Stigma, subscriptions and stamina: a male sex worker tells all

By Emily Brealey

For a sector that attracts around 72 million web users to its sites every year, the online sex work industry remains pretty taboo. Sure, within some internet circles exotic dancers might vlog their Tuesday night shift, whilst escorts share tips for making money while staying safe. Nevertheless, mystery, misinformation and ridicule around the realities of sex work persists. From concerns about encouraging a potentially dangerous lifestyle, to flat-out shaming, sex workers face criticism from all angles.


One such worker is 30-year-old Londoner Owen, a writer and director for film and TV whose experience behind the camera hasn’t discouraged him from being the subject of films of his own. You might think that his media background acted as a gateway to a career in sex work, but his story is quite the opposite. “I fell into sex work, accidentally”, he divulges when describing a self-proclaimed ‘crisis of confidence’ that led to his first venture into sex work in early 2019. “I had a friend who was a sex worker, and I reached out to her and said I’d had a bad time of late.” She recommended that he try sex work, “to regain my confidence”, Owen explains. He started to make solo content, sharing explicit photos and masturbation videos. “About three months in, I had a couple of girls reach out to me and ask to make content with them.”


Now, alongside his media career, Owen makes content almost exclusively with other sex workers, something he wasn’t expecting when he began his sex work career. “Back then it was about self-confidence. It started out as a way for me to regain ownership of my body. But then I found that there was this phenomenal community of sex workers online.” For him, this is his main motivation to keep working in the industry. “The community is bizarrely wholesome, all things considered,’ he says. “And everyone looks out for each other, which is just fantastic. I’ve not really been in a community like it.”


This description of the supportiveness of a group of people who are often so heavily stigmatised for their work is a welcome respite from their demonisation. “It feels like you’re always fighting a losing battle”, Owen admits. “Some of the people I know have lost jobs and been turned down for tenancy agreements because they’re sex workers.” To protect himself, Owen uses a pseudonym, “so it’s hard to find my stuff without really looking for it,” he says, having managed to keep his sex work entirely private from his employers. “I think that if those two worlds crossed it wouldn’t give me the most professional look. Whether that’s right or wrong, it’s a stigma that being a sex worker carries with it.” And it’s a stigma that Owen is keen to change. “People don’t see [sex work] as a proper job, but they don’t realise how much work goes into it!” he says. “It’s not just getting your t*ts or c*ck out and then money just flooding into your bank. Some of these sex workers are artists; they have an eye for composition and they make things look f*cking beautiful. And they’re also accountants, and they’re marketers and they’re phenomenal business minds. Some of these people would dominate no matter what industry they were in. It just so happens to be that they’re in sex work.”


Though there are genuine issues within the industry that demand change, it’s sad to think that these hard-working, talented people frequently bear the brunt of misdirected stigma and anger, despite them often being more aware of the issues in their industry than anyone. “I know that PornHub made changes recently to make sure that you had to be a verified creator to upload to their platform but there have been horrendous things going up, including minors, non-consensual acts, the worst kind of stuff,” Owen says when I probe him about some of the most dominating online porn sites. “With independent sex work you very rarely find a situation where something like that would be filmed in the first place,” he affirms, though that’s not to say it doesn’t happen, or that self-made porn doesn’t carry its own issues. “Some of the performers within the community I know have had their photos redistributed somewhere else. And there have been situations in the past where a relationship has broken down between sex workers and they’ve come to a mutual agreement to not use the content that they made together. If one of the parties continued to [use the content], you’re basically falling into the same category as revenge porn; you know, publishing your ex’s photos because you’re a degenerate human being.” This kind of blunt, honest delivery is refreshing, to say the least. But damning words wouldn’t be the only protection for a sex worker in this scenario. “The community as whole is pretty good at calling them out on it. And you are protected by legislation; [the content] is your intellectual property.”


Further from the legal protections available to online content creators, Owen offers up his personal approach to making and publishing content in a way that is as safe and protective as possible. Created by prominent UK sex worker Elle Brooke, PocketStars is a site which describes itself as ‘for content creators, by content creators’, offering a welcome solution to the unethical practices of some popular sites (*cough* PornHub *cough*). Owen’s review of PocketStars can only be described as glowing. “It’s amazing”, he professes. “It puts the artist first in regards to making them feel safe. They have a creator care team which is run by another phenomenal sex worker; they’re fantastic. It feels like it’s a lot more of a two-way street.” You might wonder, why not use the extremely popular and well-established site OnlyFans? Don’t they also put the self-made creator first? “They don’t really look after their clientele. They take a massive cut,” he scathes, “and OnlyFans will only pay out when you reach a certain amount of money and at certain times. It’s becoming more and more frequent that sex workers aren’t being paid on time.” Of course, there’s a price that consumers have to pay to support ethical porn and ensure that we’re watching content that isn’t exploitative. “People should pay for their porn; it allows for safer sex work,” Owen says. “Signing up to someone’s OnlyFans used to be this seedy thing that you did but now it’s just another way of enjoying porn.”


Owen believes that this ‘signing up’ process reflects the huge shift towards personalisation in other industries. “We’re moving into a subscription-based monetary platform across the board,” he says. “I interact with people through the PocketStars platform and my NSFW twitter. It’s good having a relationship with my f-… it’s weird saying fans!” he laughs. But fans they can be, and every silver lining has its cloud. “Sometimes it gets a little draining, just because it’s at all times of the day. Sometimes my phone’s going off in my bag and having to explain why is difficult.” Which begs the question, does he ever consider lying about or hiding his work from his loved ones to avoid these sorts of difficult conversations? “Just about everyone I know knows that I do sex work,” he confesses. “My dad knows because he scores at the cricket club I play for; the lads at the cricket club are all incredibly loud about it. There’s no point in me trying to hide it.”

Owen insists that this policy of openness extends to the people he dates. “I’m single so I’ve not had to have that conversation with anyone,” he admits, though he has mentioned it to love interests in the past. “I try to bring it up as early as possible. If I met someone who I was head-over-heels for, I think that might be a time to draw a line under [sex work].” You might think he’d be worried about a future partner, a friend or a family member seeing his content without his knowledge, but Owen remains unfazed. “They would never try to find me because they know there’s a boundary and they respect that, so it doesn’t really affect me too much. Again, I’m quite privileged in that regard compared to someone else.” Owen references his privilege time and time again throughout our interview; perhaps he’s especially aware of it because of his career choice. After all, it’s no secret that marginalised people are the most likely to be exploited within the sex-work industry (among many other industries.) “I can only speak from my experiences as a man,” he’s keen to emphasise. “There are things that I don’t have to deal with that female, trans and non-binary sex workers have to navigate in this world.”


It’s evident that this is something Owen keeps in mind when making content with other creators. He makes clear that the wellbeing of his fellow creators is a priority, stressing that everyone’s comfort is essential. “Sex is quite an intimate act for some people,” he says, when explaining how a sense of ease can be created from the very start of a project. “Normally someone will reach out to me, or I’ll reach out to them, then we’ll meet up for coffee and see what’s the vibe’s like. We can agree to something online but if we meet up and don’t click as well as we thought we would, it’s better to find out over coffee than when we’re naked in their kitchen!” If the creators do decide that they want to make content together, they’ll make sure they’re “on the same page” about what they want to shoot and how, before going ahead and getting their sexual health screenings. Then, they get down to the good stuff, either filming acts scene by scene or taking a more authentic approach. “I’ve done shoots where we just set up a camera and have sex, or do other stuff,” Owen reveals, but he’s also performed in porn productions. With those shoots, “it’s ‘these are the shots we’re going to get and here’s how we’re going to get them.’ I don’t like those shoots, mainly because you’re having sex for two and half or three hours and it’s not comfortable! And some of the intimacy falls away from it. When you’re filming sex like that, it loses some of the magic.”


I’m curious to know how much of this magic of sex work remains for Owen. Does he see himself stepping away from the camera anytime soon? “The short answer is: I don’t know. I have a lot of fun doing it so I think I’ll keep going until that stops.” Even if he did decide to move on, Owen’s adamant that he’d stay a part of the community. “Some of my best friends are in that community, and I’m a photographer and videographer as well, so any way I can help another sex worker to improve their production quality or help them with their branding or marketing, I’ll do it.” Perhaps by the time it comes to close the door on sex work, the industry’s professionals will be more accepted and respected. “We’re living in a time of political change and changing thought,” Owen says. “I try to stay positive to how that tide rolls over our community.”