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Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (Image: Tina Tiller)
Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (Image: Tina Tiller)

SocietyFebruary 1, 2024

Help Me Hera: Should I become a sex worker?

Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (Image: Tina Tiller)
Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (Image: Tina Tiller)

I’m at a dead end and how important is sex anyway?

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Dear Hera,

I’m in my mid-late twenties with a corporate job, but have recently started to wonder whether I should just loudly yell “F**K IT” and become a prostitute.

This is left field for me personally. Sure, Virginie Despentes’ manifesto King Kong Theory is probably my favourite book ever, but in my heart I am a private and sensitive soul. I don’t like being touched by people I don’t know, and stupid things like bad carpet make me anxious.

The last few years however I’ve invested my time and energy into situations that have turned out to be extremely disappointing. I’ve worked my ass off for a company that thinks the job is its own reward. My health is circling the drain. And I’m constantly cooking a bolognese for a tortured artist or falling for a really decent guy and then realising that, not only does he want me to become a born-again-virgin, but he’s actually secretly in love with an older woman from work anyway (?????????)

I’m living in a small city/town with few dating prospects, terrible wages and a chronic health condition that could use a whole lot of $$$ thrown at it. I love my friends but the ones here are all in long term relationships, and I am tired and lonely.

I suppose my real questions are:

If you’re the kind of person who takes a long time to get to mahi because you’re busy rescuing worms off the pavement, do you really have what it takes to sell your body on the now-legal but still stigmatised market?

Or is the reality that under capitalism, all work is inherently degrading unless you’re lucky enough to love it, and this is my best chance to make something out of what seems like a stagnant situation?

And how important is sex anyway???


Yours truly,
Twenty Eight

A line of fluorescent green card suit symbols – hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades

Dear Twenty Eight

I’d like to start this column with the traditional caveat: I don’t know what I’m talking about. Having said that, I don’t think you should become a prostitute (or, more accurately, a sex worker). At least becoming one isn’t likely to solve your problems, corporeal, financial or otherwise. 

There’s nothing wrong with fucking people for money. If you’ve had a bad run of relationships and you hate your job, I can see why you’d rather just undertake a corporate merger, amalgamating your various problems and cutting out the middleman. After all, if you’re getting fucked over, why not turn a profit? Especially if you enjoy sex. But there’s some truth to what they say: beware of turning your hobby into a job. There’s nothing like opening a boutique pastry business to make you never want to look at another almond croissant again. I also think the reality isn’t likely to live up to the French feminist theory. Even the most adventurous jobs still come with their fair share of bureaucracy and tedium. At the end of the day, sex work is just a job like any other, and isn’t any more likely to provide existential relief from your problems than selling air conditioning units, or teaching undergrads Chaucer. I’m sure, like any job, there are bad days and good days, and that whether or not you’re suited to it, depends largely on your disposition.

I won’t pretend to know what it takes to be a good sex worker, beyond strong personal boundaries, a gregarious nature, and presumably, a talent for fucking. But in your letter you say you are A) a shy, private and sensitive individual who b) doesn’t like being touched by strangers, and c) bad carpet makes you anxious. I think b) alone probably disqualifies you from this kind of work. Especially when you take your health into consideration. Sex work is physically demanding, and probably isn’t a great idea if you’re already suffering from a worsening chronic health condition.

Even if you thrive on the company of strangers, are in Olympic shape, and your area is full of horny singles, I wonder if this career is going to provide the kind of financial security you’re seeking. At least, for someone starting out in a small New Zealand town. You either have the choice of joining a brothel, which would give you greater security, but would cut into your profits, or you could be self-employed, which is not only riskier, but as all independent contractors know, the bureaucracy is a bitch. It’s also worth pointing out that client-based work isn’t necessarily steady. How long would you want to do this kind of work? Is this a job you can reasonably expect to make enough savings to retire on? If you change your mind and want a new job later in life, will it be harder to reenter the traditional workforce? For more information on the financial and bureaucratic realities, I recommend getting in touch with the NZ Sex Workers’ Collective, a great source of realistic, informed and helpful information. 

I’m sure there are interesting and rewarding things about sex work, and the occasional great client. But it’s also dangerous, and you can get hurt. Especially if you’re relying on this job being a primary source of income, and not a lucrative side-gig, where it’s easier to pick and choose your clients. 

But the main reason I don’t think you should do it, is you don’t actually sound enthusiastic about the idea. You sound bored, frustrated and burned out. You sound like someone who has read Moby Dick, and had a sudden yearning to go to sea. This is completely relatable. You want to shake things up and do something bold and life-changing. I’m all for bold and life changing. But there are lots of different ways to achieve that. 

Maybe you need to quit your job. Maybe you need a hobby or passion project. Maybe (and this is my personal recommendation) you need to get the hell out of your small town.

I think it’s time  for you to start packing your suitcase. You’re lonely and bored. The dating pool is more of a dating swamp. You hate your job, and your old friends aren’t enough to keep you here. Moving cities might provide a little of the novelty and boldness you’re seeking, and open an unexpected door or two. For what it’s worth, I don’t think all work is inherently degrading. I don’t think sex work is degrading either. Take almost any job that an animal in a Richard Scarry book does, whether that’s delivering mail, teaching children, or running a small fruit and vegetable shop. It’s all essential, valuable and meaningful work. It’s also true that the most essential, valuable and meaningful work is often the most poorly remunerated*. And it’s only getting worse. Christopher Luxon looks increasingly likely to drive all our best teaching professionals and healthcare workers straight into the bronzed and muscular arms of Australia. 

I think the question you’re asking is how do you find a meaningful job that doesn’t make you lose the will to live and can also pay the rent? I wish I knew a good, long-term solution to this. I’m still trying to figure it out myself. But it’s worth trying to resist that capitalist nihilism. I think there are still ways to make money that can leave you feeling like you’re making a positive difference in the world, and that kind of existential comfort is not to be sneezed at. I think sex work can make a positive difference in people’s lives, but I also think it’s fair to say it’s not a job for everyone. Only you can figure out if it’s what you really want. But instead of using it as a fallback, why not take this opportunity to consider what you’d actually love to do, and start from there. 

* If you want some interesting reading, I highly recommend David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs

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