- CP photo: Jared Wickerham
- Jessie Sage
I often get asked how I got into sex work. I understand that my own story is not representative of many folks, but it is my story and it looks something like this.
I got my start in sex work on a cam site. For those unfamiliar with camming, it typically consists of live, interactive broadcasts with the possibility of sexual performances. I started in part because I was curious, and in part as a political project.
I was aware of the feminist critiques of the sex industry. What I also noticed is that most of the critiques leveled against sex work came from folks outside of the industry. And despite the things they said, I knew a lot of women I respected who chose sex work. As a feminist who was interested in body positivity, I wondered if there was space for women like me.
When I started camming, I found that there was indeed space for me and that customers were mostly pleasant and supportive (not the porn-crazed monsters that the media made them out to be). Yet, I hadn’t quite found my home. As a quiet, reflective introvert who didn’t particularly like being the center of attention, I didn’t feel entirely at home in the one-on-many dynamic of the cam room. A friend of mine told me that I should consider phone sex, where interactions were private and one-on-one. I told her I couldn’t do this because I am not good at dirty talk. She laughed at me, and I decided to give it a go.
I created an ad and the first day I decided to turn my line on, I was so unbelievably nervous. What if no one calls? What if they do and I don’t know what to say? I sat in my office, doing other work, waiting for the phone to ring. When it finally did I picked up nervously. He said his name was Chris and asked me what I was doing. I said reading. He asked me to stand up and walk to a doorway. I did. He told me to stand against it and imagine him walking in the room, standing behind me, lightly wrapping his arm around my waist from behind, kissing my neck. It was slow and sensual and sexy; his voice was melodic. We spoke in hushed tones about this dance we were doing in the doorway.
He then asked me to tell him a secret. Not being ready for this question I said the first thing that came to mind: “This is my first call, I’m nervous, and I’m at work and hope my boss doesn’t walk in.” And then we both started laughing, the joyous laugh that comes from the realization of a genuine connection. It was the first of hundreds of intimate conversations of all sorts: funny, nostalgic, sad, steamy, political, philosophical, kinky. I made $50 standing in that doorway having a conversation that still makes me smile. I realized that day that I would continue to work in the sex industry for as long as it would have me; I had found my home.
December 17th was the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Starting in 2003, this day has been celebrated by sex workers rights organizations throughout the world as a way of remembering the sex workers that we have lost to state and civilian violence, and as a way of gathering in community to show love and support to those of us that are still living.
The Pittsburgh chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) was one of the groups to recognize December 17 this year. As a community, we gathered at the Persad Center to host a candlelit vigil for the dead. After reading all of the names of folks who died in 2018, we shifted to a night of storytelling. Sex works of all sorts—escorts, strippers, cam models, phone sex operators—submitted their stories of survival, insight, and joy. These stories were read, for the most part, by actors to protect the privacy of those sex workers who may not be out about their work.
For a special episode of the Peepshow Podcast, we collected audio from the event. We bring you reflections on our community and our lives, our stories in their beauty and complexity.
To hear these stories and more on the significance of December 17, listen to the full episode: