By Annie Temple
What is it really like to be a sex worker? What kinds of decisions do you make?
The 20 Questions Sex Worker Empathy Game gives everyone an opportunity to walk a mile in the stilettos of sex workers.
This interactive activity is intended to trigger your empathy and common sense when it comes to understanding sex workers’ lives. It can also be a lot of fun.
You may use the game as a thinking exercise, a short writing activity, or a larger project, depending on your needs or the needs of your group.
Alternatively, sex workers can use this activity to refine their business plans and become more focused in their work.
INSTRUCTIONS: Answer each question as if you are a sex worker. You can create a history in your mind, if you like, but for the purposes of this exercise, the only requirement is to answer the following questions from the perspective of being a sex worker.
#1. What kind of sex worker are you? (You may participate in more than one area of the industry. Some sex workers do.)
- Escort / Hustler (you go to your clients at their homes, hotels, or other venues)
- In-call for an employer* (you work in one steady place of business either alone or with others)
- Independent (usually in your own home but you may also do out-call aka escort work)
- Massage Parlour Worker (you give seductive massages usually with a “happy ending”)
- Stripper / Exotic Dancer (you undress seductively to music on a stage)
- VIP Dancer (you undress seductively in private booths at the stripclub for one customer at at time usually)
- Dominatrix / Dom** (you dress in black leather and order your slave around; some have sex with their clients but many do not)
- Adult film actor (you are paid to have sex on film; some adult film actors only have sex with their real-life partners)
- Webcam worker (you talk and behave sexually on live video)
There are many other areas of the industry that you may choose as well.
*Employers are sometimes referred to as pimps and madames. However, in our industry, pimp is usually used to describe a male engaging in sexual exploitation.
**Known among sex industry workers to often be the choice of lawyers and doctors who want to be dominated into submission once in awhile after wielding all their power at work.
#2. Do you have a theme or cater to fetishes?
Some possible themes to help get you thinking:
- Big and Beautiful
- Barely Legal
- Girl Next Door
Some possible fetishes:
- Milkmaid (for breast milk lovers)
- BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Domination, Submission)
- Adult Baby
- Water sports (urinating on your clients)
#3. What are your boundaries? What are you absolutely unwilling to do in your chosen area? All sex workers have their own boundaries and they are diverse. What one sex worker of the same genre does, another may not. Each individual sets their own boundaries.
The following are some boundaries that sex workers may maintain. By no means are the following boundaries “the norm” although some may be highly practiced by the majority of sex workers.
Striptease Artist / Exotic Dancer
- No touching or one-way touching only (one-way means the dancer touches the client but the client does not touch the dancer)
- No filming of shows
- Will not share real name
- Will not meet customers outside the strip club
Escorts / Full Service Sex Workers
- Condoms required
- No anal
- No calls from private numbers
- No kissing
- Some require their clients to shower in advance, and they even wash their clients as part of their service.
- Not full service (sex is not offered)
- Will not do urination or fecal fetishes
- Requires clients to be tied up at all times
- Works out of own dungeon only
- No anal
- Won’t do rough sex
- Reserves the right to turn down sexual partners during filming
- Sex on scene with real-life partners only
- No sharing of toys without proper cleaning between shots
There are many more boundaries in each category and many other genre / categories too. These are just a sample to help get you thinking about what you are comfortable with. Sex workers are often asked to cross their boundaries. Having them set firmly in their minds makes it easier to stick to them and avoid regrets later.
#4. Where do you work?
- Your own home
- Strip club
- Massage parlour
- Film studio for adult films or webcam
- Dungeon (your own or one you rent?)
- In-call Location (Brothel)
- Out-call (Go to the clients)
#5. How and where do you find your customers?
- Internet chat rooms
- Advertising on review boards (websites where customers share reviews about sex workers)
- Advertising in adult sections of classifieds
- Sitting in the strip club
- Through an agent
- Through an employer
- Through your friends in the industry
- Your own website
- Street corner
- Through social media
#6. How open about your work are you with family and friends? Do you tell anyone at all? Do you have family and friends who would still love and accept you, even if they don’t accept what you do? What would happen if your parents found out?
#7. Do you have a square job at the same time? Are you working both in the sex industry and in a regular occupation that does not carry stigma? For instance, I knew an exotic dancer who traveled and worked as a dancer during the summer and was a teacher at an elementary school during the school year.
#8. What are the laws in your city / country? How will they affect how you run your business? Is there a way to get around the laws and work legally? If so, how safe is it to work in this way? Would it keep you safer from predators to break the laws and run your business in contradiction to some or all of the laws? Are your customers breaking the law by accessing your services? If so, how do you protect them?
#9. What will you call yourself? Many sex workers prefer to use a “stage” or “working” name. What would yours be?
#10. What kinds of services will you need to hire others to perform?
- Take cabs
- Book keeper / accountant
- Costume designer
- Computer technician
- Make-up / Hair Artists
#11. What kinds of equipment and supplies do you need?
- Massage oil
- Massage table
- Security system
- Phone / Internet / Computer
#12. How do you protect yourself from predators posing as clients?
- Screen callers
- Don’t take calls from private numbers
- Assess client and leave if you get a bad feeling
- Have a coworker, employer, or friend know where you are and how long you are expected to be there
- Check in with someone at the beginning, middle (if needed), and end of a session
- Carry pepper spray
- Carry a body alarm
- Learn self-defense strategies and practices
- Learn de-escalation techniques
- Ensure private information cannot be obtained through websites and internet providers
- Focus on keeping regular, respectful clients
- Tie clients up the minute they enter
- Share information with other sex workers to warn them about predators, such as the predator’s phone number and description
#13. Does your significant other support your work in the sex industry? The money can be really great and many (if not most) sex workers love their jobs. Although they are seen as jobs by sex industry workers; sometimes our partners don’t see it the same way. How does your partner feel about it?
#14. Are you a part of sex worker community groups on social media or through face-to-face get togethers? Do you engage in sex worker rights rallies and events? Do you send letters to the editor of newspapers standing up for sex worker rights? Are you very private and only secretly meet with other sex workers who you trust not to betray you? Are you completely isolated from other sex industry members? How do you engage with and represent your community of sex industry workers?
#15. What do you do to prevent and deal with burn-out? Working in the sex industry can be emotionally exhausting as many customers and clients are lonely or have experienced trauma. Many sex workers feel like therapists. The constant need to be “on” is also very tiring. On top of that, the stigma we face and the fear of being outed or arrested can put a lot of strain on us. Like other workers in stressful jobs, sex workers must learn to cope with an industry that is sometimes very demanding physically and/or emotionally. What are your coping strategies?
- Take frequent breaks
- Go on frequent holidays
- Spend time with friends
- Go out dancing
- Call someone to debrief after a difficult session
- Pamper yourself with a shopping trip or a visit to the spa
- Eat healthy and take supplements
#16. Are you willing to travel for work? Some agents and employers require you to do some travelling, such as exotic dancers working in different cities or escorts with wealthy, traveling clients. You may not be able to travel if you have a side job or business, children or other dependents, health issues that make travel difficult or impossible, school to attend…or other reason. How about you? Are you willing to travel?
#17. Will you take courses or lessons? Some sex shops offer oral sex lessons. You can purchase pole dance lessons inmost cities. Erotic massage programs will even give you a certificate. Will you take lessons or will you wing it?
#18. What are your strengths? Do you have a sexy voice? Are you good at building websites? Are you good at conversation or making others feel valued? How can you use your strengths in your work as a sex worker?
#19. What do you charge? Rates vary depending on location, area of the industry, services offered, and more. Strippers earn anywhere from $50/show to $150 or more on stage. Selling private dances for $40 or more each can be very lucrative too. Many escorts and dommes charge between $100 and $500 / hour. To find out what others in your area of the industry earn might take a little research. If possible, ask another worker what you should be charging in your specialty area.
#20. How much do you want to earn each month from your sex work business? How much will you have to work to earn that? Figure out a budget. Don’t forget you have overhead costs too: costumes, equipment, supplies, travel costs, etc. Each year, you will need to do self-employment taxes, so you will need to keep all your receipts. Sorry, tampons aren’t covered, even though many women in this industry can’t work without them. But you can write off tanning, make-up, costumes, shoes, music, props, and more. Of course, you can also write off all the stuff square business people write off, like office expenses, gas, car lease, dining out, etc. You have now come to the end of the 20 Questions Sex Worker Empathy Game!
So, there you have it. Now you know what it’s like to be a sex worker. What do you think? Ask yourself the following questions to measure your empathy following the game. Do you think you have an idea now what it’s like to walk a mile in a sex worker’s stilettos?
- Should sex workers’ clients be criminalized?
- Should sex workers be required to have licenses (with further requirements that you may not meet?)?
- As a sex worker, do you feel it is necessary to be subject to mandatory STI testing or is that a violation of YOUR rights?
- Would you say that being a sex worker requires creativity, business sense, and organizational skills?
- What about customer service skills, phone skills, and conversational skills?
- Which parts of the sex industry business would YOU enjoy the most? The travel? The money? The freedom of owning and running your own business? The control over your own work? The ability to go back to school? The ability to be more present for your children?
- What do you think are the biggest reasons sex industry workers get into this work?
I would love to have your feedback. How do you feel after playing this game?
To sex industry workers reading this, what is missing? Have the main aspects of sex industry work been covered?