Home Clients Is The Client Always Right?: On Professionalism and Boundaries, Part 2

Is The Client Always Right?: On Professionalism and Boundaries, Part 2

Kristen Wiig knows the secret to our success.
Kristen Wiig knows the secret to our success.

(You can find Part One of this discussion here.)

Lori: Taking a professional approach to my work makes it more enjoyable for me, but I hardly think that’s a universal experience.  When it comes to being a professional and giving clients what they’re “owed”, I think the standards for acceptable behavior are actually pretty low. In most circumstances I’d say clients are at least owed honesty: about how we look, what services we offer, what our rates are, and what our skill levels are (especially as pro-kinksters), if not a certain level of service. But if you need to lie to a john to get by? Fuck, do it. If your rent is due and you’re afraid a regular won’t see you if he finds out you gained weight, don’t mention it. If you need to go food shopping, and a new client wants some elaborate bondage that you can’t do, say you can do it. The worst that can happen is he leaves having a slightly less exciting orgasm than he anticipated, and you get to go on staying alive. Seems like a fair deal to me. (The only exceptions to lying to clients, even for survival sex work, would be your experience with edge-play and high-risk activities—anything that could compromise his safety.)

I don’t want to get too far off-topic, but the civilian men I’ve been with have a spotty track record on boundary-pushing as well. Sexual coercion is a problem with patriarchy and male privilege. It changes based on context and will be worse when men think a woman falls way on the wrong side of the Madonna/whore dichotomy and they can pay her for unlimited access… but it’s not exclusive to that context. The sex industry is patriarchy turned up to 11, but patriarchy is still like a 9 everywhere else.

Charlotte: I agree about what clients are owed; I’m an advocate for accurate descriptions of appearance, personality, and services offered. I’ll get mad on behalf of a client if I hear that he once saw a woman who totally ripped him off or who got so trashed she almost passed out, or even if she helped herself to his minibar without asking. (I’m probably kind of uptight when it come to etiquette like that in general, though.) There have been times when I’ve wondered if women who are pure rip offs even “count” as sex workers. Is it sex work to pretend you’re going to have some type of sexual contact with someone but then take their money and run? I think that’s theft, not work.

But I lie to clients all the time if they push me on things I don’t want to share, like my real name or what I was doing on a weekend when I wasn’t working, or whether I’m in a relationship. I do not think any client is owed information about my private life or identity, even the ones I’ve known for years. And I’m shocked by how pushy regulars can be about that type of stuff. I’m not a good liar, and if someone is really persistent while questioning me about personal details, sometimes I slip and give out something that would be identifying if they went hard on Google. And it feels so violating, to be worn down that way. I hope they don’t understand how violating it is, and that they’re just clueless instead of cruel. But who knows.

I also think clients are owed some emotional honesty in the sense that I do not approve of serious manipulation of the “I love you” variety. Part of me recognizes that this is my own personal moral boundary, and another part of me feels very, very strongly that there is nothing ethical or defensible about telling a client (or anyone!) that you love him in order to get more money. I had a very devoted webcam client years and years ago whom I hustled pretty hard with one huge lie, mostly just to see if I could get away with it. I got a lot of money from it but it wasn’t worth it. If there’s anything in my life I am completely ashamed of, it’s that. The only remotely redeeming factor is that I told him it would go towards my school tuition, and it did.

Which brings up another angle that I’m really curious to hear all your thoughts about; to me, part of being professional is maintaining distance from the client even if I feel strongly attached to him. So if I truly do love a client, romantically or platonically or otherwise, I would never tell him that. I feel like it’s not my place. I’ve had some astoundingly powerful connections with clients, and I try to cue them into how strong it is for me, but I never articulate it or try to change the parameters of our relationship. Do you all have any personal rules like that?

Tizz: YES YES YES. This was something I really strongly felt when I first started, even though some of the ladies at the house would encourage me to behave in such a manipulative way with regulars.  I also strongly agree with that boundary about withholding some element of any real feelings; I mean obviously, affection can shine through, and I will tell someone when I honestly enjoy their company, but a boundary is a boundary. This isn’t going to be more than what it is for me. I know some providers who become friends with some of their clients, but thus far, I haven’t been able to comfortably build that bridge.

I think the most important qualities of being professional are less about a standard code, but more about treating other professionals with a level of respect, showing up on time, giving references when you can, being honest with other SWs, and standing in solidarity.  I also agree with y’all about presenting honestly (physically speaking), although I don’t really know how anyone can’t. I would be way too embarrassed if someone showed up and was like, “LOL who are you? You aren’t that lady I saw in the picture!”

As for personal ethics/rules: they are actually a looser version of what I operated on when I was a counselor.  I share personal information (other than small talk type stuff) when I feel it’s pertinent or when it seems like it would be useful to that other person.  I maintain pretty strong boundaries. Also, it’s not really their business that I write about the sex industry or whatever.  I have found that being a sort of MPDG [Manic Pixie Dream Girl] Domme to my clients is actually really effective, so all of that Being A Whole Person Thing kinda ruins their boners.

Lori: I love that Tizz brought up professionalism towards other providers. Now that’s something I get passionate about. THAT is something I think we all have an obligation to do. Who are these women who never give references ? Do they really exist? Do they really think that refusing to provide a reference will prevent their clients from seeing another pro? Or are they just really spiteful? Do they have any other pro friends? Are their souls made out of coal dust? Are they related to the (mythical?) women who won’t recommend other pros or provide safe-calls or share safety tips and insider tricks?

Charlotte: I give references but I hate doing it. It’s not about being jealous, it’s about how regularly most escorts don’t accept a borderline reference, and how most guys who try to use me as a reference are men I’ve only seen once or don’t feel that great about in spite of having seen several times. I’ve never seen anyone (knock on all the internet wood) who robbed me, who beat me, or who didn’t pay. Obviously those are hard “NO, DO NOT SEE”s. But I have seen clients who were rude, drank too much, embarrassed me in public, seemed mentally unwell in a way I found threatening, tried to be emotionally abusive after the date, and so on, and giving those references has always been a nightmare. Some women, bless them, respond with, “how terrible for you!” But others are more like “what do you mean he was rude? Aren’t they all rude? How exactly should I expect him to treat me on the date?” or some other thing that’s simultaneously nosy and dismissive. Maybe this is where sisterhood breaks down for me, but I don’t feel entitled to give another escort details about my appointments just because they ask. Not to mention that it’s incriminating if you’re not careful. And part of this is lingering bitterness over blacklisting a man who stalked me for a year, and someone telling him I’d blacklisted him, resulting in more emails from him to me, which always made me feel like I was going to shit my pants. Who does that?! Not to mention that I noticed other women seeing him and “okay”ing him in spite of my “do not see” on the same site. I get it: you have to make money, you think other girls are crazy bitches, he told you a story about how I’m really the one who wronged him—whatever. But telling him that I’d blacklisted him?

Image via LucyJohnPaul.wordpress.com
Image via LucyJohnPaul.wordpress.com

I can’t even get started on how many times I’ll check National Blacklist or VerifyHim, and some guy has been blacklisted there by four different women over two years. Too many women only use services like that in (legitimately deserved) retaliation instead of as precaution. Check it out first, please, for your own sake!

Amanda: Someone outed you as blacklisting a client???? That’s such a huge rule. Wow. Sorry you had to deal with that. I think there are a lot of women online now that don’t understand time-honored rules. I don’t see that as professionalism so much as…guild-laws? Or something?

I’ve always been a happy reference-giver. Some girls really do want dirty details so they know what to expect going into a session. In my opinion, they’re not out of line, but it’s just not smart to do in the US. I’ll supply details about the man’s character and habits if I think they’re possible grey areas of bad behavior. I don’t supply TER reviews of clients, though.

To get back to “professionalism” strictly in terms of the client, sometimes I feel bad for clients when they run into non-professionals or outright thieves; other times they were asking for it. (I could write a blog post on warning signs that horny guys don’t seem to care about). Thieves make it harder for the rest of us.

In my experience, strip club customers are pushier than escorts clients overall, but the pushiest escort clients have usually been those who think they’ve bought the right. Of my escort clients, I’d say 98% of the time they’ve kept the appropriate distance from me in all matters except the real name question.

Emotional honesty gets me in trouble. For me, that includes not faking orgasms. It’s a boundary that’s popped up as I’ve gotten older and it’s become a major issue for me because it’s a work impediment. It’s an emotional and sexual issue. My body and emotions do not agree with my business-sense head and will not cooperate in giving a good show. I refuse to fake my sexuality just to soothe an ego. I’m quite stubborn about this boundary, actually, even though it’s a stupid one to have. It’s so personal I cannot find a way around it, something inside me resists very strongly and I’ve learned to listen to that voice because I know it’s right. This isn’t to say I look down on all those faking it. I don’t. I wish I had that ability again. I’d make more money.

Y’all probably wonder how the hell I keep clients. For higher-end, multi-hour clients, they either “get” me or they don’t. With hourly guys, especially in other countries where it’s more about sex than talking, it’s way easier. (US men seem more hung up on my abilities to fake orgasms.) The very few guys who have seen me for years get me or tolerate me, one or the other.

I wish more people viewed boundaries as the healthy things they are. Instead, girls seem to be brainwashed by hobbyists that “boundaries” are bad things and get in the way of fun. Everyone’s boundaries are going to be very different, of course, but no one should be in this business without having some. A downside of sex work is that it usually takes a bad experience for you to discover boundaries you didn’t know you had. The flip side of that is you get the opportunity to take these lessons to real life, where there are huge benefits to having firm boundaries and a sense of self.

Lori: I agree with Charlotte that advertising for sexual services but never following through does not a sex worker make.  Also agreed that we don’t owe clients honesty about everything, especially in regards to personal lives and feelings. I’d rather gnaw off my arm than tell most clients about those things, so I’m sorry I was unclear on that!

Having strong positive feelings about a client is —surprise!—not an issue I’ve ever had, so I can’t comment on that.  I guess my closest run-in with that sort of scenario was…. Ugh, I can’t believe I’m about to admit this on the record…. Okay, I ended up hooking up with one of my clients once. My very first client as an independent.  And yes, by “hooking up,” I mean PIV sex. I committed the ultimate pro-Domme sin! BUT TO MY CREDIT, I waited until the session ended, fired him as a client, and did it back at his hotel room, not my work space.. Also, he was visiting from overseas and never coming back, and he was pretty handsome and I was bored and lonely and stupid. It was not worth it. The sex wasn’t very good, he got all emotional and wanted me to spend the night, and he sent me weird emails for a few weeks afterward asking me to fly out to see him.  I still kind of hate myself for it, so suffice it to say I’ve learned my lesson and will stick to bars from now on when I need to have disappointing sex that I feel bad about afterwards. That’s probably the single most unprofessional thing I’ve done, and I’m burying that back down in the bad memory hole.

I often feel similarly to Amanda in terms of wanting to explain to people how, wait, I do actually get clients, and they do actually like me! Being such an awful grump and being able to continue to make money in this industry is, maybe paradoxically, a testament to professionalism.

Tizz: I  think it’s funny that everyone in this conversation has either self-identified as a grump in this conversation or on twitter, and I feel like a lot of the sex workers I know, particularly in the activist/writing sphere, tend to be that way as well.  The nature of hard work, especially when it’s fielding high levels of risk and stupid, entitled pricks takes away some of the pressure to be nice all the time (and removes some of the illusions about niceties and what they mean). With the amount of boundary-pushing and rude assholes we all deal with, there’s just no way for us to be nice all the time.

Charlotte: I feel the same: “no, no, I swear, I’m actually really good at my job and very in demand!” Frankly, I think having an outlet (cough, twitter, cough) is what keeps me good at my job. I can vent all that frustration and anger and then come back to the job cleansed. They’re both two extreme versions of me: violently angry misandrist and genuinely compassionate, sweet natured sex girl. Mostly I exist somewhere in between, but I need the one version to balance the other. 


  1. A few things from my response to this piece on tumblr (http://marginalutilite.tumblr.com/post/59119069377/tits-and-sass-is-the-client-always-right-on) :

    *Sometimes I think the misogyny in the sex industry is easier to deal with b/c at least it’s explicit.

    * YES YES YES to what Lori writes about fuck ’em if you need to pay the bills. Both literally and figuratively.

    * Re: rip-off workers–I feel kind of bad about judging what other people do in the name of survival, but I agree that they shouldn’t be considered sex workers. Digressing a bit, I was reading I’ve Got To Make My Livin’ ( http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7335118-i-ve-got-to-make-my-livin ) a history of black sex workers in turn of the century Chicago, and it’s pretty fascinating–there used to be a whole industry of sex working scam artists (of all races.) They had “panel houses,” in which accomplices would hide behind a panel and then emerge while the worker was busy with the client to steal his wallet and valuables.

    *I’ve never been able to manage the “I love you” in the context of a session either. Plus, that’s a very, very dangerous game. Also, is there any other industry in which clients feel they’re owed information about the personal lives of the workers?

    * I’ve never fallen in love with a client, luckily. I have become friends with a few clients, mostly after they were no longer clients, and these experiences have been very valuable to me–one of my ex-client friends is the lawyer who went above and beyond the call of duty to save my partner from a horrible prison sentence while working for very little. (In fact, later in our friendship, he even gave me the money back b/c he didn’t feel right about taking it from so close a friend.)

    In my experience, though, it seems like any romantic relationship with a client is pretty much doomed from the get-go from a variety of factors—-the vast majority of those relationships just don’t survive the transition away from the transactional context. (There’s a great piece in the Johns, Marks, Tricks, and Chickenhawks anthology by Jane Whatshername, “Once A Client”, which illustrates what happens when one cohabits with a client and the idealized setting of the session falls away particularly well. And yeah, there are a lot of shitty things about that collection—bound to be in an anthology which puts the accounts of workers and clients side by side—-but there is some great work by great people in it.) Though, there are certainly healthy exceptions to this rule I’ve heard about on the internet and from others in the movement. I wish I knew how those people managed it. Even client/worker relationships I thought were going to be great for those involved as they started out eventually dissolved messily.

    * Finally, I feel awful about the fact that at the end of the round table, all of its participants are sort of flailing around saying, no, no, despite all my caveats about clients and my limits, I AM a good sex worker and lots of clients see me and like me! Like, even after this discussion, you guys have to apologize for having boundaries.

    • I have had more than 1 relationship with a client and have written about it here:

      I can’t speak for the other panelists, but I felt the need to qualify my discussion here because I am not like this with clients (unless they piss me off), this is venting. I have rarely even gotten into a discussion about sex worker rights or assorted work issues with clients. It’s something I actively avoid: I leave work at the office when I’m with clients. Though I don’t leave my ethics or boundaries behind.

      • Somewhat off topic but still somewhat related, btw, Amanda, I responded belatedly today to a comment in your blog you made about something I wrote elsewhere in Tits and Sass, about the division between personal sex and client sex and to what extent the sex workers’ rights movement influences its participants’ perspectives. I only read it today–felt famous being mentioned in your blog, which I’ve read for years (for almost a decade, since I started reading it shortly after I started escorting?) even if it was only to be critiqued!

    • I can’t speak for the other ladies, but I didn’t feel the sentiments expressed at the end were apologetic. I was speaking against this assumption (which I’ve encountered quite often from holier-than-thou ‘Serious Professional’ sex workers + their clients) that complaining about my job and having negative feelings around it means I’m bad at it. The corollary is that I only complain about it/ don’t like it *because* I’m bad at it. All a bunch of nonsense.

  2. While one part of me thinks it’s the client’s fault for being gullible enough to believe someone they’ve paid for sex is in love with them, girls telling clients they’re madly in love with them in order to keep them coming back is one of my pet peeves. I more or less enjoy my job and like my clients – but I’ve never felt the need to lead them on in such a way. When girls do this it’s never going to end well, but hey I guess if you’re truly desperate for cash…:/

  3. >Also, is there any other industry in which clients feel they’re owed information about the personal lives of the workers?

    I got some of this when I was waiting tables, though nowhere near as much as sex workers report. I haven’t done sex work, but I have a hunch that the sense of entitlement to your provider/server’s personal life comes from the same thing.

    However, that hunch is probably informed by having recently read a restaurant owner’s writing about his experience in running a restaurant in San Diego where tipping was not allowed. He said that some customers objected, but a few got irrationally livid: they were middle-aged men. He thinks the anger comes from his restaurant having taken away their fantasy that they were controlling the young women waiting on them by the power of their wallets. It sounds like that fantasy may be behind some of the invasive things bad clients of sex workers do. (since this is speculation on my part, please don’t hesitate to tell me if you think I’m wrong)

    • I’ve waited tables at family restaurants where I was treated like a cheap servant. When I started cocktailing in a (very nice) strip club, tips depended on a lot more flirtiness and mind-reading, of course. Then I had a guy who wouldn’t give me a tip at all (20% tip was $30 on his tab) until I agreed to go on a date with him; not to mention all the guys pissed off because I wouldn’t take off my clothes for their money (I would have been fired on the spot).

      I’ve often imagined Hooters would be like that. It sounds like the San Diego restaurant has those guys in there. I don’t know why some guys just have to ruin a good time by not believing “no” means “NO.”

  4. I wish we talked about this kind of stuff more! It’s so important and not always something we think of as a priority, especially when it comes to professionalism towards other providers; we prioritize interactions with clients because they can directly result in compensation, but ignore other workers. This might be because of the above mentioned feelings of jealousy or competition but if we communicated more with each other we would all be better off. Blacklisting would actually mean something and clients would know that if they behave badly with one provider they won’t be able to see another, at least another reputable one. Maybe then we could also avoid some of the extortion tactics some clients/hobbyists use on newbies to get them to provide services not on offer.

  5. This was a great conversation! I don’t get to talk to ladies this candidly about these things. Two topics stuck out in my mind:
    As far as references, Charlotte mentioned that she didn’t feel that it’s her duty to go into detail about a man’s character to another woman. And I agree, you shouldn’t give nitty-gritty details about the encounter. That should be an individual journey. While screening for chemistry is not a popular idea, it would be an answer to the need for more in-depth reference requests. But I always give at least a physical description, and a general character assessment within the constraints of the time I’ve spent with him because I feel that this should be the way that references should be given. Very rarely do I get that back, so in some instances I’ve stopped asking. While certain behavioral instances are probably circumstantial, like drinking too much or being uncouth in restaurants, it would help a lady in understanding what is possible. With him, we’d be dining en suite, and drinking water.

    The second point is the main point. Is the customer always right? I’ve never taken on a client that I didn’t feel I could satisfy. Only once has this backfired, when I met the most perpetually unhappy client. He has changed the way I address meeting new clients. While he seemed pretty satisfied during the appointment, his review of me said he didn’t think I was into him. Well, he was nearing 500lbs, something he left out, and I made the best of. Now that he’s lost 200+lbs, he’s realizing he had the best time with me. I’ve learned that if I get a glimpse of emotional insecurity, especially where I realize that I’m not going to be of much help, I decline.

    Great talks!

  6. Whenever I go against my normal rules of not mentioning to much about services or flat out lying to get someone in. They never show up. I’m considering texting all the guys that I have marked as cheap say I’m doing a short visit rate, promising them the moon and just giving a handy. I don’t if that is a good idea or a bad idea.


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