A friend recently shared this article with me:
I appreciate when people provide a platform for those of us in the sex work community to educate others about the reality of our work. Much of what we do is heavily misunderstood, stigmatized, and subject to heavy doses of misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism — you name it. This all has a tangible effect on the lives of both us and our clients and makes this work sometimes very difficult to do.
In this brief interview, there are several things that Ms. Nerdahl gets right. We help people with their sexual development. We often teach them, whether they (or we) are conscious of it or not, to better understand and accept themselves, their bodies, and their desires. We do in fact see individual men the most but many of us are open to couples and to women, though far fewer women contact us. And she is absolutely correct that our work should be decriminalized and not legalized (they’re not the same thing) and that people aren’t “criminals” for seeking out support for their erotic needs. (It can’t be a crime if there are no victims!)
On the other hand, there are some things that Ms. Nerdahl gets wrong. For example, this paragraph:
“The difference between prostitution and what I do is that we were saying 1) this is medically assisted, but 2) it’s not just about getting your money. I shouldn’t say prostitution’s all about money, but if you were just to hire an escort, she’s not necessarily going to care about getting you to a better place than when she found you, or to help you achieve whatever it is or help you learn something or help you explore something. The other thing is, she wants your repeat business. With us, we have more of a set protocol. Because emotional attachment is an issue that comes up, especially when you’re dealing with intimacy like this, there is a cap on sessions. And there’s a debrief that is supposed to happen at the end of each session, to help the clients process what’s happened and to help them process any emotional attachments that have maybe come up. And to make sure that everybody stays in a healthy space with it. It’s very client-led. The client identifies what it is that they want to explore or what it is that they want to learn or experience, and the coach is there as a guide or as a facilitator.“
First of all, there really isn’t a difference between what she does and calls “medically assisted sex” and what people broadly call “prostitution”. Plenty of “prostitutes”, or sex workers, do in fact see people who need the kind of support she offers her clients. Sometimes this support is with sex itself. Sometimes it’s more about being held or caressed. Sometimes it’s to help process emotional and psychological concerns, which may be reflected in the types of activities or roleplays chosen; or through coaching, counsel, or various techniques which resemble those used in psychotherapy. Or it’s a combination of all of these.
If people aren’t aware, there are a helluva lot of sexually conflicted people in this world. We sex workers give them space to be and heal. And we assume the burden of all the misunderstanding, stigma, and hatred in order to do it. In that sense, it could be said we all offer “medically assisted” services.
It’s not true that “prostitutes” are necessarily all about money or that she (or he) isn’t concerned about getting you in a better place. I’m sure Ms. Nerdahl has a big heart, but let’s be honest: she wants to get paid for her work like the rest of us. (No different than people who don’t do sex work for a living.) Many sex workers are wonderfully caring, empathic people who care about their clients just as much — if not more — than Ms. Nerdahl does.
It’s also untrue that we don’t do things to mitigate or discourage emotional attachment. We Dominatrices tend to “debrief” our clients after their experiences with us, especially those which are particularly intense and challenging. Some of us also uphold very clear boundaries with our clients between sessions to ensure they don’t confuse the fantasy we explore together with the reality of our relationship outside of that fantasy. And though Ms. Nerdahl, and other workers like her, may put a limit on sessions, we don’t usually do that because, as she herself acknowledges, everyone is different. So, the need one person has might get fulfilled in one session but for another take years.
The larger problem here is that she’s speaking from a place in which there is a moral hierarchy of erotic services, often referred to as the “whorearchy”, of which she seems to place herself at the top. It’s disappointing but I don’t hold it against her. We’re all indoctrinated to see “prostitutes” as lesser people. She’s just acting that out.
What I want people to understand from this is that one does not need to call sex work “medically assisted” to make it respectable. This furthers stigma, and also sets us up for some really ugly regulatory possibilities when we finally decriminalize all sex work. I would also argue that it feeds the idea that women need to be men’s “nurses” in order to get approval for how we use our bodies.
There are a lot of reasons why people see sex workers — disabilities, working through psychological issues, wanting sexual experience, lack of time to develop relationships, and more — but there are also people who just want to have pure, raw sex for sex’s sake. And there is nothing wrong with that. And nothing wrong with paying someone who provides this as their job.
Ask yourselves: why does our culture normalize deceit as a way to get one’s sexual needs met but stigmatizes those who want to pay for it? Why is it more noble to manipulate a woman into sex than to honestly negotiate it with her in exchange for payment?
So, while this interview with Ms. Nerdahl is a welcome dialogue about the realities of sex work, it also illuminates our need to better understand and destigmatize the different types of work within our own community. We all may do different things, but they are all a necessary way to express human needs and desires — not only for our clients but often often us, too — and that itself is respectful enough.