Sex Questions from the Twittersphere: Advice to Former Sex Workers and their S.O.

Question: What advice would you give to current/former sex workers to aide in discussion with their bf/gf/partners about their work?

(Second DM: i only ask this, as a sex worker transitioning out of the industry, this has come up a lot in my past relationships. Thanks!)

Until Sadie Lune’s anthology comes out which will explore such relationships, here’s what I’d say:

This is comparable to two other questions put together, the one where someone’s had lots of sexual experience with which their partner is uncomfortable, and the one where sex workers have to explain to *anyone*, not necessarily their S.O., about The Life.

My advice: Decide what degree of disclosure you and your partner want to handle together (some partners don’t want to know, or don’t want to know details; others want to get as much detail as possible so they won’t make stuff up). Give your partner the gist of your history and get a sense of their questions. Sometimes we’re talking about not one conversation, but several. And if anything about your sexual past (or present), including sex work, puts a current partner at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, you really ethically must be frank about it. Be prepared for questions about how much you did/didn’t enjoy the work, money, safer sex, and expressions of jealousy or discomfort — AND fascinated questions and wonders about whether your sweetheart might be cut out for this too. (These discussions can really go either way).

Other really good books that might make a difference are Whores and Other Feminists (Nagle), Tricks and Treats (about clients) (Sycamore), Turning Pro (Meretrix), Women of the Light (Stubbs) and Sex Work (Delacoste and Alexander). All of them help express how diverse sex work can be, and that’s a big point you’ll need to make to dispel questions grounded mostly in the information we get about sex work from pop culture. If your partner can’t hear YOUR experience because s/he’s too obsessed with Pretty Woman or the HBO ‘ho show or any other representation, it’s a problem, just as it would be if you couldn’t hear legitimate questions and concerns back from them.

If your darling wants to do nothing but come back and bug you about your experience (or fantasize about how hot it must have been), remember you DO get to have some boundaries; you do not own someone constant rehashing — and it might be a bad sign about the direction your relationship will ultimately take. Use your intuition re: whether your partner is genuinely grappling with issues and wants to get to a place of comfort with you. If you see a therapist together, choose someone with some knowledge about sex work.

Tweet! CQ

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Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at

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