'I was a prostitute in my 20s'

Kitty Stryker, now 31, tells what it was like to be an escort in London, where prostitution is legal under limited circumstances.

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Kitty Stryker, 31, acts in porn films and works behind-the-scenes at indie queer porn company, Trouble Films. She's also done stints as a professional dominatrix and has been an escort in the U.K., where prostitution is legal under certain limited circumstances.

My parents and I had a lot of problems when I was growing up. They were hoarders and I didn't realise that until a few years ago because I was just used to it. It was just normal to me. The house was full of cascading piles. Home didn't really feel very comfortable to me, but I couldn't really explain why.

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I was living on my own at 18. I couldn't go to high school and maintain the number of minimum wage-paying jobs I had to have — three — in order to survive on my own. I had to make a choice, so I chose to quit school. I did get some qualifications (later). The one thing I had time for while juggling three jobs was hanging out on the Internet. AOL was just coming out so I would go into chat rooms all the time. This guy and I were chitchatting back and forth and flirting, and he said, "Maybe we should go out on a date sometime." I was like, "I would love to do that, but I have no time and can't afford to take a day off." He said, "What if I pay you what you would make working that day so that you can take a day off?" I didn't think about that in any sort of sex work way. This guy was going to pay me money, and I was going to go on a date and possibly get laid. It sounded perfect. We got together and we were making out. He had put an envelope of money on my nightstand, and now that I've been a sex worker, I think, Oh, you've done this before, but I didn't think about it at the time. It was about a hundred bucks (approx £80), which should go to show you why people choose sex work! I would have been working for 12 hours to make $81 (approx £65) after taxes.

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That was the moment when I realised, I can have sex and have money at the same time, and it would be more cost effective. I moved to California and I was only working one job, but I knew that wasn't going to be enough money, so I decided to look on Craigslist for a different job. There was a local dominatrix house that was looking for someone. I thought,I have kinky sex, I'm sure I can muddle through this. I worked there for a month.

I loved the work and I loved the clients. That's what was so interesting to me. My impression of sex work was that I was going to hate the clients, and they'd be repulsive and ugly and annoying. But I loved them. I could tell a lot of my clients were very blue-collar, working-class dudes who saved their money for a month in order to come and see a sex worker. It's flattering. I also liked the creativity of having a client come to me and say, "Here's my fantasy" and then finding a way to blend what they like into what I like, so I wasn't just servicing their needs but I was also creating a scene that we both enjoyed. Ultimately, I knew I wanted to go independent so I became an indie dominatrix. Fairly early on, I was advertising myself as an angry feminist who happened to do sex work. A lot of my clients were men who wanted to get kicked in the balls while I yelled at them.

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Then I moved to London. I didn't really do any prostitution until I went to London. I had a partner who got a job out there (and he asked me to go with him). At first, I had a full-time job there and I was miserable. So I quit and I started working in a sex toy store part-time. Because it was a part-time job; it wasn't making me enough money to survive on.

I started doing phone sex then decided I was going to do escorting too, because I knew that was going to be more money and faster. In the U.K., you can't work on the street, but you can advertise on the Internet. You can have a phone conversation and say very frankly, "I will do this for this amount of money." I hooked up with a website that matches sex workers to people with disabilities. They help people who have various forms of physical ailments or mental health issues with sex workers who are capable of helping them through that process. At the time, I was much more idealistic than I am now. I really believed that sex work was transformative — I mean, I still do in some ways, but I felt that sex work was a way of helping people heal.

I would say about half of my clients were single men, and out of that half, probably a little more than half had disabilities. The other half of my clients was women or couples. I got a lot of women who had sexual abuse histories who wanted to learn how to be erotically touched in a way that felt safe, so they wanted to go to a woman. I worked with a lot of survivors, helping them learn how to enjoy their bodies again after being raped. Out of the male clients, I tended to have a lot of socially anxious guys, or guys who had dealt with a serious breakup or a death of a partner who wanted someone they could feel safe emotionally opening up to. I know for a lot of sex workers out there, it's their least favourite part; they'd rather just fuck and get it over with. But I really enjoyed getting into these emotional spaces with these guys. I like the idea of men feeling safe and talking about their feelings.

I [never had pushback from clients about wearing a condom.] We had that conversation before they came to see me. British men are not scared of condoms, in my experience. They were super keen on them. American men, you would think you were asking them to fuck a hedgehog inside out. I have my own suspicion that it's because [British men] have foreskins, so they have movement and lubrication, so it doesn't take away from sensation that much, compared to American men who are circumcised.

People would ask me at the pub what I did for work. I would sit and think about it because I didn't necessarily want to have a sex work conversation every single time. There was almost like a [conversational] ramp-up: I'm a writer. I'm a sex toy reviewer. I'm a pro-dom. I'm a prostitute. More often than not, people were like, "That's cool." Unlike here, where it's like (gasps), "Oh my god, do you have AIDS?"

Eventually I moved back to California to be with a partner, but our relationship fell apart. I thought about doing sex work again. I was doing some social media tech consulting work here and there. But it's really hard to get a job in anything but sex work if you are a sex worker. I have to choose: Do I come out at a job interview, or do I just look like I haven't done anything?

I personally would prefer to never escort again. I do love porn. I'll probably do porn for a while. I like the legality of it, but I hate how stigmatised it is, because it doesn't solve my problem of being able to move into another realm of business if I want to do that. I think we make the best choice we can based on the opportunities we have available to us, and sometimes those are harmful choices. I think sex work has been very empowering for me but at times hugely detrimental. Being a fat sex worker, for example, is really harmful in a lot of ways. I've been threatened. We believe as a culture that fat people are not human, and if you add the dehumanisation of fat people to the dehumanisation of sex workers and the dehumanisation of women, then you have this trifecta.

But I also have to say, if it were not for sex work, I would not have been able to go to school, I would not have been able to buy a laptop, I would not have been able to go to England in the first place. Doing sex work has given me a lot of class-based opportunities that I would not have had otherwise.

My ten-year plan? I would like to have written a book. I'd like to be producing a lot more porn. I feel it is possible to shift the norm from porn being an unhealthy thing to being really positive and open-minded. I want to continue to create that.

"Sex Work" is a weekly series that profiles women who have careers in sex-related industries — from porn stars to sex researchers and everyone in between. Check back every Tuesday for the latest interview.

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