Sex Talk Episode 7: The Sex Industry
Voice over: You're listening to Sex Talk. A podcast all about sex. In this episode expect to hear some colourful language and conversations of a sexual nature. You may want to pop on a pair of headphones for some privacy during this podcast.
Voice over: Sex Talk. Coming up on this episode of sex talk:
Sophie: I used to look at her and think oh my god if you weren't on drugs you could have been… all these amazing things that I had to remind myself that I could be and I needed to stop looking at my mum as this beautiful person who could have been all these things and start looking at myself and think you're this beautiful person who could do all these things.
Voice over: Sex talk. Starting a conversation about sex.
Adele : Hi, welcome to the seventh episode of Sex Talk. I'm Adele Roberts and I'm joined by my co-presenter Hiliary Ineomo-Marcus
Hilary: Adele I can't believe we've got here.
Adele : We've done good haven't we, 7 in.
Hilary: You've endured me for this long.
Adele: Oh no it's been an absolute pleasure. Do you not usually get 7 visits?
Hilary: No, thank you for having me of course. If you've listened to the last 6 episodes, you would have heard us talking about different aspects of sex, from sex and alcohol, getting tested for STI's to sexuality and religion. We have been joined by a host of doctors, therapists, experts and our sexperts who have been sharing their experiences and advice on how to stay safe and healthy.
Adele: If this is your first time listening to Sex Talk- Hello and welcome.
Hilary: In the last episode of Sex Talk we were talking all about having sex under the influence of alcohol.
Adele: Today we're hearing about the adult industry – from both male and female perspective. We'll hear about the help out there for industry workers to stay safe and how to negotiate safe sex when money is on offer. Plus we'll hear what it's really like being paid for sex.
Hilary: In England and Wales, the sale and purchase of sexual services between consenting adults is legal. However, many of the things associated with it are illegal – such as trying to find clients in the street, running a brothel and pimping.
Adele: And it's estimated that there are between 60,000 and 80,000 sex workers in the UK, the majority women, working either on the streets or in brothels. On this episode of Sex Talk we'll be hearing about a charity called The Men's Room, based in Manchester. It's there to support men who sell sex.
Roney: I quite liked the attention, I quite liked the money, I was quite young, I was earning a lot of money but I met other people while sex working who were disadvantaged, who were doing it to buy drugs, it wasn't long before I was using with them and then I was entrenched myself.
Hilary: We'll also be joined in the studio by Sophie. She's an escort as well as a talented writer - she's going to share her story with us.
Adele : But first, the reason that Hilary's suited and booted, because it's time now for his favourite time of the day, it's time for me and Hilary to play our favourite game and learn a new word, it's word porn.
Hilary: It's word porn baby!
Voice over: Sex talk. Word porn.
Adele: So we have a dictionary of sex, we like to open and thumb through the pages of the dictionary and find new words to learn. We each choose a letter and then we try and guess what the word means, beginning with that very letter. Shall I go first?
Hilary: Adele that was very poetic I loved that. Almost romanced me. But yes you go first.
Adele: Alright let's dive in. Could I have an S please?
Hilary: Adele I'm at your service madam. It's a lovely picture by the way.
Adele: Let me see – I'm not cheating. Yeah so with every single letter there's a picture to go along with it. They look very friendly.
Hilary: Yes we'll leave that there. The pronunciation might be slightly off but I think you'll probably get the idea, so it's sack coitus. Adele it's not what you think.
Adele: A coating for your sack. A little jacket for your sack.
Hilary: Excellent attempt. But no.
Adele: No?! I don't believe you that is so the meaning of that word.
Hilary: Let me see if I can give you a clue. It's… yeah it is to do with an item placed on oneself… Erm, over all of oneself.
Adele : Oh skin?
Hilary: Adele it's really difficult for me to explain this, but I'll give it to you on the basis…
Adele: Do I have one?
Hilary: You may very well have one.
Adele: Okay alright.
Hilary: Well you tell me after this definition is read out. So it's an unusual technique in which one partner has placed himself or herself in a rubber or other sack.
Adele: Oh. No hang on a minute so it's a rubber suit?
Hilary: I think people that are into…
Adele: Do people call it a gimp suit?
Adele: I do have one you're right.
Hilary: There you go. The minute I met you I knew you had one.
Voice over: Word Porn.
Adele: Ok, back to today's talking point, The Adult Industry, or as some call it, the sex industry
Hilary: We are joined in the studio now by Sophie who's going to talking to us about her journey. Welcome to the studio Sophie.
Sophie : Thank you.
Hilary: Don't be shy now.
Sophie : I didn't know it was my bit to be honest I was like me?
Adele: Sophie thank you so much for joining us today. If we could take you back to the start, how did you start working in the adult industry?
Sophie : It's a bit of a long story so I'll try and cut it down as much as possible. I'd lived on my own since I was 16 or whatever, I was under the care system. Circumstances happened where money got stopped so I was in a situation where I needed a bit of income, we didn't want to do anything where we'd hurt anybody or get ourselves into trouble with the police so me and my friend, she was a very good girl, not slept with many people, and she was like 'we need a way to get money where we don't have to hurt anyone'. And I was thinking there's only one way I can think of doing that. And she was like 'shall we do it?' And I thought well yeah if you're saying it. If any of my other friends had said it I probably would have said no eugh, but the fact that she was an innocent good girl and she was my best mate… That's how I started.
Adele: So it was an economic reason it was because you needed money, you needed a way of getting it but you didn't want to hurt anybody?
Sophie : Yeah that's it basically.
Hilary: Tell me for some of us who don't know much about the industry itself, what is the difference between working on the streets and escort work? Are you treated differently?
Sophie : I think by just mentioning the words you can see the big difference in it to be honest. Now I'm not going to categorise everybody in the same situation because that's obviously not going to be true but I'm just going to categorise it from what I've seen and the majority of people. So with street work unfortunately it's more people who haven't got an ID to register themselves with an agency, they could be drug users which obviously an agency isn't going to take on, the street work is more exposed, a lot of people can see you. It's a lot cheaper prices. It is dangerous. I would personally think that the streets especially at night and with a lot more vulnerable women because…. they're strong women let me tell ya, they're very very strong women, but unfortunately had certain difficulties that have exposed them to be a bit more vulnerable and they're a bit more exposed as street workers to guys maybe taking advantage. There's more haggling and unfortunately a lot more heavier drugs around it. When that level of poverty and drugs and stuff like that, there is going to be fights as well. That is my outlook on it. Escorting, there's different levels to it. There's escorting where you're working for an agency. Unfortunately you're giving half your money away so the cheapest escort agency that I know of would be £100, £120. Now you get half of your money from that, so the agency gets the other half and the other girls get the other half. Now they do an hour for that. The highest agency that I know of is £200 an hour. You got £100 from it. I still didn't see that as acceptable to be quite honest. I was getting this money and I'm giving it away and I'm quite an independent person anyway.
Adele: So why has that system come about? Why do agencies feel they can take 50%?
Sophie : They're taking advantage.
Adele: What do they do for that 50%?
Sophie : Nothing. Answer the phone. So this is what I was going to go into. Independent working you set it all up yourself. Now obviously it is going to be hard because you are setting it up yourself so you've got to do all your own admin, your websites, I'm not going to name where to go or anything like that because we're on radio and I don't want to broadcast anything or make anybody feel that this is a bright idea to do because it's not. Unless you're in this situation already I would not recommend it to anyone because most of the people I've met have had a horrible experience from it. It doesn't matter how much money we're making from it. It's not been good mentally.
Adele: Can I ask you about safety because I thought it was interesting how you said you wanted to make money but you didn't want to hurt anyone. But you didn't think about yourself and when you told me that I was worried about you I was like but what about you? How safe is it, the work that you do?
Sophie : When I first started there was no safety. We were underage, we had no form of income, we had nowhere to go. We thought we were being very clever taking the world into our own hands. We thought this world didn't really exist if that made sense. I was very… the minute I worked is the minute I stopped taking drugs. I wanted to be fully aware when these men were propositioning me and there was whatever and I wanted to make sure… I knew what they were doing and they weren't trying to do anything out of bounds and if something like that ever was to happen I want to at least try and put a fight up. Not a nice feeling not being in control of your body. My mother was a drug addict and she went down the path that I went down and I used to look at her and think you're so beautiful and intelligent you're just a stunning person, gorgeous, she loves reading and everything like that and I used to look at her and think oh my god if you weren't on drugs you could have been… all these amazing things that I had to remind myself that I could be and I needed to stop looking at my mum as this beautiful person who could have been all these things and start looking at myself and think you're this beautiful person who could do all these things. So the drugs, watching my mum and know the effect of it really made me think no you're not doing it.
Hilary: As this show talks a lot about safe sex and we talk a lot about how people protect themselves against HIV and other STIs, how do you work around that in your industry knowing somebody's going to pay you a lot of money and there will be perhaps, how do you protect yourself?
Sophie : I will never ever do without anything. It's worth no money, it's just not worth it. With the condom, it's like not real because I've not really slept with them, it's with a condom. I'm sucking rubber for £250 that is the logic in my head.
Adele: And that's how mentally you get through it? People don't really talk about the mental side of it.
Sophie : And you switch off like that… it's a talent, oh it's a talent! I can do it on or off and it doesn't matter whether I'm at work or not.
Adele: On that, how is it in terms ofrelationships? Because you've just said it's not real when you're in that moment and you're with a client and there's that barrier so it helps you process that mentally. How does it feel when you take yourself out of that situation and you're back in the real world and then having a relationship with someone else? That must be really difficult to deal with as well.
Sophie : I've had a boyfriend that didn't know I was working, this was when I first started working and I hid it from the world, and unfortunately he found out, a client told him everything, he told my family. I loved this boy, I loved this boy… and I broke him. I couldn't believe how hurt this person was. All I ever wanted in life was for somebody to love me and someone to love back and I remember hating myself when I was working but I needed the money and I thought he wanted me because I had money, and before money nobody wanted me, they just wanted to use me. So I was more scared that if I ever quit then I'd turn into that scruffy girl.
Adele: So you felt like if you quit you'd lose him but also if he found out you'd lose him and when he did find out did you lose him, is that what happened?
Sophie : Yeah. I mean I still speak to him now and again but we'll never ever go back to that. And then after that I made the decision, I'm never lying to anybody again. I do not care. It's my life, why should I be put in a situation where I have to hide myself because the rest of the world doesn't like me?
Hilary: Sophie I also wanted to know in terms of your family you said the relationship with your family, you've spoken about the relationship with this guy who was hurt when he found out, how did your family take it?
Sophie : My mother, my real mother, she guided me through the whole experience from the minute I started. So she was a working girl, she told me the dos and don'ts and then I passed it on to my friends this is what I mean. I didn't just start on my own. There was like 5 of us who grew up and went to school together.
Adele: Do you wish at that point your mum had given you a different side of it rather than helped you?
Sophie : Yeah.
Adele: It's hard for you though because that was the environment you were brought up in that was the example you had before you and you didn't have many other people telling you what you're telling us now.
Voice over: Sex talk.
Adele: We'll be hearing more about the life of a male sex worker from Roney later in the show. He's now helping other men in Manchester at a charity called The Men's Room.
Voice over: Sex talk. Coming up on this episode of sex talk
Roney: I had a severe drug problem. It was extremely difficult for me to talk about it. I was covered in scars and abscesses, teeth were dropping out, really bad personal hygiene, my body was shutting down, didn't have any veins left. I was having to snort the heroin and I realised I am going to die
Hilary: Now Sophie, I was wondering if you'd be up for playing a bit of a game with us in the studio?
Sophie : Yeah of course I am.
Voice Over: Sex talk. Word porn. -
Hilary: Okay so the whole idea is we've got a dictionary of sex, have you ever heard of one of these?
Sophie : I've just been shown it a minute ago a little bit but I didn't read too much of it. I was expecting it to be a bit naughtier than it was. It literally looks like a…
Hilary : It's almost like medical terms isn't it? Right so the whole idea is you select a letter and Adele's going to go through the dictionary and pick out a word with that letter and you have to tell us the meaning of it. Are you up for it?
Sophie : Of course I am!
Hilary : Fantastic.
Sophie : I choese the letter G.
Adele: Why J?
Sophie : G
Adele: Oh right! G for gin! Here we go let's have a little look… what might Sophie know? So I'm going to read a word and you've got to try and guess what it means. ** ** Geish.
Sophie : Geish?
Adele: What you saying?
Hilary: I think it's Japanese for food, some sort of sushi?
Adele: Quiche? Okay Sophie over to you?
Sophie : I'll say it's a body part in a foreign language?
Adele: Nearly. It's a metal ring, one inch in diameter inserted, you just pop it in your perineum which is the area behind the scrotum. And then hang on there's more, you lightly pull it and this is during sexual relations and the male partner is said to increase arousal and orgasm… the device originated in the South Pacific.
Sophie : I was thinking that I've got an adult mind and that's a bit too…
Adele: We heard from Sophie about her life as an escort. For male sex workers in Manchester there's a charity called The Men's Room. The charity aims to build a community for men who work in the adult industry, they also provide one to one support. Roney Commons is an outreach worker for the Men's Room…he was also a sex worker for 20 years… Here's his story….
**Voice Over: ** Real stories, real issues.
Roney : You get various people coming through it can be anything from a brief intervention, a bit of advice, we leave out contraceptives that people can take. You're in a vulnerable situation, men report fewer incidents of certainly violence but men certainly do experience people who threaten, who exploit, people that can wish to do them harm. Some advice, I would try and have two phones and I know that that's not possible really if you've been in custody. I've been in custody myself several times and I know how a discharge grant is gone in an hour if you're lucky. I would look to progress into the internet and the possibility that services can give advice around that. There are lots of services that give out contraceptives including the Men's Room. I would say just keep it safe, you're certainly not the only person who's done it, you're not the only person who's going to do it, it's just something that certain people can do and don't have a problem doing. I think myself personally I had services all around me that were ready to pick me up. So the help was there as soon as I needed it. It just took them a two decade wait for me to say 'alright now I've totally had enough'.
I had a severe drug problem. It was extremely difficult for me to talk about it. I was covered in scars and abscesses, teeth were dropping out, really bad personal hygiene, my body was shutting down, didn't have any veins left. I was having to snort the heroin, and I realised I am going to die and I went and sought the help that I needed. Spoke to a doctor who'd been working with for decades and he was saying you don't need medication what you need is talking therapy, you need to talk about things, you need to talk about what's gone on. And he wasn't wrong and I came to a point of stopping using, did an un-medicated withdrawal and just started talking therapies talking about what had happened and the horror really hit me, what I'd been doing. I look back now and I wasn't well. There are some people falling into sex work that are certainly at a disadvantage that wouldn't normally do it. A lot of the people I come across on the street working including myself at the time were fresh out of prison, fresh out of care. There's a term which is survival sex and that is people who certainly don't want to be sex working who end up street sex working hanging round in certain areas seeing what it presents. If you look at how the weather has been recently, way below freezing and you're in a situation where you're going to freeze to death or you have the option of going to an area, being picked up by somebody and sharing a warm bed for a night and not freezing to death then the chances are you're going to take that offer up. These men wouldn't describe themselves as gay, bisexual, but they find what they do quite degrading. They don't know what else to do and it's just a means to an end, financial reward, food, comfort, drugs, but then you'll go again and again and there becomes and entrenchment and in my case when I was first sex working I quite liked the attention. I quite liked the money. I met other people who were sex working who were at a disadvantage, who were doing it to buy drugs. It wasn't long before I was using with them and then I was entrenched myself. Back then the age of consent was 21 and I'm 16 so I waiting for my friend he was getting picked up and come back in half an hour with £40 and a guy pulled up and asked me to get in and I thought go on them and then I did and I done it once and then I continued to do it. Very fortunately for me there was always access to contraceptives and clean intravenous equipment, very fortunately for me. I meet people a lot younger than me that have been doing it for a lot less, they've caught all kinds of BBVs and got all kinds of complications.
When I first stopped using drugs and stopped sex working I thought that I would test positive for quite a few things, and the things that I most fear testing positive for I didn't and I put that down to having access to clean syringes and contraceptives.
Voice Over: Sex talk. Real stories. Real issues. -
Adele : Powerful stuff.
Adele: And I think going back to what Sophie said it's the support and I think it's the mental support and I feel like we need to get better at the support before people even begin working on the streets, before they even get into the adult industry and then when they are in there help them there as well. There needs to be more help.
Hilary: It's also dealing with the drugs and the demon aspect of it as well because ultimately that fuels a lot of what then goes on to happen to you as well doesn't it?
Sophie : Exactly it's a shame because they only focus on one aspect of it as well which is quite frustrating, people see this and they just see street work, or having to have sex and that's it. They don't see the other side of it, the escorting and you've got this high volume of money and you don't know how to pay taxes and you want to come out of it… You know what I mean it's not just I'm a working girl and I need some condoms and I need some support like that there are other different things to it. If I am on the streets how can I work independently, how can I get safer, how can I work for myself so I've not got a man taking money off me? I really do agree that once you're in it why is there not support for it?
Adele: Is there a lack of options so that you're in this situation where you're making good money so it's hard to turn down and then you don't have options to get out of that and could there be more of that?
Sophie : Yeah because the amount of money that you're making and girls are just wasting it on their friends or, they don't know what they want from one day to the next. They don't know whether they want to be a working girl tomorrow so what do you do? What situation do you put yourself in there? Do you go off benefits? Do you start paying taxes? What do you do in that situation?
Hilary: Sophie that's a fantastic point to come in on actually because you've been working in this industry for quite some time now, have you ever got to a point whereby you've been close to leaving?
Sophie : It's a difficult situation to be honest because you could leave it for as long as you want but you never know when you're going to end up back there. As soon as that money runs out because it's looming over you. You get greedy, you get selfish let's just have it. I get greedy with it, I'll have £2000 I want £5000 I have £5000 I want £10,000 I have £10,000 I want £20,000. It's a vicious stuck situation whereas if you had support, accountants, anything working with you saying we understand what this is, we understand it's not just black and white as 'right you quit' or 'you're a hoe because you did this', there's a lot of complicated situations. There needs to be a support work or even an organisation where they care and listen.
Adele: Well thank you for sharing your story because I feel like there are going to be people listening who you will be resonating with, and you don't know how many young people you're changing the course of their life so thank you for sharing your story and before we finish is there anything that you would like people to know about the adult industry, are there any myths that you'd like to bust or anything you'd like to say for those people that judge you for not knowing what you've been through what would you like to say to them?
Sophie : Number one: I do not have sex with loads of people. I have sex with whoever I want to have sex with. I've got more control now than probably what I had before it because before it I was vulnerable. I don't do anything I don't want to, it's not just sex work. It's not just you get paid for having sex It's treating somebody like a human being.
Hilary: We've mentioned your talents about your writing skills, we were just wondering would you be happy to share some of that with us?
Sophie : I'd love to.
Sophie : 'Jess, how are we going to get this money now? Can't go back to them without money.' 'I don't know do I, Bob's not here. Social services won't give me money because I have no address and the dole said no because social services are meant to pay me. We need a way we can make money without getting in trouble with the police.' 'Well there's only one way I can think of doing that.' 'Should we do it?' Jess couldn't have jumped up quicker. 'Are you sure? I know a place we can go. I seen them when I was 11 and used to go missing from home.' Quickly walk to the tram stop. 'But only if you're sure you can handle it.' 'Jess, I'll be fine, of course I can.' Jess questioned in her head. Charlotte was one of the good girls. She'd never slept about. All the boys wanted to bird her off. She was 16. Jess was a year old. Freezing October night, the sound of cars swishing past us, their tyres sped over the wet road. Light rain soaked into their jeans and boots. Charlotte turns to Jess. 'I'm scared.' 'Me too Charlotte, don't worry, we'll be okay.' In that moment she realised she was bluffing and it was on her to keep them safe. She grabbed her hand, gripped her tight. The rough feeling in her mouth reminds her how hungry she is. Terrified they're going to be kidnapped, beaten, or raped, but the thought of food, money and a spliff kept them going. They see a queue forming. They jump in the first car. She turns to Charlotte sat in the back. She looks terrified, innocent, and lost. Jess's heart almost breaks as she turns back to face the front. What had she dragged her into? Windscreen wipers quickly moving back and forth. Bright headlights, orange streetlights, they get to a secluded spot. He wants sex, and he wants it with Charlotte. He tells her to leave the car. She takes a quick look back as she opens the door. 'Are you okay?' 'Yeah I'll be fine' Charlotte replies in her soft sweet voice. She leaves the car, walks over to the curb, silent and dark not knowing how long they were going to take. She places the bag on the floor and uses it as a seat to stop her bum from getting wet. She looks over to the car, shaking. Right then and there she knew what was going on. It was like she could feel it for her. They got back to Bob's that night, got into bed next to each other. Cuddled to get warm under the thin quilt. 'Are you okay?' She whispered as if she was about to burst. 'At least we found a way to make money now, we can save and sort our lives out, get a house together!' 'No Jess, we're never doing that again.'
Adele: that is so powerful. That's a side you never hear reflected really because a lot of what you've said is the judging and you don't really hear what the actual experience potentially is like for people when they're on the streets. Thank you very much for sharing that Sophie. I think you really will help people that listen to this. I think you'll help them understand. You've definitely educated me a lot.
Hilary: I echo that 100%. It's so easy for us to be so judgemental of women that are in this industry but sometimes hearing the back story from someone such as yourself puts things into perspective. You should never judge a book by its cover.
Adele: And what you've done today is very brave and thank you very much for sharing your story because I think you will have helped so many people.
Hilary: I agree, thank you so much.
Voice Over: Sex talk. Real talk, real issues.
Adele : Unfortunately, It's that time again!
Hilary: Yep, that's it for this week's episode of Sex Talk. In the next episode we'll be speaking to a couple of people living with HIV in the UK
Leasuwanna: When someone says to me no I don't need to be tested. I say do you know what the H stands for in HIV? They're like what? Human. Every single human being can be affected by this.
Voice Over: Sex talk.
Hilary : We hope you've enjoyed this edition of Sex Talk. We'd like to thank today's guests, Sophie and Roney.
Adele: If you'd like to find out more about Sex Talk you can visit our website, sextalk.radio and if you've not already please do subscribe to receive the latest episodes of Sex Talk so you don't miss a single thing!
Hilary : You can also join in the conversation by using the hashtag #SexTalkPod
Adele: If you need further advice or support on any of the issues raised in this episode of Sex Talk contact your GP. They should provide out of hours contact details for emergency calls.
Hilary: Alternatively you can go online - www.nhs.co.uk - to find your nearest STI testing and treatment service.
Adele: If you're concerned about HIV - Positively UK - can offer advice. Their helpline is open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm on 020 7713 0444.
Voice Over: Thanks for listening to sex talk. The conversation doesn't stop here. Search hashtag sex talk pod and keep talking. Sex talk.