Relationships are hard enough when it’s just long-distance, negotiating monogamy or meeting the parents, but what if part of your job is sleeping with someone else? We’ve all grown up putting sex on a pedestal – no sex before marriage, you only do it with someone special – and for sex workers these ideas sex can make relationships that bit more problematic.
“I don’t cum at work,” says Christian, telling me that it’s one of the lines, or distinctions, he makes between sex for work and sex for pleasure. He laughs hard as I chat to him and his boyfriend, Douglas, over loudspeaker from Melbourne, “Sorry to go into gratuitous detail!” I tell him it’s fine and that it’s all a little intriguing. Christian says lots of people feel the same way.
“I’d never dated any sex-workers before,” says Douglas “and wasn’t intentionally looking to date a sex-worker. I guess some people might be into that, perhaps Christian could answer that better than me?” Christian jumps in, “there are some serial whore daters. It’s not very common, but it’s not unheard of.”
The two seem very comfortable about the whole affair, or relationship – they’ve been together about a year now and although Christian’s been on a break from whoring, he says it was a co-incidence that he met Douglas, and that their relationship wasn’t the reason for his extended break from work. “It was always meant to be a temporary hiatus. But Douglas has been very distracting and I haven’t gotten back to the original plan,” Christian laughs cheekily.
And Christian would have to be comfortable with what he does, as male spokesperson for Scarlet Alliance, the Australian Sex Workers Association, he’s openly advocating for ‘equality, social, legal, political, cultural and economic justice’ for Australian sex workers. “I’ve been a sex worker for 16 years,” says the 26-year-old, “my experience kind of spans street based sex work which is illegal here in Victoria, to doing escort work with an agency, and then on to private work.” I must admit, Douglas and Christian do seem pretty solid. Our conversation is interspersed with lots of laughter, and while I’m a few thousand kilometres away, and as corny as it may sound here, I can almost hear the two guys looking into each other’s eyes as they share their story with me.
“I didn’t even have any questions [when we started seeing each other],” says Douglas. “ I just accepted that that’s what he does, big deal. I like Christian and now love Christian. It wasn’t an issue either way. I wasn’t even intrigued. Questions have slowly come up over the course of the year but it’s not in anyway a problem to me, nor will be.”
We’re all familiar with stories of sex workers having to hide their work from partners, or prospective ones, but Dr John Scott from the University of New England’s School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Science, says this kind of taboo is slowly fading.
“Again, it comes back to sexuality and sex being less taboo. Sex is less and less linked to notions of romance, love and marriage and more with pleasure… Sex workers are getting clients who see it as a marketplace relationship, there’s little to no emotion involved.” Scott says not telling your partner is a lot less common these days. “Often their partners will be aware and it’s also a lot harder to keep it a secret.” Scott says the internet and how sex workers use it to advertise their business has meant that being ‘discovered’ is more likely, and coupled with a relaxation of society’s perspective on sex means there’s a lot more openness about what sex workers do.
Change may be in the air, but Christian agrees that he and Douglas can’t speak for all sex workers. “I’m extremely lucky, in that I’m able to be open and upfront about my job with people,” says Christian. “I’m supported enough, I have developed myself enough to be that upfront and honest. Having said that, I know that’s not the case for the majority of sex workers. There’s a lot of social stigma and prejudice that does keep people in the sex-worker closet.”
Christian also says that being open about what he does is partly linked to being gay, “for us, it’s a process of coming out twice, if you’re a gay sex worker. Look, the majority of the time, yes [the gay community is cool with sex workers]. For me, I’ve been able to put it out straight away. When people ask what I do… It’s a good gauge whether if you’re able to get along with somebody.”
Lucinda is in her 30s, but her work profile says she’s in her late 20s, “no-one’s their real age, honey.” She’s in a relationship that she calls a ‘marriage’, but the pre-operative male to female transsexual has never told her husband about the work that she does. “I used to tell them, but I learnt the hard way that that never works. I come to work and earn my money, it’s just easier this way.”
Unlike Lucinda, Mish, a young guy living in Sydney tells all his partners what he does. “I tell them I’m a student, I’m in retail and I’m a sex-worker,” the suave young man says matter of factly. Although, he does admit that if someone did have a problem with his more risqué job, he thinks they would find some other excuse to end the conversation. “I don’t think anyone’s rejected me on that basis,” says Mish.
“There are times when I’ve been conscious of not telling people. But as much as possible, I try not be. I’ll have to tell them some point down the line.” Mish also says that more of a problem than rejection is some of his friends over-compensating for the social and cultural stigma around the sex industry. “Some friends are overly interested and tend to glamorize the sex industry. There’s an ingrained social stigma about it, so they go over the top. But, it’s good they ask questions. It removes the stigma.”
So stigma around the sex-industry may remain, but it seems attitudes are changing. “It’s still stigmatised in many spheres , but once upon a time, a client of a sex worker was seen as weird or kinky,” says Dr John Scott, “it’s easy enough to get a partner, they used to say, why would you pay for it? But we now know there’s a variety of reasons people use sex-workers – including no-strings fun.”
And if sex workers consider their work to be just that – work – what happens if they’ve had a hard day at the office and their partner’s in the mood for love? “I usually triple the fee if the client wants me to cum at work. So it either puts it off the table, or I get a lot of money for it – and that makes up for it,” Christian tells me frankly.
Using the example of a shop assistant, Christian explains that his work sex and personal sex are worlds apart.
“There’s a customer, shop relationship. The way a shop assistant relates to their friends will always be different for the way they relate to their customers, and it’s exactly the same with sex workers. The way I relate to my client is different to the way I relate to my boyfriend. Sometimes we’re working against ideologies and paradigms that we’ve had to grow up with, around fidelity and what it means to be in a monogamous relationship. So we’ve had to be secure in our own relationship and challenge all of those things that have been put on to us previously, to make sure our relationship works. And it does.”