Seven Great Stories About Paying for Sex and Being Paid to Have It

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Nov. 9 2013 7:15 AM

The Longform Guide to Sex Work

It's a business.

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Every weekend, Longform shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s app to read the latest picks, plus features from dozens of other magazines, including Slate.

They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?
Susannah Breslin • susannahbreslin.net • October 2009

Susannah Breslin ambitiously self-publishes a piece on the rise and advancing crash of the pornography industry in a certain suburb of Los Angeles.

Without warning, one of the three-way’s woodsmen stepped backwards, moving away from the woman bent over in front of him, with whom he had been having sex. He stared down at his flaccid penis in his hand as if it belonged to someone else. Tension filled the air.
“Lube!” the woodsman cried like a soldier calling for a medic, and a small bottle sailed across the cloudless sky, landing in his upraised palm with a smack! Within minutes, the woodsman had resumed his mechanical plowing. Disaster had been averted.
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Paying to Play: Interview With a John
Antonia Crane • Rumpus • June 2012

A former sex worker interviews a longtime John on how it feels to pay.

Other than the women in the massage parlors I visited, I honestly don’t believe that most of the women doing this felt degraded. The ones that were escorts who didn’t have pimps, didn’t have drug problems, and weren’t trafficked, I honestly believe that they chose their profession about as much as any of us choose our profession. I don’t think they feel any more exploited than all of us workers feel exploited. We all have to work to live, and most of us would rather be doing something else.
Many years after my first blowjob-for-money experience, I went through a bi-curious phase and I guess I have to say now that I’m really a bisexual who leans hetero. Speaking only for myself, if my only two choices were becoming a warehouse picker for Amazon for $10 an hour, or sucking dicks ten times a day for $50 bucks a pop, I’d buy me some kneepads. Somebody can point to, say, a fellatio porn scene where the guy is rough on the girl and calls her names, and say that it’s inherently degrading, and my argument would be that it’s only inherently degrading if the girl doesn’t want to do it. I mean, I’ve had it done to me. I thought it was a blast. And I didn’t even get paid.
I really don’t know whether they considered themselves feminists. Do people even talk that way, outside of literary and political forums?

The Family Prostitute
Michael Albo • LA Weekly • September 2010

The Great Recession’s impact on the legalized prostitution industry in Nevada: more hookers, fewer johns.

Like Chelsea, Scarlett's family was involved in construction until the recession devastated the family-run business. Working the early shift, she's a rangy 33-year-old with a matter-of-fact way about her; Scarlett comes off as a straight-shooter.
Sitting at the Love Ranch bar in a purple-silk baby-doll nightie and heels, she pours out her tale of economic upheaval while unconsciously putting on the moves she'll use with potential customers: Crossing and uncrossing her long legs, touching an arm for emphasis, leaning forward to show a quick glimpse of what's underneath her bra are second nature to her now, but it wasn't always so.
"Our money came from floor covering, which is tied to construction and remodeling. That's what my husband and I were doing, working with my brother and my dad. Jobs started drying up, so I started looking for something to do to make the most money for my family. And what sells? Sex always sells. And where can I sell sex?" she asks, looking around the room to answer her own question.

The Sex Trade
Sean Flynn • GQ • March 2006

A three-part investigation of human trafficking and the international sex trade, with stops in Costa Rica, Moldova, and the Philippines.

Or there are the bars. There are thousands in the big cities and little villages, and dozens that sprouted next to the American naval base at Subic Bay and alongside Clark Air Force Base in Angeles City. Soldiers and sailors and airmen used to come by the thousands, flush with American dollars to spend on cheap beer and pretty girls, and the pretty girls came by the thousands, too, because the money was so much better than anything else they could do, and sometimes—not often, but with the same frequency that sells lottery tickets—a soldier or a sailor fell in love with a girl he met in a bar and married her and took her away. It went on like that for decades, so durable and so vast that it became famous, so famous that even after the bases closed, men kept coming, Americans and Australians and Koreans and Japanese, with their dollars and yen, traveling all the way into the middle of the Pacific just to hump the local women. There are so many tourists bringing so much money that a silly term is invented to make it all legal, and eventually the whole country—the hotel clerks and taxi drivers and airport guards—is winking and nodding, because in a way they’re getting a little taste of the action, too.
And then it’s simply the norm.

Wildcatting: A Stripper’s Guide to the Modern American Boomtown
Susan Elizabeth Shepard • Buzzfeed • July 2013

Cycles of boom and bust in the drilling town of Williston, N.D., as seen from the perspective of an itinerant dancer filling one of three slots at the only strip club in town, Whispers.

The American worker has never been so efficient in terms of output over hours worked. At the same time, real wages and benefits have plummeted. Prospects are shitty for college graduates and non-graduates alike. Layoffs and cutbacks in previously solid industries protect the profits of an ever-smaller class at the expense of those who produce value. In stripper terms, here’s what that looks like: Lap dances in many places still start at $20, the same price they were in 1990. Customers expect ever-higher levels of contact and performance skill, meaning strippers work harder to earn the $20 or the dollar stage tip that is worth a lot less than it used to be. At the same time, clubs charge dancers higher stage fees and tipouts, especially as customer counts and tabs drop and dancers become a primary source of income for the clubs. There are no layoffs when your workers pay you, so instead of cutbacks, clubs hire more and more dancers, resulting in more competition for a smaller customer pool. Do more with less!

The one big advantage you have if you’re a stripper, though, is the ability to travel to greener pastures. If you would like to have a job in another town, as long as you look good enough for the club’s standards, you’re hired. So those who can, move. When the level of bullshit is too high or the earnings too low, they the hit the road. Same as the men who wind up traveling to work in the oil fields. If you can make $30,000 more a year driving heavy equipment in North Dakota instead of in Louisiana, and you need that money, you go. Is this the logical progression of a service economy? It looks like migrant labor.

Mark Jacobson • New York • July 2005

The rise and fall of a boom-era escort agency in New York City.

“That’s the essence of the true GFE, the Girlfriend Experience,” says Jason. As opposed to the traditional “no kissing on the mouth” style, the GFE offers a warmer, fuzzier time. For Jason, who says he never hired anyone who’d worked as an escort before, the GFE concept was an epiphany. “Men see escorts because they want to feel happier. Yet most walk away feeling worse than they did before. They feel dirty, full of self-hatred. Buyer’s remorse big-time. GFE is about true passion, something genuine. A facsimile of love. I told guys this was a quick vacation, an investment in the future. When they got back to their desks, they’d tear the market a new asshole, make back the money they spent at NY Confidential in an hour.
What we’re selling is rocket fuel, rocket fuel for winners.”

The lives of women who make their living on the Web.

When the clothes do come off, it can be damn lucrative: Domino estimates she hauls in around $300 on a good day—although a bad day is zero dollars, and hours wasted. But it's enough for her to be completely self-sufficient, albeit weary of the whole thing sometimes: "Ramming your vagina with a dildo is tiring," Domino explains. It probably is, as are the handful of "true creeps" she runs into—the gents who aren't just pervs, but sexual threats. That's never okay—like one guy who mentioned his proclivity for child molestation in passing during a cam session. The rest of the time, occasional criminals aside, the job sounds downright leisurely. It also gives Domino a chance to indulge in her geeky professionalism: "I like being able to network with people who aren't my strip club customers, [and] it's a way for me to see how good I am at SEO and social media." This is fun for her. Domino says she's "always been a very sexual person," so while vaginal ramming is tiring, of course, on-camera kink isn't onerous, if you can put the monotony aside. And she does, though you'd never guess it: "If I'm facing away from [the camera] and my ass is in the air in the doggystyle position, I can check my email [on my phone]. I've done that."

Have a favorite piece that we missed? Leave the link in the comments or tweet it to @longform. For more great writing, check out Longform’s complete archive.

Elon Green is a contributor to Longform.org.

Josephine H. has been stripping and writing in Detroit for over 10 years. She is an editor at Tits and Sass.

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