Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Ashley Madison Hack - A Sex Worker's Perspective

Guest Post by Carmen Shakti

The recent Ashley Madison hack that resulted in users of the website’s private data being made public has had broad repercussions.

There have been at least two reported suicides in the aftermath. 

Conversations are happening about monogamy, cheating, and the complex realities of long-term relationships. 

Of course, the anti-sex moralizers are painting people who use the infidelity website with the same demonizing, one-dimensional brush that they use to paint the clients of sex-workers: Dirtbags! Cheating scum!

When I started working as an escort five years ago, I learned intimately how complex the realities of monogamy, infidelity and sexual and emotional expression can be. 

Many of the men who hired me were indeed married, family men. They were kind and treated me with decency and respect. Some of them shared some of the inner workings of their marriages with me. 

The stories were many and varied. Some had active, healthy sex lives with their life partners, but the partner was not interested in indulging a particular kink or fetish and gave them the green light to look elsewhere, discreetly, for fulfillment of that wish. 

Others had relationships with their wives that had become more akin to roommates and co-parents; they stayed for the sake of the children and the friendship with their wives, but still desired sexual expression with another person.

Last week, I had a session with a new client. After the sex was over, during pillow talk, he told me that he was married with children. He said that his wife had lost interest in sex, and he was still very sexual. He told me that he lives by a code: as long as it doesn’t interfere with his family life or hurt anyone, he gives himself permission to pursue discreet sexual experiences. 

I told him that I respected that, and I meant it.

In our culture, the idea of "happily ever after" is so deeply ingrained that we have trouble reconciling it with the realities of relationships and human nature. Not everyone can lead a completely authentic life, and for many, the brief interludes they arrange with sex workers or other discontented married folks via sites like Ashley Madison are an important release valve for pent up frustration and tension. 

These connections can be loving, intimate, and nourishing to the spirit. We could gain so much by accepting these relationships and acknowledging their value. Of course, honesty is preferable to sneaking around, but not everyone is in a situation where they can be completely honest.

When I began my career as a sex worker, I was not out to my family. Now I am out to most of the people in my life. In short, I live as openly as I can safely. 

My landlord does not know, and I write about sex work under my stage name, but I am up-front with most of the people in my life about my work. 

This has largely made my life easier, although I have also suffered for it. I have lost friends that were dear to me because they could not accept my profession, and I had a long-term lover leave me in part because he could not handle my profession. That was devastating, but I preferred it over lying to the people I love.

I acknowledge that my ability to be out is a position of privilege in many ways. I do not have children to think about, so I can speak a bit more openly about my experiences. I have a partner who accepts me completely and respects the work I do. 

I am, by choice, free of the shackles of respectability, inhabiting a place in the counter-culture where I can be my authentic self. Not everyone has that luxury. 

The touch and affection-starved wife and mother working in a conservative profession wanting to get her needs met without tearing her family apart. The husband caring for his chronically ill wife who is unable to have sex with him due to her illness. He still loves her, but craves sexual intimacy. Are these people wrong for taking care of themselves as well as taking care of everyone else?

Humans have never been a monogamous species. We as individuals are capable of monogamy, but it is not always easy, and it is not serving us to place monogamy on a pedestal. 

After becoming a sex worker, I changed my approach to relationships. Now, my requirements of my significant other are: be honest with me, play safe and take care of your sexual health, and make me your first priority over other potential sexual playmates. 

We would be healthier as a culture if we accepted sexual diversity and the different connections we can make in our lifetimes, but we will have to overcome many generations of self-hate and sexual shame to get there.

About the Author

Carmen Shakti is a Vancouver sex worker. She combines escorting with massage, Tantra and Taoist sexual yoga. She is also an artist and activist. She is currently collaborating on The Hooker Monologues, a theatre project that addresses stories and issues within the sex industry.

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