“Men don’t see adult models as wife material.”
I believe it was Plato who said, “Dating is a real pain in the ass,” but when you’re a sex worker, dating is somehow even more excruciating. On top of the usual trials and tribulations that come from trying to meet the right person, sex workers struggle with stigma, preconceived notions, and when to “come out” as a sex worker.
We spoke with six professional sex workers—whose day to day jobs differ within the sex industry—to learn about how they overcome the many challenges that come with dating.
How long have you been doing sex work, and what type of sex work is it?
Dahlia: Five years. Started as cam model and then transitioned into hardcore adult films.
Jessa: Eight years, starting with nude modeling, then stripping, camming, sugaring, escorting, and most recently, adult film.
Aviva: Fives years as a dominatrix.
Vana: Two years, mostly doing phone sex, cam shows, and custom clips ranging from fetish videos to porn. Will do femdom session and escorting periodically.
Katarina: Over a year as dominatrix and about five months a fetish wrestler.
Lana: Five years in fetish content, specifically foot, wrestling, and bondage videos.
What’s your relationship status?
Dahlia: I’m single.
Jessa: I’m in an open relationship with a fellow adult film performer.
Aviva: Currently single and ready to mingle.
Vana: I am pathologically single.
Katarina: I consider myself unavailable but single. Just screwing? “Seeing someone” adjacent?
Lana: I’m in an open relationship.
How has your dating life been since you’ve been doing sex work?
Dahlia: In the beginning as a cam model it was easier. I guess it wasn’t a “big deal.” Back then I thought I had found “The One.” We were together for three years and even ended up engaged. My partner said they supported me and was happy I was so open with my sexuality. As soon as it came out that I wanted to do porn, boy, did things flip. Definitely a lot of fights and jealousy. They just could not understand why I wanted to do it, and how it wasn’t cheating. I realized that was not who I wanted to be with for the rest of my life. Since then, I have yet to be in a long-term relationship. There has been lots of situation-ships, ghosting, and games.
Jessa: I spent a lot of time either hiding what types of sex work I was doing with previous partners because I knew they were too insecure and un-evolved to understand that my job is providing fantasies and experiences. I finally stopped hiding my occupation because I am out to my entire family, and they accepted and supported that this was my path. I was transparent with all other people in my life, and so I finally loved myself enough to stop shaming myself.
Aviva: I have enjoyed several relationships (some open and some monogamous) as well as periods of being single while working as a dominatrix. I’m always open about what I do for work, so the people I date need to be open-minded and not possessive. Working as a pro domme has given me more confidence in relationships and dating, and has raised my standards for how I expect people to approach and engage with me. I am deeply fulfilled with my work and social life, so I’m not seeking a relationship to fill a void. It’s really more about meeting interesting and inspiring people who can make positive contributions to my life. I’m currently on some dating apps, and make sure people know about my work and lifestyle before we meet in person.
Vana: My dating life has been practically nonexistent since becoming a sex worker. To further complicate things I am a trans sex worker. Being a niche within a niche greatly reduces my chances of meeting people. Very few ever show any genuine interest in dating me.
Katarina: I was never really great at dating because I get really tired and bored of it. When I did date, I didn’t have too much trouble in terms of people having an issue with my job although I was dating some trash. A lot of people I deal with are lovely, but there is a lot of bullshit with men I have to deal with during the course of my job, so I’m not going to deal with it in my personal life. I just don’t have it in me.
Lana: When I began shooting fetish content again in 2016, I was in a different relationship with someone who was “vanilla” and wasn’t interested in this field of work. When I became a fetish model at the end of 2017 due to leaving my current job over scheduling, I ended up breaking things off with said individual as I couldn’t be with a person who is not receptive to new ideas. I am currently in a very stimulating relationship with a partner who is genuinely fascinated about my work as a fetish model to the point where he shoots a few of my clips and often gives suggestions regarding outfits I should wear and fetish categories I should shoot.
What challenges do you face dating as a sex worker?
Dahlia: The biggest challenge is finding someone who actually wants to get to know you, for you. It’s getting really hard to distinguish who really wants to be with me and who just wants the “I got to bang a pornstar” experience. Obviously, the last few guys I’ve had situation-ships with just wanted to bang. Trust me, I held out tried to make sure. I assume men don’t see adult models as wife material, unless they are also in the industry. Another challenge is showing that it is just work. We love what we do. We go work, get paid, and come home just like a 9-5 worker would. I think most of us would love to have a supportive partner that they can go home to after a mentally draining day.
The last challenge worth mentioning would be the STD stigma. Everyone just thinks we’re infested with STDs. If we were, we wouldn’t be working. We cannot have sex with anyone untested. We must be tested every two weeks in order to film. I notice that a lot of people assuming we’re [positive] have never been tested in their life…
Jessa: Many people who’ve approached me think I’m a nymphomaniac and am just open for whatever projected fantasy they have, which is extraordinarily frustrating—and frankly quite strange—when you’ve only exchanged two messages prior. Then, too, the amount of people thinking that sex workers can or need to be “saved” from sex work is outrageous! I love my life, I love being a sex worker and it is immediately the most unattractive thing when someone tells me they “make enough money so you can leave this job behind.”
Aviva: Often when men find out about my work, they immediately start projecting their fantasies onto me and treat me like a sex worker instead of a complete, whole person they want to learn about. Because I am open-minded and nonjudgemental towards my clients’ kinks and desires, some people see me as an opportunity to unload their fantasies onto me and expect me to engage with those fantasies after just meeting them, which feels like they want me to work for free. I’ve also dealt with jealousy and possessiveness, which really doesn’t work for me. Another challenge I face is people not approaching me as potential for a serious, committed relationship.
Vana: I struggle with never really knowing how to act after I disclose what it is I do for a living. I have interests outside of sex work, but once I start sharing stories describing my proclivities and peccadillos in and out of the business, it’s almost impossible to talk about anything else. It puts expectations on me to always be that way. Sometimes I just want be a nerd and watch movies, read comics, or listen to records, but after I tell the story of being in a gangbang … how inclined would your average person be to talk about the latest Marvel movie?
Katarina: When I meet prospective daters, I do see some making calculations in their brain spaces. Do they think they can tell their friends or take me home to their mom? They usually don’t see me a serious option to date.
Lana: Initially, it was difficult as I knew I wasn’t going to settle with anyone who wasn’t satisfied with my current field of work. Before I was in my current relationship, I used to briefly date this guy, who when we first started dated, I immediately told him I shoot fetish content such as face sitting, female domination, and foot worship. However things eventually became rocky as he actually wasn’t fine with me “sitting on faces” in my clips, and we would constantly argue over my work for the next six months until I finally had to end things with him. In my current relationship, there has been a spat or two about “If I see myself shooting fetish long-term?” or “If I become a mother would I still shoot fetish?” with both responses being “We will see what the future holds.”
“I reject humans who see my occupation as a pitiable, degrading, or self-indulgent career.”
How do you overcome those challenges?
Dahlia: Well, I haven’t overcome finding my dream partner or finding someone I’m interested in that gets my job. I’m constantly trying to explain it, but I guess it just takes a certain kind of person that I have yet to find. As for the STD challenge, I educate people every time I get the chance. I like to see myself as a sexual health advocate, so I do whatever I can to educate anyone willing to listen.
For now, I just focus on myself—being the best me I can be in hopes the right person will find their way to me eventually.
Jessa: I reject humans who see my occupation as a pitiable, degrading, or self-indulgent career. I reject people who slut shame. I reject anyone who doesn’t love themselves enough to share that love with me. Time is the most precious thing in this galaxy and I cannot spend mine worried about someone who is miserable. I’ll also never be this hot again so I want to have as much safe and consensual fun as I can and ta-ta to you if you’re not secure enough and adventurous enough in your personhood to come along for the ride.
Aviva: I’ve gotten really good at screening and filtering potential dates, and I make sure to communicate openly and honestly from the beginning. I also don’t take it personally if someone has issues with my work; I just move on and focus on the people who support what I do. If someone starts showing red flags or treats me disrespectfully, I cut them out quickly. I’ve found that developing my relationship with myself and fostering self-love has made the biggest impact on attracting partners who are excited to be with me for all that I am.
Vana: So far I have yet to find a way to overcome my issues. I really should discuss this with my therapist. At the present moment, I defer to keeping all social encounters innocuously platonic and wait to get my sexual [urges] out when I’m on the clock.
Katarina: I suppose I kind of overcame the challenges by not dating. But don’t think I’m some broken-winged sex worker who was hurt and avoids being loved or some stereotypical nonsense. I was never big into committing to one person or chasing the next target. I always preferred doing other things: working, hanging with friends, getting new hobbies. “Dating” isn’t a hobby. It’s a chore, at best. You put in a lot of work and the gain is a gamble.
Lana: This may sound somewhat cliché but it’s so true —communication is key! Personally being upfront and honest with your partner is everything in a relationship and it works both ways.