I became a sex worker in 2001. When I began, massage parlours were the dominant player in my city because of a recent loosening of municipal bylaws which allowed them to operate more freely. Street sex work still existed, of course, and there was both high track and low track. However, as massage parlours became more popular, street sex work was less common and many high track street sex workers followed the money and moved indoors to massage parlours.
In the sex industry, conventional service restrictions minimized the transfer of fluids between clients and sex workers, which was safer for both parties. Restrictions included: no kissing and no oral sex without a condom/dental dam. Sex workers who offered these higher risk services were considered “cheaters” who undercut other sex workers in order to gain business. It is interesting to note that these service restrictions were, for the most part, the commonplace service restrictions on high track. You see, when high track sex workers shifted to working indoors, they brought with them their behavioural expectations of high track which, more often than not, set the service restrictions at massage parlours.
Over time, as massage parlours became more prolific in the industry, newer sex workers entered the marketplace who had never worked on high track. Many long-term sex workers were concerned that nascent sex workers, who had not been socialized in the highly-regimented environment of high track, would not respect conventional service restrictions and, instead, offer higher risk services in an attempt to be busier than other sex workers. This immediate distrust between long-term sex workers and nascent sex workers contributed to increased tensions, and sometimes even outright hostility, amongst sex workers. As such, services offered by individual sex workers was, and still is, a highly-charged topic.
Now, it is important to note that there were several practical reasons behind this obsession with service restrictions. First and foremost, it was about sex worker safety. If your job was having intercourse with strangers then restrictions allowed sex workers to ply their trade in a safe manner, thus giving rise to the maxim that “it was safer to have sex with a sex worker than having a one-night stand.” Second, and most importantly, long-term sex workers understood that service restrictions were a slippery slope. Once, you let a client kiss you, then he would pressure for uncovered cunnilingus; once you gave him uncovered cunnilingus, then he would pressure for a bareback blowjob; once you gave him a bareback blowjob, then he would pressure to ejaculate in your mouth; and so on and so forth.
When sex workers offered a similar set of services, they could withstand pressure from clients to engage in higher risk services. However, when sex workers broke from conventional restrictions, the long-term effect was clients pressuring other sex workers to also offer them. You see, nascent sex workers often made the mistake of thinking that if they engaged in more services with clients, then they would engender client loyalty. Perhaps, that was true in the short-term, but eventually the client would get bored and move on to someone new. In massage parlour culture, when sex workers capitulated to a client’s demand for higher risk services it was called “ruining a client” because it socialized the client into thinking that demanding higher risk services was not only acceptable but that other sex workers should offer them as well.
As time went on in the sex industry, structural changes began to occur as a consequence of technology. With the rise of the internet, new websites emerged. Advertising directories allowed sex workers to promote their services to clients in the online world, bestowing them the luxury of working independently from home, and away from the often-controlling influence of owners and managers. It is important to note that, prior to the internet, there were fewer independent sex workers because advertising fees in newspapers were expensive such that fewer sex workers could afford the rates and still make a decent profit. Besides, massage parlours were usually so busy that sex workers, naturally, followed the money and preferred working there.
The other main website which appeared online would have insurmountable effects on the sex industry writ large. These were escort review boards which allowed clients to review their encounters with sex workers, in a similar fashion as the consumer-sourced review site known as Yelp. Because clients could research the reviews of a given sex worker, this online information sharing not only allowed clients to select a quality sex worker but it also acted as a safeguard from being the victim of theft and/or violence. At first, online escort review boards bestowed choice and accountability and set the sex industry on a course towards legitimization as a real profession.
Over time, more and more sex workers chose to work independently, thus decreasing the popularity of massage parlours. As the years went on, many massage parlours started to close down from a lack of business. You see, whereas massage parlours had once usurped the predominance of street sex work, independents would usurp the predominance of massage parlours.