Blog Post Written By: Jessie Sage
Typically, when clients get through my screening process and make it to me, we have some level of compatibility. Given that the more intense weeding out process happens before we even meet, I rarely see clients who I refuse to see again—with a few notable exceptions.
My number one exception (besides the clients who push my boundaries or make me feel unsafe) are ones who speak badly about their wives or other important women and girls in their lives.
Once, on his first and only date, a client showed me a picture of his wife (who looked lovely) and told me that he thinks she looks stoned and that he’s saving the picture to use it against her in custody court should their marriage dissolve. Another client, on his last date with me, called his 16-year-old daughter a “bitch” and told me in a patriarchal tone that he’s “The Father” and that she should be making all the effort in the relationship.
The lack of care that these men show to the women and girls that they should have a familial attachment to—their wives and daughters—raises red flags for me and makes me wonder how they would speak of me, a whore they are paying by the hour. In a way, they make me feel just as unsafe as the ones who beg for bareback services or push to change the terms of our relationship. I cannot trust any man who does not show some loyalty to the women he’s supposedly deeply committed to.
This level of solidarity with the wives and girlfriends of my clients may seem counterintuitive to those who do not understand the nature of sex work, but I’m certainly not alone in feeling it. “More than once I’ve been asked what I would say to the many wives and girlfriends whose men I had stripped for if I were faced with them,” says Alana Massey in All the Lives I Want. “And though I reject the notion that I owe them any explanation or penance, if I wanted to know something it would be this: I was taking his money and your side every time.”
I also don’t believe that I owe the wives of my clients anything: while I may be intimate with their husbands, I’m providing a service, not having an affair. At the end of the session, no matter how much I enjoy my time with my clients (and I often do), I go home to my own partner and life.
Moreover, while I do not know that I would make the above claim as definitively as Massey
does, I take her point. In a hetero-capitalist patriarchy, providers who are women have more in common with the wives of our clients than we do with our clients themselves (and indeed, some of us—myself included—are also wives).
For this reason, I was surprised recently when I stumbled across multiple Twitter threads (which I see no reason to call out specifically) where providers talked about how much they hate hearing their clients speak positively about their wives and marriages. In these threads, providers offered a few different reasons as to why, which can be boiled down to the following: These wives are being made a fool of by “cheating” husbands who are making a mockery of their marriages.
This narrative is surprising to me on a couple of fronts, but mostly because it seems to be an internalized whorephobia that devalues the work that we do. It suggests that our clients only come to us from a place of brokenness—that there must be something wrong with them or with their marriage. What’s more, for sexuality professionals, it assumes a shockingly narrow and mono-normative view of healthy relationships. I will take both in turn, starting with the latter.
While I cannot claim to speak to the experiences of all sex workers, my time in the sex industry has taught me that clients seek out sex workers for myriad reasons, many of which have nothing to do with inadequacy on the part of their wives or partners (and often have less to do with sex than most people believe).
Sometimes my clients and their wives have mismatched libidos; sometimes they have kinks or desires that they want to explore that their wives have no interest in; sometimes their wives have undergone medical trauma or illness that leaves them uninterested in sex or unable to enjoy it; sometimes my clients just need someone to talk to about things that matter to them and they don’t know how to find that level of emotional intimacy outside of the bedroom—masculinity can certainly be toxic, but it can also be tragic.
Many of my clients are dealing with one or more of these issues within their marriage and are looking for a way to have their needs met ethically; that is to say, without jeopardizing their marriages. They aren’t looking for an affair, they aren’t looking to rope a civilian woman into their lives in a way that will hurt anyone, and they certainly aren’t looking for an unbounded relationship that bleeds into their marriage or fosters chaos.
While I typically don’t ask my clients if seeing a provider is something that they have negotiated with their wives (it’s none of my business), I also don’t assume that they haven’t. In fact, I’m certain that some of my clients’ wives know when they are with me. Once, I even went to one of my client’s birthday parties and spent the evening chatting with his partner, who certainly knew who I was.
I’ve had clients show me vacation pictures with their wives, speak positively of their companionship and even their sex life, and talk about how they have worked throughout the life of the marriage to make sure that they are both fulfilled sexually and otherwise. I welcome—though I don’t expect—these conversations and I am delighted when I witness deep love and affection. What’s more, I do not assume that my presence in their lives undermines this bond. Marriage is so much more than sex, and sexual monogamy is not the sine qua non of successful marriages, particularly not in decades-long marriages.
As a wife in a non-monogamous relationship, I take offense to the suggestion that any woman whose husband seeks sex outside of the marriage is being duped or is in a bad marriage. As a sex worker who provides sexual services, I take even more offense to the notion that there is something wrong with any man who would come to us. If we are to take sexual needs seriously, as I have suggested above we should, I think that we ought to also take the work we do seriously. As sex workers, we are skilled at communication, maintaining healthy boundaries, and modeling safer sex practices that keep ourselves and our clients/partners healthy.
I don’t assume that all the married men who seek us out do so with all of this in mind, or that they are in healthy relationships with their wives. As I have indicated above, some of the clients who I have refused to continue to see were married men who treated their wives, myself, or both of us badly. But I also think it is counterproductive to view married men through the lens of whorephobia and sexual shame. When we speak of our clients (regardless of their marital status) in ways that are inherently whorephobic, it says as much about our attitude toward our work as it does about them. There is value in sex work, and I refuse to shame those who come to us simply for coming to us.
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