My (now ex-) boyfriend recently found out that I used to do sex work before I met him. I never cheated on him, I stopped doing that work when we got together, but I never told him either. We had been dating about 6 months at this point and we broke up a week after he found out (for more reasons than just that). I felt this was something I could tell him in my own time, but he felt betrayed.
Should I have shared it with him?
I’ve accepted we are over now, but I guess I would like to know for any future relationships.
- Asking For A Friend
Hey Asking For A Friend – in an ideal world, there would be no stigma attached to sex work and you would never feel worried about telling anyone about what you do for a living.
Disclosing sex work is a common dilemma and can be a scary thing. It’s common to feel afraid of potential rejection, being treated differently, and worrying your loved ones will deal with secondary stigma.
Deciding if it's safe to tell someone also takes time and it can also be hard to find the right moment to slip in the information, without making it into a big announcement.
The short answer to your question is: No, not if you weren’t ready to tell him – you didn’t have to.
The long answer is: It’s your choice and if it’s something you are ready to share with your partners, then you should be able to. You should also be able to choose when that disclosure happens and it sounds like that choice was taken away from you – which is not okay. Your safety is the most important thing when it comes to disclosing that you’ve done sex work. So, when considering telling someone in the future, have a think about whether you will be safe from emotional, mental and physical harm, and go from there.
Your safety is the most important thing when it comes to disclosing that you’ve done sex work.
If you feel safe enough to test the waters, or think the time is right to disclose sex work to a friend or partner, these are some ways your Auntie and her friends have gone about it in the past:
- Some people bring up sex work as a hypothetical concept or as a third person to test out the waters
“Check out this photographer on Instagram, they do beautiful pictures of sex workers for their ads, what do you think?” Then you can gauge their reaction and use that to inform how you proceed.
- Some people just drop it in casually and keep talking, moving on, so it’s been said but without allowing any immediate conversation.
“Oh, I remember going to that concert, yeah, I was doing sex work and I’d just finished with a booking and got there just in time to see the main act, wasn’t it amazing? I really love that song and OMG the singer was so hot, I was in the front row singing my heart out...”
- Some people sit down and just formally lay it all out
“So, I am/used to be a sex worker and if you can’t be cool about this then it’s not going to work out because the mental labour of keeping this secret or hidden from my life and conversation will eventually break us up anyway.”
Many people get their ideas about sex work from popular media and stereotypical portrayals of sex workers written by people who have nothing to do with the industry. These often paint negative pictures of sex workers as disempowered, trapped, and apparently selling “themselves” – you will know as well as I do, that sex workers provide a service for a set time and get to keep their bodies afterwards.
When someone doesn’t have any experience of sex work, as a client or a worker, it’s hard for them to understand that sex work is a job. Sexual contact is experienced differently by everyone too, and while some people connect it very strongly with emotions and commitments, others have different perspectives. Not only that, but there's sex work, and then there's sex with your partner. One is just a job with a client, but with your partner it involves emotion, love, care, and intimacy.
I’d also guesstimate that a decent number of us gorgeous gays and beautiful bis have had experience with sex work, both as clients and workers. It’s a completely normal, legal and a valid job. Sex work is work!
Your ex probably reacted the way he did because of internalising these unrealistic portrayals, sex worker stigma, or previous interactions and relationships that made this an issue for him. Unpacking that is something he needs to work through – not you.
Let’s also nip the whole “rescue” culture around sex workers in the bud. Sex work can be empowering, rewarding and comes with its own challenges just like any job. Because sex work is decriminalised in Aotearoa, the culture of consent here is quite strong (not to mention great condom-use and safe sex practices!). Sex workers and clients know they can refuse any service at any time and the law supports them to do so. Stigma can still be a barrier to seeking help if something goes wrong – but, overall, the evidence points to workers and their clients having a healthy respect of boundaries and sexual consent. It’s important to point out to anyone who doesn’t understand sex work, that Aotearoa is one of the best places in the world to be a sex worker thanks to our sex work policy.
Your Auntie hopes, and will fight for, a world where sex work is less stigmatised and workers and clients alike can go about their business in safety, free from judgement. We’ve still got a long way to go but we’ll get there.
Remember, at the end of the day, your sex work didn’t impact them at all, other than by hitting a nerve in their own hang-ups, which is not on you. There is nothing wrong with sex work, it’s a legitimate career and nothing to be ashamed of. The world would be a much better place if people didn’t feel so much shame and anger around sex in general, let alone when introducing money into the arrangement.