Breaking the taboo on sex-work [Part 2]

Relationships, female empowerment and placing men in the submissive role

‘I am a firm believer in paywalling men. I will not reply to somebody if they haven’t paid for the privilege of speaking to me. It’s that simple.’

What do you think of when you imagine a sex-worker? What do you imagine them to be? How do you imagine them to live their lives? 

In this part of the interview, Sarah reveals how sex-work can be an interesting exploration into the psychology of men. We discuss how playing the ‘submissive’ and asking to be financially dominated is a way for some men to unburden themselves from real-life responsibility and relinquish control. Breaking the taboo on sex-work as a career choice led by and consumed only by men, Sarah explains how the porn industry is no longer needed to represent female sex-workers. To Sarah, the sex-worker is not an object of aesthetic awe devoured by men, but a woman in charge of her own creative vision. These are not the words of a subjugated person, but an empowered woman.

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M. In our previous discussion, we talked about how the content you produce for your clients is not protected online, as it is for other artists. How do you manage this?

If I find that one of my videos has been posted on a tube site, I have no problem in messaging the site and asking for it to be removed, saying ‘this is my property, this is my website, you can see that i’m selling it. You don’t have permission to sell it.’ But ultimately, I’ve found that my customer base is quite loyal. ‘‘Part of female domination, the clips that I make, is respecting the performer by paying for the content.’’ Financial domination forms part of the fetish. If you search on Clips4sale, you’ll find that ‘financial domination’ is the biggest category.

M. To me this reveals something quite intriguing about the ideals of ‘masculinity.’ Do you think the fetishisation of ‘financial domination’ says anything about how things have been changing in society with regards to gender roles?

I think the ability to create and share content has certainly contributed to women becoming more financially empowered. In terms of masculinity ideals, I think the concept of a man asking for a woman to be in control of their money and to financially dominate them does say something about how men see themselves in society and the ways in which they are empowered. In my experience, men conflate a lot of their self worth with how much they earn. Financial domination by a woman is taking that power that some men have conflated around wealth and being the ‘provider’ and reversing it.

M. I find it interesting that these certain types of men, your clients, fetishise the concept of being placed in a submissive role. What do you think it is about being submissive that is a turn-on? Why is submission so eroticised by these men?

I can only speak from my experience, but I find that a lot of my clients are very alpha-male in regular life. Often they have a lot of responsibility that they are looking to escape from. Some men may also just be naturally submissive and have been used to experiencing humiliation, perhaps in childhood, in the form of abuse or bullying. Even something like small penis humiliation, feeling feminised or embarrassed at school, can contribute to these kind of fetishes. I feel that for some men, asking for submission is taking control. To consent to humiliation and to ask for it from a woman, [who has historically been placed in a secondary role], can help them deal with their emotional issues.

M. So to turn to the other aspect of your work. What do you think about the online relationships you construct with men? What does this kind of contact do for them?

Some men are simply looking to ‘get off’ as a one-time thing. One client came along last night, for example, and just asked for a Skype show. He said he’s not a ‘lifestyle submissive’ but he finds that sometimes life gets on top of him and he can’t express this side of him with his girlfriend. ‘He needed one night to let off some submissive steam.’ Other people are looking to build more of a long-term relationship and establish trust with someone. Sometimes it’s not just about how they can ‘get off’ sexually. It can be a lot more emotional than this.

M. So in a way, the service you provide is more than sex and instant-gratification?  You’re actually helping people deal with psychological issues and also creating a safe place for men to indulge their sexual fantasies outside of a relationship? 

Yes, I would say so. I think it can be therapeutic for a lot of men. ‘There’s a lot in society about what a man should and shouldn’t be.’ They shouldn’t be sensitive, they should be sexually dominant etc. To be able to express an alternative side to a person that is going to accept them and won’t ridicule them is quite important for some of my clients. The irony of this is that I do ridicule men, but they ask me to. It’s the consent to ridicule that is important.

M. Do you ever feel like there are any negative aspects to operating in such a patriarchal system?

It can be frustrating. Sometimes I would like to put more work into making my clips a lot more artistic, but I often feel like I won’t be rewarded for it. Men are there for me, not for the quality of my videography. Also, having men commenting on your work, your body, or proposing clips that they think you should make when they’re not a paying customer, can be really annoying. A man sent me a message last week asking whether I had ever considered growing my hair longer, and proceeded to tell me that many men prefer women with long hair…

M. How do you manage men commenting on your appearance/body?

Luckily the nature of this kind of sex-work means that we don’t necessarily have to be polite to our customers. If we don’t like somebody, or disagree with something somebody says to us online, then we don’t have to deal with that. ‘I am a firm believer in paywalling men. I will not reply to somebody if they haven’t paid for the privilege of speaking to me. It’s that simple.’ You also just learn not to take people’s comments to heart.

M. Do you ever feel subjugated by men through your work? I think that a lot of the stigma surrounding sex-work comes from women who would perhaps feel used or undermined in this particular role.

There is certainly still an argument that we are being exploited and are objectifying ourselves because we are creating content to be consumed by men. But ultimately, this is all about personal choice. I personally think that having this career is liberating. One of the things I love most about camming is the diversity of women involved. It’s not restricted to a particular group of individuals. ‘Cam girls can be anything from supermodels to your girl next door. Anyone can cam.’ It’s not like porn where there is a certain way you have to look. There’s no man telling you what you should or should look like, what part you should play, how you should behave. ‘It’s not like we are trying to fit into a specific mould for men. We are what we are.’ There are enough consumers for each performer to have their individuality. There’s a paying customer and a market for everyone.

Would you say this is empowering for you? And does this now place the woman back in control in an industry which is supposedly run by men?

Well, yes and no. Sex-work is a huge industry. In my field, I have always been able to work for myself. For a lot of fem-doms (female dominatrix’s), being in control is obviously going to be a part of what they enjoy about the work. I am in charge completely of the content that I create, how creative I want to be, clients I choose to accept or decline and when/where I want to work. ‘With the beauty of the internet, women have been able to take control of their own image and livelihoods. We don’t need porn studios to represent us anymore.’

 

Part 1 of this article can be found here:

https://findingmymuse.co.uk/2018/06/18/my-work-is-my-art-breaking-the-taboo-on-sex-work/

‘My work is my art’: Breaking the taboo on sex-work

‘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. 

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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.’’