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Sex Work as Labor: Respecting Autonomy of Therapy Clients who Buy & Sell Sexual Services

Sex Work as Labor: Respecting Autonomy of Therapy Clients who Buy & Sell Sexual Services


Assuming therapy clients who pay for sex have traits of sexual narcissism and feel “entitled” to women’s bodies is based on harmful myths and stereotypes about those who pay for sex. As systemic mental health providers, being curious about the needs the client is getting met when they pay for sexual services is key– is it an emotional need? A physical need? A need to express a type of sex that is not “allowed” in the relationship” All or none of the above?

If seeing a sex worker is breaking a relationship agreement the client has with their partner, they may not be getting a need met in their relationship or may be unable to assert their needs. Examining the systemic function the behavior of paying for sexual services plays usually reveals more about our clients’ needs and wants in their relationships and sex lives. This information helps us set collaborative goals that may or may not include the client paying for sex.

Conversely, the antiquated notion that women should only have sex with men “for free” is based on male entitlement to women’s bodies and grossly gendered ideas of emotional and sexual labor.

This notion is also based on gendered assumptions about women and sexuality – namely that women who engage in sexual behavior in exchange for money are either deviants or victims, as the stereotype of women who have any type of sex is that their sexual behavior must be “intimate” or “emotional”. Gendering sex in this way is inaccurate and harmful – as it often results in female-identified people being expected to provide sex and intimacy “for free” and discounts emotional and sexual labor as a valuable type of work.

Viewing sex work as a legitimate type of work is an effective way to move past these false assumptions. From a labor perspective, selling a sexual service is akin to selling other types of emotional, physical or intimate services – which therapists and other helping professionals (including somatic body workers, surrogates, etc.) engage in themselves and already view as a service that can be provided for “free”, or be provided for a fee.

When it is assumed that all sex workers are exploited, trafficked, or otherwise coerced, worker agency and autonomy are ignored along with the personal choice our clients have to decide what to do with their sexual labor. This anti-sex work position is inherently anti-feminist and unethical, as our therapy clients and the people they relate to have autonomy and agency and are already making informed decisions which we as clinicians are to respect.

Depathologizing and destigmatizing sex work are both important parts of my work at the Minnesota Sexual Health Institute. I see therapy clients who are current and former sex workers, clients of sex workers, couples struggling with relationship and boundary issues, and individuals engaging in out of control sexual behavior. If you are interested in consulting with me about a sex worker-specific case, I am happy to offer my time and expertise in this area.

Bloomquist

Katie Bloomquist, MS, MA, LAMFT

Vice President, Sex Workers Outreach Project – USA

Minnesota Sexual Health Institute

www.mnsexualhealth.org

Katie is a sex therapist and LAMFT in Minneapolis providing systemic psychotherapy for individuals and couples in the LGBTQI+ and sex work communities who are struggling with mental health, relational and sexual health concerns. She is kink and poly-positive and competent and is affirmative of ALL consensual unconventional sexual behaviors. She has several sex work research publications and presents academically on the sex workers rights movement, sex work stigma and the minority stress of sex work at sexual health and therapy conferences. She is currently developing a training for therapists and human service providers aimed at reducing clinician bias against sex workers and increasing cultural competency. She runs a therapeutic support group for current and former sex workers in Minneapolis at the Minnesota Sexual Health Institute.

Opinions expressed in the MAMFT NEWS do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Editors or of MAMFT.