Out of any profession in the world, perhaps one of the oldest is also the most misunderstood. Sex work is an umbrella term that covers many roles in the sex industry including, but not limited to, escorting, phone sex, exotic dancing, sensual massage, brothel work, street work, and more. Some of these professions are legal in certain parts of the country and some are not. However, the term "work" in sex work emphasizes the fact that it is a legitimate and consensual profession. That is, coercion and force have no place in sex work and would instead fall under the category of abuse and/or trafficking.
This week I've interviewed Amy Gray (her name has been changed to protect her privacy), a self-identified prostitute who has worked both independently as an escort and sensual massage practitioner, as well as spending some time at a legal brothel. But here is a disclaimer—she is only one of thousands of sex workers. Thus she would like to remind you that this is just one person's truth. If this was an interview with a health care practitioner, an ER doc serving an understaffed hospital will have a different truth that a cosmetic surgeon in Hollywood.
Hi Amy, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I'm sure you get a lot of questions about your profession, even out of an official interview context, so I thought I'd begin by asking what is the most common question you get?
Probably the most common question I get would be "How did you get into this?" Followed by "Do your parents know?"
I don't know why people are so obsessed about my parents' knowledge of my job, but there you go. Like, do people go around asking other people if their parents know about their sex lives? Or do they even go around asking other people if their parents know about their jobs as a waitress or lawyer or whatever?
As it turns out, my parents do know about my job, and they love me and we get along fine. But the bottom line is, I'm an adult who doesn't have to do what my parents say. [laughing]
So, how did you get into this?
For years I'd had friends who worked in different parts of the sex industry from pro-domming, to dancing and phone sex, to independent escorting. I'd seen them have time for their art and their relationships, and have enough money to pay their bills and save, and have a pretty good time most of the time.
I, on the other hand, was scraping by over the years as a waitress, a cook, working at a plant nursery, a courier, an art teacher—you name it. It wasn't that big of a stretch for me to throw up an ad and try my hand at erotic massage. I took to it like a duck in water, and the financial side was VERY rewarding.
Getting to interact with people on such an intimate or primal level while also not having to take their baggage home with me was enthralling. Many clients are able to express a vulnerable side in these safe anonymous-type interactions and it was rewarding to be able to provide a safe space to help them. And I was finally able to start saving money. It was a dream.
What kinds of vulnerabilities do your clients come through the door with?
They bring with them a lifetime of accumulated sexual insecurities, secret sexual desires that they fear they can't share even with their life partners, and sometimes deep loneliness. They also bring a desire for adventure, for intimacy and connection, or a simple desire for physical satisfaction. Some have physical disabilities or limited mobility and visiting a sex worker is both therapeutic, convenient , and sometimes their only option for physical sexual contact.
What is the biggest misconception about sex work?
That sex workers need the law or the public to help them out of sex work. Really, for the most part, we just want to be left alone, and the use of state violence to stop consensual transactional sex hurts everyone involved.
There's also a myth held by some that sex workers are vectors of disease and spread STI's despite ample evidence that sex workers practice much safer sex than the general population. Statistically, teenagers have the highest rates of STI's.
What about those who are coerced or abused into transactional sex?
Abuse and exploitation exist in all industries and all walks of life, unfortunately. From a legal perspective, abuse and exploitation victims should be protected by laws concerning kidnapping, financial exploitation, assault or physical abuse without criminalizing sex work. Just like we acknowledge and fight domestic violence while not seeking to abolish marriage because it's a very small subset, we can fight abuse and exploitation without criminalizing all of sex work. In addition, we don't arrest abused wives "for their own good" because we obviously recognize that that would not be for their own good and would hurt them, but unfortunately, this is currently how victims of sexual exploitation are treated.
You call yourself a "prostitute." Why?
Some sex workers find the term "prostitute" offensive because of the intense stigma and baggage that goes with it. I feel that for me it's important to take back that name in order to fight the stigma.
Also, for a few years I did a stint working at the Nevada legal brothels. When filling out the paperwork for my legal permits, the job on the form is "prostitute." It's literally the actual name of the job I was doing. "Sex worker" is more of an umbrella term, but for me, without euphemisms, prostitution is what I do.
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Ally Booker is a pleasure activist passionate about educating herself and others on cool sexuality. You can often find her at her Tucson shop, Jellywink Boutique, 418 E. 7th St. You can reach her at 777-9434.