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My Life As a 'Craigslist Hooker': Why We Need Smart Policy About Sex Work

It seems strange to eulogize an online red light district, but Craigslist Erotic Services transformed the meaning of being a sex worker.
 
 
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On Wed. May 13, Craigslist announced that it will shut down its erotic services section, marking the end of an era. With the negative publicity generated by the Craigslist Killer and a stampede of outraged attorney generals calling for its demise, Craigslist Erotic Services will be no more. This is a requiem. And a plea for a rational discourse about sex work.

I know it seems strange to eulogize what was basically an online red light district, but in my experience there was a brief moment when Craigslist Erotic Services transformed both the meaning and the means of being a sex worker. There one could open a virtual lemonade stand which operated according to self-imposed rules and regulations. Anonymity was almost guaranteed. Craigslist Erotic Services made sex work accessible to people who would never have considered doing it otherwise. I was one of those people.

It was the autumn of 2003. I'd come back to New York after an extended period away with the realization that yet again, I was flat broke. A struggling writer and artist, I'd been earning a living as a licensed massage therapist. I'd used Craigslist once before to find a sublettor for my Brooklyn apartment. That had worked out incredibly well, so I decided to advertise my massage business there (in the therapeutic services section). It seemed ideal.

I confess that at that time, I was pretty disappointed with my love life. Like many New York females in their 30s, I still hadn't found Mr. Right. I was becoming increasingly frustrated at his failure to manifest. Love was desired, but seemed elusive. In the meantime, I dated. Oh boy, did I date. I was a professional dater and a longtime veteran of internet dating. I was on JDate when people found it eccentric. And I was having a lot of crappy experiences with men of dubious integrity. It had occurred to me more than once that I might as well be getting paid.

Thrown into this mix of loneliness and financial need was aggravation; aggravation that when I did begin advertising my massage business in the therapeutic services section of Craigslist, all anyone seemed to want was sex. I was indignant. I considered myself a healer. I had gone to massage school. I had studied a variety of healing modalities and been praised by my clients as being extraordinarily gifted. I could cure sciatica and alleviate anxiety. I could soothe PMS and increase cervical mobility. I just wanted a few good regular clients. I had never blended my massage work with anything remotely sexual.

Nor had I ever so much as glanced at the erotic services section of Craigslist. But one day it came to my attention that many "providers" who should have been posting in the erotic services section were posting in the therapeutic section. I wrote to Craig Newmark. He graciously responded. He assured me that Craigslist would be more vigilant in removing misplaced ads. But for some reason, after that, I kept looking at the erotic services section. Something had snapped. I never would have expected it, but reading the ads had begun to turn me on.

I just want to pause here (in part because I can already hear the voices of my detractors and also because I don't want to appear insensitive to any human suffering). I recognize that I'm a privileged, educated woman who could have done many things for a living, but opted to do sex work largely because it was exciting to me. I recognize that there are women who do it reluctantly and out of necessity. I recognize that there are also women who are forced into doing it. I recognize that violence against sex workers and indeed against all women is a real threat and a dark shame. However, this piece is not about that; this is about me.

 
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