There are whole books dedicated on how to be in a relationship with someone who has a demanding job; while some are based around specific careers, others focus on workaholism, or the “work/life balance”. I’m not aware, however, of any that address the particular experience of dating someone in the adult industry…at least, any that offer decent advice. I’ve done a fair bit of dating in this department, so I wanted to offer up some tips to the partners of adult entertainers, both from my own life and folks I spoke to in the Twitterverse. I’ve chosen to keep their quotes intact.
“Understand that we aren’t cheating on you, don’t get jealous. It’s just work.”
We live in a culture that puts a lot of value in women’s bodies, and suggests that jealousy is a way of expressing you care. When you’re dating someone who works in the adult industry, whose job requires flirtation/seduction, it may feel counter to what you’re taught relationships “should” be like. But what you really need to remember is this: working in the adult industry is still work. It’s a job, a performative job, and has no bearing on our personal relationships, any more than being a nanny challenges or divides your love for your children.
Additionally, communicate with your partner when you feel insecure. Without talking about it, you might have an impression of what a day on the job is like that’s completely inaccurate. Many people build it up to be far more intimate than it really is, and having a conversation can help reassure and inform you. Some people have special behaviours that are just for within the relationship, which may or may not work for you and your partner/s.
Finally, don’t say you’re totally ok with their work, and then later shame them, try to get them to quit for you, or refuse to let your partner meet your friends and/or family. It should be pretty obvious, but don’t lie. Many of these reactions and behaviours are common (and hurtful) for us; by showing an adult performer you’re dating that you’re willing to have solidarity with them, including discussing/confronting these uncomfortable patches, the more they will feel like they can trust you to be honest and upfront. Our job is about performance, after all; we don’t want to feel we’re performing for you, or that you’re performing for us.
“Don’t express how much you’d love to ‘_____ and get paid for it’, that belittles my work & is gross.”
I’ve certainly met a fair few people who didn’t really understand that there’s more to this industry than coy glances, sexy moves and high femme. One of the best things you can do as a partner seeking to be compassionate to your adult performer lover is to do a bit of reading about the work. There’s a lot of incredible blogs and books that can help give you a humanized picture of different aspects of the industry; I personally recommend Working Sex: Sex Workers Write About a Changing Industry, Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks: Professionals & Their Clients Writing about Each Other, Tits and Sass, and the writing you find here as a great starting place. Everyone’s experience is different, so the more you read, the more you can increase your understanding. It’s no substitute for listening, though, as you’ll see below!
“Don’t feel the need to be our bodyguards. Don’t think you need to “rescue” us.” “When I moan about work, I’m moaning about work, not asking for encouragement to leave the sex industry.”
Most people get plenty of space to complain about their jobs, whether that be unreasonable bosses, difficult deadlines, or testy clients. The adult industry is one where many people within it find themselves unable to express frustration with a bad day at work without having to simultaneously defend their profession. We are often asked, “Why don’t you just quit then?” It can be invalidating and exhausting to have to either put up a front that every day is perfect, or to feel on guard whenever you talk about having a rough experience. Having safe space to unload is vital for a supportive partnership. One of the tactics I’ve used with lovers is the question, “Are you looking for advice or sympathy?” which can help me ascertain how to be an active listener without making any assumptions.
“Give me space to complain and space to talk about good days, too, without issuing a judgement against my job or me.” “I hate it when partners ~never ask~ about work out of fear of offending. A simple “how was work today” would be nice sometimes.”
Just as it’s important to make space for your lover to come home and complain about their work, it’s also important to leave room for positive experiences. Sometimes we want to talk about something hilarious that happened, or a really great time we had, or an experience where we were particularly clever or skilled, and being able to talk about those times as well as the hard ones can help us feel humanized. Just as we don’t want to be told to quit after a bad day, we also don’t want to feel slutshamed or guilty for having a good day. It’s still a job, with ups and downs, and often has little relation to our personal life.
In both these instances, it’s ok to have boundaries about what you’re comfortable hearing or not hearing! Talk it over with your lover so they know where those limits are, as it’s much better to communicate and create agreements than to feel resentful or blow up. Some people might want all the details, others might feel like an overview is easiest for them, so letting your lover know where those lines are will help them out immensely. I tend to like to have an information safeword, what I call the TMI Rule, for conversations that might go too far or too fast. Being able to say “TMI!” can be a quick and easy reminder when the conversation delves into territory you’re uncomfortable with.
“Don’t say stuff like “get a real job”, even as a joke (that shit hurts).”
Working in the adult industry is absolutely a real job. We’re told constantly that it isn’t, by the media and radical feminists especially, but it still is. It involves multiple types of skills, from active listening to athleticism, from financial management to social media marketing, from branding to storytelling. We have a wide range of marketable skills and the adult industry is the place we hang our hats. It can be particularly hurtful to hear our work devalued when finding jobs after the adult industry can be incredibly difficult thanks to such stereotyping.
“Don’t out me to people then ask later if that was okay.” “Don’t chastise your friend for making a bad hooker joke by outing me to the entire table.” “FFS don’t out me because it’s cool and sexy for YOU to have me as a partner.”
Being outed as working or having worked in the adult industry is a terrifying experience. We can be fired from other employment, have our kids taken away because we’re considered unfit, be threatened and attacked because society declares that working in this industry means we’re fair game for violence. People who work as adult performers tend to be pretty careful about who we come out to and when because of the stigma against us and our work. Similarly, telling us that we can’t be out to people can feel really painful and dehumanizing for us; I had a partner who insisted I always be a “writer” when we met his friends, because he was ashamed of my work. Trying to pressure us to be more ‘out’ than we want to be is just as bad as encouraging us to hide our job more than we’d like to. Let us dictate those terms, rather than using our job to make you feel validated or interesting. We will resent you for using us.
It can feel incredibly validating to have a partner speak out against whorephobia, however. Rather than outing your lover as your reason, you can do what my father does: speak out against it because of the things such jokes/insults uncover about sexism, classism, racism and slutshaming. You can also squeeze our hand in support when someone says something stupid and insensitive to acknowledge it without speaking out. Doing these gestures remind us that you’re on our team, which is massive in a world where we’re often stigmatized, silenced and belittled. Solidarity helps endlessly with the isolation we can sometimes feel, as long as you always remember to listen rather than assume. In fact, that’s pretty good advice for any relationship!
Lastly, a piece of advice from me: don’t expect me to more sexually available or interesting because of my job. I’ve had far too many relationships where my lover wanted me to fulfill all their sexy fantasies after I got home from my sessions. It’s really important to remember that we’re partners, and that pleasure should be shared every way! Expecting us to teach you new moves, or be performative when we’re off the clock for you, can make us feel resentful. Sometimes we might come back to you wanting to make out, and sometimes we might just want a hot bath…like any other job. Entitlement is not going to be sexy or effective.
These are really just a starting place as the number one thing you can do to be supportive is to communicate and educate yourself.
More feedback on how to be a supportive partner can be found in the video “Every Ho I Know Says So“. Thank you to @TranceWithMe, @snaggle_tooth, @berlinthewhore, @Robyn_Red, Lila (from the UK), and Lori for giving suggestions to add to this article, and thanks to you for reading!