Ask Professor Foxy: How Do I Handle My Boyfriend’s Sex Work?

This weekly Saturday column “Ask Professor Foxy” will regularly contain sexually explicit material. This material is likely not safe for work viewing. The title of the column will include the major topic of the post, so please read the topic when deciding whether or not to read the entire column.
Dear Professor Foxy,
I am a queer feminist cis woman in my early twenties, in a long-term cohabiting relationship with a male queer partner in his early twenties. Thanks to the recession, we have had a lot of financial trouble over the past two years. Due to the criminally low hours at his day job, my partner applied to be a male escort at a small local agency. He just recently came out to me, and has only come out as “bisexual” to one or two others, and no one in his family knows. No one knows except us, and one mutual close friend, about the nature of his new job.
His clients are all male and mostly in the closet. He is very popular, mainly because of his boyish looks, his youth, and he’s a bottom. He’s been an escort for a couple weeks now. We are both all about sex workers’ rights and are very sex-positive, so it has nothing to do with that. I am trying my best to be supportive, and he intends to be an escort until we pay a couple bills, move into a new apartment, and he can find a position elsewhere, but I get SO worried when he goes out. I’m worried about his safety, first and foremost, but also his emotional and psychological well being. The “pimp” (I’m not sure what else to call him) personally screens all his clients, and the vast majority of them are long-time regulars, but it’s still illegal and largely anonymous.
These are his first same-sex experiences. He doesn’t enjoy them. He puts on a brave face and insists this is just “what he has to do right now to help provide for us” but he is clearly scared, and it seems to be negatively affecting his view of his sexuality. He refuses to open up about the negative feelings–he just talks about how he doesn’t feel safe and he gets nervous before an appointment. I don’t want him to feel negatively about himself because of the social stigmas surrounding bisexual men and/or sex workers. But whenever I open up about my anxieties regarding his job, it really upsets him. How can I help support him but also be honest about my fear? And how can I open up a dialogue about his feelings regarding his sexuality?
Please help,
Anxious Partner

Hi Anxious –
Who do you have to talk to about this? A friend you can trust, a therapist? You need someone who can listen to your concerns and help you as they come up.
I am glad you have spoken to him about your fears, but if he is not able to talk about them you need to respect his desire or inability to talk about how he is feeling. Let him know you are here when/if he needs to talk and give him space to work it out as well. It also seems like he should find someone who is employed in a similar profession to talk out his concerns with. Sometimes the only person you can talk to is one doing a similar job or going through the same experience. Support groups exist on the internet.
Are there other jobs he could do? Perhaps phone sex or dancing? Something that is still in the sex industry, but involves less intimate contact and to a certain extent more safety.
If he needs to stay in the escort business, can he call you before and after? Give you his location and if you do not hear from in a set amount of time, you call the police or have a friend that will go over with you. How can you work to make both of you feel safer.
This is a difficult situation and an ongoing process. You both need an outside outlet to work this out. You need to be gentle with yourself and with him.
Professor Foxy
If you have a question for Professor Foxy, send it to ProfessorFoxyATfeministingDOTcom.

Join the Conversation

  • Pantheon

    Why do advice columnists always recommend therapists? I doubt a couple who is taking on sex work to pay the bills can afford a therapist.
    Although my opinion is also based on not being dirt poor, which is that I don’t think its worth it for him to continue this job if its making him feel that bad. How urgent is it really that you pay these bills right now? I’d concentrate on looking for other work, even if it is other sex work that’s a little bit safer. And its a good idea to have a standing phone call that you’re waiting for, but I’m not sure calling the police would make him feel any safer if his job is illegal. Maybe there’s someone else who can be enlisted to check on him after, or you can go with some friends to back you up.

  • Steven

    The hard thing to do is care for your friend and be there for him, but you have to realize that you cannot carry his baggage for him.
    That can be a hard path to walk. I think you know all of this… but still.

  • Tara K.

    I can’t imagine what a difficult situation this is. No matter how sex-positive you both are, there seems to be a certain lack of choice: your boyfriend had to start this job out of economic hardship, and it seems that he wouldn’t have done this job otherwise. I really, really apologize for the difficulties you all are having right now. I wish I could do more.

  • englishteacher

    I’ve always heard that there are low-cost or free therapy/counseling for people who qualify in some communities. Does anyone know if that’s true?

  • Pale-Blue

    I think Professor Foxy was doing the right thing in recommending therapy. This sounds like a complex, sensitive problem that a quick piece of advice won’t fix. In fact, I remember people getting upset when Professor Foxy tackled other complex problems; they suggested that she should recommend therapy as she might not be qualified to give advice in some situations. Therapy is empowering; therapists help their patients find their own answers and solutions.
    That said, the issue of cost is very real. I know. There are many wonderful Community Mental Health organizations across the country. Finding low-cost or free therapy is more possible than people tend to think.
    Best of luck, Anxious Partner. My thoughts are with you.

  • Emily

    While that is generally true. It probably wouldn’t hurt to ask around for a therapist that does pro bono work. From what I understand from my psychology graduate student friends, therapists do a certain amount of pro bono work. I’m not sure but I think they might be required to. At the same time, results from therapy can take time and it sounds like he is in a crisis situation (one where he feels he MUST do this right now, even though he feels unsafe).
    Anyway, this sounds like a difficult situation and I wish Anxious partner and her friend the best of luck.

  • ElleStar

    Just an FYI:
    Therapy doesn’t have to be expensive. A lot of therapists offer sliding scale rates and there are some organizations that provide therapy for free. As PF said, there are internet support groups and YMCA and YWCA groups in the area might have programs available at reduced rates. You might have to do a lot of asking around to find them, but it could be worth it.
    There ARE mental health options that aren’t expensive, it’s just that they can’t advertise because they need to use their money to continue to provide help.

  • aliciamaud74

    True, the cost is a huge issue. . .but most states have sliding scale or free therapy available for people in dire financial circumstances. Of course, these agencies are in demand and afford less choice than one would have armed with great insurance or a big fat wallet, but they ARE an option for some people.

  • Lily A

    I agree with you and Emily.
    A lot of clinics and individual therapists offer a sliding scale for their fees. If your income is low and your debt is high, you could be able to find a therapist who will see you for as little as $5-10 per week. And if you’re using a method to pay the bills which causes so much emotional distress, then a therapist seems like a worthwhile expense along your way.

  • Pantheon

    Having thought about it a bit more, there are some situations where someone could be broke and still have access to a therapist– for instance, a lot of college campuses have counseling services for free for students. But since this letter makes it so obvious they are broke, I would have at least mentioned the issue of cost when recommending a therapist, for instance recommending looking for student services or pro bono work. Just saying “find a therapist” is so far out of the realm of possibility for most people…

  • Adrian

    I have no idea where the original poster lives, or what resources might be available in her area. In Boston, the Women’s Lunch Place offers a wide range of services to poor and homeless women (including food, counseling, medical care, and help applying for benefits that may be confusing.) If she’s in the area, she can ask them for help. Fenway Community Health is another Boston resource that could help both her and her partner, when they don’t have much money. They are super-understanding about both poverty and non-mainstream sexual matters.
    The Women’s Lunch Place does a lot of good. If some of the people here can afford to give them a bit of money, they could really use it.
    And it might be useful to mention similar organizations in other big cities, if you know of them.

  • eva_g

    This really seems like a very difficult situation, and I’m truly sorry it’s so difficult. For resources, and for therapists that understand the sex industry and who are sex-positive and have worked with sex workers before, I really, truly recommend contacting $pread, the magazine by and about the sex industry. I’ve dabbled in the sex worker advocacy scene, and met some wonderful therapists – $pread would probably be able to recommend some (I’ve mislaid their contact info at the moment unfortunately). Therapy and support can also come in the form of a caring, informed, progressive community. Also google urban justice and find their sex worker project, it’s a great organization and they will be able to point you in the right direction in terms of what means of support there are out there. I don’t know if the OP is located in a major city, but SWOP has some very good local chapters in NYC, SF and Chicago. Best of luck, I hope some of this can be useful.

  • JupiterAmmon

    In that case they may want to check out some cheap, grassroots counseling options like recreational counseling, co-counseling international, or other similar organizations. Such folk aren’t interested in money, just about the well-being of one another, and are also very open minded about the socially taboo, like gay male sex work.

  • jane brazen

    I signed up to comment. I’m a long-time reader, but have been hesitant to comment for various reasons.
    I’ve been in a similar situation, but in the reverse. I just wanted to say that I think more important than finding a therapist is finding a community of sex workers. If your partner has people in his industry to talk to about his feelings, it will be a lot more beneficial than you talking to a therapist, in my experience. Because of the stigma of sex work, not having fellow sex workers to talk to can be really, really hard. Even having a loving, sex-positive, open partner can’t replace that community. A community can also help him learn how to be (and feel) safer on the job.
    There are some websites (Working Heart, for one) specifically for partners of sex workers. I think, again, based in my experiences, it’s really important in talking to him to explicitly separate your concerns about his emotional health from any judgment about his job. Even when you are a totally supportive partner, because of stigma, any criticism can sound like judgment. Talk about it like any other job (even though really, it’s not).
    The best thing any partner ever did for me was to continue to love me and support me holistically. Doing sex work is just one part of who your partner is, not everything. Whether or not he continues, changes jobs, or whatever else won’t change how you feel about him, whether or not you pay the bills. That’s the number one thing he needs to know, I think.

  • daytrippinariel

    Yes, this is true. I was able to benefit from very cheap counseling during a family crisis. There are non-profits in some communities that can offer such services. Unfortunately, not everyone has a positive experience with these counselors. I’ve had friends that have complained about the counseling services offered by the University which tend to be low cost to students.
    Also, The organization I was helped by was not through a university.

  • daytrippinariel

    This isn’t always true. I speak as someone who received low cost counseling during a family crisis and economic hardship. It may be worth it to research various options offered by non-profits and to contact counselors individually to find out if they offer a sliding scale based on income. Also, counselors (master’s degree) tend to be cheaper than psychologists (PhD). Some non-profits offer group therapy specific to certain problems which is often low cost and sometimes free.