My girlfriend and I are both sex workers with different "work versus play" boundaries. How can I support her? | I'm Poly and So Can You

My girlfriend and I are poly and are both sex workers; we've recently experienced some conflict over a few things. She prefers to blur work and play (makes porn with partners, for example, or ends up dating clients or other performers), whereas I prefer to keep work and play separate. She also has a very public social media life (I do not), which means that her work stuff (which I feel chill about) as well as her play stuff (which I'd rather not see) is all over the good ol' internet. I'm trying to figure out how to best be a support for her in her work, while also protecting my own self’s boundaries and being real that I just don’t want to see her intimate moments with her other partners. I know, I know, I can just “not look” at her profile, but I’m a human for better or worse and sometimes curiosity gets the best of me. What are some other strategies we could employ, or some self-work that I can engage in on my own to move through this particular challenge more gracefully? Thanks so much!

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Talk about resounding with your audience, reader! I had to review your email at least seven times to reassure myself that one of my current partners didn’t send me a polyamory quandary from MY OWN LIFE (and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure that they haven’t, haha). Let me see if I can put my eleven years of experience negotiating boundaries with sex worker partners to good use!

First of all, in the scenario you described, my personal experience is very similar to that of your partner’s. Due to my privilege as a white, thin, able-bodied, cisgender woman who benefits from respectability politics, I’ve always seen it as my responsibility to be militantly “out” about the sex work AND alternative relationships that I engage in. Because many genres of the sex industry that I frequent - such as stripping and porn - are publicly performative and benefit from digital promotion, I also have the privilege of prominent social media profiles that elevate both my voice and my exploits.

Finally - although I’ve never dated a client - I strongly prefer working with other sex workers who are either preexisting partners of mine or with whom there lies an authentic mutual attraction, as your partner does. My past and present sex worker partners, however, have always maintained more conservative disclosure politics and less overlap. And at one time or another, most of my serious partners have expressed a discomfort with “running into” certain explicit social media posts of mine on the internet.

So. What’s to be done about it?!

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1. Each sex worker deserves to define their own privacy and disclosure politics without pressure, shame, or expectation. It is just as legitimate for you to maintain a distinctive work vs play separation as it is for your partner to operate almost entirely in “grey area”. There’s no doubt that you already know and accept this, but I have to cover all my bases!

2. Talk to your partner immediately about this (especially if you haven’t already!).

Be sure to:

a) Reassure her - both immediately and throughout the conversation - that you care about her and support the work that she does, as well as how she does it.

b) Express yourself with “I” statements, i.e. “When _____ happens, *I* feel ______” instead of “You make me feel _____ when ____ happens.” Do not initially assume malintent on the part of your partner; it’s more than likely that she’ll be very concerned to hear that you’re struggling emotionally.

c) Come to the table with several suggestions of ways to improve the situation, instead of expecting her to do all of the labor of coming up with “fixes”. Contacting the advice column was a wonderful start!

3. The easiest thing to ask of your girlfriend would be to filter you out of her social media posts - work or otherwise - that feature individuals who are IRL lovers. Now, this is easy to do on platforms like Facebook (she can easily block you from seeing singular posts), but practically impossible to maneuver on platforms like Twitter. Seeing as you utilize social media significantly less than your girlfriend does (and it doesn’t sound as though you rely on social media for nearly as much of your income), it wouldn’t be fair to ask your girlfriend to censor herself on said platform(s). Instead, you can either:

a) Take a breather by temporarily blocking your girlfriend on social media for an undisclosed amount of time entirely dependent on your comfort, OR

b) Ask your girlfriend to give you a heads-up before she posts anything that may negatively impact you, ie “Hey babe, just so you know, there are some XXX photos of _____ and I going live on Twitter tomorrow - wanted to make you aware ahead of time so that you can take care of yourself.” That way you don’t just “stumble on” those challenging posts unexpectedly.

In terms of exercising willpower in not trolling her feeds knowing you may eventually see something you don’t want to, have a short list of productive “To-Do” tasks on your phone. When you feel the urge to be emotionally masochistic, click over to your “To-Do” ‘s and complete one item on the list instead. Could be “Call Grandma and reconnect”, “Clean the inside of the microwave”, “Go for a run - sans phone”, etc. It also may help to enlist a trusted sex worker friend or two who you can call/text/hangout with when you’re feeling the urge.

4. A word on cultivating empathy for the way your girlfriend operates. Now, I can’t read your girlfriend’s mind, so I can’t definitively tell you WHY she practices sex work and non-monogamy as she does. But. I know that for me, I tend to mix partners and lovers and coworkers and scene partners because it makes me feel SAFE. I have some lingering trust issues around being penetrated because of a chronic medical condition, and I also - hilariously - am NOT a natural exhibitionist, although I love my work. By working primarily with people who I’m certain both respect me as a person AND are already intimately familiar with my body, well, it turns the work from potentially challenging to healing. This may not be true for your girlfriend, but it also might be.

I also know that in general, I feel safer having recreational sex with other sex workers as opposed to “muggles”, and I’m sure I don’t have to explain why, haha. In short, if you haven’t already, ASK your girlfriend why she works as she does. She likely will have some very legitimate - and relatable - reasons for it, and it will give you increased perspective. The more you know about each other, the closer your bond will be! Best of luck!