The H-Word: Was it Good for You?

Melissa Petro
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This is my final post for The H-Word, where I say thanks and you tell me what you loved and hated.

First off, it’s been a super rewarding experience writing for Bitch. What an honor! Thanks to all the incredible people who helped me pull it off: Antonia Crane, Audacia Ray, Dylan Ryan, Essence Revealed, Isaac Fitzgerald, Hank Zalen Photography, Jenny Heineman, Jessie Nicole, Lauren Gillette, Mariko Passion, Melissa Gira Grant, The Red Umbrella Project,, Sarah Elspeth Patterson, Stephen Elliott, St. James Infirmary, all the ladies at Tits and Sass and everyone who shared their stories anonymously, as well as those people and institutions who influenced me throughout this process and earlier: Melissa Harris-Perry, The New School, Patricia J. Williams, PEN Writing program, Robin Kelley, to name a few. I also want to thank my editor, Kelsey Wallace, first for her patience (Oh, how many emails I sent her entitled “not ready”) and also for her fine editorial skills.

Thanks, also, to the NY Post for being an endless source of material. You are the institutional embodiment of all my concerns, a mouthpiece for societal misperceptions and damaging stereotypes about sex work and sex workers—a powerful testament as to why feminists need to defend sex workers’ dignity and rights. Thanks, also, for your part in my becoming the writer I now believe I was always meant to be. I know that wasn’t your intention, but thanks just the same.  

Thanks, finally, to all the readers—especially those who commented. I really dig feedback, as (I’m sure) does Bitch. This post is your final opportunity to share your thoughts and opinions on The H-Word. Anything you liked or didn’t—or if you didn’t see or hear about something that you’d wished you had, let us know. Unlike back when I was escorting, I do care what my “reader” thinks and I welcome your criticism. I know that sex work is such a divisive issue, and I don’t expect to have changed any hard-set minds, but hopefully—whatever side of the debate you are on—you have read something here that haven’t heard before or that makes you see the industry in a new way. I know I have.

Previously: Jessie Talks “Retirement”, Big Money, No Whammies

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10 Comments Have Been Posted

I've definitely been able to

I've definitely been able to see the sex industry in a different light. I've always thought that men paying for sex- and women selling it was immoral. I didn't ever see a problem with the sex itself- but I felt it was just another opportunity for women to be exploited and literally bought as objects. I don't think this is the reality, and I don't think there is anything inherently morally wrong with selling sex. What is wrong are the attitudes towards women and their sexuality. These attitudes become the reality in our society, and the women doing this work are seen as the lowest of the low. Somehow the men paying them seem to escape this stigma for the most part.

I think the reason sex work is seen as degrading to women who sell sex is that a woman's moral character has always been attached directly to her sexual behavior in most societies. In their eyes, by selling sex she is literally selling a part of her soul, or some unseen part of her self. Somehow men are immune to this type of moral scrutiny as well.

Changing the laws is possible, but changing attitudes towards women and their sexuality is going to take more women telling their stories- and people who are willing to listen. I was happy to listen, and thanks for writing this series- you changed my attitude about sex work!

It warms my heart to read

It warms my heart to read responses like this and know that readers approached this project with an open mind. What I find particularly refreshing is Melissa's courageous effort to paint the sex industry in all its variety. So often debates on sex work center on homogenous claims to liberation or oppression, and this series surely showed the false dichotomy in that.

Man, it was WAY good for me!


This series came at exactly the right time for me. I'm still processing everything I've read. The last post, "Big Money, No Whammies" was especially moving. All I have to say right now is thank you, and I wish that this series didn't have to end. Do you have recommendations on where to keep reading?

I think the only thing I would wish for is more of a male perspective: male clients, male sex workers, male family members of sex workers, etc. I wonder

Thanks again for such an eye opening series.

I should add...

I should add that I understand why the focus was on women in sex work. When I said wanted to hear more about men in sex work I meant that to say "an area I'd like to explore further on the broader issue of sex work as I continue reading". I definitely appreciate a space to focus on the unique issues of women in sex work! Sorry for the confusion. It's too cold to think here!

Suggestions for further reading

Hi Bryn,
Thanks for your comment. As far as suggestions for reading, I would start by looking up Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys, an anthology edited by David Henry Sterry. I may be a little bias (being that my work is included in the collection), but I'd say it's one of the first anthologies that present a truly diverse range of voices, including writings from the SAGE program in San Francisco, an organization that works with survivors of the sex industry, including self-identified victims of trafficking and exploitation. Books I read as an early sex work activist include Whores and Other Feminists, Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Industry and Global Sex Workers: Rights, Resistance and Redefinition. There are probably newer, better collections of that nature as it has been some time since I've studied sex work from a sociological angle, but these were pretty formative for me back in the day.There was a book that came out recently called Paying For It, it is a graphic novel by Chester Brown, written from the perspective of a john. I haven't read it but I hear it's really smart. And then there are plenty of smart sex work memoirs: Melissa Febos' Whip Smart (in part about being a dominatrix) and Sheila McClear's Last Nude Girls are two honest portrayals of the industry, not to mention phenomenally literary works.

Anyone else, suggestions for further reading?

re: male sex work

In 2012, Harrington Park Press is tentatively scheduled to publish the first comprehensive scholarly/academic volume, "Male Sex Work and Society." It is currently in editorial preparation. The volume will synthesizes and summarizes the most recent several decades research on male sex work, covering the disciplines of sociology, psychology, history, anthropology, geography, public health, economics/marketing, and more. The book will also review the largest survey to date of male sex workers. Not yet available for sale, but you can sign up to the mailing list at <>

Thank you

While I hold the opinion that selling sex should not be illegal (provided that all parties are consenting adults), it never occurred to me that it could be empowering for an individual, or that it would be anything other than a last resort or a job for woman who had not been taught to love themselves as I had. This series really changed my perspective, and I hope to keep reading using some of the suggested works cited above.

Thank you.

I enjoyed the "new"

I enjoyed the "new" perspective on the sex industry. I say "new", because how many sex workers have been able to present their view on their work to the general public? It's the uneducated media that have had the most say. Which is wrong.So not only was this a good learning experience, but it was a step towards balancing an inequality. Thanks for giving us the H-Word!

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