The Outside Attitudes Towards Sex Work

December 6, 2014
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Working in the adult industry – in any capacity – is not for the faint-hearted. Not only do you have to contend with the demands of the job itself, but also with the condemnation of those outside the industry. It’s assumed that if you earn your living in porn, cams or escorting, you must be coerced. Or desperate. Or a junkie. But wait! You actually enjoy this kind of work? Ah, then you must be a deviant. Either way, there is a lot of criticism that makes this work even more difficult. And I find attitudes towards sex work ridiculously puritanical in this modern age, indeed sometimes thoroughly odd.

An actress who plays a stripper earns millions and no criticism, but a stripper who strips in a club is seen as cheap. Both are showing pretty much everything they’ve got, so why the difference? Demi Moore takes her clothes off in Striptease, earns $12.5 million, and nobody says a word about the customers queuing in the multiplex to see this or slags off Demi (aside from the quality of her acting). But a girl in a strip club gets some dollar bills tucked in her g-string, and that’s sordid for all concerned – especially for the girl. Is it ok if the sums involved are greater, or is some spurious superiority granted by the ‘art’ of cinema? In some ways the line between convention and sleaze is becoming ever narrower, yet few people involved in sex work would want to talk about it openly. And I’d venture to suggest that’s because of the attitudes we get from those outside the business.

Demi Moore in ‘Striptease’ (1996)

Many people in the adult business are immensely supportive of fellow workers, regardless of the field they work in. We all look out for each other, whether we’re in porn, cam work, escorting or domination. We believe that all sex workers deserve respect, and that a domme shouldn’t look down on a cam girl. Perhaps we are closing ranks because of outside attitudes – if people on the outside are treating us with disdain, we need support from our fellows. Mistress Julia observes that in her experience, this is generally true, although there are exceptions (some cam girls and dommes are very competitive and bitchy, even sabotaging other girls any way they can).

So why is it seen as negative if people work in the adult industry? Aside from the obvious moral objections and allegations of exploitation, I suspect that much of the criticism stems from a dislike of bringing money into the equation. As a pro domme, the greatest objections I’ve experienced come from people within the BDSM world; it’s seen as downgrading the lifestyle to take money for domination. But arguably with porn and cams the objection comes from outside. Sex is ok if it’s done for fun, between consenting adults, in private. But bring money into it, and whoa! Outrageous! Oddly like the lifestyle BDSM crowd (who would probably hate being likened to vanilla folks, but hey, if it quacks like a man in a rubber duck suit …)

Of course, there is a difference between people you know and society at large. Many people are happy with their adult work but wouldn’t want their family or friends to know. That’s understandable – who wants their family to think of them as sexual beings? So they might not care what outsiders think, but be fearful of what their family would say.

So when you work in the adult industry, do you tell your friends and family what you do, or pretend you earn a living some other way? Admittedly my family have no idea what I do, but not because I am ashamed of my work. Rather, I operate on a need-to-know basis. Also they are far more conservative than I (quite clearly) am. I am not ashamed of my work, rather I don’t want to answer awkward questions. Some of my close friends know, but I tend not to broadcast my work (so to speak) for two reasons: firstly, I don’t want to risk a ‘nudge, nudge’ reaction, and secondly, I don’t feel like talking about it when ‘off duty’. I also want to disconnect from a difficult job. Yes, this is compartmentalizing, but then most people in ‘normal’ jobs don’t want to take their work home with them either.

Belle Knox, a pornographic actress and a Duke University student.
Belle Knox, a pornographic actress and a Duke University student.

However, it wouldn’t devastate me if people found out what I do, even if I prefer them not to know; I don’t have a public reputation to protect. Other women have far more to lose. Your future career prospects could be damaged; as we all know, nothing is secret on the Internet and it hangs around for a long, long time. Then there are issues regarding legality and endangering your position in society. What if you have children and could risk a custody battle? There are many reasons for keeping quiet. It can be risky letting people know that you work in the adult industry. People can be outed even though they use pseudonyms and keep their work secret from people they know – look at Belle Knox. In this age of Twitter and Facebook, any malicious party could very quickly broadcast where and what you do to  people whom you don’t want to know about your work.

Even the consumers of porn and adult material can be hostile and critical. I see a lot of Twitter posts from guys whose feeds are full of porn pics, yet they make nasty comments about cam girls – and sometimes to them. This reminds me of shooting the messenger, not to mention monumental hypocrisy. Cam girl Caitlyn has observed this hypocrisy herself. ‘Guys want to condemn porn and say it’s a bad thing and condemn the people involved, but then proceed to go home, pull up a porn site and rub one out.  By viewing I wish they would realize they too are participating and supporting the very people they were condemning earlier the same day.’

But of course, the men who frequent adult cams have a very predictable view of the girls’ motivation. They want to believe that the girls are on cams for the simple pleasure of satisfying the sexual needs of strangers. It doesn’t behove their horny desires to think that the girls are doing a job, albeit one where they do (presumably) have some interest in the work. For this reason, the unwillingness of many cam room squatters to actually take the girl private and pay for a show is a constant source of frustration for the models. Sometimes they are downright hostile when encouraged to go private. They want the service, but really object to paying for it.

Many a time I’ve mused on why attitudes are so hostile or critical. People who say ‘it’s ok, but you wouldn’t want your daughter doing it’ – can they honestly say that they have never in their life looked at porn? So, basically, it has to be someone else’s daughter playing with herself on cam, and her parents shouldn’t complain – because then there would be no-one for you to look at. And as Kate Holmquist points out, it’s no surprise that some users of prostitutes have stated that they wouldn’t want a female relative to sell sex. Perhaps it depends on your degree of involvement in the adult industry. Would people admit to some jobs but not others? It’s hard to imagine many escorts or prostitutes being open about their work, not least because of the legal implications.


Fortunately most adult work can be hidden from people you know, by working under a pseudonym (of course my name is real … I’m related to the Boston De Vines, don’t you know). And cam girls can reduce the risk of embarrassing encounters with people they know by blocking clients from certain areas. But some people are out and proud about working in the adult market, both with people they know and to the world at large. Dominatrix Mistress Dita appeared on the documentary Love For Sale in the UK, which is about as out there as can be. I wondered how such public exposure, which was obviously consensual on her part, had affected her, and if there had been any negative response from the people around her or the public. She tells me that her friends and family are pretty much unshockable. ‘I have always been upfront about my chosen career, I told all my family and friends when I started and as always … they are cool with what I do [her mum actually appeared on the programme, although not in the section where Mistress Dita’s sub was being whipped and abused!]. As for the program, I’ve had nothing but positive comments/feedback since the documentary. If I didn’t I’d challenge it!! I am proud of working in this industry and am always keen to raise the profile of the people who work in it.’

Rupert Everett on Love For Sale
Rupert Everett on Love For Sale

I was really impressed by this positive attitude. Sex work of any kind is frequently seen as shameful, which makes it hardly surprising that those involved keep quiet, even when they are involved in a legal part of the business. Obviously it’s up to the individual whether they want to be ‘out and proud’ or maintain a discreet barrier between their sex work and personal life. No other party should decide to out a sex worker, as happened in the Belle Knox case. But we should not have to be ashamed of the work we do. We’re earning a living and paying our bills, and besides – these jobs aren’t for pussies. It’s emotionally taxing, you constantly have to be creative, and you’re basically an entrepreneur with many strings to your bow. I’d like to see some of our critics manage it.

Since I discovered the world of online domination, I’ve met and talked to a lot of dominatrixes and cam girls – and every last one of them is tough, determined and resourceful. You have to be. Caitlyn says “You just can’t take shit from anyone, you have to be who you are and be okay with it yourself.” But she has also observed a curious reaction within herself. “When I go out to the store, I notice how people look at me more and wonder what they would think if they knew, or if somehow they’ve seen me and do know.  It’s a very odd feeling.” But perhaps this self-consciousness isn’t so strange when you consider how critical people can be of anyone in the adult industry.

To a degree, I’m reminded of the feminist saying, ‘A slut is a woman with the morals of a man.’ I’ve never seen men in porn get the same denigration that female actresses get. Of course, sex work is primarily done by women for a male market, so we’re also dealing with expectations about female behaviour. Nor will attitudes towards people working in the adult industry change any time soon. But never mind. It’s annoying, but we’ll just carry on until we fancy a career change. Maybe one day the world out there will grow up and stop getting its panties in a  bunch about grown adults being paid to turn other people on  …

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