Our Bodies

Substance Use and the Sex Industry

Education – Awareness – Realities – Best Practices
Written and Compiled by Matthew Russell Taylor

Information for this section came from:

  • Sex Industry Workers of the Greater Vancouver Regions and Districts
  • Stella Montreal – XXX Dope Guide
  • Gayway Vancouver – P’n’P Guide to drugs and sex
  • Wikipedia – online information reference

It is a myth that all sex industry workers must be intoxicated to do their jobs. But some do feel the need to use substances for a variety of other reasons. Often times, sex workers cannot afford to take time off for self-care, so they self-medicate instead.

Some do it to make their monotonous jobs more interesting. Others do it to relax, to sober up, or be more outgoing. Whatever the reasons, just like in any other job and just like any other person regardless of their job, sex workers use alcohol or drugs to cope.

Quitting drugs is a wonderful goal, but it isn’t always realistic and sometimes it’s downright harmful. For people who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), quitting their coping mechanism (drugs or alcohol) can do serious mental damage. A person will sometimes need to heal from their traumas before they can begin healing from addiction.

The harm reduction approach to addiction and recovery allows you to improve the quality of your life without placing a requirement on you to give up all your coping mechanisms. Harm reduction is exactly what it says – reducing harm.

The harm reduction approach is a way to reduce the harm on those who engage in high risk activities where there is a high level risk of contracting infections and diseases. Such as unsafe sex or substance use. The harm reduction approach would provide condoms and clean rigs and mouthpieces rather than attempting to force abstinence, in order to have zero barriers to providing support, and meeting people ‘where they are at.’

This means you:

  • Use clean needles.
  • Take care not to become overly intoxicated on the job (to the point where someone can take advantage of you).
  • Eat well and pamper yourself.
  • Learn what you can eat while high (like fruits and veggies).
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Anything else you may notice that reduces the harm drugs or alcohol have on your body.
  • Work in a buddy system whenever/wherever possible and have each others’ backs.
  • Practice self-care as much as possible – this means be good to you!


It is really important to have a strong self-care plan so that you can keep clear boundaries between your personal and work life. We need to process our day to day experiences to decrease the stress and harm those experiences may cause as well as minimize the possibilities of Trauma and PTSD that can often result from our experiences in the sex industry. Self-care helps us to make sure our work does not end up harming us and that we maintain a healthy balance in our lives.

Self-care is also about protecting your most valuable commodities – your body and your mind. Sex workers who practice self-care bring balance to their lives on a bio (body) -social (community) – psycho (mental) – spiritual (emotional) level which will have positive results overall. A happy sex worker is a satisfied client – and vice versa!

How to Take Care at Work:

  • Have I had enough water?
  • Have I eaten enough? What have I eaten?
  • Have I taken a break? Do I need to take a break?
  • Am I working alone? Do I feel isolated?
  • How do I feel about the work?

Signs of Burnout are:

  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs to deal with work.
  • Working alone and feeling lonely on a regular basis.
  • Not eating or eating very little.
  • Not taking a break.
  • Feelings of guilt or regret.
  • Feelings of helplessness and/or failure.
  • Loss of sleep or broken up sleep.
  • Too much sleep.
  • Working late often.
  • Loss of hope and confidence. Feeling sad or depressed.

How to avoid burnout or get rid of burnout:

  • Be sure to take short breaks.
  • Practice proper nutrition and drink lots of water.
  • Breathe deep regular breaths – shallow breathing will add to stress, reduce your energy level and your power to cope.
  • Have a regular sleep schedule.
  • Get some form of regular exercise, whatever works for you.
  • Develop some type of habit at the end of your day to help leave behind the woes of work. ie- walk part of the way home, take a shower or a bath, change your clothes etc.
  • If your drug and alcohol use has increased and you’re using them as coping techniques, speak with your support group, friends, co-workers, A&D counselor etc. Talk to someone you trust about your feelings or try to replace this behavior with other healthier coping habits.

Healthier coping methods

Here are a few, but there are many more listed in Chapter 5 – Us – “Staying Sane”.

  • Journal and/or creative writing.
  • Expression through art or crafts.
  • Reading something you enjoy that is not work related.
  • Exercise.
  • Join a class or group.
  • Listen to music or play music.
  • Dance.
  • Take time for just you, at least 2 hours a week.
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Make your own food and take the time to enjoy it.
  • Go see a movie or rent a movie.
  • Go to an art gallery or museum.
  • Include the fun factor. Laughter is one of the best medicines!

Health tips when using pipes (crack, meth, bongs)

You can catch colds, flu etc from sharing pipes, just like drinking from the same glass can pass infections. If your lips get burned or cracked from smoking a pipe, or if you have sores on your lips, sharing a pipe can become a risk for blood-to-blood contact, which can pass Hep C. Use your own PVC mouth piece to avoid burns and infections. Use lube or chap stick to keep lips from cracking.

Health tips when using needles for drug injection

Wash your hands. Don’t share anything connected to injection: needles, water, filters, spoon or cooker, etc. Do not re-use needles, even your own. Use alcohol swabs on your skin before injecting to prevent pushing germs into your blood along with the needle. Use sterile water to mix drugs. Use a filter to avoid injecting particles that can block blood vessels. If you are unsure of the strength of your dope, do less to avoid an overdose, you can always do more if it is not enough. Try not to use alone in case of OD. Rotate your veins. Choose injection sites that are farther from your torso (arms, legs).

What should I do if I believe I have been drugged?

Stay with people you trust, or go to hospital.

If you think you may have been drugged and sexually assaulted within the last seven days, you can see the Sexual Assault Service via the emergency department at a hospital. This team can provide you with medical care, medications to prevent pregnancy and infections, and can collect evidence for police if you want to report. It is very difficult to prove you were drugged, as many of the drugs clear your system very quickly, and will be gone by the time you get the tests.

Exiting / Retirement

If you hate your job, you may feel you are unable to do it without getting high. In this case, it is time to seriously consider finding other employment. Find ways to create an income without doing sex industry work, as much as possible, until you can leave the work completely. In extreme cases, you should consider leaving the work altogether, even if it means depending on social programs or family members for a while.

Leaving a job you hate may not mean leaving the drug or addiction behind immediately, but it will give you a much better chance of improving the overall quality of life and lead to happiness and inner peace. Remember that your only purpose in life is to be happy.

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