The H-Word: Jenny talks about her "Private Parts"

Melissa Petro
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a white woman with short hair and tattoos leaning up against a wall smoking a cigaretteThis series presents first-person stories from current and former sex workers across the US. The following is from Jenny, a graduate research assistant currently living in Las Vegas, Nevada. She grew up in Omaha, and studied in Amsterdam and the Czech Republic. She is an avid independent student of quantum physics and relativity. She has an MA in Sociology and a dog named Lulu.

I started dancing seven years ago. On the topic of prostitution, I generally say, you know, I have sex for many different reasons in many different contexts. I guess that's a buffer, a way of easing discomfort. I suppose I like that people are interested in my work, so long as it comes from an empathetic and genuine place. But there are so many other aspects of my identity. And so often people's curiosity does not come from a good place.

When people find out I'm a sex worker they think: 1. I'm hypersexual, 2. I'm a survivor of sexual abuse or otherwise damaged, and 3. I make no distinction between commercial behavior and non-commercial sex. I suppose they also assume that I can speak to the experiences of all sex workers.

There is definitely a preconceived notion that because I'm a sex worker, I'm somehow less shy about my sexual behavior or more interested in talking about it. This is quite frustrating to me because, more often than not, I find discussions about sex to be irrelevant. Sex work is my job. That's how I ought to be able to answer when people ask me what I do.

Sometimes I say, "I'm a researcher as well." Of course, the assumption then is like, "Well, ok, so you study the sex industry," which seemingly makes it alright, easier to digest.

I am not an open book. It is not my responsibility to give away my time and energy educating people (or simply mentally jerking them off). I am not required to speak to strangers freely about my childhood or any other defining moment in my life. I am entitled to privacy just like anyone else.

Either I tell you I'm a sex worker and you make my work my primary identity, or I don't tell you and so I am forced to hide a major part of who I am. I do wish for a society where I can say I'm a sex worker and have the conversation continue without awkwardness.

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11 Comments Have Been Posted

Need moar knowledge!

I work with "offenders," some of whom are women who turn to sex work (mainly because of economic need, and 9 times out of 10 they've got very painful histories). I'm incredibly interested in women who work in the sex trade because they enjoy it, however. I really have to get off my butt and start reading up. But there's always the question of, "Why would you have sex with multiple partners per night for money - willingly?" I would probably understand much more if I were comfortable with the notion!

Aren't we all prostitutes?

"Prostitution is evolutionarily familiar, because mating is evolutionarily familiar and prostitutes (at least the classy ones) are no different from other women, whom men also have to pay – not in cash payments but in dinners and movies, gifts, flowers, chocolates, and motor oil – if they wanted to impress them enough to have sex with them."

I have always felt, in one capacity or another, we all are prostitutes. We have all had sexual encounters where one party has "paid" before having sex. The article above says it best! Those that profess the occupation of sex work have just simplified the game. Why society has to label everything and then make it look real bad to show boat their propaganda is beyond me. Sadly there are those that practice sex work poorly and those that exploit it, this does not make it a bad profession, just means people need to be more educated and less judgmental. If it were legal it could be a lot safer!we need to not be a follow the leader nation either, it will blind you. To all the sex workers out there, love yourself and stay safe, there is no shame in what you do unless you make it shameful!!

Moar (sic) knowledge

<p><strong>"Why would you have sex with multiple partners per night for money - willingly?" </strong> Really ? Why do you go to work if you work ? Because if you don't work you don't get an income, no income your welcome to join the ranks of homeless with me.</p>
<p><strong>Willingly</strong> ? Willingly I would be working in a clothing store that deals in designer labels. There are many reasons 1. I do not have the perfect body, I am very tall, a size 14-16 so not overly big. 2. I am not young and hip. Tis very true and I am happy with that. These are GREAT reasons not to hire me to work with designer labels in clothing. I cannot display the product in the most favorable light. And I am content with these reasons. I am the last woman who would wish to make a Vera Wang or a Tahari look bad.</p>
<p>Is there anything else ? OH YEAH - I am also a woman with something "extra" I have a penis, I am a pre-op trans woman and my appearance might scare or drive off customers. To me, this is not a valid reason, but to every employer I have tried to deal with, it is a perfectly valid reason.</p>
<p>So I fuck people for money, or suck them, or let them fuck me. On my best days I can get them to give me money for masturbating myself, either with rapid hand strokes or using a dildo inside myself to please them. Or simply stripping off my clothing for their puerile pleasure. I do not like nor enjoy this. Many times I spend a lot of time crying miserably about my failed life as a woman, I berate myself even worse than the jackasses who "buy" me do. They get off on verbal abuse to the "tranny whore" they have.</p>
<p>Oh sure, I could get out of this, if I could find a job that pays me enough to live. I need to find a job where I can amass about 30,000.00 so I can have my operation and have money to live on while I recuperate.</p>
<p>Are you hiring ? Let me qualify, are you hiring any tranny whores ?</p>

Yeah Yeah, I like you Bitch

Yeah Yeah, I like you Bitch Magazine. I really do.

I just loved to read this article! It surely brought new perspectives of which I had never thought before, and this is so fucking important to, like, break down this Christian view on prostitution (is that an inappropriate term? I apologize the ignorance, truly) .

To answer the first comment,

To answer the first comment, the answer is quite easy and clear: for the money, the freedom, the autonomy...and sometimes for fun!
-a sex worker.

It is quite simple! But if

As a former sex worker, I

As a former sex worker, I probably would have done it even if the money was not as great. I enjoy sex and I could have done it for free or pay. I was never a victim of anything, nor did I ever use drugs-- alcohol included. I really enjoyed my clients and getting to know others and it sure did not hurt that they paid me for my company.

I can answer for myself that

I can answer for myself that sex is more fun than other 9-5s I have done (or can imagine myself doing). I saw a bumper sticker once that summed it up for me perfectly: Sex is like pizza. Even when it's bad, it's still pretty good. :) You know, money is actually a huge turn-on for me. I am only speaking for myself here, so keep that in mind.

sex work

I was a sex worker for a couple of months 20 years ago. It is of course something that I was very selective about whom I told, and I never talk about it now - no one I know now knows I did it. I do not think that it can ever be 'I am a sex worker' move on. There are no other occupations (outside the sex industry) that have such a personal component, that attract so many people with such problems (most of the women I worked with had problems with alcohol, other drugs, violence, sex abuse histories etc) and are so open to exploitation.

I neither loved nor hated it (though individual men were occasionally repulsive). I did it because the money was good. I stopped it because my girlfriend threatened to leave me.

I am broadly supportive of women who 'choose' sex work, but I am of the opinion that that choice is a negative one - ie the best of a bad lot.

Journalist looking to talk...

I'm so happy I stumbled across this today. Allow me to explain:

I'm a second-year graduate journalist student at the University of Missouri and I'm currently diving in to this exact topic. I'm writing a long-form narrative story on the current state of prostitution in mid-America - aimed for a national publication -and I'm looking to speak with current and former people (male or female) in the business.

So far, I've talked to police, brothel owners and the general public about the issue, but I'm having a hard time talking to prostitutes. I would LOVE to speak to someone from this site about this further, if possible.

About me: I'm 28, an Emmy-nominated videographer, a photographer and an award-winning investigative reporter. I've had my work published in the Washington Post, MSNBC, the Center for Public Integrity and many other outlets. I'm very serious about my work, and I want to do this right. Any help is greatly appreciated.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Please contact me at [email protected]

I really struggle with

I really struggle with articles like this. I am also a former sex worker. I did not have much of a choice when it came to starting what I consider to be a chapter of my life that still haunts me. I feel very strongly that sex workers should not be stigmatised and that they should be protected along with many other vunerable and/or marginalised people. But sex work itself will always be a terrible, dangerous thing in my view and I simply can not support it and for the life of me I don't know why someone who actually has a real, vaid choice would go down this path.

First of all, I am sorry

First of all, I am sorry about your experience and I hope you are in a better place now!

I am a former escort who made an economically constrained but thought through choice to enter the industry and worked for about 6 years on and off. And one thing I've been trying to understand is, why such controversy of experiences? Why do some people say they love this work, some just see it as a job that puts food on the table, and some are deeply traumatized by it? I've been reading boards, blogs and research studies.

What I think now is that how a person perceives what they do, how much control he or she has, and working conditions are key. Unfortunately, people who entered it out of necessity often get the least control and the worst conditions. I met a woman who felt like she was selling herself, destroying a piece of her soul with every man, and kept doing it out of desperation and because her self-esteem was crumbled, preventing her from finding a way out. That's a horrible experience, and I am thankful that by the time we met she used exit agencies to build a different life. But it still haunted her too.

But that is a different planet compared to a woman who feels that she sells a valuable service, making people happier and more content, where she is in full control of whom she sees and under what conditions, and where clients respect for her and obey her rules as the norm. For such a worker, the worst part is isolation and stigma, not sex work itself. Most of the people I interacted with - some I knew personally and many, many more I met virtually - fell under the latter category. And it also seems to me that unless one makes an effort to reach out, we end up in a circles that share experiences and perceptions, making it seem like sex work is the same for everybody else when it really, really isn't.

When I think of political and social changes, I want a society where survival sex and desperate sex work are eliminated and the suffering associated with them is gone. And where the only people who do this work are those who have psychologically adapted to it, like so many escorts I met for whom it's just a job with its highs and lows.

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