Harlotry: Being In A Relationship While Being A Sex Worker

Look at this fucking stock photo.

There are a lot of complicated aspects to sex work, but some of the most complicated are those not directly related to the work itself. There are countless pitfalls associated with coming out to family and friends, but perhaps the most difficult problem is how to maintain a monogamous romantic relationship.

The three years that made up the most serious relationship of my short life also overlapped with most of my time as a sex worker. It began while I was still a prostitute, continued through my forays into erotic modeling, stripping and phone sex operating, and its end heralded my return to stripping. I would say being a sex worker and maintaining a relationship wasn’t always easy, but that goes without saying. I don’t think any relationship is always easy, and I was lucky enough to find a man who, despite his many flaws, by and large understood that my work was my work and my pleasure was my pleasure and–aside from the thrill I derived from counting my money–the two did not intersect.

I was, and still am, fiercely proud of my line of work and “Stanley” knew I was a whore from the moment he asked my profession. His absolute lack of shock or titillation was impressive to me. Especially when I was working as a  prostitute, men responded to a revelation of my career either with disgust or the assumption that I, as a sex worker and a prostitute at that, had no standards and would sleep with them no questions asked. Neither of those responses are a good beginning to a successful romance. By the time I met Stanley, I’d resigned myself to what I thought was the impossibility of having any but the most casual relationships until whenever I retired.

Our culture is simultaneously obsessed with, terrified, and ashamed of sex… especially as far as women are concerned. We glorify porn performers while we wag our fingers at garden-variety promiscuous women and all the sex workers who have not achieved fame. I was homeschooled as a child and grew up somewhat cloistered; despite the fact that the less fortunate elements of our culture’s views on sex (and how they relate to a woman’s value) were mostly hidden, I still managed to internalize the message that sex work somehow devalued me. I was never ashamed of my profession and always held the view that any man who was bothered by my choice was not a man I wanted… but at the same time I was very much aware that many, if not most men, would think less of me for renting access to my body. While my choice of work confirmed my desirability, it also paradoxically made me untouchable and less of a woman in the eyes of much of the world.

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    • Lauren

      I think Dita Von Teese mentioned something about how she would never sacrifice her career for a man, and really if you love doing this kind of work, why should you, it isn’t hurting anyone!

      • Cate

        Dita von Teese should have sat down and had a chat with my eighteen year old self. I probably wouldn’t be here today, as my eighteen year old self would have had a heart attack from joy, but still.

    • lucygoosey74

      Cathryn, I always read your articles because they are so honest and well written. It’s interesting to learn about what your profession is really like, as I’ve always been a little curious. Keep up the great work!

    • Norma Jean

      Just a word of encouragement from an old whore- there are men out there with whom you can have a loving, wonderful and lasting relationship even while you are a sex worker. The key is to find someone who is older and has no hang ups about sex, prostitution or other intimate labor.

      I’ve been with my husband for 36 years- we met 7 years before I became a call girl- and when I decided to get into the business at age 31, I was fully prepared for him to break up with me. I was hoping he would stay- and he did. I had my reasons for getting into sex work and hoped he would be supportive of me and the work I wanted to do. He was.

      He understood the part of me that was a whore and that I needed to express that side of me. I am also a writer and artist and sex worker rights activist… and all of them are me. He realized that I could be madly in love with him and still enjoy bringing pleasure to other men, women and couples. I showed him every day and in every way I could that I was in love with him and only him, and gave him nothing of which to be jealous. Jealousy has never been part of our relationship.

      He is disabled now and I am his caregiver. I love him more than ever, and he loves me and never allows a day to go by without showering me with that love. I felt fulfilled doing sex work in a way that only another person who has chosen this path could understand.

      Do keep your heart open for love and never allow anyone to shame you for your work. You can have both. And I know I am not the only one who has achieved a successful relationship while being a sex worker. Good luck to you!

    • alma

      That stock photo looks like Sookie Stackhouse and Eric Northman!

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      • Jennifer Wright

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    • Anne Gladys

      being a reader and a writer, I enjoy your column. You write well, and tell a good story. For this one, though, the middle is too long. You should focus on your actions, rather than your thoughts, maybe, to make it move more. That feeling of stuckn-ess and indecision — can you make it more visceral in the reader, rather than descriptive? Tell a story, rather than recount your feelings. Dunno if that’s the kind of feedback you want, but . . . .

      • Cate

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but are you Anne Gladys as in Emma’s mom? If so, your feedback does mean a lot.

    • auric

      Cate – have you ever considered pursuing a relationship with another sex worker? One would assume that there would be more of a “kindred spirit” aspect to such an arrangement, although such a limitation would certainly shrink the pool of available lovers / mates.

      I also wonder how you (and perhaps other women reading this article) think you would handle it if the tables were reversed and you enjoyed a job at a traditional business and your lover was a sex worker. I know that it probably would not change your attitude because I believe that you truly believe in the segmentation of the two, but it would be interesting to hear you comment on it.

      • Cate

        I don’t know why this showed up in my email, but I’m so happy it did because these are interesting questions.

        I’ve actually never pursued a relationship with another sex worker, not because I have anything against the idea (I actually think it would probably be a great thing, the greatest thing, even) but because I’ve never really had romantic chemistry with any of the sex workers I’ve encountered.

        I have, however, considered what it would be like to flip the roles, and I hate to admit it, but I do think it might be more difficult for me to handle than I’d like to imagine. I think if, say, I was dating a straight man (the most likely scenario, given my dating track record) who had a client base of mainly gay men I would be fine with it, but if it was a straight man who had a client base of mostly straight women (unlikely, but as long as we’re in hypotheticals we may as well take it all the way) I would find it harder to take, since women generally expect a greater emotional performance. In this parallel universe where I am not and have never been a sex worker, I doubt I would be able to understand the mental compartmentalizing that tends to go with this job.

    • Annie

      Great post. Need a printer-friendly (i.e., one-page) version, though. I’d like to print this out and “accidentally” leave it out in plain sight…