As sex workers continue to fight FOSTA/SESTA, over 60 sex workers, advocates, educators, policymakers, and trafficking survivors took to Reddit’s AMA (Ask Me Anything) on June 21 to answer questions about sex work and decriminalization. Organized by Liara Roux, an escort, indie porn maker, and advocate, and Ashley Lake, a sex worker and adult content creator, the forum provided a space for people to ask sex workers directly about their experiences. Here are some of the highlights of the conversation:  

1) What would you most like to tell us that no one asks about? 

You can read the full thread on Reddit here, but below are some of my favorite responses:

Fabienne Freymadl - Professional Femdom, co-owner of Studio LUX, Chairwoman of BesD, Germany’s biggest sex worker union:

"Here are a few things I want people to know:

Yes, wash your penis. Twice. Yes, we have to say that.

Get yourself checked for STIs, even if you are not seeing sex workers.

Yes, you already know at least one sex worker, they just haven’t told you yet. Ask yourself why they won’t trust you enough to come clean. 

No, dead hooker/stripper/any other provider jokes are NOT funny.

Being a dominatrix means you will have to clean a lot. A LOT! In fact, if you have questions about how to disinfect your gear properly, come and ask me.

No, being a sex worker doesn’t mean I want to receive your dick pics. Although that might change as soon as I get paid to watch them."

Red - Founder of STROLL:

"Ha, I’m already in an argument about this on this very AMA. Sex work is work, and it’s service industry work. Pretending that it’s inherently different than other service industry work for any other reason than the fact that it’s stigmatised is buying into the belief that sex is uniquely special to women and has a unique moral impact on our worth. It sounds so obvious stated like that, but people never do interrogate their belief systems this far, so right now some guy is telling me how different and special sex is than waiting tables, all because it involves genitals. It’s not different. It’s not more special. My value and integrity is not located in my genitals any more than it is in my hands when I changed diapers."

Lotus Lain - Performer, activist, and Industry Relations at the Free Speech Coalition:

"I want people to know that they already know a sex worker to some degree of knowing them and to various definitions of sex work. What I want them to do is to ask themselves why don’t they know they know a sex worker? Is their attitude about sex/sex work something that would make people they know hide their sex work from them?? People need to reflect on themselves too." 

2) What's the best perk of your job? Worst? Do you genuinely enjoy sex work? How did you discover that is something you wanted to do? 

You can read the full thread on Reddit here, but below are some of my favorite responses:

Liara Roux:

"Best part of my job: Getting paid to do cool things with cool people I would hang out with anyway! Worst part of my job: Criminalization >:( I really enjoy my job! Sometimes it does just feel like work, but most of the time I really enjoy it. I’ve always wanted to be a “professional friend” — for a while I thought that meant being a therapist, but I’ve discovered I actually like escorting more!" 

Lorelei Lee - Sex worker, writer, activist:

"Like many people I know, I’ve had every kind of feeling while doing sex work — experiences that were joy-filled and experiences that were truly awful. I began doing this work because it paid much better and was not much more difficult than the low-income work I was previously doing (and would do again during times when I was burned out on various adult industries), but along the way I had moments of real joy and art-making at work, and met people I will love forever. I believe that all kinds of work share this — if the conditions are good and people you work with are ethical, work can be rewarding. Simultaneously, all industries have the potential to be abusive if workers aren’t protected." 

Thotscholar - Proheaux womanist, indie illustrator and writer, sex worker:

"I was eighteen and out, so I didn’t have time to ruminate on how fun sex work might be or how empowering it is. It wasn’t necessarily a want, but it was an option, and I had to figure my shit out fast or be homeless, so I went to the only club in town and signed up to dance. Of all the types of sex work I have done, stripping and full service are my most enjoyable. But I will never be able to fully enjoy my work until I have the luxury of being able to be more selective about my clients. Right now I am doing cyber sex work, and the racism/colorism I experience, from both the clients and other nonblack sex workers, is draining. It ruins the work. The main perk of sex work is that, although there’s a steep learning curve in certain areas of the industry, it’s generally easy to get into. And I can work from home, which is a necessity, since I am a single mother and homeschool my son. The worst part of sex work is that, as a Black woman I already have a high likelihood of being assaulted or killed, so being a sex worker only compounds that danger." 

Ashley Lake:

"I don’t really think I can speak as an in person sex worker, but as a periodic worker that works for other sex workers (taking pictures, helping with web stuff, etc.), I feel this industry basically saved my life. I’ve worked in a lot of industries, but I have health issues that make holding down a job in one place really hard. And I’ve really been unhappy in offices where I felt I had to hide being queer or trans. Now I get to be around a lot of other people who are supportive of that, and people are really understanding about having to cancel or delay work for disability reasons. A lot of us have them! Honestly, yeah, the sex industry saved my life. I was thinking about if I had to go back to my tech career again the other day and literally started crying just thinking about it — I hadn’t even realized how terrible it was until I was able to work a job where I could really be myself."  

Chloë Boulez - Las Vegas It-Girl Escort:

"What's the best perk of your job? The freedom! I’m my own boss. I don’t think I can ever work for someone else again I’m so spoiled now. 

Worst? I really don’t like the administrative tasks so I employ an assistant. I’m good at marketing, doing photoshoots, and meeting clients.

Do you genuinely enjoy sex work? 100% the first time I did webcamming I knew it was for me. I’m naturally very sexual and finally had an outlet!

How did you discover that is something you wanted to do? It happened really organically, first I just considered it because I didn’t know how else to make money during the recession when nobody I’d worked with before was hiring, but I was a woman with a body surely that would net me some money right? I wasn’t brave enough to try stripping but I had all the equipment to start webcamming immediately, so I did. That gave me the money to get out of a bad relationship and move to a new city where I then started escorting, and the rest is history, Chloë Boulez was born and I rose like a phoenix!" 

Lotus Lain:

"The best part about sex work, for me personally, is that it gave me a voice. I would masturbate to porn a lot in my early 20s and my guilty feeling afterwards was always that I wasn’t doing anything to improve porn performers’ lives, yet I used them everyday to improve my own. I worked 9-5s, management, retail, hospitality, you name it and I have never made over $1000 in a single paycheck before starting Porn work. That’s when it dawned on me that “society’s narrative” on sex work was wrong. I felt empowered by my first $1000+ Porn paycheck, not taken advantage of, and certainly not ashamed. So once I became a sex worker myself, I realized what the sex worker population I was concerned about (porn performers) truly needed. And it wasn’t saving. It was a rewriting of the narrative. It’s for people to see them as people and not objects. It’s to have their voices heard as well. And coming full circle to where I am now, I feel like I am fulfilling my original goal for entering sex work. The worst part to me is seeing other sex workers tear each other down for whatever reason, it’s never a good look or feeling." 

3) Stopping child sex trafficking was one of the big selling points for FOSTA/SESTA, even though the final text doesn’t specifically deal with children at all. But even just mentioning children in the context of sex trafficking or sexual abuse sucks all of the reason and rationality out of the discussion and almost guarantees that a bad law will pass. Working with former and current sex workers, I lead a new nonprofit called Prostasia Foundation, to fight SESTA/FOSTA and similar laws that take the wrong approach to child protection, and to promote more effective alternatives that are based on evidence. What research do you think is needed that would make for a better approach to child protection that is inclusive of sex workers, rather than scapegoating them? 

You can read the full thread on Reddit here, but below are some of my favorite responses:

Red:

"This is a great question in a sea of really basic questions, thank you! To be honest, that research already exists! Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, by Alix Lutnick, the reports by the ILO, Global Sex Work, Sex Work and Trafficking Revisited, Dr. Jenny Heineman (in this AMA)’s research, all give the lie to the idea that sex work and child sexual abuse are connected. The problem is, there’s no money in that as things stand. The U.S. government is the biggest exploiter and abuser of children in the form of foster care and the child welfare system, but that would COST money rather than MAKE money, so it’s not a popular topic. What we’re seeing at the border, the physical, emotional, and sexual abuses that are ALREADY being revealed — this is par for the course in the U.S. child welfare system. Texas’ CWS was written up for human rights abuses, Oregon’s just failed an audit of the child welfare system — children routinely experience physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as well as commercial sexual exploitation in our care system. Children routinely DIE in our system. Most commercially sexually exploited youth on the streets are runaways from child welfare, foster care, or abusive birth families. This is the ugly reality that scares people too much to talk about, and THIS is why there’s a focus on sex work. We have to keep turning the light back on these realities, even though it’s so much more comfortable for people to pretend there’s an international network of evil foreigners “trafficking” children and not our neighbours, parents, and government." 

Nicolette Bond - Sex worker in London, Berlin, and worldwide, travel and BDSM companion, sex worker rights activist since 2010:

"I think research that starts with the children themselves and tries to work out what are their issues, rather than lumping everyone in together would be more helpful. I think working to end poverty and homelessness, and to improve protections for trans people and youth of colour, including queer youth, who are most at risk, would be good. I’m actually not sure it’s useful to draw straight lines between sex work and trafficking. Start with the idea that some people, of various ages, are trading something for sex, and find out what are the pressures on them and what would help. Use peer researchers and pay everyone. Sex workers aren’t creating the world in which trafficking exists. We all have a need to pay the bills, whether you do sex work or work in a non-profit :P" 

4. What are the biggest misconceptions about sex workers that society has that holds sex workers back and how can you educate the average citizen to dispel these misconceptions?  

You can read the full thread on Reddit here, but below are some of my favorite responses:

Rosie Wilde - Sex worker: 

"That we do this work because we can’t hold a “normal” job or because we’re uneducated. Some of the most hard-working and intelligent people I’ve known have been fellow sex workers.

For fear of legal and/or social ramifications, we are forced to keep quiet about what we do, and so the stereotypes prevail with nothing to counter them. Decriminalizing sex work is the necessary first step in allowing the average citizen to view sex workers as average citizens." 

Chloë Boulez:

"The idea we aren’t normal people is really damaging. When clients and the general public think we can’t possibly be fulfilled persons with stable relationships in family, with our children, and have full romantic lives, dehumanizes us to such a degree that dead sex worker jokes can be plot devices in major motion pictures. One of the things allies can do that’s most effective is to combat these stereotypes when they hear them — it can be as obvious as calling out a dead hooker joke as dehumanizing or picking up on the more subtle slut shaming — at the end of the day it’s harmful to all women, but especially sex workers." 

Erica Kane - Writer, creatrix, sex worker and sex workers’ rights advocate and activist focusing on the needs of black, brown, and POC within the industry:

"The idea that earning (insert amount here) is a reflection of how much laborers in the sex trade value themselves. There are so many factors to consider when it comes to the market, pricing, perceived value (as it pertains to social norms and standards of beauty and desirability) and individual earnings. Also: for more marginalized sex workers it isn’t uncommon for people to suggest that fetishization and/or tokenization MUST BE flattering, lucrative, and socially beneficial which in my experiences and observations just isn’t the case, in fact I’d say it can be harmful (faulty hiring/firing practices, targeted harm, etc.)."

5. What steps do you recommend the anti-human trafficking movement do to minimize harm that happens to sex workers? 

You can read the full thread on Reddit here, but below are some of my favorite responses:

Jessica Raven - Former youth survival sex worker, Executive Director of Collective Action for Safe Spaces:

"The movement against human trafficking could focus on ensuring people have access to their basic necessities, like housing. Poverty and homelessness make people particularly vulnerable to trafficking; addressing those problems makes everyone safer, whether they’re in the sex trade or they’re a victim of human trafficking. We don’t need to pit the needs of these communities against each other." 

Dr. Jenny Heineman - Instructor at the University of Nebraska, researcher who has done extensive on-the-ground studies into trafficking and sex work, author of The Sex Trafficking Panic Is Based On Myths:

"Mitigating sex trafficking requires labor rights. Decriminalizing sex work has shown, statistically, to decrease trafficking because people who are exploited — as well as sex workers who suspect someone is being exploited — are no longer subject to criminal charges."