Hazel Sage is still a “baby stripper in the stripper chronology,” having celebrated her first “stripperversary” on Superbowl Sunday in February. While she did some online sex work in college to pay for textbooks (she also worked full-time), she didn’t fully commit to creating online content until last July, when she realized she could expand her client base through OnlyFans.
Given that she does most of her stripping digitally, her work hasn’t changed all that much since she’s been quarantined in her partner’s one-bedroom apartment in Vermont. Except, that is, for the presence of her cat, who is too self-important to be locked in the bathroom while she toils in the bedroom. Which has left her with a choice: Risk howls from another room ruining the sound quality of her content, or having an animal inadvertently appearing on camera, a big no-no in her line of work. “It’s really important to not let your pet get in your porn,” Sage explains, because, “someone feeling petty could report you for bestiality.”
It’s because of harrowing moments (and decisions) like these that many sex workers, who like the rest of us are currently forced to WFH while our plague times rage on, are discovering a new level of appreciation for their partners and roommates, who have been stepping up to fill the roles of light technicians, editors, stage directors, co-stars and, of course, cat bouncers.
On that last count, Sage’s partner springs into action whenever the cat starts causing too many problems. “Most of the time, his job is to keep the cat out of the shot,” she tells me. But he provides other services, too. While he hasn’t co-starred in any content yet, his hands have made an appearance, as one of her clients paid $110 for a “10-minute long, BRUTALLY intense, merciless tickling video,” which earned him a helper’s fee of 10 percent.
Tavis, a 28-year-old software engineer whose wife started stripping after her career in social work failed to pay the bills, has been using his background in filmmaking to set up the lighting for her OnlyFans content, which can require more skill than your average YouTube shoot since some sex workers have turned their bedrooms into makeshift strip clubs for Zoom-based bachelor parties and poker nights. (He’s helping out in other, more “conventional husband” ways, too — e.g., the former professional cook prepares lunch for them everyday.)
There are sacrifices, though. The couple’s roommates use the living room during the day, so giving up the bedroom to his wife means that he has to work in what he describes with a laugh as “a very large closet.” There’s also the issue of jealousy. Talking about work, every so often Tavis’ wife mentions how much she appreciates one of her clients, after which he thinks to himself: Cool. Why don’t you marry him? Along those lines, Tavis can’t remember the last time his partner sent him a nude.
“When you spend so much time with someone, you don’t always see the things that they do for you,” he tells me. “I don’t want to say it loses its meaning, but you don’t see how special it actually is. So when someone else gets that attention, you kinda feel like, ‘Well, why am I not getting any of that?’”
Along these lines, Justin, an essential worker at a grocery store, told his girlfriend, Brandi Shagwell, that she spends more time texting dudes for cash than talking to him. But for Shagwell, a longtime stripper who recently began moonlighting as a realtor and is quarantined in one of her two homes with Justin and her brother, sexting via OnlyFans has served as a low-stress way to bring in steady income during quarantine.
“[Justin] doesn’t like it when I’m on my phone so often,” says Brandi. “But I’m like, ‘How is that any different than actually talking with them, and flirting with them in person [which she did as a stripper]?’ In my opinion, it’s even less intimate.” Still, she tries to limit her time sexting clients to four hours a day as a compromise.
But if Justin is hoping that the end of the quarantine means Shagwell will spend less time doing sex work and more time selling houses, he’s likely to be disappointed. “[Being a realtor] is way less satisfying [than stripping],” she explains. “People treat you so weird.” In her “square” career selling houses, her clients treat her like a “grimy salesperson,” whereas in strip clubs, she feels more like a companion or artist.
Elle Stanger, a writer who has been working in clubs for years, owns her home in Vancouver, Washington, where she lives with her boyfriend, “B.” Before COVID, B had paid rent for the last nine months, but the quarantine cost him most of his income. To help him out, Elle now pays him to help set up scenes, edit material and even co-star in some of her content. “I’m lucky I can make adult content with people I have available to me,” she says.
The benefits extend beyond the financial as well. “One time I gave him a private dance in our den chair, where I’d been filming custom pole videos,” she says. “It was a really nice way to rekindle how we met in the first place [i.e., at a strip club].”
That said, B knows when to stay out of Stanger’s hair and let her do her job. Or as she relays with admiration, “If I’m walking around naked in stilettos, looking great with my hair and makeup done, he’ll shoot a glance, a smile, some cute puppy eyes, but he doesn’t disrupt me or bother me for sex.”
After all, there’s work to be done.