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Peter* recently graduated with a Master’s in social work from a UK University. He has also just finished working in the sex industry. We spoke to him about the stigma and realities of being a sex worker at university.
So tell me about your sex work: What exactly did you do and was it legal? What was a typical day like for you?
P: So, I was an escort for three years. For me, this was like being paid to date people, to take them to gatherings, go to concerts and dinners with them. I got paid for romantic affection and company. You might know this as “Sugar Daddying.”
Before we carry on, I’d like to say that what I did was all completely legal; I’ve never done any sex work on the wrong side of the law. I think there’s this assumption that the law prohibits most, if not all sex work in the UK. That is not the case, as all sex work is actually within the law as long as you are not soliciting on the streets. Additionally, It’s when someone else forces sex workers to give any portion of their earnings – an employer or a pimp in this case – is where it’s illegal. Things like escorting, camming, even being paid for sex in your house is legal.
A typical day for me was meeting with a client – usually an older man – in a public place and going to a hotel, restaurant, whatever. I ask them how their day is, and I will be whatever they want me to be, and they can be themselves around me. Sometimes I sing to them, or we sit on a bed and chill. It’s a real mixed bag.
The most common question asked was: “Why sex work?”
I mean, it seemed like the most obvious thing for me to do at the time, both financially and career-wise. I want to go into social work, and emotional labour is a massive part of escorting. I was getting paid to sell my company and my time, but with more freedom and flexibility than traditional care work. And more money, of course. Nobody ever pushed or forced me into sex work; it happened to fit in with the type of work I want to do in the future as well as paying for my Master’s.
What is the biggest challenge of working in the sex industry?
It is definitely the stigma. My housemates in my third year found out when I left my work phone in the kitchen. I could hear them talking about me when they thought I wasn’t home. One of them spread a rumour that I was working in a brothel, and that I was doing it for drugs. They all started avoiding me after that. I remember sobbing in my room because the people that had been my friends for years disappeared from my life. It was like I didn’t exist. Nothing had changed – I’d already been doing sex work before we were friends. What difference did it make?
Did any of your friends or family know about your work? Why/Why not?
Except for my housemates’ accidental discovery, I’ve only ever told my girlfriend. And she’s never once criticised me or judged me for what I did. In fact, she’s in the room right now, do you want to ask her anything?
Peter brings Cassie* onto the phone. They have been dating for four years, and she has never done sex work.
Just two questions for you Cassie: How did you feel when Peter told you he was doing sex work? How soon did you find out?
C: I’ve been here from the very beginning. Hell, I was even there when he was signing up to all these “Sugar” websites! To me, sex work is just like any other job, so I’ve never had an issue with it. At the start, I was worried about his safety, or if someone would push him into anything, but he’s been alright. He always lets me know where he is and when he’s going to be back, and his wellbeing is the only thing that matters to me.
Speaking of safety, how do you keep yourself safe while working?
P: Cassie is my “person”, so to speak. I tell her all of the details, so she’ll know if something’s wrong. I don’t tell her the client’s personal information, just what I expect to be doing, and when she should call the police. Luckily it’s never come to that, but there have been some close calls.
Now, this is something I probably shouldn’t admit, but I did use to carry a knife when I was working. Especially when I first did escorting. People could be intimidating, and it’s like they could smell your lack of confidence. Many people, both men and women, tried to rip me off and coerce me into having sex with them. Or they’d try stuff like “What would your girlfriend say about you escorting a man?”
C: Oh, those were the best. I wanted to call them and say “Dude, you’re paying our bills, I don’t care. But I respect the privacy of your clients, even if they’re a bit skeezy sometimes.”
Peter laughs. “So yeah, have someone who won’t judge you, and let them know what’s up, what exactly you intend to be doing. That’s the primary way of keeping yourself safe. And don’t be afraid to call clients out on problematic behaviour. They’re paying for you, not to abuse you. You’re still a human being, and you have rights.
I also recommend using a burner phone, or phone for sex work only: don’t mix the professional with the personal. While sex work isn’t as unsafe as people think, like all work, it comes with risks. I’m aware that as a cisgender man, there is significantly less risk for me.
Even though this doesn’t apply for me: if you’re planning to do sexual contact, then always demand a condom or dental dam. If they refuse, refuse your service. That’s a huge red flag, and no amount of money is worth your health. “
Has this changed the way you see sex and consent?
P: As a closeted bisexual, all of my romantic interaction with men has been through clients. When you’re young, I think it’s easy to confuse the sexual with the romantic or assume this is what genuine romance is. But being with Cassie, I’ve always known the difference. I perform for my clients; I don’t for her. I know it’s hard to maintain that distinction, but for me, it does not bleed into my personal life. Doing sex work has made me so much more aware of consent and that paying for sex doesn’t mean you’re entitled to it. Again, sex workers are still human; money doesn’t somehow make consent optional.
Do you know any other sex workers? Do you have an agency?
P: I know nobody in my line of work. Escorting is a mostly individual affair, and while it can be isolating, I prefer it this way. I think you’ll find a lot of sex workers operate alone, with maybe a couple of people they also know. Of course, I’m only speaking from my own experience.
As for agencies, it’s very much the same. When I signed up on escort websites, to try and avoid any legal grey areas they demand you do not book or establish appointments through their site. Instead, you use mobile messaging apps to establish contact with clients and get work, although this can lead to a lot of dick pics.
C: I like to peek at them and have a proper giggle.
What would you like people to know about the sex industry?
P: Media coverage of sex work is very polarised: it either shows sex workers as abused women who are addicts and “dirty” or romanticises sex work. Neither of these angles tells the truth. Sex workers aren’t dirty, and it’s hardly ever about drugs either. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing sex work, and I wish there were less toxicity around it. These views make the job more dangerous, especially for women and transgender people.
C: Doing sex work doesn’t make you a “slut” either; it shouldn’t be degrading. It is just work.
P: Exactly! No matter what work we do, we sell our bodies, our hands, our minds. I sell mine differently – and at a higher price.
Finally, do you have any regrets about being a sex worker?
P: None at all: sex work has let me become a more understanding and compassionate person, and I wouldn’t change that for anything.
Weirdly, I wish more people in power and who do social/care work knew what sex work is like because then everyone would be far less judgemental.
Peter hopes to use his time in the sex industry to aid his career as a social worker. He is also involved with SWARM, a collective that advocates for the rights of sex workers.
*All names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.