What Does It Mean To Negotiate Value?
On The Whorizon Interviews Lola Davina
Blog Post Written By: MelRose Michaels
Lola Davina is a former sex worker, educator, and writer. She has worked as a stripper, dominatrix, porn actress, and escort, and her career in the industry spanned over 25 years. Davina is the author of "Thriving in Sex Work," a series of self-help books for sex workers.
On the Whorizon sat down with Lola to talk about life as an older sex worker, the importance of self-care, and how sex workers can best negotiate their worth.
Can you talk a little bit about what the difference was between being a sex worker on the younger end and a sex worker on the older end?
Lola Davina: Pretty much like night and day. When I started out in my early 20s, I was taking it very much from the standpoint of it being a sexual adventure, started out stripping. But at that time, it was just about the easiest way that I could make money really fast. I said yes to everything — I had no plan. There was no plan, everything was just taking it one day at a time. When I made mistakes, I tended to blame myself. And I didn't have a cohesive thought for myself around the work that I was doing...
In my 30s, I had devastated my finances. And so when I went back into sex work — first of all, it wasn't as much fun, right? It was very much more of a job. I did it because I needed to make a lot of money faster. That was the best way that I knew how to do it. But the other thing that I always had in mind was that I can't burn out doing this work. I need to take care of myself. I need to have goals…I think in part because I was older. I had already owned and run businesses so I had a different viewpoint. But also there was just this feeling of like, this work will gut you if you don't run it in a way that really genuinely works for you… And so, while I wouldn't say that it was as much "fun", I found it to be much more satisfying. I just had so much more mastery of what I was doing.
Something that you touched on — about how people negotiate with you differently when you're younger — can you expand on that?
Lola Davina: When I think about negotiating value, especially within the sex industry, I think about this kind of iron triangle on three sides. The first side is ourselves. And this is what we think of ourselves in terms of how much time and how much effort we put into doing the work, what we need in order to get paid to make the work feel worth it to us, what we need to earn in order to live the lifestyle that we want…
The second side of it is your current client, or your fan, or your sub, or your customer, whoever that is, right? They're bringing their own ideas about paying a certain amount of money, what kind of experience they want to have… The money and the value that they're seeking is their own story, that's their own jam, right?
And then the third leg of the triangle is your competition — what else is out there. If you're in a big giant city, or metropolitan area, if you're seeing clients in person, you might have pretty much an endless supply of clientele that's gonna run through all the time, right? If you don't like somebody, you’re just on to the next. If you're geographically much more isolated or if you're not working online, you might have far fewer choices in terms of who you're negotiating with. But at all times kind of floating out there is the idea that there are other people who are doing the work that we're doing, and they're charging different amounts for it, and [it’s] kind of understanding what our “value” is against the competition. So unfortunately, we only have control over one leg of that triangle.
When I was much younger, people felt that they could really hardball me. Some of that was just the power dynamic against the people who have disposable income and are purchasing services from sex workers. They see somebody in their 20s and they think, This is a situation where I can exert some of my power… As a younger person, I didn't have a way of articulating back why I charged what I did. As an older person — and again, somebody who had had a business and had thought about this a little bit harder — I had more skills for asking for what I wanted and standing firm on those things. And I also had more resilience when somebody just told me ‘no’ to my face.
I think for a lot of people there's something about the nature of sex work itself that makes this correlation with money or worth even more pointed or personal.
Lola Davina: Well, I mean, two of the most potent ways in our society that we measure of a person's "worth" is their sexual appeal and how much money they have… And for many of us, sex is not something that's fully examined, and part of that, I think, is good. I don't think we should examine everything about our sexualities. But, for a lot of people, there can be a lot of undigested, kind of primal emotions around our sexuality. Same is true with money. We have huge unspoken reactions to money in our culture — envy and desire. What are we worth? Or what is my life going to look like because of the money that I have or don't have? And so these exchanges, which often on the surface can seem pretty trivial or surfacey, always carry the potential of having this much heavier weight behind them because we're dealing with both sex and money.
Some parts of the above interview have been condensed or edited for clarity. To hear the full interview with Lola Davina, listen to On The Whorizon: What SWers Can Teach You About Negotiating Value.
Follow Lola Davina on Twitter @Lola_Davina. You can find her books and learn more about her work at LolaDavina.com.
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