The Stigma Of Sex Work
By Alice Little
My name is Alice Little, I'm the number one booking legal sex worker in the United States. I work at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch just outside Carson City, Nevada where I see men, women, couples, and help people from all different walks of life work on intimacy, explore themselves sexually, and get to be involved with both the local and national arena for advocacy and sex education. One of the most divisive parts of sex work, even legal sex work, is the insane stigma associated with the job. When I first started this vocation, I had no idea the venom and vitriolic opinions so many people have about this kind of work.
Since I started my career, I've been cursed out by angry religious political groups, had my website attacked, had to argue with my doctor about my bursting appendix (they insisted on running an STD panel and trying to confirm pelvic inflammatory disease instead of going right for the most obvious culprit to side abdominal pain, nausea, and fever), and even have had to move my money from one bank to another after being told by my bank manager that my money was no longer 'safe' because the industry I work in is only legal in one state.
I faced this kind of stigma even when I attended the Reno Women's March. Apparently it's completely wrong for the US Government to try and tell women what they should do with their reproductive equipment, but slut-shaming me and telling me I'm not welcome when I show up to help support the women's movement is just fine.
When asked what I do for a living, if I’m honest I'm met with eyerolls, sighs, wide eyed expressions, and most frequently, bizarre questions. People assume I'm being exploited or that somehow this career choice wasn't a choice at all, that somehow I've been coerced or that this is some unfortunate turn my life has taken because I can't find a real job.
The reality, however, is starkly different. My vocation is genuinely healing people and making them happy. I mollify their worries and help them recover from devastating things like the loss of a wife or girlfriend, the crushing social shame of virginity, or even help those who are disabled and unable to have normal relationships feel the genuine comfort of a romantic partner, in a way they may never ever get to enjoy outside of an interaction with me. This is a noble profession; I help others, improve my community, and offer sex education as well as dating advice to guys who need it. Couples visit me to improve the quality of their relationships and work on improving their bedroom romance.
Imagine you're terrified of women; wouldn't it be nice to have a dinner date with a girl who you can be not only romantic with, but if you ask, can give you pointers on anything you might be doing wrong so you can be more confident when you start dating? I get to do and be all of that and more in an environment where my people skills are constantly tested, and I get the opportunity to be better at it than anyone else by genuinely caring about the quality of the service I provide. There's a reason I am literally the top earning legal sex worker in the United States. If you are going to do something, be the best.
What causes stigma with regard to sex work and sex in general is society’s assumptions. Many people believe that sex workers are uneducated (I have two college degrees), are addicted to drugs (caffeine, yes, but I don't even drink alcohol), are doing this job because they have no alternative (I left a high paying job to do this one), and are there to help spouses cheat (I have no interest in taking your partner away!).
There is also a conflation of the perception of legal sex work and illegal sex work, as well as human trafficking. Legal sex work and illegal sex work are completely different industries, one regulated, taxed, and legal, the other potentially full of pitfalls and crime, as well as the danger of exploitation. These perceptions, along with religious morality, are responsible for much of the problems sex workers like myself face every day.
Sex work stigma isn't confined to prostitution, either! Porn stars, sex therapists, exotic dancers, or even ladies who allow you to buy their companionship to attend events are all met with this kind of stigma. Some of us lie about what we do for a living, others are simply vague with the details. Sex workers frequently have to worry about the court system seizing their children, banks not recognizing their income, and enduring frequent audits by the IRS.
There are more than just logistical problems with the federal and local governments, too. Sex has a lot of shame attached to it, and the shame we feel toward sex has created an intimacy epidemic in the United States. Consider that in the United States our sex education is generally limited to anatomy, physiology, menstruation, and contraception. That's like teaching someone how to fill the brake fluid and read the tire gauge on a car and then expecting them to stay on the road when they try to drive!
At the ranch, I frequently have to explain incredibly basic sexual topics to visitors; most of them are so terrified they can't even find the words to talk about what they'd like to experience during their stay. They don't know how to properly use condoms, apply lube, use a dental dam, or even how to masturbate without damaging the nerve endings on their penis so they can actually enjoy sex with a real person! Working at the ranch has inspired me to really involve myself in sex education, because it's made it so imminently clear and obvious how overdue we are for a change in the way we perceive sex as a sociological construct.
Do you have prejudices against sex workers? It's time for a personal inventory! Many people believe they have no prejudices against homosexuality until they are asked if they would be comfortable leaving their child in the care of a gay man, or if they would be comfortable if their sons had a gay counselor at camp. Often, it's the assumptions we take for granted about the things we know the least about that can unconsciously shape our behavior. It's no different with sex work and it's no different with sex in general!
Are you comfortable talking about sex? Are you comfortable talking about sex work? How would you explain what sex workers do for a living to your child if asked? Are you comfortable talking with your partner about what you like and don't in the bedroom?
Answering these questions and more will take you further down the path of self development and help you examine your own sexuality as well as your perceptions. I'm very excited to explore these topics and more as I continue to write for Funky Feminist!