Dominatrix reveals how becoming a sex worker has improved her mental health

Dominatrix reveals how becoming a sex worker has improved her mental health

Sex work has, generally speaking, had a notoriously detrimental effect on workers' lives. Documentaries like Netflix's After Porn Ends lay bare the deep-rooted psychological and social problems which sex workers can face. This is largely due to the fact that, until recently, the sex industry has been almost completely unregulated with tube sites freely distributing exploitative and damaging content. Then there is the fact that many people don't regard sex work as "work". 

However, attitudes are changing. In a Twitter survey conducted by VT, 84 per cent of respondents said that they saw sex work as a legitimate career. Additionally, following the dawn of the sex positivity movement, there has been an increase in the number of websites which allow performers more agency over their work.

Sammy Rei Schwarz in boots. Credit: Sammy Rei Schwarz

VT spoke to 27-year-old sex worker Sammy Rei Schwarz who, prior to entering the industry, had struggled with her mental health. According to Sammy, sex work improved her mental health, enabling her to create a working schedule that suits her needs. Since then, she has used her struggles with her mental health to improve the lives of her clients - many of whom are suffering themselves and feel stigmatised by their sexual preferences.

Sammy works as an author, phone sex operator, and performer, catering to various fetishes including BDSM as a switch (meaning that she will act as both a dom and a sub). 

VT: Did your struggles with your mental health influence your decision to become a sex worker?

"My struggles with mental health absolutely influenced my decision to become a sex worker. Living with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress have limited my capacity to keep a regular schedule, leave my house, or even get out of bed. This has made it hard for me to keep a regular job. I started sex work during a particularly hard time when I rarely left the house. I found it to be a good source of income that is adaptable to my erratic schedule and gives me a sense of control over my life."

Sammy Rei Schwarz lying on a sofa. Credit: Sammy Rei Schwarz

"Starting sex work has been a significant step for my mental health by allowing me to see my sexual nature as an asset rather than a defect"

"A second way my mental health led me to sex work is through conquering sexual shame. Though I grew up in a conservative religious upbringing, I've always been highly sexual and suffered emotionally from feeling morally defective. Starting sex work has been a significant step for my mental health by allowing me to see my sexual nature as an asset rather than a defect. I no longer dwell on being a bad person for my own desires - I see the proof every day that they are not only normal and healthy but exceptional and appreciated by others!"

VT: How do you manage your mental health and does this have any influence on your capacity to work?

"I do weekly psychotherapy and take psychiatric medications to help control my symptoms of anxiety and depression. In addition, I journal, play my guitar and piano, and take walks with my dog. I find that getting creative and being forgiving of myself when I have a bad day does wonders for my mental health. My unpredictable mental health needs definitely restrict my ability to do typical jobs, but attending to these needs enables me to work at all!"

"I think the root of many people's experiences of abuse and overworking in the sex industry is the same as in any other industry: lack of control over our work; lack of labour rights; poor access to healthcare; no accountability for abusers"

Sammy Rei Schwarz in a tartan skirt. Credit: Sammy Rei Schwarz

VT: While attitudes towards sex work are improving, the industry is notorious for having a detrimental effect on workers' lives, how has your experience been different?

"I wouldn't say my experience has been that different from others with similar backgrounds who do similar things. While I've had bad experiences, I'm fortunate to have the resources and support available that allow me to set my own terms and advocate for myself. I think the root of many people's experiences of abuse and overworking in the sex industry is the same as in any other industry: lack of control over our work; lack of labour rights; poor access to healthcare; no accountability for abusers. In the sex industry, all these issues can be improved by listening to sex workers and implementing solutions that put them in greater control of their own labour. Stigmatising the industry as a whole doesn't help anyone."

VT: You only engage in online sex work. Do you think that you would have had a less positive experience if you had worked in adult films or as an escort?

"I think the primary difference between my positive experiences with sex work and folks who have had less positive experiences comes down to a sense of control over what I do. I don't think it has anything to do with what type of sex work."

"The most damaging aspect of my sex work career to my mental health is the societal stigma"

Sammy Rei Schwarz's erotic audio. Sammy has become known in the industry for catering to people with Macrophilia - a relatively unknown fetish for giants or giantesses. Above is a cover for an erotic audiotape she recorded

VT: A lot of sex workers have attested to their careers having a limited lifespan, with many mainstream adult film stars admitting to engaging in extreme behaviours to survive. Is this the case for you and do you think the limited lifespan of sex work could have a detrimental effect on your mental health?

"Especially in fetish markets, mature age is no hindrance and can even be an asset. In this day and age where sex workers must offer more than a pretty face to get business, experience and creativity are huge advantages. The most damaging aspect of my sex work career to my mental health is the societal stigma."

"Many [sex workers] understand what it's like to live with mental illness. In fact, there's an awesome resource called Pineapple Support which offers live chat for sex workers with other sex workers who volunteer as listeners"

VT: Are your mental health problems accommodated for by other people in the industry?

"As an independent content creator with no job contract, I'm my own boss and have no coworkers per se, which can be isolating. But I socialise with other sex workers through social media and I've found them to be supportive and understanding. Many of them understand what it's like to live with mental illness. In fact, there's an awesome resource called Pineapple Support which offers live chat for sex workers with other sex workers who volunteer as listeners. Although the industry has far to go, I think more people recognise the importance of creating mental health support systems for sex workers." 

A drawing by Sammy Rei Schwarz. Credit: Sammy Rei Schwarz

"I certainly have clients who open up to me about things like depression and low self-esteem. And I think that having gone through those things myself helps me connect with them on a deeper level"

VT: And on that note, how has your mental health affected your relationship with your clients?

"The positive aspect is that I can empathise with those who also have mental health issues. I certainly have clients who open up to me about things like depression and low self-esteem. And I think that having gone through those things myself helps me connect with them on a deeper level. The less positive aspect is that due to the symptoms I experience every day, I can be sometimes less predictable and consistent with my work schedule than I would ideally like. But when I am in a session with someone, I really give my full attention."

A book written by Sammy Rei Schwarz. Sammy is an author of a number of erotic works

VT: Do you think that your career would have a detrimental effect on your mental health if you had a nine to five job instead of being a sex worker?

"I absolutely know that I would be worse off in my physical and mental health if I had a 'normal' job instead of doing sex work. I've held a variety of traditional jobs, from cashiering to food-service to office work to academic research to teaching, and they were all difficult to fit around my health needs. I found myself pushing through when I really was not in any state to work, exacerbating the problem. And sometimes I just couldn't show up, which isn't good for anyone." 

Sammy Rei Schwarz with a whip on her leg. Credit: Sammy Rei Schwarz

VT: What advice would you give to people with mental illnesses who are considering becoming sex workers?

"The number one advice I'd give to people with mental illnesses who enter sex work is to make sure you set up a support network of sex work positive people you can turn to if you need to vent about your job. These could be friends, partners, other sex workers, and mental health professions. If it's impossible for you to find friends and counsellors who will support you in this career, it could be really hard on your mental health."

"It can be really reassuring to see people of all kinds living their best lives and embracing their sexuality"

Sammy Rei Schwarz pouting. Credit: Sammy Rei Schwarz

VT: Similarly, what advice would you give to people struggling to be confident sexually who want to turn things around like you did?

"I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with diverse sex-positive people who are all at different points along the road in their own journeys of sexual self-discovery. Sometimes, depending on where you live, it can be difficult to find communities like this. But the internet can really help with that. It can be really reassuring to see people of all kinds living their best lives and embracing their sexuality. When shame tries to bring you down, remind yourself that you wouldn't shame your kinky friends, so you don't have to shame yourself. Try to attend events, workshops, classes about sexuality and give yourself permission to try new things. Remember, it's also fine to make mistakes and to laugh about it. Sexuality doesn't have to be so serious. And be sure to spend lots of time getting to know your body and what brings you pleasure. No matter who you are, you deserve it." 

Sammy Rei Schwarz posing. Credit: Sammy Rei Schwarz

In a world where it is easier than ever to become a content creator, many sex workers adapted with the times to carve out careers that work for them. While sex work isn't for everyone, it is clear from Sammy's story that the agency the internet gives people over their careers, in any field, can be used by those with mental health conditions to make a living - and, in some cases, improve their symptoms - when they would otherwise be unable to do so.

Sammy's work can be found on her website or on Twitter, where she also frequently discusses mental health issues.