Harlotry: Being In A Relationship While Being A Sex Worker

During our first year together, I was the most casual of all sex workers. I did some small fetish work, but mostly I modeled for photographers and hoped ends would meet. I spent my time trying to shore up the bliss of our honeymoon period and fighting the sense that I’d lost something. I tried not to remember the feeling that I could take on the world after I burned a man’s feet with cigarettes.

By the end of the first month of living together, things were no longer going so well. While I hadn’t become a prostitute again, Stanley had still managed to develop a jealous streak a mile wide. I found myself constantly reminded of Desdemona–’Alas the day! I never gave him cause.’ But jealous souls will not be answered so and over and over again I cried, my heart breaking as he raged at me for imagined slights and infidelities. I don’t know if his assumptions were based on my former profession or not, but with the faith of first, desperate love I made excuse after excuse for his frankly inexcusable behavior. I told myself that it was understandable, considering his history of relationships with faithless women and his abusive mother. I told myself that he would eventually see that I was faithful and devoted and because I could not find it in my heart to turn him out of our house and onto the street I stayed. Then, for a while, things got a little better.

We had been together a little over a year when I took a job at a peep show and Stanley started talking about going back to active duty service. We decided that if the army took him back, it would be best for us to get married. I thought of a house and steady money and pretty dresses and possibly children and convinced myself that my heart didn’t sink a little bit when I considered leaving the sleazy little peep show with its closet-sized dressing room full of girls talking shit and sneaking cigarettes. I wanted to marry Stanley one day and I did want to make a life with him, but I wasn’t sure that this was how I wanted to do it and I was frightened by the prospect of being ripped from my life, my friends, and my work in Chicago and suddenly forced into the full-blown adulthood of marriage, a house, and a family. I was nineteen years old, and while I thought I was much more grown up than I really was, I knew on some level that I was not ready for a truly adult life and I certainly wasn’t ready to spend my life waiting for the man I loved so desperately to come home from a foreign country, hoping he would return in one piece.

Stanley eventually changed his mind about going back to active duty and we never married, but the peep show did close. I discovered how much I loved stripping, but I moved on to phone sex when Stanley expressed his discomfort at my moving on to a normal club where I would be giving lap dances. I hated phone sex and missed stripping, but I was determined to make as many sacrifices as were necessary to keep the relationship going. I loved him so much, and I had convinced myself that the only way to show that was to give things up until there was nothing left to give. I told myself that I would be rewarded for my self-immolation. There was no way I couldn’t be.

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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…