Canadian Sex Workers Answer Questions About How They Stay Safe

Those who do it for a living are on top of their health.

Not much shocks Lethal Lady V, a dominatrix who uses her “strong arms and deadly toys” to command the men who hire her. But people on dating apps having unprotected hook-ups for free — that appalls her.

“There’s absolutely no way. I don’t judge; I mean, I’m a facilitator of all things kinky. But [it has to be] within a clean, safe atmosphere,” she told HuffPost Canada.

For many, practicing safe sex starts and ends with using a condom during penetrative intercourse. But as we know from the countless dating horror stories out there, the worst offenders may skip even that.

Lethal Lady V (the sex workers in this story use pseudonyms due to safety concerns) says she’d never risk her health for the sake of a hook-up. The Toronto-based fetish model and kink professional is one of many Canadian sex workers who say that being good in bed takes more than skill; it takes exceptional hygiene, mindful communication, and a tool kit that goes beyond regular testing.

Lethal Lady V says she takes pride in providing female domination services that never risk a client's health or safety. "There's nothing more positive than being with somebody who cares more about your safety, your journey, and what you're getting out of it," she told HuffPost Canada.
Lethal Lady V says she takes pride in providing female domination services that never risk a client's health or safety. "There's nothing more positive than being with somebody who cares more about your safety, your journey, and what you're getting out of it," she told HuffPost Canada.

Their expertise in sexual wellness not only leads clients to seek them out regularly — it’s allowed them to work consistently in a field that has similarities to online dating. Like Canadians on apps, sex workers meet with strangers and navigate intimate situations.

HuffPost Canada interviewed several Canadian sex workers about their views on sexual health and what advice they’d give sexually active Canadians.

Who hires sex workers?

Casual sex isn’t always accessible. Some may tire of encountering judgment or ableism, like queer disability rights advocate Andrew Gurza. In an article he wrote for HuffPost last year, the writer said he hired a sex worker because he experienced ableism on hook-up apps. In his case, he desired intimacy without negative exchanges.

Others may hope to act out a specific fantasy, are shy about sex, need a convenient no-strings-attached encounter, or require being with someone experienced enough to handle equipment and toys safely. This is important particularly for those new to BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism), which can involve physical impact.

Watch: This former dominatrix is advocating for sex worker’s rights. Story continues below.

Paying a professional takes the guesswork out of casual sex or using unfamiliar equipment. Sex injuries make for hilarious viral stories, but are painful and uncomfortable to explain in the ER.

“Don’t go out and say, ‘I read about [BDSM], I know what I’m doing,’” Lethal Lady V said. “No you don’t, you need to experience it. A professional knows the techniques.”

Many people hire sex workers for simple reasons: they sell services that match a demand.

Keep it clean and cut your nails

You don’t have to use hospital-grade sanitizer on everything you play with or wash your sheets multiple times a day, though some workers told HuffPost Canada that was their routine.

Basic hygiene is heavily encouraged in the sex work industry. For some workers, clients may be asked to shower before their session or a freshening-up period might be built in.

It should go without saying, but clean hands are a must. But, one need only turn to Twitter to discover endless anecdotes of cisgender heterosexual men engaging in sex acts with unwashed hands as well as jagged fingernails.

Dirty hands can spread sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like hepatitis A; sharp nails are not only uncomfortable when inserted into the body, but they can also cause tears that lead to bleeding and infection.

This is something that many workers will refuse to work with. As one worker put it, “You will never put those dirty-ass hands near me.”

Share with the class

Escort Clara Prefontaine remembers a fellow colleague advising her not to work the day after an intense dentist appointment, as any cuts in one’s mouth can increase the risk of disease transmission.

“That’s just not something that I had ever even considered prior to this job,” she told HuffPost Canada.

Friends familiar with Clara Prefontaine's occupation also ask her for advice on sexual health — likely because her line of work makes intimate topics less taboo, she believes.
Friends familiar with Clara Prefontaine's occupation also ask her for advice on sexual health — likely because her line of work makes intimate topics less taboo, she believes.

Informal knowledge-sharing is common among the workers Prefontaine knows in Montreal. You don’t have to divulge every dirty detail, but chatting about intimacy with friends can lead to similar eye-opening discoveries.

Reduce harm where you can

It’s not practical to assume every sexual encounter you have will be immaculate. Especially when sleeping with strangers, you can’t predict what will happen or how it will affect your access to safer sex measures or maintaining your health.

Some workers aren’t able to engage in the safer sex practices they desire. Those who work with dangerous clients, deal with competitive rates, or work in unsafe environments, including at the street level, may elect not to use protection in order to maintain their clientele or avoid violence.

As the Positive Living Society of British Columbia notes, having a lack of power in the transaction means one might need to give into pressure to earn money and/or de-escalate hostility.

One worker told HuffPost Canada that in order to be profitable, they provided oral services without a condom.

That’s why harm reduction — minimizing risk whenever it can’t be eliminated — is so important.

Don’t beat yourself up for having one risky fling.
Don’t beat yourself up for having one risky fling.

Writer and sex worker Cyd Nova notes that the mindset that a single unprotected encounter will automatically result in disease is unrealistic.

Nova finds society’s preoccupation with the cleanliness of sexual workers, labelling them as “vectors of disease,” has led to unfair regulations from public-health services and governments.

“They tell us that if we are not painstaking in our risk-reduction practices, our already criminal bodies will be caged and quarantined for the good of the public,” he wrote for the journal QED.

If you aren’t able to do all the preventive practices you want, focus on what you can do after an encounter. That may mean limiting how many times you have unprotected sex, cleaning toys as soon as you remember, getting tested as soon as you can, and getting on treatment if you need to.

Wrap it up

Lethal Lady V ballparks her condom collection at around 10,000.

“You name it, I got it. You allergic to latex? Don’t worry! I got lambskin,” she said, laughing. She said she owns every type and size available, often donating supplies to other workers. “There are civilians out here doing things unprotected, re-using toys … That is the worst thing possible. That’s how things can get contaminated.”

Condoms come in many materials, and can be coated in lubrication or a flavour.
Condoms come in many materials, and can be coated in lubrication or a flavour.

Having a variety of sex supplies on hand ensures scarcity — or product preferences — never interfere with a good time. Condoms which can be used on toys that go inside multiple people and various orifices aren’t the only barrier devices out there. Dental dams can be used during oral sex, and rubber gloves can be used to safely provide hand ministration.

And if a partner with a penis complains about how condoms feel, internal condoms provide protection without restricting.

Barrier devices can do more than prevent STIs or pregnancy. Having sex when one partner is on their period is safe, so long as they don’t have a blood-borne disease, but some prefer not to deal with blood. If you fall under this category, a menstrual sponge can provide intimacy without any sign of bleeding.

Workers who menstruate often use sponges so they can keep working on flow days. Sea sponges are popular online, but medical professionals have noted they’re “untested and and potentially very unsafe;” and there are synthetic sponge brands on the market that have been dermatologically tested.

Stay on top of doctor’s visits

The Canadian Public Health Association states that a lack of statistics on STI rates among sex workers make it hard to be precise, but a report on sex worker health by Peers Victoria states outright that “there is no direct correlation” between sex workers and STIs.

Whether you are a frequent user of a hook-up app or see new partners once in a blue moon, getting tested is an important part of overall wellness. And no, there’s no such thing as getting tested too often.

A federally funded 2014 working paper suggests that STI testing is a major concern for Canadian sex workers. Of over 200 workers surveyed in five cities, 97 per cent had been tested for HIV in the past.

When asked if they had been tested for several common STIs, workers scored in the 90 per cent percentile. Four per cent said they tested positive for an STI and were receiving treatment. This differs greatly from the general population: Global News reported in 2017 that many Canadian young adults aren’t getting tested.

Sex education doesn’t end in high school

Mistress Ophira has noticed that BDSM practitioners in particular are usually more aware that direct genital contact isn’t the only area worthy of attention.

“In kink we’re, ideally, hyper-aware of risks and recognize that all kinds of contact can be risky, whether it’s because of bodily fluids or the potential for hurt feelings,” Mistress Ophira said. “My sexual-health routine doesn’t stop at making sure all my gear is sterilized and body-safe.”

She frequently goes to workshops to heighten her BDSM skills. As domming is a highly emotional activity, the professional takes measures to prevent burnout and checks in with her submissive clients to make sure their time together is as fulfilling for them as it is for her.

Kink workers are professionals in the sex work industry who specialize in fulfilling non-conventional sexual practices, often through BDSM play.
Kink workers are professionals in the sex work industry who specialize in fulfilling non-conventional sexual practices, often through BDSM play.

Intimacy seminars and workshops are available across Canada. Sex shops like Good for Her in Toronto as well as Venus Envy in Ottawa and Halifax regularly host events to help attendees deepen their knowledge.

Communication is sexy, shame is not

Rosie Sparkles, an escort and domme from Montreal, notices that straight men are usually more communicative with sex workers than with women they aren’t paying.

“We [society] don’t teach boys to talk about what they like or what they want. With sex workers, they must talk about what they want as it is a transactional relationship,” she told HuffPost Canada.

Her Montreal colleague agrees. Prefontaine said that, by seeing her, clients have learned to better express their needs and fantasies. Some test the waters by sharing what they want to try over email. Others are vague with their requests, which Prefontaine takes as a sign to probe for more.

Six Reasons to Have More Sex

“Regardless of whether or not I’m into their fantasies, I will always say, ‘Thank you so much for trusting me enough to express yourself,’” she said. “That alone for them is the most mind-boggling thing. I would say that’s a barrier that’s come down for them.”

“Screen” who you sleep with

Canadian professional domme Mistress Ophira has heard people say sex workers have “no standards,” but personal experience indicates otherwise. For example, she says she’s noticed people will sleep with others who don’t treat them kindly.

“I just want to intervene and say, ‘Stop! You’re better off on your own!’” she told HuffPost Canada. “Sex work has shown me that erotic energy is precious, and it’s not something we should be expending on people that treat us badly.”

And paid or not, never let anyone pressure you into anything you’re not comfortable with. At any point, you’re allowed to stop being intimate or renegotiate how getting down plays out.

Some screening strategies involve reference checks conducted with other providers, as a client with a bad rap won’t get seen. As VICE reports, screening often involves gut checking, too: the language a prospective client uses can show how respectful they’ll be.

“The only person who will ever be able to know or articulate your boundaries properly is you,” Toronto dominatrix Bastienne Cross told HuffPost Canada.

Many sex workers screen prospective clients by verifying their identity and assessing how well they’ll fit the service. While asking for a driver’s licence might be out-of-the-question on a dating app, it doesn’t hurt to look someone up before seeing them.

Doing “healthy research” online will make sure you’re not spending time with someone unsavoury.

Have an exit strategy, check-ins

Screening isn’t foolproof or accessible for every sex worker. Some may forego or limit their screening strategies because of their status; street-level workers facing hardship may be less strict about their boundaries.

Even with stringent screening, bad dates can still happen and Canadian sex workers still face workplace violence that can be fatal; Marylene Levesque, a 22-year-old sex worker from Quebec, and Toronto spa worker Ashley Noell Arzaga, 24, were killed on the job by their clients.

For both these tragedies, advocates have blamed legislature for preventing the women from seeking additional safety measures in their workplaces. Canadian workers often call for the decriminalization of sex work, as legal prohibitions and regulations lead to dangerous conditions.

Many workers have (or are lobbying for, in the case of Toronto spa workers who can’t lock their doors) easy-to-access exits at their workplaces. They may have timed check-ins with close friends or online mutuals who will take action if someone fails to reply.

If you’re hooking up in an unfamiliar place or with someone new, having at least one person know your whereabouts can take a lot of the stress out of what should be a good time for everyone involved.

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