Updated: Jul 21
"A recent debate about clients who seek sex workers because their wives have cancer."
Blog Post Written By: Jessie Sage
If you spend as much time on “sex work Twitter” as I do (I hope for your sake that you don’t!), you may have noticed a recent debate about clients who seek sex workers because their wives have cancer. Many sex workers were displaying anywhere from mild discomfort with this situation, to downright outrange. While I usually don’t weigh in on issues like this—after all, who am I to say how other sex workers should feel about their clients?—I found myself wanting to stand up for the clients in this situation. Before you roll your eyes and stop reading, take a moment to hear me out.
Part of my desire to defend these hypothetical clients is because I’ve had very real clients in this exact situation, clients who I feel a great deal of empathy for and affection toward. But upon some rather uncomfortable introspection, I realized that my desire to defend them stems less from my relation to them as a provider, and more from my identification with them as someone who has had an extremely sick spouse. In other words, I felt for them because I too have
experienced the intense loneliness and grief that comes with losing a spouse—even if temporarily—to illness.
As those who have followed my writing may know, my husband has gone through two bouts of cancer in our seven-year relationship. The first time we found out he had testicular cancer was about a year and a half into our relationship. While he had to have a testicle surgically removed, the situation was relatively manageable because he didn’t have to go through more intense cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiation. He was tired and his sex drive was lower, but we could go back to normal life within a month or two of his surgery. Four years later, however, when we found out that his cancer has spread through his lymph nodes into his abdominal cavity, the situation was entirely different.
His second cancer diagnosis ushered us into a world that we never anticipated being a part of. Not only did he have three months of chemotherapy that made him so sick that we intermittently lived in the hospital; but it was followed by a 9-hour open cavity surgery, the aftermath of which was two weeks in the hospital, 6 blood transfusions, a pulmonary embolism, and an intense fear (shared by ourselves and his medical providers) that he may not make it out of the hospital. While he has recovered and been declared cancer-free, the trauma of all of this has had a major impact on his body, and on our lives.
I rarely talk about my own experience during this time, mostly because it feels like it pales in
comparison to his. But perhaps too because I would prefer not to spend much time thinking
about that period. Images of the person I love being violently poisoned are not ones that I enjoy calling to mind; I do not like to think of my partner pulling his hair out in clumps in our master bath, of him carrying a vomit bucket through the cancer hospital’s emergency department, or of him crying out in pain as infections spread throughout his body.
But these physical tolls, despite them being very traumatic and visible, are even easier to think of than the emotional ones. For close to a year, my partner was a shell of the person he was before he got sick. His humor, which often got us through hard times, was gone; the physical
intimacy that kept us bonded was impossible.
I was exhausting by the added caretaking responsibilities that came with having a sick spouse, as well as the life that I had to manage outside of those responsibilities—the one that didn’t stop when he got sick. And while I was used to facing the challenges of life with my partner, I
was thrust into having to do it for my partner and my myself.
One of the things that I didn’t really want to talk about or acknowledge, because it seemed
selfish given the circumstances, is that I still desired all the same things I longed for before he was no longer able to give them to me. I wanted the same affection, the same physical
pleasure, and the intimacy that was no longer reasonable for me to ask of him. He was fighting for his own survival; it wasn’t his job to make me happy.
Caretaking for a partner can be profoundly lonely because you are mourning the dynamic that you used to have with a person who is still there (but in many ways, isn’t), and plagued by guilt for wanting something that you can’t expect or have.
When my husband was sick, I did not seek out sex workers or additional partners. I didn’t try to meet my own needs at all, instead I was wholly focused on surviving an incredibly stressful time and bringing all my family members with me, including my husband. And moreover, what I wanted, I wanted from him, not from someone else; if I were to really think about it, what I wanted was for him to not be sick.
Looking back, however, I think that if I would have taken some time to have my own needs met—be them sexual, emotional, or social—if I would have taken some time for pleasure or connection outside of the space of the hospital, I would have been able to let go of some of the guilt of being the not-sick one who still wanted more. I could have reconnected with my body—I could have felt like myself again—in a way that energized me and allowed me to take better care of him.
I do not believe that seeing sex workers is the answer for every caretaker of a sick spouse. For some, it would be a source of additional stress and complicate an already delicate relationship dynamic. However, what I can say is that when I have clients who come to me and tell me that their spouse has cancer (or any serious illness), it pushes me to recall my own feelings when I was in the same situation, and I feel grateful to be trusted by someone in such a vulnerable state. I understand how hard it is to be the 24/7 caretaker of someone you profoundly love, and I hope to offer a momentary refuge from the responsibility of caretaking. I hope to give them space where they can feel like themselves again and return to the spouses—who I believe they love—feeling a little more whole.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the blog post above are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SexWorkCEO or MelRose Michaels. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.