Sex Worker Rights are Human Rights: Interview with a Sex Worker

Originally published at flurtmag.com

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Image: Flurtmag.com

Sofia (not her real name) is a twenty-two year old Body Rub Practitioner located in Canada. She’s a single mother and university student. I hope that by sharing her story we can move towards eliminating some of the misconceptions we have about the sex industry.

Erin: What led you into sex work?

Sofia: Money. December’s rent was coming up fast. With my student loan application rejected I was desperate. I was venting to a friend and she confided that she is a sex worker. [She] asked if I’d like to go out of town with her to try it out. We went to a small place on the outskirts of Edmonton (the goal being to advertise illegal hotel escorting without the threat of police busts). I made $1500 in one night seeing five clients. That’s money for rent, some groceries, as well as the night’s babysitter – and all it cost me was a few hours of my time. My friend praised me for doing so well and offered me a position at the body rub studio she works at. I’d just have to purchase the Body Rub Practitioner license from the city. After previously having resume after resume rejected, I didn’t feel I was in a place to reject such ‘easy money.’

E: Can you elaborate on the term, ‘Body Rub Practitioner?’

S: ‘Body Rub Practitioner’ is the legal title that we’re licensed under; the studios are called body rub studios. It’s the city’s way to keep track of sex workers while still claiming they don’t know what goes on in the rooms. When the police come in, which they do once a month at least to check on us, no one specifically says “we have sex for money.” We sell our time, technically.

E: What were your first impressions of sex work?

S: My first impression was mostly trying to memorize all of the acronyms, different rules and faux pas in the sex industry. It’s an intricate underbelly and I wasn’t prepared for the level of structure. The work itself was scary and emotionally draining, particularly in the beginning, but [it] also gave me a huge confidence boost.

E: What are some of the acronyms, rules and faux pas of the sex industry?

S: My least favorite is BBBJ (Bareback Blowjob) because skeevy dudes always ask for it and STIs can be spread through oral contact so (most of us) use condoms. It’s a faux pas to offer BBBJs or BFS (bare full service) because it ruins clients; when they get it once they wont pay full price for protected service, and girls that value their health will flat out refuse any bare service and lose money.

E: What are some of the precautions taken to prevent STIs and pregnancy?

S: Most of the girls are on birth control or, like me and my close friends in the industry, have IUDs. That, combined with condoms and barrier creams, we do the best we can. If someone has a visible STI, we often refuse service or talk them down to a hand job.

E: What was your first day like?

S: My first day was nerve-wracking. I was dressed in lingerie that still had the tags attached and [was] so nervous I couldn’t get my leg to stop shaking. The studio advertised me as brand new to the business and threw around the word “teen” a lot.

E: What does an average shift look like for you?

S: When I get to the studio on my morning shift I’m usually the first one there. Once another girl arrives, we turn on the open signs and get dressed up for our day. I alternate outfits and heels and I make my makeup darker to compensate for the dim lighting in the rooms. When a client comes to the door, I escort him into a private room and we discuss what he’s looking for. All payments are made up front. Once the payment is verified, the client hops in the ensuite shower. When the session is complete, I clean my room, toss the laundry in and go back to watching Netflix on my laptop until it’s my turn to meet or answer the door again. I average 1-3 clients per shift. Most of my shifts are spent hanging out with the girls I work with, watching TV, doing homework and showing off pictures of my kid.

E: What are your clients like?

S: We always have the choice in which clients we decide to spend our time with, and all the clients I choose must be respectful and hygienic. I don’t have an age preference, and I have quite a few regulars. The majority of my clients are quite kind to me and I’m nice to them in return. There [are] a few bad apples in the mix but it’s usually pretty easy to weed them out, and if a client disrespects my restrictions I simply direct them to gather their things and leave.

E: Do you like sex work?

S: It’s not the most glamorous profession, but I would say that I enjoy my work. Mostly I enjoy making enough money to support my family and cover my bills without having to work more than 40 hours a week. Many of my clients are pretty likeable; I have regulars that I look forward to and it’s fun to dress up in sexy outfits all the time.

E: What would you like to see change about the industry?

S: I would like to see an end to the stigma attached to sex work. Ideally, I would like prostitution to be legalized outright, without hiding behind the ‘escort’ and ‘body rub’ fronts. Legalizing prostitution would make it easier to protect those of us in the industry. It would also open the door to unionization, which would be a good tool to unite against unsafe services, block out pimping and set standard industry rates.

E: What do you want our readers to know about sex work?

S: It may seem obvious, but I wish people would realize that sex workers are human beings deserving of respect. However immoral some people may view the job, sex work is work and being in the industry doesn’t make someone any less of a ‘good’ person or capable parent. It’s disconcerting to see the casual dehumanization of sex workers, especially now that I am one. As a sex worker, I’m not dirty. I’ve never had an STI, or unprotected interactions with a client. I’m educated, well spoken and a wonderful parent who’s driven to reach my goals. Contrary to media and cultural stigma, this job does not define a person’s worth.

E: Do you see this as a long-term career choice?

S: Definitely not. Right now, I intend to use this path to pay off my student loans and save for my future.

E: How do you feel about sharing your story?

S: There’s this culture of secrecy in the sex industry. Most of the girls I work with hide their job from everyone in their personal life, often including close friends and even spouses. I’m lucky; I’ve been straight with my friends and my mother about my work and they’ve stepped up to support my decisions. I have no problem sharing my story, especially under this cloak of anonymity.

E: Do you have any advice for women drawn to sex work or who are just beginning in the industry?

S: Know your rights. Read the bylaws and legislation for your city and become comfortable asserting yourself, whether it’s to your boss, a co-worker or a client. Never forget that you’re in total control of your body and what happens within the room. Make your restrictions clear and have a zero tolerance policy for those who disrespect them. Remember that you can always kick a client out and you’re not under any obligation to return money if they violate your restrictions. It will seem like you’ve got a lot of money now that all of it is cash; remember to pay your living expenses and debts first and then begin to save and build an exiting strategy. Non-profits such as CEASE specialize in transitioning girls out of the industry and can also be an asset if you run into any trouble. Do not make this your lifetime career and do not underestimate the risks and emotional turmoil that come with the industry.

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