Sex Work and Marriage

Okay, so we’ve already had pointed out this story, the tale of a Gov. Official in Florida who was fired after he married a porn performer.  The reason given?  His choice of a spouse did not live up to the “Good Family Values” the city of Ft. Myers FL is trying to maintain…

 Now, the cynic in me says that if Ft. Myers was so concerned with family values, they should be praising this guy for “making an honest woman” out of his long time partner and mother of his children…and hell need we remind anyone, Ft. Myers is often regarded as the birthplace of Spring Break and when it comes to porn production and the profit made due to it Florida is second only to California, but anyway…

 This article made me decide to write about something I’ve been pondering for awhile now, and because I am so kind (ha) and what not, I thought I would save it for my stint here at Feministe…

 There are a lot of things people who are not sex workers take for granted, and one of those things is the ability to be married.  Nah, no room for critique of the institution of marriage here, that is another post, but let me let you in on a little secret:  A lot of sex workers are married…and that is another place where they take it in the chops in a way other people may not understand.

 I’m married, and while my job is not a huge source of strife within my marriage, as in, between me and Mr. Evolution…there is definitely some odd mojo going on in our lives because of my job.  For example:

 His parents do not know what I do for a living, nor, with any luck, will they ever- because flat out, they would not accept it and it would be a huge shit fest.  His co-workers do not know.  It is pretty much a given that around his family, his families friends, his co-workers, or various other people we know that when the “What do you do for a living” question comes up I will lie.  I do not like doing this, but it is done.  I actually like my job and take pride in my work, but that does not matter.  There have been times where it has really, really pissed me off… as in, I am slated to work weeks in advance, his family will invite us up to see them or go somewhere, and I cannot go.  The why I cannot go has to be lied about, which has at times led his family to think that I hate them, that I do not want to go places with them, that I am lazy and have no job at all, so on, so forth.  I cannot tell them or a great many other people “Hey, I am speaking at college X about sex work” so they then wonder why I am just jetting off to MN or something.  I cannot say I am going to this event or working on this scene or any of that.  It is not done.   It is also very possible, that like the folk in that news story, that my job could get Mr. E fired or some such thing.  Even though what I am doing is legal.

 And as always, even under often highly vaunted models like that one in Sweden, it is worse for those engaged in straight out prostitution.  In Sweden, even with their model, it is illegal from one to benefit from the earnings of a prostitute.  Which is to say, when said prostitute spends the money she has earned to put food on the table for a family, technically she is breaking the law. 

 And then, as always, there are the reactions of other people.  People freak out at the idea of a sex worker being married.  Any time I speak somewhere, the room sits and nods when I discuss performing act whatever in a porn scene, then gasp when I say I am married.  “What about intimacy?”  “What about fidelity?”  and, my favorite (Mr. E’s too), “How can you let her do that?”/ “Your husband let’s you do that?” 

 The short answer is Mr.E…well, there is no “let” involved, but in any event, this is what one who is a sex worker can expect when people find out they are married.  In this situation, not only does the sex worker get the great googlymoogly, but so does their partner.  They get in on all the bullshit right along with their sex worker spouse.

 They can be fired, they can lose their kids, they put up with all kinds of shit right along with their partner in that til death do you part kind of way.  They (if male) get accused of being pimps, or abusive, or it is assumed they have forced their partner into the sex biz.  It is just a whole extra load of shit sex workers (and their partners) get to deal with.  I mean, if Jane the accountant married John the IT guy- well, no one would bat an eye.

 If you are a sex  worker?  Well shit, then the rules are different.  Just ask the Janke’s…or any other married sex worker.

The stigma and dehumanization, you see, runs very, very deep.

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17 comments for “Sex Work and Marriage

  1. July 28, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Thank you for this, Ren.

  2. July 28, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Hey Ren,

    Damn, exactly how much of an omg!drama this could become never occured to me. It was always in the back of my head “Wow, that must be rough”, but … wow.

  3. Pega
    July 28, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    You may be a curmudgeon, but I think I like that. This post gave me a lot to think about. That’s always a good thing.

  4. July 28, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    You’re right — like similar hypocrisies, the “family values” excuse fails when its adherents are presented the idea of marriage that doesn’t fit conventional definitions. Why intrude into someone else’s individual circumstances and try to classify them?

    Curious — do your views on this topic tie into your libertarian perspectives? (Or, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, if this is to be answered in a future post :)).

    Even as a former, short-term sex worker, some members of my family don’t know it was ever on the CV (namely, my dad). My mom and sisters found out years after the fact. Some good friends of mine know, but only one friend of my husband’s knows. So much for the stereotype that guys consider strippers to be trophies! Maybe to date or fool around with, not to marry! The madonna/whore thing, literally. It’s important (whether or not one is a sex worker, but especially if one is or was) to find a guy who doesn’t see a dichotomy there (or woman, but I think those who dichotomize are more often male).

  5. July 28, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    So much for the stereotype that guys consider strippers to be trophies!

    My sentiments exactly! I’ve heard that at least a thousand times… but as usual, it doesn’t pan out that way in actual reality.

  6. July 28, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    It makes me sad that in the 21st century people STILL have to hide what they do for a living.

    I guess you could say you’re human rights advocate and that would be the truth…you’re just omitting the part about advocating a human’s right to earn money by selling sex ;-).

  7. Daisy Bond
    July 28, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    Great post. Also:

    There are a lot of things people who are not sex workers take for granted, and one of those things is the ability to be married.

    Straight people who aren’t sex workers, that is. There are a lot of other folks who can’t get married and can’t take basic respect for our relationships for granted either.

  8. July 28, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Thank you. I live quite the same with my boyfriend. It is very hard for me to know that I hurt him because of the stigma. I am fed up with lying when I wish I could scream the world that I am a whore. And same thing about people thinking that I am lazy when I work so hard not only in my sex work but in my activism.
    Some of his friends took the piss on him because I have sex with other men. It’s very hard because I never let anyone tell me what to do with my sexuality or my job but sometimes I think that I should maybe stop working to protect him.

    People dont realise they meet sex workers every day and that we can be very close to them. I came out to all my family and people I know but I cant force him if he doenst feel ready. For the moment he only introduced me to his sister who knows and I wonder if I had a straight job if I would have already met his parents.

  9. July 28, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    You know, this reminds me of how often the upper classes talk to the people they study—us poor people. There’s never any discussion of our inner life—we’re just statistics and sob stories. In other words, we’re not allowed to have an opinion on our lives. We’re not going to read those books about the poor, and we’re going to be lectured by people who haven’t walked in our shoes. It’s like we’re never going to read Nickel and Dimed because we’re all illiterate or too busy watching or appearing on Jerry Springer.

    I frankly think the words whore and slut and all the rest should be eliminated. They’re not valid. What do they even mean? Who cares? And why?

  10. lilacsigil
    July 28, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    In Sweden, even with their model, it is illegal from one to benefit from the earnings of a prostitute.

    What the hell do they think zie is doing with the money, then? Wearing it? Eating it? I can see that kind of law getting passed, nominally to prevent pimps, and then, as usual, being used to hassle the prostitutes themselves.

  11. Ren
    July 28, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    Daisy Bond: 100% correct…het people who aren’t sex workers.

  12. July 29, 2009 at 1:24 am

    I pretty much have contempt for the corporate and political mindset that one’s spouse/SO/whatever was supposed to be part of their career. I never wanted a “corporate wife”, nor married Jane to get one. I never thought it was her job to have just the right opinions express just the right way. Nor, do I expect that my work or opinions or anything else should be a reflection on her.

    That which applies here surely applies in your situation. I’m glad the Mr. E, for the most part, rises to the situation. I wish his co-workers and friends would do so as well. It’s not that hard to do really, once you get used to the idea that society isn’t all that sharp at gauging what is important.

    Then again, if society had any sort of sensible values, you’d be appreciated for being industrious and productive. It’s the fucked up polemics that deeply discounts (and often parades it’s contempt for) sex that is half the problem here.

  13. Jannet
    July 29, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    This post is so spot on. When working, I’ve always been honest about being married in the hopes of avoiding anyone trying to get “close” to me (I usually don’t mention that we’re also poly… ::devilish grin::). I often get this: “Wow! If I was your husband, there’s no way I’d let you do this!” me: “Yeah, well, I probably wouldn’t marry you.” This always gets a big laugh — from me, anyway! XD

    I usually don’t tell anyone that I’ve worked as a “companion.” Even my really progressive friends who are okay with dancing would feel iky about that. My closest friends know, but we don’t often talk about it. I feel like they find it distasteful. And I’m so tired of being analyzed, when there’s really nothing worth analyzing there.

    Also, I have three kids. One of whom was taken from me by my ex and his family for a year because they found out I was employed by an escort agency. I actually signed over custody to my ex instead of facing a judge — it was just too dehumanizing and I felt it was obvious that NOBODY was on my side. Bad time. It’s taken me three years and finally I’m starting to heal. (btw, I have standard visitaion with my child, now, and my ex and I are starting to work things out.)

    The argument that being a sex worker is OBVIOUSLY DANGEROUS to a child is so pervasive. I hardly ever tell anyone the real details of my story because I know that all the injustices I’ve been through would be washed over, and the other side would be instantly justified in any horrible thing they did (including completely alienating and cutting off a 2yr old from a parent, something that many child psychologists will label as child abuse). This has happened: “Well, I’m sorry that happened to you, but I understand their point of view…” WHAT?! … I’ve just given up looking for support. I’ve got my mom and partner and that’s all I need.

    Ren, have you noticed different kinds of prejudice re: marriage in different areas of sex work? For instance, do you see a comparable stigma against prostitutes and porn performers who are married/have children? Is it generally more acceptable for one’s spouse to dance in a topless club than an all nude club? etc.?

  14. Ren
    July 29, 2009 at 1:29 pm


    I think there are different kinds of prejudice- as in the topless dancer or pro domme takes slightly less crap than folk who actually have sex for money (escorting/porn), but they ALL take crap. Iguess it depends on the people really. I know some folk were shocked with me dancing, but mortified about the porn thing.

  15. July 29, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    I’m always really happy and excited for escorts who are able to maintain meaningful sexual relationships with their significant others/whatever while they are working. I clung to that idea while I was a full service escort, hoping that it would get better. The truth is, for me, that I didn’t want to be touched sexually in most cases because I was being touched sexually by people every day of my life for pay. The money was addicting, but what it did to my relationship was not. I do wish I could be an escort again so I could make in one hour what I now make in two weeks, but it’s not worth it for me. Cheers to those who are able to make relationships work!

  16. Chris
    July 30, 2009 at 11:47 am

    I long for the day when you don’t have to hide privately what you do publicly, when you don’t have to cater to hypocrites, liars, abusers & thieves because their bigotry is sanctioned by a social structure which worships the love of power, not of people. Peace – there are folks who can and do think for ourselves –
    you are not alone!

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