Paying For It - excerpt
This is an excerpt from the introduction to Paying For It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients, published by Greenery Press.
Why I Created This Book -- And Why You Want to Read It
by Greta Christina
Some years back, a friend asked me for advice on visiting a peep show. He knew I had worked as a peep show dancer, and since he'd never been to one before, he didn't really know how to act. "Is it okay to smile?" he asked me. "Can I talk to the dancers? Should I compliment them? Or should I just watch and not do anything?"
It almost broke my heart. I thought about all those men who came into the Lusty Lady when I was working there, the ones who didn't smile or say hello or anything, the ones who just stood there and stared at my tits like zombies. All the time I'd worked there, and all the years afterwards, I'd always assumed that those guys were just jerks. And I'm sure some of them were just jerks. But when I was talking with my friend, I suddenly realized that a lot of those guys, maybe even most of them, were simply awkward or nervous or at a loss. I started wondering how many of them had wanted to say hello, or smile at me, or wave or wink or tell me I was sexy -- and hadn't, simply because they didn't know whether it would be okay. It occurred to me for the first time that some of those men had just stood there in the booth staring blankly, not because they were jerks, but because they didn't know what else to do.
And that's when I first thought of this book.
This book is somewhere between a consumer guide and an etiquette manual for sex work customers. It's meant to give customers a road map of sorts, to make them feel more comfortable when they walk into the peep show or the massage parlor or the dungeon, whether they've been there a hundred times or are just going in for the first time. The book is written by sex workers and former sex workers, female, male, and trans, who talk about how they do and don't like to be treated by their customers. The writers are (or were) prostitutes, strippers, lap dancers, peep show dancers, phone sex workers, professional dominants, professional submissives, "talk to a live nude girl" workers, and interactive Internet sex workers. Just about every type of sex work that involves direct customer interaction is represented in this book.
Here, you'll find a lot of things that sex workers want to say to our customers but don't feel that we can. We talk about what customers do to make us like them, and what they do to piss us off. We talk about customers who have made us feel relaxed, safe, appreciated, touched, and entertained; and we talk about customers who have made us feel frustrated, dehumanized, irritated, insulted, and threatened. And we talk about how differently we treat the first bunch from the second. In this book, you'll read story after story of sex workers who have given customers they liked a little extra attention -- and who have given customers they didn't like the short end of the stick.
I edited this book because I think there's a vast and yawning communication gap between sex workers and sex work customers. For starters, customers often assume that sex workers lie to them. They assume that sex workers tell customers what they think the customers want to hear; that comments like "You're my favorite" or "I really have fun doing it with you" are just part of the standard bullshit rap. And this assumption isn't always wrong. Like any other job where politeness is a job requirement and getting repeat business depends on making customers think you like them, deception can often be a big part of sex work. It isn't always, but it can be.
For their part, sex workers often assume that customers don't particularly care about them or their well-being. They assume that most customers are out for as much as they can get for as little money as possible, and that if a customer expresses caring or affection, it's a sign that he's a dupe or a nutcase or both, a self-deceived fool with an overactive fantasy life. And this assumption isn't always wrong, either. Much like customers in any business, sex work customers can often be deeply self-deceived and/or monumental jerks. They aren't always, but they can be.
There's also a common assumption that the exchange of money is proof that sex workers don't care about their customers, and that in fact they hold their customers in contempt for being pathetic losers who have to pay for it. Now, if you think about it for a minute, this is an awfully peculiar assumption. After all, you pay your doctor, or your therapist, or other professionals who provide very personal and intimate services, and you don't assume that they don't care about you just because you're paying them. For that matter, you pay your car mechanic, and you don't assume that she holds you in contempt because you "have to pay for it." So I'd like to put that assumption to rest right now. Sure, there are some sex workers who are contemptuous of their customers, just like there are some car mechanics who think their customers are idiots. And anyone who's worked in a job that caters to the public knows the behind-the-scenes eye-rolling over customers who are stupid or obnoxious or insane. But there's nothing about sex work that inherently instills its practitioners with derision for the people who seek out their service. The legal and social stigma notwithstanding, there's no reason sex work can't be like any other service industry, with no more mistrust and contempt between customers and workers than there is in any service relationship. (Admittedly, that might not be saying much, but it'd be a start.)
But as things stand, there's this communication gap. There's mistrust, there's misinformation, there's hostility and deceit, there's a relationship that's assumed to be adversarial by both sides. Not all the time, but a lot of the time. And when you throw in the social stigma, the legal vagaries, and the fact that sexual pleasure is a far more emotionally loaded service than a rebuilt carburetor or a cafe latte, you get a relationship that's often a minefield of suspicion and disappointment. My hope for this book is that it will help close the communication gap. The original title was "How To Treat Sex Workers So They Actually Like You Instead of Just Pretending To," and that's a big part of what I'm hoping for. I'm hoping to give sex customers a bit of a road map, to warn them away from some of the nastier land mines and point out some bridges over the chasm. I'm hoping to give customers some specific, practical ideas about what they can do to improve their working relationships, to let them know exactly how their behavior affects whether or not their sex worker likes them.
So why should you care if a sex worker likes you? After all, isn't that what you pay them for -- so you can have sex with them (or spank them, or be spanked by them, or talk dirty with them, or watch them dance naked and fuck themselves with dildos) and not have to worry about what they're getting out of it? I know that attitude is true for a lot of sex customers. And odd as this may sound, I actually have a fair amount of respect for it. In the same way that I pay my therapist, at least partly, so I can talk about myself for an hour without having to stop and say, "But enough about me -- how are you doing?", I think many sex customers pay so they don't have to stop and ask, "Do you like this? Is this turning you on? Is there something else you'd rather be doing?" They pay so they can get the sexual pleasure they want -- sometimes a very specific kind of pleasure -- without worrying about whether the other person wants it, too. And I think that's okay. You don't ask your car mechanic if there's something she'd rather be doing than replacing your fan belt, and I think you can have a perfectly decent and honorable relationship with a sex worker without worrying about whether he really gets off from crawling down a carpeted hallway rolling an egg with his nose. You don't have to treat sex workers as if they were your lovers -- it's okay to treat them as professionals who are providing you with a service in exchange for money.
But there's a big difference between worrying about whether your sex worker is getting off sexually, and caring about whether your general behavior is annoying or insulting them. To draw a parallel: There's nothing wrong with going to a cafe and asking the waitress for a half-decaf latte with lowfat milk, extra foam, a shot of Torani syrup, and a sprinkle of cinnamon, even if she isn't in the mood and would really rather just give you a plain black coffee. But there is something very wrong with barking your order at her, calling her an idiot when she asks you to repeat part of it, losing your temper because it's taking her longer than plain coffee would, and not leaving a tip. So when I talk about getting a sex worker to like you, I'm not talking about the extra foam and cinnamon stuff. I'm not talking about getting them to like you as a lover. I'm talking about getting them to like you as a human being.
So we're back to the question: Why should you care if a sex worker likes you? Well, I hope that you'd care for the same reason that you care about your waitress (or your plumber, or your barber, or your piano teacher): because they're human beings, and you care about treating human beings with dignity and respect.
But if you want a purely selfish reason for treating sex workers well, I've got a great one for you. Sex work is like any other service industry: if the people providing the service like you, you're a lot more likely to get much better service. If the waitress likes you, she'll probably refill your water glass more often; if you're friendly and understanding with the customer service rep, he'll be more likely to give you a refund on the pants you returned, even if you sent them back two days after the return deadline. And the same is true for sex workers. If they like you, they're far more likely to go the extra mile, to give you special treatment or a little more service, or just to put extra care into making sure you're enjoying yourself. Even if the particular sex act you're paying for isn't something they do on their off hours, they still might have a pretty good time doing it with you if they think you're decent and pleasant -- and if they're having a good time, they're a lot more likely to give you a good time, too.
The opposite, of course, is also true. Again, sex work is just like any other service industry; if the folks providing the service think you're an asshole, the best you're going to get is the bare minimum they're required to give you, and the worst you're going to get is thrown out on your ass. The waitress you leered at drunkenly is going to get to every other table before she gets to yours; the customer service rep you screamed at and threatened is going to stick like glue to the company's return policy and cut you no slack whatsoever. And the same is true for sex work. If a sex worker doesn't like you, they're very likely to give you a perfunctory blowjob, a tepid spanking, an uninspired lapdance, a phone call that's a minute less than you paid for. Even if they're professionals with high standards who take pride in their work and would never intentionally shortchange a customer, sex workers are human, and they're not going to be as attentive or inspired if they can't wait to get rid of you. And if they really, really don't like you, they may refuse to do business with you altogether.
Excerpted from the introduction to Paying For It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients, published by Greenery Press. Copyright 2004 Greta Christina.