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Sex work – the middle ground?

'Claire', an Exeter student, shares the reality of her experience balancing sex work and life at university, battling discrimination and maintaining relationships

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I’m writing this in a state of nausea; an effect of the post-exposure HIV medication which I have to take after a client last week removed his condom, and forcefully continued to have sex with me against my wishes. As a white, Devonshire, middle-aged straight man, the likelihood of him carrying the virus is low. But I cannot take risks.

Neither can I take rest. This medication makes it impossible for me to transmit HIV, and so I can continue to work, until I am tested in 6 weeks, without posing harm to others. And I need to work; tomorrow I am seeing four men – one of whom I will see with another escort in a hotel on the outskirts of town for a threesome. By the time I collapse into bed tomorrow evening, I will have had sex with 5 different people. I’ll also be able to pay my rent, a portion of my fees, and buy some food for myself.

I tend to work like this; big batches of clients over 24 or 48-hour periods. This is so that I then don’t have to work for several weeks, and I can concentrate on essays. I’ve tried the normal jobs, but my mental health sometimes makes them impossible to hold down. So I do this; quick money to cover impending debt.

It’s not all terrible, but I do gloss it over and glam it up to others; over Christmas, I was bought handbags, lingerie, and perfume from one of my regulars. I instagrammed them with #ThankYouDaddy; a white-washed background adorned with expensive gifts and accompanied by dollar sign emojis. And yet, the next day I returned them all for either cash, or a store coupon I could use to buy something more practical. This is the reality.

There’s a pressure to enjoy it, to be reaping the benefits. But sometimes it destroys you.

And the days it does are the worst; the stigma runs deep. I don’t feel supported by the university – in fact, I actively worry that they would expel me if they found out how I’ve managed to pay them for their tuition. They could support me with condoms, sexual health advice, wellbeing appointments, someone – anyone – to go to when I’ve been raped. Or even guidance on how to pay my tax (believe it or not, I am registered with HMRC and pay tax on every booking I take). But they don’t. I don’t even feel I can ask for these things without putting my degree in jeopardy.

I do not feel I can engage in constructive debate or campaigning on campus without outing myself. I find a polemic attitude in the student body; sex workers are empowered and happy, or sex workers are victims. There seems to be no understanding for those in the middle. Those with good days and bad days. Those who’d rather not work, but also thank whatever deity is out there that sex work exists because if it didn’t, as I don’t qualify for a loan, I wouldn’t be in higher education.

My only wish is for total decriminalisation. The Nordic model – where you criminalise clients and not workers – doesn’t work. Clients, through fear of prosecution, become more secretive and this makes it impossible to vet them.

I am in a relationship. The first one I’ve had since becoming a sex worker. Of course, he struggles. I’ve just read what I’ve written so far to him, and he cried at “I will have had sex with 5 different people’, even though he will likely be the sixth at the end of the day.

Finding the right person to be with when you have professional sex can be tricky to say the least, and my current partner has been surviving my work for four months. He had a baptism of fire; when we first met, I was working a lot and doing extreme bookings like hardsports, as I had a fee deadline to pay. So he had to adjust to the world quickly, which he did. Tomorrow is the busiest day I’ve had since I met him though, and we’re currently working on strategies to get through it. It’s one of the situations where comforting doesn’t work; because I need the work, distraction can only go so far as he wants to be exposed to the reality in order to deal with it properly.

Finding the right person to be with when you have professional sex can be tricky to say the least

All that’s is left is endurance and love, the latter hopefully outweighing the former.

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