Sex, love, and intimacy off the clock.

09Feb09

Sadie Lune has an interesting blog about what she calls unpaid relationships.  I like the designation of unpaid. It validates the idea that relationships exist within sex work, like the idea that unpaid work (“housework”) is still work. It also sounds rather clinical to me. I’d hate to refer to the great love of my life as the “unpaid relationship”. Then again, I hate the term “partner”. (That’s another post.)

This is the dirt under the rug sex workers don’t talk about. We have romantic relationships. And we have them with people in the business and out of the business. It’s a difficult, sensitive topic. Sometimes we’ll talk about the client who wants to be the boyfriend. But we don’t really talk about our romantic involvements.

My evolution as a sex worker has been a sordid, glorious affair. Between relationships, I’m kind of a slut. And I use that term lovingly. Hell, I’m a total slut at times. Even in relationships, I tend toward polyamory.

In the beginning, I dated a string of people I really shouldn’t and hung on to them for longer. Having been rejected by an ex-boyfriend for being a whore, and being relatively young, I thought that anyone who would want to be with me had to be pretty great.

Not so much. That kind of attitude sets a girl up for emotionally abusive, manipulative losers. So I swung completely around and decided that anyone who had a problem with me being a whore wasn’t the one for me. This almost cost me the kind of love they write epic poems about and you’re lucky if you get once in your lifetime.

There is strength and truth in the conviction that anyone who disrepects you for being a whore does not at all deserve you. This is different than someone who cares for you enough to question if your current line of work is the most emotionally healthy. (There is a difference between someone who outright disrespects me for being a sex worker and someone who believes I would be happier in another avenue of sex work.)

There is also the issue of risk. When single, the only person at risk is yourself. Or your informed unpaid trysts. However, once in a relationship, there’s another person to consider. It’s difficult to ask someone you love to deal with the sexual risk and the physical risk. While sex workers who “have sex” with clients tend to have similar or lower rates of sexually transmitted disease than the general population (Nevada brothels, as an example), it would be totally naive to pretend like this means there will never be risk, or that diseases such as herpes which have no vaccine and are spread by skin-to-skin contact don’t exist. If your loved one is willing to accept this, or if you do not “have sex” with your clients, you still ask this person to share your life of constant threat. Stigma, possible arrest (if what you do is illegal), violence from clients.

I would love to fly my whore flag high and strut as though everyone should accept everything about sex work, but relationships are much more nuanced. Accepting the unconditional love of another person does not preclude accepting that person’s concern about your safety.

Romantic relationships as a sex worker are far more challenging than for others in a lot of ways. For me, it is cyclical. I want to be with someone who is proud of what I do, and I want to do things that make the person I love proud of me. I may be a hopeless romantic, a true sap, but I don’t care. Finding that kind of love is priceless.

This is not to say that when you fall in love, everything is magically taken care of. When you fall in love, the economic and other conditions leading to you being in sex work to begin with won’t change. But any relationship worth having will negotiate this.

If you are the unpaid relationship, lover, tryst, boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse, partner of a sex worker, how do you negotiate it? If you are a sex worker, how do you negotiate these relationships?

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One Response to “Sex, love, and intimacy off the clock.”


  1. 1 Being Amber Rhea » Blog Archive » links for 2009-02-12

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