Aphrodite, the Goddess of beauty, desire and the protector of sex workers. That’s right, the goddess we associate with love and fertility was also a goddess who kept an eye on sex workers. It’s a shame they left that out of my high school classics. But it’s no wonder I was so drawn to this goddess as a 17 year old witch. As I explored my craft, I found myself worshipping Aphrodite. At the time, I simply knew her as most people recognise her: a radiant figure gracefully rising from the foam from which she was formed. Appearing as though floating on a seashell, her beautiful locks of orange hair falling like a waterfall against her naked skin. Many of us know her as the Greek or Roman goddess of love. But Aphrodite, or Venus, has a rich history intertwined with sacred sex workers. So allow me to take you back through history, to a time where sex was treated as a sacred act.
But first, where did Aphrodite come from?
A figure representing desire predates The Greek and Roman era. For as long as humans have felt desire, the idea of Aphrodite has long existed. Because at her core, Aphrodite represents human desire. Not just sexual or romantic desires, but a desire for friendship, happiness, wealth, luck, abundance. Whatever humans may crave, Aphrodite speaks to that desire within us. And due to Christianity, humans have been taught to be ashamed of desire. Nowadays we associate it with the sin of “greed”, whereas Aphrodite teaches us that desire is a natural human urge. It is how we go about achieving our desires that define us.
Astrologically speaking, the planet Venus governs our value systems. What we find pleasurable, and how we receive and attract love, art and money. The word “Venus” has roots in the word “vanas”, which means desire. It’s a feminine planet, but that does not make it female in the sense that our modern patriarchal society views gender. Remember, gender is a social construct. But femininity and masculinity have nothing to do with the genitalia, and all to do with spirit/energy.
Which brings me back to Aphrodite.Commonly depicted with characteristics we associate with womanhood - there is a figurine of Aphrodite where she appears as a non binary figure. According to Bettany Hughs in her book Venus Aphrodite, History of a Goddess: “this mini sculpture shows the goddess with thick facial hair...a splendid wig, a fine beard, and under her/his (their) gauzy dress visible breasts and a vulva.”
White supremacy, patriarchy and Christianity play a massive part in our rejection of deity’s that celebrate sexuality or sensuality. So it’s no wonder that Aphrodite being a protector of sex workers has slipped between many narratives of her. It’s been conveniently left out of conversation surrounding her, even as feminists have reclaimed Aphrodite as a celebration of womanhood. Though as we’ve seen in her non binary portrayal, Aphrodite does not just represent cis women.
Aphrodite was a goddess known for mixing things up, such as human relationships. She was often worshiped at the edge of places, a common one being in ports where boats docked. The link between land and sea, which we see portrayed in her birth as she rises from the foam and steps onto land. She was celebrated as the patroness of the port and sailors. And what's the main thing a sailor is craving after spending months on the sea surrounded. The company of a beautiful woman/women The company of a beautiful woman/women. Sex workers would wait around the port for sailors to return. Since Aphrodite governed the port, it was believed that her watchful eye was protecting the sex workers.
According to Bettany Hugh’s, many stories of Aphrodite suggest that she was the patron goddess of the prostitute, many believing she gave her spirit to the first prostitute. Or that the first prostitute was the human embodiment of Aphrodite. This to me further emphasises my belief that sex workers are goddesses, or at least a link between humanity and the Devine power of the gods and goddesses. Temples were created in her honour - The Temples of Aphrodite - and many stories hint that women would honour the goddess by visiting the temples and being paid to engage in sexual intercourse*. So any time a full service sex worker gets paid to have sex, they are honouring Aphrodite and in turn, honouring themselves.
*I do want to note that the evidence for this is really slim, and a lot of that is due to the Christian invasion over ancient societies. They wanted to erase anyone or anything that celebrated Aphrodite.
These temples were treated as sacred spaces, and the act of sex itself was believed to be sacred. The more I explored my sexuality growing up, the more I found I resonated with the Greeks view of sex as a sacred act. But not “sacred” in the sense that it should only happen between a man and a woman, a husband and a wife. It was sacred because it felt magical. Whether it be on my own, with a partner, or with multiple partners, sex is where I feel the most electric. It has the ability to transport you to another world. A chance to leave your physical body and enter a trance of complete and utter ecstasy. Whenever I have sex, I call upon Aphrodite. Whenever I make love to myself, I think of the goddess of desire.
But let us not forget the destructive power of the goddess. Because while she may be celebrated as the goddess of beauty and desire, she is still a goddess. And goddesses are vengeful, destructive, and cunning. They’re not the holy saints that Christianity celebrates. Many of us are familiar with the story of The Trojan War, which Aphrodite had influence over. She essentially caused the events that sparked The Trojan War, so it’s no wonder that The Spartans saw her as the Goddess of War. In fact, the Romans often depicted her in statue form being in the nude, donning a war helmet and holding a sword. Roman generals would make sacrifices to Venus before going into battle, and Julius Caesar famously wore a ring everyday with an image of Venus.
While the Greeks associated Aphrodite with desire, The Roman’s narrative of Venus has a heavy emphasis on her malice. She has the ability to dominate, as much as protect, as do sex workers. While we may appear beautiful to look at, we are also fierce. We’re more than just our physical beauty, we have the power to influence others. And that scares a lot of people. That’s why they try to silence us, the way Christianity tried to silence Aphrodite and her worshippers. We may be beautiful, but that’s not all that defines us. We all have our own stories, our own personality traits, just as the ancient gods and goddesses do.
Growing up, I have always been fascinated with sex work.
I found the idea that as a woman I could be paid for sex both repulsive and intriguing. I was first repulsed by it, of course, due to societies conditioning over my view of sex. As a cis woman, I’ve been raised in a patriarchal world that teaches me that my body is something men are entitled to. My only worth is appeasing to the male gaze, and seeking it for their gain. As an exhibitionist, I did not mind this gaze for a while. I would exchange nudes to men I hoped to seduce, and when the sex finally came I felt ripped off. My pleasure was not taken into account, I just felt used. Knowing that there were humans out there receiving a payment for their sexual labour, I felt a sense of security knowing that I could potentially do that myself.
In many ways, brothels and strip clubs are modern Aphrodite temples. There’s alcohol, beautiful humans offering sex - or the illusion of sex - in exchange for a profit. How very Ancient Greece! I remember my first time visiting a strip club: sitting in the front, tipping the dancers, completely mesmerized. Each time the curtain pulled I greatly anticipated who would enter the stage, as each performer brought their own natural and organic sexual flare to their routine. Each strip show was just pure art to me. The art of seduction, and I was enticed by every single movement.
I loved how powerful these dancers looked, with their 7 inch pleasers and dazzling costumes. Not only did I discover I was queer, but I discovered that I wanted to be a sex worker. I felt like I was under a spell, and in that moment I knew my power as a woman. The hypnotic trance the curves of these dancers enticed in me touched my inner goddess, who I have felt connected to from an early age. And she said to me “you are meant to be asex worker.” And so I became a sex worker. .
Sex workers of all kinds are goddesses to me.
We honour ourselves by demanding a payment for something that society feels they have a right to. From the moment I was born in a woman’s body in a patriarchal society, my fate was sealed. I was doomed to a life of constant scrutiny, harassment and even assaults. My body has been through an abortion, sexual trauma, an invisible illness, and yet I have been able to reclaim the narrative over my body through sex work.
And that’s something that not a lot of people understand. “Sex work can help heal you from trauma? But I’ve been told that sex workers need saving from the trauma of their jobs!” Seems to be the common response when I discuss how sex work has helped connect me to my body. I’ve felt a strong sense of self sovereignty ever since the day I started to sell my nudes on the internet. The first time I stripped on stage for money, I had never felt more present in my body. I imagined I was dancing in a sacred temple, surrounded by other beautiful humans celebrating our bodies.
The changing rooms of the strip clubs/parlours I’ve worked at feel like a sacred space. The way we look out for one another is beautiful. The way we honour our bodies, honour our sexualities, and celebrate the sacred act of sex is truly magical. The way sex workers care for one another, despite having come from different backgrounds. We come together to eat the patriarchy. We protect one another the way Aphrodite used to protect the port sex workers. And when someone disrespects us, they witness the "dark" side to the goddess. The destructive side, that only gets unleashed to those who deserve it. Because we deserve nothing but respect for what we do.
When we witness Aphrodite whether it be a literal image of her, or the crashing of the waves against the sand. Or the way we feel Aphrodite when we touch ourselves, or someone we desire... That feeling is what sex workers evoke. That radiant and powerful feeling. And it's for these reasons why to me, sex workers are the closest link I've ever felt to experiencing the goddesses once worshiped in ancient temples.
Sex workers are goddesses, and you can't convince me otherwise.