Tips for transitioning out of sex work (if you want to)

Sex work-positive peers

By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

Sex work is nothing to be ashamed of, as anybody who is truly sex positive will tell you.

Whether you’re an escort or a porn performer, you have a job to do. It can be tough, but nobody has a right to judge you for it. Sex is one of the oldest professions — humans have always found ways to swap valuables for pleasure.

As long as you’re an adult and no one is forcing you to do anything you don’t want to, we trust that you are making the right decision for yourself at this moment in your life.

But sex work can sometimes lead to burnout, just like any other job. Maybe it’s getting to be too stressful or you’ve had a bad experience that’s making you reconsider. Maybe you never intended it to be a long-term gig, and you’re ready to move on. Or maybe you’ve met that special somebody and don’t feel like sharing your body with someone else — at any price.

So, if you’re wanting out, these tips might come in handy:

Sex work-positive peers

Look for bridges to the future

Some sex workers figure out how to take advantage of their old job to build a new career. They may write books or even go into politics.

You could, for instance, become a counselor for other people in tough situations. Spend some time online studying how other people transitioned out of sex work and see if any of those examples look attractive to you. It may be tempting to think some of your career goals aren’t possible because of your sex work history, but don’t be discouraged. If a former sex worker can become mayor, you can reach your goals, too.

Consider beginning your journey to overcome addiction

Okay, so let’s be clear - just because you’re a sex worker doesn’t mean you have an addiction to anything. But, addiction tends to be a problem for many of men and women in sex work because it’s linked directly to their job.

Sometimes drugs are forced on people in sex work, sometimes it may mean extra money from a client, but no matter how an addiction starts we want you to know there is help available.

Addiction is a disease, not a character flaw or shortcoming. We want you to know that no one has the right to insult or mistreat you because of your addiction.

We firmly believe that people struggling with addiction deserve access to nonjudgmental care and support. There are programs and support groups in your community that are ready to help you in your journey to recovery.

In Cleveland, Recovery Resources is one of many organizations ready to help. With multiple locations and services, it’s a good place to get started.

Sobering up will not only improve your health, it can help remove a lot of barriers you might face in the workplace and more. It’s a long road, but we promise it’s worth it.


Come join our private, stigma-free, supportive community.

Health management tools with medication & appointment reminders.
Social networking in a community conversation & private chats.


Get some kind of part-time job

It’ll help to get on the payroll at a business of some kind. Fast food, sweeping floors, working security, or stocking products in a warehouse, anything will do.

Lots of these jobs don’t require any experience and employers will hire somebody who is willing to show up on time and work hard. It may not be the amount of money you’re used to getting at first, but that’ll give you something you can put on a resume or application for a better job.

Sex work-positive peers

Give yourself a deadline

Once you have your part-time job, you can start thinking about when you want to be out of the sex trade for good. It might help to give yourself a deadline — something to shoot for.

If quitting sex work is your goal, you can create mini-goals to help you get there. These could be things like staying for six months in the first job or stop doing the kind of sex work you enjoy the least.

Meeting each mini-goal gives you the confidence to stick with your end commitment to leave the sex work behind.

Sex work-positive peers

Get support from people who understand

If you’re living with HIV, you probably already know how much more difficult it is to manage something on your own compared with getting some help and support. The same goes for this. It might be helpful to find a support group or friends you absolutely trust so you can talk things through when you feel trapped or stranded.

People who understand what you’re going through and have your best interest in mind will likely be your best source of support. Willpower and friends will help you stick with your goal even when it gets tough.

If you live in Cleveland, you may want to consider reaching out to the friendly folks at Renne Jones Empowerment Center. They have groups and social services for those formerly involved in sex work (via human trafficking or otherwise).

Trans is beautiful

A lot of our trans brothers and sisters find themselves engaging in sex work. Some choose to be there — all the power to ya sista! But some trans persons end up needing to have sex in order to survive.

No matter why you’re in sex work, we want you to know that you are beautiful and we support you!

MetroHealth offers hormone treatment and other trans-centered care and services from compassionate and friendly providers at our Pride Clinic. We also host a transgender job fair for any of our brothers and sisters looking to move away from sex work or get a side gig.

Sex work-positive peers

Think about starting a business

It can be a challenge to find a good job if you don’t already have one in the same field. So, many sex workers look for opportunities to go into business for themselves.

While landing a full-time job can be hard at first, it’s fairly easy to find work on short-term projects. If you string together enough short-term projects, before long you can build a business around the work.

Some employers tend to be extremely choosy about the employees they hire. But businesses choose vendors to do a specific job well. They don’t care so much about your background if you can give them what they want at a good price.

That’s a lot like sex work. It’s all about keeping the customer satisfied.

See, you already have plenty of experience. It’s just a matter of putting your customer service skills to work in another area where you feel happy about the work you can offer.

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