Harlotry: Why I’m Returning To The Sex Industry

Harlotry sex work

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.

It wasn’t very long ago that I wrote about taking an indefinite hiatus from the sex industry, possibly retiring completely. At the time I felt as if I was unable to handle the difficult emotional burden that comes with employment in the sex industry. Back in January I was pretty sure sex work–the work that had saved me from the pits of misery–would destroy me. I wasn’t sure I’d ever go back to any kind of sex work; though I missed it horribly, I wasn’t ready to test my newly recovered emotional strength by plunging back into an industry that (for all its excellent qualities) is capable of draining the life out of a person, taxing one’s mental strength, and leaving you tired, bitter, and brittle.

I’d taken a hiatus to get my head together. By this February, it had been nearly six months since I’d done anything that could remotely be considered sex work. I was still in the process of recovering from the aftermath of my relationship with Stanley and the abuse he’d subjected me to throughout the course of our time together. It was difficult enough to consider the possibility of a normal, unpaid sexual relationship, I knew it would be impossible to get myself into the headspace required for any paid encounter of even the slightest sexual nature.

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    • Greer

      Catherine, I’ve always enjoyed reading your “Harlotry” instalments. In the past, they’ve been decisive and confident but lately you seem to be vacillating. When someone starts to defend her choices, it’s usually because she’s begun to feel some degree of doubt about them. I’m not going to compliment you on your chosen profession. I think you’re an exceptionally intelligent woman who’s taken the lazy way out.

      You admit that the big downside of sex work is the negative social stigma, then you go on to say you don’t care about social prestige. I have to call you on that. Humans are extremely social animals — we live and die by the approval of others, whether or not we want to admit it. Admitting that you do care but that you’ve willingly made choices that put you outside the realm of social acceptability is, on some level, a declaration of hostility: “Fuck you civilized society, I’m not playing by your rules!” Society’s condemnation of sex workers is a justified response to such a declaration.

      In most parts of the world, sex workers are lousy citizens. You want to live in a civilized society and benefit from its advantages — safe roads, safe tap water, garbage collection, etc. — but what taxes do you pay? Nil, I imagine. While I’m happy to hear that you vote, that’s the very least that should be expected of any reasonably intelligent person living in a democracy. If you want to live on the inside and you’re capable and intelligent, you should be paying for it like the rest of us. My husband is Dutch. In Holland where prostitution has been legal since 1811, both prostitutes and brothels pay taxes. That said, it’s still like really, really well-paid waitressing — there are plenty of ways to cheat the tax man and therefore your fellow citizens.

      If you were alone on the planet, I’d believe the claim you make about being indifferent to the opinions of others, but you’re not alone, so you can’t be indifferent. I’m sure you genuinely don’t care what total strangers like me think, but knowing that your parents disapprove of your choices must be troubling to you. They’re your parents and if they’re still an important part of your life, then their opinions matter. If you love and respect them, on some little-girl level, you must want them to think well of you. I think you’re whistling in the graveyard when you claim not to care.

      You say that sex work has ruined you for regular work because you can’t stop thinking of how much more money you’d be making if you were naked. Will you still be raking it in when you’re 60? When I’m 60, I’ll be collecting a generous pension, my due after 30 years spent doing regular work. Sure, when I was 30 my hourly wage was probably inferior to yours, but averaged out over the course of our lifetimes, I’ll make more than you and I’ll be able to look back and say I only had sex with men I found desirable. How great is that? There have been highs and lows in my career and I wouldn’t have done any of it if I hadn’t been paid, but I’m sure you’d probably say the same about sex work.

      My final objection to sex work is based on an evolutionary argument. It’s a bit of a stretch, but evolution is a long road. Unlike the bone penises many mammals have, the human penis requires positive feedback in order to get hard and serve its reproductive purpose. If a dude isn’t getting positive feedback then he shouldn’t be getting laid. In other words, he should have to earn it. If unattractive, socially inept or just plain miserable men have sex with prostitutes, what incentive have they got to improve themselves? None of them deserves to be swimming — or thrusting — in the gene pool. Masturbation, the booby prize of evolution.

      My mother raised me and my siblings on her own. As hard as it must have been for her, she loved all of us immensely. I loved her back but grew up knowing I didn’t want to be poor forever. I knew that education was the surest way to get what I wanted from life and I financed my university years through a combination of scholarships and student loans. Sure, I spent the first decade of my career repaying those loans, but all in all, it’s worked out well for me. Yes, much of it was a hard slog and I do have to work more than an hour and a half each day, but if I can do it, so can most other women. You obviously weren’t raised in the gutter so I can only guess it was sheer laziness that propelled you, by default, into sex work. Never too late.

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

        You are so wrong it’s comical, on so many levels. Think pretty highly of yourself, don’t you?

      • Andrea

        I think she presented a very nicely put argument and wasn’t insulting. Just because someone disagrees doesn’t make them arrogant.

      • Greer

        Tell me why I’m wrong. Go on, I can take it.

      • Greer

        I do indeed think highly of myself. I’ve earned that right thanks to 25 years of academic and professional accomplishments that have benefitted not only me but also the other members of the society in which I live and pay taxes. You? What have you done with your life so far?

      • I.N.

        As an academic, I am sure you will have access to the following
        articles (sorry for not quoting APA style, it takes a lot more time):
        1. Sex Work for the Middle Classes. Elizabeth Bernstein, Sexualities, 2007. DOI: 10.1177/1363460707080984
        2. The whore and the wholy one: Contemporary sacred prostitution and
        transformation of consciousness. Lee Gilmore. (1998). Anthropology of
        Consciousness, 9(4), 1-14 (no doi)
        3. BDSM as therapy? Danielle Lindemann. Sexualities, 2011.
        DOI: 10.1177/1363460711399038
        4. Choosing Sex Work over Public Assistance, Susan Dewey. Anthropology News,50(7), 28, doi: 10.1111/j.1556-3502.2009.50728_1.x

        Furthermore, check out touchingbase.org/workshops-and-training/pdat

        Personally, I think sex workers can do more social good than a large proportion of academics. Especially as translation rates of academic research into practice can be miserably low. The “publish or perish” incentive system precludes most people from spending time on public good. And on their own, academic publications have no public impact, unless somebody takes them and translates them into reports for other organizations.

        Furthermore, if you ever checked sex worker resources, which you clearly haven’t, you’d find multiple articles and discussions on tax filing for sex workers, advocating it as both a personally smart and a socially responsible choice. If you are an honest academic, ask how your a priori negative perception of sex workers is skewing your data acquisition and interpretation.

      • Greer

        Personally smart and socially responsible tax paying for sex workers. If the rest of us were allowed to decide whether or not to pay taxes, there wouldn’t be a safe road or a public school anywhere.

        I understand why some people — children born to crack moms, children who’ve lingered in the foster system being abused along the way — end up doing sex work. Some people are physically, mentally or psychologically handicapped and simply can’t manage to get out of bed and pitch in like the rest of us. The women expressing pro-sex work opinions on this website are not these unfortunate people. Catherine appears to be an intelligent and, I assume, relatively capable person. She’s just said to hell with making the kind of effort most of us make every day when we go to work. As for entrepreneurial spirit, it’s not independent contracting, it’s prostitution.

        I have never before taken the time to argue with strangers on the internet but this website is popular among young women and it bothers me to think that impressionable, middle-class teenage girls might read Catherine’s posts and think, college, why bother? I understand that unfortunate women in Haiti or Poland or Somalia resort to prostitution because they have no other choice for survival, but in middle-class America? Has America really become such a have/have-not society that sucking outcast dick is seems like a sensible choice for middle-class girls? I object to Catherine’s recent posts on the grounds that she’s using them to attempt to normalize her choices, which are so clearly not normal. I think she’s a negative influence. We are lucky to be women living in safe, prosperous, democratic countries. Ladies, raise the bar.

      • Cate

        You keep misspelling my name. It’s right up there under the title, C-A-T-H-R-Y-N, it’s not that hard.

      • Cate

        I like you, I.N.
        You actually raise a good point that I did not think of, about the social good done by sex workers vs. that done by academics.

        Also, THANK YOU for mentioning the tax thing. I am not sure how many times I’ve said I pay taxes on here, yet it seems like these days some asshole is getting up in my grill every week like, “U DON’T PAY UR TAXES U HORE” and I’m really sick of saying over and over again that not only do I pay taxes, my taxes are a truly Herculean labor to file, and I probably pay a slightly higher percentage of my income than most people with straight jobs.
        You really cannot know how much it means to me that you a civilian (I assume?) recognizes that while there are totally sex workers who cheat the tax man, most of us, at least among the vocal, politicized whores like me, file the hell out of those 1040 Schedule Cs.

      • I.N.

        I wrong a long response with academic research and a link to disability awareness training for sex workers – my first ever comment on Gloss – and it never appeared? Or do comments go through moderation first?

      • I.N.

        *Wrote* a long response…

      • Jon

        I see it! Excellent response btw;)

      • Cate

        Ahem.
        I’ve vowed to stop feeding the trolls, and I nearly didn’t respond to you, but then it occurred to me that you may very well not be a troll and are simply a well-meaning (if very judgmental and presumptuous) person who knows very little more than the misinformation frequently disseminated about sex work.

        To begin, you’ve mis-spelled my name. I’m Cathryn, not Catherine.
        As far as defending my choices goes, I’m not defending them, so much as explaining them. For me, this column is not so much about telling stories as it is about educating people on a widely misunderstood profession. While sex workers’ perspectives are much more widely encountered than they were even five or ten years ago, our stories as they happen, without a tone of scandal or an aim at people’s morbid curiosity, are not readily available to most people. Because of this, I pay a great deal of attention to my audience and what they’re interested in hearing and as of late, people have seemed to want to know why I’m a sex worker and how I feel about my work.
        I appreciate the compliment about my intelligence, but it’s risible to me that you accuse me of taking the easy way out. Stereotypes aside, you don’t survive in this industry without being intelligent. Sex work is not only real work, it’s difficult work, and to accuse sex workers of being lazy shows exactly how much you know about the industry. Yes, my job affords me a greater deal of leisure time than most other work, but that doesn’t mean I it’s easy, nor does it mean I’m lazy. It simply means that I’ve made the intelligent decision to find a well-paying job which will allow me the time to pursue other interests, such as writing. I wouldn’t by any means be the first woman to use the high earning potential and comparatively large amount of free time that sex work provides as a stepping stone to some other career.
        I do agree with you that humans are social animals, and generally desire the approval of other humans, but to say “we live and die by the approval of others” is not only a huge exaggeration, it is also excessively general. To admit that I do want the approval and affection of other people does not necessarily mean I want the approval of society as a whole, just as saying I don’t care much for the approval of society as a whole is not a declaration of hostility. I would absolutely love it if society at large decided to finally recognize that sex workers are real workers, but since that doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon (though attitudes are gradually changing towards us!) I’ve decided I can do without the approval of Society-with-a-capital-S and only need the approval of the subsets of society who recognize that in a practical sense, I’m not too different from a therapist.

        Right around here you seemed to lose track of your objective arguments completely and started to make a lot of assumptions about me as a person. To begin with, you incorrectly assume I don’t pay taxes. While it’s true that sex work makes it a lot easier to cheat the tax man, it’s also true that cheating the tax man s one of the single stupidest things a sex worker can do. Because of the illegality or at least legal dubiousness of a lot of our work and the fact that many of us are paid exclusively in cash, there aren’t really any good statistics regarding the earnings of an average stripper, prostitute, pro-domme, or whatever. Instead of facts, there are sensationalized news reports claiming that strippers can earn up to ten grand in a night. While this is absolutely possible, it is in no way the norm and is generally taken from stories girls tell about how ‘this one really good night, this guy came in a he was making it rain HUNDREDS on me and blah, blah, blah.’ This means that getting audited as a sex worker is a NIGHTMARE and most girls who get audited end up paying far more than they truly owe. Because of this, I go through the production of filing 1099 independent contractor taxes and probably pay a lot more than most people with “straight” jobs.
        From there you make yet another assumption, that I am distressed by my parents’ lack of approval when it comes to my profession. Honestly I don’t care whether or not my parents support my work, so long as they support me as an individual. Since my parents don’t actively condemn my work, their approval is unnecessary to me. We’re all mature adults, we can disagree without losing respect or love for one another.
        Your next point, that my earning potential will decrease with age, is correct, but it’s also a non sequitur, as I’ve already stated ad nauseam that I don’t intend to be a sex worker forever. One of the things I find so attractive about sex work is that it affords me the time to focus on what I hope will be my eventual career: writing.
        Then, you devolve into personal attacks. So you’ve never had sex with a man you weren’t attracted to. Good for you. You’re telling me you’ve never been to a party, gotten a little too drunk, and woken up the next morning to find that the man you had sex with the night before was no Prince Charming and was actually pretty repulsive? Neither have I. Instead I made a series of informed decisions to sleep with men I was not attracted to, in exchange for something I found very attractive, their money.
        This brings me to your “evolutionary argument” against prostitution. It is absolutely absurd to suggest that the human penis requires positive feedback to get hard and “serve its reproductive purpose.” It would be lovely if that were the case, as rape would be completely impossible, but it’s frankly not. The human penis is able to get hard under a whole bunch of circumstances, some of which include positive feedback, and some of which don’t. Even aside from that, is there any more objective way to earn something than to pay for it? If you decided to pay a massage therapist for their services, wouldn’t you say, as you lay on the table, letting the therapist rub the stress out of your back and shoulders, wouldn’t you say you had earned the massage? It’s the same principle.
        This is all completely aside from the fact that when I worked as a prostitute, most of my regular clients were perfectly nice-looking, clean, kind, successful, courteous, gentlemen who simply didn’t have time for a relationship, but still wanted an occasional dose of affection. I was essentially paid to leave. It wasn’t that these men couldn’t have attracted an equally nice-looking, clean, kind, successful woman, it was just that they preferred to have independent lives without such a person. I tell a lot of stories about the sad clients or the just plain bad clients, but that’s because “I went to this guy’s house and he paid me a bunch of money and then we had some vanilla sex and then we cuddled for a sec and talked a little bit and then I blew that joint” is not a good story.
        I’m sorry you had to saddle yourself with loans in order to make your way through school, that must have been very difficult for you. Once again, the fact that I found a way to make something of myself without loans, though, does not make me lazy, it simply makes me a bit more innovative and morally plastic than a lot of young women.

      • Jon

        Wow! what a great, well thought out rational reply grounded in logic and reason:) Greer’s post lost me at bone penises :

      • Cate

        Actually a lot of smaller animals do indeed have bone penises, hence the reason why they are retractable, but really? Guys can only get hard when they’re receiving “positive feedback?”
        That whole paragraph was really deeply offensive to me.

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

      Oh Cat, don’t worry about the other comment. Just another one.

      I’m incredibly happy for you. Domming was the best choice I ever made for myself. I set my own personal limits as to what I could and could not do, and no one, not your commenters, my family, men I’ve dated, or people who have hated me for other reasons, will ever make me feel even remotely bad about what and why and how I did it. The benefits to my psyche, as well as just my own personal sexuality, have been astounding. I don’t think about sex the way other 24 year old women do. The kind of maturity that comes in recognizing the act verses the emotion, I’ve watched many older women waste their ‘lives’ not understanding that. I am not as easily hurt, more in touch with myself, can ask for what I want, and know when I’m being taken advantage of.

      These people don’t understand. They never will. That’s ok. There will ALWAYS be someone who thinks that they are better than you for whatever reason, mostly because of what they think. That isn’t what is important in life.

      The saddest thing about a session, was when I would ask why the sub wouldn’t do what he was doing with Me, with his wife or girlfriend, and it became a sick little window into their life, one I couldn’t stop staring through with each new sub. The answers were always the same, ‘I wanted to, but she won’t do it,’ ‘she knows I like this, but she thinks it’s gross,’ ‘we don’t even have regular sex anymore,’ ‘I don’t remember the last time I saw my wife naked. We’ve been married for 20 years.’

      That is heartbreaking to Me. That the relationships people are having aren’t transparent enough to let individual guards down, that what is a turn on for someone you LOVE isn’t even an option because of your own hang ups. That’s not love, and I am MORE than happy to provide a fantasy, a safe place without sex, to release those urges for those men. So they can go back to their so’s and have the hum-drum complacency that those women tolerate and cultivate, full of lies that were set to stone well before he ever considered searching for a Domina. And of course, for the judgemental readers out there, I am NOT talking about sick shit, children and animals. I am referring to simple CP, or crossdressing, or worship. Not even sex(though I know you don’t believe Me). There is no reason whatsoever those activities can’t be explored with someone you love.

      All sex workers serve a psychological purpose, which has nothing to do with the act itself. Providing that is INCREDIBLY gratifying on a personal level, and it’s an intelligent, emotional gratification, that rivals the best non-profit, charitable, ‘upstanding cause’, work.

      People outside of it will NEVER understand that- and as a sex worker, and someone who loves to be a sex worker, you will face the judgement over and over and over again over the acts you do.

      I assume every article will have someone saying exactly what this woman said today, and that guy was commenting for weeks about. And that’s fine. Trying to educate the small minded people who seem to think that sex work is only for the truly untalented, dumb, and uneducated is a lost cause. We won’t win, because you don’t even hear our arguments over the self-righteous drivel you think is fact.

      I just wish that every person who feels it’s their place to tell you that you are wrong or wasting your potential could read this, understand it, and move on:

      WE DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT OUR CHOICES. THEY ARE THE RIGHT ONES FOR US. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THIS SUBCULTURE, AND THESE POSTS ARE TRYING TO CHANGE THAT. YOUR NEGATIVE OPINION MATTERS NOT TO US, PLEASE DON’T WASTE YOUR KEYSTROKES TELLING US WE ARE WRONG.

      And for you, and me? Let’s try really hard not to feed the trolls anymore.

      xoxo, good luck, so happy for you. Need to come back home to see you. Unless you and daniel want to road trip to the land of bourbon and horses, because I could totally swing that too.

      • meteor_echo

        “People outside of it will NEVER understand that”

        Some can. I am willing to do whatever turns my boyfriend on, even if I dislike it, if it’s nice for him. I don’t judge, or mock anyone’s fetishes, because they’re as much a part of each person’s inner self as their dreams, aspirations and habits. Besides, having the freedom to be open about what you like in bed – and not being judged for it – is liberating.

        However, I don’t agree with you on one point – if you feel uncomfortable about something, you have the right and SHOULD refuse to do it. The SOs of your clients should not absolutely have to give in to the fetishes that your clients have, just because it would make your clients ~happy~. I don’t think that sexual happiness should be built on sacrifices from either sides, but sometimes people just cannot compromise because that’s the way they are, and it’s NOT a bad thing.
        For example, for me something that would instantly make me leave my boyfriend would be cheating/suggestions for a threesome. I’ll do anything for him, but if I’m not enough for him, he can leave for somebody else. He knows it (he’s not the kind of person who’d cheat anyway), and, if he decided that he wants to fuck somebody else, he’s free to leave. I’m not going to compromise on this and I’m not ashamed of it.

      • Cate

        I’m with you, in that if something legitimately squicks you, you’re not entitled to do it. For example, I could never, ever, ever, give my boyfriend a brown shower. Fortunately he hasn’t expressed any interest in such a thing, so I doubt it’s going to be an issue.
        I do, however think that while cheating is absolutely grounds for a split, suggesting a threesome, especially if he’s willing to accept your “no” is hardly a reason to leave someone.

      • meteor_echo

        For me it’s honestly pretty much the same. My boyfriend knows I have MAJOR trust issues, and to me, knowing that he wants to have sex with someone else AND to involve me into it, would be probably a good enough reason to try to kill myself again. So, either he only sleeps with me, or he sleeps with someone else but doesn’t date me.

      • Cate

        Ooh, yeah, I can see how if there are other issues involved then a threesome could be a bad thing.

      • Greer

        If you don’t care what I think of your choices, why protest in all caps? If you want to stop “feeding the trolls”, then please stop writing about how prostitution is a reasonable choice for a intelligent young women to make. It isn’t. It’s like an intelligent middle-class boy deciding he’d rather sell crack than become a plumber or an accountant. It’s a lazy choice. Society will understandably condemn it as will your parents, if they care about you.

      • Cate

        Lady, you are my favorite. I am resisting the hell out of the urge to feed this particular troll, and you’ve said almost everything I need to say.
        I’m sick of repeating, “my job is harder than you’ll ever know. I vote, pay my taxes, and love my country. I save my money. I am not the first woman to have used sex work as a stepping stone to a more ‘respectable’ career. Both my parents hugged me enough. My parents and I get along great. I have a perfectly healthy romantic life. I was not molested as a child. I was not raped until after I’d been a sex worker for a really long time, and before you ask, no it wasn’t related to my work. Yes, I do enjoy my job. Did you miss the part where your whole argument is based on prostitution and I haven’t been a prostitute on any but legal technicalities for YEARS? Yes, I would absolutely support my child if he or she wanted to enter the sex industry. Blah, blah, blah.”

        I keep reminding myself to be angry at the society that breeds these ignorant attitudes, and not at the people themselves, but it can be difficult when they level bizarre personal attacks (you must be sad your parents don’t like your work because you need their approval, you’re lazy, &c) and make bizarre claims which essentially deny the possibility that rape can happen (the supposedly evolutionary basis for why prostitution is wrong).

      • Jon

        People really do only see what they want to see:(

    • T-Lex

      Congratulations on the new job! I think your writing always breaks through the preconceived notions about sex work so I am sure you will do the same for fetish work and the fetish community in general!

      • Cate

        Thank you!
        I’m pretty excited about this new chapter in my life, as fetish is something as close to my heart as sex work.

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