This is a story – well, three stories – about why people see sex workers.
When I became an escort in Melbourne more than a decade ago, I made a lot of assumptions about the type of people who pay for sex. I thought they would be sleazy. I thought I'd be meeting people who cared more about getting off than they did about the person they were doing it with.
My assumptions aren't surprising; Western culture is horrifically gendered when it comes to intimacy. From a young age, everyone is taught that men will do anything to get sex, and that it's a woman's job to fend off their advances. When I tell strangers I'm a sex worker, the predictable response is 'Why?' Why would a woman seek out sex, even for payment? It seems unbelievable to some folks that we'd choose to be escorts, or strippers, or brothel workers, or porn performers. When I tell strangers about my job, they need to hear the story of how I started before they're willing to believe it's a choice I've made freely.
On the other hand, they never ask about my clients. For the people who access my services, there's already a comfortable narrative. All men want sex, right? And the idea of guys paying to get laid is as old as civilisation itself.
But these assumptions are wrong. Over the years, I've learned that, for clients of sex workers, there's always more to it than, 'boys will be boys.' It's not always about sex. It's rarely impersonal. And, when it comes to paying, it's not just about men. Without exception, everyone I've met – young, old, locals, travellers, rich, poor – has complex needs that aren't adequately described by the phrase 'getting off.' And rather than revelling in money or glamorous hotels, I've discovered that the most enjoyable aspect of my work is being granted a glimpse into the private lives of my clients.
Recently, I spoke with Shaun, William, and Rachel – three people who chose to see sex workers for unique reasons. One was seeking out a new experience. One was choosing to make life better after divorce. And one was learning how to have healthier relationships. None of these people fit the stereotype. They're living proof that it's worth taking a closer look.
Don't assume all sex work clients are alike. These stories – why they decided to give it a go, what they got out of it, and how it's changed them – are worth hearing.
At the age of forty-two, Shaun found the perfect escort to help him have sex for the first time.
Shaun is asexual – getting laid isn't part of his regular routine. He's also on the autism spectrum. Shaun prefers the process of booking an escort to the effort of trying to hook up in the traditional fashion.
"I thought, well, do I want to try and pick someone up on Tinder or various other sites?" Shaun tells me. "Pick a site that would work for me and try and find someone who will get together with a forty-year-old virgin? And I thought... Nah."
Shaun has a thoughtful way of speaking. He measures his words carefully, pausing to consider every statement. He approached his first encounter the same way, spending months researching online etiquette and considering his options. Once he did find the right escort, everything happened at a quicker pace.
"The experience itself was slightly a blur, but I think that had more to do with having sex for the first time rather than seeing a sex worker for the first time."
He says his first session turned out well, but that his second was more enjoyable. "I think of it like my experience with skydiving. The first time you jump, it's sensory overload. The second time, you know, it doesn't have the same sensory overload as the first. The first experience was brilliant, and she was a great person to provide that. The second time was much better because I didn't have the sensory overload. Also, for whatever reason, we just clicked very well. And the flow to the whole experience was great."
Shaun is glad he took the plunge, but says life is pretty much the same, even though he's had several adventures with sex professionals since then.
"I'm glad I've had those experiences, and I'm glad to have had the sex. But really… It hasn't made a huge change to life in general."
For Shaun, seeing a sex worker is a perfectly acceptable (and perfectly natural) part of life.
William is in his fifties and works in IT. He's been seeing sex workers for more than twenty years, and his story feels familiar to me, after years of listening to my divorced clients. But his experience stands out, because this long journey has been so rewarding for him.
After the birth of their children, William's wife suffered from postnatal depression. He hoped things would 'go back to normal' once the kids were at school, but instead her mental health problems worsened.
He says, "I remember a time during the very occasional periods of intimacy that we had, where there were three phrases uttered: 'Have you finished yet?' 'Hurry up.' and 'Get off me.' I remember that day, a sort of epiphany that we both deserve better than this."
During the process of divorce, William craved intimacy. "One of the things about depression is, it's strangely contagious. So, to protect myself, I just needed some company and tenderness and caring and understanding."
He knew of brothels in his local area, having passed a few on his way to work in the past. He stopped in at one.
"It was a fairly dire first experience," he tells me. "Very much a 'pay your money, have a shower, grind away, and get out' sort of experience."
But he persisted, visiting a few more venues. Finally, success.
"I met a couple of ladies, and the most beautiful tender, caring woman who I started seeing regularly. That completely changed my spin on what sex could be. It was a tenderness and a caring and a creativeness and, you know, a focus on one another. That was something very special."
Since then, William's been hooked. "I saw a number of women regularly through the final stages of winding up the marriage and selling the house and all that crap you have to go through. And I've never turned back."
William is at a stage in his life where he's not looking for another long-term romantic relationship. He has female friends with whom he's emotionally intimate, but says that sex isn't usually part of the picture. He's moved on from the idea that commitment, the 'happily ever after,' is the only way to feel fulfilled.
Nowadays, he's discovered an arrangement that works perfectly. "I have a long-term relationship with a mature escort, not quite my age – ten years younger than me and mid-forties. We're friends. It's a professional relationship, of course...I have no idea what her rate is, we have clockless all-day bookings and I pay a fixed amount per week to keep the pot boiling. We see one another whenever we feel like it. It's glorious."
For William, a long-term relationship with a professional is his fairy-tale ending.
Rachel is an artist in her thirties. She has a son and is currently separated from her husband. But she's always felt more romantically attracted to women. She says, "I had a few failed same-sex relationships. I probably could have been better at communicating what I wanted."
A couple of years ago, something changed. Rachel decided she wanted to do better and turned to sex workers as a new way of getting what she needed. "I think I wanted to see someone who had boundaries. I was really looking for a boundaried sexual experience with a beginning, middle, and an end."
She asked a sex worker friend for advice and recommendations. "I said, 'I think I'm looking for this, and this, and this.' And I felt really relieved." Rachel was interested in exploring kink and roleplay scenarios, which felt 'super edgy.' But from an initial list of possibilities, the very first person she researched seemed right.
"I really wanted someone who had been in the industry for a long time, and this person had been. They were very good in their field, very well known."
The first session was much more relaxed than she'd expected.
"I felt completely at ease. I mean, I was very nervous knocking on the door. I thought, 'This feels like I'm about to bungee jump. This is a really, really huge experience.' When she walked into the room, Rachel said it felt very natural.
"It was awesome, she showed me the toys, and explained how we would proceed. And then it was a good forty-five minutes of going through those steps, which was amazing. I think we had a bath afterwards with champagne."
Rachel went on to have several sessions with the same escort. She found that the process of asking for what she wanted, outside of dating someone, helped her define her needs clearly.
"I think it was a really good stage in emotional maturity…to sort of go, you can have a relationship over here and it's lovely when a relationship and one's needs match up. But when they don't, it's actually okay to separate the two and go and have these wonderful experiences elsewhere. And then one day you will incorporate the whole lot if you choose."
More recently, Rachel is romantically committed to a woman for whom she cares deeply. She says that learning to separate her needs from her relationship has allowed her to have a much more constructive connection. "I can separate those things and not feel shame about saying: 'Hey, I'd like to try this.' And my partner has been very open to that."
And is she glad she gave seeing sex workers a go? "Yeah, I really think it was the best money I ever spent." For Rachel, paying for sexual services was a powerful way to take her personal development further, and it's led to better relationships.
Old, young. Explorers, and adventurers. Men, women, and everyone in between. The people who see sex workers defy categorisation - and although their stories sometimes feel familiar, their experiences are never identical. Whether starting out, learning to do better, or going through the process of discovering what you really want, seeing a pro is often the answer.
Georgie is a Melbourne-based escort, writer, and sex educator.
Find Georgie on Twitter @GeorgieWolf