By: Jenny Uneby
In this portrait, we discuss life, healing, and intimacy with sex worker and artist Ava. When we first meet, we do so at a small coffee shop in Prenzlauer Berg, where she greets me with a warm hug while smilingly apologizing for being late. She explains that she had a lot of things to get done at home, simultaneously as her ADHD acted out and made it difficult to make it in time.
While sipping on some tea and eating bagels, I share that I, when looking at her socials, got struck by how intimacy seemed to form a red thread through all of the content. When entering this topic, it’s like a light switch is turned on within Awa, and her voice gets filled with excitement.
“Nowadays, we are so programmed into this heteronormative perception of intimacy, we are stuck with ‘man, woman, marriage, etc’. Moreover, people tend to tie intimacy to sex. I find intimacy to be so much bigger, and it starts with intimacy with yourself. Asking yourself, ‘how is the relationship to my body, what do I like, what is needed for me to feel good?’, all of this is intimacy. It can also be non-sexual romantic, it can be a friendship, a chosen family.”
She adds that if you have a good connection to your biological family, intimacy is also to be found there. For her, this is not the case. Even before going public with her occupation as a sex worker, she had a strained relationship with her parents. Their foundational values have differed from hers since a young age, and today they are not in contact.
“I think that I’m quite far in my progress about this stuff, I left my family at fourteen. It was difficult being the first child of refugees from Afghanistan, with their cultural heritage meeting the German society. The environment I grew up in was highly misogynistic, I lived in a bubble and wasn’t allowed to meet friends who could influence me, it was a bit like ‘they are all whores’. My orders about what to wear and how to act were strict, and I was also the oldest sibling which meant even more pressure”
Early on, Avas parents put her into a boarding school-like institution, in which her behavior was supposed to be “dealt with”. She has always been a bit of a rebel, and when she got into puberty it all escalated. Around that time, the first split from her parents took place.
“I eventually got back in touch with my mom, throughout the years there has been a lot of trauma bonding. Somewhere down the road, I forgave her, which was a very healing experience, but it also took a lot to get there, due to the physical and emotional abuse in my childhood. After some time, I understood that she didn’t have the same options as I did, that she grew up in Afghanistan and was forced into marriage, and that she also was impacted by her environment. I know she loves me in her own perverted way, and when I understood that I was able to let go and realize that it was never about me, it’s all about her traumas and way of coping with them. Coming to terms with this accelerated my healing process.”
She says that she has become a very tough person because she as a child was ‘molded in hell’, and to expedite growth and healing, she takes bits and pieces from spiritual practices which resonate and creates her personal toolbox. Ava finds it interesting how psychology and spirituality have many overlaps, for example in how presence and awareness can increase well-being and expedite healing.
“You know the brain is like a muscle, so if we train it we get results, but of course it takes time. Sometimes I feel like, why are we not more patient with our minds? I believe that all of us have magic within, and one part of that magic is our ability to change.”
Ava might not be in contact with her biological family, but she has found a new one within a close-knit friend group. One of these people also happens to have the same occupation as herself, something she finds deeply comforting.
“It's a privilege since we truly understand all work-related aspects of one another’s life. Both of us create art in our free time, and that’s how we found each other. With the pictures I partake in, I try to tell a story with my body. Being naked is for me one of the most ‘seeable’ things about vulnerability, also maybe even more so since I diverge from the beauty standards by having scars and body hair. Except for being a performer with my body, I also do spoken word. Recently I participated in a themed event that focused on love, and while writing my material I reflected on how I in fact have dedicated my life to love, lust, and intimacy. They form the energy which drives me and helps me to heal.”
Except for scars from her childhood, Ava also carries sexual traumas. She notes that it for many will appear as cliché that she, as a sex worker, has this kind of experience. It happens that people take for granted that it is the foundational reason she entered this profession.
“I don’t give a fuck what people think. In August I shared online that I do sex work, and even if you don’t care about the reactions, it’s an enormous step to take. As I posted it, my hand was shaking. I used the song Wet Ass Pussy by Cardi B as the background sound to the post, and I have honestly been waiting since it was released to do just that. It was an empowering thing to do, and I’m so proud to be a sex worker. Why? Because it’s magical. Most people don’t understand which kind of care work we do, a work which in turn can be very healing for both me and/or the client. However, we have been indoctrinated since birth with the use of words such as ‘whore’ as insults, slutshaming, and other things which goes so deep, that I sometimes have difficulties separating my personal values from taught ones. At these times, I can find myself crying and contemplating my choices. Then, it’s invaluable to have a best friend in the same profession. I’m glad to say that I always manage to stand up again and be like, ‘you know what, I’m a proud whore’.”
An etiquette Ava use in addition to “proud whore”, is “muse and provocateur”. She has modeled for several painters and describes it as an honor as well as an enjoyment to be pictured, especially since she labels herself as an exhibitionist. She laughs and adds that she also has had some poems written about her, and expresses it as one of the biggest gifts to understand that your presence has inspired others.
“To be a muse, it’s not enough to be visually beautiful. A muse is someone who muses in the way they talk, think, and approach, so it’s a composition of every facet of an individual.”
Recently, Ava tried out something new connected to body performance – she participated in a porn set. The idea first appeared some time ago, when she began discussing the possibility of filming something with her now best friend, the artist and sex worker earlier mentioned. Her friend is a videographer, and she wanted to include Ava in one of her shoots. However, the idea never came to fruition and instead, a close friendship arose.
“It’s so funny that we instead met and become very close friends, and after a while, we were like ‘bro, didn’t we want to shoot something, what happened with that?’. Now, we have however made it happen and recently we recorded a video!”
She describes the film as very different from the porn you usually come across online. It focused on latex and had more artistic qualities than mainstream videos most often feature, with “resistance’ as the pervading theme.
“It didn’t showcase any penetration, but rather portrayed fetishes in a very visual way, for example by me exercising dominance. The classical porn scene doesn’t interest me, but in this format, there was a sense of playfulness and exploration which I enjoyed. The experience was completely new and differed a lot from meeting with a client since I somehow had to perform, and at work, I don’t. My nerves made me shaky, but I also found it to be very thrilling. The experience was great, but I don’t feel like getting further into that field as of now, since I aim to focus on my writing during the coming year.”
I ask if there are other areas of sex work that she yet would like to explore, and she shares that she a few years ago tried the field of stripping. When she says that it didn’t work out, I expect there to be something in the experience that wasn’t enjoyable. However, that wasn’t the case. “I did it only for a short time, I just really sucked at doing it!” she laughs.