Sex Work While Polyamorous: Possessiveness, Sex Bureaucracy, and Perception of Risk

a red sign with white lettering that reads "sex." The "E" has a crack through it.
Image by tup wanders / CC BY

I recently stumbled across an interesting article called “I Asked My Tinder Matches If They Would Date a Sex Worker Like Me.” In the piece, Hayley Jade shares how she got into sex work as well as what men said when she asked them on Tinder how they would feel about dating a sex worker.

I read this article with great interest. I’ve had a number of friends who have done sex work over the years. I even dated a few sex workers in the past. Plus, I’m morbidly curious about anyone and everyone’s experiences in online dating.

The men’s reactions were a mixed bag. Some were totally down. Others wanted to be sure she knew they weren’t going to pay for sex (even though that’s notably not what she asked them).

The following passage, however, very much surprised me. As Jade writes:

Perhaps men have an easier time dating a sex worker when they’re non-monogamous. On Tinder I matched with a guy who previously dated an escort—and although their relationship was casual and only lasted briefly, he said it worked because he’s polyamorous. As well, I have sex work friends who are both poly and are in happy, long-term relationships. Like my relationship of almost a year, being able to work through insecurities like possessiveness together makes communication skills better, and our relationship healthier. This goes for monogamous relationships as well—but people in poly relationships likely make a point of working through these issues more often because they date multiple people.

This idea surprised me because even though I’ve dated sex workers in the past, it was when I was monogamous. And to be honest, I’d actually find it much more difficult to date a partner who had full penetrative sexual contact for a living now that I’m polyamorous. Not less.

Sex Work Is an Umbrella Term

To be clear, sex work is an umbrella term which applies to a wide variety of professions — it can describe professions in which there is no physical contact, such as phone sex, stripping, performing on webcam, or modeling for pornographic pictures. And it can also describe professions in which there is physical contact but none of a sexually penetrative nature, for example, pro-domming (a.k.a., acting as a professional dominatrix). But it can also apply to full-service escort work.

Possessiveness Is One Thing, Assumption of Risk Is Another

The difficult piece of dating a sex worker for me was never the possessiveness, jealousy, or insecurity. It was the occupational health hazards assumed by proxy. Even when monogamous, this was definitely my largest concern. Dating strippers and pro-dommes wasn’t particularly difficult. Sure, people looked at and objectified these girlfriends, but that’s not so different from everyday life. They were beautiful, I’m sure people fantasized about them plenty. People lusted after them, sure. But they (and by extension, me) weren’t subjected to the additional STI risk that escorting would have posed.

And while potentially, that could be a risk I would assume for myself, asking my entire polyamorous web to assume that risk by proxy would be another matter altogether. A much bigger ask.

The Realities of Sex Bureaucracy and Perception of Risk

I know a number of polyamorous webs that have a rule that all sexual partners are tested regularly. Even several degrees out. Typically every 6 months. These results are reviewed, even in instances where barriers are used. This level of testing is not something most penetrative sex workers require of their clients. Within the constraints of that sex bureaucracy, penetrative work would be an automatic dealbreaker. One that has nothing to do with jealousy or sex negativity. And everything to do with logistics.

True, people tend to radically overestimate sexual risks relative to other comparable health risks. But perception of risk still matters, especially when it comes to partner availability in polyamory. Speaking with polyamorous folks(both friends and clients), I’ve definitely seen people passed over solely because of what are deemed to be unacceptable risk factors by the person considering them. A few examples of these that spring readily to mind:

  • Active penetrative sex work
  • A history of IV drug use
  • Untreated mental health or substance abuse issues that seem to interfere with their consistent use of barriers

And this isn’t just limited to direct partners but can apply to metamours as well. Depending on people’s agreements, someone dating an escort could drastically limit their other partners’ dating options. And fair or not, that matters.

However, in other relationship systems, it might not be a problem.

But still, this was a very interesting read.  A neat peek behind the curtain. And I’m always glad when people can find jobs that work for them in an empowering way, as well as supportive partners.

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