how to talk about past jobs as a former sex worker

A reader writes:

For nearly two years I’ve been a self-employed independent sex worker (mostly an escort, but I’ve also sold photos and videos and done some cam work). I’m registered self-employed in the UK, have an accountant who knows exactly what I do, and pay my taxes, and I chose this line of work because I genuinely love it so I would appreciate readers not criticizing my career choice.

However, due to the pandemic I’ve lost pretty much all my escort work, which was the bulk of my income. I’ve scraped by, largely with the support of family and friends, but things will remain tough until it’s safe to meet with clients again. To that end, I found a flexible temporary job that lasts until the end of April which will give me a bit of guaranteed income and also something to structure my days around. Lockdown has been beyond awful for my mental health and I’m struggling to do much more than curl up in bed cuddling my cats most days, so I’m really looking forward to a change, even if it’s not in a field I’d want to stay in.

My question is if you have any advice for fielding questions from future management or coworkers about what I usually do. For context, to the government I’m an “artist and entertainer” (not a lie, art is my first love and the reason I enjoy my usual job so much is that I have the time and flexibility to work on creative projects, and I certainly entertain people), and to family … well, my sibling knows what I do but they’re cool and a similarly queer arty individual, my dad and I have an unspoken “don’t ask don’t tell” thing going on where I only discuss the specifics of being self-employed (taxes, etc., as he’s been self-employed for over 20 years) but not how I actually earn money, and the rest of the family I give obscure answers about “modeling and performing” and try to change the subject very quickly.

Obviously I can probably use the same tactic I use for extended family for the short period of time I’m employed in this part-time job, but there will come a time when I want to make a permanent career change (not likely for a few years, because again I enjoy my job and it works perfectly for my artist/cat mum lifestyle) and I’m gonna have to start including my period of self-employment on my CV and it’s not unreasonable that I’ll get questions about what I did. Sex work is work, I believe that very firmly, but there’s a huge stigma still and if possible I’d like to avoid being judged for my consensual career choice at this point in my life.

Agggh, I really want to have good answers to this and I don’t, and it makes me angry that I don’t. The stigma around sex work is harmful and misogynistic.

However! I did an “ask the readers” post a few years ago on a similar question, and here’s some of the best advice from readers’ suggestions then. (Some of this is targeted to interviews specifically, but much of it works for non-interview conversations as well.)

• “I would suggest keeping some freelance work as a side gig. Diversifying isn’t a bad way to go for financial security anyways — there is always ebb and flow with self-employment (whatever kind of work), and it’s useful to have a fallback if your main gig is more ebbing than flowing for a period of time. That way, your marketing and other cross-over skills can also fit under your “mainstream” freelance work on your resume, and you have work you can talk about in an interview. It can be very minimal, just a few hours a month, but that’s not something you need to explain on your resume or in an interview, and it will fill that space on your resume so you don’t have an apparent employment gap.”

• “Freelance consultant or something similar would be a good example. It even opens up possibilities for talking (in generalities) about managing accounting, invoices, client conflict, etc.”

 “Maybe a personal trainer? That wording is pretty close to the truth. You don’t have to specify WHAT you’re training people to do. I’ve been a fitness professional on the side of my full-time job for many years, but I teach fitness classes (Zumba, cycle, sculpt, etc.). Personal trainers do plenty of in-home and in-studio work on mental and physical fitness, injury rehabilitation, conditioning, event preparation (like marathons and triathlons), work with special populations, and so forth. With the right wording, it could fit.”

 “Saying you were an actress could also work, and it’s probably fairly accurate. Unless you’re applying for anything in the actual entertainment, they probably won’t care enough to ask about specific roles.”

 On the question of what to say if you say you were an actor and someone asks what if they might have seen you in anything: “That’s easy enough to answer, though: live performances, mostly fringe/small-time work, so probably not. If you’re a good enough liar, you could even give specifics like ‘character actor in the local ren faire,’ ‘experimental theater,’ ‘performance art pieces,’ and so on.”

 “A freelance / self-employed ‘virtual assistant’ or PA, who worked for a variety of clients. (As an example, I’m a trainer, and there are some organizations in the UK that I work for and I cannot talk about what they do because it’s subject to the Official Secrets Act or because they deal with confidential / personal information about, say, children in care.)”

 “Since you’ll be doing advertising, bookkeeping, and such like that anyway, I might make a side gig where you do that stuff but maybe for other small businesses (I’ve been told self-employed tradespeople would appreciate that service) such that you have another income stream and also a more socially acceptable line of work to refer to. I freelanced copywriting at night while my kids were small and I spent the day raising them. I’m pretty confident not having that gap helped me.”

 “What about party or event planner? You are providing a venue and managing an event at the bequest of clients. If people ask what types of events say spa/ corporate; or whatever best describes your clientele. If you don’t want to discuss the ‘parties’ themselves, just say your partner was the host (or your alter ego) and you did more of the book keeping and business side.”

 “I can’t say how totally useful this is, because it’s more ‘a woman I’ve worked with tried this’ and not really close-hand experience, but what she did is set up her own company with a non-sex work sounding name, ie. Darkroom Entertainment or Yourname Private Entertaining. Then when she would discuss it she could talk about advertising, project management, creating fulfilling experiences for her clients in the arena of ‘private parties and entertainment’ as opposed to ‘sex work.’

According to her, while some people did balk if they figured out what she meant by ‘party’ and it may have cost her an opportunity or two, overall most people were fine with it. Basically as long as she gave people a vocabulary that didn’t explicitly talk about it as sex work they really didn’t care what kind of entertainment she had worked in.”

 “It would not be a red flag for someone to say that they took time off from the working world to focus on their family and they are now ready to return. And then elaborate on what aspects of the position you are looking forward to returning to. … I would assume your time was consumed with family (aging parent, children, disabled spouse etc).”

 “So, okay. I do a little sex work. And I have friends who do more of it, some of whom I’ve given professional advice to (I’m in accounting).

Personally, I do it as a part-time side gig (although it’s as lucrative as my day job). I run my main career separately. So for future employers there is no knowledge. That’s one approach.

Another approach is taking an entry level or easy to enter job when you’re transitioning out. A friend who did this as her job for years took a bartending job when she was starting to plan her exit.

Another approach is being completely up front about it. A friend who has been in a lot of porn and worked as an escort took this route when she was trying to transition into social media marketing. Boy did she have the skills and experience for it. She lives on the west coast where this type of thing is more accepted and she did eventually land a good job. But it took years.

Last approach would be to slightly conceal the type of business it is, with something slightly more mainstream. Sex therapist? I have a friend now who is a professional cuddler, no sex. Odd but gaining popularity, and something he’s able to post about openly on social media, etc.”

 “There are many organizations who either a) accepting or b) specifically look for people with this kind of experience. Most cities have sex worker advocacy organizations, sexual and reproductive health (SRH) centers and organizations, related research institutions that need or benefit from having people with the direct experience in their teams.”

 “In San Fransisco there’s an absolute ton of personal/professional services that advertise themselves as kink-friendly; therapists, lawyers, advertising, accounting, that kind of thing, just jobs where a client might want someone sensitive to kink-related concerns. If you’re going into a job like that and you know the scene is sufficiently large in your area, it could even be an asset? But that really only works in the, like, kink-hub cities of the world, of which I can only think of SF and maybe Berlin off the top of my head. It would probably work in LA or NYC? My practical knowledge base is limited but I imagine OP would know if that would work in her area.”

 “I always always kept a ‘real’ job, even just on weekends, when I was an exotic dancer, so that you leave no employment gap and so that you have a job to talk about. The best ones are the not ‘professional’ jobs but still actual jobs with employers, etc. For example, I would bartend or serve or cocktail. Those are jobs where it would explain not being full-time, only working shifts when you needed to, you can tell them you made whatever amount (I would say I made enough to support myself by working 2-3 days a week, because it’s believable, although I made much much more). It’s also one where a) you can get close enough with employers that they’ll keep your cover if they know or b) people aren’t going to do much checking up on the amount of money you made or goes you worked because it’s well known most of those types of employers don’t track that. The biggest thing is if you get a job at one of these places, don’t tell anyone where it is if they’re the type that will try to come ‘visit’ or snoop, in case you’re not there. But it’s always worked for me. For periods I didn’t do that, I had to make up self employment that I could reasonably pass as something that doesn’t require special skills or references: babysitting or nannying for family, dog walking for friends, house cleaning, etc.”

• “I have a friend who moved from pro domming into work as a real estate agent (home sales). It seemed to be actually good transition for her. There are a bunch of transferable skills from sex work – real estate agents often need to be able to intuit people’s unstated desires, or figure out exactly what they do or don’t like about a house when they can’t really articulate it. They need to get clients to be realistic, and figure out how to get from the fantasy version to one that’s available and affordable. Realtors work directly with clients, so they have to develop a rapport, and build their client base with word of mouth and referrals.

My friend (and yes, it really was a friend) was able to study for the test by day, and start her business off with clients and friends from the kink community. The by-appointment nature of the real estate agent hours would probably make for a relatively easy transition or overlap. And being mostly self-employed avoided the interview questions and resume gap concerns.”

{ 197 comments… read them below }

  1. Lucious*

    Perhaps I’m a statistical anomaly, but were I in a hiring role I’d hold no moral or professional qualms about a candidate who was a sex worker. In fact, depending on the role I’d consider sex work experience a pragmatically competitive advantage- for example, sales or client development jobs.

    Unfortunately, I suspect this is not a common perspective among managing staff.

    1. pope suburban*

      Honestly, this is my first thought too. Sex work, especially interactive roles (As opposed to selling prerecorded content, though there’s certainly skills overlap there too), requires being able to read people, respond to them, and handle situations that are suddenly fraught/very different than anticipated. Someone who has sufficient interpersonal skills to make it in that line of work can do a lot of other things- and that’s even before we start looking at their other kinds of work experience and their educational background. Sex work is a valid choice that teaches you a lot of things that can be very broadly useful.

    2. sigh*

      I wish more managers were like you. I had a former coworker who had done sex work earlier in their life. Of course it got out and everyone treated them differently. Management pretty much did everything to get them to leave (no promotions or raises, gave them the worst tasks, expected long hours from them, etc) short of putting them on a PIP (their work was too good to justify that). They did eventually leave after several years of horrible treatment.

      1. Wendy*

        Yep – it’s one thing to say “I would still hire you!” It’s another to go to bat for a candidate when you know/suspect that management would consider their past a no-go, even when it’s for a stupid reason. I’m sure this is a factor in why minorites of all types still have trouble breaking into upper management – YOU may see a great candidate, but the people above you might just see their own prejudices :-\

    3. Renata Ricotta*

      I don’t think I’d hold it against someone either, but it would throw me off balance a bit. In my career, all of my coworkers’ sex lives have been squarely (as far as I know) in the realm of “personal information I have no need to know anything about.” (Other than obvious broad strokes one could surmise, such as starting or ending a romantic relationship or being pregnant or whatever.) So it’s been really easy to keep that a firm boundary. It would take some getting used to knowing more about a coworker or employee’s sexual history than I usually do (again, even in broad strokes) because in this case it’s also their work history.

      Many people will chalk that up to just one of those mildly awkward things that don’t escape your head or get said out loud. But there are obviously still lots and lots of people who react with a lot more stigma.

      1. Rosalind*

        Do you feel like a coworker who worked as a cashier is letting you know too much about their button pushing life?

        Sex work is work. It’s a job.

        You’re treating it as something other than work. Stop it.

        1. Ellie*

          But it is different to other work. I don’t want to think about sex at work. I don’t want to think about coworkers having sex. And that’s going to be tough to avoid if I’m interviewing a former sex worker who uses those examples during the interview.

          I’d try not to hold it against them as well, but I’d also be a lot more comfortable if they employed the suggestion above about using an allied industry, or the party planning euphemism, instead of coming right out with gory details. It doesn’t matter if I figure it out or not, it’s just a more polite way of talking about it. And I’d have less concerns about them bringing it up with clients, etc. because they are already demonstrating good boundaries.

          1. Medusa*

            But I think that’s a “you” problem, not a “your potential sex worker colleague” problem. A sex worker in an interview isn’t going to give you examples of the positions they used with clients. They would just be telling you that they were in the industry. You don’t have to imagine them in the act.

          2. Well...*

            How do you feel about people who were therapists, marriage counselors, criminal prosecutors, reporters, actors, romance book writers, priests, sex ed teachers, activists or lawmakers? Literally all of those people may have work duties directly related to unseemly topics you don’t always want to think about during work. For example, would you feel uncomfortable working with someone who prosecuted a violent rape case? I don’t want to talk or think about that at work, but it’s ridiculous that just because someone else worked closely with that topic means I can’t work with that person.

          3. Kaiko*

            Most SWers are keenly aware that the “gory details” are not office job appropriate, and are not going to be sharing them with other people. It’s the same way most medical receptionists won’t share patient information as part of their interview processes, but can still speak to their skills on the job, or people working under NDAs can still talk about theirs.

        2. nameless*

          It’s disingenuous to draw that comparison. I get repeating the mantra and all, but people bring a lot more personal history and feelings to sex and sex-adjacent topics than they do cashiering.

          I don’t think that sex workers should be sidelined or disparaged. But it’s also not reasonable to act like no one can have anything but positive feelings about being exposed to sex in a non-sexual setting. There are plenty of reasons beyond discrimination or prudishness that someone might be uncomfortable with that.

          1. allathian*

            Indeed. And while discrimination is always wrong, it’s perfectly OK to be prudish! I hate the double standard when it comes to sex work, and I’ll certainly do my best to at least not contribute to it any further by disparaging current or former sex workers, but it doesn’t mean that I’d want to be exposed to sex, or even the idea of sex, in a non-sexual setting.

          2. JB*

            I think the disconnect here is that for the rest of us, someone mentioning that they are or were a sex worker is not ‘being exposed to sex’ any more than, say, someone saying ‘this movie had some sexual content’. It’s just on the level of acknowledging that sex may be a thing that exists in the world.

            1. nameless*

              I think that’s disingenuous, too, because even if that’s your and my personal view, it isn’t and doesn’t have to be everyone’s.

              Saying “I was an escort” is simply not the same as saying “I was a cashier,” and to pretend it is doesn’t help anyone. They are especially divergent in an interview setting, which necessitates discussion of past experience and therefore will be much more than “mentioning they are or were a sex worker” and leaving it at that. Even if the examples are not described in graphic detail, surely you must see how it brings a sexual element to an otherwise non-sexual situation.

            2. nameless*

              I think you are also overstating how many people feel the way you’ve expressed by saying “for the rest of us,” it’s no big deal. It really is not equivalent to saying “oh yeah, sex exists.” This whole question and dilemma wouldn’t exist if that were the case.

          3. Quill*

            TBH, if it comes to discussing work with someone who did sex work, my mental check is “would I be this uncomfortable in the conversation if this person was, say, a romance or erotica author instead of a sex worker?”

            Because I am generally sex-neutral, but I’ve been in fandom long enough that I’m desensitized to the idea that many people write, or read, porn. And I figure it’s a fairer point of comparison for my squeamishness about knowing what real people do that may involve bodily fluids than I’m going to find in most other framing.

            Trying to put it in the category of “just a job” probably won’t work for some people because a lot of people are carrying a LOT of baggage about sexuality, just based on being raised in society, and everyone has baggage about women and sex. (Literally everyone. Whether you’ve unpacked it or not.) And when it comes to social baggage, most of our daily reminders that sex is a thing that happens are societally normalized (people getting married, having babies, starting / ending romantic relationships, going to bars…) and sex work currently is not.

    4. Sleepless*

      I have a colleague who got his first job in an overnight medical facility specifically because he had previously been a bartender. The HM figured he had experience dealing with a fast work pace and various oddball customer interactions in the middle of the night.

    5. AMT*

      My first thought was that radical/queer nonprofits might be a great fit. As a therapist, if I were in a hiring role, I’d see it as a plus to have lived experience as a sex worker. I’m on a bunch of queer/trans healthcare listservs and you can’t imagine how tough it is to find mental health referrals for sex workers who want to work with someone who’s been there. So maybe looking for peer counseling/advocacy/social justice-y roles where this kind of openness is encouraged could work?

      1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        As a queer person on 3 angles (asexual, in a polyfamily, and NB), it is hard to find someone who has any experience working with someone like me, and even the two counselors I have gone two who say they are LGTBQA+ friendly have no idea how to handle a poly family and refer to my husband and “my friend” even though my partner has been with me for 20 years and the husband ‘only’ for 10.

        1. Quill*

          Oof. I specifically picked a LGBTQ friendly therapist and I STILL had trouble telling him I was aroace. And that was without the gender and poly stuff.

  2. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    I’m not crazy about the suggestions on keeping a side job. These workers are already working harder than average just to stay safe; feels unfair to expect they also hold a ‘regular’ job just to maintain employability and almost further invalidates their work. Likewise, describing it as a personal assistant (which was one of my first thoughts, tbh) or trainer seems like a possibly bad way to go.

    I would also shy away from the second to last example. There’s a very real possibility that this could be construed to indicate how much you need to live, creating an artificial floor on compensation that is much lower than otherwise would have been there.

    I do like the private party planner or an experiences service. It’s the closest without explicitly stating it, and you are providing a service that creates experiences.

    I would recommend private social companion. ‘Clients engage with me one-on-one for positive, friendly, and engaging interactions. I help alleviate social isolation and promote better mental health.’

    1. Ben Marcus Consulting*

      I forgot to expand on my reasoning for assistant and trainer! I view it as misrepresenting your skillset and a skilled interviewer may be able to pickup on discrepancies because of that.

    2. Ben Marcus Consulting*

      To clarify: Social companions are used quite often in healthcare. Many hospitals will have volunteers that will sit with patients that are experiencing long-term stays. It’s also not uncommon for people with disabilities to have a caregiver and a social companion.

      It’s not explicitly sexual, it accurately describes the role and your skillsets, and it presents searchable job descriptions that a hiring manager could derive reasonable questions from.

    3. AspiringGardener*

      If the OP needs to conceal their job history I definitely wouldn’t go with “ private social companion” – that sends of all of the bells and whistles for Escort work.

        1. Ben Marcus Consulting*

          Certainly other qualifiers would be better than private; freelance, contract, home-based. But social companion is a well established role within the US and UK health system, you may also see them labeled as caregivers, companion caregivers, or comfort companions.

          I wouldn’t blink twice seeing this on a resume…though healthcare is my primary industry.

          1. BubbleTea*

            I’ve heard the term caregiver as a catchall in the UK but not as a job role. I’ve never heard of any of the others. Carer or personal assistant mainly. Companion suggests Jane Austen.

            1. Kevin Sours*

              It also comes up in Agatha Christie’s works. But definitely a term that suggests an era past.

            2. TardyTardis*

              Caregiver is definitely a job role in the US–an agency was advertising for people to join them today.

          2. Liz*

            I think if you wanted to lean toward the health and social care angle, the term I would use is “befriender”. It’s a role that doesn’t require specialist knowledge, but draws on soft skills and personal qualities, which I’d imagine would see a lot of overlap. I work in mental health and while many of our usual services are limited right now (we’re 3rd sector and not considered a vital service) I’ve been providing a lot of phone support that often boils down to calling clients up for a chat to provide some companionship during lonely times. I’m referring a lot of clients to befriending services during lockdown.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        I knew someone who was a care companion, providing social interaction to the elderly and infirm. People heard “companion” and assumed she was an escort. “Caregiver” may work better.

        1. TiffIf*

          If I heard “companion” without any other context I would probably assume escort of some sort–but that is mostly because I am a Firefly fan.

    4. Letter Writer Cat Lady*

      So I actually do have years of experience in planning events and activities, but the last two years I haven’t been involved in anything noteworthy. I am really hoping that post-pandemic I can get back into running alternative/LGBTQ+/performance art events and those will absolutely be in my resume – any worries I have about outing myself as a sex worker don’t transfer to outing myself as a fabulous Goth galaxy of cats and rainbows and queerness because I’m very willing to throw glitter in the faces of those who oppose that

        1. Letter Writer Cat Lady*

          My personal favourite is the really fine glitter because it will NOT leave once it has made contact

          1. Tinker*

            I bought some glitter sunscreen because it sounded fun and took it on a self-defense camping retreat. As we were getting ready and I was putting on sunscreen, I realized that the glitter/sunscreen ratio was a lot more toward the glitter than I realized, and that the glitter was in no way subtle. However, I am quite light-skinned and this was in the mountains, so it was either sparkle or burn and I chose to sparkle.

            Nobody commented, but as the course wore on I definitely noticed that people I didn’t think I had touched were becoming fabulous. My own camping gear (as well as the self-defense equipment I’d brought) was of course thoroughly coated and despite what in some cases has been some fairly focused cleaning efforts it is still somewhat sparkly to this day.

            In the course of the drive home, I also glittered every surface of my car that my hands or forearms touched. It’s been quite some time since then, and yet just yesterday (for instance) I noticed a big glitter thumbprint on my parking brake lever.

            It is very nice-looking glitter. It’s festive and color-shifty and I smile when I look at it, and that’s a good thing because I will clearly be living with it forever.

              1. Tinker*

                Bare Republic “Diamond Dust”. I got it off of Amazon but I think that brand’s available other places too.

                1. the cat's ass*

                  I love this. Especially the parts about choosing to sparkle and people becoming fabulous. Thank you for making my early morning Friday!

            1. Filosofickle*

              I’ve seen glitter used as a visualization of viral spread, which cracks me up. You get it if you’ve ever seen how well glitter travels everywhere, even places you’re sure you haven’t touched or been.

            2. Sc@rlettNZ*

              I absolutely love this story. You’ve quite made my day – I shall go around smiling for the rest of the afternoon!

            3. Glitterati*

              You should turn this into a story for The Moth (or similar). This would make me so happy if I heard it at a storytelling event or podcast!

            4. allathian*

              Love this post! Just as well I’m working from home so my coworkers don’t start wondering why I’m grinning like Cheshire cat.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        If you do decide to incorporate, a la “Darkroom Entertainment” or such, consider your business name. I still, six years after buying my house from an incorporated exotic dancer, regularly get all manner of mail ranging from junk catalogs to documentation from the IRS and the state department of revenue addressed to “My Tits LLC.”

        1. Letter Writer Cat Lady*

          I use my legal name as my business name but oh wow, My Tits LlC is an EPIC business name

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            The first piece of her mail I got was from the state department of revenue, so all official, and I stood there in my driveway for a solid two minutes with my mouth hanging open going “what is even my LIFE right now.”

  3. Foxy Hedgehog*

    I think putting “performance artist” on your CV would be an acceptable approach.

    1. Jen*

      This is what I was thinking, it’s not a lie, she says she’s an artist/cat mum in the letter. Gives her an out without having to disclose her true work if she doesn’t choose to.

    2. mrs__peel*

      I agree, I think this sounds the best and is also the most accurate. Plus, if I saw that on a resume, I would be super impressed that someone was good enough to actually make a living at it for several years!

    3. Lets not name names*

      As a working artist, the norm for a CV is to list exhibitions, residencies, awards, etc. so just calling yourself a performance artist without these professional achievements would feel like a red flag or that you were just not successful at what would appear as a years long pursuit (no shame, it’s hard to establish oneself as an artist and it wouldn’t be the first person to try for years without recognition, however, not stellar to take up so much space on your resume with.)

      1. Theory of Eeveelution*

        I am also a working artist, and NO ONE outside of the capital-A Art World knows that being a performance artist would come with a CV of exhibitions. It wouldn’t be a red flag, unless you’re applying for jobs in the art world.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          All of this, plus OP doesn’t have to pretend it was a highly lucrative or renowned job for her – mimes and street performers and acrobats and party clowns are also, technically, performance artists, and I can’t imagine they generally make a ton of money or get invited to perform at MoMA.

          1. TardyTardis*

            “I was a mascot”–They’ll think you were Elmo, or Gritty, and that you *really* don’t want to talk about it!

  4. Letter Writer Cat Lady*

    I do that! I’m in the process of setting up a performance art troupe with a friend of mine (another thing this bloody pandemic has put on hold) and I truly love being ridiculous, challenging and naked on stage. It’s also something I have just enough anecdotes about to satisfy a casual enquiry.

    1. Letter Writer Cat Lady*

      Damn, that was supposed to be an answer to Foxy Hedgehog. Clearly I’ve spent too much time lurking and not enough time commenting here.

    2. ThatGuy*

      If you describe doing creative work like performance and visual art, and also admit that you never got your big break, most people will probably assume that you come from a wealthy family and have an independent source of income like a trust fund or allowance. You can even allude to that by saying something like, “I’ve been fortunate enough to have financial support from my family but I think it’s finally time to buckle down to more traditional employment.”

      1. Letter Writer Cat Lady*

        I have actually been fortunate enough to have a family that have supported me financially, as long as I’ve been making an active effort to support myself too. My dad has helped me hugely over the pandemic, but I don’t think he’d have been anywhere near as generous if I wasn’t also looking for extra work and applying to Universal Credit and generally trying to support myself – which I think is totally fair, he’s helping me because he loves me but he’s also pushing me to be as self sufficient as I can be which is where I want to be myself.

        1. Peachtree*

          I think performance artist is a great cover story. My only question is whether you could get a character reference for whatever cover story you use? It sounds like maybe someone you work with from your performances could say “oh yes I knew X, her qualities are Y, I’ve known her for Z years” where Z is the number of years you are out of the workforce? I only ask because I’ve seen applications where if you don’t have a professional/manager reference you can give a personal one.

  5. Wendy*

    I’m an author – I write M/M romance. I can pass, to all appearance to anyone who doesn’t know me, as a totally normal “soccer mom” type. I find I have different answers when people ask what I do. Some I can straight-out say “I write a lot of gay erotica.” Some I stop at “I’m a romance author” and let them decide if they want to pursue that conversation more. Some I feel like I need to stop at “I’m a writer” because it’s not worth my time to get into that conversation.

    I’m lucky enough to not HAVE to hide what I do to get by – I don’t have a “real job” to lose, I’m not hiding my genre from my family or friends, etc. I like to be out about it because I know not everyone can be – and I like blowing people’s minds in my very conservative (read: homophobic) part of the country when they assume I’m “just like them” and discover I can be white, cis, Christian, a mom, PTA member, etc. and ALSO be queer/kinky/sex-positive. I hope it helps some narrow-minded people realize that they can’t assume everyone shares their views just because we might look/sound/act like them.

    That’s a long-winded way of saying if you CAN be open about what you do, either in interviews or later on down the road once you’ve settled into a job and it comes up in conversation, it’s really nice if you do so. I think a lot of people don’t realize how incredibly common sex work is – I’m sure we all know someone who does or has done sex work in some way but doesn’t feel comfortable telling the world about it, and that’s a shame.

    1. DarthVelma*

      I used to proof-read for a publishing house that did gay/lesbian romance stories. It was way less exciting than it sounds. Whenever people ask about it I bore them to tears explaining about pronoun confusion and the math on how many different things you can actually mean when you write “He put his hand on his hip.”

      1. Wendy*

        Possibly – there aren’t that many Wendys out there writing M/M :-) If you’re on AO3 and are a fan of either Sherlock or Harry Potter, though, you’ve probably read at least one thing of mine!

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Yay! Gay romance is so full of bait (fujo and queer), dubcon and noncon that it takes a lot of diving to find well written content.

      1. InsufficientlySubordinate*

        No kidding. Finding decently written stuff in all the terrible stuff is a challenge. I’ve gotten so the first three paragraphs can generally give me at least a first screen.

      2. MsSolo*

        The collapse of the small presses that used to specialise in mm in the face of Amazon’s aggressive push to make self publishing the only lucrative option really cut out the best gatekeepers for good romance and erotica that the big presses don’t pick up.

    3. Eliza*

      Yeah, I can relate to this a lot. I work with companies that publish a range of content, including a lot of erotica, so depending on who I’m talking to I’m either “that family member who’s in digital media publishing” or “that friend who works on porno games”. It occurs to me that some kind of erotica-adjacent job like that could make a good “bridge” to the mainstream work world; I don’t think many people I’ve worked with would look down on someone for sex work, but at the same time it’s a job that’s easier to present as something that won’t offend the kind of people who WOULD look down on it.

    4. Quill*

      An aquaintance with two young boys was a romance/erotica author, and her sons had the best answer for what their mom did to make money.

      “Mom writes kissing books.”

  6. regularcommenteranonforthis*

    Man. Been a while. I’m one of the original commenters referenced here. It was funny reading this and going “Wait, was that me, or is this more popular than I realized with accountants?!”

    1. Another accountant*

      Hahaha! I had a similar expereince yesterday browsing through the comments of an old post and seeing one that really resonated – only to realise that I had written it myself.

      But I could absolutely believe it’s also more popular with accountants than one might think. In my experience accounting pulls in people from all walks of life just because it’s a good way to make a living and there are far more (well-paid, stable) opportunities than there are in a lot of people’s ‘dream jobs’ like, say, the arts.

    2. N. Parker*

      Y’all have seen the tiktok “I’m an accountant” compilations made by sex workers and others trying to deflect from their real ways of making an income? I’ll post the link separately, but if you google “I’m an accountant tik tok” you’ll find some. Awesome and funny series.

  7. Johanna*

    Assuming you want to keep them in the dark about your line of work , have a internet presence for it and its traceable back to your name somehow, I would stay clear of anything that would give someone cause to google you (i.e. Actress).

    Might just be me, but if I knew someone I worked with was an actress, I would absolutely google them.

    1. Letter Writer Cat Lady*

      I use a completely different name for sex work and it’s actually harder to find via Google than my real name (which only brings up my art website and Vimeo)

      1. nnn*

        Since the art is what comes up when people google you, maybe you could give prospective employers the impression that you’d been trying to make a living off of your art, and are now looking for something with more stability.

        Art is one of those things that some people somehow manage to make a living off of but it’s impenetrable to outsiders, and the skills involved in running a small business still apply (although it doesn’t emphasize the interpersonal skills as much as sex work).

        Also, certain socioeconomic demographics of prospective interviewers wouldn’t find it implausible that you lived off your savings while working to make it as an artist. (Not necessarily a narrative to lead with, but you could keep it in reserve for interviews where your interviewer is likely to see it as unremarkable to have savings.)

        1. Wendy*

          ++ good suggestion, would recommend :-) Art is also one of those fields that can straddle the line between hobby and job, so it’s entirely plausible that you’ve been making an okay go at it for a while (full or part time) but eventually want to transition back to a job with health care and a 401K. I’d be wary of saying you’re a performance artist – that can read to as negative (flaky, out of touch with reality, confrontational, etc) because the weirdos are the performance artists we hear about. If you have physical art you sell online, though, I think most people wouldn’t read too much into that.

  8. Some dude*

    I don’t have anything helpful to add for the OP, but I wanted to say how much it depresses and enrages me that sex work is stigmatized. I remember reading about a former relatively well-known adult actress who got fired from her post-porn job as a nurse because staff recognized her. The fact that her colleagues were consuming her work was totally fine, but it was too much for them to handle that she could have produced the work.

    1. Sigrid*

      See, as a doctor who is in the position to hire nurses, nursing techs, etc., my first thought when reading this letter was, “wow, if I had the opportunity to hire someone with the appropriate degree who used to be a sex worker, I’d jump at the chance. They are going to be SO GOOD with difficult patients.”

      1. some dude*

        Certainly it shows she can keep her cool and be professional in unpleasant situations and isn’t easily grossed out, which seems like it would be helpful in a hospitable environment.

    2. Verde*

      This. The hypocrisy of it is insane. It’s okay that we consume it, but it’s not okay that you made the thing we consume. This is everything that is wrong with the world.

  9. AndreaC*

    I would add, in regards to the suggestions listed in the post, that you’d want to make sure that you don’t give them a job title that’s going to have them asking to see a sample of your work (e.g. social media posts, video editing, etc.) unless you have something non-sex work to show. Of course, that depends on the jobs you’re applying for.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      IMO that’s so vague that someone is going to ask what that means or what you did in that job.

      The key is to be factual and boring and lead to a dead end so people don’t ask more. And not even in a malicious, nosy way. If someone names an innocuous sounding job but you’re not sure what they did, it’s perfectly polite to ask for details as part of small talk.

    2. Jstar*

      I think this one might be a cultural/geographical difference. Here in Ontario, PSWs are really common (as you can guess from the use of the acronym). They help clients, usually elderly or disabled, with day-to-day living tasks.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Good catch – PSW is a well-established term in some parts of Canada. It’s a sort of paraprofessional role below practical nursing, like the Canadian version of a CNA or a health care aide elsewhere.

      2. Ms. Yvonne*

        Yes, I am in Ontario, too – maybe it’s my location speaking. If you said PSW here, no one would blink an eye. They might ask, “Oh, so how’s that been with covid” but that’s just another opp to be vague.

    3. londonedit*

      We really do enjoy innuendo here in Britain, and I think if anyone described themselves as a ‘Personal Support Worker’ the first place most people’s minds would go to would absolutely be sex. I think that’s half the problem with trying to find something euphemistic – we delight in finding double-entendre, so trying to actually use a euphemism is nigh on impossible.

    4. Kaiko*

      PSW is also a known work category in some places – my aunt is a PSW and she deals mostly with helping those who need it to bathe. (She specializes in foot care!)

  10. nonprofit writer*

    Not sure what kind of work you want to get into doing, but you may want to consider nonprofits–some examples that come to mind are HIV/AIDS or public health, the arts/theater, harm reduction/substance use treatment & care, LGBTQ+ rights/health. At those types of orgs, you will likely find less stigma if you disclose your experience, and even if you don’t fully disclose, there is likely to be a higher degree of tolerance for periods of freelance work/creative work.

    1. Letter Writer Cat Lady*

      Art and LGBTQ+ services are the fields I care most about and would want to go into

  11. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    Life Coach? There are so many versions of this, it can encompass a lot of things. You can say you work with individual clients to help them figure out how to find their path to personal fulfillment!

    1. Letter Writer Cat Lady*

      I’m just not sure I could keep a straight face when I know that “personal fulfillment” means “orgasm”

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Well, that was the funny part. But you could also just say that you work with individual clients to help them figure out and achieve what they want. That you meet with clients in individual sessions, discuss what they are interested in achieving for themselves, and then discuss and try to implement ways they can achieve the goals they set! But yeah, it might still be tough if they start to ask specifics.

      2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

        It doesn’t need to be that! Some people prefer satisfying their partner(s) than themselves.

      3. Sun Tzu*

        Haha, that’s a good one!

        Speaking of suggestions, perhaps you can put your previous experience as “photography model”?

        Sending plenty of good vibes to you. Hope you find a fulfilling job very soon. Best of luck!

    2. Minhag*

      I’d also go with “wellness coach.” Coaching is a very unregulated industry and wellness is a very broad, therefore vague, industry. But wellness coaches meet one on one with clients (either in person or virtual), have to advertise to stand out a crowded marketplace, run their own books, etc.

      I’d be wary of saying I’m a personal trainer, simply because I’m not very fit and if I got hired, I assume my coworkers would start asking about muscles and nutrition and I’d be at a loss :)

      1. UKDancer*

        Wellness coach is a good one as it’s quite vague, non-specific and there are no particular qualifications required. I’d tend to go for that.

        1. Quill*

          If not MLM, I presume “white lady teaching yoga after learning it at the YMCA” which, hey, you’re advertising your business building skills, that’s not a bad thing! (MLM would be, though.)

    3. emmelemm*

      A friend of mine did sex work, and at some point she worked in what was basically a “massage parlor” (with quotes) where they would refer to their illicit services as “releasing your root chakra”.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Not good today you are a massage therapist though. Real massage therapists usually have to be licensed, so you don’t want to have to answer questions about licensure. Wellness coach and life coach are really vague titles actually.

  12. Former Sex Worker, Current Tech Employee*

    I have some actual points for how to get around this–artistic production is a way of phrasing it, so is ‘sex and wellness education’. I won’t go into detail here how I handle the issue, but I’ve been able to leverage it to my advantage by being vague in some ways and transparent in others.

    1. MiddleGenerationMillennial*

      I think the best route would be to say you’re freelancing as a catchall term, and then personal trainer, dating coach/consultant and/or private event planner depending on which are most applicable. It’s really not fair that the stigma against sex work is still so prevalent.

  13. Looking Forward*

    I used to do that work a loooong time ago I transpositioned to Human Resources. I had all the required stuff and rose quickly because I cant “read”people. Skill learned long ago. I love it and my first job was in a strip club as HR most people understand breaking in and all those clubs and fringe stuff also need HR.

  14. employment lawyah*

    The smaller the lie the better. “Artist” is a great one; nobody really knows what the heck that means, and it can fill any amount of time.

    1. Letter Writer Cat Lady*

      It is a very useful term to use, especially when you can make up enough artbabblecrap to confuse the listener into changing the subject

      (I have a 1st class art degree but my art is weird enough that I can confuse most people with ease)

      1. employment lawyah*

        lol artbabblecrap works like a charm.

        “I heard you were doing [sex work] is that true?”

        “No, not at all! I am an artist. My performance artspace story was designed to facially resemble certain behaviors that act in transgression to jointly question the social boundaries set forth by an oppressive system while maintaining an inherent inner separation of intention and realization of individual reality, and as such it primarily acted to challenge and deconstruct the fundamental discourse of the patriarchy, by…..”

        1. someone*

          My eyes glazed over about half way through that explaination and I was trying to follow along!

    2. Quill*

      “Local Artist” can be anything from people doing slam poetry at bars to someone who installs mosaics in houses.

  15. Amy*

    Don’t tell anyone. Can you not make out it was freelance work? If you can’t say you were a carer for a family member.

    1. Amy*

      I just want to add that harassment against women is very high and very little is done about it. I think if you reveal your job you will be at a much higher risk of harassment, especially sexual harassment.

      1. Canadian Valkyrie*

        But wouldn’t it be the harassers fault if they thought someone who is a former sex worker was an easy target or for some reason was otherwise “allowed” to discriminate based on someone’s past? I just don’t think the onus should be on the OP to his her past to avoid discrimination or harassment that happens any how just by being (presumable) female.

        1. Ilima*

          That’s true at good organizations but it’s still a big problem and so many harassers get away with it with no consequences (speaking from recent personal experience). If the OP wants to take a stand by all means be loud and proud about it, but if that’s not her priority and she’s concerned about discrimination she may want to be strategic about what she says.

        2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          Of course, but why line yourself up for that type of experience? A good company would shut it down right away, but it would still be a horrible experience, and focus the OP’s attention away from her work and career, while she has meetings with HR and the harasser’s line manager, and gets nasty looks from his buddies? She doesn’t need to position herself as an advocate for sex workers while also trying to build a new career, unless she chooses to.

  16. TBD*

    I just came to say… the idea about saying you’re a “virtual PA” or something? I have a cousin who does this and I do think she’s coming from exactly this point of view. Unfortunately we’re not close (in age or geographically) and I don’t know her well so I don’t KNOW it’s her sex work alter ego…

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I don’t know, maybe. I really associate Personal Assistant as an admin type job for a senior exec and not didn’t realize up until that the several people who suggested it are using at euphemism for sex work and not an outright lie.

      I think it might be boring enough that it leads to a dead end in the conversation which is what I think the LW wants in her current situation; although, “I was a personal assistant and stopped because of COVID” may or may not fly because presumably the big boss still needs a PA even during the pandemic.

      OTOH I think it can’t be talked about as I was a personal assistant for multiple clients at time without getting more questions and the skills for an Exec’s PA are not the same for a sex worker. If the LW is trying to hide the job while talking relevant skills, it doesn’t match up.

      1. JSPA*

        Well, OP is already listed as an artist and entertainer, so likely not that.

        Otherwise, sure: “an in-person, hands-on assistant for people who were in a sticky spot, and felt they could not handle their own personal affairs adequately”

  17. Boof*

    I am curious how it would go being up front about your lines of work. Yes I’m sure a lot of people still have a hard time with this, but given LW isn’t actually anticipating on making a mainstream career, it’s perhaps less risky for them.
    For me, personally, I’d be more curious than anything else, but wouldn’t pry unless it was ok (I try to ask first if it’s ok before inquiring further).
    These days the main thing I worry about with sex work is potential for exploitation of people who don’t actually want to be doing it, but are tricked/coerced into it some way (the main concern around legalizing prostitution here in the USA I think). If you did it and felt it was worthwhile more power to you.

  18. Here we go again*

    My only advice is to avoid the word care. I associate with caregiving. Like child care/ baby sitting or senior care.

    1. Wendy*

      This. Lots of suggestions for euphemisms that sound like “paid adult babysitter,” but unfortunately those types of jobs tend to be low-paid and consequently low-prestige – that may not be a problem for some industries, but I suspect people who would be snobby about sex work may very well also be snobby about someone who was “just” a caregiver :-/

  19. Miss V*

    So, back when I was in college (and dinosaurs roamed the earth) I did, not exactly sex work, but something sex work adjacent. During my first post college interview I was asked a question which was something along the lines of tell us about a time you took initiative. I was woefully underprepared for the interview and so even as my brain screamed at me not to say it I said ‘I made enough money to cover my textbooks all through college by selling my used panties on Craigslist.’

    My interviewer paused, blinked, visibly gathered herself, and then with complete professionalism asked me to walk her through the process. Did I do research to determine market value for “the product”? Once “an item” had an interested buyer what were the logistics of confirming the sale? And so on, all without her ever once using the words panties or underwear.

    I did not get the job, but surprisingly not because of that. The interviewer actually gave me feedback afterward and told me they went with a candidate that had more experience but that she actually thought my ‘sales experience’ was valuable and could serve me well and she suggested I reword it to (ie. don’t say panties, say personal items) and continue to talk about the experience in interviews.

    Which is all a very long winded way of telling the LW that I think a lot of the suggestions people have made are workable. You’ve gained a lot of valuable experience working with people and I’m betting you have killer instincts for reading people right away (any sex worker I know does as a necessity.) I don’t really have any more tangible advice to add but please know I’m rooting for you and I’m sure whatever you do next you’re going to kill it.

    1. Letter Writer Cat Lady*

      Thank you Miss V, that means a lot.

      Reading people is literally a survival skill in this line of work (which is a whole can of shitworms that it’s probably not worth going into right now, suffice to say I can read people well enough that two years into this I’ve not been assaulted or abused and I feel VERY lucky for that)

      More related to your post, I actually sold some underwear to a very polite client today and it’s very much my learned experience and confidence that have led to me a) restricting my clients to those who are polite and respectful and b) negotiating a fair price and sticking to it.

  20. Macedon*

    If you want a couple more couching descriptors: “personal event host,” “personal event planner,” “personal entertainment organiser,” life and leisure coach,” “entertainer,” “leisure and entertainment assistant,” “atmosphere model” — along with the previously mentioned “model,” “sex therapist,” “performance artist.” Like someone above said, I think actress is considered big-ticket enough that it might lead to googling.

    As for describing your activity, you could maybe say you “helped private clients discover, pursue and develop their personal leisure interests to achieve a better work-life balance over an average XXXX tailored monthly sessions,” “researched and acquainted clients, building them an individual interest profile,” “held regular XXXX-hour performances XXXX times a week,” “produced XXXX hours of weekly video footage /visual materials, using SOFTWARE, SOFTWARE and EDITING SOFTWARE.”

    To be candid: there may be people who will want to know the nitty and gritty of exactly what you did, but it will depend exactly on what field you plan to enter. What matters here is that your job is one where you have to have a very specialised knowledge of your client, you are responsible for a one/two/twelve-hour performance, you have to make and keep clients comfortable with their interests while they discover their personal preferences, and you also have to stay heavily organised and on top of your multi-tasking, since your work depends on bookings. Plug that.

    Separately: props to AAM and to the AAM group for taking such a sensible and judgement-free approach to this letter. Really glad to see this kind of supportive, sex-positive atmosphere.

  21. JSPA*

    More terms to have handy (verbally complex enough to sound detailed, without saying much):

    “Odd jobs–some odder than others,”
    “experimental solo and ensemble pieces,”
    “short notice / on demand fill-in,”
    “one-off and short-run performances,”
    “my sort of acting is as much sociology, sales and people skills, as method or talent.”
    “It’s funny how often they just needs a presentable warm body to fill a nonspeaking role.”
    “occasional voice work, but really, just snippets.”

    Do, if possible, prepare a very very short (SFW!) monologue or two (or if you prefer, a movement-based piece or some vogue-type poses) of the sort one might use at a casting call.

    If you get someone savvy enough yet pushy enough that they eventually ask, “sex work, then?” you can walk out (even if you both know, they should not be saying it to your face).

    Or if you do still want the job, your choices include

    “what an oddly problematic turn this interview is taking; shall we move it back on track?”;
    “do you ask that of all your applicants? [long pause]”
    or (archly) “was it Sartre who said that in playing a role, we are all prostitutes, in one way or another?” [so far as I know, it wasn’t; doesn’t matter.]

    Basically, refuse to confirm or deny; refuse to treat any inquiry in that direction as a serious or appropriate inquiry; refuse to let the interviewer get under your skin.

    1. emmelemm*

      “was it Sartre who said that in playing a role, we are all prostitutes, in one way or another?”

      This is an amazing response and I’m in love with it.

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      These are good. I think often having witty comebacks/replies ready just in case often helps me relax and not worry, even if I know I probably wouldn’t end up using them. Sort of like a verbal security blanket.

      Also, if someone DOES get really pushy and intrusive, well, you probably don’t want to work for someone who is going to be that creepy and punitive about your past. While you may transition careers, you aren’t really going to change that much as a person, and that kind of office culture would probably make you pretty miserable.

  22. Badger*

    I like the idea someone mentioned about event planning. Maybe something like: coordinated small business meetings and private parties for clients and provided quality customer service. A background as a freelance artist brings creativity and familiarity with XYZ.

    Leaving out the cam work you could include the technical computer skills and maybe include it as a general business skill.

  23. Spicy Tuna*

    I don’t have any advice for the OP; I just wanted to come on here and say I am a HUGE advocate for taxing, regulating and legalizing sex work. Sex work is WORK – it provides a valuable service to the public and an avenue to earn money for people. That is all.

    1. Got 2b Anon for This*

      It provides a valuable service to mostly MEN, and contributes to human trafficking. Sorry, not just like any other occupation.

      1. Letter Writer Cat Lady*

        You are talking about human trafficking. You are not talking about consensual sex work.

        If sex work was legalized, organised, protected, respected and treated like any other job, there wouldn’t be so much space for it to be an exploitative industry. If people could easily and freely choose to provide sexual services without fear of being “outed” or shunned for their choices, those traffickers would lose a hell of a lot of power because the sex industry exists because there will always be people who want an easy sex-for-money transaction, and when people aren’t given a legal, consensual choice they will turn to the exploitative ones.

        I have had many clients who have told me how uncomfortable they were when they realised an escort they were meeting with seemed to be pimped out by a shady “boyfriend” instead of being the independent service provider they advertised as being. Most of them left when they found that out. Because they wanted the fantasy of “attractive woman gets turned on by banging strangers”, not “woman will bang me because she has to”. I’m not saying the latter kind of person doesn’t exist – they do, and they need to be ejected from this planet – but when you reduce all clients to mindless, morally corrupt perverts, and all sex workers to controlled, exploited victims, you lose sight of the consensual sex work industry that frankly we should be working towards making the norm so that clients can make informed choices about who they do business with and sex workers can be safe because they don’t feel pressured to accept clients they aren’t comfortable with. Consent. Seriously.

        1. Boof*

          This is going on a tangent, but as I understand it, there are studies that show increased human trafficking in places where prostitution is legal. I do wish it was the other way around, and i would think there is some to do both, but so far, difficult.
          That being said, i still think the duty is to focus on stopping trafficking, not on enthusiastically consensual transactions.
          It does raise the point if what you do is technically illegal then def get your cover story down!

      2. JSPA*

        The point of regulation is to take it out of the realm of human trafficking by making it unprofitable for organized crime (or for that matter, disorganized crime). Same argument as for re-legalizing alcohol after prohibition. As for serving mostly men…plenty of businesses have huge gender skew in their customer base (from barbershops to nail salons to girdle purveyors to Mohels). Whether something is sociologically beneficial or rather not has very little to do with either the degree or the direction of the gender skew of their customer base.

        In this thread, the letter writer and a number of the advice givers state and demonstrate that plenty of bright, independent, non-trafficked, non-victimized people can and do move both into and out of sex work (or sex adjacent work) purely of their own volition and for their own purposes.

        When you post this here, it’s like posting on a thread from someone wanting to move in or out of bartending, alcohol distribution, or running a wine-and-make-art operation, to blame them for societal problems with alcoholism.

        Which is to say, alcoholism and the trafficking of human beings–for sex or otherwise–are huge problems. But claiming pat causal relationships between those things and “anyone who normalizes drinking” or to “anyone who normalized sex as a commodity” is a misleading oversimplification.

      3. Rebecca1*

        Many, many perfectly “legal” industries contribute to human trafficking. I recently had a training on this at my job.

        1. JSPA*

          yep, it’s rife in segments of the restaurant industry, and a variety of service jobs. Live-in au pairs having their passports impounded for “safekeeping”…basically, any situation where someone is separated from their support network, there’s a risk. Much of trafficking involves sleeping-on-the-floor-under-the-frier-and-not-being-paid-or-allowed-to-talk-to-anyone slavery, not sex. But unlike low paying fry cook jobs, sex work can command the sort of high pay for low hours that normally creates power, agency, a nest-egg, and the freedom to develop another career…unless it’s illegal.

          I’d also guess that people using the services are far more able to spot someone being coerced to provide sex, than, say, someone being coerced to clean motel bathrooms. (I care about the people doing the cleaning, but I don’t stick around to chat, while the cleaning products are in use.)

          And in any case, if the Letter Writer is selling used panties…I’m seriously doubting that there’s a lot of human trafficking in panty sales. Nor any of many other “adjacent” jobs. I’ve had friends who worked phone sex lines (before cams were a thing) because it let them stay home to care for infants or a parent with dementia (plus it didn’t matter if they bore no resemblance to a “hot tigress,” so long as they could spin a story well, and produce the requisite gasps and moans.

        2. sexworkisdangerous*

          Sure, lots of industries have human trafficking issues. Labour like fruit picking and many other innocuous issues.

          But sex work is not just a job. Many predators practice on sex workers, it’s just fact. If you want to treat a girl a little badly but you’re a scaredy cat about prison with a ‘nice’ girl, you choose a sex worker and you choose the most messy one. Happens all the time. Not a normal job to be practice for predators.

          1. aebhel*

            Yeah, because sex workers have no legal recourse to report abuse without risking jail time themselves. Because it’s illegal. Because they’re in a vulnerable position due to the fact that their job is illegal. Predators don’t ‘practice’ on sex workers, they assault sex workers, and they assault anyone who’s vulnerable (BTW, it’s really messed up to treat assaulting a sex worker as a different category of crime than assaulting a ‘nice’ girl).

            I was a housekeeper for a long time–in a pretty nice hotel–and it was so common for housekeepers to be sexually harassed or assaulted by guests that there was a whole procedure explicitly around keeping us safe from that. And even so, I don’t know a single housekeeper who’s never experienced some kind of sexually predatory behavior from clients or hotel guests.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  The LW clearly spoke of her work as a choice she’s happy with and was clear she’s not looking for input on that. Comments supportive of her are fine. Comments attempting to debate that are not.

              1. anon this time*

                the implication you’re making that ‘activists’ and ‘sex workers’ are two different categories of people is, uh, quite an assumption.

                were there times when I felt unsafe (or straight up was unsafe) when I was a sex worker? yes. would those situations have been mitigated by full decrim? some yes, some no.

                but have I had non-SW jobs where I was even more unsafe? absolutely yes.

      4. Miss V*

        I know a number of couples who have used sex workers as a third for a threesome. There’s less likely to be jealousy between the couple if the third is a business relationship and not a personal relationship. And a professional isn’t going to be offended if you ask them to leave after because the couple want to cuddle just them. As long as you treat them with respect and dignity and pay them their asking price sex workers aren’t going to be bothered if you don’t want them to stay the night.

        So they may mostly provide services to men, but not exclusively.

        And legalized sex work *decreases* the demand for human trafficking as well as making it safer for people who have been trafficked to come forward to the police. Why would someone risk being arrested for certain behavior (seeing someone forced into prostitution) when they could do the same thing with no risk of arrest (seeing someone who willingly does sex work).

        People in Colorado don’t illegally buy pot from a dealer, they go to a dispensary. Likewise, people in Amsterdam won’t seek out someone being forced into sex work when the sex workers who want to do it advertise in the coffee shops.

      5. Flora*

        You know, I feel like LW was fairly clear about identifying their work as a choice they are happy with and about asking for not criticizing that. Alison 1) printed the letter and 2) indicated her position also that sex work is legitimate work when it is not coerced work (to the extent any work isn’t coerced; lots of us use our bodies all day to engage in tasks we would not choose, but like, we have bills to pay). But what I’m saying is, you are not fighting the good fight here; you are breaching boundaries. Both Alison and LW have said they are looking for suggestions, and you are in here telling them how wrong they are.

        The extent to which legal sex work contributes to trafficking is not on the heads of sex workers. It’s because legalization frees people from shame to look for what they need or want, but there’s still a mother of a stigma and so demand exceeds supply until/unless we stop holding the double standard that buying is fine and selling is shitty, and create support structures which make the working conditions appealing to enough people that demand and supply even out. This is sort of (or exactly) like how it’s not the fault of people who work in restaurants that some restaurant owners bring in forced labor to round out the staff because they don’t want to pay for legit labor. Perhaps if we stopped suggesting this was the fault of people who are doing work they want to do and instead blamed, I dunno, people who are trafficking in humans? that would be a decent start.

      6. anon this time*

        if you eat seafood, do you investigate the supply chain all the way back to the production of the feed? when you buy clothes, do you track the supply chain all the way back past garment production to textile and thread production? what about the metals in your electronic devices or the materials used to build your home?

        trafficking and slavery are issues across almost all industries, but for some reason (who could ever even guess to begin why?) sex work tends to be the only industry where people bring it up.

        we deal with trafficking by targeting the trafficking itself, not by targeting people performing consensual work for hire.

      7. sexworkisdangerous*

        Sex work should be legal because that is the safest way for women. When we had a problem at our legal brothel we called the cops. The cops sorted the guy out and it was all fine. They sided with us. When one of the girls was attacking another one of the girls we had no problem again calling the cops to remove her from the premise.

        That said, a legal industry doesn’t mean a positive one which some people seem to think. You can be pro legalisation and not pro sex work, like I am. It’s a last resort. I feel I was mislead by the sex positive ideologues. The reality is even in a legal brothel with the cops on speed dial and a panic buzzer it was still an incredibly demanding and difficult and dangerous job I would not recommend to anyone. Most people are not elite escorts being 2 clients a night, they see 2-3 clients an hour, every hour, until the drugs wear off. That’s the ugly reality the pro sex people won’t face.

        It’s not a pretty job at all. Legal yes, positive about it no.

  24. Mandi*

    I love the party planner suggestion, especially if the new job is completely unrelated to party planning, and people in your new job likely won’t have mutual contacts that would lead to super specific questions. It makes perfect sense why that industry would take a hit during a pandemic, and I bet a lot of people would say, “Oh, cool! That sounds fun!” And then move on.

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes, I’m liking this one. A huge amount of the party planning / wedding planning sector has taken a hit with Covid so it’s not surprising that you’re looking for other types of work.

      Another one that occurs to me is something like “temping” or “agency work” which means things like being a receptionist. There are enough places closing / downsizing and sufficient turnover that it’s fairly plausible to give. Also it’s something that a lot of resting actors do in the down periods.

    2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      The only potential downside I see here is that many offices would love to have someone take over planning their office parties or similar events. If doing so would set your teeth on edge (or lead to something like that simultaniously sports jersey and Richard Nixon themed event of AAM legend), I’d recommend against saying you have experience in the area. (This is true of pretty much any recontextualization, of course, so whatever you pick should be something you’d be willing to get occasionally roped into doing at your new job, but I’m guessing most jobs need party planners more often than they need life coaches or performance artists.)

  25. Glitsy Gus*

    I think it’s great you have an accountant you can be above board with, and I think you should chat with them about this a bit. If it is possible to create a neutral sounding business that is a good way to go, and your accountant would be able to talk you through some of the pros and cons of that route and how to do it in a way that keeps you above board with the Feds.

    I have a couple friends whose primary income comes from sex work, and they both have established companies they use. One of them has a company that is for organizing private parties and the other has a business as an intimacy councilor (you may need to have some kind of certification to use that where you are, but usually such certifications are relatively easy to get should you want to go that route). One big plus of the business route is that, when you do decide to transition your career path, you can have the option of starting by expanding the scope of the company you already have. This can help you transition to continuing to be self employed if you want, just in a different industry; or having a neutral way to talk about the very legitimate business skills with a prospective employer without the potential awkwardness.

  26. Mystic*

    One of the more common ways of rewording it, that I see in my line of work, is Exotic Dancer.

    It’s really not fair or right for sex workers to be stigmatized…you’re providing a service, in exchange for probably money, it’s just confusing to me.

    1. londonedit*

      Not sure if it’s just the UK, but ‘exotic dancer’ definitely means ‘stripper’ here. Not that there’s anything wrong with exotic dancing/stripping/earning money by taking your clothes off, but if OP is looking for a term that doesn’t make people immediately think of sex work, I don’t think ‘exotic dancer’ is going to work particularly well.

  27. Misty*

    “I chose this line of work because I genuinely love it”

    As an asexual, aromatic and somewhat asocial reader: I do not understand you as a person.
    But it also means that between the two of us we undoubtedly bring two very different, very valuable skill sets to any circumstance – so while I have no advice, I wish you luck in finding a working solution here.

  28. Rose*

    What about phrasing it as a dating coach? I think you’d have a lot of transferable skills from escort work; you’re dealing with clients which is an in demand skill and from what I’ve read the skill set is similar to therapy. I would want to emphasize your work as someone who interacts with others and helps them feel good and connected to other humans, and gives an important social boost of some kind. I think “dating coach” kind of gets at all those skills and the nature of what you do. Its as close as I can think of to an honest answer if you don’t want risk bringing up sex (which to be fair is generally a curve ball in an interview!).

    1. JSPA*

      You’d have to stress that it’s all word-of-mouth (or they could ask for a website or brochure) and that clients are promised absolute anonymity (or they might ask for references).

      1. Rose*

        I don’t think you need to bring up the word of mouth thing proactively. That would come across strangely to me. I used to do something similar and no one ever asked me for a website. It would be kind of a weird ask in an interview; people aren’t usually looking for proof youre not making up jobs, they want to hear experience. The reference thing I would think most people would understand. You wouldn’t ask a therapist for references from people they treated.

    2. 'Tis Me*

      I was going to suggest interpersonal skills coach – that both in person and online, LW helps talk people through social situations and help them to read and successfully interact with others.

      “It started off informally, but word of mouth helped me get to a stage where it supplemented my performance work and art, and up until the pandemic I was able to successfully support myself. I helped people successfully navigate social situations with confidence, and helped them to decompress and unpack mentally and emotionally afterwards. I also helped them learn to read body language, vocalise their needs, and talk through potentially tricky situations, taking a lot of the stress out of social situations. This could be one-on-one in the privacy of their own home or involve accompanying them to events as a plus one.”

      Also, potentially having a response in hand along the lines of “Yes, I have been taken for an escort before! I personally don’t feel that consensual sex work or sex adjacent work should be illegal or stigmatised, which may have helped me navigate those occasions smoothly and with minimal embarrassment.” may help?

  29. nnn*

    Fanfiction: a bunch of sex workers get together and form an actual corporation for the express purpose of claiming it to be their previous employer when they’re engaged in mainstream job searches.

  30. Raven*

    Professional cuddlers are becoming a more accepted ‘thing’ in larger cities and certain circles. Maybe you could try that? You technically did cuddle your clients, just… in a different way than most people are used to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  31. Random comment*

    Your approach really needs to be based on the type of job that you are applying for. I’d recommend steering clear of job titles that you can’t back up, or descriptions that are funny of you know what they refer to unless you’re applying for jobs that just want to see that you can hold down a job. Making up titles that are misleading could very quickly catch up with you. Some of the titles people have given (carer/PT) I’d expect certifications and possibly government credentials. If you didn’t have those, then I’d assume that you were lying or operating your business illegally. It is illegal for me not to hire you for being a sex worker (where I live). It is not illegal for me to not hire you because you lied on your application.

    I think small business owner – entertainment industry makes the most sense on your CV. No euphemisms, no lies. Focus on the things relevant to the industry you are applying for. If you are asked for specifics in an interview then know before hand what honest answer you are going to give. That could be saying straight out sex work industry / adult entertainment / escort services, or deciding for something that allows people plausible deniability if they want that.

    The simple reality is some people will not want to hire you because of the industry you currently work in. Unless you are willing to take that risk when you meet people, you would have to accept applying for jobs that are unconcerned by a large career gap. Or moving via an industry that is accepting to create a recent career history to satisfy future employers.

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      I completely agree. Some of the suggestions would be difficult to follow through on, and I wouldn’t hire someone who lied on their job application (especially if it was a stupid lie that fell apart during the ice-breaker questions):

      – “So, how did you get into sex therapy? What type of qualification do you need for that? Is it office-based?”
      – “Oh, I’m looking for a personal trainer – can you recommend someone? Do you think Pilates or yoga is better for someone with a bad back?”
      – “Freelance consultant? What type of clients did you work with? What type of projects did you work on?”

      Because you only plan to make a permanent career change in a few years, you have time to build up some skills and experience to put on your CV. Is there anything you’re considering as a career change, that would also be useful to your current business? Perhaps social media management or event management? Do some online courses and see if you can build a small client base so that you have a few work examples and references. Even if you end up doing something else, you’ll have real experience to talk about, instead of having to bluff your way through it.

      Good luck!

  32. sexworkisdangerous*

    Virtual PA is a good one. Do a bit of research and pick a company and know a few ins and outs to answer questions. Or say carer to a family member who has now recovered. My mistake was to say freelancer but the industry I freelanced in was notoriously low paying which then raised more questions on how did I live?

    As for pro-sex work…yeah some of you drink the Kool aid on that one. Sex work should be legal as that is the safest way for workers. But it should not have the positivity some attach to it. I worked in the legalised industry and it was still incredibly dangerous, attracted messed up people (clients and workers), heaps of drugs, crime and more. It’s an ugly last resort we need to keep safe for the vulnerable, it’s not to be promoted as a viable career.

    Too often the slim minority of well paid attractive educated middle class white escorts dominate the conversation. The drug addled girls seeing 15 rough men a day are not usually activists or their voices get shut down. The reality is turning over clients every 30 minutes who are rough and don’t pay a lot in an environment of bitchiness, drugs and crime. Don’t be sold on Pretty Woman, that’s only the top % of girls live like that.

    Legal yes, positivity attached – defiantly not.

  33. Cameron*

    I worked as an escort to pay for University. I don’t mention it specifically but if I was going to I would say i worked as a personal carer (there was definitely overlap).

  34. nnn*

    Further to the idea of having a mainstream side gig for appearances and the issue of the burden of having to do extra unnecessary work just to keep up those appearances despite your already-demanding job of being a sex worker, is it possible to sign up for some kind of gig economy job (like delivering for Uber Eats) and then just . . . not work very much, or at all? I’m not 100% sure of the logistics, but I have the impression that they can chose when to work and aren’t beholden to any specific hours.

    On paper, it would look exactly like you ran into hard times as an arts worker during the pandemic (which happened to so many people!) so you took up delivering food to make ends meet (super common during the pandemic!) and the experience left you wanting employment with more stability.

  35. Yayaya*

    No insights or advice, but a big thank you for having a blog and community that supports discussions of sex work as work!

  36. Lifeandlimb*

    I think you’ll want to tailor your resume according to your future job applications. People who work in entertainment, for instance, might be curious and ask questions about your past work if you list “Actor.” But for a lot of industries, a role without much licensure and areas of cross-referencing will work.
    – Actor (experimental / local / indie theater / events)
    – Party / club promoter (this is something a lot of my friends did for a while in their 20s and 30s and doesn’t have job requirements, and almost no one cares who you worked for because everyone worked for like 20 different clubs)
    – Life coach

  37. raincoaster*

    Alison, I know you like doing interviews with subject area experts. Maybe you could do one with someone from the International Union of Sex Workers on this very question. During the pandemic lots of people have tried sex work of one kind or another, so the answers will be relevant to a lot more people than they usually would.

  38. The UnWoke Feminist*

    It’s fascinating how 99% of people here (including Alison) will be all “sex talk is inappropriate for the workplace always” and in the same breath condemn the horribly misogynistic world that requires sex workers to hide their occupation and NOT talk about having sex for money at work. Yeah, yeah, all of you would TOTALLY be comfortable hiring prostitutes in your firms and have them tell tales of their former job, because if Janet the ex-accountant can, so can Ginny the ex-escort ::eye roll::

    1. Quill*

      If you’ll read back, Allison’s stance on sex at the office has always been “never appropriate unless the industry has to do with it, even then approach in a businesslike fashion.”

      Also, on a subject people are similarly squeamish about, I would presume that most people who have done sex work have a good handle on what details are work appropriate and which aren’t, just like I don’t tell my coworkers about my former job with human biosamples over coffee.

  39. Smilingswan*

    Maybe promoter? I have a friend who does product promotions for alcohol and such. She promotes things at stores and at private parties. This seems really adjacent to a lot of skills the op might have acquired.

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