Illustration by Carly Jean Andrews

What Would You Do if Your Girlfriend Told You She Used to be a Sex Worker?

You’d think that with sex work becoming more and more acceptable in our culture — what with the rampant use of hook-up apps, the growing acceptance of sugar dating, the knowledge that nearly all of us watch porn— men might finally feel comfortable dating a woman who’s earned money in exchange for some kind of sex act.

Yet if the male hivemind of Reddit is to be believed, it’s kinda the complete opposite.

Case in point: A recent thread on the popular Reddit community r/AskMen, which posited, “What would you do if you learned that your current SO [significant other] was previously involved in sex work?” The responses indicate there’s a serious disconnect between men’s eagerness to pay for sex workers, and their willingness to date them.

Here’s a sampling:

  • “There is such a thing as a dealbreaker and for me, this is one of them.”
  • “Nope Nope and nope [all sic]. She can do what the fuck she wants with her body, and I do believe prostitution should be legal, but it doesn’t mean I want a partner that has done any of it.”
  • “Disengage, get tested, move on.”
  • “I can not see someone who sells her body like a carton of milk as a potential partner. You people can judge me all you want, I don’t care. She can do what she wants but I’m not being part of that.”
  • “Breakup.”

It’s tough not to see some hypocrisy here: Sex work wouldn’t exist were it not for men’s horniness, and their willingness to alleviate that horniness through a financial transaction. Yet the men who make up the demand for the sex work industry also demonize those who work in it — essentially choosing to live by the old, “Can’t turn a ho into a housewife” axiom.

One respondent — who identified as a woman and a former sex worker — challenged the others, asking if having worked as a camgirl would disqualify a woman from relationship consideration. The responses were mixed. Some said it was still grounds for breaking up, because sex work is sex work, no matter the form. Others, however, said it’s more excusable. “There’s a world of difference between essentially getting paid to send nudes and being a literal prostitute (or sugarbaby, they’re essentially the same thing),” one of the responses read.

Others admitted to having dated former sex workers and handling the news with relative grace. “I had an ex-gf once who told me on our second date that she’d worked as an escort in the past,” reads one such comment. “It wasn’t that big of a deal in and of itself, although she was a mess in a bunch of other ways.”

And most people said it wasn’t their partner’s sex work that would bother them — it was their partner not telling them about it. “We’ve been married for decades at this point, so if it only just came out now, I’d feel pretty confused and hurt that she kept this from me all these years,” writes one Reddit user. “Not really sure how I’d react, but I can guarantee that I wouldn’t be happy about the deception.”

Further, despite all the negativity, one particularly thoughtful response sticks out, as it acknowledges that a person’s reason for getting into sex work should be assessed more rigorously than the work itself, and that our reflexive aversion to the practice is socialized.

“The knee jerk response is to say, ‘No, I wouldn’t date [a sex worker],’ and reasons listed are they don’t want to be with someone who’s ‘degraded’ themselves or has a shady past, STDs or mental baggage. And those are all acceptable reasons to not want to be with someone like that. However, if a girl did it because she has a wholly different view on the sanctity of sex than I do (but is not entirely incompatible with facets of my view) and is otherwise a mentally well individual who I find attractive for all the other reasons I would find a non-sex worker to be attractive, then I think my initial knee jerk reaction to not want to date them is more of a conditioned one rather than a fully analyzed and valid one.”