What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet…                                                   ( Act II, Scene II, Romeo & Juliet)

I’ve spent the last 4 days with the lovely Rebecca Lowrie on her Practitioner Training Course. I had been drawn to Rebecca and learning more about what she does for a while, so when she mentioned to me about a short course for people working in sex and sexuality, I decided to go along to find out more. Working independently, and in an industry that our society still deems shameful, degrading or socially unacceptable, it’s not easy to work out where I can improve, upskill or make myself more professional. There isn’t a continuing professional development program for the sex industry, or really a professional governing body (although I recently heard about this new program which could be more like CPD, and of course there is the GMB branch and the Adult Industry Trade Association).

One of the things I found out during the four days was how similar my work was to other people’s practices. In a sense, I was thrilled to feel that I was a peer to people I consider more professional, and more like therapists or teachers, with a wealth of specialist knowledge. However, it brought up something I’d been struggling with for a while: what actually *is* my work called? Rebecca is a therapist, others here and elsewhere use words like healer, tantra practitioner, sex surrogate.

I mentioned my dislike of the word escort in this previous post. It’s so euphemistic: ok, I occasionally do social things with my clients, but really, I’m not “escorting” anyone anywhere (uhm, apart from my bedroom, usually). It’s weird. Where did it come from?

Companion similarly irritates me: it invisibilises the actual sex part of my work in a way that makes me uncomfortable. And truly, much as I am beautiful, marvellous, intelligent and funny, having sex with me is what differentiates me from a therapist, counsellor, carer, secretary or anyone else you pay to spend time with.

Sex worker is ok. Explicit, trendy, political: includes nod to the trade union and labour movement. Non-gendered (unlike the *personal shudder* “working girl”). Semantics history fans may be interested in Carol Leigh‘s chapter “Inventing sex work,” in Jill Nagle, ed., (1997) Whores and Other Feminists. But somehow, sex worker isn’t sexy. Also, it hasn’t so much caught on *inside* the industry. I might use it about myself and other workers, I certainly identify that way politically, but I still don’t expect my clients to find me by googling “sex worker”.

Courtesan is gaining much currency in my corner of the market. It’s starting to be taken to mean what “high class escort” means to the tabloids: that I have education, or that I dress, speak and act in a certain way. I’m suspicious of it in the same way I dislike “high class”: it seems like not-so-veiled snobbishness or classist thinking. I’m absolutely not better at sex, relationships or anything else than someone with less of a chance at education or someone who does things our society deems working class. If you want to talk to me, or for me to entertain you, of course it helps that we might have similar interests, and for lots of people, that’s really important if they are going to have good sex with me. Courtesan probably fits me the best of all these words, despite my issues with the word. BUT I really really dislike all those posts by other providers who seem to feel that because they charge a lot of money they are better than others though. Eurgh. (I’m going to save my similar rant about racism in the sex industry for another post). I believe calling yourself a courtesan doesn’t make you better than a person calling themselves a hooker.

Harlot, whore, hooker, prostitute, call girl, geisha, dollymopp: I could tell you about my associations, problems or identifications with each. But the thing is, none of them are quite right for me. There’s also the fact that I seem to do some things that don’t have a name yet, or not one that I know; working with couples. There’s got to be something more catchy than professional three-some-ist.

Maybe the fact that I don’t have a clear name for what I do helps keep me fluid and innovative about my work? I am sure some philosophers, linguists and psychologists would agree with that concept. Marketing people on the other hand might wonder how to reach a client base for such an undefined practice/business/person. Luckily, it seems to be fine so far: I’m finding the right clients for me at the moment.

Anyway, when I’ve found out what it is I actually do, then I’ll tell you more about it. Until then, perhaps you’ll just have to try it for yourself…

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