The stigmatization of sex workers is nothing new. "Whorephobia," or the fear or hate of sex workers, is alive and well. We are commonly discarded as “bad women” who need to be rescued, who spread disease, or who offend so-called decent morals.
How Sex Workers are Providing Sex Education
The thing is, instead of waging a war on sex workers, it would befit everyone from lawmakers to laymen to reevaluate the role sex workers play in providing solid sex education. Sexual gratification is not our only service.
Sure, there are plenty of providers who are strictly about getting their clients off. I get it – time is money and sex work is, quite literally, w-o-r-k.
But there’s a growing number of sex workers who bring sex education to the bedroom and their social media platforms. The reality is that when it comes to sex ed, the education system is inadequate. It fails students.
As of October 2020, only 30 states and the District of Columbia require public schools teach sex education, 28 of which mandate both sex education and HIV education. Meanwhile, the federal government has spent over $2 billion since 1982 on “abstinence-only” sex education.
Adolescents are not being properly prepared for adulthood.
So, in a landscape that is sorely lacking in accurate and inclusive sex education [It’s 2021, FFS, and some states still prohibit teachers from discussing sexual orientation in class!] sex workers are, IMO, the real heroes of sex education.
In early 2020, I started doing online sex work. The career shift dovetailed nicely with my two-plus decades of writing about sex and relationships. From the start, my client base was roughly 50% of people who wanted an opportunity to connect with me (I use my real name) and 50% of people who appreciated my authenticity and/or wanted to get off.
I’m 48-years old, and when I work, I show up as myself. Sometimes, that means sexy Stella McCartney lingerie, other times, a tattered Philadelphia Eagles tee shirt and cotton briefs. The boundaries I set in my virtual world are very much like those in my personal world. I use many of these interactions as a teaching opportunity. I’m not alone.
“We’re not taught about the mechanics or safety of sex, much less healthy communication around sex.”
Take Jessie Sage, a Pittsburgh-based writer, and sex worker, for example. She finds when she’s doing phone sex or texting, she frequently attracts clients who are interested in trying new things. “A lot of it is people playing out fantasies or exploring how they’re going to bring something up to a partner and do it safely,” she says. “We’re not taught about the mechanics or safety of sex, much less healthy communication around sex.”
Sometimes, her clients deep dive into their shame around their desires. Often, Sage acts as a pseudo-girlfriend, if you will, a way to backdoor a fantasy for people with little or no experience and make it a reality for the more important relationships in their lives.
In one instance, Sage worked with a 19-year-old, who called in from his dorm. He was having feelings for his roommate, that he felt were reciprocated. But he’d never had relations with another man, which made him question his identity.
“What he thought he wanted to know was what it felt like to be penetrated by a man,” says Sage. As a woman who’s had sex, the caller assumed Sage must know what that felt like. But what he was actually concerned about was something quite different. The caller was afraid of getting in over his head and reaching, what he referred to as, “the point of no return.”
What Sage taught him is that you don’t have to know exactly what you want to approach another person. Attraction doesn’t have to be all or nothing and there’s a lot of room between nothing and anal penetration. She also taught her client that once you start something, it’s perfectly okay to revoke consent.
Take the Quiz: How Well Do You Know Consent?
In my sex work, negotiating consent and setting boundaries is an everyday occurrence. I refuse to work with clients who don’t respect my sexual agency and try to integrate these values into my texts, calls, and video chats. For me, even online, enthusiastic consent still applies (meaning the presence of a “yes” rather than the absence of a “no”).
There’s a lot of teaching around this topic, as many clients don’t get that consent is a constant check-in between partners, that helps ensure all participants are on the same page. In addition to consent, I teach my clients everything from using inclusive language and how to please a vulva to what to expect during a threesome and how to bring up a kink, fantasy, or fetish with a partner.
The thing is if a client can learn their wants, needs, and boundaries in a virtual setting, they can better communicate them in IRL. The more we normalize these conversations, the less they’ll become a big deal and we can elevate the human experience and have better sex for all.
Sage does make a valid point though, that especially in porn, where there’s a lot of debate about it setting a bad example, the actors are entertainers – not sex educators. “You don’t see the prep work or pre-negotiations,” she says. “The expectation is a little unfair, but nevertheless it happens.”
“It can be a really positive experience for these clients.”
Another area in which Sage has made educational strides has been with her autistic clients. “In person and online, I find that they are much more direct about what they’re trying to get out of the experience.” Sometimes, she shows them the basics of how to have a specific intimate interaction or they practice parameters for an IRL relationship. “It can be a really positive experience for these clients.”This Burlesque Group Is Baring It All for Sexual Health
Ryn Pfeuffer is a versatile print and digital writer specializing in sex, lifestyle, and relationship topics. Over the past two decades, her work has appeared in more than 100 media outlets including Marie Claire, Playboy, Refinery29, The Globe and Mail, The Washington Post, WIRED, and Thrillist.
She adopted a pseudonym and was AVN’s (Adult Video Network) first female porn reviewer – while penning children’s books at the same time. More recently, she is the author of 101 Ways to Rock Online Dating (2019). She lives in Seattle with her rescue dog, Mimi. You can find her on Twitter @rynpfeuffer or IG @ryn_says