean a lot of different things.

But let me start with that I have been brought up with the idea that enjoying sex was a bad idea. I wasn’t even allowed to have a boyfriend (or girlfriend) which meant that my parents basically never met any of my partners. Thinking about it, my dad used to sexually abuse and allow others do so to me when I was a kid, but when I was a teen, it was suddenly a totally different story. Because having a partner would mean I was the one wanting sex, and that was bad.

Fortunately, I never agreed with that view. I didn’t really care about how sexually active any of my friends were. All I wanted was for them to be happy. And if that meant having lots of sex with a lot of different people? Good for them! The circles I was in from my early teenage years were alternative anyway: punk, goths, rockers, metal heads. LGBTQA+ folks. It was all very liberated. BDSM and kink were openly practiced. I didn’t engage in any of that (sexual abuse does that to you, you get a tad weirded out by sex), but I didn’t judge it either.

Prostitution in Hamburg in the 1990s

This was the mid 1990s. During those days, I was often in Hamburg and in its famous red light district (Reeperbahn), because lots of the concerts and clubs I went to, had their venues just there. That meant that I had an idea of prostitution already at the age of 14/15. I saw prostitutes every weekend, I hung out with them. I had trans* prostitute friends who let me stay over during the weekends because I didn’t want to go home. I saw women standing on street corners, in rain, in snow, having drunk men grope them. When I was 17, I got asked if I wanted to be a stripper, when I was 18, someone asked me if I needed some cash and wanted to walk the streets for them.

I have never been a sex worker. But I knew quite a lot of sex workers and saw how shitty they were treated. I watched them with their bruises, with their fear. I was worried anything serious would happen to them. I never judged them, but I never wanted to be one of them. On weekends in Berlin, I saw a lot of East European women literally standing in line on the street, waiting to be picked by a man. The perspective I had on sex work was that no one would pick that ever voluntarily. They were all controlled by men, pimped and beaten. It all culminated with my own brother telling me that he was a pimp now, and had two Ukrainian women working for him. I got so incredibly mad at him, and fortunately was able to convince him that what he was doing was absolutely disgusting.

In 2002, prostitution became legal in Germany. My views changed a bit there. I loved how the general idea was to take better take care of sex workers. They now had a right to healthcare, they could register as sex workers and could get a pension. They had more rights. By it becoming legal, a lot of them were able to take more control over their lives. Pimping out women became more difficult, because the legal market was cleaner, more ethical

Sex Work in Sweden

Then I moved to Sweden. Prostitution is illegal in Sweden and I was appalled by how the women had no security system at all. They couldn’t register, they couldn’t have open bank accounts, they had to do everything in secrecy. Human trafficking of women for sex work was and still is a huge thing in Sweden. Because there is no legal market, there is a huge black market, non-regulated. Women do not get put in jail for soliciting, but there are absolutely no opportunities for them to work out in the open. Instead, in Sweden, they build up a secret internet presence. Swedish women who decide to go into sex work in real life, don’t have any protection, no laws, no one who makes sure they are treated well.

That is when I started thinking. Not all prostitution is about drugs, or human trafficking. Some women, men and trans* people choose it because it gives them good money, or because they very much enjoy it. By making prostitution a taboo, some governments (and feminists!!) put those who choose sexwork and those that are forced into sexwork, in the same corner. But those are two totally different groups of people. A woman that got trafficked from Romania does not choose to become a sexworker, she is forced to sell her body. But that doesn’t mean that all women are forced into it, not all sexworkers are forced into sexwork against their will. Some people choose it of their own free will. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with it!

Ethical Choices

Fast forward, 2017. My partner at the time decided to go to visit a brothel in Prague. He told me about it much later. While I was first angry about him lying to me, I eventually got upset about something totally different. That he didn’t choose the brothel ethically. He did not google what the laws for sex work are in the Czech Republic, how predominant human trafficking is, he did not check anything else other than how cheap it was and if they had redheads. I found myself in a new space of mind: I didn’t mind anyone going to a prostitute or paying a sex worker (my judgment around that had passed), but I judged those that didn’t make ethical choices, especially when they have the financial means to do so, So yes, I got angry at my boyfriend because he most likely fucked a trafficked woman.

Now that I am a sexblogger, I have become aware of how huge the sex work market online is. I am amazed by it! I don’t see trafficked people, or people who are forced to do it. They are people who choose to be sex workers. I love that they openly make that choice. And I also see how hard they work. The concept of sex work has changed with the internet, and I love how that actually puts a lot of power in the hands of sex workers, They are their own bosses, they get the money. But it also made me realize how much mistreatment of sex workers is out there still, how they are called sluts, how they are being shamed for taking money, how men think they have the right to the sex workers’ bodies.

Sex Work is A-Okay!

I never judged anyone for selling their body for money. I never wanted to be a sex worker, but I didn’t shame anyone for being one. For a long time, I had the idea that everyone who is in sex work is forced by circumstance or through human trafficking to be in that line of work. Now I know better. Now I know that a lot of people choose to be in sex work because they enjoy it or because they like the financial aspect of it. I now openly support a legalization of sex work because it means protection and healthcare for sex workers. I know that human trafficking and sex work are still very closely linked in many countries of the world (I saw a documentary about human trafficking of teenage girls in India not too long ago that broke my heart), and that needs to addressed. So many lives ruined!

But most of all, I understand the idea of ethical choices when it comes to sex work. You are not an asshole for paying someone for sexual services, but you are an asshole if you knowingly pick those who are trafficked and forced into that line of work. I have huge respect for all the sex workers in the world. It is hard work, and the oppression because of stigma and entitled men must be infuriating!

September Song Project copyright

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31 Responses

  1. I have been fascinated by sex workers for a long time. One of my areas of study is of the soiled doves of the 1800’s in the United States. I think sex work should be legalized everywhere, just for the reasons you listed. Sex is not and should not be considered a bad thing, and if people can make money off of other forms of entertainment, why not sex, and in a safe and healthy environment?

    • It is really interesting that it is still one of the most stigmatized groups one can imagine: those that work under the sex work umbrella. It seems like not a lot of people are concerned about what they want, what they need, but the judgment always seems to take over. The moment someone speaks for you, or about you, is the moment your own voice gets muted. Makes me think of Spivak’s essay: “Can the Subaltern Speak?”.

  2. TJ says:

    Excellent post. I have always had the utmost respect and admiration for people in the sex trade. They provide a very valuable service to society and should have all the rights, privileges and security as any other worker. I think our societies are still influenced by religion and patriarchy… the root of most problems in our world. I do consider myself to be feminist, but a sex-positive intersectional one. I think there is nothing wrong (any more) with being promiscuous and loving sex and connections with people and even making a living with that, and if a woman (or anyone else for that matter) chooses the sex trade as her career, all the power to her. More openness and acceptance of sex and sexuality will bring the sex trade into the mainstream, and hopefully slow down, if not eliminate, sex trafficking. One can hope.

    • Thank you! I very much agree with you! People who are in sex work definitely contribute with something major to society, and instead of respect for the hard work that they do, they get judgment and get shamed. I think radical feminism has always in some way or another attacked heterosexual sex positivity, or what they think is mainly heterosexuality. Sex work includes all genders and sexualities. it is kind of of funny that radical feminism stands in the same corner as religious right-wring patriarchy.
      I also think, just like you, that more openness and acceptance will lead to sex trafficking to be eliminated eventually because people choose the ethical option.
      Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. Liz BlackX says:

    I remember seeing a prostitute in the streets of Amsterdam when I was ten years old. I was shocked and fascinated, coming from a sheltered upbringing. Why would a grown woman be on the street in her underwear?

    And now they’re busy wiping all prostitutes from the streets. Yes, I say wiping, because the politicians in my country feel like they’re cleaning things up and making things better for these women, while they’re not. They’re only forcing the sex workers to go back in the dark, working from home or dingy hotel rooms without any supervision and security. Prostitution has always existed, and will always exist, whether it’s out on the streets, or back in the dark. I wish they would make things safer for the men and women working in this trade, but instead they force them into illegality.

    Thanks for this piece.

    • I have read about how they want to change the prostitution laws in The Netherlands. It’s quite confusing to me, especially because it is supported by many feminists. Why would they want to take away right that are specifically tailored for women? Why would they want to deny women the possibility to do with their bodies what they want? It just makes no sense to me. I wished that radical feminism was more sex-positive, really.
      I agree with you, prostitution has always existed, so making it illegal is not going to make it go away, it is just going to make it more dangerous.

  4. Thanks for this piece. It’s a great evolution of perspectives on sex workers. This may sound a bit odd, but having spent several years as someone who got paid for her body, with plenty of sex involved, I never considered myself a sex worker. I had the luxury of being an escort while holding a job that supported me perfectly fine. What I did not have, was the luxury of time, or the freedom to be open about what I was doing. I would have been out of my job in no time, even though what I was engaging in was completely legal. And the very people who would have fired me are the ones who paid plenty of money to have sex with me. The legalization of sex workers is a two-sided edge. It does give more security and it does cut down on illegal trafficking. On the other hand, when Germany’s ‘sex worker protection law’ went into effect, I quit. From one day to the next, I went from a mature adult who had consensual relations, albeit in exchange for money, that may or may not have involved sex, to a registered sex worker. Despite promises of confidentiality, there was no way I could risk being a registered sex worker while trying to pursue my normal career. If anyone ever found out, even years later, it might must be the end of all my work to get ahead in life. So I quit. And my agency re-opened from a country where no registration was necessary. Here is my question: What the fuck is to special about sex that making money with it requires its own job title? Time is what’s really valuable, at least in all the male dominated professions (think of the way lawyers bill the shit out of their clients). My new friend told me a bit about the ballet world. You’re only as valuable as your body is. Gain a pound and you might just not ‘look right’. The audience pays to see their idealized version of a woman, dainty, graceful, submissive (why else the toe shoes), and entirely dependent on whether her looks please her pimp (aka Artistic Director). I’m waiting for the day when women, and I’m including everyone here who can identify with this fucked up system, can have any job they want without having to be categorized, cataloged, sanitized.

    Sorry, DS, I didn’t mean to go off on this topic for so long, but your post is just triggering a real melt down. I liked being an escort, I met great people (and a few not so great ones). Nobody forced me to spend time with people I didn’t want to spend time with. Nobody forced me to have sex. I miss that part of my life.

    • Thank you so much for your comment and describing your perspective, Francesca! I think it is interesting that people have defined the terminology for people who work with selling their bodies and time, without actually asking much of an input from those in the trade. It must have been so frustrating for you, and many others too, I assume.
      I like talking in umbrella terms, sex work might be an umbrella term and under it come a plethora of different professions: prostitutes, escorts, strippers, cam girls, models, porn actresses/actors and so on. It is not just one thing. So instead of putting everything under “prostitution”, things might need to be more specified.
      I can also see how the fear of judgment and being discovered must have made it more difficult for many, once they needed to register. An official register might seem safe but the right person with the right connections might have access to things they really shouldn’t have. I am sorry to hear that the law made things more difficult for you, instead of easier.
      Definitions and categorisations often come from a patriarchal and moral standground still, what is deemed as what is not something that those involved get a say in, but it is something that legislators, those in power, decide.
      Again, thank you so much for sharing your perspective, nothing is ever black and white!

  5. jupitergrant says:

    Fantastic article. Really thoughtful. Consent is the huge difference between sex-workers who work by choice and those who are trafficked. It’s frustrating that many people don’t see the distinction and just want to tar both with the same brush.

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