This stock photo communicates “MONEY” but also “SEX”

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.

A lot of people have asked me why, if I love my career so much, I keep leaving it and then returning. The assumption is that if I love sex work so much, I’d never need a break, but that’s simply not true.

There are a lot of reasons why I keep leaving, the main one being that–although I do truly love my work–it can be incredibly exhausting. I am not the most social person, and something like sex work (requiring a great deal of human interaction) is a huge drain on my emotional and mental resources. I need a lot of space, and I am fortunate in that sex work allows me to earn enough money that I can take the space I need when I need it.

I’ve been a sex worker of some variety for nearly five years. In that time I’ve taken a prolonged leave of absence from the industry three different times and for three different reasons. After each of these vacations, I’ve followed the siren call of the industry and gone back. The bottom line is that I love my work truly, madly, and deeply, and while there have been jobs within the industry that I’ve hated–whether because the job itself is not a good fit for me, or because the working conditions themselves were hostile–I’ve never begun to comprehend how someone could hate the industry as a whole.

The first time I quit sex work, was, as I’ve covered, for a man. While Stanley kept saying the right words, “I’ll never tell you to quit a job for me,” and perhaps most tellingly, “do what you want, I can’t stop you,” his true feelings were clear: my work made him feel threatened. At the time, I was getting sick of escorting and his disapproval was a simple reason to quit. I didn’t pause to examine the fact that he was saying one thing with his mouth and another with his behavior, but eventually it was that exact kind of dissonance which caused my first return to the sex industry.

I hadn’t even been out for six months when I started to feel trapped not only by my inactivity, but also by Stanley’s constant, overbearing presence. I had two reasons for applying at Club Paradox–the first, most pressing one was certainly poverty–but the second was that I wanted to get out from under Stanley’s stifling, smothering control of me and my life. When the club closed, I felt like I had lost my refuge and my safe haven. I transitioned easily to phone sex, but that solved none of the problems caused by Paradox’s closure. I returned to sex work to regain at least a fraction of my original freedom but when that freedom was taken from me, it ended up only trapping me further, and for that reason I quit again.

With the exception of a disastrous and depressing month of webcam modeling, the occasional photo modeling job, and some odd fetish work here and there, the furlough following my time as a phone sex operator was the longest of all. I was miserable, and my sense of captivity continued to grow. By the end of it, I was like the woman in The Yellow Wallpaper, clawing at the walls of my head, desperate to get out. It was time to go back to the naked labor.

And so I went back to sex work, this time as a stripper in a traditional club, not a peep show, but once again my return to sex work was motivated by escapism and a desire for freedom, the two things that motivated both my previous return to sex work and my decision to become a sex worker in the first place.

I wish I could say my third plunge into sex work afforded me both the escape and the freedom I so desperately needed at the moment, but unfortunately it did no such thing. While the first few weeks at Heavenly Creatures were indeed heavenly, my work quickly became something that weighed heavily on me and when I was suspended for making too many tasteless and violent jokes, I turned my suspension into another long vacation.

Six months later, as I return to sex work once again, I am examining my reasons for going back to this, my favorite job, and I can’t help but notice how very, very different they are this time around. I chose to become a sex worker because I feared the directionlessness of my life and wanted to escape my inevitable descent into service industry wage slavery. Sex work seemed like an exciting and profitable way to avoid all the bullshit that usually comes along with youth and bad tattoos, but ultimately it didn’t solve my main problem: that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

Up until now, each of my forays into the sex industry has been motivated by a desire to escape from something, whether it be the poverty that comes with youth, the smothering feelings that come with an unhealthy relationship, already rounding the corner into actual abuse, or the feelings of powerlessness and fear that follow in the wake of three years of near constant erasure by a man you were once foolish enough to love and trust. This time, though, things are different. I am re-entering the sex industry not because I think it will give me a way out of some unpleasant circumstance, but because I want to for no other reason than I fucking love this work.

The first two times I returned to sex work, it was because I was unhappy and I expected the money and constant changes in my work obligations to bring me happiness. While I’ve always enjoyed my work, it isn’t possible for outside circumstances to make a person happy, and as much as I love sex work, it never fixed my life the way I always hoped it would.

This time around is different in so many ways. I am older, more experienced, and more comfortable in my skin. I know where I’m going in life, and more than that, I finally have a real life of my own. I can stand on my feet without being propped up, and I am happy. It isn’t as if I don’t have baggage, I have plenty of baggage, but it isn’t weighing me down. I am independent and free, I have nothing to escape from, and I can’t wait to see how amazing this work can be when I’m not expecting it to save me from my circumstances.