Sex workers are all too familiar with the question: What are you going to do when you aren’t young and hot anymore? We’re asked it by people critical of our jobs, and, in moments of doubt, we ask it of ourselves.
For sex workers, this question is a source of irritation, both because it assumes that sex workers aren’t already doing other sorts of work and because it reinforces the very stigma that prevents us from getting jobs outside of the sex industry.
More broadly, the question reveals a deep cultural assumption of equating sexuality with youth. This impacts all women, narrowing sexuality, beauty, and desirability to a very specific set of attributes associated with being young. In this regard, it is easy to understand why folks would then ask sex workers how they will “sell sex” when they are no longer youthful. They have been led to believe, like all of us, that only women who are young and conventionally attractive are sexually desirable.
Yet, as a middle-aged woman who still continues to make money in the sex industry, this assumption is striking. It seems to deeply misunderstand what people seek in sexual partners. One of the things that sex work has taught me is that human desire is so much more expansive than society would have us believe. While conventionally attractive young women are often successful in the industry, there is space for people of all ages, body types, gender presentations, ability, and races. This diversity reflects the range of desires that most people have within themselves. While we are taught to believe that particular bodies are more attractive than others, this often doesn’t match up with what we feel, or with what we want.
I do not believe the only path to this perspective or body acceptance is through sex work. Indeed, sex work is not for everyone (and probably not for most people). Yet, my work in this industry has been integral to growing to where I am now. There are things I know now that I wish I'd known when I started. Mostly, I wish I had known that striving to reach standardized images of beauty, the ones that have been shoved down my throat since I was a little girl, was a waste of time. If I had known that, I would have also realized I am desirable the way I am, that we all are. Moreover, I wish I had known that aging, that this move from external expectations of “hotness,” is actually something to look forward to and embrace.
Indeed, this week in The Peepshow Podcast, guest Christina Springer reminded me of this when she talked about her own experience with aging. She said, “On my 50th birthday I felt like there was this great lightning bolt that came down and burned all the fucks out of my body.” May we all be so lucky, and quite frankly, so hot.
Peepshow Podcast, Episode 31
In Episode 31 of the Peepshow Podcast, we interview Pittsburgh-based artist and spoken word poet Christina Springer.
Her new book, The Splooge Factory, comes out on Freyed Edge Press this month. It is a collection of poetry exploring her experiences as a receptionist in an adult massage parlor in Pittsburgh.
In a first for the podcast, we had Christina read from her book, a powerful experience that led to conversations that ranged from the structure of sex work in the parlor, to the way both she and the sex workers there negotiated boundaries with clients, to how they handled and made sense of difficult requests such as race play, and how the women worked together and supported each other.
We also had the opportunity to speak with her about her career, her creative processes, and how these have changed over time. She reflected, “As I have grown older, my practice has grown more confident, and less about what I think people would like and more about what pleases me, or what I think spirits say do.”
I am grateful that the spirit moved Christina to write The Splooge Factory, and that we had the opportunity to share our conversation about it.