A few weeks ago on Twitter, I commented that the stripper BFF never gets her own book. I was reading Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Fall With Me at the time, in which one of the heroine’s friends is a stripper. Although her purpose in the story was mainly to provide comic relief (along with key bits of wisdom), I loved her, and desperately want her story. Unfortunately for me, as another reader pointed out, stripper heroines are a hard sell.
But, as with just about everything in romance, sex worker heroines (and heroes!) do exist, and when done well, can make for an excellent story. But I’m greedy, and I want more. Here’s why:
There’s inherent conflict when writing a sex worker character, and it can lay the foundation for an intriguing story. Why are they a sex worker? How does her love interest feel about it? There are so many directions a story can take, and when done well, it can provide excellent conflict.
In Solace Ames’ The Companion Contract, for example, heroine Amy is a porn star and escort who takes a gig as an escort for a recovering addict rock star. The problem? She falls for his bandmate, who is technically her employer, and can’t navigate his stoic demeanor (Emanuel, you kill me). Sleeping with your client is one thing, but sleeping with your boss who is also your client’s close friend and caretaker is a whole mess of drama that I, as a reader, desperately crave.
But don’t be mistaken, just because a character’s work in the sex industry can provide conflict in a story doesn’t mean the character has to be inherently conflicted about their job or otherwise troubled (they of course can be, but there’s no default here). And don’t even get me started on sex worker heroines who need to be saved. The best novels I’ve read with sex workers are ones where the character is secure in themselves, their body and their choices. While Amy in The Companion Contract is contemplating a change of career, she doesn’t feel shame or regret in her job choice.
And do you think Nora Sutherlin, the pro Domme from Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners series, feels shameful about her profession? I am actually laughing as I type this, because NO. She owns it, and readers love her for it.
Romance readers are voracious, and after a few hundred (thousand) books you start to get sick of seeing the same things, especially in contemporary-set romance. The heroine owns a bakery, she’s a vet, a lawyer, a teacher, a publicist, etc. Those are all jobs that many people have and that’s all well and good, but some people also sell their bodies for a living, and that’s a valid occupation, too.
Readers are pushing for more diverse fiction, and if writers and publishers are listening it will hopefully mean that we’ll begin seeing more varied characters in our books, including (maybe, hopefully, please) more sex workers.
Time to be real: sex is fun to read about! And not just the act itself, but everything else that goes along with it.
The Girl in 6E (I will never stop talking about this book, sorrynotsorry.) is a really good example of a book featuring a sex worker heroine where the sex acts weren’t especially tantalizing (quite the opposite, they’re emotionless and clinical, as they should be if you’re describing a cam girl’s day-to-day), but it’s the logistics of her job, the heroine’s relationships with her clients and how she thinks about her work that made this book unputdownable.
These details are what can potentially set a book apart from other boilerplate erotica.
While I’d like to see more female sex workers in romance, I’m aware there are plenty of male sex worker characters, too. Author Shae Connor has a list of romances featuring sex workers (male and female, M/F, M/M, etc.), and my few additions are below (following her format of including the type of sex work in the book). If you think of more, please let me know!
The Companion Contract by Solace Ames (heroine is a porn star and escort).
The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz (heroine is a professional Domme, one of the characters owns a sex club and a strip club) – I highly recommend “The Mistress Files” novella in this series.
The Girl in 6E by A.R. Torre (heroine is a cam girl, romantic but not strictly a romance)
Three Hard Lessons by Nikki Sloane (heroine is an escort)