The Physical Effects Of Sex Work.

The Absinthe Drinker, Viktor Oliva (1901)

Cate is something of a renaissance sex worker and has held numerous interesting jobs in the adult industry. Each week, she shares her stories in Harlotry.

I’ve written at length about how much I love my work. And for the most part I do, but it hasn’t been entirely without physical consequences. I don’t mean that my work has injured me–although two years of stripping didn’t exactly do good things for the already not-great state of my knees and back. What I mean by “consequences” is that I now respond differently, even rather negatively, to certain physical stimuli.

Since people seem to assume the worst when it comes to ladies of my profession, I should probably preface all of this by saying that while I have been raped, it was long after I became a sex worker and I was not raped by a client. While not mutually enjoyable, my overall sexual experiences with clients have certainly not violated the trust set in place, nor would qualify as anything I would consider assault. In my experience and the experiences of my friends, this is pretty normal. Clients seem to be, if anything, less likely to be dangerous than other, non-paying men. However, despite my overwhelmingly positive experiences with clients, I’ve recently noticed that my responses to certain sexual activities–both in and out of work–have changed. And sadly, they have changed for the worse.

The first thing I noticed was my response to oral sex. Now, I’ve honestly never been a huge fan of being gone down on in general. I’m very particular about exactly how I like to be touched, and most people, women or men, just don’t really manage to achieve that, no matter how explicit my directions are. Extremely well-performed oral can make me speak in tongues and call upon the names of forgotten gods, but in the long list of people I’ve slept with for either business or pleasure, there have been exactly three who managed to achieve that, two of whom were women. Usually I’m just lying there bored and wondering if I need to fake it or if I should just try to steer the activities in another direction. These days, though, my response is more likely to be actual revulsion than simple boredom.

There are certain techniques now that can and do almost make me wretch. I’m frequently in the awkward position of trying to suppress nausea while a client tries to be a good guy and get me off. It’s not necessarily a lack of skill–many of the clients that I find so off-putting are at least passably decent at going down on a lady, as a matter of fact. It’s certainly not revulsion at their physicality, either. The looks (or lack thereof) of a client don’t really have anything to do with how much or how little revulsion I feel at their ministrations. I’m never sure what to do in these situations, obviously it’s bad form to let my disgust be known, but at the same time, I wonder how much damage I’m doing to myself by letting things continue and ignoring the visceral physical response I feel.

The only thing that may gross me out more than certain oral techniques is having my nipples played with, or worse, sucked. I’ve nearly thrown up on clients’ heads when they decide to go for my nipples, and usually manage to choke out a squirm and giggle so I can simply pretend my nipples are ticklish and make them stop. This is probably the thing I find most distressing, primarily because of how it used to make me feel.

While receiving oral isn’t really a huge part of my sex life, I used to absolutely love nipple play, and I find it distressing that all of a sudden I can’t stand it. I know that as one gets older, bodies evolve in their responses, but this is different. These are feelings of revulsion, not simply a new sensation.

I was recently discussing this phenomenon on twitter with two fellow sex workers, one from the UK and one from Australia. The conversation was prompted by Fornicatrix, the woman from the UK, tweeting that she now experiences “extreme aversions to having parts of me touched in a certain way, or at all, during sex in or out of work,” a sentiment that resonated with me so, so much. I replied, and pretty soon the three of us on our three different continents and in our three different time zones were talking about what this might come from and how we deal with it.

The Australian escort suggested it might stem from the general stress of screening clients, worries about job-related safety, and the fact that as sex workers we face massive stigma on a daily basis. I think these aspects are part of it, but I’m not sure if they encompass everything that is going on behind-the-scenes in my brain. That said, I can’t for the life of me figure out what the rest of it is.

I wonder sometimes if it’s just the cumulative effects of sex work kicking in. Last month, I hit the six year mark of being a sex worker. While the various hiatuses I’ve taken over the years probably lop a good year off my total labor time, five years still isn’t too shabby, and most of my time as a sex worker has been spent doing full service work. There have been so many men who have stuck so many things into so many different orifices with varying degrees of skill; I’d be lying if I said that doesn’t take a certain toll.

I’ve loudly and proudly proclaimed that the conditional nature of my consent should not and does not negate its validity. I firmly believe that on some level–all consent is conditional–but it’s somewhat more straightforward in my work. In most cases, I actually wouldn’t have sex with my clients if they weren’t paying me. Is my new revulsion a symptom of physical burnout, built on years and years of having sex that in many cases I did not actively want? It is, as Fornicatrix says, “an ISHOOOO” and what’s worse, it’s one we sex workers don’t talk about nearly enough?

I think the likelihood of there only being three otherwise happy hookers who experience physical symptoms of revulsion at the wrong kind of touches from our clients is small. As much as I love the sex workers’ right movement and believe 100% in the main things espoused by the men and women involved, I’m not above criticizing certain things about it. One of those things is the weird respectability politics that come into play. There’s a sort of discouragement that happens when it comes to talking about the parts of the work that you aren’t super fond of. And the happier the hooker, the more discouraged you are from talking about what you aren’t crazy about.

You aren’t supposed to detract from your candidacy for Sex Worker Poster Child, but as I’ve written about before, this hurts us all by ignoring the labor we do. Labor isn’t always fun, and I’m sure that even those women who talk about how much they love getting paid to have orgasms all day can agree with me on that. We sex workers need to be able to talk freely about the things we don’t like about our work, and even the things that make us sick, otherwise our detractors are always going to be able to split us into the rare happy hookers and the common unhappy ones. When we happy hookers talk about the things we dislike about our jobs, the truth becomes apparent, that sex work, like any labor, is a spectrum that contains people with all different experiences and feelings about their work. Nothing is black and white, and I refuse to pretend the darker gradients of my experience don’t exist, even if I don’t know exactly where they come from.