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  • Writer's pictureJackie A. Castro, LMFT

Psychological Realities of Sex Workers

There are many jobs that fall under the umbrella of sex worker. They range from nude dancer to adult film performer to escort. While each have very different aspects to the job themselves, they all come with the same difficult issues. The psychological realities of sex work can, at times, be challenging and painful. Society in general has made significant steps forward with acceptance but chances are good, you’ll still be subject to some kind of fallout for being in the adult business.

Being Shunned

Everyone has a different experience with being shunned. The most common tale are parents who guilt you for what you’re doing or worse, simply don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore. They have negative misconceptions about the industry. They even deny you the opportunity to tell your side or explain why you chose and prefer this occupation. In that case, there’s really nothing you can do. You simply go on with your life. Unfortunately, you also carry that crappy feeling of being abandoned and unloved. In many cases, you may have already carried that feeling about your family anyway, so the break is probably a good thing.

Issues with Institutions

Other institutions such as churches, banks and insurance companies also make it known that people from the adult industry are not welcome. The church is of course hypocritical but the banks and insurance companies hit where it hurts. People need banks and insurance to function in society.

Banks are notoriously troublesome. They have even gone as far as to freeze the accounts of adult film performers during ‘Operation Choke Point.’ This was a United States Department of Justice initiative beginning in 2013. The DOJ claimed they were investigating banks for fraud and money laundering practices. Many business were investigated such as online gambling, debt consolidation, fireworks and ammunition sales. While the DOJ initiative was to target illegal activities, the bank accounts of many adult film actors and other sex works were frozen or closed. This led to significant financial hardship and is considered a form of discrimination; especially for sex work that is completely legal. The true hypocrisy is that these sex workers paid taxes, which they government was happy to take, but were denied a simple bank account.

Insurance companies are very hesitant to insure any type of adult business citing a ‘moral hazard.’ A moral hazard is a situation where the person or business owner is thought to have an incentive to increase their exposure to risk because of their insurance coverage. In reality, these are business owners seeking coverage of their business and employees. They are doing what any other business own would do.

Issues in Your Relationship

Many partners will enter a relationship with a sex worker with the attitude that they fine with the profession. However, this can quickly change as the relationship progresses. Sure, it’s exciting to date an adult film actress or nude dancer, but as the relationship grows more serious, certain feelings can arise.

1) Jealousy - This comes up for both vanilla partners and those within the industry itself. When you’re off to a shoot or off to see a client, they eventually may not like it. Once we are attached to someone, especially sexually, it seems we can instinctually become uncomfortable with sex acts outside the relationship. This isn’t true for everyone, but I hear it a lot. Just as in a ‘swinger relationship,’ boundaries and trust are extremely important.

2) Keeping You a Secret - Your partner may be reluctant to introduce you to their family or friends. They may have concerns as to what others will think. Honestly, this would not even be an issue with someone who is genuinely okay with what you do. Technically, it should not be an issue. The work you do should be like the color of your skin or your gender identity. It should not matter. You should not have to apologize, hide or be made to feel ashamed about your profession.

You partner should understand this. First, they don’t have to say anything as I doubt that you will wear a sign that says, “I’m in the adult business.” Secondly, who cares what anyone thinks? Any relationship is about the people who are involved. Everyone is bigger than the job they do; as is the relationship.

3) Schedule Conflicts - You get home and 4am. Your partner gets up at 6am. That allows very little time to be together. You also might have to work weekends which is another challenge. Unless you have a very solid relationship, it will eventually become an issue and a deal breaker.

Your Own Shame

Shame is a feeling that is characterized by a deep seated belief that ‘I am wrong.’ This is in direct opposition to real guilt which is based on the idea that ‘I did something wrong.’ While guilt is not a great feeling it’s something that can often be corrected. However, shame lives deep inside.

Shame develops early on. Anyone who was sexually molested as a kid or was physical or emotionally abused, did what they had to do to survive. Often, this was simply being ‘seen but not heard.’ You obeyed your abuser did what you could to appease them lived in a state of freeze or collapse. You were there in body but split off into your own world. You did what ever you had to do in order to survive.

Today you look beautiful. You speak eloquently and win awards. Yet, sometimes when you are alone, you don’t really like yourself. This is not your fault and has very little to do with being an adult entertainer. It’s all about your early days on earth.

Early Childhood Traumas

Despite popular thinking, many sex workers didn’t get into the business solely because of early childhood trauma. If that were the case, the adult entertainment business would have more people than it knew what to do with. While, some people were sexualized as children, many were not. So we can not make blanket assumptions. However, early childhood trauma is quite prevalent. The adult business actually has its benefits which are generally not mentioned by the general public but are helpful in address and healing these traumas.

1) You have chosen your own path - Despite what others think or say, you are doing something that others wouldn’t. You have chosen to break barriers and be sexually free. You help others get in touch with their own sexuality. The work you do is important. And it’s important for you to know you are doing something that is life affirming. The idea is to do it with pride and with no apology.

2) You have the ability to set boundaries - You now have to the ability to set your own standards. You can speak up and say, “No!”; something you could not do as a child in a trauma situation. You are now your own boss. You can select the jobs you take. You can also negotiate your salary and have a large say in what you will or won’t do. You can also choose who you want to do scenes with, the type of scenes you will do and also the type of scenes that are off limits.

If working with clients privately, you get to set boundaries by choosing your specialty area, the type of client you are seeking and behavioral expectations. This is different from how you grew up because children traditionally have very little say in their lives. Many vanilla workers navigate their adult lives in a state of freeze or withdrawal because that is way they learned to survive. They may never experience the freedom that you do.

3) You have financial freedom - You probably know that making ‘easy money’ in the adult business is a fallacy. However, if you work it smart, you will make enough to pay your bills and hopefully save some money on the side. The ability to take care of yourself financially is very freeing. It means you are not beholden to anyone else.

Self Help Guidelines

There are many way to navigate the business of being a sex worker. Seeing a therapist is always one of my top recommendations. Aside from that, here are a couple of things you can do right now to help yourself.

Learn to be Your Own Cheerleader

Notice your own self-talk. Is the voice in your head reminiscent of critical parents or teachers? Are you putting yourself down when you take off your make up and get into bed at night? One of the nice parts of being an adult is that you can see things from a new perspective. Hurtful things that people told you during your formative years are lies. When you are honest with yourself, you know who you are and what you stand for. Learn to speak kindly to yourself and most of all, talk back to the bullies in your head. It’s important to develop your own voice and speak truthfully to yourself.

Be Choosey with Your Friends

Social connection is everything when it comes to feeling good about yourself. When we were young, we had to survive with whatever hand we were dealt. Today you are in charge. Your only obligation is to yourself. Friends are people who you feel good to be around. That good feeling stays with you after the time is over. They are interested in you as a human being, what you stand for, and the inner emotions that you express. Most of all, they are people who prove themselves to be trustworthy and honor the inner thoughts you share. They don’t gossip or put you down. They are just good people; plain and simple.

Allow People to be Good to You

Do you find yourself shying away from people who are nice? Notice yourself feeling untrusting of the good people? That is a reaction from your past to be aware of in the present. Some people are actually good. They want to listen, invite you over and are interested in you. When you’ve grown up in an imperfect environment, the natural inclination is to distrust. Ironically, the people you might find yourself drawn to are people who are abusive users and out only out for themselves. Don’t let their charm fool you because they will eventually be like the other hurtful people in your past. Just because it feels familiar doesn’t mean it’s right.

Learning to be discerning of social connection will take time. First, you have to develop your own inner radar to distinguish between good and bad. The rule of thumb here is to take your time and be patient with people you meet, date or befriend. No snap judgements either way. Learn to be neutral and observe behaviors. It will feel foreign at first but you can learn to do it. Give each new person some time to reveal who they really are before jumping in too deep.

Therapy Helps

It’s okay to ask for help. The basic concepts I’m presenting need explanation and modification to fit your personal needs and goals. I’m a trauma informed and trauma trained therapist that has worked with people in the adult entertainment business for many years. I am also familiar with alternative sexual lifestyles and gender difference. I am extremely non-judgmental and effective in what I do. I also have the ability to make you feel as comfortable as possible when you first come to see. As we develop our own unique therapeutic relationship, you’ll actually look forward to your therapy sessions.

The work won’t be easy. Dealing with shame is often equivalent to throwing away rotten meat. Eventually you can discard it and meet the part of you that was born good, kind and creative. It’s my hope to have the honor of guiding you. If not me, please connect with someone you feel would be comfortable, accepting and genuinely willing to help you.

- Jackie A. Castro, MA, LMFT

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