Interview with the partner of a sex worker

Marijke: Hey Tim, thanks for doing this interview! You’re the partner of a sex worker. So what exactly does your girlfriend do?partner of a sex worker
Tim: Well, I can’t tell you exactly, for privacy reasons. But she’s been working as a prostitute for almost a decade. Her work is fully legal and licenced, she pays her taxes like everyone else. We’ve been living together for a few years and I’ve always been fully aware of her profession.

Did you ever find it difficult?
Well, honestly, yes. When we started dating and she told me, there was a lot I had to work
through. We’re brought up with this idea that there’s something wrong with prostitution, that something must be wrong with a woman if she wants to do such a thing. I really liked her, but is this someone I can introduce to my parents, start a family with? And it made me feel insecure, what does it say about me if I end up with someone who will sleep with anyone, what’s wrong with me? And also that, as a man, it’s humiliating if your partner slept with more people than you did, it’s a masculinity thing, I guess. I came into the relationship with a lot of hang-ups about sex work. If she did it only because she liked it than okay, maybe, but if she had sex just for the money it felt like it devalued her as a person. Looking back, I don’t know how she put up with me and all my bullshit!

I take it you’ve changed your mind?
Oh yes. I think the biggest change is that I’ve realised that sex workers are just people, you know? And I began to understand that the value of your relationship isn’t about how many people you have or have not slept with, but that it’s about having a healthy relationship with someone you love. And I think I’ve changed my perspective on sex, it doesn’t make a person cheap or less than. In fact, I think it’s admirable when people have the courage to follow their own dreams, make sexual choices that are good for them. When we were just together I didn’t really want to tell my friends, what if they don’t approve or think badly of her? Now I’m proud of it and I want them to know. Not just because I’m proud, but also in order to be able to be honest about my secret to somebody.

That sounds really great. But it’s not only your own feelings you have to deal with – the rest of the world isn’t always accepting of sex work. Are you worried about that?
Yes. There’s so much to be worried about, actually. I’m worried that when we have children, we’ll get child services on our back. You hear so much about full-on discrimination of prostitutes, it’s scary. It’s easy to forget partners of sex workers are just as vulnerable too. And with the current human trafficking hype my rights are even further limited, there are even laws being proposed that would make it legal for police to go into my/our house whenever they want, without as much as a warrant. I, as a male partner, also have to be so careful, even with the current laws I could easily be prosecuted for human trafficking. Even though I am in no way involved in her work, I always have to be on guard.

Yeah, I think in the sex workers’ rights movement we talk a lot about why decriminalisation is important for the safety of sex workers, and there’s some attention to the rights and wellbeing of clients. But I think we don’t always realise how dangerous it can be for people involved in a sex worker’s life, such as their partners. Even giving her a ride to work could get you in trouble.
Exactly, I have to be careful about picking her up from work. That’s crazy, right? If she had any other type of job it would be no problem. You have to be careful, if she has a booking in Germany or Belgium and I drive her I am literally, according to the law, trafficking her.

Does it help that you’re white? I know that sounds horrible when I put it that way, but the system in the Netherlands is deeply classist and racist, they go after people who are poor and/or black. Our idea of a pimp or trafficker is a black or Eastern European guy, not a university educated white man.
Yes, I think that it definitely helps that I’m white, I have a good job and I actually make more money than she does. My partner and I are both university educated, if child services ever investigate us we talk and act in a way that won’t set off all of their triggers. I’ll get to defend myself and I think I have the advantage that I am able to, people are willing to listen.

You don’t look like a loverboy.mansuit
Right. But I am still careful. I’m good with numbers but she does her own bookkeeping, it’s little things like that, you have to make sure you don’t create any wrong impressions.

Are you ever worried about her safety?
At work? No.

Why not?
There’s not much to worry about. After a few years of hearing about her work, how she protects her safety, hearing her stories, both positive and negative, I have a pretty clear idea of what risks are involved. Compared to many other jobs it’s relatively low-risk, actually.

And her clients?
No, I’m not worried about them. Of course there’s the occasional bad guy, the thing I’m most worried about is idiots who try to pull the condom off. But my partner handles things like that very well, she’s responsible and knows what to do in such situations. I trust her.

What about STD’s?
No, we have reasonable safer sex practices. She practices safer sex at work, we get tested regularly, her work environment prioritises her safety. Accidents can happen, and assholes like the ones I mentioned before can happen, but all in all I think we’re managing this well. From what I understand we’re actually at a below-average risk of catching an STD.

All of that sounds really good and positive. Is there anything you struggle with regarding your partner’s work?
Yeah, I think what’s difficult is that, as a male partner of a sex worker, there’s not really a place for you. It’s not a very male-friendly business, unless they know you well you’re often regarded with suspicion. It’s different when your partner works in one place and people get to know you, but in general, managers really don’t want you in their establishment, you don’t have a role, you know? If I have a company barbecue I take my girlfriend, even if they don’t know her well she can walk into my office, as a society we sort of know what to do and expect with an employee’s partner. But when you’re the partner of a sex worker, you don’t really have a place in the whole thing.
I think people underestimate the burden it can place on a partner. I live with a secret too. I have to lie about my girlfriends profession everywhere. The question, what does your girlfriend do, sounds casual, but for me this is where my “double life” starts. If people find out it could be a problem at my work place, I could even be arrested, it’s as much my secret as her secret. But she has a whole community around her, other sex workers she can talk to, she has peers at her work who are in the same situation. I don’t, I’m kind of on my own with this. There are not many people I can talk to. And I’m, in a sense, in the most vulnerable position. If my partner had bad intentions she could truly wreck my life, if she wants to divorce me and ruin me in the process, she can accuse me of forcing her and even if it’s not true and there’s no evidence I stand pretty much powerless. I trust her completely, but I think people don’t realise this, how vulnerable you are as a sex worker’s partner. When I look back to my struggles with sex work when we just met, about my girlfriend having sex with other people, I didn’t realise the real issues with being in a relationship with a sex worker. About the vulnerable position I’d be in. When I told one of my friends he asked me “are you okay with this?” and he didn’t mean in an emotional sense. He meant, are you okay with the impact this will have on your life?

What do you think would happen if people found out?
I don’t know. Most of our friends know and that’s not been a problem, they don’t always agree with it but I experience support in my friendships. Sex work is so stigmatised, I don’t know how it would affect my career. I’m not too worried about most of my direct colleagues, people who know me and I can explain and defend myself to, but people higher up the ladder or clients can be very important in the future of my career and I don’t know if they’d give me the benefit of the doubt if they knew my partner was a prostitute. I don’t know what would happen. I don’t think I’d lose my job directly but it could seriously hinder my career.

Is that a reason for you to want her to stop doing sex work?
No, that’s really up to her. The thing is, I’m really proud of her and her work, she’s independent, she likes what she does. I think I’d have a bigger problem with it if my partner worked somewhere she would be exploited, say she worked in health care, where people work ridiculous hours for terrible pay. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with people wanting to work in health care, but honestly, I’d rather my partner worked somewhere she feels appreciated, decides her own hours, receives a good income and is happy.

So you don’t want to end demand for nurses then, for their own good?
Haha, no.

What do you like about her work?
I love the stories she comes home with. She’ll tell me about a client who might be nervous or insecure and then they have the time of their life with her, and I love hearing about that, imagining how it must have been for them and what a great experience they had. It’s just fun to hear how she made their day brighter, had fun. I can see that makes her really happy too. She usually comes home in a good mood, she’s enthusiastic and proud about her work. She talks with interesting people too, I think people underestimate how much quality time prostitutes spend with clients.

Do you get the impression she likes most of her bookings?
Yes. Well, most are just routine I think, it’s simply her work. Like in any job at the end of the day it was just a day’s work, but most days she comes home with some interesting story, or met someone she had a great connection with. From what I understand she doesn’t always have sex that is satisfying to her, but she usually finds something to like in a person and have a pleasant interaction with her client.

You make it sound perfect.
Well no, it’s not. Sometimes she doesn’t like a client, they’re exhausting or pushy, it’s like any job, sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s just work. But, overall you can do worse I think.

Does her work influence your sex life?
Yes, when she works a lot it does. It’s not that she wants less sex, we have a normal sex life, but it’s mainly that her desire for physical contact becomes less, she doesn’t want to cuddle as much. I think that’s because she already had that need met, she’s been physically close to people, while I didn’t and still desire it. When that happens we talk about it, and see what we can do to meet my needs without cuddle-overloading her.

What do you think needs to change in the Netherlands regarding sex work?
We need a reasonable, fair system that would facilitate sex workers to work legally, independently and without fear of police and government interruption. The current system is so vague and unclear, if the government wants to hinder you they can. We need a clear system in which sex workers are seen as workers, with clear and consistent rules, so sex workers can run their business as a business. I think that the current solutions offered by the government are ineffective and unnecessary limiting sex workers personal freedom, and also endangering the legal position of their spouse.

What do you want people to know about being a sex workers’ partner?
Well, the image I get from the media and the government is that partners of female sex workers cpiplekissact as pimps or loverboys. I think that this image wrong and does not really exist. In the same way you can’t recognise a sex worker in normal life, you can’t recognise their partners either. I
think most sex workers’ partners are supportive people with ordinary lives, we live in normal houses, have careers.

Any last words?
That sex work is just a job, and sex workers are just people. I love my partner, she loves me, we have a normal relationship and a normal life. The real harms come from discrimination and stigma, not from sex work itself.