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lipsticked stigma

Shame around sex can make it hard to ask for what you want and need. Let's work together to destigmatize sexuality, including sex work, for more safety and pleasure for everyone.

The setting is a dinner with a new date. We’re drinking wine and waiting for our entrees.

“What about you? What do your parents do?”

“Well, my dad is in finance and—” my breath gets tight. Do I say it? Do I tell them?

“And my mom’s a sex worker.”


“Oh. Oh, really?”

Yes, really. More accurately, she’s an HR director turned erotic photographer turned sex worker. It is not a sob story. It is not a story of a woman forced into sex work under duress. It’s a story of a woman who rediscovered her sexuality later in life, one-thing-led-to-the-nexted her way into the work, and discovered she really loved it.

Yet when telling someone about this, I feel preemptively defensive. I get flooded with examples from movies or conversations where children and parents mock disgust when reminded that the other is sexual.

My discomfort has very little do with her actually doing the work, or acknowledging that she is a sexual person. It has everything to do with the stigma. Sex is the one core need where the industry built around it is not seen as legitimate. “I don’t pay for something I can get for free.”

Do you pay for therapy?

For entertainment?

For exercise programs?

These are all sourceable for free, yet people often pay, and for good reasons. Convenience, expertise, to work out a specific problem, to have a safe space to explore. Why should sex be any different?

The perceived illegitimacy of the industry speaks to a larger societal squeamishness around sex. It’s the same discomfort that makes us feel horrified by the idea of an acquaintance stumbling upon our sex toys or porn search history. That turns our face red when a partner asks if we have any kinks. It’s what built Instagram’s community guidelines. A fear of acknowledging or talking about our desires as real needs.

It’s the same stigma parading around in different shades of lipstick.

When we internalize the stigma that sex is shameful, it makes acknowledging or advocating for our own sexual needs so much harder. To confuse the matter, the presence of sexuality in mainstream culture is often a glossy, commodified version. What’s left is a premise that sex is shameful, but it should also look like conventionally hot people having seamless shower sex, but sorry no resources for how to get there cause yikes wow why would you even ask??

When we learn to embrace our sexuality, we learn to embrace the origin of ourselves. When we learn how to identify and advocate for our needs in a sexual experience, we learn how to identify and advocate for our needs in life.

That is why Squirm exists. To create a space where we can openly unpack damaging narratives around sexuality. To broaden the possibilities of how sex can play into our lives. To offer tools to help people have more fulfilling sex lives (solo and with partners). To strip away the stigma, one makeup wipe at a time.


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