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The healing potential of (respectfully) paying for sex

Samantha Quigley

Google ‘women who hire escorts’ and you’ll find articles by female journalists who shagged a sex worker once to learn what it was like.

This is not one of those articles.

Call me an evangelist, but I’ve written this piece for one reason: to show Canberra’s queer and straight women that becoming an escort’s client can have life-changing benefits.

I recently visited a brothel for the first time (and the second time…) and came out transformed for the better. It may not be for everyone but I’m convinced it’s for more of us than we think. I wish I’d done it sooner. Let me tell you why.

The problem: Feeling like shit

Like many middle-aged women, I’d been feeling reasonably crap about myself for some time. Greying hair, spreading flab and the rest made me hate the way I looked. I felt unattractive, frumpy and past it. Not in an acute, eating disorder way. It was just a very ordinary body image problem.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m well versed at spouting platitudes about how irrational body image problems usually are. I’ve been attracted to all sorts and I like fat and grey on a girl, so I genuinely believe the platitudes — when talking about other people. But it’s hard to reason your way out of self-hatred, and mine was debilitating, undermining everything in my life including my professional confidence.

It also kept me single. Night after night I wondered if I’d ever get laid again, but shied away from putting myself out there. It was easier to delude myself, praying some magical person would drop from the sky and love me, overlooking my external flaws to see the brilliant person inside.

It never occurred to me in all those years that, right up the road in Mitchell or Fyshwick, there were people who could fix this feeling with just an hour of expert attention.

The solution: A serendipitous discovery

Doing research for a story one day, I searched online for female escorts in Canberra who provided a service for women. I wanted to know how much they charged and some other technical details. Having found my answers on a particularly comprehensive brothel website, I could have closed the browser window and moved onto the next task as I usually would.

But not this time.

I became entranced by the notion of using this service myself, to break the drought and shake off the rust. I spent the evening clicking through the site, reading absolutely every page. I was so terrified and excited I literally shook while I browsed.

Three things attracted me, making it possible to even think about.

First, the business seemed highly professional. It was expensive, which I appreciated. A respectful working relationship is built on paying people properly for their time, skills and resources. Escort work is no different, and in my view deserves hefty remuneration, given the extreme generosity that sharing your body demands. The business also enforced strict rules about safe sex, something governed by law in the ACT but actively championed by the escorts too. Those things calmed me morally, crushing any stereotypes of exploited sex workers desperate for cash (a stereotype I’m told is completely inaccurate these days for businesses of this kind). I’d always seen myself as an ally to sex workers who sought fair pay standards and safe working conditions, so they were a must.

Still, being a sideline ally was a far cry from feeling okay about buying sex myself. I respected sex workers, but not the men who paid them. The second factor made me feel differently about that. It was the encouraging words some escorts put in their profiles, reaching out to female, lesbian and queer clients. Somehow that made it sound much more normal, and actually quite positive. A woman visiting a brothel didn’t have to be some kind of appalling dirty freak.

The third factor and the one that really made it appealing was an additional service available at extra cost called ‘the girlfriend experience’. The specifics of the girlfriend experience vary from one worker to another, but usually, it enables clients to pash and cuddle and have nice chats with the escort, in addition to having sex. I didn’t think I could have sex with anyone without those extras, and realistically they were as high on my list of wants as getting a decent seeing to. I’ve since learned that’s common for clients of any gender these days, many of whom don’t want sex at all.

The hard bit: Walking in the door

All night I could think of nothing else. The next day, after chatting it through with encouraging friends, I decided to scope the place out.

As others have written for HerCanberra, merely entering a brothel for the first time can be nerve-wracking. I imagined walking into the lobby and twenty male clients turning their heads to stare. I imagined seeing someone I knew among the workers or, worse, among the clients. As it happens, I got there at a quiet time with only the receptionist to greet me. I was still terrified and told her that, so she got me a drink and sought out an escort to talk to me.

I sat on my barstool anxiously guzzling gin as the escort approached me. She introduced herself as Lexi and was completely down to earth, calming me with her explanations of how things work for female clients and answering my stuttering questions. She was very nice to me, and that mattered, more than any of her other attractive traits. I hadn’t planned on an appointment that day, but she was so nice I decided to go for it.

I paid for an hour of Lexi’s time and we went to one of the rooms, where she gave my mouth and nethers a mandatory STI check and steered me to the shower (also mandatory). Gin, niceness and whatever else hadn’t completely quelled my nerves, so I was timid throughout the appointment, partly just because it had been a while.

Lexi was kind and gentle and helped me through it, and overall it was really fun. It was an immense relief to hold a warm person in my arms, to explore another body, to remember what sex was like in company. The sex was enjoyable that first time, though with limits because I was nervous, despite Lexi’s best efforts. But I didn’t mind that. The main thing was it felt comfortable. One of my favourite moments was when Lexi had to blow her nose in the middle of everything, making me feel more relaxed than anything else. Sex in a brothel didn’t have to be an air-brushed porn film or a dark noir fantasy or a filthy desperate secret. It was actually just like the sex I’d had before.

The consequences: All fricken good

Except it wasn’t like the sex I’d had before. It was paid for, it was timed, and it was with someone I didn’t know, whose job it is to make me feel good.

And feel good I did.

Unexpectedly, I walked away from the brothel feeling better than I had in years. Objectively speaking I was still probably fat, frumpy and forty-something, but all my anxiety about that just fell away, immediately. Lexi made me feel beautiful, and, part of the job or not, I believed it. Looking in the mirror I still noticed my ‘flaws’ but was no longer troubled by them. Nor did I care what anyone else thought. I just felt good about myself at some deep, gut level.

For me that was an extraordinary gift. The burden of poor body image and chronic self-disgust was lifted, after an hour with Lexi. That had flow-on effects for my mental health in general. I was actually, cautiously happy. Lexi had given a hard kick to my system, clearing out a torrent of mental garbage I wouldn’t have thought was related to body image or sex at all.

Thus was I converted. I knew straight away I wanted to book more time with Lexi, which I did a few days later. This time, now sans nerves, it was exceptional — glorious luscious kissing and some of the best sex I’ve ever had, as well as interesting conversation with a lovely person while lazing around naked. Once again I came out feeling great about myself, feeling tender affection for Lexi and feeling very tingly indeed recalling the hot things we’d done. There’s no doubt in my mind: I’ll keep going back.

The eye-opener: Paying for it helps

Some might say I just feel better because I got some action, and the same would have happened in a fling or relationship. Maybe that’s true. I’ll never know. Because as much as I hate capitalism, for me, the commercial nature of the transaction is part of the therapy.

That’s because it makes the rules clear for both of us, as any professional relationship between service provider and customer should. Lexi will determine how much of herself she’s willing to share with me. I don’t risk rejection or feel insecure. Gone are negotiations about seeing other people, questions of whether she likes me, worries I’m not good enough. My commitment extends to always behaving respectfully and agreeably, as professional courtesy and human decency dictate. Then if I want to see her again I can, provided I can afford it and she’s still taking clients. Or I can see someone else, at the same or another brothel, at home or in a hotel, of any gender I like, just as I please.

So I no longer spend my nights waiting for a fantasy person to rescue me. If I did meet someone, I suppose that might be good, but to be honest I’ve just stopped thinking about it. Lexi took care of 90 per cent of the needs driving that fantasy, without the self-torturing drama or settling for second best relationships can entail. It’s sorted me out and freed me to get on with the rest of my life.

I truly hope this story may help other women find a way to stop languishing in mild self-hatred and the fear that they’re unlovable. Paying for sex isn’t paying for love, but it can resolve some of the reasons we seek love. If you’re feeling like I did, why not save your pennies and give it a try?

Postscript: The one bad thing

My single regret about writing this article is I’m too gutless to publish it under my real name. Sex work can be a positive experience for workers as well as clients if it’s safe, legal, respectful and well paid, but even then there is a cost, as Lexi described to me.

Despite the ACT’s relatively progressive laws, sex work still carries a stigma. I’m writing under a pseudonym because as a client I feel a fraction of it, though obviously, it affects workers much more extensively than me. Many workers can’t tell their friends what they do, nor have easy, honest dealings with everyday businesses like banks. And of course, the stigma enables some clients to treat workers with contempt or violence and get away with it. The stories Lexi shared about this reminded me of what it was like to be queer in past decades (and sometimes today). But I suspect it’s much worse.

If there’s anything us allies can do, it’s help defuse that stigma. Sex workers shouldn’t have to spend their lives managing what others know about their job or fearing the consequences if the truth emerges. There’s simply no excuse for the bad attitudes that make that necessary, because there’s nothing wrong with being an escort (or a client).

On the contrary, I now see escort work as similar to services like counselling and physiotherapy. Recognising escorts’ expertise, social value and professionalism would free us all to explore the therapeutic benefits sex work can provide.

  • Beth

    What a ridiculous comparison made by a middle class woman who clearly knows NOTHING of the realities of people in prostitution. Pretty sure counsellors and physiotherapists don’t have to have sex with disgusting men who pay to abuse them.

    • Sally Claude

      Hi, prostitute here.

      1. We don’t actually like that term, please call us sex workers. Sex trafficking is not the same as sex work, also; they’re about as similar as consensual sex versus rape. Don’t conflate them please, it’s insulting.

      2. Sex trafficking is extremely rare here in the ACT, and not awfully common in Australia in general – perhaps save your moral panic for those who are trafficked for agricultural work, as there are far more of them, and sex workers are actively campaigning for changes to help the sex trafficked already. In fact, many of the abused go into full time sex work afterwards, I know a few.

      3. Here’s some information on the AFP’s initiatives to prevent people trafficking into and around Australia. Perhaps do some reading, because there are a lot more than 300 – 1000 sex workers in Australia, which is the estimated number of women in Australia who are in sexual servitude. There’s about 20,000 sex workers. Pretty sure it’s not a problem with the industry existing, since you’re clearly not boycotting farmers for having trafficked workers. https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp0809/09rp05

      4. Fun fact: my clients are neither disgusting nor do they abuse me. They are not all men either. And many are disabled, widowed, virgins, or simply lonely. Some are looking to spice up their sex life WITH their partners.

      In conclusion: why comment on an industry you know nothing about? It’s arrogant, entitled, and it makes you look like a bitter, prudish old moron. Please get off the internet and go outside. Get some perspective darling.

      • Beth

        How dare you assume I know nothing about prostitution. How dare you assume you speak for all people in prostitution,. The happy hooker trope you represent is a joke. You think sex trafficking is rare in the ACT? You really need to start watching the news. There’s a man before the courts right now accused of doing unspeakable things to young girls. If you think prostitution and sex trafficking are not linked, you’re beyond naive. Also, I’m not trying to rescue you, I’m trying to rescue the millions of women being trafficked who you clearly don’t give a shit about.

        • Sally Claude

          I do watch the news, honey bun, and it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe instead of trusting a biased media source, you could trust the people who are actually out there on the ground, doing research and outreach. The woman that Samantha saw is actually a worker at the Sex Workers Outreach Project – go ahead and come at her with your nonsense, because she’ll have the stats to back up how much tripe you’re speaking. On top of that – did you actually READ the article I linked? It’s a reputable source from the AFP who are the ones that analyse these things. But go off, I guess, you uneducated twit. Your morals are blurring your vision.

          This happy hooker and all her happy hooker friends in the ACT will continue to be happy together and actually do things to fight sex trafficking, unlike you and your internet screeching. Also, stop calling us anything but sex workers, I will not ask you again.

          • Samantha Quigley

            Thanks for this – endorse 🙂

            Lexi tells me SWOP also actively involve themselves with sex workers by visiting establishments.

            (And just to clarify, my Lexi isn’t the Lexxie who works for SWOP. My apologies for any confusion with names.)

          • Sally Claude

            Ah sweet, I was going to be extra jealous if you’d seen her!

            SWOP ACT check up on establishments in a sort of sneaky way, by asking them if they’re AWARE of laws. You don’t want to outwardly get them offside, you just want to mention “Oh, here’s the laws, here are the OHS guidelines for all businesses in Australia… Just wondering if you knew about X?” and they’ll usually fix it. It’s a nice way to have everyone cooperate without getting them upset and feeling attacked. But Lexxie does a wonderful job.

            I’m glad you had a great time with your Lexi!

          • Beth

            I understand why a person working in prostitution has so much anger, I really do, but what’s with the veiled threats? You sound just like a pimp I know. Funny that.

            Your attempts to sweep disturbing reports of human trafficking away by labeling the media “bias” is quite frankly, disgusting. Does this seem bias to you?

            https://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/act/bradley-grey-to-fight-human-trafficking-rape-and-sex-slavery-charges-20180510-p4zeff.html

  • Sally Claude

    Hey Samantha,

    Thank you so much for this article. I’m a sex worker here in the ACT, and I love my job. I really enjoy the ability to have someone come in to a booking a little gloomy and nervous, but walk out with a spring in their step – no matter if they booked me for actual sex or not.

    It’s something that needs much less stigma, because it’s a job that won’t go away ever, and it’s perfectly legal. The more we bring it out of the darkness, the less people are able to exploit anyone, and I think that is wonderful. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions at all, I love talking to journalists who are sex worker positive!

    e: [email protected]

    • Samantha Quigley

      Thanks so much Sally, your comments here and below are awesomely kick-arse 🙂

  • Raina

    What a beautiful article, thank you so much for writing this. As a sex worker and a queer woman who finds meeting other women often a really demoralising process, this was a wonderful and strangely relatable read. I have never really thought about the possibility of marketing myself to women, half through fear of not being attractive or good enough and thus replicating the insecurities of my personal life, and half because I suppose we don’t often think about women paying for sex.
    There should definitely be less stigma around respectful, consensual sex work, and it’s awesome that you broke down those barriers for yourself and found it rewarding!

    • Samantha Quigley

      Thanks so much for commenting, Raina, I’m so glad you enjoyed it 🙂

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