We are excited to continue our #sexworkstories series. Here is the second story in our installment written by Celine (written and edited by Celine).
The purpose of this series is to provide a forum for sex workers to tell their stories; stories that work against reductionist and often stigmatizing ideas about who sex workers are and why they work in the industry. If you are interested in telling your story in 800 words or less, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I want to share my experience in sex work in order to highlight some of the issues that face sex workers in Canada today. I cannot speak for all sex workers. In many ways, I am enormously privileged and therefore cannot relate to the experiences that many sex workers have had in the adult entertainment industry.
I am white, healthy, and come from a stable upper middle class family. My parents paid for the tuition for my entire university education, including graduate school. I do not have any children or dependents to support and I do not struggle with addiction. Based on my background, many people would be surprised to know that I sold sexual services as an escort for almost ten years. The stereotype is that all sex workers are utterly desperate, and only sell sex because they have no other options.
Clearly, I had many options. Still, I chose to start working in the sex industry when I was 19 and a full-time student in university. Because I was busy with my studies, I didn’t have much time available to work. I still needed to pay for rent, food, my cellphone, and various other necessities and luxuries. I didn’t want to take out student loans or borrow money from my parents to pay these bills. Doing sex work allowed me to make a significant amount of money in a short amount of time.
Because I only needed to work 3 or 4 days each month, I noticed my grades go from Bs to As almost immediately because I had so much more time to study. As well, I was never stressed out by paying for rent or food, so my mood improved dramatically too. I could go out to restaurants or get a bottle of wine or go to a music show without having to think twice.
Not having to ever worry about money was incredibly liberating and allowed me to excel in school. I probably wouldn’t have done well enough in my undergraduate program to get into grad school if I’d had to work in a mainstream job while going to school full-time. Most of my friends in university really struggled to stay on top of their jobs and their schooling. I felt lucky that I worked as an escort, because in addition to having time to focus on my studies, I also had lots of down time and time to spend with friends and family.
While the money and work flexibility were amazing, the greatest downside to selling sexual services was the judgment and stigma that I encountered. At first I felt relatively neutral about my job, and sometimes even proud of it, but then over time I became quite ashamed of it. I used to tell people openly that I was a student and an escort, but after receiving lot of negative feedback and being gossiped about, I started hiding the sex work part of my life.
I am a very honest person by nature and like to share openly with others. I feel that true connection happens when people share their experiences, and listen to the experiences of others. Because I couldn’t share, because I couldn’t really be myself, I started to feel very disconnected from other people. These feelings of being disconnected and isolated were very bad for my mental health, and they got worse over time.
Many times, I regretted entering the sex industry, even though there were so many upsides to the work. Even though I am quite well-off in the larger scheme of things, I feel that I can relate to other sex workers who experience judgement and shaming from society at large.
I know what it’s like to think of myself as “just a whore” and what it’s like to feel embarrassed about being a “prostitute.” I can only imagine that these feelings are even worse when a person is truly in the position of having limited options or even no other reasonable option than to sell sexual services.
I feel a lot of empathy and compassion for all the sex workers out there who are struggling with stigma. I strongly believe that Canada can do more to help, and that a good place to start would be to lobby the government to de-criminalize the sex industry in Canada.