Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex Work (But Were Afraid to Ask)
After exploring the world of paid companionship for Broadly's series "Professional People," host Mish Barber Way speaks with a woman working in the world's oldest profession.
Image courtesy of Lydia Faithful
Lydia Faithful is a 33-year-old pro-dominatrix who got her start as a freelance escort while living in Detroit. Fresh out of a long-term relationship, she decided she might as well get paid for all the mediocre sex she was having. After a few easy first dates—one man paid her $400 for a mere sushi dinner date, while another paid her $500 to simply stand naked over him for seven minutes as he received a hand job from another woman—she thought, "I can do this."
Eventually, Faithful moved to Portland, OR where she managed a J. Crew store. By day, she was helping WASP-y women pick out summer florals, by night, she was training to become a professional dominatrix in a legal fetish dungeon. Faithful has worked on-and-off in the business since she was in her mid-20s, but currently she's on, living and working full time in Nevada's Love Ranch brothel. Here, she answers everything you always wanted to know about sex workers (but were afraid to ask).
Everyone assumes sex workers had a terrible upbringing. Can you share more about your past?
LF: I grew up outside of New York City, so my parents were kind of older and didn't have a lot of fight in them. I was given free reign at a young age and I was the only girl among four boys. I didn't care for kid stuff. I didn't watch cartoons. I would come home from school and watch Sally Jessie, Geraldo or Donahue. I got my first tattoo when it was still illegal there. I was in a great hurry to grow up. I couldn't wait to be a teenager and then I couldn't wait to be a twenty-something. When I was young I used to tell people I would rather be a prostitute than a nanny, just to ruffle their feathers.
What were your first clients like? Did you like them as people or were they just annoying?
They were all married and all annoying. I had a lot of guilt because I am so monogamous. I really detest cheating and cheaters. It pained me that I was contributing to someone else's infidelity.
How do you deal with that?
It's kind of the sell out answer but I feel like, either way, these men will be unfaithful and I can either get paid for it and know that I will probably never see them again or they could go out and potentially meet someone at a bar and have a full blown affair. They're also having safe sex with me, where we use condoms and I am tested [for STIs regularly]. Otherwise they could bring [a STI] back home to their wife.
Did they talk about their wives to you?
I would say 50 percent of the time of any appointment. They all need a lot of handholding, reassurance, and validation which is fine. I was very good at the girlfriend experience.
Have you had any bad experiences?
I have only had one bad experience and that was with a very drunk client. That wasn't in the beginning. It was actually in a brothel and he claimed to be a submissive. He would come into the bar as a regular and he would ask me to humiliate him at the bar and he would hand me $20 bills to humiliate him. It escalated really quick when he asked me to punch him in the balls at the bar for like 50 bucks. I did and he got really excited and wanted to "party" with me. I don't know if you know brothel lingo—"party" is code for sex. We book the appointment and we "party" but in his drunken state, he switched on me. He was not submissive. I stood up in a rage and punched him in the face three times. That's a very abnormal experience because I mean, this is someone whose credit card was on file—they knew who he was, had seen his driver's license. It's very rare that things like that happen in a brothel. That was when I decided that I would never party with someone who was wasted.
What type of personality does it take to be in this business?
I've been pretty lucky because I am a niche market and I work as a pro-dom. I know my audience and I don't get my feelings hurt when someone isn't attracted to [me]. In terms of self-esteem, you have to have really thick skin to work in a brothel. Especially during "line-ups" [the sex workers line up while a customer picks and choses]. You are rejected multiple times a day or even [the client] will have you spin around and say, "Oh your ass is not big enough. Your tits are not big enough. I want a blonde." Some girls really feel wounded about it but I try to explain to them that there's someone for everyone. Your guy will walk in eventually. You might go three or four days without catching someone's eye and that's okay. You might get fat dudes walking through the door for four days straight and then maybe, on the fourth day, you get some amazing salt-and-pepper silver fox who thinks you're the cat's pajamas. A lot of women are entering the world of brothel's at over 40 having never done sex work before. They often fail and it breaks my heart every time. Starting at 40 is really tough, especially when you are standing in a line with 21-year-olds and other women who have put a lot of money and plastic surgery into their looks to capture the male gaze. I think that it's a tough racket for someone who maybe isn't as marketable as they would've been 20 years earlier.
Have you ever had a situation where you're absolutely repulsed by a client?
[Laughs] A few months ago I had this older man who was so decrepit it took him ten minutes to get from the parlor to my room. He had a cane. I had to hold his hand. He was just shuffling like a geisha around the room. He was too [feeble] to shower, which is typically a requirement for me. I had to hand him a washcloth and had to take his shoes and pants off. When I took his sock off, his foot was partially amputated because he was a diabetic. I was gagging the whole time. That was the first time I had partied with someone that was so close to death. He wanted a hand job. When I gave him a hand job he actually came with a soft cock. I didn't know that was possible.
Do men ever show embarrassment around you?
The ones that should, do not. The ones who are beautiful, have amazing bodies and perform well sexually are the most humble. I've had a handful that I actually enjoyed having sex with and said, "I hope this is OK. I hope my body's OK." It was comical, because they were beautiful and really likable people. I would've done [him] for free if I were not in this line of work.
Do you ever have clients that try to pursue a relationship with you, outside of your job?
I'm actually under contract with the brothel—if I were to see a client outside the brothel, that would be a $2,000 fine for me. They would consider that theft. That's not an option and also I'm very much an all-business kind of sex worker. I don't date. I don't have relationships. I might text them to make arrangements or check in or say, "Hey I'll be here during this time," but I don't pursue them exactly. It's just safer that way for everyone.
Recently, I was watching a show and there's this scene where the male character is mad about the "love lies" in popular movies and he goes, "Pretty Woman is such a lie. A prostitute wouldn't fall in love with you she would just steal your shit and sell it for coke."
[Laughs] I've had men offer to take me out of the business before and it never pans out. I'm not looking for a sugar daddy anyway. I had a guy that was a BDSM client who asked me the other day, "How much would it take for you to be my mistress, my owner, have a 24/7 relationship with me?" He just could not possibly afford it but he was trying to convince me otherwise. I would expect a pretty serious salary for that.
What are your specialties?
Forced humiliation and non-consensual play. A lot of men come to me with a fantasy of being raped by another man or being forced to suck a cock. That's actually my favorite thing to do. I am great at pegging too. I love nothing more than when some big, bearded ginger dude in flannel comes in and wants me to fuck him in the ass. That's just amazing.
Have you ever had someone cry for you?
Oh, I live for that. If they cry I am so turned on. That's my goal. My number one priority is my own orgasm and making them cry in a fetish-BDSM scenario.
Do you orgasm almost every time?
I don't care about if the client gets off at all. We negotiate an allotted amount of time and he knows he has 30 minutes. If he doesn't finish, that's his responsibility and not mine. I focus on me, so I don't resent the work because it's about my own pleasure. I should be satisfied. I'm the one offering the service. It also makes time go by really quick. If I'm in a two-hour session with you, and I'm spending a half hour getting myself off that just knocks the time right down.
What do men confide in you?
People come to me because they will have fetishes that they can't introduce into their relationships or they crave something they can't get at home. I'm usually the one to peg them for the first time or give them a personal experience. I do a lot of golden showers. That's probably my biggest request. They know that it's me, that I'm tested, that it's safe, and about as sanitary as it gets.
Do your friends and family know what you do for a living?
I actually just came out to my mother on Christmas. I don't like lying and keeping secrets and I'm pretty true blue in my heart. It was a weight off of me and, unfortunately, a weight onto her but she handled it really well and said all the right things. She's still processing, but I'm glad that I told her.
Professional People is a new Broadly series that examines the business of for-hire companionship. It is sponsored by The Girlfriend Experience, a STARZ Original Series that follows Christine Reade played by Riley Keough, as she enters the provocative world of paid intimacy and high-end escorting. Every episode available beginning 4/10 on STARZ.
This article was sponsored by Starz and was created independently from Broadly's editorial staff.