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ASK A PHONE WHORE: “Do you think phone sex is sex work?”

ASK A PHONE WHORE is a semi-regular feature, appearing whenever I get a good question. Anything you want to know about my phone work, ask away! Make sure to read through the archives here to see if I've already addressed your question in a previous post, or to see if I've written about something already and you have follow-up questions. I may set up a separate page here to solicit questions, or maybe just put a widget up, but for now I'll be running my mail bag over on Facebook.

Q: Do you consider your work in phone sex to be sex work?

This actually wasn't in my mailbag. It's just a question that's been asked of me before, and then variations of it got tossed around in the comments section of a post of mine that got picked up by Thought Catalog and then XOJane.

I know better. Never read the comments.

But I did, and there in the comments were people saying that phone sex wasn't really sex work, it's not the same at all as hand-jobs in an alley. In that same comment thread, someone else said that lumping escorting and stripping and porn and phone sex into the same category of work has never made sense to them.

If anyone reading this has had the same thought, let me explain how I make sense of that, with an analogy that I use a lot when talking about my phone sex work: restaurant work. Okay, stick with me.

Restaurant work covers lots of different kinds of work—everything from developing and testing a $140 plate of air-spun shrimp roe dip to discussing appetizers at a steak restaurant to handing a sack of cheeseburgers through the window of a drive through—and in fact, when talking about the specific pros and cons about a particular kind of restaurant work, you probably want to name that work: Waitress. Sous chef. Fry cook. Maitre d'. They are very, very different, involving different degrees of interaction with the customer. You have auxiliary positions supporting those interactions. But at the base, they are all involved with satisfying the customer's gastronomic appetite in some way.

Similarly, sex work is aimed at gratifying the consumer's sexual appetite, and sometimes catalyzing it in the first place. I do believe that all of those different jobs I list above—stripping and pro-domming and escorting and phone sexing—fall into the category of sex work. Even though they involve different levels and kinds of engagement with the client, they are directed at taking care of the consumer's sexual arousal. (Possibly there's orgasm in there, but not always, as in the case of pro-domination work and tease-and-denial scenarios. I also don't think strip clubs generally want guys to actually pull their dicks out and wank right there stage side. So, I'll just say sexual arousal.)

I'm not sure where in this taxonomy people like porn directors and erotica writers fit in; their work is clearly aimed at turning the customer on, but I haven't seen them traditionally clustered together under the umbrella term "sex work". I also am perennially bemused by the slightly blurry line between stripping and burlesque; I am sure some strippers are very artistic, and I know a number of burlesquers who work the crowd for tips. These are questions for other posts, and probably other blogs entirely. I can only talk authoritatively about phone sex, and only my experience of it, at that.

I have always said that phone sex is the safest form of direct sex work. It does not carry the same dangers as face-to-face escort work: I don't have to watch out for the cops, for example, or scope out emergency exits, or leave a call-back number with my check-in buddy. It is not as risky, from a public-recognition point of view, as acting in porn films or doing web-cam work. Phone sex allows me to work in comfort and safety and anonymity, if I choose, and I have never said otherwise.

And yet. Phone sex does carry stigma, in much of society, if I cop to doing it. It involves going into my clients' sexual imaginations, sometimes to places that most people would not want to go. When people do learn about the places that I go, I am regarded with suspicion or disapproval or anger: aren't I throwing fuel on these sickos' flames? And for those 7- or 10- or 20-minute calls, when I am focused on the functioning of strangers' dicks, dicks that I would not choose to talk about on my own time, and yet I am tuning in with every quivering ear hair to figure out how close they are to coming...

... Then sure, there may not be exchange of sweat or other bodily fluids involved, there's no danger, but there is still work. Sex work.

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