Truth in Deviance

431How secretly working in the erotic role play industry since age 19 taught me more about humanity than any upstanding profession I’ve ever held during normal business hours.

Let’s say my name is Becca. Those who meet me in the real world might describe me as a kind but timid librarian-type with a pretty face, an innocent smile and a somewhat obsessive devotion to cardiovascular equipment. I have a real job, a real life, and a real future ahead of me. But behind the sweet façade and the oh-so-meek acquiescence my traditionally presentable self exudes are the not-so-distant memories of having periodically worked as a dominatrix, fantasy role player, and sensual wrestler since my sophomore year of college.

I saw my first client when I was 19. I responded to a Craigslist ad seeking “fit, hot, athletic women. NO SEX INVOLVED.” A heavyset woman in her mid 40s with jet black hair and purple eyeliner discussed the nature of the job with me at a Starbucks in midtown Manhattan after I enthusiastically emailed her some photos of me in a bathing suit. Yes, I told her, I was comfortable with the occasional sensual finish [read: hand jobs]. No, I would not have a problem blindfolding, gagging, kicking, and peeing on men.

My clients spanned a wide spectrum of ages, sizes, personality types, professions, nationalities, and predilections. Many were married with children. The vast majority are still fully functioning, successful human beings. Yet nearly all of them sought my services because  their real-world lives lacked something they felt they couldn’t honestly request from polite company. I considered the opportunity to help them identify and explore these often shame-shrouded yearnings an honor, a privilege, and a hell of a fun way to make a few extra bucks.

A typical “session” of mine went something like this: The client and I met in one of many locations designated for such behind-the-scenes play in Manhattan, often in minimal clothing. We chatted about what they were seeking, how much they were willing to pay, and how much time they wanted to spend with me. I told them what I would and would not do. They agreed to begin. We proceeded with a wrestling match, a domination/submission session, a role-play scenario, or an hour of body worship.

Elaborate scenes I’ve partaken in include — but are certainly not limited to — capturing, tying to a chair, spitting upon, slapping, verbally humiliating, and interrogating a client who fantasizes that he’s a suspected terrorist; dressing up as Superwoman and lording my seductive power over an evil villain only to be overtaken and weakened by his discovery of kryptonite towards the session’s end; smashing various baked goods into the face of a man who has me wear heels HE personally designed. On more than one occasion I’ve donned rubber gloves and stuck the latter half of my forearm up someone’s anus. And every so often a client consumed my urine.

Not all sessions were as outlandish. I tended to attract and retain the type of clientele who preferred gentler interactions, which often included a fair bit of normal conversation — the weather, the family, work, intellectual interests, cultural endeavors. Not infrequently, some of my clients simply wanted to talk to an attractive but dominant woman about something they felt they couldn’t broach with their best friends, significant others, or therapists. Some wanted to brag about work or personal life accomplishments. I can recall several sessions where I simply held a client as he cried.

Most came to a close when the client climaxed. Sometimes he’d pleasure himself. Sometimes I performed the manual labor. Yes, I did have a boyfriend. And yes, he did know. The fact that he continued to love and respect me, despite what was quite understandably a highly jealousy-inducing reality made me more devoted to him than I’d ever felt towards anyone in my life. That we could openly discuss the nature of my job and the range of emotions it elicited on both our behalves brought us to the mutual conclusion that furthering our relationship required my leaving the job. And that he allowed me the breathing room to make this decision in the absence of ultimatums made me all the more willing to retire. (His ability to satisfy the full spectrum of my own sexual predilections may have also impacted my choice. But I digress.) Things change when you find someone who, through the nature of their own psychological shape, temperament, tolerance of your own truth, and life history, climbs to the very top of your priority list and completely wins over your sappily love-drenched emotional center. For me, at least.

Cash cannot fully explain why I donned leather boots, skimpy bras, layers of lipstick and eye-shadow, or the occasional slutty nurse outfit to embody the vulnerably intimate depths of men’s fantasies. Yes, it paid the bills. Yes, it helped offset the costs of my future goals — including graduate school, a future family, and world travel. But as much as this work excited, elucidated, and satisfied the desires of my clients while being a boon to my bank account, it also fulfilled many of my own psychological needs.

We all crave attention. Having a man pay to worship your body, submit to your wishes, or imbibe your urine makes you feel like, well, a queen. It was a taste of the narcissistic power trips I craved to but wouldn’t dare embark on in the real world. And it enabled me to examine the aggressive, stubborn, and overly assertive parts of myself I’d long felt a need to suppress outside the walls of dungeons or wrestling rooms, lest I be perceived as too dominant, un-ladylike, or otherwise socially unappealing (and potentially unworthy of love and acceptance) by peers, family members, and co- workers.

Was I facilitating my own — and therefore womankind’s — objectification? Was I promoting my own self-degradation? These are fair questions — ones I’ve devoted much thought to.

Not all parts of the job were pretty, I’ll admit. While I was lucky to have never been forcibly taken advantage of against my will, I certainly acquiesced to “extras” under the duress of wanting to retain high-paying clients. Renegotiating and repeatedly reinforcing limits in a sexually charged situation that eroticizes power dynamics wasn’t easy. And not all my clients reacted towards my assertion of boundaries favorably. (The most problematic clients I had were the ones who blurred fantasy with reality — the ones who forgot that I, too, was a person with an outside life full of real-world commitments, a comfort zone inside of which I protected what was physically and emotionally sacred to me.)

Plus, the more time I spent honing my, erm, corporeal skill set, the less I developed my resume-friendly one. There was also an element of escapism in my pursuit of a profession that provided a buffer between me and my not-so-short list of insecurities — including fears of commitment, vulnerability, and lack of fiscally measurable independence.

Yet I may not have been able to finance or feel justified in taking the time to indulge my tamer interests in writing, psychology, fitness, a committed relationship, and a fair bit of my own psychotherapy as I’m able to do today had I not used seduction and sex to pad my wallet and procure evidence that I was desirable enough to stop worrying about being wanted.

On the softer side, I admittedly derived a sense of importance from creating a space in which people could, without judgment, explore what they might otherwise feel ashamed about in their real world lives. Being let into another person’s fantasy world, invited to see and play out that which most men felt they couldn’t even tell their closest acquaintances was a delicate and very special gift. Quite frankly, most sessions provided me with a thick sense of belonging to something real, tangible, and undeniably human.

Many of my clients disclosed to me, in their own words, that the ability to expose their darker desires in a relatively anonymous environment with no strings attached was immensely healing — one of many personal rituals which helped them tolerate whatever emotional and cognitive burdens awaited them in the “real world.” (I have had more than one client tell me they explicitly considered what we did to be “therapy.”)

I strongly believe that the fantasy world I partook in for cash, if navigated correctly, can inspire fundamental insights for both client and provider into who they are as whole human beings. Though I’m no longer in the business myself, I still see nothing wrong with anyone using his or her sexuality to make some side money — provided all parties involved are aware and capable of handling the sex trade’s inherent risks. (Easier said than done, yes. But sex work needn’t be considered as nonconsensual as popular media portrayals depict it to be. I’ve seen it from the inside and I can vouch for the fact that it’s far more nuanced than the clichéd victim/advantage-taker paradigms people outside the sex trade rely upon to more cleanly make sense of something that challenges their moral structure).

The exploration of what turns us on, what satisfies our sexual urges, and what tests our limits helps us clarify who we are. Exploring our innermost sexual urges can enlighten us to, and breed tolerance for,the complexity of our own personalities — thereby enabling us to seek more compatible others with whom we can more authentically connect. Honestly acting out our own erotic fantasies may also empower us to be less defensively critical of others’ needs and wants, inasmuch as our own self-acceptance tends to generalize to our acceptance of those around us.

Unfortunately, the psychological benefits the sex industry has to offer are often obscured by the stigma in which it continues to be steeped. This stigma also hinders participants from engaging in an extremely important (and often avoided) dialogue regarding adequate training, physical safety, emotional support, and legal advice.

I see a great many parallels between the provider-client relationship one finds in a fantasy wrestling, role-play, or dom/sub dynamic and the provider-client relationship one finds in psychotherapy. Both are rife with transference, counter-transference, projection, negotiation of mutual boundaries, exploration of psychological pain, understanding of pleasure, and self-examination. In a sense, many adult industry services function as eroticized forms of psychodrama or drama therapy — as they can enable a greater understanding (and reconciliation) of participants’ internal realities via the assumption of roles and alternative identities.

There’s a lot to be learned from the shadow economy of the sex trade, if, like any environment, it’s explored intelligently, honestly, and safely. I truly believe that I’ve learned more about myself in this under-the-radar profession than in any of the more impressive line items my real world resume contains. And I challenge anyone who is even remotely interested in exploring his or her own sexuality to give it a whirl.