EXPERIENCES WITH SEX WORK AND POLYAMORY
September 12, 2014
by Lindsay Blewett
For the last seven years I have been working as an escort—providing emotional and sexual services for a fee. For the last eight of nine years, I’ve been in a polyamorous relationship with my long term partner. If you’d told sixteen-year-old me that this is what my life would look like at thirty-one, I’d have said you were lying. My sixteen-year-old self had plans to be a forensic pathologist, cutting up dead people while married to the love of my life.
So, how did I get here? For starters, it turned out that science was not my forte. I ended up doing a BA in classical archaeology after high school, which is where I met my partner. During our first (and only) monogamous year together, we were living in different cities; he was in Ottawa, while I was in Waterloo. We were madly in love and decided that after I graduated, I would move to Ottawa to be with him.
Fast forward to a year after that. We were still monogamous and had started living together. Shortly after moving in, we ditched monogamy in favour of a semi-open relationship where I was allowed to see other people. This shift occurred in large part because I am really into BDSM and my partner is not. My amazing partner said that he didn’t think he could ever get as deep into BDSM as I wanted and that he didn’t want me to be unfulfilled. This incarnation of our relationship didn’t last long, though, as I felt that it was unfair that I could see other people but he couldn’t. A friend suggested that we read The Ethical Slut, a handbook for polyamory. Entering into this new phase, we both knew that sex didn’t need to necessarily come with emotional attachments, and we also understood that it was naive to assume that one person could fulfil all of your needs (sexual, emotional, or otherwise). We didn’t subscribe to the line of thinking that sees love as a finite resource. We figured the only thing limiting our possibilities was time.
To further complicate our situation, I began working as an escort. My reasons for becoming a sex worker were varied. In the first place, I was living in a city where most decent jobs required knowledge of French, which I did not have. Second, I struggle with depression and anxiety, which makes it difficult for me to work regular hours. Third, I didn’t want to participate in the “wage-slavery” system. Finally, I was curious; sex work didn’t seem that hard, and since I was happily sleeping with all sorts of people, I didn’t think that charging would change things very much. Sex work, then, seemed like a viable option—it gave me control over my work, flexible hours and an income better than I would have earned if I had stayed in a minimum wage job.
The discussion with my partner went something like this:
Me: How would you feel if I started charging guys to have sex with me?
My partner: Cool, more money.
Now, I realize that I have a pretty sweet partner and that I am hugely privileged to be with someone who accepts and supports what I do for a living. Due to the extreme stigmatization of our profession, most sex workers are not that fortunate and encounter judgement, shame, or worse from partners, friends, and family.
In my case, I think that because we were already in a polyamorous relationship, the leap to sex work was not as significant as it might have been. Had we both still been monogamous, a different conversation would have had to take place. When I describe our situation to other potential dates or lovers, they frequently ask if my partner is “really ok” with what I do for a living, a question which always surprises me. I am inclined to think that these questions are a reflection of the insecurities and assumptions of those who ask these questions. If he’s okay with me having sex with and potentially having feelings for other people, why should it matter that some of them pay me? My partner is secure enough in himself and in our relationship that my work as an escort really isn’t an issue.
As in any relationship, communication was and remains key. It is crucial for both of us to be able to openly state how we feel, even if it seems irrational or silly. We have never sat down and decided what is okay and what is off limits, we have simply negotiated boundaries as they come up. Since we live in a one bedroom apartment, we decided that neither of us would do sleepovers at our place in order to avoid worrying about where the other partner was going to crash. I work out of our apartment, and my partner helps with getting the bedroom ready for clients (putting the sheets reserved for clients on the bed and putting away any of his “man” items to make it look as though I live there alone) and also acts as my security. He knows how long the appointment is scheduled for, and I call him when I’m finished, both to let him know I’m okay and that he’s good to return home again. I generally work around his work schedule, although occasionally I have to kick him out in order to do a call. Again, we decided together that this was easiest and the most cost efficient way for me to work, rather than having to rent a second bachelor apartment for my appointments. It works for us.
Sex work has enhanced my personal relationships in a number of ways: because I am constantly involved in explicit negotiations at work around what will happen during a session, I have become a better communicator in my personal life. Because I was also taking sex workshops (such as handjob and oral techniques) to broaden my sexual skills at work, I also became a better lover. Finally, as a fat, queer woman, sex work provided a space where my body was not only read as desirable, but worthy of payment, which only increased my self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
Sex work or polyamory aren’t right for everyone. I admit that being involved in both niche communities has limited my dating possibilities. That said, I have always been open about my work and my relationships and would never want to date anyone who wasn’t okay with either—what would be the point? I use sex work as a kind of litmus test: potential partners often know about my work as an escort before we’ve even met, so there is no need to go through the trouble of meeting someone, liking them, and then learning they’re totally whorephobic. Because the stigma really is the worst thing about being a sex worker— many people make your work something that you are rather than something that you do.
To those thinking about entering into the worlds of sex work or of polyamory, I give you this advice: do what feels right. Read up on the subject. Talk to your partner, if you have one. If you have hard limits that you’re aware of, state them up front. If an issue comes up in the process, talk about it. Do not keep it to yourself or let it fester. And most of all, have fun.
On sex work: