When I first began in the industry, sex workers had more choices. Although many sex workers worked for controlling bosses at massage parlours, at the end of the day, they had control over their own body. Massage parlours had established conventions which favoured safer sexual practices: condoms and dental dams for all services. No exceptions. Although some sex workers overlooked these practices to undercut other sex workers, the vast majority worked within these restrictions. My early years in the sex industry demonstrated that it was possible to be fiscally successful whilst maintaining health and safety standards.
When the internet came along, the sex industry changed. With the inception of escort review boards, there was increased pressure from clients for sex workers to offer higher risk services without protection. Some sex workers accepted these new expectations and began offering these services. At the same time, there was a vocal segment of clients on review boards who charged that sex workers who engaged in safer sexual practices were of lower quality and/or dispassionate about sex work. Some review boards even went so far as to establish criteria within their ratings structure such that sex workers who did not offer higher risk services were given lower ratings scores, inevitably resulting in a loss of business. As time went on, more and more sex workers accommodated client expectations for higher risk services; perhaps, the fiscal consequences were simply too high.
As the years went on, sex workers who offered safer sexual practices found it difficult to maintain their client base. Once a client got a taste of more services from another sex worker, he rarely went back to less. As the years continued, higher risk services became entrenched in the sex industry. As such, many sex workers I know have been compelled to offer these services. It is not a choice; instead, it is a fiscal necessity.
Although there are many sex workers who are currently frustrated with their deteriorating working conditions, they cannot show it. Because sex workers make their money from their image, they are compelled to portray the enticing image that the sex industry is empowering. You see, clients have long been wary about negative stereotypes in the sex industry such that the first job of a sex worker is to assuage a client’s potential guilt in visiting a sex worker. This means telling clients that they freely chose the job (which, in truth, most have), but that it is also empowering (which, with respect to health and safety, it is not). This means that sex workers are compelled to project the image of empowerment at the same time that their right to a safe work environment has been taken away.
Sometimes, this lie overwhelms sex workers. Some sex workers I know have even confided to a few clients that the industry is not as empowering as is projected. And, for their honesty, they lost them as clients. You see, clients would rather assume that the problem is inherent within an individual sex worker as opposed to the sex industry writ large. This is why many sex workers have become silenced. If you speak truth, then you run the risk of losing clients and, despite what sex workers state in their advertisements, the vast majority of sex workers engage in the industry for pecuniary reasons. For most, it is not a lifelong passion to be a sex worker; it a means to a fiscal end.
The truth of the real sex industry is that although many sex workers freely choose sex work, many of their actions within the industry are not a choice. Even within the consensual sex industry, there are limited choices and; sometimes, a lack of consent.