Since the age of nineteen, I have been in and out of the sex industry in one capacity or another in four different countries – escort; prostitute (for lack of a better word) in two German brothels; erotic masseuse and “hostess” in a French “bar américain”. This last one translates as “American bar” but I’m not sure why the French called it that, as there were never any Americans to be seen. It’s basically a place where men have to buy ridiculously overpriced bottles of champagne to have the honour of your company. In other words, it’s just a front for prostitution, except nobody ever mentions that word.
I could no doubt write countless blog posts analyzing why I decided to take such a path in life at such a tender age, but this is not the time and the place. And, quite frankly, I’m not all that interested in delving into my past. It is what it is. And I honestly don’t regret any of it. I have experienced human nature in a way that only very few other people have. True, I might not always have experienced human nature at its best, but experience is experience, and I relish it all.
I have been attending mediation classes at the local Zen center, and, although I would not be presumptuous enough to call myself a Buddhist at this early stage, I cannot help but wonder whether there is a place for a sex worker – currently I’m a part-time erotic masseuse – in Buddhism. After all, the Noble Eightfold Path clearly stipulates that Buddhists should have “Right Livelihood” i.e. that they should not engage in trades or occupations that harm other people.
I tried googling “Buddhist Sex Worker” and “Buddhist Prostitute” but didn’t find anything particularly interesting. Brad Warner apparently knows one Buddhist sex worker, but he didn’t mention whether she has an online presence.
Does sex work harm other people? Does it harm sex workers themselves? There is no simple to answer way to this. I’m no Andrea Dworkin but I’m also very far from being a gushy sex-positive feminist who believes that every consensual sexual experience a woman has is empowering. All I know is that, at this point in my life, I have very little interest in sleeping with men for money. There was a time as a really young woman when that turned me on, but it no longer does. I would be miserable if I tried that again.
On the other hand, I don’t have any issues whatsoever with being an erotic masseuse. True, there is usually a handjob involved, but, meh, so what? The dude is lying flat on his back at that point, and I’m 100% in control. Sometimes they try to sit back up, but I won’t stand for it. I gently push them back down. The massage and the handjob always go the way I want it to. I can assert with 100% confidence that I do not feel exploited or belittled in any way. I have been doing this for so long that I know exactly what I’m doing. I also screen potential clients very carefully, and this helps weed out any undesirables.
So, I’m not being emotionally or physically hurt by my involvement in the sex industry, but is it hurting me in other ways? I don’t have an extravagant lifestyle by any stretch of the imagination, but being a sex worker has encouraged me to be more materialistic perhaps. I don’t make that much money as an erotic masseuse since it’s a part-time gig for me these days, but nonetheless, it’s the kind of industry where you always can make more money, or at least fantasize that you can. I find it very hard to make a budget and stick to it because, well, why do I have to? For example, if I have $100 left in my bank account that really needs to be spent on food, but I see a dress I want, I can tell myself “Oh, I’ll just get that dress now, and do two handjobs later to afford food”. A “normal” woman could not do this. She would just have to go without the dress. This is not a very sensible way of living, and I don’t like having such a materialistic mentality.
What about the men who are my clients? Am I harming them in some way? The men who come to see me are not sleazebags – not at all, in fact. They are just normal, hard-working, middle-class, middle-aged, (usually) white men. The vast majority of them are married, and – if I can believe what they tell me – they are just not getting very much sex at home. One could argue that I am providing a valuable service for these men; that I am helping couples stay married. I wouldn’t go that far, but, well, yes, I clearly have something to offer these men. But wouldn’t it be better for my clients to find out why their wives don’t want to fuck them, and to work on their marriage instead of coming to see me? Aren’t I stopping them from working on their relationships, and growing in them? Aren’t I helping men lie to their wives and partners?
Sometimes I wonder, too, if I am stopping men from finding love altogether. Last week I had a visit from a surprisingly charming guy who works in the game industry. He wasn’t my type physically although he had a great body (nerdy white guys don’t do it for me usually) but I was bowled over by his intelligence and wit, and so I found him very attractive. But I couldn’t work out why somebody like him was single. He’s forty-seven, and had been married in his late twenties/early thirties, but has been single ever since. He blamed his crazy work schedule (fifteen-hour days apparently) but I can smell someone with a severe case of commitment phobia a mile away. Couldn’t it be argued that women like me allow men like him to continue living an emotionally, physically and spiritually impoverished existence? If I didn’t provide an easy sexual release, and the illusion of intimacy, they would have to get over their fear of commitment sooner rather than later.
It works both ways, too. Aren’t I stopping myself from having any kind of meaningful, loving relationship by being a sex worker? I’m not ready to date anybody right now, but what happens when I am? What man is going to want to get involved with a woman who has her hands on hundreds of other men’s penises every year?
It doesn’t really matter what the answer to any of the above questions is because, for the time being, I have no intention of giving up sex work. That might mean that I’ve “failed” at Buddhism before I even started, but, well, there you go. That’s just the way it has to be for now. Sex work allows me a degree of financial stability I could only dream of otherwise. I can save for the future; afford college courses; travel somewhere occasionally and, hell, sometimes buy myself things that make me feel beautiful and special. I will give it up at some point, but just not yet.