I’m a sex worker. I know it’s a bold statement to make, even on a sex positive website, but to honor my journey AND to help change the perspective and conversation about this topic, I’m saying it. It’s a realization I made on the drive from NC to CatalystCon East in DC in March 2013. I was going through the workshops list recognizing for the first cognizant time, all the different areas of sexuality that I was already working within, when I saw a tract called “How To Be An Ally To Sex Workers.” I turned to my husband and asked “Am I a sex worker?” He paused then countered with “How do you define sex worker?” Mind….. blown…..
That’s really the question isn’t it? How do *I* define “sex worker.” Until that point, I think I defined it the way we’re cultured to, as synonymous with prostitute, “a person who provides sexual services for money.” I’ve now come to view it as a MUCH broader term than that, but that is discussion for another time. For now, going back to that moment, that’s what I told him, and so concluded that I must NOT be a sex worker, because I GIVE my services to those seeking it. There is no exchange of money, goods, or even favors. “However,” I pondered further, “is it the exchange of money that makes a person a sex worker? I mean a bank worker is a person who works in/for/regarding a bank, the realm of banking; so wouldn’t it then follow that a sex worker is a just person who works in/for/regarding sex, the realm of sexuality?” Which then means…. I AM a sex worker?!?
I am a SEX worker… *I* am a sex worker. I tasted it in my mind, rolled it around, and waited for some internalized baggage about that to surface. It didn’t. So the rest of the weekend, when in the various tracts we were asked by the facilitators what areas of sexuality we identified as working within, as a modern Qadishtu, I raised my hand as a member of many areas, including sex worker.
So what is this Qadishtu thing I keep talking about and how is it sex work? Well to start with, the word Qadishtu (and its variants: qedesha, qadeshat <male>, qadeshem <female>, qadishti <plural>) is an ancient Middle Eastern term for a sacred prostitute, similar to the Indian Devadasi, Tibetan Dakini and later the Greek Heterae. In that age there were 2 types of prostitutes, named differently and classed differently. The secular prostitute “stood in” for a mate/lover in order to provide sexual services when one lacked a partner, one’s partner was unable or unwilling to perform the acts desired, or of course for variety. The sacred prostitute “stood in” for the Divine in order to provide connection to the “god head” through the hieros gamos (sacred marriage) as well for healing and blessing. They were temple priesthood trained to do energy work, sexually initiate and educate, and counsel their seekers in various arenas of their personal lives. In later years this role would move from the temples into the aristocracy by such figures as the Japanese Oiran and Geisha, and medieval Courtesan.
So my place as a sex worker should have been apparent to me right? Actually the historical role of the Qadishti was my reason for question, primarily because I don’t actually have sex with clients. Sex for me being the penetration or stimulation of the seeker’s genitalia, anus or mouth by any body part of mine, or tool I may wield. Most often MY personification of a Qadishtu means I am performing aftercare services for BDSM bottoms or Dommes, helping bring them down from their scenes, helping them control their breath and energy to become more present in their bodies, cleansing and soothing their skin, really whatever they need to be brought back to balance. Not to be crass, but if you imagine how one would care for a champion horse after a hard ride, you’d not be far off.
I have also used sensory deprivation and sensation play to help clients learn to be more fully present in their bodies, maintaining conscious awareness by stimulating their five senses, and teaching them conscious discernment. I’ve used those same techniques combined with energy work to purposely increase a client’s energy so they could direct it towards a specific goal, or use it as offering to their Divine, or even just to raise and reabsorb to increase their own health. I’ve also had a client just lay quietly as I brushed her hair, taught her to breathe, and lead her through guided meditation so she’d have one port in the storm of her type A life. All these are services temple priesthood like the Qadishti have always done, but none of that involves sex for me.
That said, I HAVE performed Qadishtu services for intimates of mine which became sexual. You see I require that all seekers of my services, friend, intimate or stranger, contract for those services. This means they fill out forms for me giving medical history, general sexual info and preferences, a standard BDSM “yes/no” list, and then a specific contract regarding the session they are requesting at that time. I use all of this information to understand where the person’s head is, what their limits are, what their desires are. From me they get 3 rules #1. I use safer sex practices no matter the type of session. Gloves, and other protections as needed, etc. #2. Clients cannot touch me AT ALL. My role is to provide service, which means the focus is on them and only them. This has often required me to bind hands down but THOSE are stories for another time. #3. The contract agreed on cannot be changed during a session. All of this means the language on the contracts with my intimates tends to be much broader than on clients. This means I get to push boundaries, sensual and sexual boundaries even, to achieve the results the person has asked for. This too is what Qadishti have always done, encouraged their seekers to continually grow Self.
So sex worker or not then? Just because I haven’t performed sexual acts with a client before doesn’t mean I never will. Just because I’ve never taken money or traded for a service before doesn’t mean I wouldn’t. My personification of a modern Qadishtu is likely a shade of how they really served in ancient times, sure. I was raised in THIS society of Puritan ideals, so even though I’m bisexual, non-monogamous and Pagan, I’m sure I have some internalized prohibitions that undoubtedly manifest in the type of work I will or will not do. I am subject to THIS country’s laws so even without charging a fee, depending on the state, or even COUNTY, I’m in there are services I have to be careful about rendering, or can’t render at all. Ancient temple priesthood would have had no such moral dilemmas about what was brought before them, and no such governance on their services. They would have “stood for” the Divine in whatever way they were guided to, and the populace they served gave them honor for it. And that my friends, is the rub right there.
In our society, although the feminist movement was supposed to be about our personal agency (the ability to govern self), choice is still dictated to us by society, by religion, by men, and worst of all by other women. We have agency over our own lives and bodies when THEY say we do. We are allowed to choose what we want as long as it fits into THEIR box, and I’m done with that. There are many many women who CHOOSE to do work within the realm of sexuality. They are prostitutes, escorts, sex surrogates, body rub girls, tantrikas, sexological body workers; as well as strippers, pole dancers, burlesque performers; phone sex operators, cam girls, pin up models, porn stars; Dominatrices, adult store owners, sex therapists, sex educators, authors, film makers, and the list goes on and on. The majority of these women are not poor, uneducated, on drugs, broken, or whatever else it is you may have been cultured to assume. The majority of these women CHOSE sex work, because they love it, are good at it, find it fun and exciting, want other people to love it, be good at it, be excited, HEALTHY, and smart about it. I’m one of those women, so as a modern Qadishtu, I’m popping my red umbrella open and standing with them.