Updated: Oct 24
Boundaries are the bedrock of any good relationship, whether personal or professional. As a person in sex work, you need to have clearly defined boundaries and limits, for your safety, your comfort, and your mental health. This is important for you and your clients. Every participant’s experience will be better if you all know the expectations that you have for one another and you’re being met with mutual respect. Each client may be looking for key elements to their experience, and, as a provider, you have to know which services you’re willing to provide. You’re allowed to be unconventional. Your boundaries can be different from other providers. You’re allowed to reject clients that you feel are disrespectful or those that try to negotiate with you about your clearly-stated boundaries.
That being said, some of your boundaries may be negotiable. Maybe you charge more for certain services that are more difficult for you personally or those which you enjoy less. You can list on your sites/pages/advertisements whether negotiation is an option. If you’re open to discussing services that you don’t advertise, a statement like “Email me if there’s a service not listed that you’d like to discuss.” on your site(s) would let clients know that you’re willing to discuss a service you may not have listed. Saying the opposite on your site if you’re uncomfortable accepting requests for non-listed services will help you identify clients who may be disrespectful or inconsiderate of your limits. For example, if your site says “These are all the services I offer.” and a client emails asking about services not listed, they have either not read your site carefully, which means they may not know your limits, or they read your site and disregarded it, because they are valuing their desires over your limits.
The negotiation period is the best time to evaluate if your boundaries are being respected. If you require a fee before negotiation, was the fee paid? If not, that’s a red flag. If you have a screening process, was it followed? If not, red flag. Was the client respectful to you during the whole process? If not, red flag.
In sex work, disrespect can be dangerous since there is often less legal protection and a lot of social stigma against sex work. There is a smaller support network for sex workers than for people in most other sectors. Whatever precedes you providing services to a client gives you a chance to evaluate whether you think that the interaction will be safe for you to do. If your communicated boundaries are crossed before, during, or after you provide services to a client, it is not your fault. For your safety and well-being, it is best to discontinue services with people that prove that they will not respect your limits.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have to continuously ask to be listened to and respected, if you have to beg for the other person or people in your relationship just to help you feel safe, it is not a healthy relationship and your emotional and physical well-being is at risk.
Your boundaries being clearly defined and respected is the key to having a good experience in sex work. Drs. Katie Bloomquist and Eric Sprankle mention this in a journal article about sex worker affirmative therapy:
“One paradox of the sex industry is that it can be simultaneously a positive, emotionally-gratifying experience, as well as emotionally draining. […] Sex work clients who may be more emotionally draining (e.g. those who push boundaries, ask for services not offered, etc.) could impact sex workers in different ways.”
Knowing your boundaries and being able to clearly communicate them will help you find the clients that you will most enjoy interacting with, and having your boundaries respected- not questioned or pushed- will make it possible to build rapport with those clients. Acknowledging your limits and upholding your boundaries will set you up to sustainably do sex work for however long you want to while maintaining your mental health. The skill set of being able to articulate and enforce your boundaries is integral to sex work, but it’s also a transferable skill set.
Be a boundary enforcer in your non-sex-work life too. If your coworkers at your day job tell jokes that make you uncomfortable, tell them. If your family members make rude comments at your expense, limit your time with them. If you have a friend that “borrows” money and never, ever pays it back, stop giving them money. You don’t have to value other people’s comfort and norms if it’s causing you suffering. If you’ve politely asked for changes over and over again and you keep getting ignored, don’t beg for other people to change.
Change the situation yourself, and only beg when it’s sexy.
(HTTPS://WWW.DRSPRANKLE.COM/SEX-WORKER-AFFIRMATIVE-THERAPY-1; KATIE BLOOMQUIST & ERIC SPRANKLE (2019): SEX WORKER AFFIRMATIVE THERAPY: CONCEPTUALIZATION AND CASE STUDY, SEXUAL AND RELATIONSHIP THERAPY, DOI: 10.1080/14681994.2019.1620930; HTTPS://DOI.ORG/10.1080/14681994.2019.1620930)
WRITTEN BY ZAN EDITED BY VICTORIA SILVER ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF JACQUELINE FRANCIS