Two years ago, I was complaining to a therapist that my boyfriend didn’t take me seriously. “He says I’m cute and nice and fun, and that’s all he seems to notice,” I lamented. “He doesn’t realize how intelligent or accomplished I am.”
How Doing Sex Work Helped Me Love Myself
“What makes you think,” she replied, “that being intelligent and accomplished is more important than being cute and nice and fun? It’s a beautiful thing to retain those qualities as an adult. Maybe he actually sees the best things about you.”
This was not a way of thinking that I was familiar with. I grew up in a high-achieving family. My parents were both lawyers and instilled a cutthroat work ethic in me from a young age. I was expected to grow up and become “successful,” and I did. I went to an Ivy League school, became a widely published journalist with a six-figure income, and frequently received compliments based on my intelligence.
Yet my life felt empty. I lived like a machine, spending morning to late night cranking out articles. I compulsively saved money. I was always exhausted. And after a while, I got sick — so sick that I couldn’t keep up my writing anymore. At that point, I had to reevaluate how I was living my life and whether the values I’d learned around work were truly mine.
Over the course of two years, I spent my time in and out of treatments for chronic Lyme disease and related issues. After a lot of soul-searching during this time (including my sessions with that therapist), I realized my biggest problem was that I’d lived my whole life in my mind, not my body or my heart — always forcing myself to achieve more of the “success” that my family and community valued. But deep down, I valued my well-being and relationships above all else, and I wanted to be loved for who I was, not what I did.
The old me thought of pursuits like sex work as objectifying. I’d worked hard to be known for my intellect rather than my looks. Yet perhaps, I was realizing, this compulsion to be “known for one’s intellect” was a form of patriarchy in of itself. Why were radiance and beauty seen as less important than wit and achievement? Why was the body less important than the mind? And why couldn’t a woman be known for both?
One day, as I was contemplating these questions, I saw one of my Twitter followers had tweeted that he wished he could “cyber-fuck” me. A lightbulb went off: Did other readers of mine have that desire? So, I decided to conduct an experiment: I tweeted that I’d sext with anyone who offered me a decent price. Within two hours, I’d made several hundred dollars lying on my bed, masturbating, being silly, learning about people’s fantasies, and receiving compliments.
It was my first experience of work where I didn’t have to stress myself out to make money. I didn’t have to push myself. I didn’t have to overwork myself. I just had to relax, have fun, and be me. And just as I’d wished, I was receiving admiration not for doing something impressive (though my squirting skills have been described as such) but just for being a delight to (virtually) spend time with. I was earning money, having fun, and connecting with others at the same time.
I started offering cam sessions as well based on popular request and set up an OnlyFans where I shared photos and videos that doubled as erotic material and sex tutorials. As I did this, the whole concept of work took on a new meaning for me: I could make money by letting my body do what it naturally wanted to do — experience pleasure and share that pleasure with others — instead of crunching it into a desk chair and forcing it to stare at a laptop all day.
This is not to say that sex work isn’t work, but for me, it’s the kind of work that nourishes and flows with my body, rather than battling up against it. On days that are booked with cam sessions and sext conversations, I get out of bed knowing I’m about to experience pleasure and connection, rather than pressure to compete and perform. (Sure, there’s an element of that, but my clients are generally so appreciative, they rarely have difficult demands or criticisms.) It doesn’t feel as if my body is being consumed on a superficial level. Rather, in my sessions, it is all of me — my light, my laughter, my sexual knowledge, my friendliness, and yes, the work of art that is my body — being enjoyed and admired.
Some people would probably say that doing sex work is a waste of my intelligence and talent. But I’m done viewing my intelligence and talent as resources that must be milked for all their worth, or measuring my worth based on them. This is a capitalist value system that keeps people doing what they think will gain approval, rather than what they truly want to do.
I never wanted to spend every moment of every day in my head. Few people do. Many women have been led to believe that empowerment means being seen for their brains and not their physicality. Yet this valuing of the mind over the body (and their separation) is, in fact, patriarchy at work. Ever since the ancient Greeks claimed that women were more corporeal and men were more cerebral, the mind has been equated with maleness, and the body with femaleness, making body-based professions seem less respectable—so much so that OnlyFans itself almost stopped hosting sexual content because banks would not support them.Read: Why I Lived and Loved Sex Work - And Now I'm Ready to Quit
Doing sex work taught me that I don’t have to participate in this system of thought. I don’t have to formulate groundbreaking ideas, be remarkably productive, or build up an “impressive” resume to be loved or live a good life. I just have to enjoy myself, be genuine, and connect.
I love myself more having realized this: I am lovable just as I am. I am worthy of everything good just as I am. I am nice and cute and fun. I am me, and that’s enough.