Generally, these women assumed that while they were working it would be better to stay single because the sort of partner they would want to be with was not the type that would want a partner doing sex work. Other women reported that they felt the need to lie to many people in their lives about the nature of their work and they did not want to lie to a sexual partner, which is why they preferred to stay single while working in the sex industry.
Women commonly felt they could not be honest about the nature of their work and this created barriers with relationships and intimacy. Single women also struggled to be honest about the nature of their work due to the stigma attached to the sex industry.
Single women often reported that potential partners did not understand the true nature of their work and the stigma associated with it caused many partners to react negatively. A number of women also spoke of an inability to trust men which developed either early in their lives as a result of physical or sexual abuse or as a consequence of sex work, impacting heavily on their desire to have a relationship.
Because of all the nice and lovely men I have met through work not the pricks I no longer trust men to be faithful. Three sex workers in particular reported that their work had a substantial impact on all facets of their lives. Sex work had become something that defined their whole lives and these women seemed to be more desperate to leave the industry altogether. While many women felt their work kept them from having relationships, a minority reported they were not single because of their work nor did their work have a major impact on their relationships.
If I was to meet someone and there was a chance of anything , I would tell them what I do. Their reaction to it is their business. These women expressed a desire to be in a relationship, be honest about their work and find a partner who would be comfortable and accept their work. About half of women, either single or in a relationship, spoke about the need to maintain a distinction between their work and personal lives, some however, found this easier to do than others.
This was often because they felt they were deceiving people in their personal lives. If problems occur at work , it may be hard to hide them in your personal life. It has become harder to separate , this is because it kills me to lie and as an older sister I wish I could set a more responsible and steady example. Most women separated their work life from their home life, mainly to try and limit the impact of their work life on their personal life.
I'm pretty good at maintaining it all separately. However , I am on anti-depressants which helps a lot. Of the women, a few reported ways in which they separated their sex work from their personal lives including one sex worker who reported that to keep her work life and personal life separate she did not spend time with other sex workers outside of work.
A number of other women reported that condom use was a way in which they separated sex at work with sex at home. Women generally used condoms with their clients but not with their personal partners. Never with my former partner as he'd had a vasectomy and we were both checked out and tested. While trying to separate their two lives may have been useful for some women, others found that trying to separate their work and home life made things more difficult and isolating.
I find it isolating and stressful to not be able to discuss work at home or with friends. It used to be quite easy to separate but I am in love with my current partner and this makes it very hard. Overall, women who member checked the questionnaire results agreed with the findings of the study. Tables 4 and 5 provide an overview of their experiences in the sex industry and examples of the impact sex work has on their personal relationships and their use of mental separation as a coping mechanism.
The main difference found between the experiences of the 55 sex workers who completed the questionnaire and the six women interviewed for member checking was that the member checking women were more likely to focus on both the positive and negative effects of sex work on their personal lives and relationships. Women who completed the questionnaire were more likely to report on the negative effects. Just under half of women were in a relationship at the time of completing the questionnaire, and of these women, just over half reported their partners were not aware they were working in the sex industry.
The majority of women who had told their partners they were working in the sex industry experienced largely negative impacts around jealousy and misunderstanding due to the stigma associated with the sex industry. Interestingly, the difficulties women in relationships reported due to the nature of their work were the same issues or reasons why many women chose to remain single while employed in sex work. A few women reported positive impacts of working in the sex industry and being in a relationship, including an improved sex life, higher levels of intimacy with their partner and improved self-esteem and confidence.
Over half of women reported they found it difficult to mentally separate their work life from their personal life, using mechanisms such as not socialising with other sex workers or using condoms with clients but not with romantic partners to separate the two spheres.
The findings from this study support and extend previous findings [ 25 , 33 , 37 ] which have also found that women working in the sex industry commonly report negative impacts on their relationships as a result of their work due to issues around lying, trust and feelings of guilt. In a study by Warr and Pyett [ 37 ] of condom use among women working in the sex industry in Australia, women in relationships commonly experienced similar negative impacts due to the nature of their work.
Past research has shown that it is not uncommon for couples in other occupations to also experience negatives issues associated with suspicion, jealousy and questions of faithfulness [ 44 ].
These issues commonly result if violations of trust and loyalty occur, which are thought to be integral to relationship satisfaction.
As previous studies have also found [ 14 — 18 ], stigma was a major barrier in sex workers personal romantic relationships, with women commonly reporting that partners misunderstood the true nature of their work due to negative stigma surrounding the sex industry, leading to significant problems in their relationships. As found in this study and others, the shame associated with doing sex work contributed to many women not disclosing the nature of their work for fear of being judged or rejected [ 14 , 17 — 19 ].
It was also common for women in this study to feel the need to maintain a distinction between their work and personal life, using separation as a coping mechanism to manage the two spheres of their lives, including not socialising with other sex workers, and using condoms with clients but not with romantic partners.
This has previously been suggested to reflect levels of intimacy in relationships as well as creating a symbolic barrier between sex at work and sex at home [ 34 , 37 ]. Other common coping mechanisms sex workers use to separate the two spheres, a number of which were identified in this study, include lying to their partners and significant people in their lives about their work, trying to maintain a psychological distinction between sex at work and home, and changing dress, makeup and even persona in order to maintain distinctions between their work life and personal life [ 19 , 25 — 29 , 37 ].
The stigma associated with sex work is likely to prevent women from being able to breakdown the borders between their work and personal lives, particularly where partners are not supportive or understanding of the nature of their work which contributes to their inability to discuss their work openly. The theory of mentally separating work and home has been previously explored through the lens of border theory which posits that when work and home lives are very different it is important to maintain strong borders around them in order to lead a balanced life [ 34 ].
The women in this study appeared to have mixed reactions around mentally separating their work and home life, with the majority of women finding it useful to maintain a distinction between the two, and the few who felt it was unnecessary more likely to view sex work as an important part of their lives and identity. Previous research has similarly shown that creating distinctions between work and personal lives was an important aspect of coping for many women in the sex industry [ 17 , 32 , 45 ].
The ability to do this can depend on individual differences such as personal coping style and ways of thinking about their work. Some women found separating the two worlds useful and even had a separate persona for work than for home as has been shown previously [ 17 , 19 , 29 , 32 ]. Women who viewed sex work as part of their lives and who they were, were more likely to be in a position to freely discuss their work with their romantic partners, most of who accepted it well and often had a greater understanding of the industry.
Women who had supportive partners tended to report more positive experiences of the impact of work on their relationships and demonstrated a more integrated psychological approach to work and home life balance. Interestingly, single women in this study commonly chose not to have a relationship while working in the sex industry for the same reasons the women in relationships raised.
Women did not want to have to lie to potential partners or deal with the trust issues they knew would inevitably arise. These findings are consistent with previous study findings by Warr and Pyett [ 37 ], who reported that a number of women were concerned about having a relationship while working in the sex industry for these reasons.
As we found in this study, a considerable number of women also reported they did not want a relationship while working in the sex industry as the relationships available to them did not seem to fit with their idea of a healthy relationship.
Women reported that they did not want a partner who would be comfortable with them doing sex work and associated this with commitment, respect and love. This relationship paradox whereby women felt it was impossible to have a relationship while working in the sex industry as it would only be possible with a man that they would not want to be with is worth exploring further.
While the women themselves may be comfortable with their choice to work in the sex industry they do not want a partner who is comfortable with them engaging in sex work, indicating their views of sex work may be much more complex than is initially apparent, and they may not be as comfortable with sex work as it appears. To our knowledge this is the first study to specifically explore the experiences of indoor sex workers in relation to the impact of sex work on their personal relationships and the use of mental separation as a coping mechanism.
A further strength of this study is that it focused on sex workers who are involved in the legal sex industry where occupational health and safety regulations are enforced. Women are more likely to present with issues due to the work itself, such as issues regarding their emotional wellbeing and relationships, rather than, for example, issues around personal safety. Although indoor sex workers safety is still of some concern it is much more likely to be an issue in the illegal sex industry. The study had a number of limitations.
Firstly, the results of this study are based on a relatively small sample of indoor sex workers from one sexual health centre in Victoria, Australia and as such the findings may not be generalizable to the broader population of sex workers in Australia. We have been successful in identifying a number of avenues that are important for further investigation and future large scale studies among a broad, diverse sample of sex workers are now required to confirm the findings of this study and determine generalisability.
Secondly, the depth of data collection was not at the level of an interview style qualitative study. The self-report nature of the questionnaire may not have allowed women to fully explore their feelings and experiences in the open text areas, however, the anonymous nature of the questionnaire may have also allowed women to feel freer to express their feelings and opinions more honestly without the presence of an interviewer.
The self-report method may also have limited the findings due to potential responder bias however, again, it is possible that in being anonymous women may have been more comfortable and honest about their experiences than if they were identifiable or the questionnaire was interviewer administered.
This exploratory study identified some key issues women working in the sex industry face when trying to balance their work and personal romantic relationships. This study enabled women to share some of the emotional impacts of their work, the information of which is likely to be useful to health care and support workers in assisting sex workers to manage the tensions between their work and personal romantic relationships.
While these findings are clearly not generalizable to the wider community of sex workers, they have provided a useful insight into this largely under researched area, and support the need for a larger study to be undertaken to determine if the findings of this study are reflected in a larger, more representative sample of Australian sex workers.
Consideration should be given to including both indoor and outdoor sex workers who face considerably different work and personal issues which are likely to impact on their personal romantic relationships in different ways.
It is likely women from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, diverse sexualities and partner type, and geographic area will experience differing impacts of sex work and it is important future interventions recognise and tailor support programs accordingly.
It is possible other associated issues faced by women such as dishonestly and lying would be of less concern if they felt confident and comfortable to disclose their true profession to partners, family and friends without fear of judgement or stigmatisation.
Nevertheless, the issues that women face in their relationships as a result of sex work are clearly complex and there will not be one simple solution to address such a wide range of experiences.
The findings of the current study suggest that sex work impacts personal romantic relationships in mainly negative ways.
The impacts ranged in manifestation and severity but overwhelmingly caused issues around trust, deception, lying and jealousy. Negotiating the viability of potential relationships while working in the sex industry was an issue for a variety of reasons including stigma, trust and the types of relationships that women felt they wanted.
It is important to note however, that a minority of women did report positive effects of sex work on their relationships and sex lives, which highlights the diversity of experiences in this group of women.
We would like to thank all the women who kindly consented to participate in this study as well as the doctors and nurses at Melbourne Sexual Health Centre for their help in referring women to this study. Conceived and designed the experiments: Click through the PLOS taxonomy to find articles in your field.
Methods Fifty-five women working in the indoor sex industry in Melbourne, Australia, were recruited to complete a self-report questionnaire about various aspects of their work, including the impact of sex work on their personal relationships. October 30, Copyright: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited Data Availability: Introduction Sex work involves one or more services where sex is exchanged for money or goods [ 1 ].
Method This exploratory study allowed for preliminary investigation in an area in which very limited data is currently available. Participants To be eligible for the study women had to be over the age of 18, have a good understanding of English, and work in a licensed brothel, massage parlour or as a private escort in Victoria, Australia.
Data collection Anonymous questionnaire. Recruitment Women were opportunistically recruited to the study during a routine three monthly clinical appointment for sexually transmitted infection testing to obtain their certificate to work. Data analysis Questionnaires were entered into SPSS and analysed using descriptive and frequency analysis.
Results A total of 55 women completed the questionnaire. Negative impact of sex work on relationships—Women in relationships The main ways in which sex work negatively impacted on women in relationships were around issues of dishonesty and distrust, jealousy, stigma and pragmatic issues. Issues single women and women in relationships face in their personal relationships as a result of sex work.
Participant 31 The job doesn't help when in a relationship. Participant 47 Women were commonly worried about their partner finding out about their work or thinking they were being unfaithful. Participant 52 For these women, not telling their partners about their work led to questioning about their faithfulness. Stigma and sex work. Too tired from work and sometimes making love feels like being with a client. Positive impact of sex work on relationships—Women in relationships.
Participant 8 Being a dominatrix has given me so much confidence and makes me proud to do the work I do. Participant 20 Women who reported positive impacts on their relationships from sex work tended to take a holistic view of sex work, regarding it as an important part of their life and who they were. Participant 20 Some women similarly felt that their profession was better understood, and it was easier on their relationship, if they were dating ex-clients who had an understanding of the nature of their work due to their prior experience of sex worker services.
Single women Over half of the women in the study were single, mainly out of choice, and mostly due to the nature of their work. Wrong type of partner. Participant 54 Generally, these women assumed that while they were working it would be better to stay single because the sort of partner they would want to be with was not the type that would want a partner doing sex work. Participant 23 Women commonly felt they could not be honest about the nature of their work and this created barriers with relationships and intimacy.
There is a gap between the nature of my job and the public perception. Participant 14 Trust had become a huge issue for some women because of their exposure to men as clients. Participant 37 Three sex workers in particular reported that their work had a substantial impact on all facets of their lives. Relationship status not due to sex work. Participant 43 These women expressed a desire to be in a relationship, be honest about their work and find a partner who would be comfortable and accept their work.
Separation as a coping mechanism About half of women, either single or in a relationship, spoke about the need to maintain a distinction between their work and personal lives, some however, found this easier to do than others. Participant 6 It has become harder to separate , this is because it kills me to lie and as an older sister I wish I could set a more responsible and steady example.
Participant 14 Most women separated their work life from their home life, mainly to try and limit the impact of their work life on their personal life. I have 2 personas who sic live comfortably side by side. Participant 23 I'm pretty good at maintaining it all separately. Participant 6 I switch off when I am not at work.
Participant 33 Of the women, a few reported ways in which they separated their sex work from their personal lives including one sex worker who reported that to keep her work life and personal life separate she did not spend time with other sex workers outside of work. I keep it separate , I do not hang out with other workers.
Participant 41 A number of other women reported that condom use was a way in which they separated sex at work with sex at home. I sleep with my husband without protection but always practice safe sex with clients. Participant 11 Never with my former partner as he'd had a vasectomy and we were both checked out and tested.
Participant 10 While trying to separate their two lives may have been useful for some women, others found that trying to separate their work and home life made things more difficult and isolating. Participant 44 It was particularly difficult for women in committed personal relationships. Participant 9 Sometimes making love feels like being with a client. Member checking Overall, women who member checked the questionnaire results agreed with the findings of the study.
Sex work and relationships The findings from this study support and extend previous findings [ 25 , 33 , 37 ] which have also found that women working in the sex industry commonly report negative impacts on their relationships as a result of their work due to issues around lying, trust and feelings of guilt.
Implications and further research This exploratory study identified some key issues women working in the sex industry face when trying to balance their work and personal romantic relationships.
Conclusions The findings of the current study suggest that sex work impacts personal romantic relationships in mainly negative ways. Acknowledgments We would like to thank all the women who kindly consented to participate in this study as well as the doctors and nurses at Melbourne Sexual Health Centre for their help in referring women to this study.
Author Contributions Conceived and designed the experiments: Implications for Professional Psychologists. View Article Google Scholar 2. What's Wrong with Prostitution? What's Right with Sex Work? Comparing Markets in Female Sexual Labor. Hastings Women's Law Journal. View Article Google Scholar 3. Methodological and Ethical Challenges. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Journal of Personality Assessment. View Article Google Scholar 5.
View Article Google Scholar 7. Widening the Harm Reduction Agenda: From Drug Use to Sex Work. International Journal of Drug Policy. View Article Google Scholar 8. View Article Google Scholar Farley M, Barkan H.
Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality. Journal of Epidemiological Community Health. Opportunist Migrants in London. Scrambler G, Paoli F. Challenging the Stigma of Sex Work in India: Matierial Context and Symbolic Change. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology. Coping with Stigma, Discrimination and Violence: Relationships Australia NSW is committed to supporting First Nations individuals, couples and families to build healthy, respectful relationships.
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