“Despite aligning alongside progressive values, the editors at Grapeshot aren’t perfect and don’t always get it right. We made a mistake in writing an article for our upcoming issue using only a small portion of the words of an interviewed sex worker, and injected our own voices into the article. We acknowledge the importance of letting individuals within minority, marginalised and stigmatised groups sharing their experiences – and acknowledge that as allies we have a responsibility to share the words of these communities without injecting our own voices or talking over these individuals.
You can read the article in our latest issue, PASH, however with good conscience and consultation with the interviewee “La Whore” we decided to issue the original interview in full. I hope this article offers insight and understanding into sex work from the experiences of La Whore, and would like to offer our sincerest apologies for our oversight in the rush to get the magazine completed and ready for print.”
– James Booth (EIC Grapeshot Magazine)
[Content Warning: This article mentions sexual assault/violence]
What led you to work as a sex worker?
Almost everyone has thought about entering sex work. I know this because whenever I tell someone where I work (which I do often) they will reply with “I’ve always thought about entering the industry”. People are curious because it is mysterious, exciting, and seemingly quite easy money.
When I was 19 I was determined to know, understand, and form an opinion on everything related to feminism, including sex work, which is quite an often heavily debated topic in the field. I decided my opinion shall be formed through research and close social media following of SWERFS (sex worker exclusionary feminists) and actual sex workers, hoping that following both these alternative views would lead to me form my own position on the subject. My own opinion was formed by two events.
My own discovery of “decriminalisation” (the preferred model of sex work) and meeting that of an actual sex worker. Amidst the cohort of my Uni degree I became friends with a wonderful gal, who upon our first week of knowing each other, revealed to me that she is a full service sex worker. I found myself surprised that a sex worker could be funny, bubbly, popular and enjoy her job, my previous self expecting workers to be downtrodden and traumatised. I am still very close friends with this girl four years later.
Diving into the industry at 20 took fucking guts. I was adventurous and eager for that fast money. I had had sex with only one person before I had my first trial at a full service brothel.
I entered the industry for that “easy” cash, but also because I was in a revolutionary period of my life where I wanted to be bold and courageous, to live my life free of societal restrictions, so that I may become the coolest grandma in the nursing home (when I reached a ripe old age). In other words I decided I wanted to seize every opportunity I could and not merely fantasise about these forbidden fruit ideals, but gain the guts to fulfill them.
Can you unpack any stigmas surrounding your work?
There are so fucking many. Sex work isn’t work. We’re forced into the job. It is immoral. We’re merely trading our body like meat in the capitalist system. All clients are disgusting, misogynist pigs. That we’re reinforcing the patriarchy. All sex workers are riddled with STIs. That we’re “dirty”, that we’re uneducated.
Unpacking these negative stigmas is exhausting because it’s usually shaped around the idea that sex work is inherently dirty and immoral, and these ideas are always formed by people who have no experience in the industry.
Sex work is work. People often don’t recognise sex work as work because a lot of people expect sex and emotional labour from (mostly) women to be free, and don’t recognise the skills used in the job as actual “work” despite similar skills being used in other professions that are considered much more “legitimate”- such as using one’s body (just like an athlete, dancer, actor or masseuse may use their physical skills), and emotional and social skills (as a support worker, counsellor, or therapist).
People often enter the sex industry via their own free will. However, that is not to say that all people who enter the industry enter freely. Alas this is the reality of many industries, as slavery and human trafficking exists in many forms, with majority of victims being forced into labour.
Sex work is often the only industry that is held under this standard that if some people are being exploited for labour or slavery in some capacity in the world, then the entire industry is corrupt, those willingly in the industry are somehow perpetuating the exploitation of others, and the industry should be made illegal and shut down. Yet the same standard is not applied to other labour notorious for slavery- you wouldn’t grill a retail employee at Zara about the abuse of sweatshops and hold them personally responsible, so why apply this to sex workers? Sex workers are vital when it comes to the elimination of sex trafficking, because they are often the ones pushing for legislation that prevents the exploitation and abuse of people, increase of safety, communication and education of the industry. The clumping together of workers and those in slavery not only reduces the chance of helping the exploited but targets those who are working of their own free will, and in turn can fuck over both parties (SESTA FOSTA in the US for example).
Not all clients are misogynist pigs. Clientele varies so greatly because it is a reflection of the larger population, so the political views and perspectives also greatly vary from person to person. That also means some clientele are misogynist pigs, but once again that’s the reality of any industry and customer facing job, because living in a patriarchal society means that there are lots of people who are sexist. That brings me to my next point that sex workers are “reinforcing the patriarchy”. This is a huge topic with many points to cover, as the nuances of the industry are so great. In some instances the sex industry can uphold patriarchal ideas or standards, where other parts of the industry do not.
Sex work is one of the only industries where women make more money than men, it is flexible work where we pick our own hours, and it directly involves the redistribution of wealth since we’re literally the taking money directly out of the pockets of (often) rich, white men. This topic is one that has been explored by many sex workers and it is one that will continue to be discussed, critiqued and explored by those in the industry, rather than those with no understanding of the industry who’s main aim is to prove sex work as immoral and wrong.
Sex Workers are required to get tested for STIs every three months, are incredibly educated in regards to sex safety and different forms of contraception, and are very careful about their health because it directly affects their work and hence income. You’re statistically much more likely to pick up an STI from a non sex worker. Also, STIs are often as common as the common cold, and anyone can pick up an STI. Having an STI doesn’t make you dirty or disgusting, and the stigmatising of STIs is incredibly unhelpful and often perpetuates misinformation. Getting tested regularly, using protection with new partners, and having an educated understanding of STIs and how they’re transmitted is something everyone who has sex should aim to do.
Some workers are educated, have university degrees, Masters, PHDs. Some are not. Both are ok. A sex worker having a higher education doesn’t make her better than a sex worker without, and not having a higher education doesn’t mean you aren’t able to make informed decisions like “I want to be a sex worker”. Some people only “accept” sex workers if they’re studying and moving onto more “acceptable” professions. You should support and respect all sex workers equally, regardless of education.
I have covered only a fraction of the immense amount of stigma, stereotyping, and misinformation about the industry, that’s fuelled by whorephobia, and there is so much more to cover especially with intersecting forms of oppression like racism, transphobia, classism. I would strongly encourage one’s own continued research, with articles written by actual sex workers.
Have you experienced instances that reinforce stigmas regarding sex work?
Stigma and stereotypes about sex work exists largely to reinforce the idea that sex work is wrong. So if an instance occurs which reflects that stigma or stereotype, people use that as “proof” to justify their biased, pre determined statement. We need to be able to explore nuanced and varied experiences without the aim to prove sex work as wrong, and outside the constricting moulds of stigma and stereotype, which limit our understanding.
An example of a stigma/ stereotype is the idea that sex work is very dangerous, whether in regards to violence or assault. I have been assaulted at work, when a man rammed his finger up my ass without my consent. People will use this experience to tell me how dangerous the industry is, and hence how sex work is wrong. But sex work isn’t the reason why I was assaulted. The reason why I was assaulted was because the man felt entitled to my body and had disregard for my own autonomy, which arguably results from a patriarchal society telling men they’re entitled to women’s bodies. However, my assault doesn’t “reinforce stigmas regarding sex work” because I refuse to frame my story and assault around non sex workers false understandings of the industry, and because I don’t want my assault being used to “reinforce” and justify whorephobia.
Assault and harassment occur across all industries, and victims can feel the crushing weight of rape culture, blame and dismissal across all industries too.
However assault in sex work and assault in every other job are approached and discussed so differently. When it is discussed in non sex work industries it is seen as an issue with systemic sexism and rape culture. When it is discussed in regards to sex work, it is seen as a direct issue of the industry, and hence “proof” that sex work is wrong and why the industry should be shut down. This also often leads to police (ACAB) blaming sex workers for their own assault, and not taking issues like “stealthing” seriously. But to be fair police don’t take that seriously even if you’re not a sex worker. But being a sex worker makes it just that much fucking harder and means you face a lot more shit. We face so much more shit directly because of those whorephobic stigmas and stereotypes, which is why we really need to not frame our conversations about sex work around them.
We need to give sex work the nuance it deserves when discussing hard topics relating to the variety of experiences had and we need to let workers speak for themselves and drive that conversation, and not let it be driven by whorephobia, and the stigmas and stereotypes that come with that.
What do you wish people knew more about regarding sex work?
I wish people knew the importance of unlearning whorephobia, how dangerous it is to perpetuate misinformation about the industry, and how hate directed towards sex workers and the industry has very real and damaging impacts. I wish people knew that sex work isn’t inherently dirty, immoral or wrong. I wish people would treat sex work like work, treat sex workers with respect and upon finding out that someone is a worker not immediately demand that they tell you the details of your presumed traumatic workplace rape. I wish people would stop reading whorephobic crap written by people who have never been involved in the industry and know nothing about it and whose main goal is to prove that sex work is wrong. Instead start reading articles by sex workers, blogs by sex workers, social media owned by workers, zines, magazine articles, youtube videos, and anything that is straight from a person directly involved in the industry.
What’s the best part about your job?
I fucking love all the girls I work with, the friends I’ve made and the incredible community that supports, educates and fights for one another. I love that it is flexible and I pick my own hours and that it is instant cash in hand money. I love that some days I’m getting paid to sit in a spa and drink champagne, or to receive a massage or an orgasm. I love having interesting conversations with clients, and meeting people I may never otherwise interact with.
What do you think individuals could learn from sex workers in terms of communication and consent that could improve their experience of sex?
I hope most people already have an understanding of basic consent and communication when it comes to sex. The basics being discussing contraception, what someone enjoys, what someone doesn’t enjoy, getting verbal cues, enthusiastic consent, reading someone’s body language, discussing any kinks or fetishes and understanding how to do them safely and hygienically, and in general asking lots of questions, and asking permission before doing particular (and new) things. Just because someone consensually kisses you doesn’t mean they’ve given blanket consent for other activities.
If I could give advice to people about their sex life in general however, it would be that y’all need to get tested regularly. So few non sex workers get tested for STIs, especially men. Get tested. Also, men, please learn how to wipe your bottoms after doing a poo please. At least 50% of my clients, both young and old, leave skid marks on the nice white towels. Wipe your bottoms properly thankyou.