Becoming a Sex Worker – The Benign Side

How do people get involved in sex work? Entry ranges from the benign to the brutal. Unfortunately, the brutal is much more common. Today let’s look at the not-so-bad side.

Some sex workers are empowered enough to write a post on Daily Kos. Jonathan says it was an accident. He had been working as a research chemist for a major corporation when a person he was dating asked if he’d be interested in doing a “spanking video.” No brainer. Sure! He’s never officially escorted or hooked, but some married couples he’s “double dated” have left him money, and several others have bought him things he could in not afford, himself. Jonathan is in charge of his life and seems to be fine with his choices.

Here’s another “accident.” A young woman I’ll call “Trina” describes herself as an average looking blonde cheerleader from the upper-middle-class. She has never been abused. But she does know a record promoter named Jesse who one day asked if she could pick up a client and show him around since he was in a bind. He offered her money to buy the client dinner and go dancing. She could keep whatever money was left over. Trina made $70 and had fun so she agreed to help out several more times. Eventually some of the clients wanted sex. She refused and asked Jesse what do. He told her to do whatever she wanted. When she didn’t put out, though, Jesse limited her dates. Then one night an attractive 40-year-old offered her $500 for sex. She said no. But he kept upping the price until he reached $1000. As she recalled,

My initial thought was to slap the crap out of him, however, the things I could do with $1000 cash. It wasn’t hard. No commitments, no future to worry about, and no love to get in the way.

And it wasn’t as bad as she’d expected, so she kept doing it and made over $10,000 in four months. So Trina continued the work, but only when she found a man attractive.

Still, she wants to quit escorting when she graduates from college and live a normal life that she can share with friends and family, and make an “honest” living.

Trina is a more privileged call girl. Let’s turn to the street hookers who sometimes get involved by “drifting” into it. They might start with casual sex at a young age and eventually be offered money. Sometimes it makes sense to them to take it. As one girl explained:

I was going to school and I wanted to go to the dance after. I needed new clothes. So I went out at 10 o’clock and home by 12. I had three tricks the first time, and $15 for every trick.

After the first few times, the girls spend the next few months ambivalent about becoming prostitutes. Instead, they try to think of what they’re doing as “normal.” One girl thought of herself as, “just walking.” And a guy makes an offer. Well, it’s only normal to take the money, right?

Some eventually build their lives and identities around prostitution and stop telling themselves their behavior is “normal.” Instead, they see themselves as “helping.” They are “helping” wives by giving their husbands a sexual outlet that reduces tension in their marriages. Or they see themselves as preventing rape, for instance.

The women and men I have just described got into prostitution voluntarily. And none of them had to deal with violent pimps. In fact, contrary to popular belief, prostitutes don’t actually need pimps, who are, generally speaking, completely useless.

Next week I’ll talk about the brutal side of becoming a sex worker, which appears to be far more common.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 23, 2012, in psychology, sex and sexuality and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. At first it seems like a no brainer, like easy money. It can even seem empowering like how men want you and will pay any amount of money to get you. They want what you have. At first it can seem glamorous like a glorious lifestyle. Laughing at everyone else with their hard honest work when these women are making some peoples’ week salary in one night; they’re job is way easier. Unfortunately these women don’t consider the longterm Pricetag and how dehumanizing such innocent work can really be. Women are constantly getting the message that the only way to be successful in life is to be sexy and such work only solidifies the message that your only worth is your god given sex powers. You’re only as good as the next mans ejaculation. These women get scked into a downward spiral and see no way out.

  2. I find this article very intriguing because for about 5 months I volunteered at an anti-human trafficking non-profit in San Francisco. When I began volunteering at the place, I thought that prostitution was all about a person exploiting the woman (pimps and hookers). However, as I began to do some research a lot of girls go into prostitution by choice because sometimes they view it as their only choice.

    The first example is Trina, who voluntarily went from an escort to a prostitute. She is from the middle-upper class society, which suggests she already has money. Girls from this class sometimes view this life and adventurous and become so captivated by the thrill that they don’t recognize what they are doing/ On the other hand, many girls that go into prostitution are from the lower class society because they view this world as a way to make a living, and becoming oblivious to the fact that they are self-exploiting their bodies. In class we talked about choices and oppression and how we (as women) tend to oppress ourselves.

    Onaiza (above comment) talks about sex being a commodity, which ties into women being a commodity. The younger you look, the more you will get paid for your services. The sex industry, well as far as human trafficking goes, is the second highest illegal crime in the United States (the first is drug trafficking). I think as a society we see these women on the streets and pass them by, and fail to recognize the initial harm. We treat prostitutes as criminals instead of victims of their own exploitation.

  3. It is really interesting to hear people’s stories of how the got into sex work. A lot of people say that prostitution is our oldest profession, but I completely disagree. I think that the oldest profession is parenting and I think that it is sad that we do not get paid to be parents. It seems like something silly but if you think about it a lot of prostitution comes from dissatisfaction. If we were completely satisfied with our lives we would not look for something to relieve us of our stress. Also, we would be able to raise kids that were content as well and could handle struggle without selling their body. But with this comes the question of why prostitution is such a bad thing. It seems like everyone is just saying it’s bad because that’s the type of society we grew up in. In a true capitalistic society we would be able to understand sex as a commodity. And sadly, we are getting there. These women thinking that the way they can make a living is to have sex is not just hurtful because our parents said so. It’s also hurtful because it can demean the essence of sex. Sex is something that we do not value enough because we see it as a road to pleasure. Though many people claim sex is purely biological I think that need would not arise if we were not so attached to the people around us. However it is impossible to see anything as black and white and in the end I believe the meaning of our actions depends on the person making them. To one prostitution can be empowering. To others it is simply self destruction. The most important part is to be able to realize how you work and to do things that will enhance the quality of the life that you want.

  4. I found this article fascinating. I never thought of prostitution as a choice. My boyfriend lives in east Oakland and i spend almost every weekend over there. On my way there,(no matter what time of day it is) I frequently see prostitutes on the street, dressed up in skimpy clothing, waving at cars or just walking down the street waiting to attract a potential customer. I never judge them, I just feel bad for them because my reasoning is that they ”must not have a choice” or at least feel like they don’t have a choice. But, from reading this text I can see that everybody who is a sex worker – isn’t always a victim. I guess that is a relief in one way because that way I know that nobody is being forced into doing something they don’t want to do.
    However, I still don’t agree with this choice of lifestyle. It’s not safe, people can contract diseases from sexual partners and unwanted pregnancies can happen. Also, I feel like your body is your temple. It’s value can’t be measured in hundred dollar bills etc.. There are other ways in which you can make money in which you don’t have to disrespect your body.

  5. This post reminds me of an episode of True Life that I happened to come across one time. It was called “True Life: I’m in the sex industry”. One of the stories was about this young guy who was in desperate need of some money, so he decided to get into porn, but not just straight porn: gay porn. He claims that gay porn would pay twice as much as straight porn because there is a higher need for it. He wasn’t gay, and he came from a small midwestern town that is, for the most part, strictly anti-gay. Although porn seems to be more socially accepted than prostitution is (for example, if a woman were to tell another person that they were a porn star, it could come off as attractive, whereas if she were to tell someone that she was a prostitute, she would be labeled as a dirty whore), it is no different. Women and men still sell themselves for money, and even allow themselves to be video taped. No one should be obligated to sell themselves for money, no matter how down in the dumps they really are. However, I noticed that as I was reading this article and reading through the stories, I continued to think “Well, they willingly got into it, and it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal”. And I was horrified with myself. I feel as if a story is told from the perspective of someone who willingly sells themself for money, and they themselves find it normal and acceptable, that the listener begins to think the same way. I am now more able to understand how women can get into this industry, and stay there, no matter how much money they end up making.

  6. I must say that I found this article truly eye-openin, because I, being an oblivious male, had absolutely no inclination that there was any other side to protitution than the “pimps and hoes” stereotype most of us were grown up hearing about. I found it interesting that the mindsets for all of the escorts were relatively the same. At first their excuse was “it is normal”, but as business evolves, the excuse transformed into “helping husbands relieve sexual tension.” I guess my biggest shock when reading this article was seeing how NOT negative prostitution can be. I assumed there was always a gun and some form of dark alley. I look forward to reading the article coming about the negatives to this issue at hand.

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