‘Secret Diary of a Call Girl’, ‘The Girlfriend Experience’, ‘Satisfaction’… There is a lot of representation in the media at the moment shedding light on the fascinating and sexy life of sex workers. It must be easy, getting paid stupid amounts of money to lay around in expensive lingerie, sip champagne and have sex all day, right?
Unfortunately for a vast majority of us cock-smiths, it isn’t anything like that. You might even be surprised to know just how little intercourse actually happens. However, spending hours writing ads and scrubbing dildos doesn’t exactly make for riveting TV.
So what do we get paid for?
Performance of sexual expression
I once read somewhere that escorts and strippers ‘sell tickets to their own sexual expression’ as opposed to the common myth around ‘selling your body/soul/first born child/whatever’.
I have a little problem with this, mainly to do with the fact that we are performing sexual expression rather than experiencing it authentically. Yes, I do have enjoyable sex with my clients from time to time, I might even have an orgasm occasionally (shock horror). However when I am working, I am constantly aware of the angles and shapes my body is creating in different positions, the expression on my face, whether my toes are pointed and back is arched etc. Much like the exaggerated display of sexuality usually depicted in porn.
(Not that clients notice this, they just think that I’m a great fuck)
Emotional Labor / Holding space
The most draining thing about dealing with people on such a raw and intimate level, is the emotional labor that you perform for them. From the second that they walk in the door, you are their dream girl – whether that be a doting girlfriend, a hot porn star, a nympho or a friend (or all of the above). We listen to their problems, their thoughts and fantasies, pretend that they are the most interesting and engaging creatures in the world, when all we want is to curl up with Netflix and a coffee .
Women are socialized and expected to perform emotional labor for free on a daily basis, and are generally penalized for it if they don’t. This is the case in any industry, in any role. The only difference is that as a sex worker, we get fairly compensated for it.
In an awesome article called The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling, Hochschild describes the way in which this type of labor is carried out, and the negative effect it can have on your mental health.
“Emotional labor (EL) is routinely performed using Surface Acting (SA), and Deep Acting (DA). EL is necessitated when expected workplace emotions cannot be naturally felt or displayed, and is routinely performed using surface acting (SA) and deep acting (DA). SA involves the management of observable expressions. SA can include faking emotions not actually felt, along with suppressing and hiding felt emotion that would be inappropriate to display. Hochschild commented that “in surface acting, we deceive others about what we really feel but we do not deceive ourselves” (p.33).
In short, smiling even though we want to kill the customer is hard work, especially for a long period of time. It can lead to burnout in the form of increased emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, reduced personal accomplishment, job dissatisfaction, depression, anxiety, psychosomatic complaints, and all sorts of mental fun stuff.
DA, on the other hand, is the intrapsychic process of attempting to experience or alter feelings so that expected emotional displays may naturally follow. DA may be performed by actively exhorting feeling, wherein an individual cognitively attempts to evoke or suppress an emotion. For example, flight attendants were trained to cognitively reappraise disorderly adult passengers as children so as not to become infuriated with their seemingly infantile behaviour (Hochschild, 1983). DA then, if successful, is able to produce an authentic emotional display.
My personal favorite way of doing this is to pretend that I’m a secret honeypot agent, trying to gain information to aid the revolution.
Or staring off into an imaginary camera, like on The Office, if a client is particularly grating.
Can anyone do sex work?
In short, probably. It doesn’t mean that everyone would be good at it, or even enjoy it. It has both its good points and bad points, like any other job. But it is a hell of a lot more boring than the sexy times that you see on TV.
Hochschild, A. R. (1983). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Berkley: University of California Press.