When people ask me why I started a career in sex work, it’s for a number of reasons. On the surface level, the money is great. It’s a lucrative business to be in. It helps me create the life I want to live with ease and flexibility, and provides me with the unique opportunity to work as my own boss.
The truth of the matter is that so many give sex work a go. We’ve seen it before – the influx of newbie strippers or newbies flocking to OnlyFans to make a quick buck. These people view sex work as an easy form of making money, not realizing how much work and business acumen you need to really thrive and be successful in it. Those that don’t have the opportunity to stick around or form the commitment around this work never get to see the greatest side of this work – the great sex work community we have and the allyship we share.
This is the sole thing that keeps me coming back and has enabled me to stay in this industry for as long as I have.
When I started sex work in 2014 as a sugar baby, I was alone. I had gotten out of an abusive relationship which left me isolated, with little to no confidence and leaving me to scramble to get my life back together. I started sugaring to help my confidence back, make some money and escape reality. Even though I had some success, I was doing it alone. I even had a blog where I had chronicled my journey which amassed some good readership but they were mainly non-sex workers or bystanders looking in. The glamorized life was just that and I had no one to talk to for support without repeatedly getting judged for what I had chosen to do.
Then I discovered my fellow sugar babies through some hashtags on Instagram.
This was during a time where money shots, snaps of luxury vacations and designer purses were the norm. Sugar babies in the community were displaying how they chose to spend their hard-earned dough. It was fun to see and for myself, I finally felt that I had a pillar of support where I could share my experiences.
We exchanged stories – the good and the bad, warned other sugar babies of predatory sugar daddies, reveled on our dreamy escapades and even started a blacklist amongst ourselves of sugar daddies that no one should enter an arrangement with.
When the #tagyoursponsor hashstag came out in 2016, we bonded together and braced for the worst. If you’re unfamiliar with the #tagyoursponsor fiasco, it was a “campaign” created on Instagram that attempted to doxx sugar babies, urging them to “tag their sponsor” or tag who their sugar daddies were. I’m not sure who was behind the campaign but as you might know, doxing any individual is a breach of their privacy and extremely dangerous. You simply don’t know the repercussions of these actions. Families may disown these individuals, friendships may be broken, arrangements could be renegotiated or cut off…I could go on. Unfortunately, you can see for yourself as the hashtag is still active and the posts and comments are still there for anyone to see.
I left the sugar bowl shortly after that and later got into stripping and content creation but I wouldn’t have been successful without a support network.
When I first started stripping and branching off into online work, I gained and formed friendships with my stripper sisters. I had people that I really looked up to and who inspired me. I reached out and took them out for lunch to ask how I could get started in particular branches of sex work and what the best way was to embark on that journey. Their advice was invaluable and something that I can credit my successes to.
I learned from my first bout in sex work as a sugar baby that I didn’t have to do this alone; that there was a huge community out there for me that was waiting and willing to help out. This was extremely comforting.
In mainstream media and society, we are often painted a picture of how competitive sex workers, or heck, I’ll go as far as saying how competitive women are. Sure, there might be instances where that is the case, but my experience has been nothing but the opposite. For example, the stereotypical view of strippers competitively stealing other customers might ring true for baby strippers or those who are new to the industry. My story, and so many of the ones I have helped tell on my podcast, Stripped by SIA, have raved about how great our community is. The camaraderie behind the scenes, the locker room talk, sex work Twitter and the Discord and Facebook groups have been the best part of joining this industry – and it only seems to be getting better.
There has been so much openness, honesty and transparency coming from sex workers, more so now than I saw when I first entered the industry almost 8 years ago.
It’s true that stigmatization is still alive and well; however, it seems like more people are coming out to share their stories and lived experience.
We are trying to retell our realities and truths in our own voices – disallowing others to take our voice from us. It’s progressive to see that journalists and educational institutions are now taking strides in interviewing sex workers for their stories, inviting them to guest lecture in their criminology, sociology and human sexuality courses. It’s a step in the right direction as it sparks conversation and initiates discussion to further destigmatize our work.
Going further, podcasts such as mine, larger news outlets and media sources as well as nonprofit organizations are gaining traction on sex work-centered issues like labour rights and exploitation in order to tackle big politics and laws that affect sex workers like FOSTA/SESTA in the USA and Bill C-36 in Canada. Non-sex worker folks seem to be listening as we gain allyship in areas we may have not previously had support in. The circle in our community is widening as we gain more allies on our side to raise awareness on decriminalization and destigmatization.
We’ve still got a long way to go but it is somewhat comforting to see that we are reaching people we might not have had access to in the past.
And it’s not just a North American thing. Sex worker collectives have been and continue to be gathering around in the world in parts of Europe and the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and on a quieter scale, Africa and Asia. Having had the opportunity to be able conduct research and to connect with sex workers from around the globe to share their stories has been an incredible gift – something that might have been able to happen in the past.
But we need more support from the greater community. We need more allyship from society. We need acceptance and non-judgmental conversations. Sex work organizations and nonprofits need more funding and resources. We have been transparent to those who have been willing to listen and now we ask for understanding and a change of perspective. That is the only way the sex work community can continue to thrive and grow.
I am so thankful to be part of the sex work community and I am even more thankful to the individuals who make up the industry.
Without them, it would have been so challenging to navigate alone – to have no one to talk to when a date goes wrong, no one to warn about the bad clients out there or to share when someone doxxes you. Every person needs a pillar of support in this industry and I am grateful for those who have positively contributed to helping me over these years.
Steph Sia is a stripper, digital content creator and pole dance instructor based in Vancouver, Canada. She is the host of the sex worker podcast, Stripped by SIA, that shares the stories of the lived experiences of sex workers with an aim to destigmatize the sex industry. She always enjoys a good bowl of noodles.