Talents Needed for Sex Work – a partial list from the year 2000

Yes, okay, I know: that Working in the European Sex Industry piece sounds awkward in English. But I had to publish it since Donna Hughes put it in an academic course.

Here’s the section that people really want to see, a list of some talents required for doing sex work successfully. I get a never-ending stream of job applications because of the original of this article written in Spanish. [For the record, I do not reply to them.]

The lead-up to the list begins ‘Obviously, performing oral sex on a client in a car or in an alley in the rain is not the same as spending a shift inside a club with heating, where you talk and have drinks as well as sex with clients. There are, however, some necessary abilities for carrying out these jobs well, that is, in the most efficient and less problematic manner.’

Here’s the list – whose English I have continued to leave alone. I’m terrible at translating my own writing.

• The essence of the work is giving pleasure to others. The worker who doesn’t want to or can’t do this, no matter how good-looking, will fail. The client wants to feel some kind of pleasure.

• As in other service work, the ability to relate to others is very important. To know how to listen ‘actively’, negotiate, encourage, read the body language of the other, sense what is not said and the psychology of the other. To judge when the other is not all right (and not to confuse this with physical appearance). Capacity to smooth situations and calm violent people, confronting or manipulating them. Also necessary for those who work over the telephone.

• Ability to relate to and come to appreciate people from other cultures or ethnic groups or with values different from one’s own. Diplomacy. Clients may be rejected, but income is lost. Being able to imagine the situation of the other, as much through what he wants to hide as through what he reveals. Understanding more than one language.

• Knowing oneself well is extremely important in sex work. Knowing how to use the body sexually and how to take care of oneself, minimising infections, strains and exhaustion, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. It’s necessary to know when one is tired or with little desire to work, because states of neglect often lead to danger. Self-esteem is essential.

• The worker needs a lack of shame about bodies. To be able to talk about sex and show sexual things. A good sense of humour helps.

• As with the jobs of nurses and stewardesses, it is essential to give the client the sensation that he really is desired, that giving him pleasure or taking care of him matters. This is also necessary for cultivating a loyal clientele, one that comes back.

• Often the client wants to talk about his life: problems in his marriage, with his children or at his job. He may have lost his wife or need counseling. The ability to satisfy this type of desire or to want to help to resolve the problems of others is part of sex work. Sometimes this kind of attention matters even more than sex to the client.

• Knowing how to put limits, control what happens and protect oneself from excessive demands. Being able to maintain boundaries with client, who may have many emotional needs.

• Knowing how to sell is key, including over the telephone and in written messages (electronic mail, chat, mobile phones). Seduction is an art that few command, which helps explain the high status of courtesans and geishas in the past. Nowadays transsexuals are often most famous for knowing how to seduce.

• For people who work on their own or have a business it is fundamental to know how to manage funds: accounting, taxes and investments. Knowing how to negotiate, decide on prices.

• The ability to manage, organise and oversee a business is necessary in whatever level the worker works. Working freelance can be done successfully only by someone with the self-discipline to evaluate his efforts and manage his time.

• When employed in someone else’s business, workers need the talent of being able to please the boss or owner as well as the client, who often demand contrary things (for example, to the boss it matters that the work is done rapidly, while the client wants more personal attention).

• If one dances or performs, it’s essential to stay in good shape and act with confidence. Knowing how to take advantage of one’s own good points. Knowing how to dress and make up according to the situation.

• Much of sex work is performance: it’s necessary to know how to present oneself, project oneself and play roles. An example: the stereotype exists of ‘passive’ Asian women, so, for an Asian woman, knowing how to play the passive role may be a key talent. If one works in domination or submission, one needs to know how to create scenes, act, involve and convince the client. Knowing how to flirt.

• The client is not necessarily of the same gender or ‘sexual orientation’ that the worker wants for his or her own partner. Thought of another way, the worker’s personal taste does not have to match what he does at work: a lesbian can work with men, a heterosexual with gays, a transsexual with heterosexuals, a homosexual man with women and so on. In the world of the sex industry, flexibility and ambiguity in tastes and desires are the norm; binary visions (like masculinity/feminity or passivity/activity cease to be very useful.

• Since it’s a market, one needs the ability to compete, create new services and change with the times. Inventing new ways to make money, using new technologies and trying to match services to desires.

• Sexual knowledge is fundamental to carrying out the work. Knowing how to stimulate bodies to produce pleasure, delay or precipitate orgasms and judge the sexual capacity of the other. Moreover there are many tricks that make the job easier for the person who knows them: putting condoms on without clients’ knowing, feigning penetration and many others. Often it’s necessary to teach principles of sexual health to improve the client’s experience: masturbatory techniques, self-control or permitting oneself ‘forbidden’ acts. It’s important to point out that not every client is the confident man of the machista stereotype; many feel shy, ashamed or incapable. There are prostitutes who specialise in therapeutic srvices with disabled people. As for education to avoid sexual illnesses, being able to convince clients that they can enjoy sex with condoms is an important talent.

• One can choose the services one wants to offer, whether oral or manual sex or vaginal or anal penetration. Moreover, in times of ‘safer sex’, less ‘classical’ forms are being accepted, such as mutual masturbation.

• Being able to offer massage, reflexology and other therapies offer more possibilities to make money.

• Working in the production of pornography, it’s possible to learn techniques of photography, video, etc.

• If one works via the Internet, one needs knowledge of computers, email, chat, databases and the construction of webpages.

• If one becomes a supervisor or even owner of a sex club or escort agency, one learns to deal with the necessities of the personnel, encouraging them to work well.

The above list (which will never be complete) summarises useful abilities for working in the European sex industry. In other cultures the industry has other facets, so the work may require other abilities. In Japan, for example, there is work as a hostess in bars where groups of men from the same company come to spend the evening with their boss. They spend their time talking and joking, with the goal of relaxing together, which is prohibited inside the company. The woman’s job is to be there, light cigarettes, make sure that glasses are always filled and encourage the men to feel good. For those clients, making sexual commentaries about the women allows them to feel good. Clients do not ask for other services; this is done in another kind of place.’

That’s what I wrote in 2000, having been asked to write an understanding of migrant work in the sex sector in Spain without moralistic commentary. . .

7 thoughts on “Talents Needed for Sex Work – a partial list from the year 2000

  1. laura agustin Post author

    Hello Shaina
    I think it applies everywhere, don’t you? The reason European is in the title is that my experience is largely there, that’s all. It seems to me that the qualities described are universally human and cross nationalities and cultures.

  2. Marc of Frankfurt

    As far as my prostition theory goes, there can be made at least two major subdivisions of competencies:

    1. The principle/fundamental (necessary) and the add-on capabilities (sufficient).

    2. The acting towards the client (interiour) and towards society in general (exteriour).

    Hence a 2×2 matrix of whore knowledge can be set up:

    1.1 The abilitiy to perform anonymous sex work with non choosen (but carefully selected!) partners. Know youself well regarding love, emotions, sexuality and personal needs and affections. Know to act, please someone while maintaining integrety (no emotional deprivation). Be sexy and successfull.

    1.2 The ability to work and live in a stigmatized world of sex work (stigma management). Deconstruct misogynie, homophoby and putophobie etc. Know how to prevent sex worker burn out (SWBO).
    [People who do not understand this will either fail and become so called victims or are anti prostitution prohibitionists/abolitionists.]

    2.1 The myriad skills and disciplines of entertainment, sexual health, safer sex, STI/STD prevention, sexual assistance, bodywork, sexuality, tantra, languages, acting, modelling, sexual healing, bdsm, sexology etc.

    2.2 The multi-dependant qualifications to fullfill societal demands. Legalize your business, account money, pay tax, work safe, build up savings, market research, permanent education, supervision, self management, sex biz developement (whore career management).

    Picture and more:

  3. Pingback: Du skal kunne lide dine kunder | En Luders dagbog

  4. Sam Clemens

    • Ability to relate to and come to appreciate people from other cultures or ethnic groups or with values different from one’s own. Diplomacy.

    All of us, whatever our profession, would do well to take this particular piece of advice.

    Here in the USA, a person performing sex work in all but one state (Nevada) is treated by the law in pretty much the same manner as someone selling dangerous drugs. Indeed it almost seems as if American authorities consider sex itself to be a dangerous drug (witness our deplorably inadequate “sex education” in schools and certain states’ laws prohibiting sex toys). The picture you’ve painted here of the European sex-work industry is of a respectable if difficult profession.

  5. laura agustin Post author

    Hello Sam,

    The list of talents is written from the workers’ side, finding what is positive in labour so often referred to as miserable and degrading. Europe isn’t that much more wonderful for sex workers than the US, and in most countries the work is not accepted as respectable. Many in the US talk this positive way about their sex work. The positive aspects don’t erase the negative ones, either.


  6. Art

    As to Sam’s comment, I would say that almost all of the qualities apply to all work endeavors — even those that seem sex specific. Essentially, the seemingly sex specific stuff is just saying be competent in the services you supply. Nice article, Laura. Thank you.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.