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.

There are a lot of weird things about sex work that you don’t really notice once you’ve been doing it for a while–or ever, if you started early enough. One of those things is the fact that many areas of the sex industry involve basically being a professional “other woman.” This honestly never really occurred to me until recently, as I suppose it was a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. One of the few stereotypes about clients that does seem to hold true is that many of them are married. This isn’t new information for me, but I hadn’t really thought about it until recently. My status as a professional mistress in more than just the kinky way never bothered me, and it still doesn’t, but it has irrevocably changed the way I think about monogamy.

When I first started out as a sex worker I had a pretty average views of relationships. I had enough polyamorous acquaintances and friends in open relationships that I pretty well understood not everyone is naturally monogamous. That said, I really believed most people are. When I first started out as a sex worker, though, I was seventeen and all my ideas about romantic relationships were very simplistic; I’ve been a sex worker for six years now. I’ve had two serious relationships, dated casually, and been the other woman in an unpaid capacity twice so far.

For better or for worse, infidelity has played at least a minor part in most of my relationships and infidelity is what puts food on my table and a roof over my head. This is one of the reasons why I have a really hard time writing it off as only ever a negative thing. I hate to get all Dan Savage with this, but I think there’s a lot to be sad for “monogamish” relationships. While I completely understand that serious cheating has ruined lots of relationships and has the potential to be totally devastating, I’m equally sure that it doesn’t always have to be the terrible thing we’re taught.

Like most young women in Western culture, I grew up with tales of happily-ever-after monogamy. I held the idea of being totally faithful to one person up as the gold standard of romance and assumed that the cultural narrative we’re always told was correct: the only reason to ever cheat on someone is if you don’t love them anymore. But nothing is ever that simple; people cheat for all kinds of reasons, and sex work opened my eyes to a lot of those reasons.

People say that prostitutes are paid not for sex, but to leave afterwards. This is somewhat true, but before I leave, most clients want to talk to me for a while. Some of them talk about general life problems, but many of them talk about their relationships with their families. At the beginning I hated this. I hated hearing about the women I had been taught to believe I was betraying. It made me feel cruel. As I gained more experience, though, I stopped caring so much and began to recognize that just as my work was no personal affront to these women, my clients’ infidelity was rarely personal either.

As a fetish provider, I see a massive, massive amount of shame. Many of my clients–even the ones into relatively tame activities–are horrifically ashamed of their desires. A lot of them haven’t even started to explore real-life fetish until quite late in life, allocating their experiments with their more unusual desires to the realm of fantasy. Many of them are afraid to broach the topic with their wives, concerned that they would be outright rejected and berated. Some of them have worked up the courage to approach their wives about their kinks and experienced that very rejection the others fear.

For example, I have one client who told his wife that he would like her to spank him. When she heard that she called him disgusting and refused to have any sexual contact with him for over a month. That’s the most extreme situation I’ve heard so far, but that client’s wife’s general attitude is hardly unusual. I have a great deal of empathy for such situations, as my owns kinks have disturbed and alienated plenty of partners and I know very well the pain of bringing up an activity you think will be fun and seeing the look of “you want what?” on a loved one’s face before they shake their head and say something along the lines of “no, that’s gross/creepy/weird, I don’t want to do that and I don’t understand why you would.”

Most of these men love their wives, and while this might not be a popular opinion, I find it heartbreaking to hear that they are left with the awful choice of going their lives without exploring their desires, risking disgust and dismissal from the person they love most, or going behind their back and risking heartbreak on both sides. My services give clients a place to explore without judgment or personal complication and it’s hard for me to look at contracting the services of a ex industry professional as cheating. To my knowledge, I’ve never dated anyone who has visited any kind of sex worker other than strippers while we were dating, but I don’t think I’d be angry if I were to find out otherwise.

The thing about stepping out of a relationship with a sex worker is that it is deeply impersonal. A sex worker with any degree of professionalism is not going to come to your house and boil your bunny as long as you pay her rate. Part of our function as professionals is that we can create an intensely intimate experience for the length of the booking and then let go as soon as we part company with our client. While it’s true that clients aren’t always as good at letting go as we are, most of them understand that even when we are providing girlfriend experiences, we aren’t actually their girlfriends. As a sex worker I give my clients a space for judgment-free sexual exploration and expression, and I have trouble seeing how that’s an altogether negative thing–even if it is technically cheating.