Photo by Deon Black, courtesy Unsplash
Jan 7, 2021
Everything you always wanted to know about sex work (but were afraid to ask)
A Brooklyn-based sex educator’s online “survival guide” seminar gives advice, pro-tips and career hacks to new and aspiring sex workers
Usually, when you’re looking to get into a new profession, a question you don’t expect to ask yourself is, “How do I not get arrested or killed today?” But with sex workers, these are persistent occupational hazards.
For Lola Jean, a Brooklyn-based sex educator and sex worker, much of the information about safe and consensual sex work has been historically hard to find online. So she’s out to fix that with an online summit she co-organized for this weekend: The Sex Work Survival Guide is a two-day event that will address the challenges facing sex workers, especially those who are new to the profession or curious about starting sex work. The event is live online from January 9-11, but will be available as a permanent resource on PornHub (more on that below).
The Sex Worker Survival Guide aims to explore and demystify topics like mental and physical safety and security, how to market and brand yourself online, the current state of legislation that affects sex works, how to create and produce content, and how to leverage the sex work community in a meaningful way.
Brooklyn Magazine sat down with Jean in the run-up to the summit to discuss its impetus and what to expect. “A majority of sex workers in NYC live in Brooklyn and Queens,” she says. This interview has been edited for space and flow.
Why create a sex work survival guide conference?
During quarantine, my friend Tiana Glittersaurus and I were doing monthly online panels about different topics like conflict resolution, shame, desire and responsibility. Our friend The Domme Kat approached us about doing a panel specifically for sex workers, and I just kind of reluctantly stumbled upon helping out. I also saw the need of this not being a one-time thing, this needs to be free for eternity.
How has the pandemic affected the sex worker industry?
It has put an importance on the community more than ever. But specifically because it is a sex-related industry, many sex workers have not received the stimulus money or unemployment, so they are already acting on a defecit. Some people’s work can’t transition to online or they haven’t established that online presence. For those people they might have to literally risk their lives by seeing people in the pandemic. A lot of people lose their client base, move, or don’t want to do sessions during the pandemic.
Accurately or not, PornHub has recently come under scrutiny in the mainstream media for enabling revenge porn, child porn and stealing sex worker content. Why use them to sponsor the summit?
It is something that people have access to and we wanted it to be free, so we needed to find somebody who would pay sex workers and would host the conference. PornHub was that. They specifically communicated to us that they were looking to establish better relationships with sex workers and content creators and wanted to give donations to sex work-sepcific things. You are putting money directly in the pockets of sex workers by paying our speakers and putting donations towards our selected charities. We are also helping sex workers because, we are giving them content that helps them stay safe. With all of the scandals going on, none of this is to excuse trafficking, but this conference is for people going into sex work consensually, how can those people stay safe.
Even in the sex worker community there is jargon. One buzzword that comes up a lot is ‘whorearchy.’ Describe what the whorearchy means to you?
The whorearchy is the assumption in the sex work industry that you are “more” of sex worker if you are full-service instead of a cam model. Just because one sex worker specializes in a certain area doesn’t make the other areas any less valid.
Do you have any advice for young people thinking about getting into sex work?
It is called “sex work” because it is work. There are a lot of things to consider if you do it, but the cards are stacked against you. Ask yourself why you are wanting to get into sex work: Is it something that is a representation of you, or are you trying to replicate someone else’s expression or yourself? If you are a sex worker, you are part of a marginalized group. It is not something that is easy or glamorous and there are a lot of safety concerns to take into account before you enter this career. A lot of people are chewed up and spit out really quickly.
What is a thing about sex work that people think they know, but tend to get wrong?
There is a lot of work behind the scenes that we don’t see. It is still a job, there are still providers and clients. There is a lot of professionalism and that varies depending on what kind of sex work you are in.
Sex workers have complained that FOSTA-SESTA, the controversial set of 2018 laws intended to curb online sex trafficking, has had a devastating impact on them. Like what?
The internet companies don’t want to be legally liable for the mess of deciding what kink-related content is consensual or not. These things are dangerous because they start to control our speech and expression: All of a sudden they are determining what is moral or not. In a way it puts us in this digital dictatorship, where Zuckerberg has all the power. So an easier way to deal with that is to say “no sexual content all together.”
You’ve mentioned the stigma around sex work. How has the sex worker community positively affected you?
It has helped me re-establish a positive relationship with other femmes again. I was bullied as a child so I have been able to reclaim some of that trauma in a positive way. Sex workers are my people and community. You are only as strong as your community, especially with sex work.
What can people expect from the seminar?
People can expect to be surprised. We pulled from sex workers and I think at the end of the day is what it really highlights it the community. This is a community effort because at the end of the day we have our backs, it’s a community-led seminar and community-based crowd source event.
The Sex Work Survival Guide will be livestreamed from Jan. 9 at 2pm est and ends at 11pm est on Jan. 10. The online summit is free to register on Eventbrite.
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