Harlotry: Being In A Relationship While Being A Sex Worker

Despite the fact that I saw sex work as an extension of myself, I knew the labor itself could pull the whole relationship down. Honesty is important in any relationship, but when sex work is thrown into the mix a new level of honesty becomes necessary. I have watched other women in the industry attempt to conceal their professions from their significant others, and whether or not they ever discover what their women are doing for money, the deception always brings about the end of the relationship. Sex work has the potential to be very emotionally draining and difficult, and the support of friends, loved ones, and especially lovers is of utmost importance. I have experienced what it is to have a partner who cannot or will not even try to understand the work and the difficulties involved, and it is a terrifying and incredibly alienating experience. Moreover, it’s deeply inconsiderate to one’s partner to act as if they have no feelings about work that is at least one-sidedly intimate.

During the beginning of our relationship, I tried many times to have conversations with Stanley about his feelings regarding my work. He insisted he couldn’t care less what I did for money and that he would never expect me to quit any job I found fulfilling, particularly not one that gave me a level of financial independence so far above my civilian peers. He never spoke about his personal feelings on the matter, but I was eighteen years old and he was saying all the right things. I continued to  work as a prostitute and small-time sugar baby for a little over a month after we officially decided to become a couple. Then I quit entirely, ostensibly for him though I convinced myself that my reasons were more complicated and had nothing at all to do with him.

Because he was stationed in Georgia and had not yet been discharged from the army, the first six months of my relationship with Stanley was long distance. I managed to support myself on savings, fetish work, and art modeling during the time we were apart, but after the six months were over and we moved too quickly into a shared apartment, it became clear that my small jobs were not enough for two people who desired any degree of comfort. When I suggested that I go back to prostitution, Stanley continued to say all the right things, but was visibly uncomfortable with the idea. He kept telling me that if I wanted to go back, he wouldn’t stop me, but his aversion to the idea was written on his face. I sucked it up, swallowed the bitterness of poverty, and didn’t go back. My sacrifices in the name of love had begun.

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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…