Harlotry: Being In A Relationship While Being A Sex Worker

But Stanley wasn’t the rest of the world. As far as I was concerned, he was better than all of them. When he fell into my life, I felt sure I must have done something wonderful to deserve him: I didn’t look for him, I had stopped looking for anyone. I knew his brother, and Stanley found me on that brother’s Myspace page and sent me a message because he thought I looked interesting. I suppose I did; my profile picture was of me with two purple eyeshadow black eyes holding a bottle of whiskey and screaming into the camera and my ‘about me’ section was written with the intention of repelling any potential friends or suitors. I’m sure that if I were to look back on that old profile now I would laugh at how young and childish I was, but there I was, the manic pixie dream girl who inhabits the imaginations of every sweet but deluded twenty one year old man-child looking for a woman to save his soul.

I confess I was very cruel to him when I responded to his first message. To be honest, the only reasons I replied at all were that I was bored and he used mostly correct grammar. Those of you who remember Myspace will remember that spelling out entire words and using both appropriate capitalization and actual punctuation marks were rare qualities to be prized and rewarded. Despite my cruelty, though, Stanley replied to me and we struck up a lively penpalship. Within a few months, we’d exchanged phone numbers and moved from internet friends to text message friends. Within a few weeks of that, we’d moved on to text message flirting. The careful work I had done to guard my heart was failing. Stanley was not like anyone I’d ever encountered and certainly nothing like his brother. He was an army infantryman, yet neither a flag-waver nor a Republican. He had been deployed to Iraq and presumably killed people there (though I thought it would be impolite to ask) yet he didn’t seem racked with guilt or PTSD. He was attractive, funny, and full of interesting opinions, but most importantly he was unfazed by my work.

Perhaps it was his experience in the military, or perhaps it was something else, but he knew the difference between life and work more intimately than any non-sex workers I’ve ever met and it was this ready acceptance of my work that (in part) made me fall in love with him. My work had become something more to me: it symbolized my stubbornness, my pride, and my rejection of conformity. By allowing me to provide for myself using nothing but my brain, my body, and an internet connection, it also symbolized self-sufficiency. By allowing me to set my own rules and rates, it symbolized my individuality and independence.

Symbols can be problematic, though, especially when their complex reality is masked by an a religious quality. Eventually the symbolism will crumble and the truth takes hold: while sex work was (and is) one representation of my pride, stubbornness, nonconformity and independence, it is not those things. Stanley’s acceptance of my profession was not the same as an acceptance of my more difficult characteristics, the very characteristics that contribute to our falling apart.

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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…