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Dispatch from a Dominatrix: How to be a Better Partner to Sex Workers

WorkerFor those of us in the ‘adult’ industry, dating can be a challenge. Many partners struggle with the type of work that we do, and encounter feelings of jealousy or mistrust. So, in an effort to help folks be more supportive to their lovers and partners, I’d like to share a few insights and suggestions from me and a few other ladies of the night.

For those of you not involved in the world of commodified pleasure, when I refer to sex workers, I am describing anyone who is engaged in the adult/sex industry. This includes dancers, dominatrices, escorts, webcam artists, erotic masseurs, phone sex operators and adult film actors. You’ll find that all of these folks are regular people with personal lives, families, friends and to-do lists full of the same mundane tasks that befall us all.

The difference for sex workers is that when we decide to date or seek a new partner, many of us find ourselves having to justify or defend our profession, which is not typical for folks engaged in other types of labor. We also frequently encounter interpersonal reflections of broader societal views regarding sex work and sex workers, which are not positive.

In our culture, sex work is seen as subversive and exploitative, certainly not as a legitimate exchange of a service for compensation. Sex workers are stigmatized and discriminated against, which results in many folks feeling isolated and shameful about their work. It can be difficult and even dangerous for sex workers to be honest with people about what they do. Despite all of this, many sex workers are thriving, organizing and even dating! So if you find yourself falling for a working girl, please consider the following recommendations.

First, an essential element in being a supportive lover or partner is to recognize that sex work is legitimate employment. Sex work is a job your partner does, it’s not an affair and it’s not infidelity. Please understand that engaging in sex work does not indicate anything about an individual’s feelings for you.  It is also important to realize that the relationships individuals have with their clients are most likely very different from the relationships that they are seeking to have with a partner.

worker2Before you become serious with a sex worker, you should take a hard look at your values and biases related to sex work. Have an honest conversation with yourself to determine how you feel about the work your lover does, and determine whether those values are genuinely yours or if you have unconsciously internalized the views of a sexist, sex-negative culture.  Be compassionate with yourself and your partner, but honestly evaluate whether or not you feel that you can manage a relationship with a sex worker.

Once you’ve checked in with yourself, communicate! As in any relationship, honest and loving communication is necessary for sustainability. There are bound to be issues that come up related to your lover’s work; discuss them with your partner in a non-judgmental, non-shaming way rather than harboring resentments that surface as passive aggression or an eventual blow-up. Work on being comfortable talking about sex work. In the same way that you might need to vent about a co-worker or client, your lover might want to dish about the slave she dressed in lingerie and carried around her studio. Whatever the case, it’s critical to create a safe environment for your partner to discuss her experiences.

Establishing your own set of guidelines can also be helpful. One sex worker shared this insight: “I’ve found that deciding ahead of time with your partner how much they want to know about what you are doing is important. In my more significant relationships as a sex worker I would ask my partner if they wanted to hear about it or not and then only talk about things they were comfortable talking about.” Creating boundaries like this can help partners feel more comfortable and avoid conflict in the future.

It is important to understand that being the partner of a sex worker is difficult; you have to manage concealing information from friends or being judged for the work your partner does. You also have to accept your partner being in intimate situations with other people. A friend shared this thought, “It is okay to not be 100% happy that you fell in love with a sex worker, but it is important to talk about the issues you have with your partner’s work and allow her to support you in dealing with them.”

As a supportive partner, you should educate yourself about sex work and be an ally! Dive into essays and stories by and about sex workers. Ask your partner respectful questions about her experiences. Try to gain an understanding about what the work is like for your lover, and the challenges and successes they encounter. It can be extremely meaningful to have a lover express solidarity and take an interest in one’s work.

Finally, it can be useful to talk to someone about your feelings, so you might want to consider couples or individual counseling to access support in exploring and processing the challenges you experience. For a list of therapists who are sex and sex worker-positive, check out http://redlightchicago.wordpress.com/a-therapist/.

About the Guest Blogger
CassandraCassandra is a radical social worker, grassroots activist, and performer. She works with LGBTQ and court-involved youth as a clinician and advocate, and is an Executive Board member for the Sex Worker’s Outreach Project. Her primary areas of professional interest are LGBTQ health, reproductive justice, anti-oppressive sexuality education, sex worker’s rights and youth development. Cassandra earned her Master of Social Work from Jane Addams College at UIC.  Cassandra has an affinity for adventuring, and has lived in five countries and been lost in many more. She hosts a queer feminist book club in her home, and is a member of a fabulous dyke choir (or quoir). She is interested in creating intergenerational queer spaces, and in facilitating  discussions that challenge popular discourse related to sexuality, gender, class and race.

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