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When I was younger, I always wanted to be a sex worker.
Sounds weird, right? Not your standard dream career. But somehow, I always knew this was the path for me.
As a little girl, kiss-chasey was my favourite game. I was a grubby little tom-boy; I hated dresses and wore mostly tracksuits. I loved playing in the dirt, and got in trouble for flinging slime from the creek at my sister, who as a child was far more ladylike than me. Some might suggest these behaviours would be characteristic of a girl who might see herself as ‘one of the boys,’ and to some extent this was true, but I always felt like a girl, just not an overly feminine one.
Obviously, as a little girl, I didn’t know the details of what men and women did together, but I knew they did something and this ‘something’ fascinated me. Of course, none of the boys wanted to get caught, but I didn’t care, I still loved it — chasing them around the schoolyard. As a child, this playful energy filled my being. And I was fascinated with what happened between boys and girls.
I wasn’t exposed to anything overtly sexual as a child. If anything, sexuality was hugely taboo in my family. I never got a birds-and-the-bees talk, just a comment from my father that I should ‘stay pure’ until after my 18th birthday. But deep inside me, this curiosity remained. The idea of being a sex worker wasn’t conscious yet, but the curiosity was.
As an older child, I was forever trying to convince boys in primary school to be my boyfriends. The playground wedding scene was a weekly ritual that I loved being a part of. I still didn’t know what it was the husbands did with their wives, really. But it was an interaction that I wanted in my life. Perhaps I was lonely? Too much of a tomboy for other girls but not enough of a tomboy to really fit in with the boys. Close friends were elusive to me as a child. Maybe I just wanted a best friend? A partner in crime?
The first time I kissed a boyfriend, I was ten. It was a kiss on the cheek, no crazy tongue dancing at that age, but I wanted something. I wanted to explore. I wanted to experience this magic thing that went on between men and women that I saw in movies and posters and read about in books. We hold love in such high esteem in our society and I wanted a piece of that.
Fast forward to high school, and something weird happened. All those boys who didn’t really want to get caught in kiss chasey, who took so much convincing to be my boyfriends in the playground – all of a sudden it was the other way around. They were chasing me.
Of course, many negative things came with this. The constant pressure to consent to things I might not have wanted, with boys I might not have wanted it with, was a prominent feature of my teenage years. But despite this, I found an immense amount of joy in my newfound power. I loved the way they chased me. I loved dancing just out of reach, waiting to see how much effort they would go to, how far my powers extended. I loved watching their reactions when I gave in, the type of joy I could bring them. That playfulness came out in a new way.
And then there was something else, something deeper, that I found. Many of my boyfriends in high school seemed to be quite sad. Depression, schizophrenia, bipolar were common in the men I found myself with. And I saw the healing and peace I was able to bring to them. It was incredibly rewarding. It was also extremely taxing on me, as a teenager, to be dealing with intense mental health issues in those around me, but I found satisfaction in it too. Before all of these interactions, I had started developing an interest in psychology and these experiences fed that curiosity too.
At some point, I became really interested in being a sex worker. Kate Holden’s In My Skin was the first of many books I read about sex work, and the concepts within these stories captivated me. Sharing something so intimate with strangers, and the challenges and rewards involved. At the time, most of the sex I was having was with strangers and it didn’t involve much pleasure for me – fun yes, but sexual pleasure was something I didn’t really manage to share with men until my early twenties. So this idea of doing something I was already doing, but alongside other women who did the same thing, and getting paid for it – seemed appealing. But I put that dream down because, on some level, I also couldn’t imagine having sex with multiple men per night; full-service work seemed too intimidating. I entertained the thought, but never truly believed I could do it.
And of course, I was raised in a household that was both religious and middle class, so this was obviously not an option I could entertain. I had to get good grades, go to university, and marry a doctor or a lawyer. That was the path laid out for me and I never resented it, regardless of the other dreams in the back of my mind. So I went to post-secondary to study psychology, met a smart boy studying biomedical engineering, and started planning a life that I never consciously chose, but never felt opposed to either. Somewhere along the way, things went astray. The smart boy and I went our separate ways. Getting a job post-degree was harder than my family made it out to be. I was told that, so long as I had a degree, someone would give me a good job. But it wasn’t so, and at some point, I got sick of working really long hours in hospitality for an amount of money that didn’t leave me any financial freedom to travel or to pursue my dream of dancing semi-professionally. I had to go back to university for a post-grad anyway and I wanted to do something different.
And then, an opportunity presented itself. For those unaware, the sex industry has many options and roles besides full-service, some with more touching and some with less. The erotic massage section of this industry is one that seems to have grown enormously in the last few years in Australia. Erotic massage allowed me an opportunity to explore sharing sexuality in a way that didn’t push my boundaries and felt right to me.
And here, I found a part of myself I never thought I would get to explore. In the room, I finally got to play with this sexual energy that comes so naturally to me, and I got to be paid for it. People told me I was exceptional at what I did – perhaps that’s just the nature of the work and this post-orgasm bliss bubble people would leave in. But that doesn’t mean it feels any less good, to find so much satisfaction in your work. To feel good at what you do. The type of slow sensuality appropriate for erotic massage came as naturally to me as breathing. And it felt like home. After reading so much about the industry for so long, finally stepping into it satisfied my endless curiosity to experience this on an embodied level.
Being a sex worker is also about more than sensuality and physical intimacy; the women and men in this industry provide comfort, companionship, and emotional support to many people. Stigma associated with therapy and beliefs associated with toxic masculinity may contribute to men seeking this support with sex workers, which is a discussion on its own. But for me, providing this emotional support was another element of the work that felt so right to me. My studies in psychology, passion for empathy, and dream of one day being a therapist meant I leapt at the opportunity to conduct a supportive relationship that is one-sided.
Somewhere deep inside me, I always wanted this. There are stereotypes of sex workers as exploited victims coerced into work, but those stereotypes certainly don’t apply to me. I am living a dream I never thought I would be able to follow. In this way, I guess I fit the ‘empowered woman’ sex worker stereotype that is becoming equally prevalent in the discourse around this industry.
However, in writing this piece I also want to acknowledge that these opposing perspectives can be limiting and lacking in nuance. The hashtag ‘sex work is work’ has become popular for a number of reasons, one of these being that it is, for many, just another job. There are many people in many industries who love their jobs and many who hate them, and at times it seems people expect the sex industry to be different in some way. That if you don’t love it you shouldn’t do it, or that even if you do love it you might still be a victim of some sort. I have passion for the sex worker industry but it’s still a job for me, there are good days and bad days; days when I can’t wait to put my heels on and days when I dread it.
Every industry has unique characteristics but also shares others and I think its important to acknowledge that the sex industry is a valid occupation and a valid industry, despite the ways it is stigmatised by public opinion and legislation.