“There are levels to intimacy” | A sex worker’s love story

There are two extremes of conversation that most discussions about sex work or prostitution (if you prefer that street term that is loaded with negativity) end up being in Nigeria’s cultural atmosphere.

1.       The poor helpless woman who is forced to sell her body because she has no other alternative – never mind that a good number of Nigerian men do sex work on the regular (we call men sugar babies or gigolos, fancy terms used in an often unconscious attempt to distant men from the negativity ‘prostitution’ is loaded with).

2.       The lazy woman who chooses to sell her body for quick cash instead of laboring to sell other things like her male and female peers who choose other ways to make money – often body too because mind work is no less tasking than work involving one’s genitals.

The first usually precipitates interventions from Churches, Mosques, and Non-Profit Organisations whose claimed mandate is to ‘rehabilitate’ sex workers and reintegrate them into society. A lofty mandate no doubt because often due to the prejudice tied to sex work by a puritan culture that frowns at all things sex outside marriage women and girls find themselves in a circle of abuse in sex work – trafficked, pimped, and abused.

The second precipitates scorn and endless discussions about the immorality of anyone choosing this way of life.

What you rarely hear is a discussion that centers the women who do choose this. You rarely hear of these kinds of sex workers being asked why they choose this line of work. Is it out of laziness like the people who are fond of this assumption believe? Is it possible that – like all labours of passion – these sex workers who choose sex work in fact absolutely love what they do and the money is simply a perk of their excellence at their job?

We spoke to sex workers as part of a YNaija special project earlier this year and you can read the piece here or watch the documentary here.

That project was not so much the eye-opener to the fact that people do choose sex work as it was simply an opportunity to engage street sex workers and establish that it isn’t just upper-class sex workers that choose this line of work; a common misconception that even this writer held until the project.

The conversation with the contributors for that project established that fact.

Yet it isn’t just this conversation, it is other conversations also. Conversations held over the phone with dear friends and acquaintances. Hardworking women and men all of them, who engage in sex work as a side passion.

Fauda*, a 29-year-old financial analyst with a major financial institution in Abuja, lives with her lover of 4 months in a 2-million naira apartment in Garki that was partly financed by him and a long-term client.

“He met me in my line of work and he knows I still see my long-term clients who are big men that seek not only sexual company but also discretion,” she says. “He started off as a client and became a long-term lover after.”

It is easy to assume looking at her case that it is perhaps because of the social class she occupies that she could have love and still maintain her work-life – considering the negative social attitude to that kind of work.

Yet, an off set discussion with one of the contributors for the YNaija special project easily dispels that assumption.

“My guy dey steady,” she disclosed in confidence because her colleagues who were on set didn’t know about him, “He know when I dey work and we see only when I dey free.”

Love, you find, when you sit in conversation with these sex workers is possible – negative social attitude notwithstanding.

A common assumption about sex workers and the possibility of stable love in their lives is that no partner will be comfortable in the knowledge that their significant other shares something as intimate as sex can often be – because there are levels to intimacy and sex in itself isn’t inherently intimate. Sex can just be sex or a loving interlude that goes beyond the mechanical aspects of the activity.

Fauda explained how this works with her boyfriend.

“He knows that when we are together nothing outside of us can penetrate that moment, not texts, calls, or any other interaction that will bring even the idea of another lover into the room,” she says. “My phone is off the moment I pass the threshold of our apartment.”

Their intimacy is the highest she shares with anyone in her world right now.

Another common thought, many who aren’t into sex work and make no effort to understand it, ponder is why if you have a significant other you genuinely love like Fauda claims to love her boyfriend you will be okay with getting sexual with others.

“I simply love the joy of sex,” she explains. “It is a joy I know from lived experience that I can have as many times as possible and with as many people as possible. Each experience is unique in how it pleases me and the particular partner.”

Fauda, the contributor whose name I withhold, and the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are in this line of work, or who simply indulge in sex with as many lovers as come their way, have always understood that truth.

Social attitude towards sex work is unlikely to become positive overnight. Fauda remains cautious with whom she shares about her side passion for fear of what may happen if it becomes public.

It is the collective sanctimony of people – many of whom patronize the services of sex workers. It is also the understandable desire for control to access to sex by a society that puts a premium on matrimony specifically because it has unanimously bought into the notion that the only acceptable way to have sex – a vital human need – is in marriage.

Yet life is about thriving, and Fauda thrives, and plans to marry someday, “If I feel like it.”

The thousands of people that troop to registries and mosques to celebrate their matrimony – and the resultant lifetime sexual contract that is marriage, also thrive.

The reason this is is that there is no one specific way to be human, and one is no less valid than another.

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