do ladies of the night see wedding nights? (life after escorting)
December 25, 2015 3:37 AM   Subscribe

Will anyone want to date and have a long term relationship with a former escort/full service sex worker? Should I disclose my occupation?

Hello there,
I'm a 22 year old escort. While I graduated from a top college, immediate unemployment right after led me to sex work--first sugaring, and then escorting/full service sex work (fssw). With the money, I was able to move out of my parents' house and be financially independent.

I'm moving for a new job soon, and I plan on joining an escort agency in my new city. The goal is to escort for a year part time, save up, and then quit, eventually going to grad school. While my new job pays me enough to live on, escorting helps me make student loan payments and pay off debts.

I don't regret getting into sex work, risks and all. However, I am very scared of dating after (or even during) sex work. I recently "outed" myself to a friend, who said he'd never date a fssw/escort like me.

That freaked me out.

In addition, I asked a client if he'd ever date someone who did what I did. He said no-- and he sees me!

Naturally, I have to ask: how is dating after escorting? I've been interested in beginning to date again, but have no idea how to explain sex work.

Are there any sex workers or peers of sex workers who have navigated the dating world and found relationships after escorting? Do I disclose my former job?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Happily married sex worker here. :) yes there are plenty of folks happy to date and wed active and former sex workers. It's up to you whether to disclose but anyone who stigmatises sex workers isn't worth dating imo. Google whorephobia and dating a sex worker; also look up sex worker rights groups in your area, there will be many local people who have been through this! Sex work is work, and anyone who wouldn't date you is not someone you would want to date.

Please feel free to me mail or email me (margaretcorvid at gmail dot com) if you would like to talk.
posted by Mistress at 4:14 AM on December 25, 2015 [38 favorites]

All of the sex workers and fsw I know are now married or in long-term partnerships. I am not saying "Oh, anyone would date you!" because as you have discovered, that is not the case. I am saying: don't buy into the stigma of your own occupation. Hold out for a worthy partner who accepts your employment as just a job and doesn't fetishize it.

Morality of not disclosing aside, I would also point out that in the modern age, not disclosing puts you at tremendous risk and I don't think it's really an option any more.

(I'm sorry I can't offer advice from experience as to when to disclose; I've never not known my sw friends were swers so there has never been any disclosure beyond retirement parties.)
posted by DarlingBri at 6:01 AM on December 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think Dan Savage has written quite a bit about this in his column, you may want to check out his website. I agree with Mistress, you're not going to want to date anyone who will stigmatize it. I think you should be honest because it can and probably will be a deal breaker for some men. It may limit you're dating pool but to be honest everyone has things about them that limit their dating pool and I definitely don't think being a sex worker is hindrance to getting married. I think you might just have find more open-minded partners.
posted by CosmicSeeker42 at 6:02 AM on December 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have the opposite take. I think you should rewrite your history once you stop escorting and never disclose, especially to anyone you are casually dating.

You'll have a lot to process because sex work is very intimate in a sense, and you'll naturally want to talk about your experiences. You should do this in therapy. You should not trust friends or boyfriends or anyone with this sensitive information about your private life. Ever.

Here's my reasoning... With social media the way it is, it will only take one person's betrayal to shred your career. Or get the mom's talking about you at preschool. Or similar. You dig? This is not something you can judiciously share with a few people and hope they'll be cool. Sometimes we trust people who turn out to be untrustworthy. That is a fact of life. You're asking this question because you are discovering that not everyone is cool and groovy about sex work, even though they should be. I promise you a million times most people are not what they seem. I double promise you that most people (especially men you would otherwise date) have zero experience being this enlightened about sexuality. Especially female sexuality. The older I get, the more I realize how women are feared and maligned in society. You will not overcome the stigma of being an escort easily if this ever becomes public knowledge. You've already told someone, stop immediately from discussing it with anyone who is not a therapist or a priest. It's human nature to blab. It's human nature to judge others. Be smart, keep your mouth shut.

I'm not at all ashamed of my experiences or choices. I'm just telling you what happens afterwards. I think you can transition into a more mainstream career, but you should think twice about escorting in your new city. Living a double life is HARD and the world is smaller than you think. Be smart.

You'll have a lot of feelings both during and after your time as a sex worker. I invite you to find confidential ways to talk about and share your experiences. I'm just telling you not to share this private info with civilians. 98% of people will consciously or subconsciously think less of you. Trying to find that 2% while being honest will cause you professional and social damage, people just aren't that mature.

You're 22. There's nothing wrong with what you are doing, it's the world around you that's wrong. You're doing this to get ahead, so don't blow any advantages you are gaining by trusting people won't gossip or judge or act badly towards you. A thousand times I wish I had kept my mouth shut.

You're 22. You've already indicated you are not making this your lifetime career. If you want to keep any advantages being an escort provides, never ever talk about your experiences with civilians. Never disclose to friends or coworkers.

No. You can not date while you are escorting. Lying is a relationship killer, and you'll be living a double life. Plus, couples fight, and this info will get used against you privately or publicly, eventually, by someone you are dating. Most won't date you after you've been honest, beware the ones who say they are "cool" with it. Someone looking for a partner they can have emotional leverage over (because deep down they are an insecure asshole) will fool you into trusting them, only to turn out to be emotionally abusive or worse once you are committed to them. Remember, 98% vs. 2%. You will have an impossible time trying to identify 2% of eligible males who want to date a woman who is honest about being or having been a sex worker AND starting your career AND moving to a new city AND preparing for grad school. Really.

Don't set yourself up to fail. You are 22. Be smart. Be well. Take care of your best interests.
posted by jbenben at 6:46 AM on December 25, 2015 [72 favorites]

Charlotte Shane is an author who has written a lot about sex work including relationship issues (and who has been the subject of several FPPs, including most recently). I think you find her writing to be of use both on its own and as a starting off point for finding writing by other current and former sex workers.

The short answer, of course, is that some people will have no issue with a disclosure of this type, and others will find it a deal breaker; there isn't one general rule that will fit all situations. And, as you have already found, lots of people who are happy to sleep with a sex worker would not be willing to be in a relationship with one, hypocritical though that may be.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:58 AM on December 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, I promise you a zillion times everyone around you is keeping sensitive information about themselves private. You won't be the only person you know with a "secret," so drop any idea you might have about stigmatizing a wise decision to be very very discerning about who and when you discuss these deeper life experiences you are having as a sex worker.

Take comfort in the fact that what you are keeping intensly private isn't actually "bad." Most things people hide are far worse, even though those folks would be the first to judge you! Hypocrites.

There's nothing wrong and everything right about being discerning and discreet.
posted by jbenben at 6:59 AM on December 25, 2015 [15 favorites]

I think that it's a fallacy that you have to share your history with anyone and they must be okay with it. If you want to eventually marry a nice normal vanilla guy then when you finish this part of your life leave it in the past and move forward knowing that it's fine for woman to have their own private history and to live whatever life you want unhindered by the judgements of others.
posted by flink at 8:06 AM on December 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

This isn't something I feel like you would necessarily have to disclose. STD status, yes, former side gig, not so much. And yes, people will judge. Almost everyone will judge, even the people who you would least expect to think less of you. It sucks, but that's the way the vast majority of people are.

Your future professional life will be much easier if you keep this information about yourself to yourself and those who have a professional obligation to keep their mouths shut. It's not a complete career killer, but that information being out there means prospective employers will have it also, and many will look upon it unfavorably. It's just one more thing to make life harder, you know?

It sucks that people are judgemental about it, and it sucks that employers have an irrational fear of it being discovered that one of their employees once engaged in sex work, but that is how society is right now. Protect yourself. Don't feel bad about yourself, though! The negativity is just Puritan noise, but for now it is noise that can have an adverse impact.
posted by wierdo at 9:28 AM on December 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I believe in being truly honest with partners: the question isn't whether or not to tell but when to tell. This may be after a few dates or it may be after a few months. Once you retire (not because you would "need" to but because you said you hope to one day), I don't think you necessarily need to tell people you're casually dating but yes to people you're in or considering a serious relationship with. And it's totally up to you for friends, family members, colleagues: telling some might give you great support (friends, family, etc.) whereas others may be petty and not worth it (colleagues, etc.)

I think telling your partner would give you a great peace of mind, which is priceless. Everyone has secrets and they're such a heavy burden; I believe most people will understand, and anyone who will judge you for it does not deserve you. I respect you and so should all your partners! As for what your client said, I'd try to not to give it much weight. Maybe he's a hypocritical jerk or maybe he was worried you were indirectly expressing an interest in dating him. That's not the case on your end but perhaps he made the blanket statement because it felt like a gentler let down to him?
posted by smorgasbord at 9:29 AM on December 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've thought about this before from the perspective of your future potential partner. I don't think I'd have any problem with your history i.e., think less of you for having done that. But it's still complicated, and I would try to avoid that situation because of trust/insecurity problems.

I'd be going out with someone who has been in the business of being an actor. Pretending to have feelings for men to feed their ego, when really it was a transactional thing. Probably gotten very good at it until it became second nature. How would I ever be sure it was real this time and not have the nagging suspicion I was being manipulated?

You should probably keep that a secret until far enough along that your new partner was absolutely sure and secure, and still expect that to take some time to process.

If you're going to continue doing it on the side in your new town, someone at your job will find out. Will. No question. Make sure that's something you can live with, and that when it happens, you can let it happen and not be cornered into a blackmail/extortion situation. People will try to take advantage of knowing an embarrassing secret about you.
posted by ctmf at 9:32 AM on December 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Of the six current and former sex workers that I know, four are either married or engaged to be married, and the one is in a long-term ongoing relationship, and one remains single and seems to me to be unlikely to ever secure a long-term relationship for reasons completely unrelated to her sex worker status. So those are pretty good odds.

It's worth noting that all of these women have been completely up-front with their partners about the sex work. I briefly dated three of them (not at once) over the years, and while we ultimately didn't end up together, their past line of work was never an issue.

Ultimately, it'll matter to some people but not to others, and you're probably better off dodging anyone who wouldn't date you over it, anyway.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:37 AM on December 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I did sex work of various sorts for years. I am happily married for the last 12 years to a man who knows my full history. YMMV, but to me, if I was with someone who could not accept and be ok with my past I would not feel they were a good partner for me. especially anyone who might judge me or those life decisions. there can absolutely be life and love after sex work!!
posted by supermedusa at 10:38 AM on December 25, 2015 [9 favorites]

I don't know what to advise you on this one. On the one hand, I think you should be honest at some point to weed out any guy who's going to freak out, because you don't want a guy who starts yelling that you're a whore, nor do you want to marry a guy and then be with him and your two kids ten years later and then realize he'll flip out if he ever finds out. That to me smacks of time bomb from hell, to be with someone that you can't trust will be okay. I agree that it'll limit your dating pool, but many things do and there are people who've settled down anyway and been just fine. I'd probably recommend dating around say, poly people, hippies, more alternative types.

On the other hand, I do have to concur with jbenben that social media, people finding out, blackmail material, etc. is a genuine fear.

Maybe just leave it at "proceed with caution and see how it's going with the person and if you can trust them enough" later?
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:38 AM on December 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

Just a note - if you go jbenben's route, which can be valid for many people - there are still risks -

Did you put any picture on a sw site that you use elsewhere? Google image search or tineye can find you.

Do you ever lose inhibition when drunk or upset?

Do you talk in your sleep?
posted by Mistress at 12:15 PM on December 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

My friend was a sex worker for years. Her boyfriend knows, and it's fine. Two of our mutual friends do not know, and I can personally see them having fucked up reactions to the news. They're dumb about the patriarchy.

Assuming you're "retired" and STD-free, you have 0 obligation to disclose this to a future partner. 0. It's up to you to decide if YOU require a boyfriend to see and accept this part of your past in order for you to feel secure in the relationship. It's totally understandable if you do! But there will be an element of risk associated with telling him.
posted by jessca84 at 12:35 PM on December 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

anecdotal but two guy friends of mine dated a former stripper and escort. Neither of those relationships ended in marriage but that was because of character issues unrelated to occupation per se. Just so you know there are open minded people out there who understand that the past is the past.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:16 PM on December 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I used to escort. I dated quite a few guys after escorting and also had a couple LTRs.

I had a very wide variety of experiences when I disclosed, and the reaction from a given guy wasn't always at all predictable based on my prior assessment of his character. Disclosures like this have a way of really getting down to the core of who someone is. I had one dude tell me I wasn't "girlfriend material" because I'd done sex work. Most reactions were less absolute than that.

For myself, I can't imagine ever having a serious relationship with someone I didn't disclose to. One of the biggest points of being in a relationship, to me, is intimacy, and having a big secret like that precludes true intimacy.

One thing I will caution against is thinking that if someone claims verbally to accept you, that's the end of that and you can skip into the sunset. My partner in one LTR was very accepting of the information at first, but apparently had a whole thought process I wasn't aware of until it reared its head in jealous outbursts. He thought that since I'd done sex work, I'd be more likely to cheat, so he tortured me repeatedly with his unfounded jealousy as a reward for my honesty.

If you disclose, the very best reaction is not just assurances of support, but your date showing curiosity about what your experiences were like and what your values actually are. People can make huge assumptions about things like your ability to be faithful, your drug use, what acts you actually did with clients, etc. without verbalizing those assumptions.

We've had a demonstration on this very thread of how presumptuous people can be, with the tirade about how sex workers must be "actors" who lied to men for money. I'm not alone in having genuinely cared for the vast majority of my clients. But that poster would almost certainly not verbalize their wrong-headed assumptions when responding to a disclosure. That's a rich irony, that the very honest and open act of disclosure can be responded to with unspoken assumptions, caginess, and subterfuge.

Last thing I'd like to ask is for people recommending the "no disclosure" route to reread their own posts, substituting homosexuality for sex work. Still think that's good advice?? You're telling people to avoid disclosing what may be an important part of their history because a lot of society doesn't accept it....but in doing so, you are actually perpetuating those conditions in which it's difficult to disclose. All the fear mongering about workplaces finding out sounds soooo much like someone warning against the disclosure of homosexuality up until fairly recently. What changed that atmosphere of shame and secrecy???? People being brave enough to claim who they are without apology.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 7:20 PM on December 25, 2015 [27 favorites]

I still don't think OP should feel she must disclose. I personally believe that we should be empowered to reinvent ourselves/ be the people we envision ourselves being. If OP wants to leave it in the past, keeping a smaller part of her private history private and intimacy with her future partner are not mutually exclusive. 10 years from now sex work might be so far in the distant past that you hardly think about it, and it isn't who you are anymore... and until you are a bit further down the path I don't think you will regret discretion.
posted by flink at 9:55 PM on December 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, I think that if someone engages in sex work as an escape out of a situation where they have very little power (OP you said you used it to become independent of your parents) then they have every right to make the choice not to let that past powerlessness continue by allowing themselves to feel pressured to share with people that might not understand and would remove their sense of power in the current day. This is a situation OP where you should really just do what is in your heart to do, you asked if its possible to have a relationship after sex work, and what various people do to make that happen, you have gotten a lot of varying answers. You should absolutely do whatever it is that you want and feel is right. Good luck!
posted by flink at 10:00 PM on December 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

I had a roommate in the early 90s who had been a dancer and Facebook tells me she's happily married with a toddler. I would never want to be with someone who judged and/or hated my chosen profession.
posted by bendy at 10:50 PM on December 25, 2015

If you disclose, the very best reaction is not just assurances of support, but your date showing curiosity about what your experiences were like and what your values actually are. People can make huge assumptions about things like your ability to be faithful, your drug use, what acts you actually did with clients, etc. without verbalizing those assumptions.

I have dated former sex workers, and this. You're paying your bills and doing a job, yes some people have jealousy drama with that, I don't. Same with STD's, you just get a test and be done with it. If I were "interviewing" you as a potential girlfriend my questions would likely be along the lines of who are your clients, how many of your friends know, are you hygienic about it, blah blah blah. I would worry about it, because it's like dating a politician - public perception can damage you, and I'd want to know how to manage that with you. Plus you have things like weird hours and irregular income. I'm a freelance translator, and I vanish into my laptop for weeks at a time. I also handle multimillion-dollar documents with non-disclosure agreements, so sometimes I can't even tell people why I've vanished except "work", which a lot of potential partners don't like. Every profession has drawbacks that impact relationships. We work outside the M-F 9-5 paradigm, and both of us suffer for it with people who can't empathize.

Point being, even for the non-judgmental it's an extra level of practical difficulty, and that's something you'll have to account for, be it either in finding a partner who gets it already or in extra emotional labor on your part. Sometimes the latter is exhausting for me, and I have crashed a few relationships because of it. ("Yes I really have to cancel Friday nights out with you four Fridays in a row with two-hour notice!")

This is probably something you've heard before, maybe in a judgmental way, but I'm using it as a thought exercise, the gendered parallel to your question - would you marry a man you know regularly sees escorts, or is an escort? Or did/was at one point? If I were in your shoes, my answer to that question would be yes but with reservations - "Is he in control of his life? Is he a misogynist? Does he have one-sided or unrealistic expectations about sex because of it? Will I feel jealous about it?" Etc. Think about the ways a man with that history would be acceptable to you, what your concerns would be, and how you want those concerns addressed. Your answers will be specific to you and different from mine, and that's the point. If you know exactly what standards you'd hold a man with your own history to, you have a good idea what standards to expect from a boyfriend and husband you'll find acceptable.

It's not fair to judge someone based on their past, but it's also not fair to pretend it didn't happen. If I'm your partner, I want to know why you are who you are, I want the formative details, and I want you to be comfortable enough to share them, and I want to support you, and it's crucial to me that I'm doing a good job of that if I'm seriously dating you. Please tell me.
posted by saysthis at 11:29 PM on December 25, 2015 [9 favorites]

I had a relationship with a former sex worker - escort and, later, agency owner - some time back and her previous work was never an issue between us. I hadn't met a sex worker before and I was interested in it, so we talked about it a fair bit over time. She was pretty relaxed about telling me about it once she knew I was cool with it. I didn't find it weird and it didn't make me think any less of her. On the contrary, I think she was quite resourceful and her decision to do sex work made a lot of sense to me. What I would probably have found weird is if she'd not told me. I'd have felt like she didn't trust me I think, and that wouldn't have been good for us. We broke up for reasons that had nothing to do with it.

I nth those above saying that the right man for you will be absolutely fine with it and I agree that it could help you to sort the sheep from the goats. I also suggest you disclose as little or as much as feels right to, when it feels right to, and that when you do find the right kind of man, you will be able to tell him as much as you ever want to share.

I wouldn't settle for a partner who can't deal with it or thinks less of you for a job you once did.
posted by mewsic at 1:35 AM on December 26, 2015

You might be interested in reading biographies by sex workers. If you want a positive bio, I will recommend Working: My Life As a Prostitute by Dolores French. She was also a political activist who wanted sex work decriminalized. My recollection is she did marry a man who knew what her profession was -- IIRC, while she was still working as a fssw.

I have read biographies by sex workers that were less positive. I cannot find the one I am thinking of. I think it may have been called "Some like it hot" but looking for that is not turning up what I have in mind.

You also might enjoy the movie She's The One. One of the characters in it is a former sex worker who gets married.(The Wikipedia article includes spoilers. You might just enjoy watching it, if you haven't seen it before.)
posted by Michele in California at 3:41 PM on December 26, 2015

I used to work in the industry and know lots of current and former sex workers in all different kinds of relationships. Some of their partners know and are fine with it, some of their partners know and are not okay with it, some of their partners have no idea and will hopefully never find out.

My advice would be not to be swayed either way based on advice from people who have never done sex work. They don't know what it's like to be in your shoes, and they're not the ones who will have to live with the truth or the omission of truth (whichever way you decide to go).

If you do decide to disclose: I think that owning it makes a huge difference in how the info is received. If you seem ashamed of it, or guilty about it, that might make the person think that it's okay for them to judge you too.

You might find that by the time you've retired and met someone, that your work feels so distant that you feel no need to disclose. But it might also feel like a big enough part of your history that you want to tell someone, "This is what I used to do. I hope you're okay with it because even though it's in the past, it's part of what has made me who I am today."
posted by kinddieserzeit at 6:40 PM on December 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

find yourself a sex positive dude to date, preferably one who isn't paying you money for emotional and sexual labor. that dude is non-representative and why would you even take his opinion seriously

be careful about disclosure esp in regards to where your social life may overlap with your professional one. professional spaces don't really do the social progress you'd see in activist/internet/etc spaces and careless disclosure to friends and loved ones who work in your field is likely going to decrease your chance of professional success. stuff like this happens all the time. see maternity leave or the gender wage gap discussions which, well, you're also going to have to deal with

it's not going to destroy it but it also will definitely not be great for it unless you're going into the field specifically for sex worker advocacy. but, uh, love? I mean, I hope you find a partner you can be fully honest with. it's not going to be easy, sure, but there are going to be people out there who are more open-minded than the guy who's paying you for a fantasy
posted by runt at 10:08 PM on December 26, 2015

Also, don't ever consider dating a john and don't ask them their opinion on your datability. I know a few girls who started relationships with clients, and they were the most jealous partners of all the partners who knew about work. They seemed to all think "If she started a relationship with me, what's stopping her from starting a relationship with another client?"
posted by kinddieserzeit at 11:07 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

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