Before I start, a disclaimer: my experience is not an accurate account of what sex work looks like for everyone. And though I might touch on cliches about sex work in this piece, it’s not the same as reinforcing those stereotypes, whether they’re positive or negative. I don’t get to choose what you pay attention to, and I don’t decide whether you, the reader, are going to sensationalise sex work, respect it, or if you’re just here for the laughs and details.
And I’d like to make one more point too: sex work isn’t my whole life. Being a sex worker is not my whole personality, and sex work doesn’t define me more than any other job would. I don’t want to always be seen through the lens of ‘sex worker’ – however I’ve found that for many, my existence becomes somehow lesser the second I disclose my profession.
That being said, it’s time for me to attention seek. Why? Because there’s some obvious (and not so obvious) struggles that I and others in the industry go through on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis.
First, ending the stigma toward sexually transmitted infections would be a huge benefit. Access to sexual health services are daunting enough for anyone, and it’s even harder if you’re uncomfortable disclosing your line of work. For most of us, an issue with our sexual health means no work. No work means no money, no money means no food, no leccy… no truffle oil from Selfridges. Without any formal structure around our way of work, being sick can often mean being left for dead. So here’s what we can change: describing yourself as ‘clean’ after getting a negative test? Not good. Implying that those who test positive are dirty? Not good.
“As long as the big bosses in government ignore our existence, how can we expect the general public care?”
I mentioned that sex workers’ rights are not formalised in this country, nor is my line of work entirely decriminalised. That leaves space for unwanted, problematic and unfair opinions about sex workers and the work we do. I know what you’re thinking, the answer’s simple: Google exists, so why don’t people educate themselves? The problem is that, for many people, sex workers simply don’t exist. As long as the big bosses in government ignore our existence, and as long as the lack of safety precautions for our wellbeing are in place, how can we expect the general public care? If the people looking after our country don’t care about sex workers, then why should they? There’s no quick or easy solution, but it has to start with decriminalising sex work.
So what can you do personally to be a better ally to sex workers? Here are a few things:
As a family member, give us someone to confide in. Be someone to talk to and feel comfortable around. Let us exist as human beings, not as the slut or whore of the family. Understand our reasonings behind why we do the work we do: whether it’s survival, funding school, or simply because we want to. At the end of the day it’s not really any of your business – but if you’re going to make it yours at least be nice about it. We’re not asking you to do it yourself.
As a client, I ask for your patience. Don’t call me 13 times in a row if I don’t answer – you wouldn’t call the plumber 20 times asking them to get here and wrap up that leak if they were with another client. Our time is just as valuable as any other worker. The lack of safeguarding and protection for full-service sex workers like me means any sign of aggression that can be intimidating is almost guaranteed to be a put-off. Leave your toxic masculinity at the door.
“It’s impossible for me to tell you every single way to be a good ally... Just acknowledge my work as work. That’s the best thing you could do.”
As a partner, it’s important you understand affection can come in many forms, not just shagging. Engaging in sex work doesn’t mean I like you any less! Sex does not always equal feelings, so please refrain from implying the line of work men and women like me choose somehow depletes your importance to us. And don’t demonise clients for being clients – after all, they’re funding the meals I’m taking you out to.
As a human being, all I ask is that you acknowledge the intersectionality that comes with sex work. We don’t all exist under this umbrella of perfection, or indeed the opposite. Some of us are people of colour, some of us are queer, some of us are disabled, and some of us are more than one of the above and more. Supporting sex workers mean you support all of us – it’s not a Woolworths pick ‘n’ mix.
There are groups you could support too, such as SWARM, a collective founded and run by sex workers. And our community has voices you should listen to such as Lucia Blayke, known for organising London Trans+ Pride, who is launching the first Sex Workers’ Pride, focusing on intersectionality and celebrating our work.
In the end, it’s impossible for me to tell you every single way to be a good ally. Simply, just acknowledge my work as work. That’s the best thing you could do. Just look at me and my girlfriend: I’ll cook dinner, she’ll run me a bath, and we’ll talk about our days at work and how they were good or bad just as any other couple would – without any judgement, or without needing to justify the jobs we choose.
Ashleigh will appear in a new documentary, Louis Theroux: Selling Sex, on BBC Two on Sunday 12 January at 9pm. Follow Ashleigh on Instagram at @Babeworld3000