‘Romy’ sent this powerful and moving piece through our Share Your Story page, which provides a space for women to tell of their experiences of the sex trade in their own words.
My foray into prostitution started at age 17, when I signed up on the “Seeking Arrangement” website. I think now the reason why I did it was because of childhood trauma.
My father was not sexually abusive towards me, just in very minor ways (making weird comments, sexualizing me, exposing me to sexual material) but there was a lot of what I believe is called “emotional incest” going on, and he was very psychologically and verbally abusive towards me and my mother, and sometimes physically abusive towards me as well, including an incident when he threatened to smash everything and kill the whole family while holding an axe.
He was also generally misogynistic. (Also, he was, and as far as I know continues to be, well off, but he always made the family feel guilty and ashamed for spending money on us – although my mom was also working – and I felt like a burden.)
My parents’ marriage was exceptionally bad and my dad was also cheating on my mother, either with girls much younger than him, or sometimes he also paid for sex. I know this partially from him, but mostly because my mother unfortunately involved me in this situation when I was about 14.
By the time I was 17, I had already had many creepy men approach me on the street etc. I generally didn’t have too many illusions about men, and I did not think a nice, respectful relationship between a man and a woman was possible anyway.
I think I also wanted to prove to myself I had value, as throughout most of my adolescence I thought I was very ugly, undesirable, unfuckable, and my parents, especially dad, often made me feel either generally lacking, or on the other hand like a piece of meat or like an object for example via sexual comments or focus on my appearance, on being pretty, skinny, etc. Lastly I thought it would make for a good story.
I met a couple of men from the site (beforehand I also did a lot of research) for drinks etc., but the only sexual encounter I had at that time was with this 50-something British man (I lived in, and come from, a central-eastern European country). Long story short, I ended up performing oral sex without a condom, because it did not occur to me it would be appropriate to use one, on him in exchange for a fairly large sum of money. (Fortunately, he had problems with erection, so eventually the interaction dissolved into nothing.)
This was my first experience with oral sex, or any sex, it should be said. Up until then I had just made out with boys.
I did not see this as traumatic at the time, just unpleasant and repulsive, (and very embarrassing) but after this I entered a period of random hook-ups which I don’t even remember, and it collided with the time I started having serious mental health problems.
After this I did not engage in straight up prostitution until I was in my early 20s, when I had penetrative (and oral) sex with another man for money. This I wouldn’t consider particularly harmful, but I think that’s because I was already extremely desensitized and at that point did not much care about anything, so I can’t honestly say it has made my situation worse, as at that point, I was depressed and numb either way. It helped that he was not bad looking.
I said ‘straight up’, because in between these two occurrences there were many ambiguous situations, which I personally consider prostitution, but they wouldn’t necessarily be called as such.
For example, from when I was 19 onward, I lived as an immigrant in a country where I didn’t know the language, and didn’t have money etc. – so I lived with men/boyfriends, where I definitely exchanged my affections for having a place to stay, for example, or other more or less transactional interactions, or even performing sex to feel ‘loved’ and above all ‘accepted’, without a financial incentive but more through an emotional one.
There were also other ambiguous situations, such as having a ‘threesome’ with a girl and another man from Seeking Arrangement, this time for very little money. For the most part, it just consisted of me watching them have sex. There were also other situations with men which did not involve exchange of money or sex but were nevertheless weird etc.
I am aware that in terms of prostitution, this is as ‘vanilla’ as it gets. In a way, I was extremely privileged, only did it sporadically, in the first instance, I didn’t even have penetrative sex, so it seemed like a fantastic deal.
But honestly, even in what I would consider comparatively good circumstances, it was bad. I think I would not have engaged in prostitution had I not been in a bad state, the first time around emotionally, the second time around, also materially.
I for sure would not have engaged in it if I wasn’t prone to self-harming, or if I wasn’t so cynical about the possibility of a real, good relationship between a woman and a man.
Consensual sex is an experience to be cherished, but this is the opposite. There is no convincing your body to want to have sex when it doesn’t. Deep down, there is also no convincing yourself.
After the first instance of performing oral sex for money, I started giving blowjobs randomly to people. Most of these episodes I don’t even remember, but it must have had some effect, because now whenever I think about this activity, even in the context of a consensual relationship, it makes me oddly sad.
Sometimes, I feel like I am being strangled, or as though I cannot breathe. For example, I still remember the fear and apprehension I felt, the visceral disgust, the fact that the 50-year-old man’s penis tasted like pee. I made it out of there with a month’s worth of salary in an evening, but honestly in a retrospect I think it was an ugly experience, which has, especially in combination with subsequent more or less traumatic experiences around sex, made me feel violated.
I also think the inclusion of money etc. probably hijacks your reward centres.
Probably for these reasons I am wary of men and relationships now, and can’t really have them. I was completely repressing these early experiences by having the attitude that oral sex doesn’t even count, but these are realizations I am having now, and I am 24.
Also oddly, for some reason I never knew it wasn’t necessary to not use condom for it, nor did I realize it wasn’t always necessary to let the guys ejaculate in your mouth. For some reason thinking of this now makes my skin crawl.
As I said, this is not as bad as other stories here, and I don’t pretend to be able to empathise with the pain of people who had it worse, but still, it wasn’t OK for me.
Having said all that, consensual sex which resulted in a heartbreak/me being abandoned also harmed me greatly, and I would probably locate it on the same continuum of hollowness although the experiences itself are nothing alike.
But even so, I really wish I had explored my sexuality at that age in safe, respectful, loving, age-appropriate relationships with real emotions and not like this.
I think if someone is a prostitute, they should not be shamed or anything, much like nobody should be shamed for being forced, by circumstance or otherwise, into working a low paid, backbreaking job, being in an unequal relationship or having any other exploitation, physical emotional etc. imposed on them.
I wouldn’t judge anyone for doing it, but I think we also shouldn’t support men in violating women (and men), or in further deluding themselves they can buy everything. Because not everything can be bought.
Share your story
If you’ve been in the sex trade, or have been affected by it in other less direct ways, and would like to share your story anonymously, please see our Share Your Story page.