'I'm a Feminist and Former Sex Worker'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Earlier we heard from a reader who solicits prostitutes. Here’s an email from the other side of the transaction:

I consider myself a feminist and I also have worked as a sex worker. The two are not mutually exclusive. I have a college degree, but I had a job I hated that was sucking the life out of me. As something of a whim, I decided to try sex work. I was good at it and it was fun. I did not have a pimp or work for an agency. I got clients using Craigslist, back when they had an “erotic services” section. Most of my clients became regulars, so I only occasionally needed to put an ad out. I kept my ads to an absolute minimum to avoid potential exposure to law enforcement stings.

I mostly did what is referred to as the “girlfriend experience,” so there wasn’t a whole of “escorting” to it, but still a whole lot of pillow talk. Many of my clients were married and totally devoted to their spouses, who were unable or unwilling to be intimate. I also did some work as a domina in the BDSM type of interaction. I got paid extremely well.

I stopped doing sex work not because I felt exploited or ashamed, but because the worry about the consequences of getting caught was too much of a burden. Also, having to create a fake employer and job to satisfy friends and family felt dishonest.

I now have a regular desk job in insurance (snooze), two kids, and a partner. There are plenty of days while slogging through my current job that I long for my former job. As a sex worker, I felt more like a therapist. I connected with others. I felt valued and desired.

I’ve never told anyone other than my current partner about my former work. I’m not ashamed, although I feel like I’m supposed to be. The overwhelming stigma attached to sex workers is very much alive and well, so please don’t use my name if you use my letter.

When I asked her if she ever felt endangered on the job, she responded:

There was only one time I felt unsafe and that was when a client got a little rough. He didn’t hurt me, but it was a little disturbing. I chose not to see him again. One of the good things about RedBook and Backpage and other sites used by sex workers is they allow women to share information and warnings about bad clients. I didn’t know about these sites until after I stopped doing sex work.