opinion

Negotiating Romance as an Adult Performer

Negotiating Romance as an Adult Performer

Sex work is work. I know it, you know it and hopefully, someday, our elected representatives and lawmakers will know it too. But does your partner know it? Let’s talk about partners’ expectations regarding intimacy and boundaries when you’re working in adult.

Let’s face it, dating can be a minefield even if you have a “regular” job. I know because I’ve worn many hats in my life: student, bartender, working musician, political campaigner… I even did an entertaining stint as a haunted-house actress!

The sex I have off camera happens because someone makes my stomach tingle and my pulse quicken, or caught a joke when nobody else did, or brought joy into my life in some other way.

Before I began my adult career, what impacted my dating life most was not my job but the fact that I’ve always been very in touch with my sexuality and I’ve usually been nonmonogamous. One of the biggest challenges for me has therefore been finding prospective partners who don’t hear “nonmonogamous bisexual” and immediately jump to visions of nightly threesomes and wild orgies — or immediately begin trying to dictate the permissible genders or anatomy of my other potential partners. When I made the decision to jump into sex work full-time, I could only wonder what new and unexpected complications my leap into adult might throw into the mix.

What ultimately surprised and confused me most was my partners’ and prospective partners’ assumptions about nonmonogamy versus exclusivity. Like I said, for most of my life I was nonmonagamous — but that doesn’t mean I will never want a monogamous relationship or can only be poly. Yet since the birth of “Jupiter Jetson,” it’s suddenly everybody’s first assumption that I’m exclusively seeking a poly arrangement.

What bothers me about this is the underlying implication that working in adult, or having sex with people to make a living, automatically makes you nonmonogamous. This demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of sex work. If your partner insists, “But you get to have sex with hot strangers all the time!” to justify their assumption that doing sex work means your relationship with them is automatically “open,” then you probably need to have a talk because they do not yet understand the following important distinction:

The sex I have off camera happens because someone makes my stomach tingle and my pulse quicken, or caught a joke when nobody else did, or brought joy into my life in some other way. The sex I have on camera is to ensure I’m not eating cat food when I’m 80.

That’s part of the discussion we’re trying to open up when we remind people that “Sex work is work.” The fact that we have so much trouble understanding and internalizing that difference demonstrates just how deeply we have all been trained to think otherwise.

Such assumptions also concern me because they reduce “adult performer” and “sex worker” to monolithic categories. We’re not all the same, and we’re definitely not all polyamorous. In any relationship, no matter what your job, it’s important to make sure you are seen and appreciated for who you are. For people in our industry, that can require getting some sweeping assumptions out of the way first.

So, how do we do that? How do we, as adult performers and sex workers, negotiate the parameters of our personal relationships to make sure the people we are with understand all of this? The basic steps are really no different than those you might take if you were in any other business.

Take Stock of Your Relationship — With Yourself

How do you feel about yourself? We all have flaws and things we want to change about ourselves, but that should not get in the way of realizing that we all deserve love and respect. This internalized belief is the single most important foundational element of any healthy relationship. If you don’t accept that you deserve love, then you will subconsciously feel like anyone who enters into a relationship with you is doing you a favor. Feeling this way can lead to accepting dynamics that aren’t true to your needs. Believe in the value of what you bring to the table. That way, when it’s time to talk about things like exclusivity, jealousy, rules or other tricky relationship dynamics that might come up in relation to your work, you can negotiate from a place of confidence.

Know What You Want — and Know Your Deal Breakers

Once, when I decided to start dating again after taking a bit of a hiatus to focus on myself and my career, I sat down and wrote a pretty exhaustive list of what I wanted from a partnership. It covered everything from basic foundations, like whether an ideal relationship would be monogamous, poly or somewhere in between, to frivolous things like whether the person I date shares my unwavering love for the band Fountains of Wayne. I don’t actually require that! But I do expect every partner I’m with to be respectful of me and nice to me — even if it’s the third time this week I’m listening to “Welcome Interstate Managers” in the middle of the afternoon loud enough for the neighbors to catch the bass line. My point is: Don’t expect to share everything in common with a partner, but do really think about what’s important for you, what you’d like and what you can’t live without. This will go a long way toward helping you recognize it when you find it in the wild.

As for the deal breakers, some of mine make the list because they previously ended relationships or revealed incompatibility. Some items are non-work-related; no one who’s mean to service workers is a big one. But others very much relate to the kinds of assumptions described above. One hardline “no” for me is the so-called “one penis” policy, meaning that it’s OK for me to have sex with other people — but only women. Another is if someone wants to sleep around as much as they want, but expects me to limit my sexual activity to just them and what I do on camera for work.

Don’t Change a Thing — Unless You Want To

Life is a constant journey of exploration and self-improvement. However, stay aware of which changes you make for yourself and which changes you make for other people. Wanting to be with someone because of who they could be and not for who they are is a recipe for disaster, so beware any partner who demands significant changes in your lifestyle. If I don’t feel comfortable dating someone who works as a stuntman or MMA fighter, because of the risks they take regarding their safety, then I just won’t date them. I’m not going to get with them and then prod them to quit their job for my sake. Some people have the right temperament and mindset to date people who work in adult; others don’t. Know when you are being asked to become somebody you don’t want to be.

Have These Discussions Early and Often

Talking with partners about these things is not a one-time sit-down. Discuss these topics openly and early on in your courtships. Make sure the potential partner understands what your career means to you, and what your priorities are. Revisiting these conversations and thought exercises periodically throughout a relationship is essential. People’s needs can change. Have yours? Have your partner’s? Establishing an open communication channel, clear boundaries and mutual respect for each other’s needs makes it less likely that either of you will find yourselves blindsided by unexpected issues or mismatched expectations.

Remember, fear of scaring off a partner will only lead to bad partners hanging around. Being single for long stretches can be hard, but I’ve never met anyone whose career was derailed because their cat couldn’t handle it. The world is a big place. If you haven’t found your soul mate yet, there are still literally billions of other people out there; odds are, one is smoking hot and has their heart set on decrim.

Jupiter Jetson is a performer and content creator who can be followed @JupiterJetson on Twitter and Instagram, as well as booked for professional shoots via ATMLA.

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