should a sex worker avoid her corporate spouse’s social functions?

A reader writes:

I’m a sex worker who works in a gray-area legal niche of the industry where I live (long story short: local law enforcement does not prioritize busting my kind of work, but the laws are pretty vague in terms of where the line of illegality specifically lies). My spouse is in the final stages of interviewing for a near-perfect-fit type position (there’s no such thing as a sure thing, but it’s looking very, very good). Here’s the problem: this company is known for having an intense culture of command-performance type socializing, where spouses are expected to at least occasionally make an appearance.

As part of my screening process, I collect a certain amount of information about my clients, and to the best of my knowledge, none of them work in that company. But I don’t have workplace verification for every single client (for instance, if a client came with strong references from other providers, I wouldn’t necessarily require it), and it’s also possible that someone’s circumstances changed, or that they work with a company that works with my spouse’s potential employers, etc, etc.

Do you have any advice for how to handle the situation if my spouse gets the position? Is it worse to buck the culture by never attending social work events with my partner, or to risk running into a client (who could not only maybe cause my spouse some problems, but would then have access to more personal information about me than I generally share)? Is there some middle ground that I’m missing?

Assuming that you’re living somewhere where sex works carries a stigma, and one that would extend to your spouse by proxy, my gut is that it’s better to buck the office culture by skipping the work events than to introduce the risk of a client recognizing you and then causing problems for you or your spouse.

(And for the record, I hate this answer more than any other I’ve had to give here. I’d like to live in a society that didn’t punish sex workers and their families like that, and I feel gross about telling you to live in the shadows where your spouse’s professional life is concerned.)

That said, I think the best answer here is going to come from your spouse. He or she is the one best equipped to judge the potential impact professionally, and is the one who’s ultimately going to have to assume a part of the risk.

But if you do both end up agreeing that you skipping the work events makes the most sense, I wonder if there’s a way for your spouse to minimize any fall-out from that — for instance, by mentioning early on that your work schedule makes it hard for you to get away or something along those lines. (Or alternately, it might be better not to call attention to it at all, depending on the culture.)

What do others think?

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 262 comments… read them below }

  1. Sara M*

    I am also strongly pro-sex-worker and know people working in this field. And I agree that this is depressing but good advice. I think the risks are too high in the current culture.

    I note that if in fact they expect you to socialize, and you can’t/don’t, and he suffers any consequences… this is no longer his dream job.

  2. Katie*

    Just noticed that the letter was written completely gender neutral (“spouse”, “partner”), and the reply assumes the OP is a woman and the “spouse” is a man. This might not be the case. Not that it changes the situation…

    1. Anonymous*

      I have to be honest, I read the whole thing and never noticed the lack of gender-specific pronouns. Given the OP’s description of other people in play — coworkers who could spill the beans, and “other providers” I think it’s highly unlikely that the OP is a male.

      First, most work places are still male dominated. Second, the market for the OP’s work is much bigger for straight males than any other populace. (The OP referred to being in connection with “other providers”. If he/she is doing something other than providing hetero services to males, then that market, and the providers in them, are extremely small.)

      1. TL*

        And given that it’s a grey area of the law, and not outright illegal, it’s more likely that the OP is a woman.

        But sex workers have unusually high rates of bi- and homosexual women, so, statistically speaking, gender neutral is the best way to go for her spouse.

    2. anon*

      This point is irrelevant. She would have specified her spouse’s gender if she had wanted that to be considered. Why does everything have to turn into a gender-related discussion? This isn’t a gender blog. In english, the default pronoun is “he” if you don’t know a person’s gender.

      1. Gloria*

        It’s traditionally “he” but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Many people are fine with using “he or she” or using “he” and “she” interchangeably as gender-hypothetical terms.

        “This isn’t a gender blog.”

        I think that’s up to the author to decide.

        1. Zillah*

          Or “they.” “They” is a perfectly acceptable gender-neutral pronoun, both for singular and plural usage.

          1. Jamie*

            Thank you – you are one of my people.

            There are others who hate us and our ways…but we’ll stick together and use “they” as if all of my old English teachers aren’t crying from the disturbance in the force.

            1. Delurking*

              We are legion! The use of ‘they’ as third person singular goes back hundreds of years. If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me.

      2. Jamie*

        ‘He’ may be the traditional default when gender isn’t known, but I like Alison’s practice of using female because she’s female and I personally use “they” although not technically correct it’s gaining begrudging acceptance as a gender neutral pronoun.

        But in no sense has ‘husband’ ever been the default for marriage partner if the gender isn’t known – that’s ‘spouse’ and what Alison correctly switched to.

        I don’t know to what you’re objecting?

        1. Chinook*

          Let me add another voice that husband has always been gender specific, ditto for wife, and the gender neutral is spouse. This is what I was referred to as in all military paperwork and was convinient because it doesn’t imply gender to either party but does clearly emphasize our legal status (which is what it is). If you were not a spouse, then you were referred to as common-law partner or had no legal standing.

        2. anon*

          I think I’m objecting to how nitpicky it is to point out that, when the letter writer is known to be a female, the spouse is referred to as a “he.” Perhaps he/she/they is not really a he, but why should it matter, when the letter writer clearly did not make the spouse’s gender an issue in her letter?

          1. JamieG*

            It’s possible OP’s spouse doesn’t prefer gendered pronouns at all. Or is a woman, but OP was afraid that mentioning that she has a female spouse would distract commenters from the point of her question and cause some gay marriage debate or something.

            If the OP wanted everyone to refer to her spouse as her husband, she could have used the term herself.

            1. anon*

              If she had a preference as to what pronoun should be used to refer to her spouse, she would have said so.

                1. anon*

                  I think if she was in a non-traditional marriage, she would have specified that, as that too might affect the way she was perceived by people at the company.

                2. Zillah*

                  Not necessarily, on several levels.

                  For one thing, given that the company is known for having many social events that spouses are expected to attend, it’s entirely possible that the OP or her spouse know (or know of) other employees in same-sex marriages who have said that it isn’t a problem.

                  For another, if the OP is involved in a same-sex relationship, their spouse may well have dug around for a reaction to same-sex partnerships during the interview process; an environment in which you have to be heavily closeted and never mention your wife and either have to pretend to be perpetually single or with a man is very different than an environment in which you never mention your wife’s job. The latter is not ideal, but the former would be intolerable for the vast, vast majority of people.

        3. Kerry*

          “They” is a perfectly accurate singular pronoun! Chaucer, Shakespeare and Jane Austen use it; there is no “technical” issue with it at all except for people who are trying to look cleverer than they are by making up rules. I’m very pedantic both recreationally and as part of my job, but there is genuinely no grammatic problem with using “they” as a singular pronoun!

          1. anon for now*

            Not only is it grammatical but it is respectful. Which is the point of language. I never thought the rules of English should come before people as it’s FOR us, not some untouchable entity

          2. Evan*

            I have finally, against my will, been persuaded into that position. If sources as ancient as Shakespeare and as conservative as C. S. Lewis both use singular “they,” I cannot object.

            Sigh. The English language really should have a better pronoun.

          3. Julie*

            This is really good to know because I have always thought that I HAD to use “he/she” or “s/he” or “he or she,” etc. because “they” was wrong. Now I can use “they” without feeling like I’m cheating. (Just to be clear, I’m completely serious – NOT being sarcastic.)

        4. milton keyes*

          it is? I’d think one would simply say “spouse”.

          If the gender of a person is not known, then their position or label so to speak is used. So spouse here is accurate, unless it’s later known it’s a husband or wife. Far simpler than using s/he interchangably to be PC, but my academic training is in business/strategic management, not English or English grammar…

      3. Maura*

        As a woman married to another woman, I appreciate the sensitivity here to be inclusive of all possibilities. My wife and I frequently have to “come out” over and over again when people see our wedding rings and ask about our husbands. Not that we mind, and it’s sometimes led to some funny stories (like on our wedding day, when a bystander thought we were friends who were having a double wedding to two non-existent grooms). But when people *don’t* assume that we must be with a man–it’s appreciated! Just my two cents. :)

      4. anonymous pterodactyl*

        “The average American needs the small routines of getting ready for work. As he shaves or blow-dries his hair or pulls on his panty hose, he is easing himself by small stages into the demands of the day.”

        To argue that “he” is default is to argue that there’s nothing at all unexpected about the preceding sentence.

  3. Celeste*

    If she skips the events, he can simply tell people, “This is our arrangement” and drop it with a change of subject.

    But overall it feels to me like the clients have more to lose with her having more information about THEIR personal lives than they might like to share.

    1. Sara M*

      Sort of, but that can backfire. People might get very stressed out–so much so that they quietly retaliate against her husband and get him out of the company so they don’t see her at events. People get weird around this stuff.

      1. Anonymous*

        I get weird around anything that is illegal. Can’t say it always stops me, but that doesn’t stop it from still being weird. When you have to tap-dance around something to keep it “borderline legal” when being up front about it makes it clearly illegal, yeah, that’s gonna get weird.

        1. Chinook*

          Depending on where she is, what she does may not be illegal but just soliciting for it (which would make her clients equally guilty). But, if her clients are equally guilty, wouldn’t they want to keep quiet lest they have to explain how they came across this information?

          1. PurpleChucks*

            This was my thought too! I find it highly unlikely that former or current clients who happen to also work for the OP’s spouse’s company would cause any trouble for the spouse because of their role.

            Not that is is a direct correlation, but if the OP was a different service provider that still has some stigma attached to it, say a psychiatrist or AA sponsor, would she want to exclude herself from her spouse’s work functions on the chance that she runs into an old or current client?

            I know some psychiatrists and counselors who have an established code they use with clients if they should meet out in public, like “we used to belong to the same (innocuous organization) back in the day,” or whatever.

          2. Amy*

            Let’s be honest here, men who visits a prostitute or strip clubs are is in no way as vilified as the prostitute/stripper herself.

          3. Jess*

            A sex-worker is not always just a provider of fully-engaged sexual activities. Many of the most successful sex-workers are provide a service that is out of the norm, such as a dominatrix (common requests for humiliation–some powerful men have extreme sexual experiences to this dynamic). Services such as this are typically non-illegal activities but taboo, nonetheless.

      2. Celeste*

        You have to hope she knows her clients. I agree that they would probably be covert about anything they did, so as to save face. Hopefully they would understand they might not be welcome to her services if she makes the connection.

    2. JamieG*

      Yeah, I do think it should look worse on the clients than on the sex worker, if we’re stigmatizing any of it. But realistically, if it’s some boys’ club scenario, it could go the other way. (“Well sure, he paid someone for sex*, but your wife is a prostitute!”)

      *I realize that OP’s job was specifically -not- mentioned in detail, and am just using this as an example.

      1. PurpleChucks*

        I appreciate your disclaimer! In the US, sex worker typically equals “prostitute” regardless of what type of services are being provided and many people do know there are many different avenues in the career of a sex worker. Even someone who knows better might say something like that because it is easily digested by others that way…

        1. Delurking*

          Yes, it’s a very broad category. I used to be a rape crisis counselor and we did a unit on counseling sex workers; one of our exercises was to brainstorm all the different types of sex work we could think of. By the end it became clear that most sex work in the United States is legal; for example, web cam shows or fantasy hotlines and chat rooms. I know someone who used to be a domme and she said that in her jurisdiction, the primary distinction between legal and illegal is whether or not you make skin-to-skin contact ‘for the purposes of sexual arousal’. Thus, spanking someone with a paddle is legal; spanking someone with your hand is illegal if at least one of you enjoys it, but legal if you don’t enjoy it. Arbitrary, isn’t it? Perhaps that’s analogous to the OP’s legal gray area.

      2. KarenT*

        Isn’t prostitution illegal in the US? I’m Canadian but an avid Law and Order watcher. I assumed the OP wasn’t a prostitue just because she says her profession is borderline, not full-on illegal.

        1. Anon for this*

          As mentioned up-thread, prostitution is illegal in most parts of the country, but there are many grey areas about what exactly constitutes prostitution. For example, many areas permit lap dances as long as the person receiving the dance remains fully clothed, while other municipalities require a six-foot distance between a naked performer and the client.

          But another major grey area in a lot of areas of the US is professional BDSM practice. There’s clearly an erotic component in it, but many areas laws don’t make it clear whether “paying you to flog me, which I personally find arousing” counts as soliciting sex. It can also raise questions about whether it legally counts as assault, even if it’s between two consenting adults. A lot of places won’t bother enforcing it as long as it doesn’t get too disruptive, but it can be a grey area.

  4. AAA*

    I second Alison’s opinion. I’m kind of wondering where there is *not* a stigma on sex work, however. Of course there are communities where no such stigma exists, but I doubt that (in the US or Europe at least) there is anywhere where there isn’t at least a little stigma to this work. (For the record, I’m pro-sex worker rights and don’t like the stigma, but it’s there).

    Also, I found it kind of interesting that Alison assumed that the OP has a “husband” – the OP pretty significantly kept all nouns gender neutral. I wonder if there is also a different kind of stimga (or at least assumptions) at work here based on gender/sexual orientation…but maybe I’m just sensitive about these things.

  5. Anonymous*

    The odd thing is, if we were talking about strippers and strip clubs, I’d suggest staying away. There is more of a stigma for working there than patronizing them.

    But given the OP’s description of what she does and client vetting, I know she’s not talking about being a stripper. Which means she’s talking about an area where there still is a stigma for utilizing said services. I sure as heck wouldn’t want to make it known around my workplace that I was “paying for it,” that’s for sure.

    So basically, she’s saying that the risk of detection is low, and I’m suggesting that the risk of negative consequences is low (not every client will want to make trouble), so the intersection of the two is pretty rare.

    But that’s all contingent upon how necessary it is for her to show up at his events. I can’t speak to that culture — at my previous employer (and even my current one) spouses aren’t given much of a second thought.

    One other consideration: Is it really necessary for his co-workers to know that he is married? While claiming not to be married when you actually are is rather gross as well, it might be the lesser of two evils. (Well, there’s the caveat that HR probably knows, but at my current employer, we’re so large that I can tell HR I’m married, tell my coworkers I’m not, and nobody would be the wiser.)

    1. TL*

      Depending on what the OP does, there may also be a factor of not wanting people to find out what “it” is.

      If she, for instance, throws fruit at people while insulting them, for their pleasure, well, people are going to have a double incentive not to let that get out.

    2. Anonsie*

      That’s what I was thinking at first– I doubt a client would out themselves in this situation, so it seems low risk. Then I thought about it more, though, and honestly I think it would be extremely easy for someone to just say they knew it without ever really being scrutinized. The stigma still primarily goes one way here.

      Her point about a client possible being able to look up personal information on her is the bigger concern, I think.

    3. A Bug!*

      “It” may not be intercourse or even sexual contact. “Sex work” covers a lot more than just that.

    4. Bwmn*

      I think that the legality gray areas make the fallout different – but I also think that even if the letter was written by a striper or other type of sex worker performing legal work – the stigma around sex work in the US is still very high. I work at a nonprofit where views are fairly progressive – but there’s still a relatively high amount of conservatism in the office culture.

      Depending on what kind of industry the partner is going into, I think that the more time the partner is in the industry and with a company – the better any kind of decision making will be. Like perhaps larger parties with client guests will never be a great idea, but smaller team only events might eventually make sense.

      1. TL*

        Also, if the OP is in Nevada, it may be one of those things that’s legal at a local level but not legal at a federal level. (Like pot.)

        1. Anonymous*

          What federal laws are in play here? My understanding is that this stuff is all regulated at the state level.

          1. Anon*

            The Mann Act springs to mind. Not sure if that’s just a plot device in old movies, though.

            1. Elizabeth*


              The White-Slavery Traffic Act of 1910 really does exist. Its purpose is to prevent women or girls from being transports across state lines for “immoral purposes”. It has had all sorts of creative interpretations over the years, but its most recent application has been regarding human trafficking across multiple legal jurisdictions, particularly with regard to minors.

              It doesn’t seem to apply to the LW.

              1. Natalie*

                They actually made the Mann Act gender-neutral in the 80s. I think it’s still technically called the White-Slavery Traffic Act, though.

    5. EngineerGirl*

      I’m sorry, but you are doing your risk analysis incorrectly. Risk is probability **times** consequence. You are only assessing probabilities, so are coming up with an incorrect risk analysis.

      I’d say:
      Probability of occurring: Medium Low to Low (due to the vetting process)
      Consequence: Medium High to High. This is because people are highly unpredictable and you don’t know how they’ll react in high stakes situations. A client that is trying to keep this in the closet may overreact and see this as a huge threat (the spouse knows! the spouse will tell!). When threatened to this level they may well try to eliminate the threat (lobby to have spouse fired, removed, etc.) How well does the OP know the clients? Can the OP guarantee that they won’t react strongly? Hence, a high consequence.

      Under the rules of risk analysis, anything with a high consequence **must** be mitigated. OP stays home.

      See, engineering is useful.

      1. jmkenrick*

        I love this. There is also the question of how much effort it is to avoid the consequence, which in this case, is pretty low.

        I just spent all weekend trying to break this concept down for my hiking partners in Yosemite.

        Probability of a bear breaking into the car to steal food during winter: Medium/Low

        Consequence: Really high (they destroy cars)

        Effort needed to avoid this risk? Aka, taking food out of car and putting into a bear locker? Very low.

        When the effort needed to avoid the consequence is so much lower than the potential fall out, it’s difficult to justify not doing it.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          Just as a side FYI, there are additional consequences to the bear scenario:
          * Guaranteed ticket
          * Bear learns that humans are a meal ticket. Time from when bear learns this to bear is put down? Less than 3 years. This is why rangers are happy to give out tickets.

          Save a bear – store your food appropriately.

          1. jmkenrick*

            All true. Bears are cool. Lock up your food (and sunscreen, and scented location, and old candy bar wrappers….)

            1. mander*

              And bird seed, hot chocolate mix, old fishing bait, peanut butter even if it’s in a sealed glass jar…

      2. BarefootLibrarian*

        *slow clap*

        I was thinking exactly the same thing, but you phrased it far better than I could have.

        Probability and consequences are certainly related but entirely different factors to consider. My rule of thumb: no matter how low the probability of the risk is, if the consequences give you the heebie-jeebies, better not to take the risk in the first place.

      3. Anonymous*

        Ha. I switched out of engineering after a year, so never got that far. I do math these days, and in my world, a lot of things come down to expected value, which oddly enough is the same math you are doing. But for me, something can have a really serious consequence, but if the risk of occurrence is really low, you live with it.

        To take something out of my real life experience: The consequences of an airplane crash are often deadly, but with a really low risk of occurrence, we suck it up. I guess you’re saying that risk management would say never to get on the plane in the first place?

        But yes, another thing you’re supposed to learn along the way is when to apply which tools to which jobs… Because then what happens if there is a high risk to the OP’s spouse’s career if OP never attends work social events? Your risk analysis suggest OP should go. So now you have competing objectives, which is perhaps why expected value might be a better tool here.

        And *that* analysis could suggest that OP’s spouse pass on the new job.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          Ah, sorry, you’re incorrect again.

          One method of mitigating risk **is** to accept the consequences. That is considered appropriate, as long as you’ve considered the all consequences.

          As far as the airplane goes, you’ve ignored the mitigation measures already in place:
          Seat belts
          Emergency evacuation lectures
          air traffic control system,
          cancelled flights on bad weather days
          choosing which airline you fly with
          then, in the end, choosing to accept the remaining consequences.

          As far as the OP goes, there are other risks in place. As you’ve stated a second risk analysis needs to be performed for the OP not showing up at the events. This risk is evaluated separately from the first one.

          The mitigation methods need to incorporate both risks. But yeah, I suspect that this might not be the “perfect” job if they can’t accept the OP and spouse for who they are.

          1. short'n'stout*

            The other thing to consider is the consequence of *not* getting on the plane – which is, you don’t get where you want to go.

        2. Kerry*

          I think mitigation means, make sure there are working oxygen masks and life vests, etc, on the plane, not never get on one. Mitigate doesn’t mean avoid.

          1. EngineerGirl*

            Well, it can mean avoid. That would be called “eliminating the risk”, because probability becomes zero. But that is only one choice. The point is, things need to be assessed with eyes wide open.

        3. AB Normal*

          “I guess you’re saying that risk management would say never to get on the plane in the first place?”

          It all depends on the circumstances.

          So, for example, if you had the option to Skype into a low-stakes conference call as opposed to driving / taking a flight to be there in person, it would make sense to do so (because even though the probability of the plane crashing is low, it does exist, and the impact would be high, while the effort to avoid the risk without negative consequences would be low).

          However, if you had a very important meeting in which joining via Skype was impossible or lead to much less chance of success, it would make much more sense to take the (low probability, high impact) risk of getting into a plane to be there.

          Risk is a combination of probability, threat, and impact, and that’s why you can’t just consider one of the 3 to make an optimal decision.

  6. Alexa*

    Perhaps the writer is being too cautious? It seems highly unlikely that a client would work at your partner’s specific organization. It could happen, sure, small worlds and such, but I wouldn’t shirk all events in fear of potentially running into a client. The client themselves would likely not want to be recognized and I think in these kinds of cases both people just give each other a knowing look and move on.

    1. The Other Katie*

      This is what I was thinking as well, that the client would be just as eager to keep it quiet as the OP.

    2. Adam V*

      Until you run into the coworker’s wife whose husband told her about you, and she’s okay with you sleeping with their husband because “she cheated once too”, and doesn’t take “that’s probably not a good idea” very well.

      (I’ll go find the link to that story.)

    3. Kelly O*

      I was kind of wondering about that too, Alexa.

      By that same token, going to the grocery store would potentially be awkward, given that you never know who you’re going to see.

      Granted, I may be a bit Pollyanna about this, but it seems to be all about risk/reward and how a client would react to seeing the OP at a work event with a spouse. Given the level of vetting involved, I’d like to hope the clients would be discreet enough to keep it under their proverbial hats.

    4. Jess*

      I doubt the client would publicly out her as you said, but I’d think there could still be substantial risk of a more subtle retaliation against OP’s spouse. I think that’s actually the primary risk here.

      The client may not want someone around the office who may or may not know their secrets, especially if the revelation of those secrets could damage their family/life. To go to work everyday wondering how much OP’s spouse knows, if they’d ever use it as leverage down the road, or if they might ever mention something to a mutual acquaintance…that’s a lot to have hanging over you on a daily basis. In that position, the client may not say anything directly to OP’s spouse, but there are a lot of ways you can undermine someone or damage their career without confronting them directly.

      1. Kerry*

        Exactly. The client isn’t going to “j’accuse!!” right in the middle of the Christmas party, but that doesn’t mean he can’t mess with the OP’s spouse in other, subtler ways.

      2. Lyssa*

        Yeah, but I would think that that would be the case regardless. There are a million different ways that a person could find out what the LW does and have it get back to spouse’s co-workers – it’s always going to be a risk.

        Regardless, assuming that spouse’s co-workers are a little bit friendly, people are going to ask what LW does for a living, just as a get to know you, so spouse needs to have some response ready to go. It seems like it would be a good idea to just come up with a PG rated, minimally white lie description of what she does and stick to it – for example, that she’s a dancer (while being prepared to answer what style and where she performs), a therapist, a masseuse, etc. If she runs into a client or something later, they’d probably be more comfortable (and less likely to make things unpleasant for spouse) if they could justify that they used LW’s “massage therapy services” (or whatever) rather than her sex work services.

        1. anon*

          I think “homemaker” would be fine. Just a boring housewife. Nothing to see here, folks. ; )

        2. Jamie*

          Life coach works – I personally have no idea what they do and most people don’t want to delve into professions where they think they will get hit up for contacts or clients.

    5. A*

      I agree. As a sex worker myself, I have run into my clients outside of work, and we’ve either entirely ignored each other or made eye contact and moved on. There’s nothing unusual about that.

      I do see where OP is coming from re: consequences for their spouse. And I don’t think that’s a completely invalid fear, but I also don’t think it’s something to dwell on. Worst case scenario, LW will run into a client at their spouse’s work event. That’s going to be uncomfortable for everyone, obviously. But if LW has a reputation for being discreet, their clients should feel safe. And they can contact the client (at another time! not at the work event!) and reiterate their discretion and professionalism if they’re concerned. If they decide to retaliate at your spouse even after that, then I don’t think there’s anything that can be done.

      And in future, when you’re screening new clients, require work confirmation to avoid any potential run ins.

  7. WorkerBee*

    It’s entirely possible that the clients don’t want their times with sex workers getting out any more than you would want your job to negatively affect your partner. You could simply have a “we never met” thing going on. Mutually assured destruction, you know?

    1. Elysian*

      I think it would still effect Partner’s work relationship with that person, though. Coworker would probably always be thinking “OMG What does Partner know?????”

      1. Bwmn*

        Not only that – but questions like what kind of sales rep/accountant/project manager/etc is married to a sex worker? And particularly if it’s someone who might be related to promotions/progression in a company thoughts that the person might not be a great fit with the corporate culture or other ambiguous judgments like that.

  8. Jamie*

    But if one of her clients recognizes the OP, isn’t that something the client/husbands co-worker would most likely also want to keep quiet?

    I don’t know anyone in my life that open and forthcoming about this kind of thing.

    Seems like if any one would have the upper hand (although assuming he’d be too decent to use it) would be the OPs husband if paths did cross.

    Or maybe I’m completely wrong.

    1. Joey*

      I would assume it would entail some lying like. ” I just stumbled across this by accident, but…”

        1. some1*

          I can see the co-worker saying they stumbled across the LW’s webiste. At every place I’ve worked, the link would get forwarded to everyone like wildfire.

    2. Bwmn*

      If it’s a client, that client could tell the spouse’s boss that they no longer want to work spouse “just cause”, because of general discomfort. And that wouldn’t exactly be a positive in the spouse’s career/reputation with the company.

      I’d play these cards really close to the vest until the spouse knows the industry/company more to feel as though they have greater stability in their job and knowledge of the company. The potential for bite back just feels too high.

    3. Mints*

      I think it’s true that if a client of the OP worked at the spouse’s work, (my grammar is weird), everyone involved would want to keep it quiet. But I also think that there might be some bias against the spouse, professionally, even if they never talk about it. The client might think a person married to a sex worker is untrustworthy, or shouldn’t be promoted, or even more subtle bias like sexist bias that people won’t even admit to themselves

      (Also, I feel gross too and I wish there wasn’t a stigma)

  9. Ruthan*

    LW, you’ve probably already considered this, but for a former client to call you or your husband out would be pretty awkward for them, too.

      1. Sara M*

        Yes, and if someone were angry and leaving the company, they might well want to use this knowledge against OP and her spouse. It’s dangerous to have an arrangement where “we both have a lot to lose” because things change, and sometimes one person no longer has a lot to lose.

      2. Anonymous*

        Not to derail this conversation, but do you feel the same towards drug laws as well? Some areas of society are moving towards decriminalizing simple possession but still prosecuting dealers. I just find it strange… you can’t really consume without a supply, and if you increase consumer demand, you’re going to increase those will to take the supply risk.

          1. some1*

            I have no problem with johns being prosecuted when we are talking about underage prostitutes and trafficking victims, personally.

            1. Kerry*

              That’s a pretty safe position. I’m sure most people who aren’t those johns agree with you.

            2. Joey*

              I’ve always wondered. Why in the hell is it called a john? Was John the first john or something?

                1. Ruffingit*

                  This is on Wikipedia, admittedly not the best source sometimes, but it makes sense:

                  The term john may have originated from the frequent customer practice of giving one’s name as “John”, a common name in English-speaking countries, in an effort to maintain anonymity.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I don’t think the OP is considering being called out though. It’s more the quiet retaliatory type actions that could happen, but that are not easily complained about because they skirt the line of harassment, etc. but don’t go over it. That seems to be what the OP is concerned with rather than someone “outing him/her” so to speak.

      1. Bwmn*

        I also think that issues regarding the spouse’s reputation could also fall into that quiet arena. The spouse being seen as “not a fit with the corporate culture” if there are opportunities for promotion. I think it’s one thing to have a spouse that never or rarely shows up to events – but to have a quiet secret in the company be that “this person is married to a sex worker – how could we ever have them around board members” might be more insidious.

  10. anon-2*

    I can’t comment on the social situation — BUT — I can comment on one thing – client confidentiality.

    If you are in the “sex worker trade” – I’m going to use outcall massage as an example. In fact, in some states, I’m told certain forms of , uh, activity like that are legal (do not construe as legal advice). Other things, like pole dancing in clubs, are legal nearly everywhere.

    If you have clients – and bump into them at corporate social functions or on the street — you respect THEIR confidentiality – they likely will respect YOURS. This is not unlike a doctor-patient relationship — where they often just say “Hi” on the street. Or a minister and a member of the congregation who may have come to him or her for counseling.

    1. Lizabeth*


      I’m getting the impression (and I could be wrong) it’s more on the BDSM side of things, which MOST people do not want to be outed in a social/work situation. People can and do lose custody of their kids if they practice BDSM which is consensual, even when the kids aren’t exposed to it directly or indirectly.

      OP, have you considered putting in a “clause” (for lack of a better word) when vetting clients about running into them socially, spelling it out that nothing would be mentioned by either party to maintain confidentiality?

      1. TL*

        I have that impression too. My understanding is that most people who engage professional services of such types are very discreet about their proclivities anyway.

          1. anon*

            Interesting article, but the ex apparently alleged a lot more than just that he was engaged in BDSM activites. I was just wondering if anyone had ever had their kids taken away for that reason exclusively.

        1. Lizabeth*

          I’ve “heard” stuff over the years, more word of mouth within the BDSM community so I don’t have the complete stories. I would google BDSM and custody of children and see what comes up.

          1. TL*

            There’s one or two I’ve verified, where somebody actually lost quite a bit because it did come out, but they tend to be few and far between.

      2. AndersonDarling*

        I was thinking that if the “appointments” the LW keeps are on such a professional level, then I would assume the clients would understand the professionalism. It sounds like a potential client needs to go through some hoops to be cleared- it’s not like someone picks up a phone and … well… “the pizza arrives.”
        A client who goes to these lengths should have a certain amount of professionalism invested in the situation.

        I also have to commend the LW for having the guts to ask this question. It is thought provoking.

      3. Anon for this*

        I kinda got that impression too, from the fact that the OP vets their clients and that it’s in the grey area of the law.

        I tend to think that’s a slightly higher level of protection there than, say, stripping, because most people involved in the scene tend to be rather private about it.

  11. Joey*

    It’s not really a perfect fit though unless they accept him (and by default you) for who he is. I think he needs to scope out the culture a bit more before he evaluates the level of risk. And then it really all comes down to whether both of you are willing to take the risk to find out if it is the perfect fit by attending. Because you won’t ever really know if its perfect until you do attend and find out it doesn’t matter.

    1. Jamie*

      I don’t know, this seems like one of those things that might totally not matter, until it matters because it’s gossip and people love salaciousness.

      Any of my co-workers could be married to any kind of sex worker and we’d have no idea and it wouldn’t matter one iota. But that doesn’t mean it would be something one should openly discuss at the Christmas party. If what your spouse does doesn’t matter than looking for a company which is specifically welcoming to spouses who are sex workers would really cut down his options.

      I think you can have a perfect fit professionally even if they wouldn’t be 100% accepting if they knew the unvarnished truth.

      Tbh, if everyone at work was a complete open book about things not discussed socially in polite society, we’d be giving the side eye to a lot of people with proclivities we don’t understand and very few of us would get the universal stamp of approval. Good thing it’s none of their business.

      1. Joey*

        Oh I’m not suggesting openly discussing it. I’m just suggesting he scope it out to see how risky it is for her to attend. Some recon if you will. Who goes, what do they talk about, is it the same people over and over, does anyone fit the profile of a client, etc.

      2. Ruffingit*

        I think you can have a perfect fit professionally even if they wouldn’t be 100% accepting if they knew the unvarnished truth.

        So true. And really, who among us knows the unvarnished truth about anyone? All of us do things privately that we might not share with others because of embarrassment or shame or what have you. None of us can know the unvarnished truth of anyone nor should we want to.

        It reminds me of the big deal people make over homosexuals in the military or the NFL. “Oh, how will people react to showering with gay men???” UM…there have been gays in the military and the professional sports leagues since the beginning of time. You just didn’t know it.

    2. Positivity Boy*

      Ehh, I might agree in other circumstances, but I think you’d be very hard pressed to find an entire company where the culture doesn’t involve at least having some reaction to someone being a sex worker. I mean, US culture as a whole is not very accepting of it. It’s not like being in a same-sex relationship, for example, where certain regions or companies would have trouble accepting it but there are other regions and industries where no one would bat an eye. I imagine it was hard enough for the OP to even find one person (her spouse) that accepted it, though maybe I’m underestimating how progressive people have become.

      1. Joey*

        Except that people don’t usually describe it as sex worker, stripper, etc. They usually use softer terms that aren’t as shocking.

          1. Joey*

            I’ve seen job titles like “entertainer” and “contract personal assistant” that I would swear were the rated G description of what they really did.

  12. Poohbear McGriddles*

    I can see a situation where the OP is at a social function with her spouse and is introduced to her spouse’s boss or coworker, who recognizes the OP as someone they have done business with in her field. If this makes them uneasy, they may work to remove the spouse from the workplace, assuming (even incorrectly) that she would tell her spouse. People aren’t always logical.
    Another thing to consider is that even if she avoids social functions, there is always the possibility that a client/coworker will see her and her spouse out in public and make the connection anyway.

    1. Anonymous*

      “If this makes them uneasy, they may work to remove the spouse from the workplace, assuming (even incorrectly) that she would tell her spouse. People aren’t always logical.”

      It is logical to think there is a chance that the sex worker would tell his/her spouse. It’s not logical to assume it will certainly or certainly not happen.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      I was thinking along the same lines.

      Even if the boss or co-worker doesn’t take direct action against the OP’s spouse, there may be some subtle bias and indirect consequences. And it would be very hard to tell if these actions were really a result of the OP’s history with the boss/co-worker, or just a coincidence. In fact, I could even see the OP’s spouse getting a little paranoid in such a situation. As in, “Why wasn’t I chosen for the ABC project team? Is it because the project manager was a former client of my spouse?!”

      1. Bwmn*

        This is what I see as the main problem. I work at a nonprofit where I can’t imagine my coworkers would be phased. However, as an outfacing person in the organization – I work with a number of other organizations where I’m 100% confident it’d be a huge problem (i.e. religious organizations). If I felt like I had to track whether or not I was continuing to work with these organizations as being related to my partner (or some other entirely unrelated reason), it could create a really anxious environment.

  13. some1*

    I realize this is different than running into one of your clients at Target since your spouse’s livelihood could be at stake, but wouldn’t you have some sort of discussion with your clients about, “If we run into each somewhere than we don’t know each other”?

    1. Joey*

      True, but I would also assume that the client wouldn’t want her to keep coming around either.

      1. fposte*

        That’s my concern, and, apparently, the OP’s. I could see a client being very nervous about a situation where his spouse would have plenty of time to chat casually with her, and it sounds like this particular organization is big on social spouse situations.

  14. David*

    How about thinking about it in these terms:

    Take the sex-worker aspect of it out of the equation entirely. There are plenty of fields one spouse may work in that have a stigma attached to it relative to the other spouse’s career. If you were the executive at a major health insurer and your spouse was taking a job for a non-profit advocating for health care reform, there’d be a stigma. If you worked at Cabela’s selling guns and your spouse was interviewing for a job programming computers for PETA, there’d be a stigma. If you were a coffee bean buyer and your spouse was interviewing at Chocolate Teapots, Inc., there (might) be a stigma. Stranger things have happened (see Carville/Matalin).

    Point is, I don’t see how this can be a “perfect” fit for your spouse if your chosen career could jeopardize/complicate/etc. your spouse’s, or vice versa. Seems like someone will have to compromise, and if that’s something you’re willing to do, more power to you. I don’t think being a sex-worker really has anything to do with it though…it’s more a matter of how willing either of you are to enter into a situation where you are potentially always on your toes to ensure one’s career doesn’t interfere with the others.

    1. Joey*

      Agreed that you’ve nailed the long term solution, but she still needs a short term one.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      I disagree that being a sex-worker has nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, the sex-worker profession is stigmatized by many (most?) other professions. It’s not like the OP’s spouse can shy away from one company or one industry to avoid the potential complications.

    3. Del*

      Yeah, I really don’t see how you can take her particular job out of the equation. There’s a societal level of disapproval that goes way deeper than the examples you’ve given.

  15. Mena*

    My first thought is that if your client works with your husband, he/she should be every bit as worried as you are about the knowledge getting around.

    And it is unfortunate that you need to be worrying about this but you are right to be worrying about it.

    I think your spouse should ‘train’ his new co-workers right out of the gate. “Mary’s schedule is very demanding,” etc. And have you given thought to how your spouse answers, ” What does your wife do?”

    1. NHNonprofitDirector*

      Exactly! This thread reminded me, I make a point of asking work event- significant other-guests about what they do for fun or for a living. Because I am always enchanted if someone at one of my husband’s events takes any interest in my professional life (it’s rare). It never occurred to me that this might make someone uncomfortable. But I guess they would be used to answering that question gracefully anyway.

      1. Jamie*

        There is nothing wrong with that question – it’s a normal question.

        People who don’t want to answer it should have something prepared and no one should ever push, but we can’t take “so what do you do?” out of small talk just because some people don’t want to answer.

        As long as everyone is polite and “what do you do?” isn’t met by “none of your business” but rather, “oh, nothing terribly interesting…what do you do/great weather/how bout dem Sox?” then it’s fine.

        1. Jamie*

          And not just because if we eliminate talking about work from small talk I am left with very, very little.

        2. some1*

          I wouldn’t press you if you obviously didn’t want to tell me what your career is, but I’m going to notice that you didn’t answer my question and tried to change the subject, and probably going to think it’s weirder than if you had given me some euphemism like, ‘Entertainment Consultant’.

          1. Jamie*

            I would assume they were unemployed and didn’t want to talk about it. A lot of people are in that situation right now.

            And I knew someone once who didn’t answer because the others in our group had jobs she deemed as more prestigious and she didn’t want to say she worked retail.

            Or they are in IT, medicine, accounting, or construction and don’t want to spend the night giving away free advice. :)

            There are so many reasons not to want to talk about it which are totally mundane that I wouldn’t think twice.

            1. some1*

              I was unemployed and didn’t have an issue saying that when people asked what I did. No one ever pressed me on it or made me feel bad — as you said it’s something most people go through in their lives.

            2. Sigrid*

              Seriously, I need to come up with a way to answer that question that isn’t “I’m a doctor”, because EVERY TIME, at least one person will then start asking me about the strange rash on their back…. Sometimes they even want to show me.

      2. Elizabeth*

        Years ago, when I did patient registration at the hospital where I still work, I was taught to ask “are you employed outside the home?” It doesn’t place a value judgement on stay-at-home parents or retirees, so it doesn’t come across as judgmental. I still use it in social situations, since it gives the person who is receiving the inquiry an out to answer in the negative, which shuts off work conversation. Almost always, I get back “No, I’m self-employed” or “Yes, I work at _____”, or something similar.

        1. Natalie Anne Lanoville*

          When I worked as a Volunteer Coordinator, I used to ask “What do you do for work?” which allowed for answers like ‘Take care of my kids’ or ‘Make art & sling coffee in my spare time.’

  16. HumbleOnion*

    Maybe this is the coward’s way out, but what about altering your appearance slightly for your spouse’s events? A wig, some colored contacts or glasses – just enough to cast some doubt on any recognition.

    1. Jamie*

      That’s genius.

      A lot of people have a hard time placing others out of context anyway and slight change of hair/eye color along with style of dress.

      The voice will be a tougher issue – that’s harder to fake.

    2. Jeff A.*

      Until the OP and spouse are out somewhere “not in costume” and run into a client/coworker and have an awkward encounter that now requires even more of an explanation…

      1. Anonymous*

        “Sometimes I dye my hair.”

        “Sometimes I curl my hair.”

        “I’m wearing contacts today, I left my glasses home.”

        I don’t think it requires that much of an explanation. Sometimes, people change their appearance. It’s not that weird. There are some people who do it all the time.

        The OP’s clients should presumably understand why she might want to keep her identity more secretive… and, since they’re not friends, they probably really have no idea what she does in her personal life in the first place. How would they know if she sometimes wears glasses or likes to curl/straighten/dye her hair?

        If they bump into a coworker, the OP’s spouse could simply say: “Oh, and you remember my wife, Jane.” I’m assuming that bumping into a client is not something that’s just come up now, so presumably they already know how to deal with it.

    3. Mints*

      That’s smart! Especially since I got the sense it’s something like BDSM. If OP has a style of clothes for work, she could wear something totally different, with a wig, and glasses. OP probably doesn’t use her real name for work, too

      1. Jamie*

        It still comes down to the voice, though.

        If she sees a client this isn’t someone with whom she once played racquetball – there has been some intimate and charged contact. I would thing a voice would be an instant tell. People’s voices, especially those with whom you’ve been emotionally or sexually intimate…at least for me trigger a visceral response.

        1. fposte*

          The OP also doesn’t say that she uses a pseudonym, and even if she does, there might be some obvious name linkage.

    4. Joey*

      Glasses and clothes yes. Colored contacts and wigs I think have the potential to draw attention. I don’t know how many time friends have commented on how cheesy colored contacts look and when they see a wig start debating whether its really a wig or not.

    5. Vancouver Reader*

      I had the same idea; if OP is in the BDSM world, it’s more than likely that she has “work outfits” that she wouldn’t wear on a day to day basis and certainly not to a company social function. And then to just change the hairstyle (wearing it down instead of up) and changing the makeup could change her overall look.

  17. David*

    (On another note, does every post have to get so hung up on pronouns in the comments section? It seems like those discussions always take things off track and I can’t help but feel some folks are trying to fight a different battle entirely. Sometimes the English language is inconvenient, we all approach things with biases and assumptions, some people are just lazy and don’t pay attention.)

    1. AAA*

      Not trying to get caught up, but there are some ways that it does make a difference. If the OP (who is a woman, as Alison notes) has a husband versus a wife, depending on the area where she lives this could be an issue in itself that compounds the sex-worker stigma. It just seemed like the OP was careful in her pronouns, so we ought to be too. Though this might just be because she was being PC or wanted the additional anonymity, of course.

    2. Heather*

      You wouldn’t correct someone if they introduced you as “David, [David’s spouse]’s wife?”

    3. anon*

      It’s pretty silly. Clearly, if the gender of OP’s spouse mattered, she would have specified what his/her gender is.

      And let’s not ignore the elephant in the room- the vast majority of marriages in America are between a man and a woman. Given this fact, it is not at all unreasonable to assume a women’s spouse is a male unless she states otherwise.

      But, I suppose it is technically correct to refer to a spouse whose gender is unspecified as a spouse, without specifying a gender.

      Keep in mind, OP started this whole mess, and later refused to clarify her spouse’s gender. Unfortunately, she created ambiguity where none was needed, which is why many people are now obsessing over the gender of her spouse.

      1. S.K.*

        How ridiculous to assume that you know anything about whether this “ambiguity” was “needed”. The OP can refer to their spouse however they want, and you know nothing about the reasons or motivations behind it.
        Isn’t the fact that we can’t control how people react to things the whole point of this question? Stop being so judgemental.

        1. anon*

          She created ambiguity where none was needed. She could have either (1) revealed her spouse’s gender or (2) clarified later in the comments section that her spouse’s gender is irrelevant to her question.

          1. anon*

            Or, (3), stated that she would not like to reveal the gender of her spouse, but that she would like to hear answers to her question that assumed she was in either a traditional or nontraditional marriage. Forgot to add that.

  18. TheSnarkyB*

    I totally agree with the advice, but I would place emphasis on a separate part of it. OP, you mentioned your desire to keep your own life private and leave the boundaries up wherever you put them, so I think that’s a great rationale on it’s own. As someone who works in mental health, where confidentiality is important, boundaries are also something I keep a close eye on. If I were asked I attend an event that would likely run into clients, I wouldn’t go. I don’t need clients to see me with my SigOther, or know the race or gender of that person, or know whether I was single or not, etc. That would make my job with a client more difficult when those topics come up for them, and it would make my private life feel less private, so I would calculate the risk and stay on the safe side.

    1. some1*

      I’d feel weird about running into my hair stylist socially with a friend or family member and saying more than a quick hello. I’ve told her more skeletons about myself, my circle of friends and my family over the years than I ever told a priest or therapist.

    2. Anon For This*

      Great point. Apart from the other concerns, which are very valid, OP maintaining boundaries with their clients is important.

      I’m not a sex worker, but I do have a semi-public persona as an erotica author, so I know how important this is. Once you’ve…”opened that door” with someone, so to speak, they sometimes feel they can take liberties with you that they wouldn’t otherwise. It’s wrong of them to think so, but it’s unavoidable. Men who would not harass a woman on a street corner can and will internet-harrass a woman (or someone they believe to be a woman) who writes erotica. They perceive us as somehow sharing a part of ourselves, or perhaps writing about our own sexual fantasies, and that’s an automatic invitation for them to be inappropriate. I can only imagine how much further it might go with a sex worker.

      I’m very careful with my privacy for this reason. Obviously it’s harder when someone knows what you look and sound like, and probably lives near you, but I’d keep the boundaries up whenever possible. It’s not just about the OP’s spouse’s career, it’s also about the OP’s safety and comfort in their own career and life.

      Just nothing, though, that the OP’s spouse will probably (unfortunately) need some kind of specific story beyond “OP can’t get away from work.” If they can think of a career that explains the absences, there’s probably no harm in a white lie. Before I started writing non-erotic fiction that I could reference when people asked about my job, I said I did “web content writing” and dismissed it as very boring, which usually killed conversations quickly.

      1. Kerry*

        Thank you for this perspective, I hadn’t thought about that aspect of it — the assumed familiarity/intimacy.

      2. Delurking*

        I used to sell adult novelties and this happened ALL THE TIME. People (usually men standing far too close to me) would try to take all sorts of liberties and ask me all kinds of inappropriate questions. It usually came down to a judgment call whenever I met a new person, asking myself, “Is this a safe person to disclose to?” I was really proud of the job (it involved a lot of sex ed and counseling, so it was extremely rewarding!) and loved sharing funny stories about it, but I needed my privacy because I was wary of other people’s reactions. The OP may want privacy for similar reasons.

  19. Puddin*

    What seems to be at issue is, who has the power here. It’s really not about sex. If a mail clerk recognizes the OP, that is a different scenario than if it were the OP’s spouse’s manager or business customer. Unfortunately, because of the high risk IF a high powered individual were to feel threatened by the OP’s presence, I would say stay away as well. This situation intersects sex, money, reputation, and power. All very heady and passionate subjects for a lot people. Some will stop at nothing to preserve their interests when it comes to these things.

    1. milton keyes*

      Well even staff in “lowly” positions as a mail clerk may have privy information. S/he despite being “low” in the org chart may have informal influence, or be privy to who knows what as it were. This could be based on longevity of work, who s/he is related to or connected to, who she is friends with, etc. It’s like the cliche that the cleaner or secretary is the next most important person after the CEO, it may seem weird but it’s perfectly legitimate in some cases.

      This is not to make the OP paranoid, but anybody at a given firm party, despite how high they are in the organisation, could recognise her based on the grapevine or secret details passed around. And especially somebody who provides sexual services for a living, given how human beings are in general.

  20. km*

    OP, I’m sorry you’re in this tough spot. If I were you, I would pick the option of avoiding work events (using the excellent mitigation tips mentioned above), because that’s the option that gives you the most control.

    If you go to the work events and you’re worried about being outed, you’d never know if someone recognized you in that setting, whether they were going to say something, if they’d say something directly or they’d use the knowledge against your spouse in non-direct ways, if they’d make up some other conflict with your spouse to try to keep their secret, etc. etc. etc. It just seems like a lot of stressful unknowns. Deciding with your spouse that you’re not worried about being outed is a totally valid decision! But if that’s not the decision you make, I think you’re better off choosing the option that gives you the most control over all the moving pieces in the situation.

    As an aside, Alison, the straightforward and compassionate manner that you handled the OP’s question is one the reasons why this continues to be one of my favorite blogs on the internet.

    1. Jeff A.*

      “OP, I’m sorry you’re in this tough spot. If I were you, I would pick the option of avoiding work events (using the excellent mitigation tips mentioned above), because that’s the option that gives you the most control.”

  21. some1*

    At my old company, I have it on good authority that someone was fired for moonlighting as a sex worker. I always wondered how they found out.

  22. Jeff A.*

    As a quick side note: Alison, thank you for tackling questions like this on your blog. I think it’s safe to assume your readership has increased dramatically in the last few years, and I imagine giving advice on scenarios like these could open you up to all sorts of criticism/backlash from or turn off some readers. But it’s one of the reasons I’m guaranteed to keep reading.

      1. Original Poster (yknow, the sex worker)*

        I’ll write a proper response when I get to the bottom of the comments, but I *really* appreciate this point. Thanks, Ms. Manager!

    1. businesslady*

      hear, hear!

      it’s also its own form of advocacy to take an open-minded position on issues like this. many people don’t bother to challenge their own pre-conceived notions unless prompted, & thus, end up harboring inaccurate, prejudicial, & damaging ideas about “the type of person who does sex work” or “illegal drug users”–or whatever “other” category they’ve inadvertently reduced to a stereotype in their own minds.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Absolutely. It’s the reason that I feel an obligation to be frank about my own stances on these issues. People sometimes think differently when they realize, for instance, that staunch advocates for marijuana decriminalization — and responsible marijuana consumers, for that matter — are all over mainstream society, well beyond the realm of hippies and stoners or whatever stereotype they have about it.

        1. Jamie*

          It’s because you pointed this out here that I’ve done this, too. I never chimed in because I didn’t think it mattered…but yeah on the marijuana thing when someone like me thinks it should be decriminalized the first question is always – omg I didn’t know you smoked pot.

          I don’t, I did in college a little bit but it gave me a headache and didn’t work for me the way it did for other people so I have no interest. I also have no interest in water skiing but I don’t think it should be illegal.

          If it gets deeper I point out why decriminalization would benefit me, who has nothing to do with the activity.

          The same with gay marriage. I’m not gay, my husband isn’t gay…and that’s the extent of the people whose orientations affect me. I don’t even have anyone close to me that is gay. But there have absolutely been people who make assumptions that I must be against gay marriage because they summed up my demographics (fiscally conservative, Catholic, suburban 40 something married white woman from the burbs who doesn’t get out much) and came to the wrong conclusion.

          I think it’s ridiculous that this is even an issue. Heck, when I was born there were still a couple of states where it was illegal for an interracial couple to marry. I’m incredulous looking back at that. I think it’s going to be the same for my grand kids, they will think it was ridiculous that gay marriage was prohibited.

          I’m not marching on the weekends for anything, but sometimes people’s minds are opened a little bit when they see people outside the expected demographic in support of positions, matter of factly stated, which don’t directly affect them just because they are logical and make sense.

          That was absolutely a behavior I changed because of AAM. I wasn’t quiet before because I was afraid of conflict, I was quiet because I really tend not care about what random people think…but when Alison pointed out how it can help change perceptions I’ve taken the opportunities to do that when they arise.

            1. The RO-Cat*

              Me, too, I had tons to learn, and your blog (and the community here) are functioning successfully as mind-openers for me. Hat tip to Jaime in particular, some of her comments made me re-think my stance on several thorny issues.

          1. JessBee*

            Me, too. I’ve never smoked pot and never plan to, but I support decriminalization. And helping people understand that we’re not all just potheads and hippies is important! (And similarly, that not everyone who supports decriminalizing consensual sex trade is interested in participating in it.)

    2. A Cita*

      Agreed. And I’m very pleased to see people tackling this question in the comments without being judgmental of the OP (which does happen from time to time here). It thrills me to see this.

  23. littlemoose*

    Yep, I think avoiding the work socialization is probably a good bet, if nothing else because people will certainly ask “So what do you do?” I don’t like to advocate lying, but maybe white lies are the best solution here – Jane has a busy an unpredictable work schedule (though again, people may naturally ask what that work is), Jane is caring for an ill family member, etc. Avoidance might be the least bad of your options here, and I definitely understand your concern. Best of luck.

    1. IronMaiden*

      The OP’s spouse could just say “Jane works shifts” from the outset when asked, to train coworkers not to expect her at work functions.

  24. Char*

    I don’t know if this sounds stupid, but assuming OP is female, is there a way to make yourself look different or give out a different vibe through the use of make-up, wig etc.I assume you probably put on heavy makeup at work (I may be wrong); so if you’re going to your spouse’s company party, you could go for another type of makeup look? Do something with the hair by putting on a wig with a different color or what – in this way you might just be a close resemblance to someone they might have met? I don’t really think skipping a company event that requires spouse to attend is a good idea – it’s like turning down a manager’s offer to go for team lunch? The company probably has a reason for such requirement, for e.g. to build stronger rapport or to promote work life balance?

    You could probably attend some and skip some. However you need to think (or lie) what your occupation is. Saying you work for a particular company may also lead you to being exposed if anyone knows someone in the company you mentioned.

  25. Not So NewReader*

    How has OP and spouse handled it up to now? (Not being snarky– this is a practical question. They probably have some SOPs in place that they can draw on.)

    I have a friend who works in mental health- some of the folks can get violent. Friend and spouse have agreements in place to handle these situations- which could happen in the grocery store or anywhere.

    I think this is the starting point for thinking about the solutions here.

    Additionally, spouse will know the names of his (her) immediate coworkers. So if there is a function involving just his immediate group, he can review the list with OP and they can decide to attend together or not.

    Perhaps there maybe times where OP could send a platter of food or a lovely center piece with regrets “I am sorry I cannot attend due to previous commitments, please enjoy this [platter/flowers/etc].

    I tend to confront things before they become a big issue. I wonder if spouse can ask the employer (once spouse has an offer) about this in a vague manner such as “My wife and I are concerned that because she works [long/odd] hours she will probably not be able to attend most company functions. Is this going to be a problem?”
    This way they know from the get-go. “Yes, I have a spouse. No, the spouse is not attending up-coming event.”
    Should this become an issue later on, spouse can say “This is why I brought this up before I started working here. I wanted to be clear and fair. My spouse will probably not be attending many events.”

    Tangent: Companies don’t think about the loss of the spouse’s time.
    If I was working 60-70 hour weeks and I “had” to attend my husband’s company event I might get ticked. I am not on his company payroll. This is an infringement on my time and cuts into my income. Their check compensates for my husband’s time, NOT mine.

    (I did go to my husband’s work events, but the events were once or twice a year. Not a big deal. More events than that might have worked into a big deal, though.)

    1. Zillah*

      The major issue I see with reviewing the list is that the OP likely keeps information about her clients – possibly even including their names – from her spouse. Not in a sketchy-sneaky way, but in the same way that a doctor or a therapist is unlikely to go home and start sharing intimate details about their patients with their spouse. Maybe a funny anecdote here or there, but they almost certainly wouldn’t attach a name to that anecdote.

      I don’t know if that’s how the OP structures her business, but it’s entirely possible that it’s the same thing… so going over the list would mean telling the spouse who the OP’s clients are, which could also get weird in a hurry for them.

      1. Original Poster (yknow, the sex worker)*

        Both of you are giving really solid advice here — I think that handling it up front (because, yeah, I think our Fearless Leader is right, and me attending is just ultimately too big a risk to be worth it) is probably the way to go, and Zillah, you’re absolutely right that I do feel I have a burden of confidentiality to respect, even though I don’t have any legal strictures on that. Unfortunately, as a number of people have spotted, a mutually-assured-destruction approach doesn’t really work, because a) my partner could be stigmatized without anyone necessarily having to come out and say why, and b) being a sex worker and paying a sex worker just don’t have the same level of stigma, especially when you’re not working with children or in politics.

        The way Spouse and I have handled this before now, is basically “not.” Spouse has been working freelance for the past several years, for clients on different continents (so coming to the office solstice party or whatever was a non issue), and before that, we weren’t hitched, so no one expected me to attend anything. As far as running into clients elsewhere , it’s a bit of a different story. A client who sees me walking around with Spouse at a museum might assume that we’re friends, or that I’m on the clock, or whatever (and knowing that someone you work with patronizes a sex worker is a very different level of problem to knowing that a colleague is married to one. Thanks, whorephobia!) whereas meeting a client at a work function while being introduced as a spouse gives the client a bunch of “definites” instead of a hazy “maybe.” And there’s the other side of the equation too — I keep my real name and details private from my clients, and so a client having confirmation that I’m specifically married to this specific person gives them a whole new set of data on me that could cause problems entirely unrelated to spouse’s job too (eg, stalking, publicly connecting my work name to my real name, etc).

        It’s really reassuring to be reminded of mundane explanations for why spouses might not attend workforce functions.

        1. Jeff A.*

          I think, considering the real possibility of your personal safety being in jeopardy (stalking, harassment, public outing, etc), I think this alone should be enough to persuade you to find a reason to avoid attending these functions.

          I think telling your spouse’s employer that you are out of town traveling frequently for days or weeks at a time internationally as a consultant seems like a pretty legit-sounding cover.

          1. Zillah*

            Agreed. I’d be worried for your spouse’s professional life, OP, but I’d also be worried for your safety! There are way, way too many people who think that they’re entitled to whatever they want from sex workers, and all it takes is one client to mention something in confidence to a friend for it to spin wildly out of control.

            There are definitely a lot of excuses for your not showing up to company functions. As Jeff suggested, your spouse could use traveling for work as an excuse, but they could also write it off to your having social anxiety/being an introvert, working odd hours, being very busy so you take what alone time you can get, having a commitment on whatever nights company functions are usually on… I personally avoid big social functions I don’t have control over because I’m very sensitive to smells, and even a hint of cigarette smoke or perfume in an enclosed space can give me a migraine. There are many, many legitimate reasons.

            1. Zillah*

              …. not that your reason isn’t legitimate! I’m just saying that there are a lot of legitimate reasons, so not showing up wouldn’t be a signal that there’s something atypical going on.

          2. Lynn Whitehat*

            I just came here to post this! For many years, my husband did do extensive international travel for work, and therefore was rarely available to attend my work functions. Nobody gave it a second thought when I attended alone and said, “oh, he couldn’t make it, he’s in Prague again.” “Aw, bummer, so how about that weather?”

          3. Turanga Leela*

            Similar cover story possibility: I have a work friend whose wife is an event planner, and I have never met her because she is always working when we have company events.

            However, “consultant” has the benefit of making it easy to use confidentiality as a cover. If someone asks your spouse what exactly you do, your spouse can say something like, “She’s a freelance consultant, but she doesn’t talk about the details–I know she has very strict confidentiality agreements.” They will probably think you’re in the CIA!

  26. KJR*

    This is a very interesting & thought-provoking scenario! Different line of thought here…but I wonder if a client did see the OP at a function, would he assume that her spouse was aware of her profession or not? We know that he is, but a client might not, and I wonder if/how this would change the dynamic at all.

    1. Zillah*

      This was actually one of the first things that crossed my mind, too. The client might well assume that the OP’s spouse doesn’t know – certainly most people I know would make that assumption.

  27. Mrs. Anonymous*

    I’m sure it depends a lot on the nature of these events, but are there really going to be big groups of new faces at all of them? I think that if some events are going to be mostly (or, hopefully, entirely) employees and spouses, then the OP should be able to go to one (or even send her husband?) and kind of discreetly confirm that there are no clients. If there are, then she should of course steer clear of them at the party and avoiding future events might be a good idea, it pains me to say.

    But if there aren’t, then maybe she can go to some of the events. If there are also bigger occasions with lots of clients or potential clients then she might decide to avoid those, but even going to a percentage of these social occasions could make it easier to skip the rest; she won’t be that wife no one ever sees, just a person who’s busy sometimes, like most of us. It might also be nice to go to some of these things and not feel shut out, although it would still provide a measure of caution.

    1. S.K.*

      I was going to suggest this – pick and choose a few events to attend with your spouse, but stay for an hour or less (either together, or spouse stays after you leave). Avoid events where you have to sit for long periods of time, go to portions where you can simply flit through large groups of people. That way you’re making an appearance but less likely to run into people or see anyone long enough for the connection to be made.

      On the other hand – I can’t really think of any profession where this would be an issue, really? How do people know you’re not having marital problems, or maybe you have social anxiety, or work nights, or whatever. “She couldn’t make it” should be enough. I work in a VERY social field with lots of events (media sales) but I have literally never seen the attendance of anyone’s spouse be an issue beyond initial curiosity. Some people just like to keep these things separate.

  28. Observer*

    There is another, longer term issue that no one has mentioned. The OP is in a position that has only avoided being busted because the police has not made it a priority. Unless this area becomes *clearly* decriminalized, that priority *is* going to change. The question is not “if” but when (and the catalyst). Maybe a new DA or police chief comes in and wants to make a name for himself. Or, someone decides to start digging for dirt on someone. Or a high profile incident happens that creates pressure on the police. Or someone gets himself into high profile trouble and lots of additional “stuff” comes out.

    1. Zillah*

      This is presumably something that the OP is aware of and has thought about. It’s also not the subject of the question, which was about her spouse’s work functions. We have no idea what the specifics are, so rather than get patronizing and presumptuous (which, IMO, your post is definitely edging into), why don’t we stick to the topic at hand?

      1. some1*

        Observer can correct me if I’m wrong, but I read her/his comment to mean that the LW may want to consider the fallout at her spouse’s work if/when she gets arrested or prosecuted — not that she should get out of the profession because her arrest or prosecution is inevitable.

        1. Zillah*

          But again, that’s well outside the scope of what was asked here, and is presumably something that the OP has considered. Assuming otherwise is very patronizing, which was a theme in the comment.

          The OP hasn’t avoided getting busted just because it’s not a priority for the police. She clearly said that she’s in a grey area, which is not the same thing as something-illegal-the-cops-don’t-crack-down-on.

          Additionally, the assertion that the status quo is going to change (not might, will) is absurd. We know no details about the OP’s work, nor do we have any information about her risk factor even if the status quo unexpectedly changed.

          1. Observer*

            A good part of the discussion is well outside of the scope of the original question. That’s never stopped anyone before.

            The OP clearly says that a major reason why she hasn’t run into trouble yet, is because it hasn’t been a priority for the police (and the rest of law enforcement.)

            It doesn’t make a difference what the OP does, for these purposes. Whether you recognize it or not, the status quo in these issues DOES change. Either it’s legal status gets clarified, in which case the OP is safe (in this respect, at least), or someone is going to go after it for one reason or another. She may never suffer legal consequences, being on the right side of this hazy line. But, the information WILL get out, and that’s the question she’s concerned about.

            The point – and relevance to the original question – is that if this is a company that cares about spouses, as it seems to, then they need to think about how they want to deal with this contingency.

          2. J*

            I have an extraordinarily strong hunch that whatever she does is in the something-illegal-the-cops-don’t-crack-down-on category.

            There isn’t much gray area in US law for sex work. It is either legal is or it is not. You know that Jiggalo show? The “clients” (actors) don’t actually pay for the jiggalos, because that would be illegal.

            1. Turanga Leela*

              Depending on the jurisdiction, I can think of a few gray areas:
              1) BDSM professionals who don’t engage in intercourse or other traditional sex acts
              2) sexual surrogates who use sex as part of a therapeutic process

              1. J*

                In 49 states, anything that falls under the legal definition of prostitution (which probably varies by state) is a crime. Most who practice (1) and (2) are doing perfectly legal things. Both groups should be careful, though- if they do something that falls into the legal definition of prostitution in their state, then they are doing an illegal act.

                1. aebhel*

                  BDSM, in particular, IS a legal gray area, though. It’s not well-defined in a lot of statutes, mostly because lawmakers tend to assume that there’s a generally agreed-upon idea of what does and does not constitute sexual contact…which, once you bring BDSM into it, is really not the case.

                2. J*

                  Again, it depends on the laws in your state. A lot of people would prefer to remain in the dark about the legality of what they are doing so that they can continue to characterize their actions as being in a legal gray area. However, the best course of action prior to offering sexual services for money is to consult an attorney, who can provide advice as to what can safely be done. This is a particularly necessary step for people who are contemplating offering their services as sexual surrogates or BDSM professionals who don’t wish to break the law.

                  It should not be very difficult for a skilled attorney to determine what crosses the line into prostitution under state law. Criminal laws are written to clearly define illegal behavior and criminal laws that are so vague they cannot be interpreted or understood are unconstitutional.

                3. J*

                  Also, anybody involved in BDSM has to worry about a whole host of other possible legal issues. Chief among them is the possibility of being charged with assault.

        2. Observer*

          Correct. Based on the description of the employer, it sounds like they care about what spouses do, and I doubt it’s just about legality.

          If the OP winds up in court, how is Spouse’s employer going to react? I’m betting, not well. And even if she never gets into court, it’s likely to come out, which is what she seems to be concerned about.

  29. Apollo Warbucks*

    Unless I’m missing something anyone who recognises you or knows who you are must have been using your services I would expect in the unlikely event you run into some you know professionally they are likely to be embarrassed and uncomfortable and not want to draw attention to their own recreationally activities.

    1. Kerry*

      You are missing something. As others have said above, the client could work behind the scenes to sabotage the spouse’s career, or something like that. It’s not all pointing fingers at the company party.

    2. Observer*

      Also, *if* the company functions include alcohol, there is always the change that someone who has had too much to drink would act without good judgement. So, no, you can’t depend on someone acting discreet out of self interest.

  30. CodeWench*

    If the OP is at the events, then other spouses will be there too and I suspect that could be a bigger wild card than the OP anticipates. She may be able to verify that a client works for a specific company, but I doubt she can make sure that her clients’ spouses don’t also work for the company. I would also be willing to bet that at least some of these corporate events are not employee only and are also open to the clients/customers/vendors of this company and possibly their spouses. There is no way that the OP will be able to know definitively who all of these people might be. Any of them have the potential to out the OP and will probably not be subject to the same level of scrutiny as an employee when they do so. Are you really going to ask the guy whose placing a $20,000 teapot order how he’s knows that Bob’s wife is a sex worker?

  31. Jennifer*

    Maybe the OP should be “in ill health” with regards to work. Because there’s only so much “my work schedule is really busy” that you can get away with before the boss REALLY wants to meet you at some point. “What, is s/he trying to avoid us?” And yeah, twin sister or wig/contacts/dye job/glasses doesn’t sound like the world’s worst idea under these circumstances either. I tend to think that if the OP ran into any clients, they would be just as motivated as s/he is to keep mouths shut, though. It won’t help them look good either, correct?

    In general, I think the risk of running into a client is less bad than the OP’s spouse getting into trouble for not doing the proper amount of spousal socializing at this job, though. It’s a gamble they’ll have to figure out on their own, though.

  32. Lucy*

    It sounds like people are focusing on the implications on the partner, as opposed to on the OP. My first thought is “no one’s going to spill the beans about this because they don’t want people to know they’re involved” but I think we also could be talking about a safety issue for OP.

    Say, one of her clients goes rogue (for lack of a better word) and she has to turn him away. Say that same client also works with OP’s spouse, and he knows it. Now that client has the potential to have access to her address. Or, what if one of her clients ends up being her spouse’s boss, and he wants a special discount or service that she isn’t comfortable with? That’s quite the tight spot to be in.

      1. S.K.*

        Having known people in this trade, the issue of stalking/overstepping boundaries is not a “what if” for them. It happens INCREDIBLY often and is a constant threat that they have to guard against.

  33. Tiff*

    Oh this is a good one. Personally, if I were the sex worker I’d take a “I won’t tell if you won’t” approach to the whole thing. From what her SO says about her profession to what I’d do if I ran into a client at a work party. We’re all grown now, and if someone wants to forget that fact I don’t have much problem reminding them.

  34. Lurker*

    If you decide to opt out of work events, I think chronic health problems might be a better excuse than a busy work schedule. Nobody’s going to question or give you a hard time about it (except maybe terrible people who would give you hard time no matter what excuse you gave), and spouse can easily shut down any questions with “it’s a private issue, I’d rather not discuss it.”

    Good luck, OP! This is a lousy, unfair situation and I’m sorry you have to deal with it.

    1. Isabelle*

      I agree with the health problems excuse. A colleague of mine never took his wife to any functions because she has MS. She gets tired very easily, can’t drink alcohol and also has reduced mobility. No-one ever questioned her absence once they were informed she was ill.

      It’s one of these situations where I would find it acceptable to lie. I don’t think OP should take any risks and they would be better off not attending any functions with their partner.

  35. Shamrocky*

    I wonder: could spouse give a ‘hybrid’ answer along the lines of: “My spouse works in a field where her services are highly confidential; otherwise, many of her clients would never seek the help they need and deserve. Therefore, she rarely attends social events with me. It’s a shame, but, you know, can’t change the world…”. My instant reaction on hearing this would be ‘she’s an addiction counselor’ and leave it alone.

    1. Loose Seal*

      That sort of makes it sound like the OP is Batman, though, or maybe Mrs Smith (Angelina Jolie’s character).

      FWIW, I’m a drug and alcohol counselor and see no need to hide that fact from my spouse’s colleagues or anyone else. Weird that people think that’s the job people need to keep under their hats.

  36. Penny*

    Couldn’t the so just say the op travels a lot or works odd hours and thus can’t make the events? That way, even if events are at different times or weekends, there’s a built in excuse. I wouldn’t even mention their absence unless asked directly.

  37. milton keyes*

    I don’t think sex work is immoral and it should be legal, but then if you’re compromising your spouse’s job, then you need to consider this IMO.

  38. Rocky*

    Excellent question and advice. As an ex sex worker I agree it’s best to avoid your spouse’s office functions. Unfortunately I once had a client recognise me while I was onstage with my choir (the client had had a bit too much to drink and called out my working name). Another time I had a regular client who got a bit obessed with me and turned up at my private address after a bit of detective work. The majority of my clients were gentlemanly urbane types who would never dream of broaching confidentiality and would pass me on the street with a brief nod – but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

    Now I’m a professional in a straight job, I do take pleasure in challenging people’s assumptions about sex work. However I always say “I understand that sex workers often find…” or “I have a friend who has done this work and she says…” In my experience if you ‘come out’ and personalise the issue, people get so distracted thinking “SHE? Did THAT?” that they’re unable to follow your argument :-)

  39. Rocky*

    Oh, forgot to say, it’s amusing to me how many commenters are assuming the sex worker is compromising her spouse’s career. I read the question as being about her safety and comfort as well as her business’s continued good reputation. Reading between the lines I think some commenters are very keen to find a reason to disapprove of the OP’s sex work ;-)

    1. Original Poster (y'know the sex worker)*

      Yeah, I caught that too — I find in “civilian” conversations, I don’t get a lot of traction in the value of my job to my family until I start using words like “recession proof.”

  40. Iron Thunder*

    I think the advice to stay away is a good one.

    To the OP:

    Not only is there the issue of a former client quietly angling to destroy your husband’s career… There’s also the chance that it somehow gets “out” that your husband has a wife who is a sex worker. The exact type of sex worker will probably get totally distorted by the company rumor mill. Stripper, BDSM, prostitute etc won’t really matter.

    There are some guys, like me. who will see it as a huge display of low value that your husband lets you perform sexual services for OTHER men for money. I would *instantly* have a much lower opinion of such a man.

    I would seriously question what is wrong with him that he would put up with such a profession in his wife. While I would try to be professional in the work place, (it isn’t my business after all) I’m not sure others would be. I’d say once found out, his career would be over at that company in about 3 months tops.

    1. Rocky*

      Gosh, Iron Thunder, I appreciate your frankness I guess. For what it’s worth, I would *instantly* have a much lower opinion of a person who sees something wrong with a husband supporting his wife in her chosen career.

      1. Iron Thunder*

        No. This isn’t a man supporting his wife’s career – I have no issue with that.

        This is a man who lets his wife fool around with other men for money. What kind of man stays in a relationship like that?

        That’s the question I would have. It would lower my opinion of him considerably and question his mental health, upbringing and moral values.

        1. Ndjjdjfifjdj*

          Ignoring the possibility that they may be in a perfectly healthy open relationship sexually, you are mistaken in assuming that the wife is offering her services as a mere prostitute. Based on the language used I think it is a distinct possibility she is offering her services as a BDSM Mistress/Dominatrix which would mean it has a very different dynamic than simply prostituting herself.

          Even if they are married and she is a prostitute, clearly her and her spouse are happy and have worked this out, it is not for you to judge just because it appears unusual, especially considering we are all at best speculating on her exact career.

  41. tpkatsa*

    Interesting debate on the grammatical topic of “he”, “she”, “they”.

    Correct usage is “he” or “his” by default unless we know the subject to be female. Note that “mankind” includes both male and female, but “womankind” obviously does not.

    “The captain checked his flight instruments.”

    “Captain Jane Smith checked her flight instruments.”

    Use of “they” as a singular is never correct, regardless of precedent. Why? If “they” were in fact singular, “they” would take “is:”

    He is a doctor.
    She is a doctor.
    They is a doctor.

    Obviously “they is a doctor” is wrong. “They are doctors.” But “they are doctors” can never refer to a singular, and we would likewise not say, “they are a doctor.”

    We do have a neuter singular in English – “it.” The problem is that we can’t apply “it” to a person without sounding very off-putting, and the language simply lacks a neuter pronoun that can be applied to a singular person.

    Perhaps more thought should be given to better express what is being said, rather than using “they” as a singular.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Correct usage is “he” or “his” by default unless we know the subject to be female.

      That’s no longer considered universally correct.

Comments are closed.