My girlfriend’s girlfriend has apparently expressed interest in being a prostitute as she’s currently unemployed and doesn’t want to look for work elsewhere. I’m torn between being a feminist who supports sex work as a legitimate profession and knowing that: a) while I don’t think sex work is inherently shameful I know it can be dangerous. If not for the risk of pregnancy and STDs for the risk of Johns, Pimps, and Cops. b) she’s a deeply unstable person who I think mentally would not be suited for sex work. c)  she hasn’t thought through any of the logistics and doesn’t care about finding something more stable and legal to support her household.

Above all I need to protect the health of myself and my poly family. My girlfriend seems uncomfortable with it but also says it’s her body and she can do what she pleases with it and that she won’t leave her if she becomes a prostitute. My partner is very uncomfortable and will not allow any contact to come back to him. So if A becomes a sex worker and still has sex with B, I can’t have sex with B anymore if I still want to have sex with D. D has a kid and is very worried about A bringing Hep C or something into our family. Frequent testing has come up in conversation but that can take weeks so logistically it seems a mess. She won’t do non-contact sex work like camming or dancing either instead.

Can I still be sex positive and safe and find a work around with this situation? Do I have to choose between partners B and D because of A’s lifestyle choice? Am I being too judgmental of A’s choice of employment and are D and I overreacting? Should I try to convince D to stay with me with conditions like frequent testing and protection if A goes through with it or try to convince A to find a job that isn’t putting us all at risk for STDs? I’m also worried that A might do it and that B might lie to keep us together despite knowing A is a prostitute.

This is a longer question than I usually post, but it’s an interesting one and not one I’ve answered before, so I decide to run it anyway, but with the answer under a cut for the sake of people’s dashboards.

First, an easy concern to assuage: worrying about people who have STIs being around kids are probably unfounded. Unless you have a specific concern, like if the child has special medical needs that create extra risk, you can let go of that concern. If you are really worried, you can ask a pediatrician: “if we have a close family member diagnosed with Hep C, are there any extra precautions we should take?”

Can you be sex positive and still not want to be part of this situation? Yes, absolutely. Be careful about letting guilt about ideological purity make you feel pressured into doing something you’re not comfortable with. You can still be sex positive and support sex workers without deciding that this specific situation is safe and healthy for you. It does not make you a bad person, a bad feminist, or sex-negative to make a judgment call about the safety of your family. You are not obligated to participate in a situation that makes you unhappy or puts your relationships at risk just because someone in that situation is a sex worker. (I am a woman, but every feminist on earth is not obligated to be my best friend and send me twenty dollars. Although you can if you want to.)

Do you have to choose between two partners? I think that’s the wrong framing of the situation. Everyone in this situation has a choice to make based on the information they have. Much of the information you all have to go on is what choice someone else made, and the projected consequences of that choice. D is choosing to say “I will not date someone who sleeps with anyone who sleeps with sex workers.” That is totally his right to set those terms for his relationship. You can choose to stay in that relationship on those terms, or you can decide that those terms are too restrictive, since they require you to give up sex with B. Everyone is making the choice they think is best for them in response to other people’s choices. No one is forcing anyone to do anything.

Are you overreacting? I can’t make that call for you. Everyone has different thresholds for risk. But in this situation, knowledge is power. Unfortunately, I am not knowledgeable enough about sex work to give you specific information. You may want to visit a sexual health clinic, call a sexual education hotline, or talk to your sexual healthcare provider to get a clearer understanding of what risks are actually faced by A, B, C, and D in this situation. 

That includes not only the risks of STIs, but also risks of secondary trauma and being pulled into an emotionally, legally, or physically risky situation. Find someone who can help you identify which of your concerns are realistic and need to be managed vs. which are are not. Understand your tolerances: what risks are you concerned about, and what are boundaries you need to set to make those risks more manageable? If you don’t trust A to do a good job respecting those boundaries and managing those risks, that’s something to consider. 

Are you being too judgmental? Maybe. You believe that this person “doesn’t care about” or “hasn’t thought through” certain things, and while that may be your opinion based on your observations, you can’t really make an objective call about someone else’s internal state. You may also believe that she is “deeply unstable” and not suited to sex work, but you are not the Universal Arbiter Of Who Is And Is Not Cut Out For Sex Work.

It is okay to make judgment calls based on your observations - but “this person is creating a situation I don’t want to be part of” is about you. “This person is doing things wrong” is about them. You can only truly know what’s best for you. Making that distinction is key. 

Should you try to convince someone else to do something they don’t want to do? No, I don’t think so. Everyone in this situation has the right to do what they think is best for them, even if you think they’re being unreasonable or making the wrong call. Perhaps you think D’s risk tolerance is too low. Perhaps you think A should be looking into another way of making money. But all you can do is positively and supportively try to share your perspective. Do not pressure or push someone to change their mind because you’re convinced that they’re wrong.

The last sentence gives me serious pause: if you set a very clear boundary with someone, and they lie to you to break that boundary, that is beyond not okay. That you think your partner is liable to disrespect your boundaries and put you and your other relationships at risk and lie to you about something so important is a serious problem. You need to think about whether this concern is coming from mistrust on your part, or whether you have evidence about B’s character that has previously shown them to be dishonest, selfish or manipulative. If you’re just feeling suspicious, you need to do some self-work on that. But if you have serious concerns about the trustworthiness of someone you’re dating, you need to think about how to work on that with them, or whether that’s a relationship dealbreaker.