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I first started considering sex work around 1997.
Due to a variety of pretty severe anxiety disorders, I’ve always had a hard time working and holding onto jobs. I'd seen the Seattle Lusty Lady peepshow’s ads in the adult help wanted section in the back of the newspaper, as well as ads for a strip club looking for cocktail waitresses and dancers, and I often considered applying for those jobs.
Like anyone, I wanted to make the most money in the least amount of time working.
I was intrigued, but I didn't think I had what it took. Honestly I probably didn't. I was a super-awkward 18-year-old who knew nothing about being a seductive woman.
In 1999, I finally called the number in an ad looking for models for a porn site and made an appointment to meet with the photographer, Tom, a few days later at his sterile, depressing apartment. He showed me his websites and had me get naked unceremoniously next to his computer desk.
I halfway expected him to laugh in my face, but he actually wanted to book a shoot with me. I couldn't believe it! But over the next few days my anxiety over the whole situation grew, and I backed out at the last minute.
In 2002, I was desperately broke and I couldn’t figure out what else to do. I called Tom again and booked an appointment for a photoshoot for a week later. A friend told me about a shoot she had just done, for a "hidden camera" website, so I called them and made an appointment for right away and that ended up being my first ever sex work experience.
The studio was in this big warehouse space, with a bunch of different stations set up. They had me bring a suitcase full of normal girl clothes and my job was to pretend I was sitting in a doctor's office waiting room, at the bank, eating lunch in a cafeteria, in a changing room and about five other situations, all with a camera pointed up my skirt. It was creepy, but easy, and I only had to get completely naked in one scene (a gym locker room).
The whole shoot took about 45 minutes and I got paid $100 cash.
I did my shoot with Tom a few days later and it was a more traditional porn shoot. He'd booked a room at a hotel downtown. There was a woman who did my hair and makeup, which seemed so luxurious, but Tom had her give me the craziest look.
I guess I was supposed to look punk or alternative or something because I had tattoos, and Suicide Girls was just getting big then and I think he was trying to capitalize on that, but I ended up looking terrible. Glittery green eye shadow and dark maroon lipstick if I remember right.
Tom had trunks full of clothes that he made all the models use and he would put together the craziest outfits: a yellow plaid tank top with a purple-and-blue striped skirt and lime green underwear and little pink ankle socks with white sandals. There was no rhyme or reason to these outfits, and he refused to accept my input.
The shoot wasn't too difficult. Basically I started out fully clothed in my hideous outfit and gradually stripped out of it and then did some masturbation shots. Then I got into a different outfit and we did it all again, maybe four or five times total.
After we finished that he had me do a two-girl shoot, something that had been sprung on me unexpectedly and I wasn't super into the idea since it was my first time doing a photoshoot and I was pretty nervous and embarrassed at how stupid I looked and I didn't want some hot girl seeing me like that.
To make myself feel better, I thought about how I would never see her again. Later she started dating a friend of mine and then I ended up seeing her around town several times over the next few years.
The two shoots took around two hours and I think I only got paid $150, definitely not enough, especially since there was also about an hour of prep time and he insisted on taking me and the other model out for dinner afterwards, so really he took up about four hours of my time.
Over the next few years, I did a bunch of photoshoots. I did several for another guy who considered himself an artist and he claimed the photos he was taking of me would end up in a book or European magazines or something but the photos never came out that great and I don't know what he actually did with them.
He was a creep; he never actually did anything inappropriate but I constantly worried he was going to. One time we did a shoot at the beach and I had to be in the car with him for 45 minutes each way and make awkward conversation and it was terrible.
I never liked doing photoshoots. I always felt nervous that the photographer would do something weird to me. Most of them did the photoshoots in their home, with no one else around. They were all middle-aged gross dudes with a camera, they weren't professional photographers with actual studios.
The only shoot that I sort of liked was the one I did for a BDSM site which was run by this hippie couple with a big house and kids (the kids were at school when I was there). The woman took the pictures and the guy was in the photos with me. He beat the crap out of me with all sorts of floggers and paddles and things but I didn't mind, it was something I was interested in exploring anyway.
They wanted me to look really scared and even to cry for the photos, but it was the first time I ever felt totally okay during a shoot and I'm not much of an actor. They seemed disappointed that I couldn't squeeze out a single tear, and they didn't want to book a second shoot with me.
I briefly did webcam work, first from a weird little house where they had several girls working at the same time, and later I got my own computer and tried it from home, but I found it difficult to make money so I gave up. Once I sold my period panties to a guy from Craigslist.
We met at a coffee shop downtown, he bought me a latte and we talked about bikes for a few minutes (we had both ridden bikes to our meeting spot), then I went to the restroom and got the panties out of my purse. I actually never even wore them, I just dumped my menstrual cup into them at home and had already put them in a plastic bag. The customer provided me with a manila envelope, and when I handed it over he slipped me $50, then we rode off in separate directions on our bikes.
One time I answered an ad from a domme looking for a pro-sub, no experience necessary. I went in expecting to just talk to her but she'd booked a session for the same time and wanted me to sit in and observe. I was cool with that but once the session got started, she wanted me to get involved and we hadn't discussed any sort of payment. The client was really into me and kept looking over at me with pleading eyes.
I reluctantly applied some nipple clamps but refused to do anything else. Very little domination happened, mostly she just gave the client a handjob. Afterward she gave me $20 and said she really wanted to work with me, but I didn't answer her calls and she eventually gave up and stopped calling.
I'd wanted to be a stripper from the very beginning, as soon as I realized that it might be an option, but I had only been to strip clubs on Friday and Saturday nights and all the girls were smoking hot and so graceful and amazing on the pole. I never thought I was thin enough or glamorous enough.
After two years of barely scraping rent together with porn shoots and by “donating” plasma twice a week, I decided I had to get some more regular income coming in. I did a lot of research online about local clubs, and I picked out a club that was divey enough that I thought they might hire me.
I didn't tell a single person because if I got rejected I didn't want anyone to know. I found out when auditions were and I rode the bus there one afternoon. I was terrified.
During my audition, I had a customer sitting at the stage and that felt okay, I was more concerned about what the strippers would think of me. Would they think I looked like a total idiot? I probably did, pretty much every new stripper does.
After my audition, I talked to the manager and she went over the rules with me and I still wasn't sure if I was even hired. It wasn't until I called to check the schedule a few days later and found out I was on it that I really knew for sure that I got the job.
I danced for the next eight years. I liked it for a long time. I loved getting dressed up, and finding new music that I couldn’t wait to dance to, and learning pole tricks. I made some good friends. Sometimes I made a bunch of money.
Over the years I watched the industry change around me, going from absolutely no physical contact with customers when I started, to girls climbing off stage and giving nude, full contact lap dances for a dollar. Customers expected more and more in private dances, to the point that I was literally fighting off sexual assaults throughout my shifts. I was losing my mind and I had to quit.
I got a “normal” job working in a kitchen and I’ve been doing that for the last year and a half. I actually LOVE my job, but living on minimum wage is such a struggle.
A few months ago, I re-entered the sex industry, this time as an escort. I still work full time at my day job, so I generally only see one or two clients a week. So far I really like it! The money is pretty awesome; in one hour of escorting, I earn the same amount as I do in a full week at my day job.
The sex part isn’t that weird for me. I used to drink too much and have bad boundaries, so I’ve had a lot of practice boning dudes that I’m not into. All of my clients have been perfect gentlemen. Even though I’m not attracted to them 99% of the time, I still like them and enjoy giving them pleasure.
I know that I’ll eventually get burned out and want to quit escorting, but for now I actually feel like I finally found my niche in sex work. I love working with total independence, and being my own boss. I especially love that I don’t have to hustle (something I was never good at while stripping).
I put my website and my ads out there, but I don’t have to speak to clients until they’ve already decided to book a session with me. I get a lot more potential clients than I have time to actually see, so I’m able to be extremely picky. If a client doesn’t have stellar references from other escorts, or if I get even the tiniest bad feeling about him, I just don’t see him.
My relationship to sex work is so complicated. It feels comfortable and familiar, but also like a trap that I worry I'll never be able to escape. The economic reality is that sex work is the best (and sometimes only) option for me. It’s certainly not always the best choice for my mental health, but neither is poverty.
I’ve had amazing experiences in the sex industry, as well as gut-wrenchingly awful experiences, but I’m always thankful that the industry exists, and that it’s an option for me.