Have you ever considered sex work? Alexis (not her real name!) — like many of us — came of age at the peak of the sex-workers-as-bloggers phenomenon. She didn’t just read with idle interest, however; when she met a friend who had recently started working as an escort, she decided to give it a go herself.
I interviewed her via email, & think her responses are fascinating. Have a read!
Who are you & what do you do?
I am a twenty-two year old English undergraduate student moonlighting as an escort. By day, I’m a backpack-lugging, Doc-Martens-wearing slob, indistinguishable from the hordes of like-minded peers on campus. By night, I am dressed up and seasoned like somebody’s very expensive meal.
How long have you been working as an escort?
I officially started a month ago––right after Christmas––though it feels a lot longer.
How did you begin doing this kind of work, & what drove you to begin?
I’ve been interested in this kind of sex work for years. As a teenager, I was fascinated by sex––well, at that age, who isn’t––but it wasn’t the carnal, sensation-driven frenzies I was curious about, but the psychological and social mechanics behind it. Why would somebody want to sleep with this particular ideal? What kind of images does one need to project in order to get the other person off? I wasn’t interested in sensation at all; I didn’t enjoy the actual act of sex for years. It all seemed incredibly barbaric and primal to me, though I now appreciate that aspect of it.
This curiosity grew as the wave of erudite sex-workers hit the blogosphere, right when I was about sixteen. There were many, but most memorable to me were Belle from Belle de Jour (now revealed as Brooke Magnanti) and Alexa from NY Hotties (sadly disappeared). I also read the Nancy Chan column on Salon.com (written by Tracy Quan). Prior to discovering these blogs I didn’t have any perceived notions of what escort work is like; I’d brushed off the sex trafficking shown in films as blown out of proportion, though I’m obviously aware now that those are very serious issues. I may have been naive, but I’m almost glad that I was. It gave me an open mind about this kind of work.
Years went by; I moved out to a new country for university, lived alone, had complete freedom from both family and friends. I had a lot of casual sex, though I was never paid for it. It was a serious education both in sex itself and learning about the utter disposability of having multiple partners. I learned that I didn’t matter as much to people as I thought, and that I shouldn’t be obligated to allow people to matter to me. An armour was built, so to speak.
What eventually cinched my decision to email the agency I’m with now was finding a friend who is just as fascinated by this kind of work as I am––throughout the years I’d never kept my interest hidden from friends, though it was always met with incredulity, even disdain. She had a few stripper friends in the city, who pointed her in the direction of a woman-run agency. She started first and her enthusiasm drove me to finally see it for myself.
Are you open about being an escort? Why or why not?
I am open with two friends: the one who also works at the agency, and another friend who isn’t in the industry but has proven to be a stable source of support throughout the years.
Being closed about my job is a choice, not a necessity. The friends who don’t know I’m certain will accept it; they are creative and liberal in their views. The decision to keep mum has more to do with sustaining this duality––keeping my job and life separate. I’m not a big fan of talking about the people I meet or the the things I do with them; it feels like a violation of what they’ve been promised in the exchange, which is discretion.
Did you come from a religious background? How do you think your family would react if they knew?
I’m totally non-religious. My father, bless his argyle socks, put a lot of emphasis on education. If it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be such a skeptic. He taught me to question everything––including authority, which has led me to become a lot more independent, which is a huge part of why sex work appeals to me. My mother was raised Catholic and doesn’t quite get my disdain for blind faith, but she is a lovely woman; she supports me in my desire to write for a living, along with almost all the other bad decisions I’ve made. My stepfather is a champ. He’s made quite a name for himself in computer engineering, politics, investment banking, you name it––and probably the one family member I’m the most honest with. He inspires me.
All that said, I would never tell them, for mainly the same reasons I don’t tell my friends. Keeping work and life separate, and all that. Also it’s one thing to have a peer know that I take money for sex, and another for a parent––who’s cleaned the poo off my bum, seen me twirl round in a tiny tutu, and read the birthday cards written in a child’s wobbly cursive––to know.
What does an “average” day look like for you?
It’s Wednesday. I get up and go to school. I’m in my last year of university and I do have at least two hours of class every day of the week except Friday. I annoy fellow subway-riders with my bag, swinging with the combined weight of laptop and novels. I shuffle into the lecture halls, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible if I’m late. My professor waxes lyrical about Pablo Neruda. I giggle at the irony of my romantic education, standing in such sharp contrast to my work.
I go home. My shifts begin at six and end at twelve; this means the earliest possible appointment can start at six and the latest start at twelve. That is why most nights I don’t get home until one or two, depending on where the client lives and what he likes. I like working the nights I have school; this de-clutters my weekend plans. The client tonight proposes dinner at seven, which means I am picked up by the agency’s driver at six thirty. I’m in a clingy grey wool maxi-skirt, black tank top, and leather jacket. With most clients you are allowed to dress the way you like, which is great; the agency encourages this in order for us to feel as comfortable in our own skin as possible, thus supposedly providing a better experience. Obviously this excludes anything unflattering to the silhouette or too casual; there are girls who’ve been forced to change because they’re wearing jeans, even if they’re skintight and designer. I’m just happy I get to wear my own clothes.
I get to the client’s apartment, kiss him hello, excuse myself to the loo, surreptitiously pick up the envelope full of cash on the hallway table. I call the driver, which allows him to know that I’m a) safe and b) done exactly five hours after we hang up, so he knows when to call back.
We go out to dinner. Despite my insistence on the separation of work and play, the woman I am now is not too different from the woman I am in any other context––I’m still twenty two, still a student, still adore sushi, which is why he takes me to the Japanese restaurant rather than the Italian. It’s easy to have conversation, laugh, joke, even seriously discuss politics and religion––though that is not encouraged with clients you don’t know in fear of offending them. Let them talk; get to know them first. They will ask about you, in which I give half-honest answers. I lie about specifics, like location. I’m truthful about opinions. We don’t touch each other in public. To everyone else, it probably looks like he’s catching up with the daughter of an old friend.
In his apartment we have a glass of wine. I let clients initiate the first touch––most of them like to know they’re in control of this experience, and I’m petite enough to play submissive convincingly. Most of them enjoy simple pleasures––a naked woman, an attractive one, is often enough. Those who are kinky will say so––I’ve peed on clients, whipped them, been slapped and choked by phalluses of both fleshy and plastic construct, but they have always asked me first. In this context, one has to be vocal about his wants as it’s a matter of consent. There’s not much mind-reading to do.
We shower after, separately. We lounge around on the bed, discussing his work week. This is usually an introduction to a stress-induced knot on his back, his shoulders. I straddle him and pummel those spots in an attempt at massage, though his soft snoring indicates satisfaction.
The driver calls at exactly 12:03am. We kiss goodbye; I promise to let him pick the restaurant next week.
What’s the best thing about the work you do? What’s the worst thing?
Best thing? Instant gratification. This includes the pay, which is given in cash; it includes the compliments, which are lavishly given without question as these men are old-school gentlemen; it includes the sex, which is conducted without the awkward conversation or attachment or emotional baggage.
Worst thing? The juggling. Moonlighting is exhausting in any context and both this work and my education require a decent amount of mental stimulation.
Is there much of a community around working as an escort? Have you formed friendships with other women at your agency? Who do you look to for guidance or help?
It depends. The agency I work with doesn’t allow much room for a community––occasionally I’ll meet the other girls in the car if they’re being driven to a similar area at a similar time, and we’ll exchange hello’s and useful information about clients, but that’s it. The older ones aren’t interested in establishing friendships with a younger girl like me. Those in my peer group are more competitive, hence they’re a little more standoffish. There are agencies that will have the girls meet at a house and they’re sent on out-calls depending on who’s present at the time; those places are probably tighter-knit.
The agency I’m with is run by a woman who’s been in the industry for more than a decade. She’s lovely and unpretentious, and I felt comfortable with her right away. She’s been really helpful in terms of security and dealing with the duality of work and life. (“I’m a soccer mom, not a pimp!” she’s exclaimed to me more than once.) She is open about her life and experiences, so I’m open with her in return. The girl I’m friends with who introduced me to the agency has also been helpful in terms of the clients themselves––she’s had more experience with certain kinks, such as dominating. Other than that, I’m pretty much an island; it’s the way I want this phase of my life to be.
What are your relationships like with the men you see? Are they ongoing or once-off situations?
All of them are ongoing, which makes for a much better relationship. Getting to know a client is just like getting to know anybody else––a potential friend or lover, and in this case both. They range from their thirties to mid-fifties, and are all very successful at what they do, though not always socially adept.
For every single one of them I’m a vacation. They’re all world-weary to a certain degree, which makes sense as they are seeing an escort––it’s either jadedness, or disappointment with themselves, or dissatisfaction with other women that drives them to the agency. With me they are open-faced sandwiches, though I’m almost positive they are bound like clams to everyone else in their lives. None of them are currently married; a couple are divorced. There are hardly ever any awkward silences––if they’re quiet at first, I will either babble on or ask a question that I know they’d have an opinion on. It’s a little like being a therapist, or being a priest at confession, and they’re aware of this aspect, hence why it isn’t hard to get them to open up. They want to get all that they can out of the experience.
How often do you feel attracted to the men you’re seeing? Does that affect the quality of your work?
I’m never attracted. I make sure of it––it’d be unprofessional otherwise. The sex is good for them because I’m aware than it’s a job, hence a certain amount of diligence goes into it. If they were men I’d normally want to have sex with, it’d become selfish.
Also, like any other girl, I become a bit of a tongue-tied idiot around an attractive man. So it’s definitely a good thing that these men don’t fall into my usual bracket.
Have you established many boundaries around what you are & are not comfortable doing?
As sexual kinks go I am fairly open-minded––I’ve dominated, been dominated. Bodily fluids are not a problem to me outside of the scatological, though I would probably do number two on somebody if the price was right. (Standards!) I do draw the line at anything that would leave a mark, which includes heavier torture (no burns, bruises or whip-marks). I am fine with kissing and having orgasms, however. I’m in this to enjoy myself somewhat, no?
A lot of them offer drugs. I’m okay with alcohol––nobody else I know is going to opt for the three-hundred-dollar scotch, a definite perk of my job––but cocaine, ecstasy or marijuana I will say no to. Some girls at the agency do say yes, and their answers range from boredom, to a need for distraction (so he was that awful), to a means of transcending the experience (some people are better partners when inhibited). For me personally, I need a clear head.
If a client asks to forgo the condom, I leave. Simple as that.
Who sets those guidelines — you or an agency?
I do. The agency is concerned with safe sex, but I feel that should be a concern of everyone involved, most of all the client. The agency is quite relaxed as to what we do with our time with the clients––they were the ones who interviewed us and trust to have the skills, which is something I appreciate.
What are the misconceptions about the work you do?
That I’m a victim of sexual assault; that I’m a junkie; that I’m really, really good in bed. I am none of those things. I got into this job because of a curiosity––a curiosity that some might find strange, even morbid, but if there was ever a wholesome motive to get into this profession it would be this. I am not looking for validation in regards to my self-esteem.
Regarding drugs: I don’t. I’ve seen too many friends lose their heads to get into it myself.
Regarding being good in bed: there’s a favourite quotation by Martha Gelhorn, famous partner of Hemingway.
“If I practised sex, out of moral conviction, that was one thing; but to enjoy it seemed a defeat. I accompanied men and was accompanied in action, in the extrovert part of life; I plunged into that but not sex; that seemed to be their delight and all I got was a pleasure of being wanted, I suppose, and the tenderness (not nearly enough) that a man gives when he is satisfied. I daresay I was the worst bed partner in five continents.”
Similar principles. In some ways I am still the same teenager fascinated by sex and the idea of being wanted––not loved, or even liked. There’s an extreme objectivity in what I do; a need to be a blank enough (not entirely blank) slate for men to express themselves, to relieve themselves, to enjoy. That does not always mean my enjoyment. But to be able to provide what I do in such morally questionable contexts all the while keeping my own personality and life separate from it––this is a privilege, to me. I am not the queen of blow-jobs, nor a woman kept afloat by double-Ds. It’s a cliché for the prostitute to use “listening” as a euphemism for her job, but it couldn’t be more true.
How do you ensure your safety while working? (Condoms, phonecalls, etc.)
Like I said, I always stay relatively sober and have zero toleration for things I do not want done to me. To be handily within reach of a naked pair of testicles takes care of the safety aspect for the most part. I’ve been quite lucky––all my clients are extremely respectful, and the prices of the agency rule out sketchy characters.
My driver did tell me once he carries around a gun. Being simultaneously scared and relieved is a very funny feeling.
Do you have a partner or significant other? If so, how does your work fit in around that? If not, are you interested in dating? Do you have a contingency plan for when this happens?
My boyfriend doesn’t know. He does know about my interest in it––that I’ve never hidden from him; the books and articles remain littered in the apartment we share. But he doesn’t know I’ve actually gone and done it.
This is the biggest issue I’m having personally with the job. Well. I say it’s a job, but there’s no getting around the fact that I am sharing my body––a sacred thing to some in a committed relationship––with other men. There are clients who have referred to our sessions as making love; an assumption they’re free to make, of course, but definitely not one I agree with (though I’d never disagree to their face). There are still tokens of affection exchanged. There’s still another penis going into my vagina. My boyfriend would definitely have a problem with it, which is something I completely understand.
Hiding it from him involves a fair amount of sneaking around. I do have another job, one that I’ve been using as an excuse for leaving the house. It’s part of the reason why I don’t allow clients to leave marks. It’s difficult to explain the phone calls, which is why I rely mainly on text messaging in arranging my work schedule with my manager. Is the guilt an aphrodisiac? No. I despise it. However it has made me a much better girlfriend, as perverse as this sounds. I’m more attuned to my boyfriend’s needs, and am much more selfless, partly due to the guilt, partly due to the similar role I play in my job.
It’s a matter of how long I plan on doing this. It’s only been a month, and if I decide to continue after graduation, I’ll tell him. We still use condoms so he’s not exposed to anything, which is something I make sure of. Do I feel like a shit? Yes. Enough to do something about it right now? No. Perhaps I’m morally decrepit, but I agreed to a relationship, not a lease on my body. Some may argue that this logic means I should break it off. I don’t disagree. If it ever came down to one or the other, I’d choose my partner. Easily.
Is working as an escort helping you to achieve an ultimate goal — like for example, saving a certain amount of money? Or do you stay on because you’re interested & enjoying the work?
I’d say the latter. I’m not in need of cash, though it’s certainly an advantage. I am saving the money, though I’m not sure towards what exactly––though as a soon-to-be graduate, I’m sure I’ll make use of it soon.
Regarding the money: this is something my manager (the woman who runs the agency) and I have discussed at length. It’s easy to fall into the trap of spending it just as quickly as you’ve earned it, as you are paid in cash. But save it. Use it for something useful. There aren’t any other jobs that provide this kind of payment for this kind of work, and if one was to waste it entirely on shoes, it’d make the experience such a waste of time. (Obviously the occasional splurge is necessary, though. You do want to remind yourself why you do this on a deliciously shallow level every once in a while.)
What would you say to your best friend if she expressed interest in getting into sex work?
It depends on the friend. I don’t know many people personally who’d be able to do this. You need a talent for compartmentalising your entire brain, let alone just the emotions––the multitasking, the keeping track of different clients’ likes and dislikes, the various personas you may have depending on who you’re with. An active imagination is useful, both for the conversation and sex. Tact and sympathy for the men who are insecure in some way and are wanting validation. Confidence is definitely key; this is not a job that would improve self-esteem, so you’d need ample amounts of that going in. Despite the relationship you may establish with regulars, in the end you are being paid to be there––you are disposable.
Then again, it’s the kind of profession you really need to experience in order to fully grasp. I could ramble on and on, but my words would mean nothing compared to actually doing it; much like post-secondary education. Go forth and spread those legs if you feel so inclined, and have fun! You’re getting paid to do something that most people in the world are gagging for.
Do you think you’ll do this for a long time?
No. I don’t need this job. I’m fairly good at it, but there are other things I’m good at that I enjoy so much more. I’m a writer, and would like to actually do that for a living someday. The curiosity I had will soon run out, and I’ll likely tire of the men eventually, as they will tire of me. When I’m done I’ll be done for good.
It’ll be a nice memory to have. Remember that Sex and the City episode when Sam got naked portraits of herself done? This is a more lucrative version of it.