Lola Davina worked in the sex industry over a 15 year period as a stripper, dominatrix, porn actor and escort. She now spends her time as a writer, educator, fundraiser and playwright. FLURT’s Editor-in-Chief Amanda caught up with Lola over email to discuss her book, Thriving in Sex Work – such as why she got in the industry, how to overcome stigma and the definition of success.
Amanda: Why did you decide to write Thriving in Sex Work?
Lola: Thriving is the book I wished I had when I was working. It seems kind of crazy that no one has gotten around to writing a self-help book for sex workers before now, but I’m hoping there will be dozens more very soon.
A: How did you come to make your sex work debut?
L: I started stripping right out of college out of pure curiosity. As a kid, I was fascinated by porn and prostitution. The sex industry was simpler then, and much more underground, not like today with sex work Twitter and Tumblr and all the rest. It wasn’t like you could scope a place out first online and read reviews. You showed up, took your clothes off, got out on stage, and boogied. I was astonished to actually get hired. I never thought of myself as attractive – certainly not stripper material. Getting paid fifteen dollars an hour to dance all day surrounded by half-naked women? I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
Fellow dancers helped me break into porn and domination. Once I started escorting, however, I knew I’d found my calling.
A: After 15 years of working in the industry, how does it make you feel looking back?
L: I can honestly say this book took me a lifetime to write. I started stripping at 22 and left escorting at 37. It took me another ten full years to fully process those experiences. Looking back, I see that I made a lot of mistakes. Some I was aware of at the time, others only came into focus with perspective. I never felt ashamed doing the job – I thought it was honest work. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle with jealousy, paranoia, low self-esteem and an endless reservoir of grievance. I was successful materially but suffered emotionally, more than was necessary.
Based on those experiences, the core message I wanted to convey with Thriving is: Don’t beat yourself up, don’t take things personally. Find what works best for you and do more of it, and let everything else go.
“It seems kind of crazy that no one has gotten around to writing a self-help book for sex workers before now, but I’m hoping there will be dozens more very soon. “
A: What’s one lesson you can share from Thriving in Sex Work?
L: That thriving in sex work is possible, and not just for that tiny handful of folks making six figures a year. I think it’s helpful to take a step back for a minute, and look at the big picture. There are enormous barriers to entering the sex industry – many jobs are illegal, many work places aren’t safe and across the board, there’s tremendous social stigma. Sex work is by its very nature transgressive, and that’s before you factor in navigating any kind of interpersonal boundaries. And yet people step into the industry by the millions, often driven by desperation.
As social creatures, when we cross over into the taboo, the implication is we’ve done something wrong, and therefore need to be punished. There can be no reward or happy ending. The very idea of ‘thriving in sex work’ challenges this as old, dead thinking.
However, it’s not enough to simply assert, ‘sex work is work.’ Sex is emotional, money is emotional, and sex work stands at the crossroads. Sex workers navigate a wide range of negative emotions, their own and other’s, often naked or half-dressed, often in highly charged and competitive environments and often under some kind of implicit or explicit threat. This can make the work tremendously draining. The goal of Thriving is to give sex workers the skills they need to cope with the job’s unique challenges.
If I had to boil the resiliency and self-soothing tools I offer in Thriving down to their essence, it would be: When we don’t turn our attention and compassion to what we’re actually feeling, we run the risk of checking out, dropping out, burning out. Don’t push negative feelings like anger, shame, envy, fear and sadness away – they have the power to eat at us, eroding our trust in life. Let yourself feel what you need to feel, when it’s safe to do so. Feel the feelings, breathe through them, know that they are temporary. Use them as motivation to build your life into what you want it to be.
A: You recently wrote another book. Tell us a little about it.
L: A companion workbook to Thriving is due out March 1st. As I like to say, sex work is so vast and varied, so different for each person, no one is going to be writing a ‘Sex Work for Dummies’ anytime soon. But for anyone who has been in the business a while, what we do have is the power to explain this job to ourselves.
The workbook provides a wide range of exercises and prompts to help clarify your thoughts on how the job feels and what it means to you, as well as concrete action plans to help get you where you want to go. My editor and fairy godmother, Felicia Gotthelf, filled it with gorgeous hand-drawn illustrations, making it sensual, inviting and a whole lot of fun to write and draw in.
I’m also busy writing a follow-up, Thriving in Sex Work: Sex Work and Money. As in Thriving, I take a deep dive into the complex emotional dimensions to money in sex work, and explore why it can feel different from other money we earn. Then I talk to more than twenty sex work luminaries and financial experts to give the best damned practical advice I can find on tracking, budgeting, spending, saving, investing, earning, advertising and all the rest.
A: Where else can we find you?
L: You can find out more and read my blog at LolaDavina.com. You can follow me on Twitter at @Lola_Davina and on Facebook. Also, I read selected chapters from Thriving in Sex Work available free on Soundcloud. A new chapter drops every Thursday.
Win a copy of Lola’s new workbook! Share the Spring 2018 issue on Twitter and tag us @flurtmagazine before March 30 to enter.