Assumptions around sex work are undeniably heteronormative; women sell sex, men buy sex, and that’s that. Only that’s not that. It’s not even close. Sex work is a vast spectrum of gender, sexuality, services, providers and clients. But, phallocentric scripts around submissive female sexuality are so entrenched that many simply do not consider the fact that women engage sexual services to satisfy their sexual needs. But they most certainly do.
Why would a woman pay for sex?
The most frequently asked question is why. Why would a woman pay for sex? This question is rooted in heteronormative assumptions that men want sex all the time, so why would a woman pay for something that is freely available and plentiful? We live in a quick sex world, where a penis is only a right swipe away.
But what about good sex? How easy is that to come by? The kind of sex that is just about you. An experience where you are free to give voice to your most deeply concealed fantasies and live them out in safe, judgement free space? What about sex with someone who knows exactly what they are doing, where everything is completely under your control? How often do you have that kind of sex? The women who spoke to me weren’t interested in just any old sex; they were after something far more fulfilling than that.
‘Joele’ is one such woman. Joele is a 78-year-old retired high school teacher, who has been in a committed and loving same-sex relationship for 23 years. She regularly visits a female sex worker with the full knowledge and support of her partner. Joele found that as they grew older together, her sex drive remained high, while her partner’s cooled. "I hadn’t run out of sexual steam and she was left with barely a puff."
While on a business trip to Reno, Joele suggested they visited the infamous Mustang Ranch Brothel, and while her partner sat in the bar reading a book, Joele was shown around the brothel and introduced to the women who worked there. Far from creating distance between them, Joele found seeing sex workers has brought her closer to her partner. "I don’t have to bottle myself up or feel like I’m bothering her with my sexual needs, and she doesn’t have to feel guilty about rejecting me. It has cleared the air of underlying unexpressed pressures and resentments on both sides."
A difficult fantasy to live out
Joele sought out a sex worker because she missed sexual touch and intimacy. But many of the women who contacted me had visited a sex worker because they had sexual fantasies of being spanked, tied up, or dominated in some way.
Although this is an incredibly common fantasy, it’s not an easy one to live out. The levels of trust required are considerable. Many of the women I spoke to described feelings of shame around their fantasy. Others spoke of the difficulty of inviting a partner into their private fantasy life, and of not quite getting it ‘right’ when they did.
Take ‘Lucy’, for example. Lucy is a 23-year-old travel agent from Gloucestershire, who has been with her girlfriend for 18 months. Lucy has held a deep desire to be spanked throughout her adult life. Like most of the women I spoke too, Lucy had a very detailed fantasy that had developed over many years, and despite experimentation with various partners, it never quite captured the scene she played out in her mind. As she put it: "It became clear to me that what I wanted was more than the odd slap on the bum when fooling around. What I was looking for was structured disciplinary spankings. For whatever reason I also felt the need to be spanked by an older male authority figure, I guess maybe returning to the 'old-fashioned' perception of spanking."
So, Lucy sought out a professional male dominant and together they discussed how to recreate her fantasy as closely as possible. After the first session, Lucy was able to feedback precisely what she wanted to change or do more of. Four years later, Lucy still regularly sees her dominant with the full support of her long-term partner.
'It made me feel closer to my husband'
As Lucy explained, BDSM fantasies are difficult to live out with your partner. This is something I heard throughout the interviews conducted for this piece. Women like ‘Cheryl’, a 49-year-old librarian, who saw a dominatrix when she separated from her husband of twenty-two years. Cheryl had tried repeatedly to bring kink into their marriage but found her husband really struggled with it. When the marriage ended, Cheryl decided it was finally time to explore her fantasies of being dominated by a woman. Scared, hesitant, and deeply unsure of herself, Cheryl arranged her first session with a sex worker. Together, they planned her session down to the last detail.
Guilt – and total liberation
Of course, not everyone who came forward has been able to be as open with their long-term partner. ‘Anita’ is a 49-year-old mum of three who lives in Brighton. Although she loves her husband deeply, she has long felt they were sexually incompatible. Anita has spent most of her married life sublimating strong BDSM and bisexual desires. She hoped such urges would go away, or that her reserved husband would suddenly develop a kinky streak, but it never happened. She tried to raise the possibility many times, but her husband’s embarrassment shut down the conversation immediately. Her frustration was palpable. "So you want to experiment and you're married? Well you can't, that's it. I guess I see that logic, but some of us feel those feelings stronger." So, Anita secretly arranged to see a female dominant with a male friend of hers.
Although the experience has left Anita processing feelings of guilt, she describes her session as a ‘total liberation’. When I asked her why she chose to see a sex worker, rather than meeting someone online or in a bar, she replied: "With a partner, there are so many worries as to whether they will like your bits and bobs, or pressure you to do things you don't like. But, there was none of that there. For the first time, I felt like I could be very self-indulgent."
"The enormity of me being with a woman for the first time was not lost on [the dominatrix] and before she removed all my clothes she stopped and told me what an honour it was for her to be able to share this with me. I then had the most mind-blowing orgasm that just went on and on. I think it was 30 years in the making combined with over two hours of stimulation. I have never, ever experienced anything like this. We then spent time cuddling and she talked to me about what I had just experienced and how I was feeling."
‘Chloe’ is a 46-year-old stay at home mum, who has been married for nine years. Like Cheryl, she has long held bi-sexual fantasies, but unlike Cheryl, Chloe’s husband encouraged her to explore this side of her sexuality, and she first saw a sex worker while they were on holiday together in Amsterdam. Reflecting on her experience, Chloe said: "This experience definitely made me feel closer to my husband. I do want to try the threesome thing with him though as the thought of watching him with another woman is a huge turn on for me. I know that's an unusual attitude for married people, but I think if you have someone's heart that it is much easier to share their body in a trusting way."