The Role of Sex Workers in Healing
By Ava Reinhart
Why aren’t my relationships working?
Almost all adults carry some form of trauma into adulthood, which impacts the way they relate with others. The statistics reflect something like 80% of adults have CPTSD from childhood and most will not be aware of this until well into adulthood, if ever. Of those who are aware, some may choose to begin their healing journey, while others may not seek any intervention at all. What does this mean? A significant number of adults are pottering the planet with trauma, most often relational trauma, with no clue how to navigate complex emotions, which is detrimental to how they communicate and connect with others.
There is a tricky thing with relational trauma, We can do all of the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy we like, and change how we think, but most of the time, to completely heal, we also need to use our relationships as a space to grow, trust and shift existing ways of thinking in order to reinforce new methods we have picked up in talk therapy. For those who are not aware of their complexities, or seek no additional support, we often lean into our personal relationships to try and heal. While there is value in this, it can be difficult given a notable portion of relationships end, leaving us back at square one. Secondly, each interaction with a person (professionally, personally or otherwise) is dependent on the layers of experience, emotions and cognitive processing each party brings to the table. Two interactions will never be identical – for example, if I ask two friends the same question, in the same context, they will respond differently based on their lived experiences, their ‘lens’ if you will. It is the same in intimacy, and once we learn how many layers there are to interacting, the less likely we are to carry the weight of all interactions we have. We can ask ourselves, “how do I remove my ‘self’ from this situation to understand what is happening here, outside of my own perception?” So aside from a relationship ending, relational trauma is not helped by the many ‘lenses’ that contribute to how we love and perceive each other.
So what it effective, then? And what do sex workers have to do with it? Often, we need to form a relationship where it is safe to share our honest thoughts and feelings without fear of abandonment or subsequent conflict in our personal relationships, or the damaging aftermath of emotional dumping on the friends/partners in our lives. This is generally a therapist. However, the aforementioned estimates indicate how many adults attend to their trauma through therapy, and it’s not most of us.
Furthermore, in the US, there are some therapists and educators who understand somatic therapy and the power of touch, rhythm and movement – they actively use this in their practice. This is less common in Australia, and in a number of instances, would see a therapist penalised for a breach of professional boundaries. What we do know, however, is that the body stores trauma. We often navigate experiences through telling the story verbally. However we don’t allow ample opportunities and space for the body to do the same, which hinders healing. In the society we have built, letting your body get shaky, exhaling loudly, or any other form of physical ‘stimming’ might be considered strange. It’s critical, though – just like a dog has a shake after an uncomfortable experience, we need to do the same. We are perhaps the only species that doesn’t respect our body’s desire to process our stories.
The good news is, there is a space for this processing, with sex workers. The benefit of paid intimacy is that – as long as boundaries and consent are respected – most of these relationships will continue much the same as you would continue working your own job until you leave for whatever reason. As mentioned in my previous article, the meaning of the interactions is established, making it easier for the client to lean into vulnerability, which then allows them to feel validated and safe in the relationship. A lot of intimate practices (including BDSM) allow space for people to explore deeper feelings and thoughts (some which mightn’t be appropriate for a therapist’s office), and this kind of somatic therapy can aid with processing. Note: a sex worker is not a therapist and is not a replacement for a therapist. A sex worker is, however, generally paid to hold space for the client (depending on the arrangement and consent) which means that, unlike coffee with a friend, the emotional labour is funded rather than expected. The type of intimacy is clearly negotiated; expectations are clear so there is less projection of the lens because the need and desires have been clearly discussed and agreed on (therefore less harm). Be reminded, human touch is a core physical need (biologically) which can be planned for and met, in the same way that we plan for and meet other needs. There is space to field relationship questions, because safety is bred in this kind of environment.
Along with questions, these environments give clients the freedom to explore the body and their desires, meaning they take confidence and empowerment back to their intimate partners. When we are confident in ourselves, our desires, our capacity to love and connect, we are more set up for secure attachment to our partners. Avoidant or anxious attachment styles also derive from relational trauma.
So it can be seen, then, the capacity sex workers have to aid clients in the healing of relational trauma. There is a potential for sex workers to influence the health of the client’s other relationships/general interactions, as a result of the security, compassion and connectedness they may find through consistently seeing the sex worker. The scope is obviously a lot broader than this, but it is certainly food for thought and makes for interesting dinner table discussion. Happy Valentines.
Disclaimer: not all sex workers/clients engage in an arrangement with the intent to heal. Intent is defined by the sex worker and the client.