9 Stereotypes Sex Workers Are Tired of Hearing

Two sex workers dancing on a pole, one is holding onto it and the other is squatting below her

My name is Cyd Nova, and I'm a sex worker.

Being open about my profession has made me a sounding board for some common, but unfortunate stereotypes and myths that people derive from pop cultural references, such as Julia Roberts' character in Pretty Woman and the many Law and Order: Special Victims Unit episodes devoted to the topic.

Although these questions tend to be obnoxious generalizations, they don't necessarily come from a malicious place, but rather from simple ignorance about the everyday lives of people in the sex industry. Instead of framing discussions about sex and sexuality through a sex-positive lens, many people work tirelessly to remove these topics from educational settings, which leads to a culture defined by slut-shaming remarks and behaviors.

We would all benefit from questioning some of these tired stereotypes and tropes so that, hopefully, they won't be part of our conversations again.

1. When are you going to get a "real" job?

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By far, this is the most common response I get from people — whether it be from tricks who think I should instead be an academic scholar or an acquaintance I meet at a party who cannot conceive of sex work as a legitimate field of employment. What these people don't seem to understand is that I happen to have many jobs. I'm a public health worker, a consultant and a writer. I do all of these jobs in addition to escorting, appearing in porn and go-go dancing. Needless to say, I am a very busy person. All of the work I do is equal in my eyes, although some jobs pay me more than others.

To be frank, my sex work income has far surpassed any other employment wages I've received during the past 10 years, and also it is through my involvement in the sex industry that I gained the independence to pursue other types of work. So within a capitalist context, prostitution has been my primary job, and if I switch to another form of employment, it wont make that work any less real.

2. You're smarter than I'd thought you'd be.

Although I dropped out of high school, I can talk and act in a way where I am perceived as college-educated — and not just when I'm role-playing with clients. I can do this with others: academics, politicians and a date's parents. However, we should deconstruct the idea that being "smart" is about having access to a particular language and knowledge about current affairs.

It doesn't matter if you share the same way of speaking as a sex worker, because in order to exist in the world of the criminalized sex industry, one must navigate all kinds of people and potentially dangerous situations. If you think intelligence is about the ability to discuss the philosophical viewpoints of Michel Foucault, you probably have a limited understanding of what it means to be "smart." Perhaps if you expand your idea of intelligence to include people who are street smart, your perspective on the people around you, including sex workers, will be more accurate. 

3. You must get a lot of assholes.

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The truth is that, yes, I work with some assholes: cheap, bad-mannered, entitled, and sometimes all three. Some of my most unpleasant memories hearken back to my days in high school when I would get in a car and the driver would say, "You've got to be careful, there are a lot of creeps out there." Pro tip: Don't say that — it's almost guaranteed to make you seem like a secret serial killer, or at the very least a menacing and rather unaware client.

But I also have many clients that who are a breath of fresh air, and actually quite refreshing. They greet me at the door with fresh clean breath and two sealed bottles of water. Some of them are deeply interested in learning how to be better in bed and have hired me to teach them. Others help me out financially or emotionally, even with no sex for doing soreturn because we've become real-life friends and they are nice people.

Have you ever worked in the service industry? It's kind of similar to that.  

4. Did your parents abuse you when your were a child?

Rarely is it ever an appropriate time to ask that question to anyone, let alone a sex worker.

Perhaps that line of inquiry is expected from a therapist who has seen you for a long time, but even then, launching that question out of nowhere is absolutely inappropriate and invasive. Somehow when you are a sex worker, those rules of etiquette fly out the door.

But to answer the question: Some sex workers have experienced childhood abuse or rape.

However, correlation is not causation. There is an idea that people do sex work because they are scarred from sexual abuse to the point that they can no longer see sex as a thing they have control over. The image that sex workers enact past sexual trauma by lying down and waiting to be raped by a series of faceless Johns is blatant andextremely dehumanizing fear propaganda at best. It sends a message that in order to sell sex, you must have no investment in your own sexuality or body, and that there is no possibility for survivors to be sexual in ways that move past trauma. That is a profoundly un-feminist thought process.  

5. Are you addicted to drugs?

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Some sex workers are drug users, others aren't — I've known quite a few sober hookers in my days, as well some who engage in sex work in order to obtain drugs. But overall, making assumptions about sex workers and drugs makes an ass out of you. What someone does for work doesn't indicate anything about what else they do with their body.  

The same tropes about drug abuse and addiction could be said for any type of job. Did you not watch The Wolf of Wall Street?

6. You must at least be a nymphomaniac.

If I were a nymphomaniac I would have sex for free.

Instead, I patiently wait on that client visiting from out of town who expects me to be STI, injury and hickey free. I've had to turn down many casual sexual opportunities because I had work, and if I had a sexual compulsion I probably would find that difficult. Perhaps what you're trying to share with me goes along the lines of something like, "I don't think I would enjoy having sex with people I don't know as an occupation."

That's fine. We're not looking to recruit you.

7. Oh wait, so you're a porn star? You must be rich!

When I was first asked to appear in an adult movie, I thought I would be set —if not for life, at least for the month. Turns out the going rate for appearing in a porn film ranges from about $150 to $1,500, depending on who you are and what sex acts you're performing. Most people shoot a couple times a week at most. Not that many people in porn are living lavish lifestyles. So, please buy your own drinks. I gotta pay rent.  

8. It must be really hard for you to find dates in real life.

People pay me for my good company, looks and sexual skills, so not really. That being said, I am queer and part of a community where non-monogamy is generally accepted and sluttiness isn't as stigmatized, so my dating pool is a little less rigid about sex workers than many other, more mainstream people's. Quite a few people in the sex industry do run into difficulty finding partners who accept their career choice, but this is a shame for those people who refuse to date a sex worker. Generally speaking, we're pretty cool people.  

9. People like you are home wreckers and should be ashamed.

Cheaters via YouTube

I'm not trying to steal your man or start a thing with him. Although I may have enjoyed his company, we ultimately engaged in a business transaction.

I haven't asked to know for sure, but I must assume that some of the married men I've seen had partners who weren't aware of me. That sucks.

It's my wish that people communicate honestly in their relationships and behave in a trustworthy manner. However, I am not the one breaking up other people's relationships. If someone's partner chooses to break trust or cheat — that's on them.  

Some of the reasons that clients might see me include the fact that they are either gay, kinky or sexually unfulfilled in their relationship. Some of them are on the road towards ending a partnership they currently have. Yet, other men see me, occasionally with their partner's permission, because I am a safe place for sexual exploration that will not impact their relationship.

And by the time the sheets are in the dryer, your man is probably already off my mind.