Editor’s note: This blog is part of a series of first person essays about identity written by UTEP Liberal Arts Honors students during the spring 2013 semester.
EL PASO – “You’re not taking that job,” my father said to me before slamming the door in my face.
It was a Friday night and I was on my way to an interview at an adult video store on the east side of El Paso. I had just turned 18, was transitioning into womanhood, and delighted at the prospect of working at a business so unorthodox for a young woman my age. Despite my father’s threat, I took the job and ended up working there for two years. It was the biggest family secret since my Uncle Robert came out of the closet back in ‘83.
Poor Dad. Keeping that secret made him extremely nervous at family gatherings. Eventually, the younger members of my family found out that bright-eyed Isabel was working at a porn shop. One day, while working, my cousin walked into the store we were both caught like deer in the headlights—my cover was blown and so was his!
I am grateful my grandparents never found out. They thought I worked the graveyard shift at a library that catered to nocturnal book fiends.
Working at an adult video store ended up being more than just a job I could brag about to friends. It affected me so much that I ended up reconsidering my entire future; I no longer wanted to be an English teacher. And no, I did not decide to move to San Fernando to become a porn star.
Instead, I decided I wanted to learn how to help couples and women reclaim their sexuality. The most rewarding part of the job was when I got to educate middle-aged women on how to find their inner goddess.
I cannot begin to count the number of times women would walk into the store and ask me for help because their husbands were having affairs or they were going through a divorce. These ladies, who were often the same age or older than my mother, confided that they had never had an orgasm, masturbated, or questioned their sexuality.
My favorite customer was one woman, who shall remain nameless, who walked into the store one day and found me standing behind the counter. In her late 40’s, I must have inspired her confidence because she confided she had been married to her husband longer than I was alive, and he was having an affair.
She blamed herself for having become complacent and, in her eyes, boring. I showed her around and she became giddy asking childlike questions about every piece of merchandise. Her eyes darted from product to product as if they were alien contraptions from another planet. She admitted she knew next to nothing about sex. She didn’t even know what a clitoris was, let alone that she had one.
She was so amazed by what I showed her, that she even forgot to pick up her children from school that afternoon, and eventually became one of my regulars, visiting the store only if I was there. She even brought friends that were also experiencing hard times in their marriages.
This older woman made me realize the lack of sex education in El Paso. She and other women like her knew nothing about the sensual side of their bodies. They did not know that sex could be a pleasurable and positive experience or that they could own their sexuality. Working at the store also opened my eyes to the high rate of Sexually Transmitted Diseases along the border. In Texas, 94 percent of school districts rely on abstinence-only instruction. Our culture discourages sexually active couples from seeking knowledge about safe sex, often leading to high rates of HIV, HPV and underage pregnancies among teens.
I was 20 years old when I decided to leave the adult store to continue my higher education. By then I had met many different kinds of people at the store and had had a fair number of crazy experiences. I once had roses delivered to me at work from a secret admirer; I later found out it was a frequent customer who was as old as my dad.
My experience working in the adult industry has become a starting point for a new career path to educate women and couples about the benefits of safe sex, possibly even open up a local health clinic with parenting classes, seminars and STI testing. A junior at UTEP, I am majoring in Anthropology with a minor in Women’s Studies. I am hoping to pursue a master’s degree in Public Health or Human Sexuality.
My grandparents never did find out about my adventures working in the adult store. To this day they think I used to work in a library that had strange hours.