When Sex Work Meets Psychotherapy

Today, I want to give you an insight into the therapeutic side of my sex work. My studies and my sex work are complimentary, so I see it like this: whichever one I’m currently working on, I’m going to be reaping rewards for both – it’s win, win.

I work with men, women and couples and a proportion of my time is spent using what I get from the transference or my counter-transference to steer the session or consider for the next session. It’s a delicate balance, particularly with services like humiliation and degradation, where the erotic can become the traumatic with one poorly chosen remark. Some clients also sadly carry a lot of shame around with them about their kinky desires, so I try to work in a way where they don’t just project it into me and leave. Rather, I hope they can acknowledge it and we discuss it. Believe it or not, erotic humiliation is one way to work through the shame. It gets it out, exaggerates and plays with it, even makes it a bit absurd, and reveals it just to be outside judgment, rather than inside deficiency (and in a fun, sexy way too!). This doesn’t work for everyone, but for some people, verbalising and eroticising the shame is a great way to diminish its destructive power and transform it into pleasure.

With my male clients, I’m often the only person (other than their GP), who knows about their changing medical conditions and medications they are taking, their mental and physical health and sexual concerns. This is necessary for the services I provide, but also, my play space is a safe place to speak about almost anything; the revelations stay in the room.

With the women that visit me, I’m usually the first person they’ve discussed their desires with, or they’ve had an experience with a partner and would like to know more. I really enjoy the exhilaration in that first meeting and in subsequent ones, as we embark on a fun, playful (and educational!) journey together. They teach me about their different lives, relationship styles, how they developed an interest in BDSM, and I share my knowledge. It’s a humbling experience to be trusted with someone’s deepest desires and to be able to explore them together. It’s lovely to work with women too.

Finally, working with couples is definitely the most complex and rewarding side to my sex work. They visit me for certain kinks, but I have to navigate what’s really going on underneath, and often this is unconscious. There’s also the weight of expectation: that I can provide life changing skills/advice in just two hours. I imagine this is a similar situation with which couples therapists are greeted. Couples visit me as a means to admit beliefs and desires to one another that they either haven’t felt able to admit or aren’t even aware of. They visit to discover new ways to relate and understand one another. They also visit with the express desire to seek out female empowerment through BDSM.

Sex work is sex, I’m not denying that, but it is also work. I don’t believe I would be able to work in the sex industry if it was just a series of cold transactions, as it’s often portrayed. I’m certainly not erasing the bodies from this picture. Physical sensation and stimulation, tease and denial, are pivotal, but when you combine that with the psychological side, you create an intimacy that I myself have often missed out on in my private relationships. The sincerity, imperfection and mutability of those connections are some of the reasons that I love my job and what has drawn me to psychotherapy.

That’s all for now. Hope you enjoyed reading,

Sex Worker Psych

The Sex Worker & the Psychoanalyst – Stigma in the Therapy Room

The following is an example of how not to treat a sex worker. This happened to me a few weeks ago.

I’m on the hunt for a psychoanalyst at the moment because my uni course requires it. I actually went into the process extremely naively. I’ve vetted previous psychotherapists stringently (checking they’re on Pink Therapy, for a start) and, as such, have never been attacked for my profession. That was about to change, as I have been funnelled into a system where I’ve been pointed towards a short list of “recommended” consultants who would then forward me onto a “suitable” psychoanalyst. And this is where the pathologisation began.

I won’t dwell on the consultation, as I’m sure you don’t want to read a thesis on “what not to say to a sex worker”, but her summation of me was that I “don’t understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy, cruel and kind”. You see, I mainly work in BDSM and, before I could even utter a word about my job (or mention the words consent, intimacy, negotiation, aftercare), she had decided it was abuse, pain, pain, pain – “identification with the aggressor” (or lazy psychoanalysis to you and I).

After a migraine, another session with her and distraught tears in my current psychotherapist’s room, I was off to see the recommended psychoanalyst. The first session was mostly practicalities. It was the second session where it descended into an anti-sex work lecture. Not having spoken about my job yet, I mentioned that I was concerned about the summer break because I have a work-related issue that I may need support for. Cue victim blaming: if I wasn’t a sex worker, I wouldn’t have to suffer this issue (really helpful!). She never actually used the term “sex worker” or anything like that, so I’m still not sure what exactly she thinks I do in the sex industry (I do a lot of different jobs) – maybe it’s all the same: violence against women or something like that.

Anyway, this story precipitated a 20 MINUTE LECTURE on how to get out of the sex industry so I could healthily train to be a psychotherapist: instantly quit the job I really enjoy, move out of the city and away from my friends, get a monotonous, low paid, 40+ hour/week job working for someone else, save up for an eternity and then (once I’m a reformed hooker!) return to psychotherapy.

In amongst this, she expressed her incredulity that I’d got through the interview and onto my course (the consultant was the same), stating that I’d “deceived the interviewer with my False Self”. Let me tell you, I have risked rejection at every point of this process by not presenting myself in a sanitised form, by not lying about who I am. It would have been so much less stressful if I had lied about what I do.

And this brings me to the final insult: pimping. Rather interestingly, the psychoanalyst stated that I saw her as a pimp, sending me out to do terrible things to bring her money. I was dumbfounded by this interpretation – it was so spectacularly inaccurate (but very revealing about her). If I see psychoanalysts as any specific member of the sex industry, it would be as Dominatrices.

There seems to be this inability to understand how a sex worker could be stable enough to handle a psychotherapy course. It’s clearly denial about the remarkable similarities between the two professions.

I’ve written a lot, so I’ll leave this blog with a request. Don’t underestimate how devastating this experience was: someone who I instantly respected, with expertise and experience, who is supposed to be non-judgmental, who is sitting in the chair I want to sit in one day, doing the job I am training for, spends an hour telling me I am so pathological, broken, disturbed, unhealthy that she can’t even understand how I ever thought psychotherapy could be a career for me. She even arranged to tell me this for three hours a week for the next three years at least (because sex workers need “intensive” psychoanalysis). It’s heartbreaking and so very isolating. I’ve had migraines, felt alone and cried a lot, wondering if this world is out of reach purely because of where my fees for my course and my therapy come from.

I survived this, but it’s not difficult to see why so few sex workers are even out to their psychotherapists. If you’ve never knowingly had a client that is a sex worker, if you’re unsure how to respond, feel uneasy, or if you agree with what the psychoanalyst said to me, check yourself and where the judgment is coming from. Or, ask me whatever you need to know. I’m happy to answer sex work-related questions from my perspective or give links to blogs etc. After all, we have more in common than you may expect.

Thanks for reading,

Sex Worker Psych