What resources are available for someone who asks about dating a sex worker?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: What do you blame your parents for?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 45 – Sex Work and Polyamory

What resources are available for someone who asks about dating a sex worker? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – What do you blame your parents for?

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I’m wondering if you have any advice or experience with this.  My partner does sex work, and it causes me a lot of anxiety.  They were doing it prior to us getting together, and have been great in talking to me about it and trying to assuage my anxiety.  In looking for resources online, everything I can find deals with either polyamory or non-monogamy, where both partners are exploring with other people.  I’ve found a few things speaking about situations where one partner is non-monogamous and the other is monogamous, but my situation doesn’t really fit any of these.

Response:

So first and foremost, I will fully admit at this point that I haven’t dated a sex worker, so I won’t know exactly the kind of things that you might be feeling. However, I think that what might be helpful is for you to talk about what causes you anxiety about this because there’s lots of different things that could be causing you anxiety, and some things you can look into with regards to, let’s say you have anxieties about STI fears or things like that. You can actually do more research about STIs.

You can talk to your partner about the barrier methods that they use with clients. You can you know research a bit about sexual health because there’s actually a study that they did recently that shows that sex workers — and I don’t think they use that term unfortunately — have, well in that study they found that the sex worker group they studied versus the swinger group they studied— the sex workers had a lower STI rate.

That isn’t to say that having an STI is a shameful thing and that’s kind of what I feel is kind of implied by that study. But still if STI fears are your worry, then you can do more research about STIs. You could also consider the fact that STI risk is always there whether or not you’re dating a sex worker or not. So I do think sometimes that’s kind of like the first thing people jump to, if they were thinking about dating a sex worker.

So that might be something to challenge within your brain like, you know, you have no idea if you meet someone, unless you personally take a sexual history of every single person you sleep with, you don’t necessarily know how many people that they’ve slept with and I don’t know how many clients your partner has. Literally like, it could be the same level of risk, but you don’t think that it’s the same level because your brain has said “Oh a sex worker is inherently going to have a lot more risk” when actually a lot of sex workers are very responsible about their sexual health. And some people who aren’t sex workers aren’t. So there’s a lot to unpack there about STI shame, about, you know, sex work shame that could be going on in that anxiety.

Or maybe you are having anxiety because you come from a more traditional conservative religious background and the idea of sex work has always been really, you know, you’ve sort of been taught to be ashamed of it. And so you’re kind of worried about that. I mean I kind of assume if you use the word “sex work” that you are more aware than most people might be. But you still might have that kind of… causing that anxiety.

You could also feel a very understandable concern, where, you know, if you have a partner that is in a job that you know— any job. Doesn’t have to just be sex work. You could have a partner who— I think one of the most dangerous professions in America at least is like working at a gas station or working at an oil rig. You know, I think you can ask yourself, obviously there are very specific dangers with sex work that aren’t involved in working on oil rig. There’s lots of dangerous jobs, but you might be worried about your partner’s safety and that’s understandable but that’s also something you know, to talk with your partner about.

It’s not really clear what kind of sex work your partner does. Maybe they can talk to you about what’s involved. I also think you kind of— You don’t want to put all the burden on your partner as well to like make you feel better about their profession, because it’s not really fair on them. So I think that having some basic conversations so that you just understand a little bit more about their work might be good for you to kind of take away and deal with on your own. But it just, it really depends on what’s causing your anxiety.

In terms of resources. I think that you need to find a sex worker rights group in your area, and you should do volunteer work and contribute to that organisation in order to make sure that,  throughout that process you will understand more about sex work and the different sort of challenges that sex workers have in your local area. Because it really depends on your location.

Are you living in an area you know where being a client is criminalised? Are you living in the area where the entire process is criminalised? Are you living in an area where street work is criminalised but doing it at home isn’t but then doing it at home with other sex workers is? Like it’s very complicated, and it will be very dependent upon the area that you’re in.

If you were aware, I am in the UK, then I would tell you to check out SWARM. So people who are in the UK can check out SWARM, I think that even if you’re not in the UK, SWARM has some really great resources. It’s swarmcollective.org. They’ve got a whole resources section. Specifically they have a zine called “Ho Lover” about dating and befriending sex workers.

Just to note on the word “ho” — it’s not something that other people who aren’t sex workers should call other people, even though it’s kind of— some people do use it colloquially, that’s considered a specific word for sex workers. But this zine is about how to be a friend and partner to sex workers, and it says “Many of us carry internalised biases and whorephobia. We can bring those things into our relationships. This zine helps us unpack that baggage and create considerate and caring environments for those we love who do sex work”.

I’m only familiar with some of this stuff because I have tried to unpack my own biases, but it’s hard for me to be able to tell you whether or not your anxieties come from those biases, they come from concern about your partner in general, or from combination of all of those. But I think that really sex worker activist groups are the best places to find resources about sex work in general.

Your specific local sex work activist group may not have something like this where it’s a zine specifically for people who are dating and friending sex workers, but they could have just resources about sex work and the local things that are challenges. And I think in general if you care, then you should just care about it in general. You should try and be more educated as you can be as possible about what’s going on around you and what kind of barriers that your partner might be facing and what kind of situations that you might be able to help with. Just understanding it in general will be better for you.

I think it’s really important to kind of want to re-emphasise not fully relying on your partner to kind of get rid of this anxiety. It doesn’t sound like you’re doing that. But I do think sometimes like having some of these discussions can turn into a little bit of a therapy session for you and it’s just— it is really important that— you know you can ask questions about stuff and see what they are comfortable telling you and ask questions about you know barrier methods if you want or ask what barriers they’ll be using with you or things like that.

But it’s just really important that you do the work, to understand what sex workers go through in general as well as the specific things in your local area that they will be faced with, so that you can just have a better all around understanding the issue. That’s kind of my best advice. It’s kind of short because I’m not a sex worker and I haven’t dated sex workers so I don’t necessarily— I’ve been involved in some amounts of sex worker activism and in general I’m quite a sex worker positive person.

And I believe in full decriminalisation and I believe that sex work is work and sex workers should be respected. And not treated the way that society treats them. But I can’t speak with any education about it and if I’ve fucked up in this episode in any way and anyone who wants to tweet at me. Or tell me or send me a message to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com and say, “This thing you said was whorephobic. This thing you said was wrong”, Please, please do, because I will write a follow up episode. I will release something else, because I’m not necessarily knowledgeable about this whole thing.

But I do want to use this chance for people who listen to me to understand that those resources are out there, and that if they—  even if they’re not dating sex worker and they’re just interested in seeing a sex worker, please care about these issues and locally reach out to those organisations. If you can’t give time, donate to them, and do your part to help out in the situation as much as you can help out. Yep, that’s my advice for this specific situation.

I hope it helps. Try and find a local organisation that can help educate you about this. Take charge of that. Don’t put the whole burden on your partner to educate you. Have some conversations with your partner about stuff that concerns you but be very very wary of trying to make them be forced into a position to reassure you. Especially like if you think about it and you think, because we’re kind of socialised to believe that sex work is, like— people don’t make it as a job like any other job, you know.

There are dangers to a lot of jobs. And some of those things I this may be coming from that. And if you think, “oh, what I’d be sitting down and having this conversation if my partner had a different job”, you know. And you might. You might like, you know, if I had a partner who worked late nights in petrol station, I would be a little bit worried about their safety. I’m also kind of generally paranoid about things. But just try and kind of self examine that a little bit and just make sure that you’re not basically just assuming what their job is like when you don’t necessarily know. Do you know I mean? All right, I’m blathering now.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.