This is our truth, tell us yours
It’s usual for sites where sex workers advertise to put a disclaimer along the lines of “any money paid is for the time and companionship of the escorts on this site”. I have absolutely no idea if legally it holds any water, but it mentions one of the core ways sex work is organised (in the UK at least) and that is time.
Within the public consciousness there are a lot of misconceptions around sex work, and the biggest may be that clients pay for services, as in a guy comes along, asks for a blow job and is given the price. Various, fake, brothel menus, are circulated which directly link services and price, and reinforce this idea. (I am aware that in some countries services and price are linked, and for many street workers, however I am writing from my experience of indoor independent sex work, the issues of extras is perhaps something for another blog).
Clients in the UK pay for time, we work around units of time, payment is organised around how long a client wants. Our relationship with time and work is probably very different to how most people see it, outside of piece workers, who are rare in the UK now. Time is indeed the commodity we sell, and market. Perhaps part of the reason the public falls so easily for the swerf claim we cannot be raped (since we cannot consent) is that people get confused around how a booking goes. They imagine a client comes up to us, pays $20 for a kiss, £30 for a blow job, £40 for penetration, then we tot it all up. In fact they pay for a period of time. One of the issues with attacking the sites we advertise on is it makes the negotiation of what is available, and allowed within the time paid for far more difficult. In listing what we do, and don’t do, as standard a base line is set, ensuring we are less likely to have someone over step our boundaries. In many ways it is similar to the type of negotiated consent that kinksters use, often with checklists.
Negotiating consent does not mean consent cannot be withdrawn, it does mean when two people meet there is a common ground of what is acceptable and what is not. For example, if a sex worker makes clear they do not do anal, then a client is unlikely to contact them in the first place, if anal is what they are looking for in the time period they will be purchasing.
Understanding a sex workers relationship with time challenges a lot of preconceptions about sex work, but also means people have to understand what time means to us. Time, literally is money. This in itself can be a cause of stress and anxiety. When your income is bound up, on a visceral level with time, with the passage of time, when each moment has a monetary value, it can be hard to switch off. The mental health of sex workers is a subject little discussed, it’s a taboo, since anything negative we say is seized upon as proof in support of criminalization. However from talking to sex worker friends I now that I am not alone in finding the commoditization of time one of the most stressful aspects of the job. When you can give a concrete value to an hour using that hour for anything else can be difficult. Indeed it’s probably why,if brothel working were legal in this country I would think about doing it. To have work hours clearly delineated would mean non work hours would also be clearly marked. There would no longer be that idea that turning the phone off (literally having time off) was burning money.
The importance of time to sex workers probably causes the most issues with clients, whilst of course violence is a concern for all of us, the tug of war around those pre booked minutes is a frequent cause of friction. A client who is late is stealing time from us, and the next client, similarly for a client who overuns. However on the clients side, there are frequent complaints of clock watching, whilst they know on one level the payment has been for a certain period of time, a cognitive dissonance means they want to ignore the very basis on which the transaction is organised. Then of course there are those who seem to delight in overrunning, stealing from us in a different way, not in services offered, but by trying to turn a half hour booking into an 45 minute one, when time is money this feels like theft.
Its not just clients who fail to understand sex workers relationship with time. Allies can be guilty of this too, either by asking for our unpaid emotional and intellectual labour, or by assuming because we are self employed we are able to take time off without consideration of how much that time costs. Far too many allies give lip service to sex work being work, but when it comes down to it, seem to think of it as more a fun hobby, or act of political defiance. As I say here, we are not the borg, and for some that does describe their paid sex, however simply because we are not working at one moment, does not mean we do not see that moment as saleable. The precarious nature of sex work means we may have to, especially if you are not a more privileged sex worker. Allies need to understand how much our work is bound up with time, that if we give up an hour, the phone may not ring for the next six, the tick of the clock can be the sound of money washing away, slipping through our fingers. Which is not to say we work, or want to work, or should work, every moment. Indeed, we probably work fewer hours than most people realise, but when each hour has a set price, finding the work/life balance can be a difficult struggle.