23 Things I Wish I'd Known: #23: Sex Workers Need Love, Too!
At age 22, I started stripping. For the next fifteen years I worked off and on as a dominatrix, porn actress, and escort.
Now I’m 49.
Here are 23 things I know now that I wished I’d known then:
#23: You NEED and DESERVE all the love in the world.
I’ve said many times before that I was a very lucky sex worker: I chose the work, I often enjoyed it, I made a lot of money. I had a support network—not a large one—but a few close sex worker friends to support me through the inevitable ups and downs of the job.
But the one thing I can say I did not have when I was working was enough love. Or maybe it would be better to say I didn’t have the ability to live in love. It was like a medical condition where you’re getting plenty of Vitamin C in your diet, but your body can’t absorb it, so your teeth fall out due to scurvy. I would characterize that time, even in the midst of all my relative good fortune, as feeling starved for love.
It manifested in all kinds of ways. The most obvious was my grinding insecurity. I didn’t feel attractive—I certainly didn't feel attractive enough for people to want to have sex with me! Which, if you think about it, is a kind of anorexia—looking in the mirror, hating what I saw, and still putting myself out there anyway.
It also meant I placed waaaaaaaaay too much importance on what other people thought of me, especially clients and other sex workers. I was supremely thin-skinned, always sensitive to every slight or perceived insult. I suffered from that sickening headspace where I believed every negative thing anyone ever said about me—and much worse—but couldn’t take a compliment.
And finally, I believed the friendships and romantic relationships in my life were fragile, dependent on me being “good” enough. By this I mean never needing other people for anything. I found it very difficult to trust that my friends would help me when I was in trouble, or that my lovers would stay with me if I didn’t put up a front that my life was 100% put together. I found it very hard to be vulnerable, to admit when I was struggling, and to ask for the support and affirmation I so desperately craved.
Looking back, what’s so clear to me now is that all of that pain stemmed not from what my friends and clients did or didn’t do. I suffered from extreme low self-esteem—I didn’t love myself enough. Sex work complicated the emotional equation—on the one hand, I knew myself to be part of a stigmatized and marginalized group, which perhaps I might have been ashamed of, but secretly made me proud as fuck. And, of course, perfect strangers paid me hundreds of dollars an hour to spend time with them, which, while anxiety-producing, was a genuine boost to my ego.
At the root of all this, what I can see now is I both suffered from my own emotional baggage, while carrying the freight of significant whorephobia in our culture. I internalized the message that I was unworthy because I was a sex worker. At the same time, I let the dynamics of sex work shape my sense of myself, often in unhealthy ways.
I do not want that fate for you, Sexy Worker. If you struggle with these feelings, promise me you’ll take steps to confront them and root them out of your life. That headspace gains you nothing. It doesn’t make you a better person, it isn’t your karma, it does nothing to make the world a better place. Sex workers are complete and full and flawed human beings, every bit as worthy of love as the rest of humanity.
I’m going to write these words, and I want you to take them in. Say them out loud to yourself every day, and get someone else to say them for you when you need it. Live your life with the knowledge that they are true for you: Your life is utterly, supremely precious. There is plenty of love in the world, even for you. You do not have to change or hide or confess or atone to have love. You are thoroughly completely loveable, just as you are. Plenty of people love you precisely as you are. You are marvelous, and you are enough.
This topic is a real passion for me-- I talk extensively about cultivating self-love and self-care in Thriving in Sex Work: Heartfelt Advice for Staying Sane in the Sex Industry, now available in paperback and ebook format!
Until next time, be sweet to yourself.
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