Updated: Oct 24
BY MOLLY SIMMONS
If you’re like me, you might have gotten your first swath of dating advice from Sex and the City, watching Carrie and the gang work through the trials and tribulations of the New York City scene in the early 2000’s. And if you’re like me, hopefully you outgrew the show for anything other than nostalgia and realized the relationships they modeled were hopelessly archaic and normative. Dating as a sex worker can be difficult—developing intentional and meaningful relationships is hard no matter who you are, but working in the sex industry definitely adds another layer of complication. Despite our best efforts, I feel as if sex work is one of those things you can only truly understand if you have experience in it. And that’s okay! Our partners don’t have to understand every single part of us as long as they’re supportive, compassionate, and committed to growing with us. So how do we navigate personal/recreational intimacy when we’re active in the industry? I have some thoughts.
My first piece of advice you might disagree with at first—but hear me out. I firmly believe that it’s better to tell a prospective partner about being a sex worker as soon as you can. You might say—well I don’t feel safe telling someone I’m a sex worker! And I understand. But if you don’t feel safe enough to discuss your profession with someone, feeling safe enough to be vulnerable and date them feels out of the question, right? Building a relationship requires a lot of trust and vulnerability on both sides, and that is hard to build when a huge piece of your life is hidden from someone. Not only are you introducing dishonesty in a lot of logistical ways (for example, telling your partner where you are or how you spend your days) but sometimes we have emotional needs and boundaries that are shaped by sex work that are impossible to fully communicate without talking about our work. And if our partners don’t really know why we have certain needs, how can they show up for us in a way that makes us feel seen? If you’re casually dating or looking for purely physical relationships, I fully support and understand keeping sensitive information to yourself, especially if you’re face-out. But if you’re searching for a partner, it can be difficult to get to a place of deeper trust and vulnerability when we start out with a pretty big concealment.
Personally, I would always tell people on the first date what I do for work. I’ve been in the industry for 10 years, am face-out and pretty comfortable with what I do. It does help that I am cis, I don’t have children and live in New York City—if you are trans, have children or live in a small town, I can definitely see why you might want to go on a few more dates before talking with someone about what you do. Nevertheless, there are plenty of ways you can broach the subject without coming right out and saying you’re a whore. You can mention watching a sex worker documentary, reading an article about sex worker’s rights, or bring up a story with a friend who’s a sex worker to gauge their reaction.
If you’re a full-service worker and are worried about someone’s judgments, you can mention having an OnlyFans, being an exotic dancer, or other forms of slightly more acceptable sex work. I don’t like respectability politics either, but if safety is a concern there’s nothing wrong with broaching the subject lightly just to see what someone’s thoughts are. Really, all you’re trying to do is weed out the obviously whorephobic people in your dating sphere.
IF OUR PARTNERS DON’T REALLY KNOW WHY WE HAVE CERTAIN NEEDS, HOW CAN THEY SHOW UP FOR US IN A WAY THAT MAKES US FEEL SEEN?
Chances are any civilian will have some level of difficulty or confusion with our work—things they need to discuss, adapt to, and process. None of this can be handled on a first date—all you’re trying to see is whether or not this person fundamentally sees you as a human deserving of rights and respect and who won’t fetishize you. If they are, that’s amazing! Everything else can be handled as a growing couple as you build your relationship together. My general philosophy is that if you don’t make a big deal out of it, they won’t either. One boundary I have discovered useful for myself is that even though I’m happy to share what I do for work, I no longer share the name of my work persona or any of those social media accounts with my partners. Knowing you a lover or a partner has access to my marketing platforms and my work identity not only felt like an invasion of privacy for me, but it was uncomfortable for them and made it harder for me to do my job.
So you’ve met someone, they know what you do, and you both want to build something deeper with each other. Now what?
This is the part that I like to call ‘owning your shit.’ Working in the sex industry affects everyone in different ways—but it does affect us. Just like any job. Only our jobs have the added complications of stigma, uncertainty, possibility of violence, and criminalization. That’s a lot for one person to handle, but if you have a firmer grasp of how the industry affects you it can create a much more supportive environment with your partner. Do you need space after seeing a client, or closeness? Do you struggle to accept gifts or financial support from your partner, or do you feel it’s a necessity? Are you actively working through trauma; do some things trigger you?
When we are able to recognize where we’re at and own our own shit it becomes a lot easier to work with a partner to make something beautiful. Sometimes we get to that point of ownership with therapy, supportive friends, other healing modalities, journaling, self reflection, or just a lot of fucking time. Of course, throughout this whole process we are trusting and expecting our partner’s to own their own shit too. If enough time passes and you feel like you’re still having the same conversations or that your partner is never truly accepting you for who you are, that might be a time to reevaluate your investment in the relationship.
IT’S JUST ABOUT SHOWING UP, EVERY DAY, DOING OUR OWN WORK, AND TRUSTING THOSE AROUND US TO BE DOING THEIR WORK ALSO.
One of the biggest things I struggle with with my civilian partner is that I’m the one who actually gets defensive. I realized that I’m so used to judgment and shame from the world around me—even from myself—that if they expressed any difficulty or need to process I took that as an immediate rejection. I could feel myself shutting down the moment they asked a single question or said anything that wasn’t blind agreement or support of what I was doing or the sex industry as a whole. This isn’t productive either, and it took (and is taking!) me time to recognize that they’re allowed to have their own feelings about my work, and they need to be allowed to have the time and space they need to process what it means being the partner of a sex worker. One concrete practice that has been helpful for us as a couple is connecting my partner to the partners of other sex workers—I reached out to my community to see if anyone had a partner who would be willing to speak with them and help them process all the things that were coming up for them in our relationship. A lot of people are supportive of sex workers in theory, but dating one is a very different practice—it forces both of us to confront a lot of internalized beliefs that maybe we didn’t even realize we had. This comes back to us owning our shit as sex workers—when I realized how I was showing up for my partner, I could communicate clearly to them what was coming up for me and what kind of support I needed, while asking them what kind of support they needed. Because at the end of the day, I only have control over myself and the way that I show up for my relationships.
Dating as a sex worker can be difficult. Regardless of the gender or sexuality of your partner, it is new territory for most people. Learn to recognize signs of disrespect and fetishization so you can decide really early on if it’s something you want to pursue. Communicate as soon as you can safely about the nature of your work and what type of support you need from your partner. Own your own shit and see how you show up for your partner, how you show up for yourself, and how you’re working to build trust and vulnerability in your relationship. Building intentional relationships is one of the most beautiful things we can do, and unfortunately there aren’t any shortcuts to getting there. It’s just about showing up, every day, doing our own work and trusting those around us to be doing their work also.
WORDS BY MOLLY SIMMONS
PHOTO BY PENELOPE DARIO