There is a whole universe of misinformation about sex work.
One of the most reprehensible things people insist on believing is the notion that there is some element of it that makes folks on the provider-side of the table inferior, less-than, or degraded.
It goes without saying that there are as many reasons people chose to be in this industry (which includes everyone from go-go boys to cam performers to street hustlers) as there are individuals making their livings via sex work.
What can be lazy or salacious to assume is that people only enter or stay in this industry because they are down on their luck, are drug addicts feeding a habit, or are so desperate for attention that they’ll show you their hole for a couple bucks on a premium SnapChat. But the truth (as truth so often works) is much less clear.
I came into the industry while I was in undergrad in New York City because my $11 an hour retail job wasn’t paying the bills for my private art school education.
I was already sexually adventurous and using my fast-talking charm to indulge in a nightlife scene that I hadn’t the wherewithal to appreciate fully. It seemed like a simple enough transition for me to find some way to monetize those qualities. I read a few books about how-to and what-to-expect and signed up with an agency that sent me out that same week to meet my first client.
In the decade since, I have been fortunate to receive a world-class education in how to treat people with respect, how to respect myself and my business, and how to approach emotionally-fraught situations with compassion and care.
While I could go on about what I’ve learned like that all day, below are the 5 most significant things about human nature my work as a professional companion has taught me:
1. We’re all looking for the same things
And at the root of those things the human desire for acceptance. It’s as true for the dude perusing escort ads as it is for the guy on the other side of those ads. Something that gets lost in the drama and gloss of commercial sexuality is the idea that it’s perfectly ok (and normal!) to want to be accepted, to desire to be seen and to want to be approved of. We don’t examine these ideas much in our culture, and men often don’t acknowledge them even to themselves in any real way.
Beyond that, it really is ok to seek that acceptance through unconventional channels. This can mean looking for a community that shares your interests and celebrates your quirks, or seeking out more personal attention from a provider whose reputation or presentation you find intriguing, the same way you might seek out a restaurant known to prepare your favorite type of food.
2. You can’t pay somebody to care
But you can pay somebody for their care. Emotional labor (the kind at the core of almost any kind of intimate work like nursing, therapy, or escorting) is largely undervalued in our culture and hugely misunderstood in American society in particular.
As transactional as one might envision a provider-client dynamic would be, the undercurrent of care necessary for that dynamic to proceed is real. One of the reasons I always insist that compensation is solely for my time is because what I do in that time – at it’s deepest most core level – is care for that person. It’s work. I work to treat them with respect and dignity and to create an environment where they feel safe to share intimate aspects of their lives (sexual or otherwise), that they might like to explore more deeply.
The idea that sex work is strictly transactional, even in something like a pornstar experience (PSE), overestimates human ability to functionally disconnect from one’s emotional self and perform a mechanical sexual activity solely in exchange for money. The truth is that the best companions (and pornstars) learn how to find a human connection and to share that connection in a meaningful way. It’s why porn, where the performers have chemistry, is more fun to watch than scenes where they are only banging parts together until the director tells them to stop.
3. Even if your business is unconventional, you’ve got to treat it like a business
That means, you need to make sure you’re getting paid, you need to cultivate relationships that can help your business flourish, and you need to take good care of yourself so you can keep succeeding in your work. Among the hardest lessons I learned was coming to terms with the idea that what I did was actually worth the dollar amount ascribed to it (self-esteem is always the enemy of good business practices, I don’t care what industry you’re in), and with allowing myself to take time off. Realizing that I could stand up for myself was a big win for my work, and learning when to sit down and take a breath allowed me to come back refocused and refreshed.
A good slice of life wisdom from RuPaul that can be applied to so much of adult entertainment with ease: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” Meaning, if you don’t take care of you, you won’t have much space to take any care of anyone else. The people who succeed as porn performers or escorts or companions are the people who have learned to care for themselves; working out, eating well, resting, and saying “no,” when something just doesn’t work for them.
4. People will surprise you more than they will disappoint you
On my Instagram, I describe myself as an “aspiring optimist” because I will be the first to tell you that it is not my default state. I’m naturally a worst-case-scenario kinda kid every day of the week. But one of the most positive things I’ve learned from the people I’ve had the privilege to know– one that has pushed me to question my pessimism about humans in general – is that there are people who aren’t out to hurt or take from you. A lot of them.
One of the best Marina and the Diamonds songs (lyrically, anyway) describes how I feel at 31 vs. how I felt at 21:
And now I see, I see it for the first time
There is no crime in being kind
Not everyone is out to screw you over
Maybe, oh just maybe they just wanna get to know ya
5. In life, you really do get what you give
That’s not a magical formula or some prescription for solving every problem or hardship one might face. But in my experience, the more I invest in my relationships, the more time I put into my work or my body, and the more care I allow myself to offer others, the more I get in return. Not just financially speaking; I get acceptance from my friends, family and peer group because I’m invested in and care deeply about what I do. I get care in return from clients with whom I forge lasting relationships. I get opportunities to rest and step away from work. And I get surprised, constantly, by people who listen to what I have to say and find ways to incorporate it into what they know.
It’s significant to recognize that sex work isn’t, by definition, a curse. In fact, it is a blessing.
I am better now than I was when I started, in almost every way.
Tyler Dårlig Ulv is an Ontario-based blogger and professional companion. He was previously the social media director for Rentboy and the editor of Manhunt Daily. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram, or find out more about his work at his website. Tyler lives full time in Toronto.