Police lights blurred in the background make a sex work client worried about being arrested.
Criminalization of sex work makes everyone anxious.

"How can I feel less anxious about the cops?"

Georgie Wolf
Georgie Wolf
What advice do you have around the fear or anxiety around being caught by the police and charged for criminal activity? A fear that my information may get leaked or shared? It has not happened to me yet and I've been seeing a couple sex workers for about a year now. But even when I find myself being cautious, the next day or so I always feel terrified that the police will find out or my job will find out or my little brother or aunt, etc.

I fully support sex work and recognize that it, like everything else in the world, has much more grey than black and white. There are ethical consensual ways and there are unethical and exploiting ways that should be better regulated and eleminated. Even just typing this out helps but I had a great experience and wish there wasn't this huge stigma that can put overwhelming guilt around getting a need met by a professional in a safe and healthy.

I spend a lot of time talking about sex work a lot in really positive terms; look how helpful these services can be! Look what a positive effect they can have! What I don't spend as much time talking about is the difficult aspects of the job...

...and when it comes to sex work, the difficult stuff is generally caused by stigma.

Stigma - negative judgement about sex work - means your friends and family thinking that because you see escorts or brothel workers, you're a creep and an abuser. Stigma means having laws in many countries (such as the USA) that prohibit hands-on sex work and make life miserable for both workers and their clients.

Stigma pits clients against workers, making each suspicious of the other ('what if they're the cops?') and making it difficult for clients to share the screening information that sex workers must have in order to protect their physical safety.

Stigma is the worst. Even in places where sex work is decriminalised (such as some parts of Australia, where I work) anti-sex-work sentiment means that most clients are afraid to be honest about what they get up to (and with whom). And sex workers are bullied by the public, even though it's a legitimate profession.

One of the worst things about sex work stigma (or whorephobia, as we also call it) is that it's sometimes hard to get that negativity out of our own heads, even when we know what we do is okay. This means that some providers look down on others for doing kinds of work they feel is unacceptable, and some clients remain convinced that sex work is 'unethical and explotative', even as they pay for our services.

The truth is, sex work needs to be treated like any other job. It's no more exploitative than working in hospitality for an unliveable wage, or buying your clothes from a fast-fashion chain that uses child labour. In fact I'd argue that it's often much less exploitative - when you see an independent sex worker, you're spending time with a profesisonal who has a lot more freedom to control their working conditions than many other less fortunate people in the world.

You say that some kinds of sex work need to be regulated and eliminated, but the truth is that sex workers will only be safe when we have full decriminalisation all over the world - when we're all free to do our jobs in the ways we choose, and set our own boundaries for staying safe, healthy and happy. Nobody has the right to dictate this stuff for us - and whenever governments, cops, or health organisations try, they generally get it wrong.

History has shown that regulation doesn't work...only full decriminalisation can help make us safer.

This applies to clients too. When you're no longer afraid of being judged or persecuted, it's going to be much easier to find the right professional and arrange a meeting. You won't be as worried about giving up your personal details, because there won't be that risk of entrapment or societal judgement. Full decriminalisation is good for everybody.

So, here's my answer to your question. It's not an easy answer, but it's a necessary one. If you want to feel less anxious, you're going to need to work towards a world without sex work stigma. That means sticking up for sex workers. It might mean campaigning for the removal of sex-work-specific laws in your jurisdiction. It might mean giving money to your local sex-worker-run organisation, to help fund their efforts for legal reform. Or it could simply mean standing by sex workers when you hear friends and family spreading negative stereotypes: "Hey, that's not cool, it's just another kind of work. Criminalising sex work is wrong."

It's not easy to speak up about something like this, especially when everyone around you thinks you're wrong. But unless we do speak up, nothing is going to change.

Sometimes the best way to bust whorephobia is by working on ourselves first. You say that you suffer from guilt and shame after seeing a professional - it could be worth talking things over with a sex-positive therapist, so you can reassure yourself that you're not doing anything wrong. Once we feel positive about our sexual adventures, it's easier to start spreading that word to others.