Lately, I’ve been having conversations with everyone about boundaries: friends, lovers, partners, clients, colleagues, and even strangers at the yoga studio. It’s been creeping into all of my conversations, and I can’t help but wonder why. Perhaps I’m more attuned to conversations about boundaries since I wrote my master’s thesis on this very topic. Regardless, I appreciate that people are concerned with boundaries. People are trying to figure out what boundaries are, how to enforce them, and what to do when they’re crossed.
So what are boundaries? Boundaries in sex work are complex and every single sex worker has different boundaries. However, these are the most common boundaries that I know of:
- Boundaries around time (sex workers charge per hour)
- Boundaries around safer sex practices (most sex workers do not offer bareback full-service, and some don’t offer bareback blowjobs)
- Boundaries around what they do or don’t share with their clients (e.g. real name, whether they have children and/or a spouse, information about other clients including regulars, etc.)
- Boundaries around geography (where they do and don’t see clients, for example, at home versus at their incall)
- Boundaries around feelings (e.g. some sex workers will stop seeing clients if they develop feelings for them)
- Boundaries around how much communication they’ll have with clients between appointments
I mostly hear about the negative impact of boundaries, or specifically, what happens when boundaries are violated. What we don’t talk about very often is the positive aspects of having boundaries, and what boundaries offer us.
Within the bounds of the relationships I’ve had with clients, I’ve experienced genuine love and intimacy. I’ve said “I love you” and I’ve meant it. Are you shocked yet? Some of my long-term clients know my real name, see pictures of my family, learn about my everyday struggles, and see sides of me that I don’t show everyone. The more someone respects my boundaries over time, the more willing I am to cross some of my boundaries (keywords: over time, and some).
I’ve often said, “all relationships have boundaries, and relationships tend to end when boundaries are violated.” This is the case for all relationships. Relationships become toxic when boundary crossings and/or violations are not agreed to by both parties. I’ve had loving relationships with clients crumble because they violated my boundaries or had poor conflict resolution skills. Relationships between clients and escorts end for the same reasons they do in typical relationships. Not surprising, eh? I call this the “breakup experience” (goes with the “girlfriend experience”).
Boundaries keep us safe. Boundaries keep our relationships compartmentalized and manageable. Boundaries help maintain our sense of self and what is important to us. Within those boundaries, there are a plethora of possibilities for what our individual relationships can look like.
When boundaries are violated, relationships end. When boundaries are respected, relationships flourish…and at least in my case, become flexible with time. Trust is key: trust that when one boundary is crossed, the others aren’t expected to crumble.