Sexological Bodyworkers, Somatic Sexologists, Tantric practitioners, Sex Coaches, Surrogates and Sex workers are just some of the terms that I have come across at this conference. Some I knew, others were entirely new to me.
I still have so much processing to do, so much knowledge that is running through my head trying to assimilate into my memory. I am so happy that I attended, so honoured and privileged to be a part of history and so humbled by the openness and vulnerability of the presenters.
The presentation that sticks with me the most from the conference is the panel on being both a sex worker and a therapist. The courage and bravery shown by the three individuals involved was mind-blowing. It was likened to the APA conference in 1972 discussing the decriminalisation of homosexuality where the only way John Ercel Fryer, M.D. felt safe to be on the panel was to be completely disguised.
The three presenters could not be advertised as speaking as the simple fact that they are also sex workers makes them unsafe and dangerous therapists in societies eyes. When in fact the opposite is true, their job as a sex worker means that they are far more experienced in working within boundaries than the majority of practising therapists. One presenter stated
“Being a sex worker seems to overshadow all other parts of me. The stigma blinds people”
“we should be valued for our high level of self-awareness and self-reflection not devalued for it.”
One statement from the panel that has stuck with me is
“it seems everyone is an expert in sex work.” No one ever seems to say, I don’t know anything about that.”
I was totally guilty of this too, I know sex workers, I know sex therapists and yet I was still guilty of following along the stories the media throws out of sex workers as trafficked women.
After this conference I can say I know some, there is a lot more I can and indeed need to learn. Which is why I am happy to find out that there are current discussions about creating a module of learning to produce an accredited list of therapists with the basic knowledge needed to see clients who are sex workers.
I went through a rollercoaster of emotions at the conference from awe and admiration through sadness and abhorrence. I also felt anger and shock. My anger is felt towards the counselling regulatory bodies whose frameworks demonise people who are dual trained in both sex work and therapy. They come from a place where the assumption is that people will be engaging with a single client in both roles simultaneously, this is just not the case. These beliefs coming from cases which have nothing to do with sex workers and everything to do with therapists abusing their power. I was saddened at the lack of awareness of their own privilege the representatives from both the BACP and CORST showed (the UKCP rep did not attend- for reasons which in my opinion conveyed a lack of respect and a dismissive stance on the importance of the discussions that need to be had).
The lack of research that the reps had completed considering they knew they would be sitting on a discussion panel was inexcusable and was evidenced by just how readily they connected sex work to abuse and paedophilia. A participant stated that they wish there was a big red buzzer that could be pushed whenever these completely unrelated topics are discussed together, and I entirely agree.
The reps demanded emotional labour and it had to be pointed out to them how unacceptable this was and that it was their own responsibility to ensure they were educated on the topic. Isn’t that a basic rule of therapy? Don’t expect your clients to educate you? Why then is it expected of therapists to educate their regulatory bodies?
I left the panel discussion entirely disillusioned with the regulatory bodies. Therapists who are dual trained have the expectation that as soon as they are ‘outed’ as sex workers their regulatory bodies will drop them quicker than a sack of potatoes due to ‘bringing the profession into disrepute’. Psychotherapy as a discipline doesn’t exactly have a squeaky clean history and doesn’t have a shiny reputation as it is so why is the fact that someone legitimately and legally (in the UK) chooses to also be a sex worker considered disreputable? Therapists are paying to be part of a regulatory body that clearly has no intention of supporting them.
None of the bodies seem to be willing to stand up and say that as long as people have 2 separate client lists that being a therapist and a sex worker is perfectly acceptable. This is remarkable considering that most therapists I know also have other professions, I worked at McDonald’s whilst also being a therapist, no one seemed to be afraid that I would ask my clients if they wanted fries with their therapy session, what is the difference?
Regulatory bodies need to stand up and support their members, however controversial but as was stated by Pamela-Gawler Wright “It is always easier to rule and maintain exclusion than it is to create and manage inclusion.”
I could write forever about things I have learnt and the questions that the learning has led to. There are a few things that stand out to me as my main learning from the conference.
• Legislation, laws and best practice documents are based on the experiences of a minority of sex workers. This isn’t helpful for anyone within the industry.
• The narrative and discourse around sex work is driven by media’s stereotypical representations of who a sex worker is. The image of a white drug addicted, trafficked and abused woman forced into selling sex by a pimp.
• The idea that everyone in the sex industry needs to be saved and is desperate to get out is pure fiction.
• The demonization of people within the sex industry prevents them from accessing therapeutic support due to the stigma they face based on the current discourse.
• Current counsellor training is at best ignorant and at worst not fit for purpose by training people to work mainly with white middle-class heterosexual people, (which just so happens to be what the majority of counselling theory is based on). In my opinion counselling training needs a drastic overhaul in order that counsellors who are considered qualified are competent to work with people who are considered ‘non-normative’.
• Regulatory bodies need to step up.
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