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Sex Workers’ Untold Stories

  • A cat mask on a table
    “This is a mask I wore at some photoshoots to hide a bit of my identity. It’s strange, because, all the time, I have this feeling that I’m lying—but, of course, I lie about other topics at work. I tell clients I enjoyed a session even though I did not, for example. So, it’s this constant thing of wearing a mask.” Objects of Desire
  • A bottle of Dream Water on a table
    “I had this special customer. We were becoming very close, he was calling me ‘my angel.’ Once, while I was working on a bachelor, I had problems sleeping. He gave me a bottle of liquid called ‘dream water’ to help me sleep. The last time we met he got a coughing attack and didn’t feel well. The next day, he had a heart attack and died. It really struck me because we had a really beautiful connection. I visited his grave twice and it’s been quite hard sometimes. I’m sharing the dream water as an item to [memorialize] him.” Objects of Desire
  • A pair of worn work boots on a table
    “I did construction work before I did sex work. One winter, I actually started advertising myself as a construction worker. People were really into the idea of having a dirty, dusty, and sweaty construction worker.” Objects of Desire
  • A stuffed doll on a table top
    “A client bought this to represent himself during role play.” Objects of Desire
  • A lighter on a table
    “I was given a lucky lighter, but it was stolen by one of the girls. It was yellow with a winking smiley-face on it. When I had that with me, I always made €500 a day; ever since it was stolen, it’s been much worse, moneywise.” Objects of Desire
  • A silver giraffe keychain on a table
    “A customer gave me this giraffe keychain and I put it on my backpack. One day I was in a bad mood because of something to do with clients and I saw it on my backpack and became angry. I thought, ‘What am I doing with this? It’s one thing to keep the thing; it’s another thing to be carrying it around!’ So, I threw it away. But afterwards, I felt a little guilty about throwing it out, because it was a gift. It was an ambivalent feeling.” Objects of Desire
  • Two tickets on a table
    “A customer once wrote to me, offering quite a big sum of money to come to his house in a little town that was a 20-minute train ride away. He didn’t want to talk to me on the phone or give me his exact address, though. Something was off. But the money was interesting, and I think I also wanted to go deeper into that danger. I was afraid but at the same time that’s what attracted me so much. In the end, nothing happened, because I didn’t go. Still, it was an empowering experience, to say no; to be at this train station and in the end say no. That was also special, you know, like, all of a sudden it felt so special to go home to my partner, into this warm bed. Then I kept this train ticket for two years in my purse. I just recently threw it away, I think because I was ready to let go.” Objects of Desire
  • A smartphone on a table
    “I have a group of friends who have done sex work here in Berlin and in other places, too. I think we empower each other. We share a lot of advice about security measures to care for each other. We message each other on the phone where we are, and we always share bad experiences, in order to analyze them, in order to think through them. I learn something every day from their ways of working, from these exchanges.” Objects of Desire

Throughout the world, sex work is stigmatized as taboo, immoral, and dangerous.

Sex workers, meanwhile, are assumed to be victims—of human trafficking, drugs, abuse, and so on. In both cases, these assumptions are factually incorrect; worse still, they fuel policies and norms which not only fail to “protect” sex workers but, by forcing them underground, imperil their safety and health.

Thankfully, Objects of Desire, a new exhibition, based in Berlin and organized by a sex worker collective, is working to challenge—and dismantle—such misconceptions. By highlighting the ways in which sex workers manage relationships with their clients, lovers, families, and neighbors, Objects of Desire shows the complexity that is all too often lost in public debates about sex work.

Objects of Desire is a grantee of the Open Society Foundations.

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