Harlotry: How I Separate Life From Sex Work

On the very tricky work life balance of sex workers

Cathryn Berarovich is something of a renaissance sex worker; she was until recently employed as a stripper but has held numerous interesting jobs in the industry (and she’s currently an excellent columnist on this very website). Each week, she shares her stories in Harlotry.

Originally I was going to tell at least one funny story this week. I could have written about the co-worker who had taken her plastic surgery to such extreme lengths that she resembled a life-sized Bratz doll, the customer who tipped his favorite girls not with money, but with gifts of cheese, beef jerky, and chocolate, or the man who bought a whole hour in the champagne room and only wanted to talk about Iron Man. These are all pretty great stories, and I will tell them one day, but that day is not today.

The week before last, a couple of people asked that I write about the emotional partitioning that sex work requires and I realized I’d barely touched on this very specific type of work life balance in all the months of Harlotry. Why this is I don’t know, as it now occurs to me that this is really, really important, and is therefore something I should have covered.

Without at least some kind of partitioning, sex work will kill you. It probably won’t literally bring about your death, but it absolutely will turn you into the dead-eyed, dead-souled kind of sex worker that Tina Fey seems to think makes up the majority population of all strip clubs, brothels, and other palaces of adult entertainment. While obviously the methods of partitioning are as unique and varied as the men and women who work in this industry, we all have our methods of staying sane.

Some of the methods are better than others.

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    • zanbrody

      Ashley, you my want to change the writing credit to Cate.

      Fantastic article as always. I wonder if you’ve ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality test and if perhaps you are an INFJ? I mention it because you seem particularly good at being able to neatly separate the different facets of your personality, and that is a strong trait for that personality type.

      • http://thegloss.com/ Ashley Cardiff

        Ah, yes–definitely not trying to take credit for Cate’s work; Word Press automatically sets the name to whomever opens the post first. Alas, there is no exciting authorship conspiracy here.

      • http://thegloss.com/ Ashley Cardiff
      • zanbrody

        Oh haha, I know…I just thought it was an accident!

      • http://thegloss.com/ Ashley Cardiff

        Oh, I figured. I just explained anyway for my mom’s sake.

      • zanbrody

        But, just think for a brief, glorious moment your google results were the wildest they’ve probably ever been!

      • Cate

        Are you sure there is no conspiracy? Positive?
        HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME, ASHLEY?!

      • Cate

        Supposedly I am INTJ, but I don’t really give such things a lot of thought. I’m like Popeye, I yam what I yam and I think a series of letters is such a narrow way of classifying the complexities of human experience.

    • Jon

      Great article and you answered one of the questions in the back of my mind I’ve had about sex workers. Maybe it’s because I am a guy and we’re supposed to be more physical in our arousal. It is hard for me to understand how someone can separate from the physical pleasure side of sex and not be aroused while engaging in it. Not sure if I’m explaining myself right:P Anyways partitioning makes sense:)

      • Cate

        You know, I’ve actually wondered about that with male sex workers too. As a lady it’s pretty easy to fake arousal and orgasms, but as a man I have no idea how one would separate that. I’ve always wanted to meet a male escort to ask, really, because I don’t get it. However, I’ve only met a few former strippers who are guys, and that’s totally different.
        If there are any current or former male escorts who read this, maybe they will jump in and explain it to us? If you’re there, fellas, help us out!

      • Jon

        Now I definitely hope some guys speak up because the more I think about it the more I’m not sure if it’s possible for a guy to fully separate from the experience like a woman can. Once a guy is hard, whether because he is aroused or because he can will it to happen, like bending a spoon with your mind, his anatomy wants to finish the deed so to speak and things start to feel really sensitive. I don’t know maybe this is just me not being able to get out of my own perspective on sex and orgasms. Always wondered that about porn stars too. I guess like anything if you partition long enough you get good at it and can separate work from pleasure. All though do the clients of male escorts expect them to finish because then that’s another story. OK I’ve gone far enough down the rabbit hole for a Monday:p

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/SirWinstoneChurchill Winston Blake
      • Cate

        Dude, these videos you keep posting seriously add nothing of value to the conversation. Please stop.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/SirWinstoneChurchill Winston Blake

        You’re such a pussy cat
        You’re such a fox
        We’d like to see you
        On the back of a milk box
        Sin soaked devil doll
        Welcome to violence

        Incest, peppermint,
        Grease gun, patricide
        Lust, come live this
        Jackie Chan jungle
        Love, dream with us

        Take what you’re given
        And just, just, just, just
        Swallow it down

      • Cate

        I want to know that too! About the finishing, I mean. I’d imagine some of them do? I mean, what if someone wants, like, a facial? So how does that work? I really hope there are some streetwalkin’ (not necessarily literally) men out there to help with all these questions.

      • Jon

        Well if there are they are being awfully quiet damn it >.< The male sex worker is turning out to be an elusive creature and may forever remain and enigma to Cate and I. Hiding from the cold, harsh, glare of the internet, shrouding itself in myth and superstition. Only to be discussed in hushed whispers where one answer opens the door to more questions. Leading more than one researcher further down the rabbit hole to the brink of insanity o.O

        Yes I am BORED at work and it's Friday, HUMOR ME!!!

    • Nikola

      Fascinating. This is a lovely series. Sex work has been around for so long, and it’s great to hear an honest take on the experience from someone who knows.

      This actually cleared up some questions about sex work that I didn’t know I had. I don’t know if it is the same for all women, but for me, I have always considered the possibility of dire straits directing me towards trying sex work. Which is not to say that I think sex work can’t be someone’s choice without dire straits being involved, just that it probably would be for me, as I am already not comfortable with casual sex, so would most likely find sex work difficult. But the idea of assuming a persona during sex work makes me view the experience differently. Not only would the persona help frame the context of the experiences you are having, but also a persona that fits better with that work, and perhaps a persona that allows you to explore different aspects of your personality, or at least different ways of being.

    • caryatis

      Cate, I’ve read everything you’re written on the site, and I notice that when you compare sex work to other jobs, your imagined other job is always low-paid service sector work: sex worker versus bartender, versus waiter, or versus retail employee. But that’s not the only option.

      It sounds like you’re still young, so why don’t you consider getting an education so you can get a better-paid job, one that has some social prestige, that will use some of your people skills, and challenge your mind? You can have sex work as a fallback option, but it’s never going to give you a steady paycheck, with benefits, and a career you can keep for all your life. You’re going to be 35 someday. Go study nuclear engineering.

      • http://SommelierinSneakers.blogspot.com/ SomminSneakers

        Miss cate, just like the rest of us (ex)sex workers, is probably well aware of her potential, mental aptitude, and youth. We do not need you to remind us what education is for, and particularly with such a condescending tone. We’re smart women, and enjoy sex work for many reasons, none of which are that we ‘don’t know we could do better’, thank you very much.

      • caryatis

        If you have a good grasp of the realities of the job market, good for you. But I don’t think you can deny that sex work has disadvantages–you’re not going to get a 401(k) out of it, for one thing. Many who enter sex work, like Cate, do so at a young age with very little if any experience with jobs outside the service or sex sectors. There are disadvantages to sex work that they may not be considering, and options outside sex work that they may not realize exist. The choice is not just between sex work and minimum wage, in other words.

      • http://SommelierinSneakers.blogspot.com/ SomminSneakers

        Really? Just ignore everything I said and say the same thing? Yeah, you’re a great spokesperson for education.

      • caryatis

        SomminSneakers, when and if you want to address my arguments, we can talk.

      • http://SommelierinSneakers.blogspot.com/ SomminSneakers

        You don’t have any arguments. I am living the situation you claim to know so much about. I have no interest in hearing anything you have to say: if you can’t defend your ‘arguments’ in the public forum in which you posted them, they probably won’t hold water in a private one. You’ve lost this. Move on. You don’t know sex workers, and until you decide to do some yourself, you won’t ever. Take your judgement about our brains elsewhere.

      • caryatis

        I hear you still refusing to address my arguments. The fact that you have personal experience is good, but that doesn’t negate the sociology that has been done. Also, you admit you are also young and with little job experience, so even your personal experience supports my argument, does it not? You are being defensive about your IQ, but I never attacked it. The main reason for a person to go to college is not that it’s going to make you smart or educated, but that it will probably enable you to get a good job.

      • http://SommelierinSneakers.blogspot.com/ SomminSneakers

        So, do you get it now? Now that’s she’s written another article about this subject exactly? You going to stop trying to ‘save’ us? Realize, yet again, YOU HAVE NO ARGUMENTS AND ARE JUST SAYING THE SAME CRAP OVER AND OVER AGAIN?

        And no, by the way, I’m in the top of my field now that I have left the dungeon, a high-salaried, ‘respectable’, ‘prestigious’. difficult and educated profession, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t get back into sex work if I wanted- and I may want one day- maybe even when I’m 35. By comparison, my friends who wasted their time on four year degrees, are working retail and service industry jobs… the ones you claim we as sex workers only have access too.

        Get it yet? Leave us along and save your condescending judgement for someone else.

        ‘sociology that has been done’ Rotfl- seriously. You don’t know sex workers, at all.

      • caryatis

        Although your comments about your friends’ and your income
        may be true, they don’t change the statistics: most sex workers make around
        minimum wage, while college-educated people make significantly more on average.
        Sex work is, basically, just another shitty low-paid job. There is, of course,
        a time when shitty low-paid jobs may be what you want or the best you can hope
        for. But, if you’re a smart person, you should be planning for something
        better.

        You are insecure about your past sex work, and that’s understandable. Maybe when you get over your anger, you will consider the evidence I’ve presented. And no, personal anecdotes are not a substitute for sociology.

      • http://poorgoop.com/ Samantha

        In this difficult economy, I don’t know if getting an education is always right for everyone. I think the whole “many who enter sex work do so at a young age” idea could also apply to people heading into college straight out of high school. It’s not always a financially or personally sound investment. Attempting to choose a career path between the ages of 18 and 22 is a little ludicrous, especially when many people can’t finish college without $80,000 in debt in a cruel job market. I can’t blame someone for taking advantage of opportunities available in the sex industry. 401(k)s are nice, but they’re one option – IRAs, investments, even just a savings account, can provide a security cushion.
        I’d also like to note that Cate does seem to have other marketable skills as she is a very talented writer. She seems to be honing that craft on a fairly regular basis.

      • caryatis

        Samantha, you’re right that college can be a risky investment. Sex work is extremely risky, too. In most cases sex workers have no job security or benefits, and they are at high risk of being raped, beaten or arrested. Income tends to decline as the person gets older. For most people, college pays off better–and if you doubt it, look up the statistics about how much more college graduates make.

      • http://SommelierinSneakers.blogspot.com/ SomminSneakers

        You are a wanker. just get over it.

      • http://SommelierinSneakers.blogspot.com/ SomminSneakers

        I tried really, really really hard not to just insult you this whole comment thread, but I can’t do it anymore. You’re like the creepy guy who goes to the strip club and tells all the girls how pretty they are and how much better they are than it when they give you lapdances, and then tips them horribly because you believe you are right- and never realize how crazy backwards and judgmental you are.

      • Cate

        I could not have put any of this better myself.
        Nuclear engineering or some job involving computers (as was suggested to me last week) sound like the kind of jobs that would make me blow my brains out all over my desk one day. The socially acceptable path is not for everyone and for a whole bunch of sex workers, both current and former, sex work is, for a time at least, ‘doing better’.

      • Cate

        As Samantha points out, I am regularly exercising one of my other marketable skills: writing. While socially prestigious jobs are all right for some, I really have very little interest in doing anything but working in the sex industry and writing, another job that is not always granted the highest social status and certainly carries no guarantee of a stable or steady income.
        The thing about college is that it no longer provides the guaranteed jobs it once did, and since I seem to be doing fine without it I don’t see the point in investing the necessary time and money in something that doesn’t interest me. It isn’t as if I’m some uneducated slob, I simply find it more interesting and useful to teach myself the skills I need or selectively take classes I want to take rather than pursuing a piece of paper that may or may not get me the job I want.

      • http://SommelierinSneakers.blogspot.com/ SomminSneakers

        Hey darlin, it took me two years at a dungeon and attempting to do the ‘right’ thing for me to find my true purpose ton the planet- you and I are exactly the same age, and I know how incredibly blessed I am to have found it this young.. Why someone would post such judgement is beyond me. You’re on the right path, Miss Cate:)

      • caryatis

        Cate, you seem to understand the writing, like sex work, is a risky, unstable, and low-paid profession, unlikely to come with benefits. As long as you’re choosing it with your eyes open, good luck. But remember there are other options.

      • http://www.facebook.com/naomi.kashinsky Naomi Kashinsky

        Further, what does 35 have to do with it? Are you somehow implying that women cease to be sexually viable after the age of 34?

      • caryatis

        Not necessarily, but when your job depends on your looks, your income will tend to go down with age. Plus, 35 is an age by which people generally want to have children, health insurance, job security, and a retirement savings account.

    • http://SommelierinSneakers.blogspot.com/ SomminSneakers

      I’m going to take credit for this article, ha ha.

      Next time I’m in town, we are going for a drink, my friend.

      • Cate

        Yes! I am so down for that!

    • EKS

      I said it in the prior article and I’ll say it again – I think you should write a book of some kind. It would be interesting. The articles you’ve already written here are a good jumping off point.
      I do agree with the other poster that having a retirement account is crucial. However, you don’t have to be in a traditional career path for that (a company doesn’t have to be the source of it). You can be setting aside even a small amount of money now in an IRA, for example. The money we put aside while we’re young goes much further than money later. Anyway.