Krystyna Solodenko on her bed with her child
Courtesy of Krystyna Solodenko

I'm A Mom. I'm Also A Sex Worker.

by Elle Stanger

I’ve been a sex worker for eight years, and a parent for five. I chose both of these jobs. I’m constantly tired, sore, and dehydrated, and that’s before I head to the night shift. Dealing with a tiny human who has an undeveloped frontal lobe and recently learned to potty train is similar enough to interacting with drunk, horny adults, but at least I make money doing the latter. My job is part therapist, part sales, and a ton of customer service. I’ve worked in healthcare and retail, and was a longtime internet nude-model, so in 2009 I decided to try my hand at stripping, and I auditioned at a club that looked safe and hip. I am a sex worker and a mom and each of these roles make me a better person, employee, and parent.

In terms of effort and energy, both are emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausting, and both can be frustrating as well as rewarding. Most of you reading this understand the fulfillment and joy that comes with the nurturing and education of your child. And when my clients are loving and appreciative of my time and energy and touch, I feel deeply moved by that as well. Parenting and sex work are two avenues that humans should be able to choose for themselves. I am a woman who made the choice to conceive, carry, birth, and raise a kid, and I am lucky enough to be able to choose to dance nude, masturbate on webcam, and sell undies, socks, and sex toys to strangers. There are innumerable parallels that I have discovered by doing both. I am lucky that the knowledge gleaned from my mom life has improved my stripper life, and vice versa.

Courtesy of Elle Stanger

I am a freelancer, and I do not make an hourly wage. As a person who works for tips, I know that time management is crucial to success. How much is that juice box gonna cost? Well, in terms of a lap dance, the organic, low-sugar apple juice costs about 30 seconds in the lap dance chair, or the shipping cost of mailing a pair of dirty panties. If I answer emails and bookings from clients during playdates, I’ll be half-watching my daughter go down the slide for the gazillionth time — “I see you, honey; great job!” — and investing in her savings simultaneously. I know that I can schedule a webcam on Tuesdays while she’s in preschool until noon, answer emails during her nap time, and send a sexy selfie for a small money transfer while she plays in the den. But what happens when the single parent stops hustling? Answer: They go broke. I’m a planner, but when you freelance for a living, time is a precious commodity, and money doesn’t just get handed to you. Unless I’m on the strip club stage.

I tell her that, "Mommy dances for people, tells them jokes, and gives them hugs," because all of these things are true.

As I write this, my daughter is 5 years old. She's too young for a synopsis on the patriarchal structure of society. I have a few years before I detail exactly how women like mommy are able to manage the commodities of their own beauty, charm, and allure. I can't yet explain that all American women are expected to perform emotional labor, and that those of us who earn a living by tapping into our natural resources are the entrepreneurs of their own sexuality. I tell her that, "Mommy dances for people, tells them jokes, and gives them hugs," because all of these things are true. I know better than to confuse her with premature explanations of what motivates human desire and sexual touch.

Courtesy of Elle Stanger

I live in the semi-progressive bubble that is Portland, Oregon, and many of my friends are strippers, cam-girls, or another breed of adult entertainer. It's rare that my daughter will first-hand witness any mistreatment of her "wh*re" mother. Contrary to how sex work is so often framed negatively, I'm a much better person because of my job. At the park, my daughter delights in watching me climb higher on the playground than most other parents. Thats because I have pole practice. At home, I teach her to do simple math with crumpled dollar bills from the night prior, and if we venture out, I'm really, really good at talking to strangers. My stripper status has strengthened my abilities to navigate all of the things that a single mom might encounter in the world, and she benefits from all of these things.

The only thing that will hurt my daughter is the stigma and discrimination she'll absorb through television, strangers on the internet, and out-of-towners who come to the wrong place. I am lucky that I don't have to hide my work from my family, or from my neighbors. She attends an organic-lunch-serving, free-play-having, Montessori-esque school, and the other parents are cordial to me, even though I'm not like them. In our community, I'm one of the few moms who works, let alone works until 3 a.m.

Courtesy of Krystyna Solodenko

I often refer to myself as an "unlicensed underwear therapist" because much of my interactions with adults require active listening, empathy, and guiding conversation. How many of you have hugged a middle-aged man who came to you and asked to be held for $20 a song? How regularly do strangers divulge their deepest secrets, their fears, hopes, or dreams in the 5' by 5' space of the lap dance room? What would you say to the client who comes to you crying because his best friend committed suicide, and he can't bring himself to make the phone call to their family? I've experienced all of these, and the first two a few times every month. Television and movies will never show you these scripts, although they very much exist. As a sex worker and as a parent, my ability to serve as a nurturer has grown exponentially, and with each interaction, I am learning still.

People are quick to look down on my "lifestyle," yet they know nothing of my daily routine. I take care of my body. I read books with my daughter. We work together in the garden in the backyard of the house I bought by myself. My daughter is well-adjusted, happy and healthy.

Before I was a parent, I was able to be much more myopic in my daily life. But an increased awareness brings a wider swatch of life skills, in the home and at work. The juggle is real. Have you ever tried taking off your underwear in one smooth gesture, while upside down, in front of 30 strangers and smiling, all while keeping an eye on who is at the ATM? No? I’ll try again: Have you ever tried cooking breakfast while making sure that your kid is brushing all of their teeth and spitting only into the sink, all while writing the babysitter note and grabbing rain boots before rushing out the door? Who here knows how to actively listen to an amazingly boring story while smiling patiently and nodding, all while mentally checking off their grocery list? Spoiler alert: I do this at home and at work. A successful entertainer cannot be inattentive to their audience, and a thriving household depends on the balance of various tasks and planning. I started homing in on these skills when I began stripping at the age of 22, and at the tender age of 30, I find that my multi-tasking mom skills are nearly unrivaled.

Courtesy of Elle Stanger

Despite feeling pretty darn successful in both of my worlds, I regularly check in and self-evaluate. What could I do better? What would I change? How will I change it next time? What are my peers doing, does it affect me or should I consider other routes of my own behavior? Most parents have to learn by doing, and that means that we all make mistakes. It is impossible to be objective when evaluating one’s own child-rearing, art, or conduct, and yet I routinely try to take a whole look at what I accomplish, and what I can improve. Should I smile more on stage? Does my laugh sound genuine? Do I feed her too much sugar? Did she get enough fruit? Did I rush through bath time last night? Does it improve my stage tips if I wear lipstick? If I ask open-ended questions, will I be able to run this webcam-show longer? If I ask open-ended questions, will I get my daughter to practice her vocabulary? I don't compare myself to my parent or sex-worker peers, but there is value is being able to measure your own success.

To the people who throw judgment at my work, I know they do so because they don't understand it. Adult sexuality is the reason every single one of us exist, and adult entertainment is not inherently harmful. Touch, laughter, and dance could truly heal the world, if only the world would listen. People are quick to look down on my "lifestyle," yet they know nothing of my daily routine. I take care of my body. I read books with my daughter. We work together in the garden in the backyard of the house I bought by myself. My daughter is well-adjusted, happy and healthy. She practices consent better than most frat boys. "Maybe some day we can pick up litter to clean up the planet," she suggested once while on a walk. On another occasion, told my best friend and her uncle, "You need to eat more fruits and vegetables if you want to be healthy."

I want her to know she's the gatekeeper to her body, the same way I am for my own.

My daughter will tell me, "I don’t want kisses right now,” when I interrupt her coloring for a kiss. Similarly, I tell clients: “You can touch my back and my waist, but not my breasts or genitals." I encourage everyone around me to be honest with their needs. In the same way I'd never accept an unwanted touch, I teach my daughter to say no if she doesn't want someone to touch her or her body. I want her to know she's the gatekeeper to her body, the same way I am for my own.

I support anyone’s choice to choose the life that suits them best. It's hard yet rewarding work to provide nurturing love and companionship to people, whether it's to my growing daughter or to my grateful clients, and I'm happy to do so. Thankfully, the stigma that sucks joy from my work is slowly dissipating, as people become more progressive and enlightened about their world. And if, in the future, my daughter wants to become a stripper, porn performer, cam-girl, dominatrix, or whatever, I hope she performs just like her mama — with poise, confidence, and a smile.