Via ChuckYeager/Flickr

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.

A lot of people assume it’s impossible to have a romantic relationship–or at least a successful one–and be a sex worker at the same time. This is not true at all. There are plenty of sex workers who are not only completely out about what they do for a living, but are also in happy, functional relationships. I count myself among these sex workers, but as with any human relationship, things are much more complicated than just “this is a good relationship” versus “this is not.”

Daniel, my boyfriend of slightly over a year, is a wonderful man. He knows what I do for a living and he accepts it. I have no doubt of his love for me, but I know my work is difficult for him to understand. He struggles with my choice of a career and I suspect he is always expecting me to quit sex work for good.

We don’t talk much about either the particulars of my work or his feelings about it because we have a pretty strict don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. We’ve never really discussed it, it just sort of happened.

I’ve mentioned before that I am out as a sex worker to nearly everyone I come across. When people at parties ask, “What do you do?” I smile and say, “Oh, well, I’m a sex worker.” This policy of honesty extended to the men I’ve dated.

The only other serious relationship I’ve had since becoming a sex worker was a three-and-a-half-year nightmare of abuse and gaslighting. I don’t blame myself or my work for Stanley’s execrable behavior but I know my work threatened and disturbed him, and that threat may have intensified the abuse.

I noticed this same kind of distress in the men I went out with before Daniel and I got together. I would usually bring up my profession on the first date. It was easier to get it out of the way than to wait, and in addition to that, sex work has always served as a kind of screening process for me. If I can say, “I’m a whore” and someone reacts positively or not at all, I am much more likely to pursue a relationship with them.

The men I went out with before Daniel usually didn’t react well to my explanation of what my job entails. “So what do you do?” they would ask. I would answer that I was a sex worker, and their faces would change along with their opinions of me. All of a sudden I became a trophy: the woman people paid to fuck or see naked or even just spend time with. I was no longer a real person; I was a kind of goddess, or worse, a manic pixie dream girl version of the hooker with a heart of gold. I was the woman who would redeem them and give them the kind of joie de vivre they had been searching for all their lives.

The ones who didn’t dehumanize me in what was arguably a positive way did so in a markedly negative way. Instead of becoming some kind of feminine savior, I was just a whore in the worst sense. I was dirty and most likely diseased. I could see images of their mothers’ disapproval flashing before their eyes, their friends murmuring about how “that girl he’s dating, you know she’s a prostitute, right?” I could see concern that I might leave them for a client one day, and all of this was before I even specified what kind of sex worker I was.

Those were the two main reactions. There were plenty of other men who greeted my announcement with speeches about human trafficking or the exciting news that “you can’t do that forever,” followed by the inevitable question of “what’s your back up plan?”

Of course, there were as many variations as there were men. None of them reacted well and they certainly didn’t want to know any more than they absolutely had to, so when Daniel actually asked to read what I’d written about being a sex worker, I took it as a good sign. I wasn’t terribly optimistic, though.

In the past year, things have gone pretty well, I only share stories about work if they’re very general, very brutal, and very funny. Beyond that, the only times I talk about sex work is in a general sense, and I know that even my lovely, patient boyfriend gets incredibly sick of my rants about the deeply ingrained whorephobia in our society.

It’s hard for Daniel to understand that sex work is not just what I do, but a huge part of who I am. He is disturbed by my interest in other areas of the industry. A week ago I mentioned in passing that if it wasn’t for him, I’d go to Nevada and work in a brothel for a week just to see what it was like. I’m not always the best at judging what people’s reactions will be, and in hindsight I probably should have known that wasn’t the best thing to say, but Daniel’s reaction was surprisingly poor.

His distress at even the hypothetical situation of me working in a brothel and his inability to understand the difference between work sex and sex sex was upsetting. He had told me before that he didn’t think he could handle it if I were to start offering full service, but his reaction viscerally reinforced my knowledge of that discomfort. It was so clear that his feelings about my former work as an escort bordered on disgust, and seeing those feelings up close and personal was a hard pill to swallow.

I know other women have found partners who accept and even encourage their participation in all aspects of the sex industry, but for better or worse, the man I have chosen either can’t or doesn’t want to accept anything but the bare minimum of physical contact with my clients. As much as his rejection of my former job stings, and as much as I would love to see for myself what things are like at Sheri’s Ranch, I would rather, for the time being at least, keep my relationship and sacrifice what is little more than idle curiosity.