Sex Work and Mental Health: What’s the Connection?
I was broadcasting live one day when a guest asked me if I suffer from any kind of mental illness. Bit of an odd start to a conversation at the time, as this was back before I decided to be open about my mental health, but I rolled with it. I told him that in fact I have a long history of anxiety and depression. The individual went on to suggest the existence of a connection between being a sex worker, in particular a cam model, and suffering from depression. It got me thinking: is there actually a connection between sex work and mental health challenges?
I think the answer is yes.
Though little in the way of actual research has been done on the subject, it seems natural to me.
However, I think the connection isn’t what most people would assume. See, most people seem to think that if you work in the sex industry there’s automatically something wrong with you. Maybe it’s the other way around though. Maybe those of us who can’t handle the stress of a nine-to-five type job ultimately seek out an alternative and those of us who are open-minded anyway ultimately turn to the sex industry. It’s there for us and it’s a solution to our problem of not quite fitting into society.
Unfortunately this further perpetuates the stigmas attached to both working in the sex industry and suffering from mental illness. It’s a kind of compound effect and how the hell do you even begin to talk about that. Even counselors I’ve spoken with have trouble containing their preconceptions.
There is some truth to the idea that sex work could ultimately lead to mental illness.
The work is isolating, and the socially-imposed shame can be hard to bear sometimes. We are constantly fighting against misconceptions and judgment. That would tire anyone out. But frankly, the same can be said for many alternative work opportunities. People are afraid of what they don’t understand, and judging those things makes them feel better about themselves. Such is human nature.
More often I think depression or anxiety would lead one to seek out alternative employment, such as sex work.
As in my case. The flexibility it offers is extremely valuable to someone whose brain makes living in the world a little more challenging. We get to go our own pace, make our own rules, and live our life on our own terms. I mean, we’re just talking about self employment now, but the idea is the same. In my mind there is no disparity.
I also wondered about the effect that engaging with sex workers might have on clients.
That socially-imposed shame affects them too. Most of our clients feel the need to keep their engagement with us secret, often even from a partner. That can’t be good for the mental health. These stigmas are hurting everyone.
The reality is that clients seek out sex workers to fill a void in their social life. It might be to satisfy their sexual needs, or it might literally just be that they need someone to talk to. And we sex workers are notoriously non-judgmental. Everyone needs someone they can rely on with the darkest side of themselves.
And so whether mental health challenges lead to sex work or sex work leads to mental health challenges…
We need to give people the freedom to be real, the freedom to live without fear and without shame.
Anything else merely serves to strengthen any connection that might exist between sex work and mental illness.