Sydney, 2008: I was hanging out in a Newtown bar with some friends, sipping bottom-shelf bourbon.
One of my mates admitted she had worked as an escort before. “But only when I was young and stupid,” she said. Another nodded, adding, “I mean, I’m totally okay with sex work, but it does change you.” She sounded vaguely disapproving.
I had no experience at the time, but I thought it was an odd comment. Surely everything you do in life changes you? Why were they talking about sex work as though it changes you for the worse?
After more than ten years in the industry, I'm pretty sure my friends had it wrong. Sure, sex work has changed me...but it's mostly for the better. From learning new skills to discovering more about myself, the work has surprised and delighted me.
Here are the most rewarding lessons I've learned from my job as an independent escort.
Knowing when people are wasting my time
In escorting, as in life, some people only serve one purpose: to be a drain on your time and energy.
They are the quibblers, the time wasters, the cancellers, the askers of endless questions...sometimes, in order to save my sanity, I need to ignore the noise and focus on the clients who treat me right. Thanks to sex work, I’ve developed a sixth sense for when people aren’t sincere, both at work and in the day-to-day.
If you've ever waited fruitlessly for a call or message after a first date, you'll know how disappointing it can be when people don't follow through. The key to dealing with that disappointment is to move on. Life is too short to wait around for the wrong people when you can be spending time with the right ones!
How to say ‘no’ (and how to say ‘yes’)
Saying ‘no’ is an essential escort skill.
Through ignorance, selfishness or simply awkwardness, some of my clients push me to perform sexual activities I'm not comfortable with. It's my job to let them know what I won't do, suggest alternatives, and lay down the law if they argue.
I've found there are three essential steps to saying no:
- Recognising my limits. This can be as simple as having a list of things I don’t do...but it also means paying attention to my gut feeling when I find myself in a new situation so I can work out whether I'm comfortable. If my gut says 'no', it's time to speak up.
- Saying 'no' assertively. In any given situation, I know how to find the best way to say 'no' while still respecting my partner and keeping the mood sexy. Saying 'no' nicely means being assertive, not aggressive...after all, there's no harm in asking, and most of the time the client hasn't done anything wrong. But I might also need to take a harder approach, if the person I'm talking to won't listen to my request.
- Saying 'yes' at the right time, too. Being enthusiastic about the activities I do want is an important part of a good session. My clients generally care about my wellbeing and enjoyment, but they won't know I'm enjoying myself unless I tell them what I want! Knowing how to ask means I can have fun too, without waiting for my play partners to figure it out on their own.
Asking, giving, and refusing consent are excellent sex skills that create safety for everyone and help ensure out enjoyment. I use these skills in many other areas of my life, from romantic relationships to dealing with a difficult boss at my day job.
That we're all attracted to different types of people (and that's okay)
Like everyone else, I grew up thinking that what I saw on TV and in magazines was the universal standard of beauty.
I figured that everyone who was skinny, young, and conventionally attractive was at the top of the pecking order. This caused some anxiety when I started sex work, as I’m not centrefold model! I worried that because I wasn't a 'perfect 10', I wouldn't be successful.
What I’ve since learned is that attraction is about diversity.
Different people find different things attractive, and many of these aren't conventional: curvy women, red hair, shyness, a domineering personality, tomboys … there are so many possibilities!
In turn, I’ve found that I'm attracted to a much wider range of people than I thought. I've had the opportunity to get intimate with people of all genders, sizes, ages and body types. It's given me an appreciation for sexiness that doesn't fit under 'conventionally attractive.' and I'm much more openminded about the kind of people I find sexy.
How to trust my gut instincts
We all have 'gut emotions' - those little flutters you feel in your belly when you're scared, excited, or attracted to someone.
Often, we disregard this stuff. We're told to ignore our fear, or deny our emotions. But paying attention to your gut can be a useful way to find out where your head is at, sometimes before you're consciously aware of what's going on.
The times I find this most useful is when I'm screening a new client. When meeting someone new, it's essential to make sure they're safe to be around. So I'll chat to them via email or text, perhaps talk to them on the phone, and do some research to make sure they're being honest about their identity. Then, when we meet, I'll size them up to make sure they're going to treat me kindly and with respect.
Gut feeling is a bit part of this process. If something feels off, I'll take more precautions. It's also a great way to work what I'm comfortable with during a session. If a client asks, 'Can we try that other position I'm really into?' I'll check in with my body and see how I feel. Any hesitancy, and I'll confidently in say 'no'.
Consider it an 'early warning system' - not just for danger, but for any emotion you might need to manage.
Being comfortable around people who are different to me
Humans are social creatures, and from birth we become accustomed to our own social class, race, and circles. But stepping outside these means gaining a wider perspective.
Sex work has allowed me to meet people that I would never have encountered as part of my regular life - clients of all ethnicities, ages and interests. It's opened my eyes to the ways other people live, their attitudes, and their wisdom. I've had the chance to get involved in hobbies I'd never normally try, and venture to towns and cities I'd otherwise never visit. And I've had the chance to talk with folks who've had experiences I can't imagine - including migrants, people who have travelled the world, and those with a disability.
The bottom line is that everyone has something to offer, regardless of the labels we choose to file them under. It's always best to keep an open mind.
Valuing my personality (not just my body)
Your average abolitionist insists that sex work is about being used for your body. But they're wrong. My job involves much more - and my personality is a huge drawcard, when it comes to being a successful escort.
The majority of my interactions with clients are psychological, first and foremost. Whether we're collaborating to plan a fantasy, engaging in bedroom negotiations or discussing our lives and experiences, the way I engage with them is what keeps them coming back.
In dating, a lot of emphasis is placed on external characteristics such as height, income, and physical attractiveness. I've learned to value more. My personality, skills, and attitude play a huge part in my connection with others.
How to own my sexuality
“Yeah, I have sex for money, so what?” Let’s face it – once you're out as being a sex worker, you pretty much drop any pretence of being shy or modest – and that’s a great thing.
We live in a sex-negative culture that teaches people that if they aren’t at least a little ashamed about sex, then there is something wrong with them. For me, taking up as a sex worker meant discarding a lot of that baggage.
Acknowledging myself as a naturally sexual person has been challenging. I imagine it’s hard for everyone! But I've managed to do away with a lot of the shame and fear that most people feel around sex...and my life has been better for it.
Sex work has taught me invaluable lessons...
...at work, at home, and in the bedroom.
I love personal development, and escorting has rewarded me richly. Perhaps it's taught you a few things too?
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