I’ve been a sex worker for five years. In that time, I’ve encountered a handful of “addiction clients”. Addiction clients, for the purpose of this article, are either: self-professed addicts to sex work (of whatever form – I’ve done them all), or people who are obviously addicted and not capable of stopping in the face of negative life consequences (losing a marriage, home, etc.). These clients present an ethical dilemma to me as a provider.
Let me start by saying that, after myriad personal encounters with addiction, I don’t believe addiction is a disease. This will inevitably piss off any twelve-steppers, or anyone who coped with addiction in themselves or another partly through the belief that it was a medical condition. I think addiction is rather the result of traumas – preverbal, developmental, or in adulthood.* After being traumatized, one has a hard time identifying and meeting their own needs.
While I don’t think it’s a disease, I also don’t believe it’s a choice. I think human beings are wired on a deeeeeeeep level (read: lizard brain) to get our needs met. If you lacked the proper nurturing, or your brain was fundamentally rewired by big-T trauma later in life, then there’s a good chance you’re going to have a hard time meeting your needs in healthy ways. And how could I possibly fault anyone trying to get their needs met and doing in the best possible way they can? I believe that addicts are doing their best.**
It’s a “choice” in the sense that they are choosing one form of behavior over another. But what kind of choice is it really when my heart is fundamentally broken and I’m choosing between Oreos and a salad, between beer and water, between interpersonal connection through sex or something healthier? When you have that deep, unresolved pain, you want to soothe it as quickly and effectively as possible.
There are some providers who market themselves to this audience. I suspect it’s mostly braggadocious – “I’m so hot and good at what I do that you’ll become addicted to me.” -but I wonder whether this does harm to those who struggle with addiction. I wonder the same thing about dealers of drugs to addicts, bartenders serving alcoholics, etc.
As the child of an alcoholic, the friend of many a dead addict, and someone who has grappled with her own addictions, I would like to think I have a pretty nuanced view on the subject. As a person who has experienced traumas at every stage of life***, I fully appreciate the effects of such occurrences.
So keep that in mind as I proceed to tell you: I don’t think being a drug dealer is inherently bad. I can’t believe I’m about to go on record with this opinion, but I think there’s merit in being a safe source of a drug of choice (DOC). Aside from the socioeconomic shit that feeds into someone “choosing” to deal drugs – How much of a choice is it, really? – I think that people who have deep fundamental needs that they haven’t figured out how to meet via lasting, fulfilling means, are going to pursue their DOC to the ends of the earth. And they’re going to keep doing that until they learn their lesson or die in the process.
How does this relate to sex work? Well, you hear stories about bankruptcies, failed marriages etc. as a result of customers being addicted to their favorite form(s) of sex work. They spend more money than they have, carry on emotional affairs with providers, and so on. If you’re a conscientious provider, you’ve probably struggled with the question of whether you’re “part of the problem”.
I can see the argument in both directions.
If you encounter a client who is obviously struggling with addiction, remove yourself from the equation in order to be one less temptation for this client. Block them.
I’m not this client’s caretaker. I’m not responsible for making them act in their own self-interest. AND I’m just doing my job.
I personally tend for the first option, because I find addicts to be erratic, emotionally stunted, and disrespectful of boundaries – traits I avoid in anyone. Those traits are triggering for me, so I’m quick to end a relationship, a conversation, or a phone sex call with someone like that.
But I also don’t think that a sex worker should be asked not to do her job just because someone is using her to meet covert needs. If a housewife keeps intentionally clogging her toilets so that the hot plumber comes over, should the plumber stop being a plumber? No. Should he continue to accept payment for the service he is providing, even if he suspects that the housewife is using him to meet some covert need? That’s a more nuanced question.
At what point are you knowingly contributing to the problem, and just not giving a shit? Then again, maybe you’re helping this person meet needs in a safe way and therefore you’re doing a good thing – and getting paid in the process.
Maybe there’s a third option: being frank. This is not an option that a survival sex worker has, but many of us do. Could we tell the client that we feel we are harmfully contributing to a problem that has much deeper roots that need to be addressed in the appropriate context?
I don’t want to be anyone’s crutch, so I tend to say things like that when the time comes. If it’s not just an addiction fantasy (i.e, the client is actually struggling, is incurring real-life consequences as a result, etc.), then I’m prone to disengaging if I haven’t already done so.
For some providers, these clients are their bread and butter. They can have them, and I wish them luck with that ethical burden.
* I think this is the case for 99% of mental health disorders as well. Wounds to the psyche, rather than fundamental dysfunction of the brain/body.
** I fundamentally, and perhaps naively, believe that everyone is doing their best. Even in the case of racists, rapists, etc., whose best obviously is fucking terrible, they are doing their best.
*** I’d say most people experience trauma at every stage of life. Having a caretaker in childhood who is emotionally well enough themselves to meet your mental, emotional, and physical needs is incredibly rare. To venture out into the big bad world and not be roughed up by someone who wasn’t so lucky is, in my experience, impossible. We are, for the larger part, surrounded by – and inhabited by – wounded children.