Ask Damon: I’m going into adult entertainment. What if people find out?
Anonymous: My first question, of many, is uncomfortable for whom? You’ve articulated a peace with the decision you’ve made to enter the adult entertainment industry.
So who will these conversations be uncomfortable for? I ask because shame is tricky and sneaky and slithery, and it sometimes finds a path to a place we assumed was protected. Some of your language choices (“the warm blanket of anonymity”) suggest that you might have some trepidation, which is a natural thing when starting anything new, particularly something with the potential to polarize.
But I think that, before even considering how other people might feel once they discover your new gig, you should be honest with yourself about how you’ll feel. Could it have a negative effect on your mental health and emotional well-being? Are you prepared for what might happen if people you care about treat you differently? What about acquaintances or random people on the street? Also, how many communities do you belong to? Because a response from your buddies from college might be different from a response from your buddies from church.
It must also be said that there’s a tangible risk of your work having a negative effect on your livelihood. I don’t just mean friends and family, but your money. I’ve lost count of the number of stories I’ve read about schoolteachers losing their jobs after an OnlyFans account was discovered. I don’t know what you do for a living. Perhaps it’s not the same sort of public-facing occupation that drives people to be aggressively puritanical. Either way, the risk is real.
Anything past what I’ve offered so far is beyond my expertise. Fortunately, I know an expert. Jessica Stoya (with Rich Juzwiak) writes Slate’s How to Do It sex advice column. I’ve been a fan of it for years. Her advice is always thoughtful, radical, rigorous and conscientious (and sometimes even funny), so I reached out to her for some help.
Stoya writes: “Generally speaking, there’s a lot of debunking to do. For instance, people outside of adult work tend to think camming and OnlyFans is masturbating all day and miss the marketing, bookkeeping, legal paperwork, and physical upkeep involved. Other major misconceptions stem from news stories about outliers who make incredible amounts of money, and outliers who are trafficked.
“Be prepared for invasive questions, the kind of stuff thatLucie Fielding talks about as unethical curiosity, like ‘What’s your weirdest client story?’ or ‘What’s the worst thing that ever happened on set?’ and ‘How disappointed are your parents?’ I’ve often shut these conversations down with ‘I feel like I’m in an interview right now and would prefer to have an equal discussion between two humans,’ or by referring people to my own writing work and essays by others. I also often do the work of explaining the complex reality, which can be draining but is worth it for people who I want to have in my life in a significant way. At the end of the day, discomfort is part of life, and doubly so when we’re walking a path that is uncommon and stigmatized. This isn’t fair, but it’s the facts.”
She also recommends Heather Berg’s book, “Porn Work,” as “a great resource for understanding the nuance of one area of sexual labor — most can carve out a decent living, and most are subject to the kind of exploitation that is unfortunately common across all industries.” I also spoke to a friend who has some insights on sex work (and wishes to remain anonymous). She suggested that you follow the work of Black women such as Mireille Miller-Young and others thinking about sex work in a critical and intersectional way.
Each piece of advice here comes from the same umbrella: a call for you to educate yourself as much as possible, so you’re as prepared as you can be for this industry and have a healthy experience with it. I hope this was helpful.
Do you have an uncomfortable question? Ask advice columnist Damon Young, who’s comfortable with the uncomfortable.