Probably because of its Old World warmth and mythos, prostitution has always appealed to my softer side. Every 19th-century wunderkind, it seems, lost his innocence to a middle-aged Bulgarian prostitute who held his faltering hand through that 45-second passage from boy to man. To his mind, she was an Angel of Mercy, a worldly and experienced paramour, and the proper object of boyhood reverence. This mythology, though probably divorced from historical accuracy, nevertheless burrowed deep into my teenage sexual imagination. As I grew older, and as the distinction between fantasy and reality outgrow its usefulness, hired sex became an irresistible possibility. My intentions were noble enough: I hadn’t come for the sex, I came for the trappings. It was my turn, no, my duty to participate in this ancient sexual institution, the fleshpeddling monde mystique. However, the conditions had to mirror the myth, or at the very least had to bear some resemblance to Risky Business.
In Portsmouth, Virginia, the homegrown variety of streetwalkers could probably only be described as “crack whores”— toothless, transgender, and a little too capable of cutting my throat open with a rusty straight razor. The shrewdest option, then, was home delivery; the fly-by-night sex work of escort services, conveniently located in the local Yellow Pages. Unfortunately, though safe and reliable, charity workers they ain’t. Call girls usually run in the neighborhood of $150-200 an hour— a swift groin-kick to the piggy bank, but in the long run, well worth the quality assurance. But even once this avenue was chosen, another logistical snag remained. You see, the condition of my residence at the time was, in the words of our landlord “deplorable” and “in violation of numerous city sanitation codes.” Moreover, my boudoir was, without exaggeration, three-feet deep in dirty clothes, dirty tissues, old car fenders, and crumpled eviction threats. This being the case, I decided to move that party to the next most reasonable location: my mother’s house. Perfect and perfectly ridiculous in all possible ways. The mood was set, the folks were on vacation, and the stars were aligned, so I picked up the phone…
“Thanks for calling Ladies of the Night, how can I help ya bud?” “Um, yes, do you have any girls in Portsmouth tonight?” “Sure thing, let’s see here…Sandra, tall blonde, 36-24-35; Cherry, a Japanese girl 33-23-31; Alexia, Latvian I believe, a real beautiful young lady…” The list goes keeps on until I stopped him with an arbitrary jab— “That one! Ginger, she sounds…nice.”
After placing my order, I headed for the bathroom to spruce myself up for an Evening of Enchantment. The look was sexy and casual, with the lights off and the socks on. Nothing upon nothing could stop me now. Ginger certainly took her sweet time, but eventually, after an hour or so, a Town Car crept up the family driveway. And out of the passenger side popped the gumsmacking fantasy-girl of the raincoat crowd: attractive, with a touch of Jersey, and a hint of Kentucky, stiletto heels, boobjob, and that unmistakable trademark of the sex industry, Eighties hair.
With some cursory greetings, she darted for the bathroom to powder her nose and burn up precious time on the clock; as she was freshening up, I rehearsed my delivery. I might remind you that prostitution is illegal in Virginia, and I still wasn’t sure whether “escort” service means “Boar’s-Head-and-a-backrub” or if it means “the money’s on the dresser, chocolate.” To play it safe, we began with an erotic massage, while she tossed out questions like “You don’t mind if I take my bra off, do you?” or “You promise you’re not a cop?” Like a true professional, she finally cut to the chase: “So, what are you looking for, honey? You want some head, some relations (her pet name for sex)?” As if the idea were new to me, I told her that “sex would be nice,” and we quickly got down to the business at hand.
Ah, BrandonÉ I thought I had planned carefully, but as we all know, plans only make the gods laugh louder. Before long, the narrative screeches to a halt. “What do you mean you don’t have any condoms?” “I don’t know, I assumed you would have some.” Goddammit, Brandon, where was your head? By this time, I was already $160 past the Point of No Return. So, muzzling the voice of Reason, I slipped into my bathrobe, grabbed my keys and wallet, and made way for the nearest Exxon station, leaving a prostitute alone and unguarded in my childhood home.
When I returned with the goods, she was still reclining on the bed— thank god— bored and naked, with everything still in its place. The meter was still running, with the third hour readily approaching. I sprang into action. After some very unenthusiastic oral sex, all systems were go, and I made a bedside reach for the rubbers. But before the wrapper was even open, a loud knock on the front door shattered the mood. “It’s your ride,” I said, after having leapt to the window, somewhat relieved it was not an elderly neighbor in concern. She put on her coat and bra, and clip-clopped her way downstairs to see what was the matter. After some heated mumbling, she got back in the Town Car and pulled away without explanation. Minutes later, Ginger rang me from her cell-phone. “Honey, I’m awfully sorry. My nephew just had an epileptic seizure, he’s in the hospital! I’m his only guardian, I had to go. I’m sorry honey, here’s my beeper number, call me tomorrow, and we’ll start where we left off, I promise.”
Despondently, I returned to the bed to mull over the night’s events, arriving at two possible explanations, both of which would have discouraged those with heavier blood and lower self-concepts:
Explanation Number One, Deus Ex Machina. The gods were following my escapades in disapproval. So, just before the moment of truth, miles away, an innocent boy is made to suffer, struck down by a severe epileptic fit. “We must have fallen asleep. Shit, where’s Brandon? He’s with a prostitute! Quick! WeÕÕÕve got to stop him! Think, think, thinkÉ Oh, I got it” —Meanwhile— “Oh my god, Timmy’s swallowed his tongue! Please somebody call an ambulance!” This is one possibility, the other being thatÉ I was rejected by a prostitute— explanation number two— and probably something few people could or would find reason to brag aboutÉ but hey. Very likely, my Exxon dash provided the perfect window for a distress signal to her bodyguard. “Sorry honey, even a prostitute’s got to have her standards.” Whatever the case, I took the hint and acquiesced to the will of the Great Plan. Well, at least until the next great cosmic alignment….
Last semester, my girlfriend Annelies decided to study abroad at University College Dublin. Like a lost puppy, I followed, only without all the crap and hassle of a university education. After a month or so, however, I came to a grim realization: Dublin could bore the dead. Moving to Plan B, I marched down to Aer Lingus and I booked myself on the next available flight to Amsterdam, sinbin to the world, and home to a world-class red-light district. I knew this, Annelies knew this, and we both certainly knew my predilection for hookers. But, often contrary to common sense, Annelies and I set the terms of significance in our relationship: the emotional baggage, jerry-rigged sexual boundaries, elaborate role-playing, and healthy margins of liberty and honesty on both sides. We decide the meanings of the things that we do and the things that we need. I think it makes for a very loving and open relationshipÉ
“If you want a prostitute, it’s fine by me. But, Brandon, if you bring home a disease, I’ll kill you.”
And with her blessing, my adolescent delusions were in full swing once again. Sometime during my third week in Holland, I cashed my last traveller’s check and headed out to the red light district, followed by a Finnish girl and an older Kiwi gentleman, who were curious to see the nitty-gritty of the Nederlander whoring process. Amsterdam’s red-light district, for the unfamiliar, consists of several blocks with the first-floor marked off by red-lit glass doors. The girls in the window-displays wink, lick, kiss, and solicit the ogling customers from afar. The effect is decadent, infernal, and downright sociological. A Robert Crumb rendering of the human sex drive.
While some of the girls are striking, others are, frankly, “ugly enough to make an onion cry.” For their poor career selection, these girls endure heckling and ridicule from Amsterdam’s sloppy freakshow crowdÉ “How much for all six of us at once? No, baby, how much would you pay us? (hardy-har)” ÉWe circled the neighborhood several times, as it stands to reason that the loveliest ladies are inevitably the busiest. We eventually found our woman: a sharp-featured Turkish girl, the one with “the nice smile.” I opened the door to talk price. “100 guildern for a suck-and-fuck; 50 for the suck, 50 for the fuck” (A guilder is roughly half a dollar). The price was right, so I gave my friends the final thumbs-up as she pulled the blinds behind me.
“Hello, I’m Brandon.”
“Nice to meet you Brandon, I’m Gooooula.”
“Isn’t this exciting?” (She nods indifferently).
I followed her into the little love-chamber, which housed a sink, a latrine, and a single-bed, reflected in a large wall mirror beside it. From the get-go, it was clear that Goula was in charge. I stripped down for a nurse’s scrubbing under the latrine faucet, where I was thoroughly inspected and disinfected like a helpless child. This time, I brought some pink coin-machine condoms, but Goula provided her own, very special condoms— chain mail, I think, impermeable to the sense of touch. She ordered me to lie on my back and greased me up for the ensuing slip-n-slide. And without further ado, the “sex” began. But what transpired in those ten minutes would prove absolutely revelatory. As would be expected, Goula was wooden and remote, with all the sexual aura of an iron lung, but even within that she managed to demonstrate to me the very essence of sex— by counter-example. It was sex only in name, pared down to the level of “assisted masturbation.”
At one point, her cell-phone rang. With a quick apology, she reached into her purse and launched into a squabble in irate Dutch, apparently undaunted by the sex act already in progress. I just continued what I was doing, until I glimpsed the whole tableau in the bedside mirror, and burst into hysterics. A Dutch hooker, on her knees and cellphone, with a silly American boy behind her, thrusting between the bursts of giggles as best he could. After that performance, and after switching up four times to expedite my finish, Goula dared to fake an orgasm. This was just too much, and we both started giggling this time. With this the pretense dropped and the humanity shined through for the homestretch. I put my clothes back on, and dallied a bit to thank her, but Goula only shot back this unforgettable look, saying with her eyes… “What do you want, a goodbye kiss?”
I left a New Man, enriched and eager to send Annelies the details. The “details” being a glimpse into a new place and possibility for the sex trade in the twenty-second century, when our sexual institutions have more or less caught up with our sexual needs. Sure, sure, most any sexworker-politico or advocate of brothelized prostitution can rattle off the more salient points of the “Official Argument for Decriminalization” including disease control, protection for girls and clients, unionization, taxation, and the futility of combating the consensual acts of the World’s Oldest Profession. This is all good and fine.
But the argument runs deeper than this, I think, into brutish economics, into myth and anthropology, and into the more opaque regions of human sexuality, which I do not even pretend to understand. Nevertheless, I can imagine a twenty-second century sextrade that has undergone a radical revaluation and total Gestalt shift, pulling itself from underneath the weight of twentieth century shame (then again, who knows, maybe this would ruin all the fun). This enlightened twenty-second century public would finally accept that sexwork— parttime and fulltime— could originate in free choice rather than just under the demands of heroin addiction and sexually abusive step-uncles; that perhaps there is something very deep and very necessary in this line of work, be it high-end dancer-turned-escorts or the hormonal curiosities working the strips of Portsmouth, Virginia. As Annelies pointed out to me, simply discounting the human agency behind prostitution can be almost as dehumanizing as the backalley b-jays and dejection they want to shield these girls fromÉA rethink may be in order. I myself have toyed with the notion of becoming a summerjob gigolo, keeping the bed warm for housewives while their second half is engrossed in the fourth quarter. Of course, to compete in today’s market, it would probably be necessary to accommodate male clients, a step I’d be a little more hesitant to make, knowing what goes on in the male psyche as it drifts off to sleep at night. I’ve always said, however, that, if an older gay couple offered me $50 to vacuum their beach house naked, I’d do it with a smile and a handshake .
The point being: we can imagine the exchange without the stigma of sleaze and social pathology; a stigma with at least one leg in our social notions surrounding the female sexuality; the infinitely pure and chaste. Though we probably do not envy male hustlers who blow businessmen behind trainstation stalldoors, most do not feel the same sense of pity and violation that we do for young ladies. Women are used, in very much they same way that a used condom is used. Here in the twenty-first century mind, prostitution drains women of some essence. To be sure, Goula surrendered nothing to me.
Some complain, with some justification, that human sexuality should not mix with quarter-slot mechanisms of business. That sex should have no dollar equivalent; and that sexwork is “an objectification of the body” and “a commodification of the sacred,” the ruthless exploitation of all that is pure and good in the world. I understand the concern, but before we decide, let’s try a quick thought experiment: behind door #1, we have $200 for 70 hours of restaurant gruntwork; behind door #2, $2000 in exchange for bad sex and a Caribbean holiday. The question is: between the boss and the gruntworker, the call-girl and her client, how are we operatively defining the terms of exploitation? Which door would you choose? What if fisting was involved? Maybe power and control are not the simple and empirical things we sometimes make them out to be.
You see, I’ve thought it through, and as strange as it sounds, my feigned interest in summerjob gigoloism is more or less altruistic. I’d derive a certain satisfaction from giving the undersexed— even the aunts and geometry teachers among them— the chance to once again become Sexual Beings, if only in weekly two-hours shifts. Twentieth-century opponents of prostitution try their best to ignore the deep and angry claims of human sexuality, claims that prostitutes are at least willing to meet halfway. For the most part, clients are typecast as drooling pedophiles and self-abasing weirdos with foggy glasses and necrophiliac tendencies, instead of warm-blooded individuals with the same needs as us young and beautiful people.
I mean: what would the twenty-second century look like with fewer forty-year old virgins contemplating suicide, fewer people spending three-forths of their waking energy on “getting laid,” fewer sexual neuroses and annoyances clogging the plumbing of the general public, and fewer people who have, for whatever reason, just given up on the whole enterprise of sexual satisfaction? In this humane and redblooded utopia, prostitution would be roughly on par with the Red Cross; Florence Nightengale in fishnets and leather, engaged in the battle against human loneliness and sexual frustration. I understand that the vision is rose-tinted and unrealistic, just as I understand the brutal realities of true-to-fact everyday prostitution, but I just can’t shake the feeling that things could somehow be different.