It was a hot summer and I was working in a city two hours away from Berlin. The strip club and the dancers’ accommodation were located in the industrial area, and there wasn’t much to do besides hanging out in the car park, smoking one cigarette after the other, waiting for the evening to come and start the shift. Munching on my breakfast, I was soaking up some sunshine in the car park, hunched up on the pallet benches in the car park. One of my new colleagues, a pretty girl with curls and glasses, joined me.

“For how long have you been stripping?” I asked her.

“Four years. But I am planning to stop this year because I want to find a boyfriend.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“You don’t think it’s possible to find a boyfriend if you are a stripper?”

“Well, I also wouldn’t want a man who accepts this job. What kind of man would that be?”

“I don’t agree. I wouldn’t want a partner who doesn’t accept this job.”

Despite the internalised whorephobia, what she was right about was that navigating relationships as a sex worker is not the easiest. At the time of the never-ending afternoons in the car park, I had just broken up with my ex because, after one year of confrontations and discussions, he still didn’t accept my job. At the same time, I do think it’s possible to build healthy relationships while working as a sex worker, and there are elements to consider to make it work. After having some conversations with other colleagues who are more open-minded and have less internalised stigma, it seems like there is a consensus on the fact that clear boundaries and honest communication are some of the key elements.

If you are a person who is considering getting into a relationship with a sex worker, ask yourself if you are really comfortable with their job in the first place. It sounds like an obvious statement, but it’s not uncommon for people to lie to themselves or underestimate their feelings when they start dating a sex worker. My last relationship was a perfect example of this. When I met my ex, he never expressed any aversion towards my job – he even told me he found it cool he was dating a stripper. I could analyse how problematic that point of view was concerning aspects of fetishisation, but that’s a topic that would deserve a whole separate article. His real feelings came out every time he had a drink too much, when he would suddenly ask me if I would quit my job if he earned enough for both of us.

On the other hand, as a sex worker, ask yourself what you are willing to compromise and what not. Relationships are made of compromises, but if you force yourself to compromise on things that are important to you, it’s going to lead to building resentment that, eventually, is going to poison the relationship. As my ex did, it’s not an uncommon story to hear that a partner has asked the sex worker to stop. It’s also not something to condemn if you are willing to exit the industry for someone – you would only have to be honest with yourself about whether it’s a compromise you are really comfortable accepting.

The discussion of boundaries is essential in this context. Boundaries should be discussed not only about where to draw the line on what kind of services to offer, but also about how much the partner wants to know about the job and, on the other hand, how important it is for the sex worker to be able to talk about it. 

In general, what I feel would help build a healthy relationship is for the partner to make an effort to identify with us as sex workers and not with our customers. This translates into understanding what advantages sex work brings us and in which ways it’s good for us, instead of focusing on the multiple sexual encounters that, to be frank, mean nothing else but money. I ended up losing respect for my ex-partner when I realised he saw me with the greedy eyes of a customer, and didn’t empathise with my love for stripping as a way to gain financial freedom, flexible working schedules, and a whole lot of self-confidence. 

Some resources can help our partners understand sex work and navigate jealousy, boundaries and communication. Relationships and sex work are complicated grounds, requiring a learning process. One of the first books I encountered containing good reflections on ethical non-monogamy is The Ethical Slut, and, in the meantime, more books in this fashion have appeared on the market. When it comes to relationships, my favourite book is Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel, and, despite it not being specific to sex work, it touches on a lot of aspects that can applied to our industry as well.

Besides these resources, personal exchanges with colleagues always help. I am based in Berlin, where Hydra, our local association for sex workers, hosts an event called Dating Civilians, organised by Em Phoenix, where members of our community can confront their experiences. Maybe there are similar events in your city – or maybe you can start one yourself.

If you are dating a sex worker, here are some resources to start with:

Advice on how to date a sex worker: Read here

Edie Montana

Edie Montana (she/her) is a Berlin based sex worker, performance artist, and writer. Her work combines politics and activism with arts and performance to destigmatise sex work.