Six Lessons I Learned From A Hooker

With both David Paterson and his wife now admitting to having extramarital affairs, you have to wonder, what’s thesex.jpg difference between him and Eliot Spitzer. I mean, except for some measly “victimless” laws. After all, of the many, many things you can cuddle up to and get off on, the one thing we here in the Bay Area generally don’t embrace, is moral outrage.

But there is a big difference between the David Paterson scenario and the Eliot Spitzer approach. How do I, a lowly suburban heterosexual white woman–someone about as far demographically from these two men as a person can be–know this for sure?

See, I met my first prostitute when we were both pretty young.

I grabbed a chart, walked into the closet-sized emergency department exam room and said, “Is your name Natasha?” To which she replied, “Only if you’re paying.” We saw each other off and on for years, and I’ve never been quite sure why she liked me so much—maybe because I was, as she often pointed out, impossibly naive and clueless. I know why I liked her. She had a Mae West sense of humor, a guffawing laugh that seemed to rupture out of her, and a sadness that ran so deep it hung in the air around her like the smell of wilted freesias.

Here’s what’s been lost in all the discussion of a jet-setting international lifestyle, and the Today show interview with a “high class” call girl. Here are six lessons I learned from Natasha.

1) As a woman intern working outrageous hours, I knew my job might go a little better if I acted sweeter, and, okay, I admit it, a little softer. But at least, to get ahead, I wasn’t supposed to look pre-pubescent. More importantly, my pay didn’t depend on it. Natasha (who would only admit to being in the 16-19 age range) earnestly explained the intricacies of daily pube removal, breast binding and clothing choices in order to make the “big money” from men who wanted 11-12 year olds. Like many sex workers, that’s how old Natasha was when she started. Studies of small towns, runaway youth and groups of adult women have all shown that selling sex begins early in life. Just about everybody can remember a vulnerable kid from middle school who might have done it–trading sex acts for objects, then cash. Girls who sell sex may quit and then go back to it later. Studies have shown that a subsequent sexual trauma can precipitate a return to selling sex. Prostitution isn’t a thirty-year-old woman’s career choice. It’s a child’s.

2) Like Natasha, in my job I too was supposed to be “on”—ready, willing and able at a moment’s notice to do what was asked of me, without complaint. Unlike Natasha, however, I got one entire day off a month, and several nights each week where I was not on call. And I didn’t have to hide from anyone while I did it, either.

3) Sure, there are blowhard, cranky older men shouting at young interns in medical training. Lots of people will tell you it’s just part of the job. However, if some guy in charge hauled off and clocked me one, or raped me, unlike Natasha, I didn’t have to feel like it’s something the guy bought and paid for with my salary.

4) I asked Natasha once why she became a sex worker. She looked at me like I was a fool and said, “Well, duh, I guess I could move back home and give it to my stepdad for free.” Then she laughed so hard her IV almost came out. Numerous studies have shown that prostitution, no matter how “high class” is the place where victims of childhood abuse get victimized again. Maybe Natasha is one of the reasons I work as a salaried doctor in a clinic for the homeless—I hate the idea of seeing myself, and what I do, constantly defined as either being paid for, or giving it away for free. If you truly commodify intimate parts of yourself, it is a persistent, slimy, destroying view.

5) Natasha taught me that when men go to sex workers, it’s not just about sex. Anonymous, free sex has never been more widely available than it is now in the Internet age. Prostitution is something different than that. Natasha had to explain the sex worker relationship to me when I could not understand why condoms, given what everyone knows, were still such an issue. “Johns pay just so they don’t have to think about me…I don’t exist.” The appeal of actual (as opposed to fantasy/role-playing) prostitution is that you pay money purely so that you can treat a human being like a thing instead of a person. Prostitutes (male or female) are not allowed opinions, reactions, moods or even a personality unless the john lets them. That urge, to control and even erase another person during sex, can be powerfully addictive to a subset of men. Eliot Spitzer had an $80,000 a year prostitution habit, not a fantasy relationship with women. New York Times reported, “During the last conversation, he asked Ms. Lewis to remind him what Kristen looked like.” Thousands of research studies analyze prostitutes, but shockingly few are on the men who regularly pay. What I’ve learned from sex workers is that, as is the case with all addictions, these men buy what they can afford and take irrational risks. I’ve taken care of women in destroyed bodies–wrinkles, abscesses and scars dotting their limbs. I even know sex workers who wear false buttocks, because their poor cadaverous frames look like walking prison camp survivors. Still they find men who will pay rock-bottom rates. It’s not just about sex. I learned from Natasha that Pretty Woman is the biggest load of hooey every perpetuated on this society–not because of Julia Roberts’ character, but because of Richard Gere’s.

6) Finally, a broken person goes into sex work, and then every act of prostitution breaks them further. Depression, PTSD and psychosis are common and worsen over time. Drug addiction is rampant. Studies have shown that sex workers have six times the rate of death each year compared to matched controls. I last saw Natasha as she was dying. Her young skin glowed with fever and her heroin-chic body could have been on the cover of Vogue, even as her heart scattered abscesses into her brain and lungs. In smiling pictures of “Kristen,” she looks like she should be powerful, full of youth and arrogance. But “Kristen” fits the usual sex worker profile—a broken home, a young runaway who’d been homeless, prior drug use. I learned from Natasha, and other sex workers, that youth and beauty can hide deep hurt, profound vulnerability and even raging illnesses of mind and body. All just waiting for the right predator to find them.

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>