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Whores Are Healers


I want to preface this piece with a note that regardless of how any civilian or worker feels about sex work as a healing profession, the human and labor rights of sex workers are non-negotiable. No validation of sex work needs to take place in order to argue for basic rights. This piece is not an appeal to respectability – rather it is a reclamation, a refutation of a toxic, puritanical and patriarchal culture that denies the value and importance of pleasure, of sex, and of feminized labor. This is a love letter to my fellow whores, a celebration of the essential and valuable work we do.

I want to proclaim loudly that sex workers are expert healers in our own right. Sex workers give the gift of pleasure. Of presence. Of acceptance. Of companionship. Of play.

When describing my escorting to a therapist a while back, she immediately recognized the similarities between our respective work. Of course, as sex workers we don’t have the same clinical responsibilities, but we are often both space-holders, offering connection for pay within concrete boundaries of self, space and time. Like therapists, counselors, masseuses, breathworkers, and other facilitators of the healing arts, we create spaces of care and intimacy in service of our clients’ needs and desires. It’s obvious when you remove the sex-negative and whorephobic blinders from our cultural lens that most sex work fits within this larger category.

As a tender nineteen year-old in my first year doing sex work, I wrote this in my diary:

"I think this job is one of very few places in this world where I can be rewarded for my ability to love and accept openly, anyone, on principle... I do this for free all the time, leading to one-sided relationships that I desperately need out of. This is being able to help people, get paid, and get out."

I vividly recall the moment, astride a client, when it occurred to me that I couldn’t be the first worker to feel the value and importance of this work. I began researching and found that the potential for sex workers to function as healers is vast and not unprecedented historically, possibly dating back to temple prostitution in ancient times. I read about older forms of prostitution and found other workers sharing incredible human and healing stories of their work in the industry today.

Having discovered the healing power of sex work as an escort, a decade later I embarked on a journey to become more formally trained as a somatic sex educator. I wanted to have a more structured way to hold space for sexual healing. While the trauma- informed modality I’m certified in has unique facets and strengths to its structure, my teachers were clear: the training was built on the incredible wisdom and lineage of our whoremothers, an arc that can be traced back through Joseph Kramer and Annie Sprinkle and the modality of sexological bodywork, which emerged out of practices of community care in response to the AIDS epidemic.

It’s startling to me how easy it is to talk about my (often hands-on and/or genitally-involved) work as a somatic sex educator to the same people who would either balk or turn off completely upon hearing I was a whore. I’m tired of the whorearchy and respectability politics. Of the separation of those who serve people for their pleasure from those who serve them for their sexual education or healing. These arbitrary divisions fuel stigma and oppressive laws that have a direct impact on the lives and safety of sex workers around the world - disproportionately impacting trans workers and workers of color. In New York state where I live, 90% of prostitution-related arrests are of people of color.1 Nationwide, 9 in 10 trans sex workers or trans people suspected of being sex workers report being harassed, attacked or assaulted by police.2 In the field of somatic sex education there is ongoing work by some of my peers to disrupt politics of respectability and build awareness of and solidarity with the broader sex workers’ rights movement.

What Does it Mean to “Heal”?

Shame, trauma and repression work by keeping parts of ourselves exiled, away from our conscious mind. Those parts still exist unconsciously, driving behaviors in ways we’re not aware of and causing emotional distress through the tug-of-war between different parts of ourselves that want to be heard and have their needs met. Whoremother and consent educator Dr. Betty Martin says healing means moving towards wholeness, towards restoring access to all of ourselves. To heal requires coming back into relationship with all our parts.

Any experience can be healing if it contradicts shame or disempowerment and is a body experience (involving changes in chemistry and neurology, and deep relaxation or pleasure.) Shame can make us hide or make us feel something is wrong with us. What heals sexual shame is someone showing up with acceptance, presence and compassion, witnessing our sexual selves. It might seem a simple act, seeing people in their wholeness, being present to their vulnerable desires not often shared anywhere else – but this in itself can be a deeply healing experience. It is healing to find and reconnect to all parts of self, to find deeper presence and embodiment, to release body shame and have a relational experience that contradicts past attachment wounds, such as rejection. It is healing to receive nourishment and pleasure, to experience connection and feel less alone, to be witnessed and held without judgment. The most common healing that happens in sex work is actually much harder to find in traditional therapeutic contexts for this reason – where else does one find that deep level of acceptance, truly embodied through the experience of intimacy?

Contrary to what can feel implied by the term “healer”, healing is not something “done to” someone else. The healing itself happens within the individual who is receiving the support of the healer -through their space-holding or facilitation - to unfold and express parts of themselves.

Pleasure is Healing

Dr. Betty Martin says that pleasure itself is a physiologically necessary, restoring, healing experience. As she puts it, “Some of the most powerful healing on the planet happens in the arms of a prostitute.”

Western society commonly portrays the pursuit of sensual exploration and ecstasy as an indulgence, but there is some very strong evidence to the contrary. Sensual pleasure can be key to the healing of both common trauma responses: hyperarousal and dissociation.

Shocks to the psyche that could not be fully processed at the time manifest as trauma, fear responses ingrained in our bodies that can remain in place long after the initial threat has gone. These responses can shift between hyperarousal fight-or-flight type anxiety and/or aggression responses (where we can’t allow pleasure) or dissociative ones (where we don’t feel we’re in our bodies, and therefore don’t feel pleasure). Relearning a capacity for pleasure can both calm our hyperaroused nervous systems and bring us back from dissociation. As conscious sexuality teacher Barbara Carellas writes, “ecstasy is necessary.”

Psychologist Carol Gilligan writes that dissociation, and I would suggest hyperarousal as well, is not only the result of severe episodic trauma, it is also a natural response to the trauma of existing in an oppressive environment - such as white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. I would similarly argue that upon close examination, most of us would find we have been traumatized by our social environment, if not also through discrete personal traumas. Living under patriarchy, being socialized into the limitations of one’s assigned gender and growing up in a sex negative culture are often traumatic experiences in themselves, leaving their mark as dissociation and fragmentation. Following the threads of pleasure and desire, we can begin to unwind these embodied traumas and reconnect to lost parts of ourselves. As Gilligan writes, “Through the experience of sensual pleasure, we come into associative relationship with ourselves...” In other words, we come to access more of ourselves, shifting the sense of separation that dissociation brings. Dissociation remains a wise and valuable tool at our disposal, but perhaps no longer our default mode.

More generally, somatic sex educator and whoremother Caffyn Jesse teaches about the intelligence of the pleasure instinct:

"Pleasure is an inner guide that empowers us to seek nourishment, companions and environments that fit our needs, where we can unfold our whole potential. This pleasure-seeking impulse is part of our cellular intelligence. An amoeba moves towards optimum temperatures; a nematode worm learns to avoid shock; a plant grows towards the light. We are built to seek conditions that support our flourishing and withdraw from stimuli that hurt or inhibit us.”

Prolonged states of relaxation and pleasure are not only deeply healing, they are doorways to transformative and mystical states. We are only beginning to understand the ways in which “altered” states of consciousness - such as erotic trance and orgasm – can help us reassociate after trauma and open us to the mysteries of the unconscious and the universe at large.

Whores are Healers

I first marched with a sign that said “Whores are Healers” in 2018, but I know I’m not the first nor the last to feel this way. Whoremother Carol Queen, sex worker and activist, wrote in 1994:

"To guide another person to orgasm, to hold and caress, to provide companionship and initiation to new forms of sex, to embody the Divine and embrace the seeker – these are healing and holy acts. Every prostitute can do these things, whether or not s/he understands their spiritual potential."

Or as Christa Darling writes in 2019:

"The healing nature of sex work can be seen today across the industry whether people are intentionally providing healing through the use of tantra to align the spiritual body and release emotional and physical dis-ease, exploring kink practices to deconstruct power and gender-roles, offering a girlfriend experience to provide ongoing emotional intimacy and care, or trading sex in order to access substances that offer temporary relief."

In a world where puritanical and patriarchal culture didn’t exist, what I’m writing here would be so obvious as to render it unremarkable. Of course it is healing to create spaces for play, exploration, intimacy, touch, sensuality, pleasure, excitement, connection, aliveness and the altered states of erotic trance and orgasm.

Coming to see this clearly has big implications. When we see sex workers as healers, we move away from patriarchal understandings of sexuality and make more accessible the healing power of touch, intimacy, play and connection. We dissolve social shame imposed upon both sex workers and their clients, which can be traumatic in itself. We restore sex workers to their historical role as valuable space-holders and connectors and allow the healing capacity of sex work to be held more consciously and intentionally. We bridge the socially constructed dualisms of body and spirit, pleasure and healing, sacred and profane – and restore what is lost to the collective shadow through our social patterns of repression, denial and judgment. We open the doors to accessing the full power and potential of sex work, for sex workers and clients alike (including for sex workers and femmes to have more access as clients themselves) – and the full power and potential of sex for all. And so I say: all whores are healers, should they choose to claim the name.



Britta Love wants to use her platform to not only destigmatize sex work and sex workers, but also materially support sex workers and their needs. She's partnered with Lysistrata MCCF to create a merchandise campaign that directly funds Lysistrata's mutual aid fund serving sex workers in need. If you'd like to view the purchase and support the campaign, please click here!

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