As I was travelling home from my wonderful shoot and camming session with the lovely Spanking Sarah on Tuesday morning, a debate erupted on twitter about whether or not porn is exploitative. Pandora Blake was inspired to write a blog post here with her views. Rosie B also had something to say about her experiences in the workplace, as someone with a “mainstream career”, who is also involved in sex work.
I am a sex worker.
I am exploited in the workplace.
The conditions I work under are demoralising and degrading. I regularly go home from work and cry because of the things my employers have made me do, and the ways I have been treated, or been forced to treat others. I’d cry in the toilets, but they don’t let us have toilet breaks.
Even worse, my work is turning me into a social outcast. Whenever people ask me what I do for a living, I often change the subject, or just lie. I have a dear friend who hates what I do so much that we have an ongoing agreement that I never discuss my work with him. It’s hard enough doing what I do, without knowing that complete strangers will judge me, even hate me, just because of my job.
I frequently work significantly over and above the hours I have agreed to, and I am even more frequently required to do things I have never consented to and which aren’t in my contract; things which I find morally distateful, but which I am coerced into agreeing to because I need the money. It doesn’t even pay that well. People think it does, but it doesn’t.
I know, you’ve heard it all before; I only do it because I need the money. Well, in my case, I can say unequivocally that this is true. Did I not have this tiresome need to eat, every now and then, I’d give it up in a heartbeat, but in this economy, well… a job’s a job, isn’t it? I’d like to say that my self-respect was more important than a full stomach and a roof over my head, but I’d be lying.
Is it like this for everyone? Probably not. I’ve had colleagues who genuinely enjoy what we do. Though, not many, and not recently. I suppose it just isn’t for everyone. And, much as I know people like to think they would be better off without us, the world just doesn’t work that way. We’re here to stay, whether you like it or not, whether we like it or not.
Still, a little bit of me dies inside every time I have to admit to being a bank manager.
What? You thought I was talking about being a sex worker? I guess that opening was rather misleading, wasn’t it?
Anyway, now that you know what my day job is like, let me tell you about my some of my experiences as a sex worker.
When I was nineteen, and a student, and living off 6p-a-pack noodles from Tesco, someone came up to me at a club and asked if I’d be interested in making porn. Now, 6p noodles get boring really really quickly, and I’ve always been pretty comfortable with my sexuality, so I said yes.
My first shoot was terrifying. I was so nervous beforehand I could barely keep my hands steady enough to put on my make-up, but you know what happened then? We talked. The producers sat down with me and we discussed everything; what I’d done before and liked, what I’d done before and hated, what I’d never done, and what I might be curious about trying. Which bits of my body I liked, and whether there were any bits I’d prefer to keep hidden.
They explained every step of the process to me, including the fact that I could call a cut at any moment, for any reason. During my first scene – photo, not video, since that’s an easier place to start – they let me work with my real-life top so that I knew I was completely safe.
They stuck exactly to the limits I imposed, asked for my input in deciding what sorts of scenes I wanted to try, and were two of the most wonderful people I have ever been lucky enough to meet. I had a lot of fun that day, and on all the shoots I’ve done since, both with them and with other producers.
Sex work has given me the opportunity to enact fantasies I would never have had the resources to try otherwise. It has given me confidence, and the chance to meet and work with some amazing people who I now consider to be good friends. That’s not to say it isn’t hard work, that I’ve never been bored, or tired, or had neckache from turning my head around so that the camera can see my face. Sex work isn’t a fairy-tale dream job, and I don’t intend to portray it that way.
What I do want to do, however, is contrast it with my ‘respectable career’ as a bank manager.
As a sex worker, I have never been forced to work ten hour shifts without so much as a toilet break.
As a sex worker, I have never been forced to do anything which compromises either my ethics, my comfort, or my safety.
As a sex worker, I have never gone home at the end of the day feeling ashamed, or degraded, or worthless.
As a sex worker, I have never had to live in fear of losing my job because of my sexual preferences.
As a sex worker, I have never been humiliated, harassed, discriminated against, or shouted at by my employer, other than in ways which I have explicitly negotiated and consented to, for my own enjoyment. I have never been forced to work with a manager who is known to be abusive.
None of that is true of being a bank manager. As a bank manager, you can’t call a cut when a customer threatens to hit you. You can’t have hard-selling, cold-calling, or corporate-jargon as limits. If you’re too hot, or so cold you can’t feel your fingers, or hungry, or thirsty, or need to pee so badly that you literally can’t sit still in your seat, no one cares; you’re expected to ‘be a team player’ and suck it up.
So yes. I am being exploited, but the next person who tells me that the sex work I do is exploitative – because ew, sex work is, like, totally gross – is going to get an entirely non-consensual punch in the face.