‘My area of work is very empowering to individuals in any situation. We get to be in control of our image, our schedule, our bodies.’
Upon first meeting Sarah, I never would have guessed that she was a sex-worker. In our rather conservative society, it is not every day that subjects such as this even come up in conversation.
It was my second week in Berlin. I was attending a small meet-up at the Berlinale Film Festival, if nothing more than to temporarily enjoy an evening of human interaction with other newbies. A seemingly quiet, reserved girl said ‘Hello’ to me sweetly and sat down next to me. We chatted about trivial matters. Following the linear course that these conversations usually take, we approached the ‘What do you do?’ topic. Her response was that she was a ‘sex-worker’; that she made video clips and had relationships with men over the internet.
The term ‘sex-worker’ is heavily loaded with negative connotation. If there are any typical stereotypes to be attached to sex work, however, Sarah defied every one. After speaking to her more on this topic, a person who derived real passion and joy from her employment emerged.
It became clear to me during our discussion that sex-work provides females with agency both artistically and physically. What Sarah described to me was an artistic process of filmmaking as detailed as painting a canvas. To Sarah, her work is her art.
Sarah represents what every feminist would define as a modern woman: she is committed to her craft and in control of her life and body.
Prior to interviewing Sarah, I asked her to write down an official definition for the term sex-worker. This is what she came up with:
‘A sex-worker is a consenting adult who provides a service and creates content primarily for the sexual, but also the emotional, affectionate or otherwise intimate, gratification of others.’
In this part of the interview, Sarah discusses how sex-work for females is an empowering career choice.
M. You explained in your definition that sex work is essentially a service that enables the sexual gratification of another. What kind of things can this include?
Sex-work can involve sex lines over the phone, selling nudes, live web-camming, working in a strip club or escorting.
M. And what does your particular work involve?
I am an online dominatrix who creates clips that I sell on clip stores online. I also have relationships with men online and I’m paid for the interaction. I’ve done live cam shows in the past but it requires a lot more stamina than filming clips!
M. Some people might conflate sex work with pornography and prostitution. How would you say your work differs?
I think there is a lot of stigma surrounding sex work. People think that it is exploitative of women and that it is controlled entirely by men, despite the fact that the overwhelming number of performers are female. This may be the case in other aspects of sex-work, such as porn, working in brothels, or pimping, but in my work, women have chosen to do it. We don’t have to respond to any kind of pressure from male producers. ‘‘I think it’s important to create a distinction between consensual, empowered sex work like mine and non-consensual sex work.’’
M. How did you get started with this work?
Well, live cam shows were always something I did from an age younger than I would care to admit. I was addicted to chatrooms as a teenager. I was addicted to the way it made me feel. ‘’I felt good, I felt beautiful, I felt powerful.’’ I felt like I had something that the viewer could only have if I allowed them to have it. When I was 18, I realised that doing this kind of work could be a source of income. I planned to go travelling, and was at the time applying to University to be a primary school teacher. I started doing cam shows on the side just to earn a bit of extra money. Before long, I was doing less hours at my part-time job in a shop and more hours on cam. I realised that I could earn money so much more quickly and efficiently this way.
M. You mentioned that you were at the time planning on becoming a teacher. What influenced your decision to become a full-time sex worker instead?
I realised that I had a passion for producing erotic content and I wanted to put more work into developing my image as a performer. I chose the lifestyle of a sex worker over that of a teacher because I loved the idea of being in control of my schedule and of my own life. Sex-work is incredibly versatile. I can work anywhere in the world, as long as there’s a sustainable internet connection, and can have complete creative freedom over my work.
M. So just picking up on your phrase ‘creative freedom’, would you say that this is the most appealing aspect of your work?
‘’Working for myself and having complete freedom in every aspect of it is certainly one of the things I value mostly about my job.’’ I always wanted to have a career in art and I was trying to figure myself out as an artist for years. However, I always worried that if I continued pursuing my art passion, I would end up being a struggling artist, or I would feel anxious about having to work towards somebody else’s brief or ideal. ‘’So I just make the work that I want to make now. I have complete artistic control.’’
M. So in a way, this work is a platform for you as an artist? Possibly in a way that you didn’t originally intend or imagine?
Certainly. I always thought I would be an artist, and I think what I produce now is art.
M. How would you say that creativity is channeled into your work?
It takes creativity to think about the ideas for my clips, to construct the creative language that you use in dominating somebody, to create your outfit, to perform the part of a dominatrix, even to create a backdrop for the clips. I certainly take pride in my cam backgrounds. I put thought into the layers, textures and the colours to make a visually stimulating backdrop.
M. So what you’re essentially describing is the process of creating a work of art?
Yes. I mean, when you’re looking at a porno or a video clip, perhaps this isn’t so apparent. You’re just there for immediate gratification. You don’t think, ‘Wow this is a really beautiful work of art.’ Even porn or nudes are still art. There is still production and purpose there. Somebody has set this up, decided on the angles and the lighting. In independent performer’s work, people definitely exercise this freedom of creativity beautifully. And it’s not just nudes, it’s art. I am proud of the art I make.
M. We’ve spoken prior to this interview about issues of legality in terms of people using and exploiting your work. Is there any way in which your artistic integrity is protected?
The monetary aspect of sex-work is currently quite complex as we are not understood as artists. As it stands, we have no legal protection over our content.
M. Why do you think this is?
There’s a big culture in society of consuming art for free. People aren’t used to paying for things and they don’t understand the amount of work that goes into it. Men online will find clips from independent performers expensive and say, ‘Oh my god, $10 for ten minutes. I could get that for free on PornHub.’ The problem is that there is a lot of process that goes into making such a small clip. Setting up, getting ready, finding different angles, ensuring sound and lighting is working correctly, editing. ‘’It’s not just taking your clothes off, it’s a real job.’’