When I first got involved in professional dominatrix work, the social implications did not occur to me at all. Surprisingly, despite having heard of the sex worker movement and believing that prostitution should be legalized, I had little awareness of how significant the social stigma is, and there was no way I knew it would apply to professional domination. There was no realization that it may fall under that title, no sense of, “Oh, right, fucking someone with a strap on is clearly sex, so this is sex work.”
Although it may seem silly, it makes sense that I did not immediately recognize it as sex work. After all, there is a lot of debate over what defines a sex worker: Is it only folks who interact with clients one on one? Do practices that don’t include penetrative sex count? What if the sex worker never even takes their clothes off? Are folks who date so they get free meals sex workers too?
What defines sex work is widely debated within the sex work community itself. Sites like the Sex Worker Problems tumblr have a running list for the things that are generally included as types of sex work. They also note that there are “practices that fall in the gray area,” like sugar babies, who are young men and women who are financially supported and cared for by typically an older, well-to-do individual in exchange for companionship (often including sexual favors). The questions that redefine what is or isn’t sex work are endless.
Even within one group of sex workers, there is a wide net of activities they participate in that entirely depend on what their boundaries are, and other times, there will be overlap. Some dommes get nude, others don’t. Some cater to specific fetishes, others don’t. Some escorts participate in BDSM activities as a part of their services, some don’t. Would you call a domme with no “actual” sex services who only serves foot fetishists, letting them rub, kiss, and lick her feet, a sex worker?
This is part of the problem, too; sex itself is hard to define. Often, folks will define it in highly heteronormative, limited terms: heterosexual, penetrative sex is the only sex that “counts,” thus casting other forms of sexual interaction as less significant and less intimate.
That is, to put it plainly, absolutely inaccurate. The intimacy of an interaction is less about the act, more about the context, and there are a wide spectrum of activities that folks choose to engage in to achieve sexual satisfaction. There are folks who don’t have any interest in sex at all, and they can still have romantic, intimate experiences that work within their relationships.
In the dungeon, the conversation about whether or not we are sex workers comes up regularly. Whether or not we skirt the line is irrelevant to the ingrained social taboos around sex work, promiscuity, and generally, women owning their sexuality. During these conversations, some folks (especially ladies who are new to the job) will speak in a way that adheres to the hierarchy of sex work, insisting that domme work is somehow better than prostitution or stripping or some other form of sexual services. Too many times, new girls have been overheard saying disdainfully, “Well, it’s not like we’re whores or something.”
Often the response to this is kind, but instructive: Don’t think you’re better than other women in a similar industry. You seem to forget that to the “normies,” we’re all the same. Or, as a coworker so succinctly put it, “We touch dicks for a living. What do you think we do?”
Some folks, whatever the work they do that may seem like it falls under the umbrella, choose not to call themselves “sex worker”. Some prefer to keep the different types of sex work delineated, focusing on the fact that their work requires specific skills and talents that they value above others. Some folks firmly believe that it doesn’t matter what they are called, and others strongly identify with the sex worker movement. It’s for each person to determine what they feel is appropriate. Like anything else, self-identification takes priority over societal dictation of title.
I have the great fortune of being incredibly privileged: white, cisgendered, able-bodied (to start with), conventionally attractive. It is easy for me to be open about my job and have people give me slightly more credit based on this privilege. It is assumed that my choice is empowered, rather than desperate. It is assumed that I am being “wild and young,” rather than making an active, considered choice. My own experiences with the stigma have been relatively insignificant and mostly resolved, and I cannot tell you how lucky I am for that. Perhaps this is part of why it never occurred to me as something that would be such a Big Goddamn Deal; my privilege shielded me from the reality that sex workers come in all forms, and that they are everywhere. My goal, though, is to advocate for a space in which all sex workers’ voices are heard and respected.
I choose to align myself with the title of sex worker, and the sex worker movement as a whole. I firmly believe that the stigma against sex work needs to die a long, painful death, and that creating a divide amongst the group hurts the campaign to normalize sex work. The idea shouldn’t be, “I do not fuck for cash so I am not really a sex worker,” because the point that needs to be driven home is that sex work is not inherently evil. If we create divisions amongst the group of us who are all working in an industry that is perpetually maligned, that paints the people who participate in this industry as worthless, we cannot make it clear that we are human and we are here.
Tizzy Wall is the Playpen Report’s petite spitfire sex-worker, here to talk about queerdom, sex work, and other kinktastic wonders. Take a peek into her big, lovely brain on both Tumblr and Twitter, or like her on Facebook. Have specific questions about the domme world, topic requests, or need advice? Email her !