Bree

Friday, June 15, 2007

Question

I work for an escort service three nights a week. I go out with men who can afford to spend a lot of money for my time. Usually, they want to negotiate sex as well as dinner. The escort agency claims this is each employee's individual decision. Once they get their cut of the initial fee, they don't care if the client wants to spend even more money on sex.

I'm also in graduate school. I got accepted at a very expensive university, and I want that on my resume. I also want this high-level education. But I didn't get any financial aid, and I don't want to have the ridiculous, heavy debt that a lot of my class will have when they graduate. I don't have the time for a nine-to-five job, and I couldn't afford to live on a part-time salary. I have to spend a lot of time on my school work if I want to keep up a 4.0 GPA.

The sex acts that I perform with my clients aren't repulsive to me. Most of the time, they are fairly attractive guys, lonely and overworked businessmen, and these are things I would be happy to do with a boyfriend. (Except that I don't have one.) I go home feeling exhausted, but I think everybody feels that way after work. I also feel a little dirty, but I tell myself that's just because I was raised by a puritanical single mother. So I take a shower, go to bed with a mystery novel, cuddle my cat, and fall asleep after reading a few pages. Then I wake up, and I'm back to my normal life, the daytime self that's such a perfect student.

The surface looks okay, but on the inside, this is starting to tear me apart. I feel like I am split into two people—the hooker and the coed. (Like the corny title of a bad porn movie.) I don't date much because I don't know how I would conceal my secret from somebody who got too close to my personal life. The handful of times I've gone out with men who aren't clients have been weird. A part of me feels like I should just have sex with them, and I have a really hard time not seducing them, almost out of habit. Doing the typical date things like making conversation, going to a movie, and driving home together make me feel oddly impatient. At the end of the evening when I haven't been paid for my time, I feel ripped off and angry. Then I feel sick because this just isn't how normal women react to getting a date.

I feel trapped financially. In the beginning I thought this would be a relatively easy way to get through school and then I would just stop. It would be like it had never happened, and I would just go back to the way that I was before. Is this something I could still hope for, or has my ability to be in a normal relationship been damaged? I don't know any of the other girls at work well enough to ask them how they manage to have boyfriends and still do escort work. Do you know the answers to any of these questions?

Answer

College educations should not be so difficult to finance. I hate the fact that anybody who wants this ticket to a better future has so few options. And I admire you for being willing to do whatever it takes to get yourself in a better position. But I am concerned that the price you are paying may be too high. And I don't think some tough-talking detective named Klute is coming to save you from making some difficult choices.

Sex work is a hard job. It involves being intimate with strangers. Every sex worker has to face the problem of setting up some kind of boundary between his or her private life and work. You're absolutely right to assess the difficulty of keeping a boyfriend out of your business. The majority of men would have a very negative reaction to you being an escort. But you don't need the majority of men—you just need one special guy who won't judge you, who will understand and comfort you. There's a reason why many sex workers wind up dating their clients. The problem of disclosure doesn't exist.

Set some time aside to assess your situation. How much more school do you have? Given that amount of time, do you think you can manage the stress? Would it be easier to handle school and escort work if you had a sex-positive therapist who could hear about your problems without telling you to stop being an escort? Should you try to make a friend at work? Do you need to pamper yourself with a visit to a spa, massages, or some other form of self-care? Do you need to release stress via physical exercise at the gym, Tai Chi, or running? Do you need to question some of your own values or judgments about sex, and update the way that you feel about yourself?

Finally, evaluate how much money you need in order to finish school. Would paying off a loan put you under less stress than continuing to do high-paid escort work? What are your prospects for employment once you graduate? If it will be fairly easy to land a high-paying job, maybe the loan is an option. Have you really explored all of the grants that might be available to you? Is there any way you could cut costs? Try to create an option. Feeling trapped is bad for anybody's morale on the job. Somebody smart enough to maintain a 4.0 average ought to be able to manage this. Do you want to start selling teddy bears on eBay?

You ask how being an escort will affect you in the long run. I don't know. But other sex workers have told me that their private lives were affected. There was a definite temptation to make all sexual transactions into commercial exchanges. Having a partner with progressive politics about sex work was important. The split between "hooker and coed," as you put it, may be one way you are setting a boundary between this job and your private life. But you definitely need more romance and desire in that private life! There is this one clear boundary between the two situations. Sex with a client is about what he wants. It's a service that you provide, and it requires a fair amount of skill as an actress. Sex with a lover is about what you want. You don't need to act. You only need to respond, honestly and genuinely. It takes place in your own home, your own bed, and you probably don't wear the same clothes or present the same persona that you do with your clients. You don't have to be as vigilant, or keep your eye on the clock.

Think about it this way. You would be affected by any job that you had to put yourself through school. A friend of mine worked as a janitor, and he still has unhappy memories of that nasty job. The difference is that he risks a lot less judgment when he tells stories about his work than you would risk if you told funny stories about weird clients. If you have to keep this secret for the rest of your life, you'll use up a lot of psychic energy. It would be great if you could find or begin a support group. Rather than heading for the uptight corporate world, you might want to find friends who are looser about sex and more likely to value you for being brave and adventurous.

Sex workers can and do have good relationships. They have boyfriends or girlfriends, they even get married. So do former sex workers. If every woman (or man!) who's ever taken money for sex woke up tomorrow with a scarlet A on her (or his) forehead, we'd have to give up a lot of our shameful attitudes about prostitution.