Q I'm a 24-year-old gay male with few resources and no "marketable" skills. I have made a lot of bad choices and now I struggle to make ends meet in a crappy dead-end job, living paycheque to paycheque in an expensive east coast city. Recently, someone on Grindr offered me $3,000 to have sex with him. He is homely and nearly three times my age, but he seems kind and respectful. I could really use that money. I have no moral opposition to prostitution, but the few friends I've spoken to were horrified. Part of me agrees and thinks this is a really bad idea and I'll regret it. But there's another part of me that figures, hey, it's just sex—and I've done more humiliating things for a lot less money. It makes me sad to think the only way I can make money is prostituting myself, because my looks aren't going to last forever. And let's face it: Prostitution is an ugly and messy business, and it wouldn't impress a potential future employer. —Stressed Over Taking Elderly Man's Payment To Eat Dick
A I shared your letter with Eric Sprankle, an assistant professor of psychology at Minnesota State University and a licensed clinical psychologist. "This young man is distressed that he may have to resort to 'prostituting himself,' which suggests he, like most people, views sex work as the selling of one's body or the selling of oneself," says Dr. Sprankle, who tweets about sexual health, the rights of sex workers and secularism @DrSprankle.
But you wouldn't be selling yourself or your body, SOTEMPTED, you would be selling access to your body—temporary access—and whatever particular kind of sex you consented to have with this man in exchange for his money. "Sex work is the sale of a service," says Sprankle. "The service may involve specific body parts that aren't typically involved in most industries, but it is unequivocally a service labour industry. Just as massage therapists aren't selling their hands or themselves when working out the kinks of some wealthy older client, sex workers are merely selling physical and emotional labour."
Massage therapists who haaaaate seeing their occupation referenced in conversations about sex work—all those hardworking, never-jerking massage therapists—might wanna check their privilege, as all the cool kids are saying these days. "Massage therapists have the privilege of not worrying about being shamed and shunned by friends," says Sprankle, "and not worrying about being arrested for violating archaic laws." You will have to worry about shame, stigma, and arrest if you decide to go ahead with this, SOTEMPTED.
"He will have to be selective about whom he shares his work experiences with and may have to keep it a lifelong secret from family and co-workers," says Sprankle. "This could feel isolating and inauthentic. And while I am not aware of any empirical evidence to suggest men who enter sex work in this manner later regret their decision, this young man's friends have already given him a glimpse of the unfortunate double standard social stigma of pursuing this work."
Because I'm a full-service sex-advice professional, SOTEMPTED, I also shared your letter with a couple of guys who've actually done sex work—one a bona fide sex worker, the other a sexual adventurer.
"I was struck by the words SOTEMPTED used to describe sex work: ugly, messy, humiliating," says Mike Crawford, a sex worker, sex-workers-rights activist and self-identified "cashsexual" who tweets @BringMeTheAx. "For many of us, it's actually nothing like that. When you strip away the moralizing and misinformation, sex work is simply a job that provides a valuable service to your clients. Humiliation or mess can be involved—if that's what gets them off—but there is absolutely nothing inherently ugly or degrading about the work itself."
What about regrets? "It's true that he could wind up regretting doing the paid-sex thing," says Crawford. "Then again, there's a chance of regret in almost any hookup. Lots of people who didn't get paid for sex wind up having post-fuck regrets. I'd also encourage him to consider the possibility that he might look back and regret not taking the plunge. I've met plenty of sex workers over the years who wish they had started sooner."
"I don't regret it," says Philip, a reader who sent me a question about wanting to experience getting paid for sex and later took the plunge. "I felt like I was in the power position. And in the moment, it wasn't distressing. Just be sure to negotiate everything in advance—what's on the table and what's not—and be very clear about expectations and limits."
Philip, who is bisexual, wound up being paid for sex by two guys. Both were older, both were more nervous than he was and neither were lookers. "But you don't really look," says Philip. "You close your eyes, you detach yourself from yourself—it is like meta-sex, like watching yourself having sex."
You may find detaching from yourself in that way to be emotionally unpleasant or even exhausting, SOTEMPTED, but not everyone does. If your first experience goes well and you decide to see this particular guy again or start doing sex work regularly, pay close attention to your emotions and your health. If you don't enjoy the actual work of sex work, or if you find it emotionally unpleasant or exhausting, stop doing sex work.
It has to be said that there are plenty of people out there who regret doing sex work—their stories aren't hard to find, as activists who want sex work to remain illegal are constantly promoting them. But feelings of regret aren't unique to sex work, and people who do regret doing sex work often cite the consequences of its illegality (police harassment, criminal record) as chief among their regrets.
One last piece of advice from Mike Crawford: "There is a pretty glaring red flag here: $3,000 is a really, really steep price for a single date. I'm not implying that SOTEMPTED isn't worth it, but the old 'If it sounds too good to be true' adage definitely applies in sex work. Should he decide to do this, he needs to screen carefully before agreeing to meet in person. The safety resources on the Sex Workers Outreach Project website (swopusa.org) are a great place for him to learn how to do just that."