real life

'I'm a single mum who was struggling to pay bills. So I gave up nursing to become a sex worker.'

This is an edited extract from SLUTDOM: Reclaiming Shame Free Sexuality by Dr Hilary Caldwell (Out July 2, UQP, $34.99)

'What did you do today?' my daughters would ask when I picked them up from school in our battered old Toyota Tarago. I would mutter something about not doing much. And I'd hope I didn't look as tired as I felt.

I was a single mum, working as a nurse part-time and paying for childcare, when I first started sex work. I could feed the kids, but I couldn’t pay the bills. Newly separated, I couldn't make up the loss of a married, middle-class position on a single part-time income. I fiercely refused rescue relationship offers. I didn't need to be rescued. I didn’t want a second round of wifedom, and my children didn’t need a new man living in our home.

I was 36 years old when I started working in the sex industry. That means I had decades of whorephobic stereotypes onboard. At first, I was reluctant to see myself as a sex worker; I imagined all hookers worked on street corners — disrespected and desperate. After reading sex worker blogs and books to get ideas, I started working independently as a private escort, offering what I later understood to be girlfriend experiences (known in the industry as GFE). I attracted mostly good-quality clients. But I learnt things the hard way. Sex workers are still shunned and judged harshly, and the discrimination and stigma surrounding my new career path made coming out unsafe for me. I hid my sex work from friends and family because I wanted to protect my safety and that of my four daughters. Keeping my sex work a secret was isolating. In the early days I quickly learnt to 'screen' clients using my gut feelings. It wasn't until a year or two later that I learnt about the amazing sex worker community out there and received their advice and support.


My first day as an escort was hard. I didn't know what to expect. Like many girls, I was taught early in life that there are good women and then there are sluts. At that time, I understood sluts to be 'fallen women' whose sexual shame would permanently brand them as morally corrupt. From reading women's magazines, I was convinced that clients would be rude and demanding and 'use my body like a toilet'. While I was sure that metaphor wouldn't be literal, I wasn't sure if I would be treated like an object, like the feminists of my youth, Anne Summers and Germaine Greer, suggested. Maybe I even believed that I deserved to be disrespected as I had willingly signed out of the modesty cult. I knew I loved sex, and I knew that everything I wore or did left me vulnerable to slut-shaming, which is deliberately designed to make women feel ashamed of being sexual.

Image: Supplied.


In this new slut world, everything seemed foreign. I had to tell strangers that I was a sex worker to advertise my services in the newspapers, while at the same time keeping it a secret from the people I loved. I lived in a city where sex work is legal and naïvely believed that the system would protect me because I was registered with the government to work in the industry.

I don't remember who my clients were on the first day. I do remember that I saw four of them. They were sweet and they wanted me to have good sex, and a nice time, too. They stroked my body and my ego. I allowed myself to enjoy it. And as every orgasm dissolved the stress from my body, every dollar swelled my purse. It was just sex, but it was good sex. I wiped the post-coital glow from my forehead as I counted more than a week’s wages earned between nine and three.

Juggling two jobs and four kids was a balancing act. I'd clock off from a busy shift in the orthopaedic ward at 9pm, my body aching, and aware that I would be getting less sleep than my younger colleagues. 'Late/earlies' were the worst. I'd drive to the babysitter's, briefly check in with them, then pull the kids' four school bags and our rolling esky into the car. Next, I’d lift each sleeping child, starting with the youngest, and place them into the car. Finally, when they were all in, I'd wave goodbye to the sitter, drive home and begin the reverse transfer. This routine was common, and all four girls got used to resettling comfortably in their own beds for the rest of the night. Not me though. I would unpack the esky, then the school bags, read the school notes and check out their new artworks, alone. I washed the lunch boxes and restacked the lot, ready to go into the car in the morning. Around 11 pm I would fall into bed and into slumber, wasting no time.


Watch: ‘Australia’s most sexually active woman’, Annie Knight. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

Morning shifts were not so bad. I would wake at 5am and when I gently poked the girls awake, I could at least enjoy a laugh with them; they could also walk to the car themselves. My shift would start at the hospital at 7am. Suburban living means a long commute, which is excellent thinking time.
Eventually I realised I didn't have to work two jobs anymore. The reality was, I could earn more by doing one day of sex work than four back-breaking nights on the ward. But I also loved nursing. I liked using my intelligence, warm personality, caring skills and clinical knowledge to care for people’s bodies. In the end, I continued working both jobs, negotiating childcare on rotating shifts for 10 years. People love nurses —they call us angels; in most people's minds they are far away from those angels of the night. Even then, I knew that nursing was the Madonna image I used to balance my whore.


I am here to reclaim 'slut'. Let’s make it a positive expression of women's sexual power rather than a derogatory label. Slutdom is a place, a State, and also a state of being inside of us. Slutdom works to reduce shame and stigma about our sexuality. In Slutdom, people have consensual sex in ethical ways with no gendered rules. Women are just as likely as men to feel powerful about sexual conquests, to initiate sex and control sexual situations. When we understand the word 'slut' to literally mean sexual power, we directly disarm the weaponisation of the words used against us — we take the king out of his kingdom. If we don't reclaim these words, the weapons remain in patriarchy's arsenal.

The word 'slut', and similar words, such as 'whore', elicit powerful emotions in women. We have been trained to be afraid of being branded as overtly sexual. The shame inflicted on sexuality during Victorian times still exists, because shame around sex is passed down through generations. The different ways of inflicting sexual shame on genders demonise women who pursue pleasure — these are human sexual rights issues.


The effect of having different sexual standards for different genders is a culture that encourages sexual violence and coercion, punishes some people for behaving outside the norm and maintains gendered gaps in sexual pleasure. Today, 50 per cent of women have been slut-shamed and, surprisingly, so have 20 per cent of men. Sluts are vilified on social media and everywhere we turn. While we may personally define the word 'slut' in different ways, it's still obviously the last thing a woman has been socialised to want to be. And this is why many women are not yet ready to embrace the word 'slut'. This is a shame, literally based on shame. And shame about sex must end.

My story about being a sex worker doesn't offer any silver-bullet solution to our lack of sexual equality. However, my experience as a woman — and a slut — gives me a particular perspective on the plight of being a woman, of being bombarded by men's sexual advances, of being victim-blamed for consent violations and rape, and of being controlled by slut-shaming narratives. Being a public and professional slut is a way I can stand up and fight back. And I will not apologise for having sex, loving it or charging for it.

This is an edited extract from SLUTDOM: Reclaiming Shame Free Sexuality by Dr Hilary Caldwell (Out July 2, UQP, $34.99)

Feature Image: Supplied.

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