What is your experience of escorting, first or second-hand?
August 23, 2012 8:04 PM   Subscribe

A close friend thinks she might try working as an escort, and I'm worried that my reaction to this is based on limited and biased information. Do you have first or second-hand experience of this?

I don't want this question to be about how I should advise her (she has asked for my take on it, just to prevent the "butt out" comments!), because I'm trying to balance my own take on it before I discuss it with her.

The context is that she is from a middle-class background but is giving up a high-stress job to try and start her own company in her chosen field. In the meantime, she needs to keep afloat, and is considering working as an escort for a while.

All I have to base my own views on are two very distant perspectives - on the one hand, the glamorous Belle De Jour-style image we get from the TV, on the other hand, the women I met at the homeless shelter I used to work at, who came to homelessness through drugs and to drugs through prostitution.

I've asked this anonymously because I have mefite friends and don't want my friend to be identified by them. However I set up a sock account to collect replies (couldn't ask the question with it due to the time-delay) here: http://www.metafilter.com/user/162057 for people who might want not want to reply in the public thread. Sincere thanks to anyone willing to share whatever their experiences may be.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I have a number of friends who are working escorts. The reality isn't Belle De Jour and it's not the lives of homeless people who are looking for money to fuel addictions.

I'd start by looking at some of the materials that the various sex worker organizations around the globe have put together, preferably one that works in the city you work in, to get an idea of what the local hazards are. The "Adult Sex Work: Beyond the Stereotypes" handout by POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau Work Educate & Resist) is the kind of thing you should look for.
posted by Jairus at 8:45 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am guessing your answers will be location dependent. From what I gather, being a sex-worker in San Francisco is different from being one in Salt Lake City.

You might check out the facebook page for Friends of the St. James Infirmary.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:09 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you're looking for a middle ground between Belle de Jour and the very unglamorous life of a homeless sex worker, check out Michelle Tea's illustrated memoir, Rent Girl. Sex work, as Tea describes it, was an often boring, sometimes amusing, and occasionally disturbing profession. She treated it as a temporary job and had the mental defenses and resilience to walk away mostly unscathed by her experiences.
posted by Lieber Frau at 9:20 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anecdotal second-hand experience; independent service providers have the generally most safe environment and the most revenue. Lots of risk at first, but becomes more safe after building up a list of responsible clients. Working for an extra-legal massage parlour type place might increase safety (but perhaps a converse safety against the law, depending) while decreasing revenue.

Definitely depends on where your friend wants to practice. Laws and their enforcement differ greatly even between municipalities.

There are independent escort rings/societies/social-circles that help each other out for social support (and news of whats going on), safety support (sharing news on bad-news-customers), and otherwise (sharing the price and use of rotating working spaces as well as EMPLOYING drivers/spotters/enforcers). Getting tight with such groups, if they exist, may be one of the least bad ways of getting into the industry.

Having a female "pimp" isn't a good thing; sure they're women, but they're still PIMPs; shitsmears who live off the avails of others.

I could imagine an amateur trying to start out as an independent, but I think that your friend might benefit very very much by befriending the network of established independent escort community. If one even exists in her proposed working environment. Unless there's a scenario where a true amateur gets known and recommended around, being a lone wolf is traditionally a route paved with frustration and pain and general shite.

Depending on the locale, there may be multiple sex provider social groups and some of these groups might be fronts and feed into more dangerous avenues.

If your friend is on the West Coast, have they considered alternative venues like kink.com?
posted by porpoise at 9:44 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

St. James Infirmary is an excellent resource. They have a great occupational health and safety manual (pdf).
posted by gingerbeer at 10:43 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

This McSweeney's Column is about a woman's experience doing exactly what your friend is contemplating.
posted by Ragged Richard at 6:48 AM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

The biggest problem that escorts starting out face is not trusting their gut instinct. If a situation seems bad, you want to avoid it. So she wants to start from a place where she doesn't need* the cash. porpoise is right that knowing others in her area, if they exist, would be a great way to start, but I'd also suggest that she try it as an amateur for a while before she quits her day job, which allows her more freedom from when and where she'll work. (As I type this, I realize she may be doing this already, and may not have told you because she's trying to gauge your reaction to the truth.)

I know you aren't asking for how you should help, but don't really worry about that -- having you there at all will be a help. The biggest problem sex workers (and lots of other 'underground'/'alternatively employed folk) get into is when their 'other life' is too distant from the reality they are emotionally invested in. Having a friend she can trust as her anchor in the real world is an invaluable start if she decides to go down this route.

* "Need" is a really weird word in this context because there's no doubt that the money your friend is giving up by quitting her day job would be welcomed by the homeless women you mention.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:58 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

A friend of a friend has been an independent escort for several years. She's a middle-aged mother with a masters and neither especially glamorous nor exploited.

She's a big fan of the Saafe website and forums. I once spent a fascinated evening reading through them and can see why. They're UK-based, but lots of the information will be relevant to your friend even if she isn't British and there are forum posters from several countries.

If you friend is British, I can try to put her in touch with the escort I mentioned above. Mail me.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 8:48 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: This is a reply from an anonymous commenter.
I worked as an independent escort in New York for about a year when I was 17. I am from a middle-class background, was taking a break from college, and it seemed like a fun adventure that would also be very lucrative. I don't regret it at all, but it ended up being unhealthy for me in a number of ways, which is why I stopped rather than keeping it as a side job when I went back to school. I don't know her (obviously) so I'm just going to tell you how it worked both logistically and emotionally for me. I hope some of it is useful.

I found the Utopia Guide message board, which is mainly a review board by johns, although there are some sex-workers on it, and some random sections where people just chat. From UG I learned the various acronyms and euphemisms people use to talk about sex work online. I learned what clients expected from various types of sex workers (and that informed my decision to be independent, helped me figure out what my boundaries would be, and decide what my rate would be).

After lurking for a while, I took some photos (showing my face, which I do not recommend but it was important for that audience and to get the rate I wanted), set up a simple website, and began advertising on UG. I had an anonymous cellphone to take and make calls from, a fake name, fake age (no one knew I was underage), and a fake backstory which didn't deviate too much from my real one so I wouldn't forget it.

Your friend will need to decide how she gets clients (advertising online, at least until she can line up enough regulars, is going to be her best bet if she wants to be independent). What services will she offer? I only gave oral sex, but it was a GFE (girlfriend experience), so I allowed kissing and things like that. A standard repertoire would be blow jobs (covered is safer, but won't get a lot of repeat clients, I never covered though I brought condoms with me) and PIV sex for a standard rate, and greek (anal) for an extra fee.

Will she be incall or outcall? Incall is more lucrative in the long run because you can charge more, but is more complicated because you have to rent a space, and potentially more dangerous because people have an address to look for you at. If she chooses outcall (which is what I did), she will want to know some by-the-hour and/or cheap hotels to suggest for clients who don't already have a preferred spot. Is she willing to go to people's homes or only to a hotel? A hotel is safer because there are people around, but she runs the risk of running into someone while going in or coming out, and it is generally kind of gross unless the client is in town for a business and staying at nice place. If she won't go to people's homes, she will lose clients, but it is riskier.

Will she have a driver? I actually just took the subway everywhere, but common wisdom is to have a driver for safety reasons. I didn't want to spend the money. I also didn't have someone who actually knew where I was for every appointment (which was stupid!), but I did fake a phone call at the beginning and end of every session so that the client would at least think someone knew where I was and how long I was supposed to be there.

How is she going to set her rates? Is she going to charge by the cup (orgasm) or hour? Is she going for volume or value? Value seems better, but it can hard to attract clients at a certain price point, especially without online reviews. Is she ready for online reviews? There is nothing quite like reading someone's review of your body, your manner, your sexual abilities. She can avoid them, but if it much better to be engaged so you can respond to bad reviews, thank clients for good ones, have a personality. She'll be marketing herself and will need to treat her online reputation accordingly.

What is her persona going to be? I was the girl putting herself through college, I wore jeans and t-shirts (unless a client asked for something specific), and acted like I was naive and young and inexperienced. There was a big market for that. She will want to research what clients are looking for and figure out what angle will work best for her – professional woman looking for some excitement or sophisticated woman of the world might be two good options.

Is she trained in self-defense? It doesn't do much good to have pepper spray or a weapon in your purse when you're having sex and a client isn't respecting you boundaries. Similarly, is she good at defending her boundaries? There is an art to saying no while keeping the mood light and sexy. She'll also have to be comfortable escalating from there if necessary.

How open about her work is she going to be with family and friends? She's talking to you about it, which is good. Keeping a secret life (especially with no visible other job) is difficult logistically and emotionally. She may find that people she thought would be supportive, or at least ok with her work, are not. It is hard to have a friend look at you with disgust. It is hard to have men who were friends stop seeing you as a person and start seeing you a person who should submit to them sexually. I hope that doesn't happen to her! But it happened to me, and I was not prepared for it, and it was awful.

Will she be able to separate her work life from her personal life? I charged by the hour, and it was difficult not to think of time as money, and it impacted by social life for the worse. If you think of drinks with friends as losing $600, you're not going to be a good place. And it is surprising how easy it is to fall into that mindset, especially when you're phone is ringing all the time with people who want to give you money.

Will she be able to look at men as people and not just as clients? I had a hard time viewing men I didn't know as good people. This was compounded by the fact that I was constantly cat-called and harassed on the street (completely unrelated to the sex-work), but I could not form new friendships with men or relate to them in any way besides sexually and combatively for a while.

Has she thought about how this will effect future relationships? My first serious boyfriend after I quit was never able to get over his disgust and jealousy. It was not at all an issue in my next relationship, which has now ended for unrelated reasons. As I think about dating again, I've decided that I'm going to be open about my past. I think it will significantly narrow the field, and probably cause me a lot of pain to be rejected for it, but it is important to me not to hide it. That will be tricky too though, because some of my friends don't know, and I don't want to be outed to them either accidentally or maliciously.

If she needs to look for a job later, what will she put on her resume for that gap? How will she handle taxes? I said I was a freelance something aruther and paid taxes. Many sex-workers do not. There are some accountants to are sex-worker friendly and will make sure everything is done correctly, but she will want to get a personal recommendation from a fellow sex worker to find one. Is she prepared to have thousands of dollars in cash? It can be harder not spend above your budget when you have hundred dollar bills in your wallet. You have to be careful not to deposit too much cash at once – I believe the bank only has to report over $10,000 federally, but in NY it was $3,000.

Luckily for me, I can't speak to what it's like to be ripped off or to get pregnant or to be raped. It never happened to me. It is something she should think about, though, and prepare for.

That is all I can think of for now. I hope it is helpful.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:51 AM on August 24, 2012 [26 favorites]

This blog is written by an escort, and might provide some good insight, if a little rose-tinted.
posted by Grandysaur at 2:14 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

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