The Essay is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
I admit it. I have taken money for sex. I was a prostitute.
I have done it a few times in my life, sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes for a few months; always during periods of great financial hardship.
Even at the time I had ambivalent feelings about what I was doing. On the one hand, I was broke and did what I had to do to survive. On the other, I was able to keep my head up because it was not hard to rationalize away my choices: Our society is based on a system of exploitation, and you have to ask if sexual services are really so different when you get over people’s hangups about sex.
I had a university education, but no particular skills and no viable career options. My brother and I were raised in a turbulent home with parents who were working poor. We were the first generation to go to university, but a degree in sociology by itself doesn’t get you very far.
I got into prostitution based on the recommendation of a friend. She said the money was fast and easy. I thought I would be my own government, answering only to my own conscience and operating under terms I set.
I suppose I could have furthered my education instead, but that was a long-term solution and my needs were immediate and considerable. A barista job at Starbucks wasn’t going to get those student loans paid.
So I placed an ad in the back of one of those alternative magazines, soon realizing I was one of hundreds of women with similar ads. They weren’t cheap, either – there is more overhead to being a hooker than you might realize, from sexy clothes and makeup to a good selection of quality condoms.
Then there was the issue of where I was going to conduct my business. The streets were not safe, and people gawked. Using the back seats of cars carried its own risks. A passerby could stumble upon you and call the police, and you were often alone in the middle of nowhere with a stranger. But I had little choice sometimes.
Working out of my apartment was also problematic. Using my home technically meant running a common bawdy house, which was illegal. I had nosy neighbours with nothing better to do than snoop and snitch. I ran the risk of being evicted, which would have put me in a very desperate situation. But often I did it anyway.
I have been listening to the arguments made for and against prostitution in recent days. Both sides make some good points. It is not black and white.
One of the main themes talked about is that using a prostitute is nothing less than violence against women. Not in my experience.
I have had good clients and bad clients, but I have only ever known men to visit me for two reasons – they were horny or they were lonely.
I had one client in his early 20s who said he wasn’t good with girls, so when he was in the mood this was the route he went. He was a nice young man and I actually enjoyed having sex with him.
I have had clients who were old, unattractive, poor widowers with little to no chance of having their needs met any other way. I can’t say that the experience was fun, but they never hurt me or did anything against my wishes.
That is not to say there weren’t creeps. While I always negotiated both the fee and what was to be done in advance, I considered it impolite to ask for the money upfront. This was sometimes a mistake.
I had more than one guy take the services and then make some excuse about having left his wallet in the car and skip out without paying. You would be surprised how often this happens. I don’t know if it’s because they didn’t have the money, or because they didn’t feel they should have to pay, but it didn’t matter to me: I would be just as hungry that night.
Even for a pretty girl there is a lot of competition in the sex trade. There are only so many customers to go around, and always someone willing to undercut you.
My friend once again had a suggestion: She thought I should sign up with an agency. She warned me what the “interview” with the pimp would entail.
The ugly old pimp took the services and then told me my breasts were not large enough, and that I wasn’t as attractive as his other “high end” girls. He would have known this before he took advantage of me – but then you wouldn’t really expect him to be a nice guy, would you?
I realize what I have done by telling you my story. There is a risk that my family will find out, and that I’ll face the stigma attached to having been a “common hooker.”
But before you judge me, consider this: I sold my body, not my soul. I don’t feel I’ve committed any crimes against humanity with my choices.
But I’m done with prostitution. Its costs outweighed its benefits.
I have been bartending on and off for years, offering up whatever swill is requested.
I may have gone straight, but the funny thing is that sometimes the drunks treat me more like a whore than the johns did. The irony isn’t lost on me.
Christine Wilson lives in Toronto. Her name has been changed.