Monday, April 24, 2023

Psychological Realities of Sex Workers

There are many jobs that fall under the umbrella of sex worker. They range from nude dancer to adult film performer to escort. While each have very different aspects to the job themselves, they all come with the same difficult issues. The psychological realities of sex work can, at times, be challenging and painful. Society in general has made significant steps forward with acceptance but chances are good, you’ll still be subject to some kind of fallout for being in the adult business.

Being Shunned
Everyone has a different experience with being shunned. The most common tale are parents who guilt you for what you’re doing or worse, simply don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore. They have negative misconceptions about the industry. They even deny you the opportunity to tell your side or explain why you chose and prefer this occupation. In that case, there’s really nothing you can do. You simply go on with your life. Unfortunately, you also carry that crappy feeling of being abandoned and unloved. In many cases, you may have already carried that feeling about your family anyway, so the break is probably a good thing.

Issues with Institutions
Other institutions such as churches, banks and insurance companies also make it known that people from the adult industry are not welcome. The church is of course hypocritical but the banks and insurance companies hit where it hurts. People need banks and insurance to function in society.

Banks are notoriously troublesome. They have even gone as far as to freeze the accounts of adult film performers during ‘Operation Choke Point.’ This was a United States Department of Justice initiative beginning in 2013. The DOJ claimed they were investigating banks for fraud and money laundering practices. Many business were investigated such as online gambling, debt consolidation, fireworks and ammunition sales. While the DOJ initiative was to target illegal activities, the bank accounts of many adult film actors and other sex works were frozen or closed. This led to significant financial hardship and is considered a form of discrimination; especially for sex work that is completely legal. The true hypocrisy is that these sex workers paid taxes, which they government was happy to take, but were denied a simple bank account.

Insurance companies are very hesitant to insure any type of adult business citing a ‘moral hazard.’ A moral hazard is a situation where the person or business owner is thought to have an incentive to increase their exposure to risk because of their insurance coverage. In reality, these are business owners seeking coverage of their business and employees. They are doing what any other business own would do.

Issues in Your Relationship
Many partners will enter a relationship with a sex worker with the attitude that they fine with the profession. However, this can quickly change as the relationship progresses. Sure, it’s exciting to date an adult film actress or nude dancer, but as the relationship grows more serious, certain feelings can arise.

1) Jealousy - This comes up for both vanilla partners and those within the industry itself. When you’re off to a shoot or off to see a client, they eventually may not like it. Once we are attached to someone, especially sexually, it seems we can instinctually become uncomfortable with sex acts outside the relationship. This isn’t true for everyone, but I hear it a lot. Just as in a ‘swinger relationship,’ boundaries and trust are extremely important.

2) Keeping You a Secret - Your partner may be reluctant to introduce you to their family or friends. They may have concerns as to what others will think. Honestly, this would not even be an issue with someone who is genuinely okay with what you do. Technically, it should not be an issue. The work you do should be like the color of your skin or your gender identity. It should not matter. You should not have to apologize, hide or be made to feel ashamed about your profession.

You partner should understand this. First, they don’t have to say anything as I doubt that you will wear a sign that says, “I’m in the adult business.” Secondly, who cares what anyone thinks? Any relationship is about the people who are involved. Everyone is bigger than the job they do; as is the relationship.

3) Schedule Conflicts - You get home and 4am. Your partner gets up at 6am. That allows very little time to be together. You also might have to work weekends which is another challenge. Unless you have a very solid relationship, it will eventually become an issue and a deal breaker.

Your Own Shame
Shame is a feeling that is characterized by a deep seated belief that ‘I am wrong.’ This is in direct opposition to real guilt which is based on the idea that ‘I did something wrong.’ While guilt is not a great feeling it’s something that can often be corrected. However, shame lives deep inside.

Shame develops early on. Anyone who was sexually molested as a kid or was physical or emotionally abused, did what they had to do to survive. Often, this was simply being ‘seen but not heard.’ You obeyed your abuser did what you could to appease them lived in a state of freeze or collapse. You were there in body but split off into your own world. You did what ever you had to do in order to survive.

Today you look beautiful. You speak eloquently and win awards. Yet, sometimes when you are alone, you don’t really like yourself. This is not your fault and has very little to do with being an adult entertainer. It’s all about your early days on earth.

Early Childhood Traumas
Despite popular thinking, many sex workers didn’t get into the business solely because of early childhood trauma. If that were the case, the adult entertainment business would have more people than it knew what to do with. While, some people were sexualized as children, many were not. So we can not make blanket assumptions. However, early childhood trauma is quite prevalent. The adult business actually has its benefits which are generally not mentioned by the general public but are helpful in address and healing these traumas.

1) You have chosen your own path - Despite what others think or say, you are doing something that others wouldn’t. You have chosen to break barriers and be sexually free. You help others get in touch with their own sexuality. The work you do is important. And it’s important for you to know you are doing something that is life affirming. The idea is to do it with pride and with no apology.

2) You have the ability to set boundaries - You now have to the ability to set your own standards. You can speak up and say, “No!”; something you could not do as a child in a trauma situation. You are now your own boss. You can select the jobs you take. You can also negotiate your salary and have a large say in what you will or won’t do. You can also choose who you want to do scenes with, the type of scenes you will do and also the type of scenes that are off limits.

If working with clients privately, you get to set boundaries by choosing your specialty area, the type of client you are seeking and behavioral expectations. This is different from how you grew up because children traditionally have very little say in their lives. Many vanilla workers navigate their adult lives in a state of freeze or withdrawal because that is way they learned to survive. They may never experience the freedom that you do.

3) You have financial freedom - You probably know that making ‘easy money’ in the adult business is a fallacy. However, if you work it smart, you will make enough to pay your bills and hopefully save some money on the side. The ability to take care of yourself financially is very freeing. It means you are not beholden to anyone else.

Self Help Guidelines
There are many way to navigate the business of being a sex worker. Seeing a therapist is always one of my top recommendations. Aside from that, here are a couple of things you can do right now to help yourself.

Learn to be Your Own Cheerleader
Notice your own self-talk. Is the voice in your head reminiscent of critical parents or teachers? Are you putting yourself down when you take off your make up and get into bed at night? One of the nice parts of being an adult is that you can see things from a new perspective. Hurtful things that people told you during your formative years are lies. When you are honest with yourself, you know who you are and what you stand for. Learn to speak kindly to yourself and most of all, talk back to the bullies in your head. It’s important to develop your own voice and speak truthfully to yourself.

Be Choosey with Your Friends
Social connection is everything when it comes to feeling good about yourself. When we were young, we had to survive with whatever hand we were dealt. Today you are in charge. Your only obligation is to yourself. Friends are people who you feel good to be around. That good feeling stays with you after the time is over. They are interested in you as a human being, what you stand for, and the inner emotions that you express. Most of all, they are people who prove themselves to be trustworthy and honor the inner thoughts you share. They don’t gossip or put you down. They are just good people; plain and simple.

Allow People to be Good to You
Do you find yourself shying away from people who are nice? Notice yourself feeling untrusting of the good people? That is a reaction from your past to be aware of in the present. Some people are actually good. They want to listen, invite you over and are interested in you. When you’ve grown up in an imperfect environment, the natural inclination is to distrust. Ironically, the people you might find yourself drawn to are people who are abusive users and out only out for themselves. Don’t let their charm fool you because they will eventually be like the other hurtful people in your past. Just because it feels familiar doesn’t mean it’s right.

Learning to be discerning of social connection will take time. First, you have to develop your own inner radar to distinguish between good and bad. The rule of thumb here is to take your time and be patient with people you meet, date or befriend. No snap judgements either way. Learn to be neutral and observe behaviors. It will feel foreign at first but you can learn to do it. Give each new person some time to reveal who they really are before jumping in too deep.

Therapy Helps
It’s okay to ask for help. The basic concepts I’m presenting need explanation and modification to fit your personal needs and goals. I’m a trauma informed and trauma trained therapist that has worked with people in the adult entertainment business for many years. I am also familiar with alternative sexual lifestyles and gender difference. I am extremely non-judgmental and effective in what I do. I also have the ability to make you feel as comfortable as possible when you first come to see. As we develop our own unique therapeutic relationship, you’ll actually look forward to your therapy sessions.

The work won’t be easy. Dealing with shame is often equivalent to throwing away rotten meat. Eventually you can discard it and meet the part of you that was born good, kind and creative. It’s my hope to have the honor of guiding you. If not me, please connect with someone you feel would be comfortable, accepting and genuinely willing to help you.

- Jackie A. Castro, MA, LMFT

Monday, May 11, 2015

5 Secrets To Good Therapy

There's a huge difference between choosing a medical doctor and choosing a psychotherapist. While both look at symptoms and offer treatment, the therapeutic relationship is far more complex and personal. Even though most therapists receive the same basic training, the dynamics between patient and client are as variable as the personalities inside the room.

When evaluating your own therapy experience, trust yourself. Your therapist might be highly qualified or come highly recommended. But only you know if your therapist is the right one for you. 

1. Do you enjoy going to see your therapist? 

It's a given that people seek out therapy when they are in emotional pain. Break-ups, loss of a loved one and debilitating anxiety or depression are common reasons to seek out therapy. Just because your life is in pain, doesn't mean the experience has to be painful. Ideally, you should look forward to going to therapy. That's because your therapist provides a comfortable, soothing retreat.

If you find yourself dreading your therapy appointments, it's a good idea to do some soul searching. Are there concrete reasons for your discomfort? Does the therapist remind you of someone else? Would your therapist be open to your feedback? If you feel that there are 'irreconcilable differences', it's OK to see someone else. Just be honest and communicate. The way you behave with your therapist mimics your behavior in real life. Treat her with the kind of respect you'd like for yourself. 

2. Do you feel heard? 

There's a big difference between someone who listens halfheartedly and someone who hears you. In therapy, the goal is to be heard and understood. You ought to leave each session feeling that your therapist really 'gets' what you are saying. 

An attentive therapist will do more than just nod her head. She'll ask probing questions and paraphrase what your'e saying. She'll listen with an air of curiosity and openness. If she's not quite getting you, she'll let you know. You and your therapist are a team. And that team is based on you and your therapy goals. 

3. Does your therapist talk too much about herself?

The therapy room is all about you. That's why you are paying a professional. And that's the luxury of therapy. The focus of meetings are totally about your life. Sometimes therapists will disclose something personal in order to make a point. 

Usually that's OK. However if it is excessive to the point that you feel a need to help her, be careful. Therapy is not about making a friend. It's a unique relationship based on boundaries and a structured frame. The frame is the therapy room. The less you know about your therapist, the better the therapy. Freud called that transference. He recommended that the therapist be a 'blank screen'. This allows you to experience a relationship with someone who might have been absent or gave you less than what you needed. Usually that would be a parent, caretaker or teacher. Therapy is often about being re-parented or unconditionally accepted by an authority figure. Your therapist needs to let you assign the role most needed for your own personal healing. 

4. Does your therapist tell you what to do?

Life coaches tell you what to do. Therapists empower you so that you can make your own decisions. By providing a space of unconditional acceptance and support, you will learn how to tune in and get a sense of what you really want. You will learn to understand the difference between distorted feelings and fact. These skills are life sustaining and will serve you for the rest of your life. You will learn how to make rational decisions on your own. You will never be told what to do. 

Sometimes it's tempting to ask for advice. While she may tell you what she would do if she were in your shoes, ultimately only you know what's best for you. Your therapist serves as a guide; never an authority figure. 

5. Does your therapist judge?

The therapy room promises to be nonjudgmental. But do you feel that way? Remember that oftentimes we feel judged when we aren't. That's because we project feelings from others on to the person we are interacting with in the moment. That projection is a form of transference. Sometimes we unconsciously seek out disapproval because it's familiar. Just because you feel comfortable in your old shoes, it doesn't mean they are right for your feet. 

You need to be cognizant of how you are being treated in the therapy room. Don't assume the worst. But at the same time, don't take the blame. If you feel you are being judged, check it out with your therapist. 

It just may be a case of transference. Or, your therapist might actually have strong opinions. Remember they are human too. A good therapist will admit mistakes and find truth in what you are saying. You have the right to a non-judgmental environment. 

In Summary

The therapy experience is as unique as you and the person you are seeing. Unlike the doctor/patient experience, it's not all about science. It's a relationship based on compatibility, communication and trust. 

These days, online therapy websites are as utilized as online dating websites. And that's the way many are seeking a therapist. They look at pictures, profiles and fees. They send a few emails, make a phone call and set up an appointment. It's very hit or miss. 

Sometimes people are happy with their choice but sometimes they aren't. However, unlike a date, most people feel that they are stuck in their choice. They feel compelled to stick it out but more often they give up on the idea of therapy. They judge one experience and condemn the entire process. 

You have rights and you have say. It's okay to exercise your opinion. And, if your communications fall on deaf ears, it's okay to break up and move on. 

Move on to the next therapist but don't give up on therapy. Therapy is a wonderful, healing and life affirming experience. Yes, I'm a therapist. And yes, I do my best to live up to standards I've shared with you.

This article was written for and appears on Ravishly.

© 2015 Jackie A Castro, MA, LMFT

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Not So Smart After All: 5 Mistakes Couples Make With Their Phones

It's human nature to reminisce about the past. It's easy to glorify our old boyfriends and girlfriends decades after the fact. We used to keep these thoughts to ourselves. Now there's an easy way to act on our daydreams.

Smart Phones. We love them. We take them everywhere. We bedazzle them with stylish cases. They help us pass the time while waiting. But did you know that your beloved 6 inches of plastic and programming could very well be the trigger that leads to relationship discord?

As a Marriage Family Therapist and relationship specialist, smart phones play a surprisingly huge role in relationship drama. The following are five of the most common mistakes people make with their smart phones:

1. Using Facebook and other social media when you're with your partner.

"My wife used to greet me with a kiss when I got home from work. Now she barely looks up from her phone. It seems like no matter where we are, or what we're doing, she's buried in Facebook."

Couples complain bitterly about coming home to busy thumbs rather than wiling lips. Social media, texting and electronic communications are killing intimacy.

Business transactions and communications used to be limited to the basic work week schedule. Not anymore. These days business is literally taking place 24/7. People text or email whenever a thought pops into their head. And they also seem to expect a reply as instantaneous as the communique. There's no thought that a person might be out to dinner, spending time with the family or having sex. These days, the electronic intrusion takes precedence over everything else. 

We're forgetting how to be present with each other in the moment. Most couples are not even aware of the damage that phones and social media are causing. Look no further than your smart phone to see a device that ostensibly brings the world together, but tears couples apart.

Set your priorities straight. If it's something that can wait until tomorrow, make sure and do that. Friends and business acquaintances will soon get the hint and be more cognizant of when to contact you. Be proactive with your phone. Remember you control the phone, the phone doesn't control you.

2. Texting when you're with your partner. 

"She's always texting. Sometimes it happens even when we're in bed watching TV. 

She tells me that it has to do with business matters that can't wait. More often, she's just chatting with a friend. I try to be patient but sometimes I can't help but feel like I'm second fiddle to her phone."

It's one thing to check your calendar and it's another thing to text. A text conversation is the same as a phone conversation with one important difference. It's completely private. Would you whisper to someone else in front of your spouse? Would you have a side conversation while your partner is standing right beside you? That's what you're doing when texting. It's rude and unnecessary. And more and more it's becoming a point of contention in long-term relationships. 

Keep text conversations to a minimum when spending time with your partner. Be courteous and put the phones down. If  you absolutely need to have that text exchange, be sure to inform your  significant other why you are sending or receiving a text. Better yet, show him your phone. That way no one is left guessing or feeling slighted.

3. Snooping on your partner's phone. 

"Can you imagine? I woke up from surgery and Beverly was glaring at me.Turns out she was reading my texts the whole time I was under. Now she's seeing things that aren't true. I hate the constant distrust. This kind of snooping behavior is a real turn off."

We can't help but look. It's ever so tempting. But poring through your partner's text messages almost never ends up well. Invariably, someone is violated or busted. 

Most commonly, the texts are misinterpreted. Beverly found messages to his ex-wife of 15 years. Since the divorce was amicable, some of the messages were friendly. As a result, Beverly jumped to conclusions. Her boyfriend hated the false accusations so he ended the relationship. Ironically, this is what Beverly feared most, but she literally pushed him away. 

Make judgments based on real evidence, not inconclusive text messages. When you think something is off, go to the source. That's your partner. Talk and talk again. Go see a marriage counselor to learn how to communicate. Don't bicker about meaningless texts usually interpreted out of context. Resist the urge to look. You'll be happier and your relationship will be able to have the chance it deserves. 

4. Trusting your cell phone to keep a secret. 

"He told me that he blocked her! He told me he would never communicate with her again. But once again we're out to dinner and she's texting him. And he texted her right back. I'm tired of his excuses. I know for sure now that I can't trust him."

It is virtually impossible to lie these days. Still, many people feel that they can get away with it. And then they inevitably get caught, create mistrust, and trigger feelings of pain, anger and betrayal.

In the past, many of us were told that telling a fib keeps the peace. So we 'worked late' when we were really at the bar. We bought dresses on 'sale' when we really paid full price. We told 'white lies' and generally got away with them.

These days our phones give us away. GPS devices make us easy to track. Emails offer all kinds of receipts and hints of our whereabouts. We keep personal notes, recorded messages and automatic reminders that offer a great deal of information. We might as well be honest. Our electronic world offers no other choice!

5. Communicating secretly with an ex.

"I was shocked by the butterflies in my stomach when Bobby found me on Instagram! I didn't see the harm in communicating with an ex since he lives out of state. What I didn't figure on were my deep emotions. I'm feeling confused now. I find myself feeling more connected to him than my own husband!"

In a not so distant past, couples shared a home line. The phone would ring and somebody would answer it. The caller would identify themselves and leave a message with whomever picked up. Since the phone would be centrally located, everyone in the house would hear one side of the conversation. There was very little privacy and it worked out fine. 

These days the smart phone individualizes communication. We have maximum privacy. Texting and social media provides a quiet way to converse. No one can hear what we have to say. Many couples are taking advantage of their new found freedom. And that liberty is causing problems!

It's human nature to reminisce about the past. It's easy to glorify our old boyfriends and girlfriends decades after the fact. We used to keep these thoughts to ourselves. Now  there's an easy way to act on our daydreams. And while it's OK to  contact friends, it's not OK to contact or encourage communication with former lovers. It never ends well.

Bobby didn't know that his ex girlfriend's husband of 13 years had lost his job 16 months prior. Or that they were having major financial and personal problems. Problems that didn't get posted. As a result, she was feeling vulnerable and latched on to Jim. And Jim himself was married with kids. It didn't take long before a big mess developed.

Take pause before contacting an ex. If you are the recipient of the contact, tell your current partner right away. Committed relationships were not designed to be secretive!

In Summary

Smart  phones are designed to make our lives easier and more organized, but  it's up to you to use their undeniable power for good. Not deception. Enjoy all they have to offer, but be aware of the effects they could be having on your relationship. Always be mindful of who and how you communicate with others.

If you think you need to skulk around in the shadows of your phone, re-think your behavior. And if you think you need to be a detective check into your own feelings about trust. 

This article was written for and appears on Ravishly.

© 2015 Jackie A Castro, MA, LMFT