5 Myths About Prostitutes I Believed (Until I Was One)
Most of what you know about prostitution you (presumably) gleaned from pop culture -- crime movies and TV shows and Grand Theft Auto, all of which portray the illegal, back-alley trade. Girls with pimps and crippling addictions, climbing into cars with strangers. But prostitution is legal in many parts of the world and in one U.S. state (Nevada). There you find brothels like the Bunny Ranch, where I worked.
Maybe you're thinking "How?" or "Why?" or "What?" or "Whyyyyyyy???" but this time with a whiny, judgmental inflection in your voice. Well, I'm Ms. White, and I'll tell you everything you need to know about legal whoredom.
(Cosmo lied to you about sex. Read our De-Textbook and learn just how.)
You Get Thrown Right Into It
TV set me on the road to prostitution. OK, that isn't exactly true. But I did watch the HBO show Cathouse when I was a kid. It portrayed life at the Bunny Ranch, where I eventually applied for a job on a dare, as girls often do. Six months later, they asked me to fly in and start work. Not "apply," mind you. They weren't calling me down for a job interview. The email was asking me to start -- in a week.
This was a huge shock, because the one thing I remembered from the show was the interviews: New girls had to deep-throat a banana or pass some other sort of test to prove they were ready. But in reality, you're just thrown into it. There's no training, no "Introduction to Hooking" course. You just ... start.
So, my very first client spent about $1,000 for a half hour of my time (no, the Bunny Ranch is not cheap). He was an older gentleman, probably in his 60s, and it was pretty much a straight-up half-oral, half-sex encounter, which is a popular choice. Before him, my first actual client, I didn't know if I was going to be able to deal with it. Then it was done, the world didn't end, and I knew I could do the job. It takes longer to learn how to be a waitress at Olive Garden.
There was no swell of dramatic music and no little "Lifetime" logo at the bottom corner.
The next thing you learn about being a professional prostitute is that even working at a legal brothel, you get a lot of interaction with law enforcement. When you start you have to register with the police, which involves taking a questionnaire that makes sure you've never been an illegal prostitute (this is that rare career where experience in the industry actually disqualifies you). And then there are weekly STD tests, where a doctor goes through a queue of vaginas with the emotional investment and precision of a factory robot. You can get used to anything if you see enough of it.
Speaking of which ...
You Have to Learn How to Dick Check
As a new hooker, the closest thing I had to training was from my Bunny Sister. She gave me advice on how to negotiate and taught me the least sexy skill involved in being a legal whore: the dick check.
As soon as you've met your client and agreed on a price, you have to take him back into your room and carry out an inspection. You tell the guy to drop his pants, and then you hunker down there and inspect some genitals. Some girls keep a light by the bed to make it easier, but I rarely felt like more light would have helped matters.
What are you looking for? Bumps, sores, bleeding wounds, literal spiders -- all the kinds of stuff you don't want to think about immediately before sex. Yet there you are, prodding some wang and dreaming up Seussian names for all the STDs it might carry.
The best tip I ever got was to turn the dick check into a sexy little prelude to the real action with a hot towel massage to the guy's junk. You get cleaner dicks, and happier clients. You can take that tidbit back to the bedroom with you, ladies.
The Most Important Skills Are Negotiation and Self-Esteem
Sometimes a client will come in and not have a clear idea of what he wants. In that case, the girls on duty will get in a line-up and let the client pick. I got picked the first time I ever went out, and initially I took it as a compliment -- but then I learned many of the regulars go straight for the new girls. First-timers don't know how to haggle, and haggling is the most important skill for a professional prostitute.
I was always scared to ask for big money, because honestly ... I know me, and I just feel like a regular girl. I'm not some kind of supernaturally good lover or anything. I was one of the bigger girls there, and I'd wonder, "How can I ask for the same amount of money as all my skinny-ass co-workers?"
In that way, prostitution was actually good for my self-esteem. I came into the business with a lot of body-image issues, and previous webcam work only made those worse. You think cat-calling construction workers are bad? Look at the shit men on the Internet post when they've seen a part of your naked body. But the guys at the brothel were always very complimentary, and clearly happy to be with me. It illustrated the large gap between "how women look in magazines" and "what guys actually want."
I had a friend who did really well. She was, like, 10 to 12 years younger than I am and would consistently book huge amounts. I finally asked her how she did it, and she told me, "You have to go in there and believe you're worth it." And while I'm not sure if I ever got to that point, I at least learned how to fake it.
It's a Mundane Work Environment
Remember on The Office when Michael Scott handed out pointless awards to all his employees? That exists in the world of whoring. There's an official group who picks a "Best Legal Courtesan" every year. There's also a "Best Brothel of the Year" award that looks like this:
You know how Borat brags about his sister being the second-best prostitute in Kazakhstan? As you can imagine, there wasn't a lot of jockeying for the "best hooker" award. There are message boards for the men who use our brothels, and the guys on there would say they didn't want to "date" a winner because that must mean "she's having too much sex." It's the fucking Mobius strip of double-standards.
We had meetings every week -- they called them "tea parties," but it was us sitting down with management and talking about numbers. They'd set sales goals for us, tell us how we should be marketing ourselves -- we were even required to spend (unpaid) time online in our brothel's forums, talking to the kind of people who visit a brothel's forums.
Here's a photo of one such tea party. This is exactly what it looked like, not a marketing shot at all (I saw this picture and had flashbacks). I'm not in the photo -- but some of my former co-workers are. The reason those girls are in funny hats is because they do a raffle at every tea party. What, the word "raffle" isn't the first thing you think of when you hear "brothel"?
There's plenty of good old-fashioned office in-fighting, too. There's a fancy parlor area in the front, and the rooms get progressively shittier as you move further from the "showroom." Girls who were money-makers got nice rooms near the front with private bathrooms. But if you weren't booking enough clients, you got shifted to a punishment room with just a sink.
It's Legal, but It's Still Unfair
Dennis Hof is the owner of the brothel I worked at, and the public face of legal prostitution in Nevada. He makes a big point of saying that this is different from illegal prostitution because the girls can choose to say no. We aren't supposed to have pimps forcing clients on us. A third party having control over who you fuck and how long you spend with them is inherently abusive, because of course it is. The entire rest of the world works that way; legal prostitution is no different.
Unless the client shows up with a comp card.
I don't remember hearing about these on Cathouse, but our boss will occasionally issue people cards redeemable for time with the girls. I knew that when I started, but I didn't know exactly how it worked until our brothel's maintenance man earned one and tried to redeem it on me. He handed it over, so I went down to the cashier and asked what to do. "Oh, Dennis must have given him that. It's good for $300, but the house still gets half. So you make $150."
That was OK. Three hundred bucks won't buy you much, but some guys spend that little. Then she tells me, "You have to let him take as much time as he wants." It was made clear that saying no would be the end of my career. I had a choice, but that "choice" was to let some guy have his way with me for a price someone else decided ... or quit.
The brothels have other ways of screwing us over. We're independent contractors, even though by definition that means we can't be required to do things like keep a strict schedule or live where we work. But the fact that we're independent means the brothels don't need to worry about health care, or any sort of benefits. I don't want to demonize the brothels. This is a service people will provide and receive no matter what, and there needs to be a clean and safe place to do it. But if we're going to claim these brothels aren't like pimps, they should stop acting like pimps.
In the end, I walked out of my time as a prostitute with one great gift: I can negotiate like a goddamn terror. No car salesman or loan officer has gotten the better of me since. Anyone who thinks legal prostitution is a clear case of men exploiting women hasn't watched a 60-year-old investment banker offer $40,000 for a weekend of back-rubs and cuddling. And anyone who thinks what I just described is easy hasn't ever faked a romantic weekend with someone they barely know. Exploitation is a two-way street.
Robert Evans's first book, A Brief History of Vice, is available for pre-order now!
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