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Coaching and the world’s oldest profession…

December 14, 2017

Okay, so if the title of this article makes you uncomfortable, me too! If you have some judgments about ‘the world’s oldest profession,’ you’re not alone. And if you are willing to be uncomfortable and will consider dropping your judgments for a bit, read on.

I grew up in the Bible Belt (TX, LA, OK) and was taken to church (Southern Baptist) pretty much every time the door opened. I must admit that a puritanical residue from that experience persists within me.

So when I got the email from Tim Ferriss, host of my all-time favorite podcast, with the title “The Erotic Playbook of a Top-Earning Sex Worker,” I was immediately anxious. Should I listen? What if someone knew I was listening? Is it okay to listen? What would that say about me?

Then I decided to get over myself, suspend my judgment and give it a listen. And I’m glad I did.

I was struck by the similarities between coaching and (I’ll call it) sex work. You may find that offensive, and if so, feel free to stop reading. If you are willing to consider how understanding the similarities between the two professions can make you a better coach, read on.

Connection and Intimacy

Because I work with CEO / owners, I have the opportunity to work with my clients over a long period of time. My relationships with my clients go beyond coaching to improve performance. We connect over what matters most to them.

It’s common for my clients to share things with me that they’ve never told anyone, including their spouses. We connect over their anxieties, frustrations, exasperations about their business, their confidence as a leader, their hopes for the future. It frees them to confide in someone who has no skin in their game, no agenda.

They share more and more deeply with someone who knows them, their company, their family, their history. Someone who listens and remembers and cares.

We develop a meaningful, personal and intimate relationship that’s unlike what they can get from a spouse, relative, friend, or co-worker.

Alice Little is one of the US’s top earning sex workers. She works legally at Nevada’s Moonlite BunnyRanch and is a dedicated sex educator and advocate. One of her most requested offerings is the Girlfriend Experience.

For clients requesting the Girlfriend Experience, Alice performs the role of a girlfriend; going on dates, accompanying the client to parties, communicating and connecting, just as a girlfriend would, over an extended period of time.

Alice attends to the needs of her clients in personalized, precise and intentional ways. She develops a meaningful, personal and intimate relationship with her clients that is unlike what they can get from a spouse, a hook-up, a tinder match, or a friend with benefits.

Both professions fulfill a need for connection and intimacy without attachment in a way that clients can’t get elsewhere.

Both professions are focused on helping the client connect not only with the coach / sex-worker, but also with themselves.

Establishing the Agreement

As coaches, the first thing we do is establish the agreement with our clients. We figure out what the client wants, for themselves, their lives, their futures, and what they are hoping to get from our work together.

For years, I’ve asked clients to complete a discovery questionnaire designed to reveal their strengths, values, and principles, and to flesh out their goals for themselves and our work together.

Frequently, I feel I have to keep after my clients to get them to complete the discovery document so we can start our work. (I think, “Good grief, they just agreed to work together. Can’t they find the time to complete the paperwork to get started?!”)

Alice begins each client engagement with a discovery session, too. It’s intended to explore the client’s desires, hopes, dreams, and what they want to do together. She gets a clear sense of the experience they want to have and how they want to experience it.

She attends not just to goals, desires and outcomes, but also to the person and their deeper yearnings, what’s underneath their desires. Only then can she truly know what the client wants to experience, and to create it.

Both professions rely on agreed upon outcomes, but focus on something deeper; something within the client that yearns to be met and satisfied.

When we don’t attend to our clients’ deepest yearnings (instead, staying at the surface, at the level of the goal, the outcome), we miss the opportunity to help our clients truly create themselves and their lives. (Note to self: Do something to make my client discovery process more exciting!)

Creating Clear Boundaries

Having long term relationships with clients means that strong, clear boundaries are a necessity.

Without boundaries, it would be easy for coaching conversations to become like any casual conversation. I’ve had colleagues who socialize with their clients regularly. I’ve never wanted to or been able to do that. For me, it blurs the boundaries too much.

I want to have one kind of conversation with my clients, a coaching conversation.

Otherwise, I blur into the kinds of conversational experiences that they can get anywhere. (I’ve found that the more social I am with a client, the less boundaried I am, and the easier it is for our coaching conversation to devolve into a conversation they could have with anyone.)

If you listen to Tim Ferriss’ interview with Alice Little, you’ll hear how clearly differentiated she is from her clients.

While she doesn’t speak to it directly (because she wasn’t asked*), it was clear to me from her crisp articulation of the process and her distinct description of her responsibilities, that she is able to clearly delineate where she stops and her clients start.

This delineation allows her to dance in the space of being both connected and separate.

Healthy boundaries are essential to both professional coaches and to…well…professionals.

Paradoxically, the only way we are able to create the connection and intimacy that allows our clients’ deepest desires to surface is by being both connected with and separate from them, knowing where we end and they start, and what are our responsibilities and what are theirs.

At Learning in Action, we call this Self / Other orientation.

We’ve learned that we humans tend to lean toward either blurred boundaries or boundaries too thick. (If you’re interested in a little primer on Self / Other Orientation, give this video a look).

What’s the point in identifying the similarities between coaching and sex work?

Two things: 1) I believe that understanding the similarities illustrates how important it is that we coaches deliver something our clients can’t get elsewhere – healthy, boundaried connection and intimacy that provides a foundation for helping them achieve their deepest desires;  2) like sex, coaching satisfies a basic human need.  Everyone needs to be heard, seen, acknowledged, empathized with, connected with. And all of that is in all too short supply.

What about you? Do you know which way you lean? Boundaries blurred or boundaries too thick?

Connected and separate, dancing in that space of clients’ desires.

We’d love to hear how you do it.

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.


*As I was listening to this episode from Tim Ferriss, I wanted to shout into my headset, “Tim, ask her about boundaries. Ask her about her relationships. Stop being such a guy and ask her about something besides sex.” (Okay, my judgments were coming out.)




Posted in: Coaching


  1. David Erb - December 18, 2017

    Your subject applies to anyone in the helping professions, nurses, therapists, coaches and others. I like your comments about boundaries. I had a supervisor who said “therapy is a real relationship, but it is a partial relationship.” Often, some clients want it to move to a “full” relationship that is mutual and of course as you point out, once it becomes a “full” relationship, all the power is gone both for the client and the therapist or coach. It needs to remain a “partial” relationship in order to be effective.
    A thoughtful essay. Thank you.

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