Valentine’s Day, for most people, is a day spent celebrating romance. But for sex workers, Valentine's Day tends to be the opposite.
Lynn*, a 56-year-old sex worker in London, goes by her alter ego, Blake, while at work. Lynn says that, contrary to what people might think, February 14th tends to be rather quiet for workers in the sex trade: her clients often see her on the days surrounding Valentine's Day — but rarely the day of — because people are often busy with their partners. They also don’t always have the extra cash, but when they do visit, they bring her roses and other gifts.
“I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. I’m all by myself,” Lynn says. “I’ll buy my grandson stuff, my daughter candy. My son, who's far away, I’ll send him $20, but that’s about it.”
And sex workers' routines on Valentine's Day aren't the only common public misconception. Lynn says sex workers' voices often go unheard as they battle stigma and safety issues.
In 2015, as many as 200 women offered sexual services on the streets of London. These services include, but are not limited to, street sex work, indoor sex work, brothel work, phone sex, lap dances and pornographic film performances.
For many sex workers, their line of work sparks stigma and social isolation.
“There’s a lot of stigma because sex workers, like other marginalized groups, are sort of relegated to the category of ‘the other,’ ” says Treena Orchard, associate professor in the school of health studies at Western University. “There’s a fear, a long-standing stigma, that links women and sexuality as being wicked, as being dangerous, as being a threat.”
Many of Lynn's family members, including her mom, have completely cut ties with her because of her job.
“They have this preconceived misconception that I sit around at home and shoot up drugs all day,” Lynn explains. “But it’s not like that. I’m so plain-Jane in my real life that it’s not even funny.”
Orchard has also found through her research and work that most women in the sex trade have children. It's a fact most people disregard, but in fact, many sex workers are mothers.
Lynn introduced her 27-year-old daughter, who goes by Emm during work, to the same line of business.
“When my daughter started this, I told her from the beginning, ‘You must know where Emm ends and where [the real you] begins.’ ” Lynn says she and her daughter support each other, helping each other through the day-to-day difficulties of their job. Beyond her daughter, Lynn says her late father, her siblings and her friends have all shown support throughout the years with kindness and understanding.
Despite her solo Valentine's Days, Lynn says that she has a support network, and at this point, sex work is a choice. Lynn does her work to make an income. She says it's all about customer service, and it's nothing to make $1,500 a day.
“Doesn’t mean [the sex worker] likes it, but it’s a resource,” said Orchard, about sex work in London. “For a lot of women it’s one aspect of their lives.... Lots of very logical things go into making their decisions.”
For Lynn, it’s worth it, but she says there are other girls who struggle with it a lot more.
Lynn says most of the time, sex workers are ignored or their voices go unheard. In London, several services work to improve their conditions, like Anova and SafeSpace, which aim to fight against stigma, empower and support women, and provide them with the resources and counselling they may need.
“My job doesn’t define me.… [It] doesn’t rule me, but I do like to make my buck every day,” says Lynn.
*Lynn requested anonymity to avoid further social isolation from friends and family.