Managing basic human needs is a real concern in our line of work. When we’re strung out, overwhelmed, or isolated, we tend to do things we know aren’t good for us. We overeat or starve ourselves, act out or check out, overdo drugs and alcohol, or let down boundaries with clients. The irony is by trying to escape negativity in the moment, we set ourselves up for regret later on. Then it’s easy to feel ashamed for making bad choices, setting a destructive cycle in motion.
The twelve-step community knows all about these vulnerable states that can trigger addictive or destructive behaviors. They use the acronym “HALT + B” to describe hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness, plus “B” for boredom. I’ve already discussed anger, so let’s take a look at the others in turn, along with overusing drugs and alcohol.
I have low blood sugar, so hunger was always a huge issue for me—prostitution was especially depleting. Many times I worked lightheaded, desperate to get a client out the door so I could get something in my stomach. That starved state can be treacherous. After a difficult client or long shift, all we want to do is treat ourselves. Fried and sugary foods are fast, cheap, tasty, and tempting, but can leave us feeling disgusted with ourselves.
Then there’s the problem of overdoing it. For many clients, an evening out means Binge Night: fancy dinners, expensive bottles of wine, endless desserts. Heading back to the hotel room for a “nightcap” after one of these food orgies can be as daunting as working half-starved. And don’t get me started on the evils of flavored body oils, honey, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce—I don’t know whose brilliant idea it was to mix goo food and sex, but all you end up with is a disgusting mess not suited to either eating or screwing. Not helping matters, of course, is the pressure to maintain an ideal weight, which for many of us means the endless diet. Our bodies become a constant battlefield of need, excess, and deprivation.
The solution is simple, if not always easy: keep your body in balance. Always have healthy food on hand, and don’t keep sugary, salty snacks lying around. If you’re going out to eat with a client, negotiate a lighter, healthier meal. Frame it as not wanting to be “too full for fun” later. When you treat yourself with food, make a conscious ritual to leave the house to get it, and only buy enough to enjoy that day. Take time to taste that wonderful thing—this is primal pleasure—you deserve it. Slow down to savor it.
Loneliness and Boredom
When I was working, I used to sit all day at home alone, becoming something of a vampire. Sometimes I’d go for days without leaving my apartment except to run errands. I’d start feeling sad and unlovable, living for my phone to ring. Even though most of my friends were sex workers, because we all worked weird hours, it made it hard to socialize. I’d turn down invitations because I was afraid they’d develop into obligations. I guarded my free time so well, I didn’t want to do anything with it!
Long empty hours give us time to dwell on past slights. Ruminating feeds resentment and paranoia. Isolation compounds boredom, another trigger for bad decision-making. Plenty of times I went against my gut and saw a client I knew wasn’t right because I’d been alone too long. And let’s not forget how easily loneliness slides into depression. If you’re stuck sitting around for work to make rent, that’s sadder still. Burnout city.
Loneliness, isolation, and boredom are choices. We let them into our lives because we feel poor and undeserving, unable to afford connection, pleasure, and excitement. Of course, it’s important to be careful with our schedules, but we also have to make time for beauty, connection, art, learning, nature, and all the other good things life has to offer.
We can take steps to defend against loneliness. One former rent boy friend of mine is prone to depression, so when he starts isolating and is at risk of becoming an “evil troll,” in his words, he puts the call out on Facebook for some love. Ask your loved ones to call, text, or drop by—give them permission to pester you. It can be hard to remember when we’re feeling terrible that our sadness isn’t a burden. Our friends want to be there for us. Maybe we learned at an early age that our bad feelings were too threatening for the adults around us. Now that we’re grown, our work is to practice on a new set of grownups, ones who can be there for us when we’re down.
Money is another excuse for isolating. Especially during the years when I was digging out of six-figure debt, I believed I couldn’t afford to have fun. That’s ridiculous thinking—there are so many free and low-cost ways to rejuvenate. Here are some suggestions for free things to do in your time off:
- Volunteer for a cause you love.
- Attend support meetings.
- Take long walks and hike in nature.
- Visit the beach or the park.
- Ride your bike.
- Board your neighbor’s pet while they’re away.
- Housesit for a friend—turn it into a staycation.
- Make a date with your friends.
- Join a choir.
- Attend lectures and recitals. (If you live in a college town, these are often free or sliding scale.)
- Get politically active.
- Visit galleries and museums. (Most museums are free a few hours a week.)
- Search for clubs and social groups. Craigslist always has zany activities people want to do with total strangers. Meetup.com is another website with sliding scale and free events open to the public.
Here’s a starter list of some fun low-cost activities:
- Enroll in junior college classes. (They offer everything from art classes to second-career training, and you’ll get a student body card that gets you all kinds of discounts.)
- Try yoga, meditation, and tai chi classes.
- Check out cooking, sewing, and dance classes.
- Learn another language.
- Visit the zoo, the planetarium, the aquarium.
- Attend plays, concerts, and comedy clubs. (Search out half-price ticket venues in your town.)
- Go on a picnic.
- Camp out.
- Rent a car and drive someplace overnight or for the weekend.
- Learn new skills. There’s always something new to learn in sex work, especially BDSM. If you spot someone whose talents you admire, reach out to them. Ask if they’ll consult with you, or if you have a specialty, propose a skills trade. It keeps the job fresh, you meet potential buddies, and your clients will love you for it.
- Look for sexuality classes, a great place to meet like-minded folks. Or, if you’ve got a special skill to share, consider teaching a class yourself.
- Host a sex worker salon or support group. We have so much to learn from one another, and there’s no better way to build community.
Notice what so many of these activities include? Getting outside, moving our bodies, nourishing our minds, or all three, and most take place in community. As humans, we’re social creatures. Psychically, we need to rub on other people (even if our job is to actually rub on other people.) It’s healthy to get outside of ourselves—sex work gets insular fast. It’s too easy to forget there’s a whole other world out there.
And to all you digital natives, I know you think your real life is online, but the digital world starves three of our five senses. Flashing screens can fill our minds, but our bodies need fresh air, human contact, and full-bodied sensory exploration. At the risk of sounding like your mom, step away from the me-machine, get outside, and play!
Fatigue seems to be the universal state of modern life, what some call “the exhaustion epidemic.” We can’t be at our best when we’re tired all the time, so it’s important to get our rest. This doesn’t just mean getting enough sleep. We all need downtime, especially before bed. An hour before turning in, turn off all electronic devices and don’t check your phone or email. Unless it’s an emergency, the world can wait until morning.
Insomnia is a life-crusher, a thief of sanity. Researchers have discovered that not getting enough quality sleep is linked to all kinds of physical and mental health problems. If you find yourself awake and ruminating in the middle of the night, devote some daylight hours to addressing the problem. Don’t save problem solving for nighttime. If you aren’t able to sleep well for extended periods of time, talk to your doctor and/or therapist and get some relief.
Sometimes fatigue is a symptom of an underlying physical condition. If you’re struggling to keep your energy up, get to the doctor. You could be suffering from allergies, anemia, hypothyroidism, adrenal failure, or complications from perimenopause, among other things. Give your body every chance to be as healthy as it can be.
Additionally, never underestimate the power of the mind-body connection. Physical weariness can stem from mental exhaustion, lack of exercise, depression, or anxiety. More and more Western practitioners are recommending meditation and mindful breathing to counter the stresses of modern life. Studies have shown meditation actually slows the rate of cellular aging.
Sitting with ourselves, clearing out our minds, with a focus on breath, is both calming and energizing, beneficial to our bodies and our sense of well-being. It costs nothing, and, best of all, we can practice anytime, anywhere. Real World Mindfulness for Beginners: Navigate Daily Life One Practice at a Time, edited by Brenda Salgado, can get you started with simple mindfulness practice. It’s one of those wonderful books where you can open to any page and find something useful.
Drugs and Alcohol
Liquor is an occupational hazard of prostitution, and many strip clubs are soaked in it. If you are committed to sobriety, this can be a real challenge. Many clients can’t loosen up without it—they crave the permission drinking gives their bodies and brains, and will get upset if you don’t drink with them.
If you are clean and sober, advertise it loud and proud. It’ll do two great things for you: attract sober clients and keep the partiers away.
If you do drink, don’t work drunk, as tempting as it may be—it adds one more variable to an already complicated situation. You can lose track of time and awareness of your surroundings, and you’re more likely to make bad decisions. Clients know it’s easier to rip you off or push your boundaries. Promise yourself, “I will sip lightly.” Watch your drink being poured. Better yet, pour it yourself, and keep your eye on it at all times, because alcoholic drinks are prime vehicles for date rape drugs.
Speaking of drugs, lots of clients like to party. Fine with me—adults should be able to do what they want with their bodies. However, I rarely did drugs with my clients, preferring to work with a clear head. If drug use is a regular part of your work life, check out the Ask Ms. Harm Reduction column at titsandsass.com. She lays out best practices in plain English with no judgment. As her name implies, she’s not trying to talk anyone out of anything. SWOP-NYC Harm Reduction Coalition is another good resource (harmreduction.org/connect-locally/new-york/swop-nyc/).
~~~Too many of us engage in a kind of spiritual anorexia, as if starving ourselves of the fullness of life makes us better people. Or else we go overboard until we are drunk, stuffed, and disgusted with ourselves. You can strive to be the best you can be or you can let yourself down—the world will keep right on spinning either way. Why not make the most of this beautiful life?~~~