By JOHN JAMES
When I was in my early twenties I would regularly visit brothels or use the services of escorts. I was first encouraged to visit sex workers by a female friend of mine. She knew I was going through a dry period and one of her friends was a sex worker. My friend thought it was sensible for a guy like me, who was shy and crap at picking-up women, to visit sex workers in between being relationships.
My first visit to a brothel was scary. You may think it’s easy to walk into a brothel and ask for sex but it was one of the most intimidating things I have ever had to face. Having worked up enough courage to ring the front doorbell (and realising why many men need dutch-courage to do this) and all the time hoping no one I knew would happen to walk past and see me, I was let inside by the resident Madam.
Then I was confronted by a new level of intimidation – the line-up. Not all brothels are the same but the one I chose that day used the ‘line-up method’ to introduce clients to the sex workers. All the available girls, dressed in their sexy outfits and stilettos, lined up in front of me and I was expected to choose who I wanted to have sex with. I think I panicked and simply chose the first one who came out but by luck or chance, she proved to be a good choice. She took me to a room and seeing how nervous I was, she offered me some words of encouragement and helped me relax. Until the “inspection”.
The inspection involves you dropping your dacks in front of the sex worker, who, with the aid of a lamp, inspects your genitals for signs of STDs. If you have never done this, you have no idea how humiliating this can feel…it certainly isn’t sexy. But on the other hand, it was good to know that they take precautions to try and stop the spread of STIs. Seeing I was OK, she took my money and left me to have a shower. The sex came next.
I took two things away from the first experience of using a sex worker. Firstly, I was really impressed with how professional she was. She knew how to relax me, she knew how to arouse me and she knew how to make the experience pleasurable – sexually and emotionally. Secondly, I was surprised how good I felt for days afterwards. It wasn’t just the sexual relief, it was also the boost to my self-esteem that made me feel good. I hadn’t been expecting that. I had always assumed that visiting a prostitute would be degrading for both the client and the sex worker. The opposite was true.
However, one thing I discovered early on, was that not all brothels are equal. Subsequent visits to other brothels exposed me to the seedier side of the business. I even walked out of a few establishments once I realised that the girls working there were not happy, or were clearly drug-affected. You could tell. The dead eyes, the disinterested demeanour. Just the vibe in some places felt wrong. Everything that critics of the sex industry claim about the victimisation of sex workers is true. I’ve seen it first hand.
On the other hand, I’ve also seen what supporters of the industry say about sex workers. I was lucky enough to find a couple of establishments where both the sex workers and the clients are treated with respect. Believe me, you can tell the difference. Once I found these establishments, I never went anywhere else. The girls were friendly and engaged. Sure, they still brought their “game-face” to the proceedings – while you were with them, they pretended you were the only man in the world – but I’m a curious fellow and when I would openly and honestly ask them about their profession, the “game-face” would be put away and they spoke to me as a person, not a client.
I learned a lot about the industry from the three or four sex workers I saw on a regular basis. I learned that they felt lucky to be working in an establishment that respected them and didn’t use or abuse them. They also told me horror stories of some of the other places they had worked at. They explained that, when given a safe environment to work in, that sex work can be both profitable and empowering. None of them felt like victims.
One girl was working her way through university. Another would work for 6 months a year and then use the proceeds to travel through south-east Asia for the next 6 months. There was another, who was a housewife with a husband (who knew) and kids (who didn’t). To her, the sex was a job just like any other. It helped her pay her bills. And there was an older worker I saw who said that she kept doing it simply because she enjoyed it. I believed her.
It does worry me that the two brothels I used to like to visit no longer exist but some of the seedy brothels I walked out of do. Perhaps other boutique brothels that offer good working conditions have replaced the ones I knew about 20 years ago. I hope so.
I think we should be educating young men about the sex industry. Instead of treating people who pay for sex as desperate losers, let’s be honest with our young men. There is a chance that your son or younger male relative, may at some point in their lives seek the services of a sex worker.
Let’s educate our young men to respect women who choose to become sex workers. Let’s encourage our men to be discerning and choose to only spend their money in establishments that treat their workers and clients with respect. And let’s teach them how to recognise these establishments.
If we keep ignoring this subject, men will continue to visit and support establishments that do not treat their workers or clients with respect. If we can’t openly talk about the role of sex workers in our society without resorting to ridicule and prejudice, women will continue to be used and abused.
We need to both acknowledge the validity of sex work as a career choice but also condemn the people who take advantage of women who enter the sex industry, not through choice, but circumstance.
John is a writer by trade, a frustrated rock star in his spare time, a social media junkie and a committed atheist.
This post was originally run on KiKi & Tea.