Harlotry: My Sex Work Persona Versus My Real Life Relationships

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Cathryn Berarovich is something of a renaissance sex worker; she’s currently employed as a stripper (and writer) but has held numerous interesting jobs in the industry. Each week, she shares her stories in Harlotry.

Sex work is, at its root, an incredibly elaborate game of pretend. Talking a man into an appointment or a lap dance or anything, really, requires me, the sex worker, to find a lot of different ways to say things like, “Let’s pretend I’m not completely out of your league” or, “Let’s pretend I’m not working right now” or, “Let’s pretend I’m actually interested in how distressed you are by the state of your life.” All your life you’re told that people will like you just as long as you keep being yourself, but while that isn’t really true all the time, it especially isn’t true in sex work.

In order to be a successful sex worker, most girls have to put on a pretty extreme persona. There are, I’m sure, those few, those proud, those totally not awkward ladies who actually do find the lives of office workers interesting and who are good at forgetting they are working, even while they are working. I’ve never met one of these magical unicorns but I’m sure they’re either amazing at their jobs or terrible at them.

Most sex workers are not magical unicorn ladies. I am not a magical unicorn lady. I am, as I’ve said before, painfully awkward in person, and very, very low on patience with human failings such as boringness, or worse, simple douchbaggery. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m very good at masking my contempt and pretending to be full of social graces, I would be a complete failure as a sex worker. Fortunately I know how to hide all of these qualities and, if given a sufficient incentive I can be the sweetest, most amiable creature known to man. I accomplish this by essentially playing dumb and, to an extent, submissive and pliable.

“Oh my God,” I say, “I had no idea accounting/restaurant management/baggage handling/sugar sales/other boring job could be so fascinating! So what do you get up to in your free time? Oh, you hang out here and drink the cheap drinks and try to negotiate the dance prices? You don’t say!”

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    • http://SommelierinSneakers.blogspot.com/ SomminSneakers

      Miss Cathryn,

      Your articles are fascinating to me. I’m from Chicago, too, and worked as a Pro Domme for about a year before moving where I am now. When I read the title of this article, I expected it to be more about the reaction of the men you date, or their dis-trust in that you aren’t ‘putting on a show’ as far as sex goes, which has been my experience. For me, they have fallen into two camps: ones that love the idea of my old job(and my fetish wardrobe), think of it as ‘freeing’, and that I’m ‘sexually liberated’. Most of these men have been older. Men my age, it’s almost as if they believe that I’m acting, or secretly want to beat them, or can’t get off without BDSM overtones, even if we are having the MOST VANILLA SEX EVER.

      I’ve had a hard time explaining to those I’ve cared about romantically that it was my JOB, it was PRETEND, I wasn’t getting wet under my costume, I wasn’t even ME in that dungeon.

      I enjoy your experiences. Please keep them coming;)

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/SirWinstoneChurchill Winston Blake
      • Cate

        Oh, I totally intend to keep them coming! I have lots of stories and thoughts and things so as long as the ladies of The Gloss want me, I will be here.

        As to the men I date, as a sex worker I have so far dated two humans who possess Y chromosomes, the first was Stanley who I have discussed before. I don’t think he ever managed to trust that I wasn’t putting on a show, but that had a lot more to do with his issues than the fact that I was a sex worker. I suspect I could have been a salesgirl at a toy store and he would have been equally suspicious and paranoid.
        The gentleman I am currently involved with seems to get that my work and my life are two separate and different things, which is really impressive. I mean, he really just doesn’t seem to give a shit that I do sex work any more than he would give a shit if I were a salesgirl in a toy store. This may have something to do with the fact that I’m on a break from work right now and I have been for the duration of our involvement, but I think and hope that he’s just a smart, secure, understanding person.

        Anyway, that ridiculously long paragraph is all to basically say that so far I haven’t really had sufficient experience to accurately say how my sex work affects the men I involve myself with.

        P.S. I’ve been thinking of looking into domming at a dungeon. Did you enjoy your time there? (I’m assuming you were at a dungeon)

      • http://SommelierinSneakers.blogspot.com/ SomminSneakers

        I had a dungeon I worked out of, and another girl I worked with, but we didn’t use the dungeon’s booking system. Most of my clients came from a couple of different websites(Eros, for example) and I was lucky enough to get some great advice about filtering out the bullshitters and people who frightened me. My ‘personal slaves’ -men I had sessioned with, regularly enough to be trusted, provided most of my income at then end, and we would do all sorts of things, go out to eat, spend playtime at their houses, shopping, etc. If I come back home, those are the sort of relationships I’ll probably persue- I found them to be more satisfying and profitable.

        The dungeon scene seems catty up there, but I was lucky to have a few good contacts- if I had spoken to those girls even once in the last five years I would send you along to them, but I haven’t.

        Facinating, still. :)

    • http://twitter.com/WorldOfRandi randinewton

      Loved this! Please get in touch with me. Great article. :)

      • Cate

        I don’t know how to get in touch with you except through here, but you can email me! cathrynb1202@gmail.com
        I promise to send you a really awkward reply about how I don’t know how to talk to people but I’m super honored that you and everyone else likes me.

        Basically, expect me to do this:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7TbV4xlOsQ

    • DreaTheGreat

      You are seriously the bee’s knees

      • Cate

        So are you! Your questions and comments are always interesting and contribute to forwarding the dialogue, rather than burying it in a heap of “ur a bad person cuz i coudnt do wat u do’ and I appreciate that a lot.

    • Brooke

      This is brilliant, especially the last three paragraphs. I’m probably going to have to come back and reread this every once in awhile. You are an amazing writer!

    • http://www.facebook.com/MatthewMcVeagh Matthew McVeagh

      Cathryn

      Another cracker, really good reading. BTW the thing about putting on a show and acting a certain way to keep a relationship going – that’s something I’ve heard from a lot of women who’ve never been involved in any sex work. ;)

      I don’t know if you’ll accept requests but… I would be interested to hear about what for you the difference is between the meaning of the intimacy you have in your work and that in your relationships. What you describe in this article is how you put on a certain persona in your sex work and then have found that crossing over into your relationships, which you regret. In previous articles you’ve described Stanley’s jealousy and your response to it of toning down, limiting and hiding your sex work so as not to upset him and endanger the relationship. In both cases you have a clear line in your conscious mind but have found the boundary being blurred in practice.

      I’m sure you know most women, never mind men, could not do what you do – for them intimacy, especially physical, is about an emotional relationship not an economic transaction. Vice versa, many prostitutes cannot have genuine loving relationships because sex has become purely a job for them. If you are able to have sexual contact with people (not necessarily penetrative sex) for money AND carry on a relationship besides, that means there is a difference of meaning somewhere. I think a lot of people would find it interesting to try to pin down how that duality is possible, as for them it is not.

      Look forward to next week’s. :)

      • normajeana

        Matthew, I’ve been a sex worker (am long retired but not by choice) and international sex worker rights activist for many years. I have met thousands of sex workers around the world- men, women and transgendered persons who work in the many aspects of the sex industry. Countless numbers of them have very successful long term personal relationships.

        On Valentine’s Eve, my husband and I will celebrate our 37th anniversary. I am still madly in love with him and he with me. When I was working as a call girl, there was never an issue for me what was real (our relationship) and what was make- believe (the fantasies my clients enjoyed). We started our relationship 8 years prior to my becoming a call girl, so we were quite emotionally bonded by the time I switched professions in my early 30s.

        I also know many non sex workers who have never been in a successful relationship in their lives, including many of my siblings (of which I have 13). In the time my husband and I have been together, one of my very straight laced sisters has been through three or four marriages (I lost count). Only two of my 8 brothers have been with their spouses for their entire adult lives. None of my sisters are currently married and none of my other family members have ever been in the sex industry.

        The point being that every sex worker is as different in the way they intimately connect with others as non sex workers are. I would imagine that it is not difficult at all for a male gynecologist to be able to differentiate between what he does at work and what he does at home with his wife with the same part of her anatomy that he looks at on his patients all day.

        As for separating one’s emotions during work from one’s personal relationships- surely oncologists must emotionally separate themselves from their terminal patients in order not to burn out, but are nonetheless able to wholly embrace their families without reservation? Does that mean they cannot experience any empathy for their patients or does it simply mean they must learn where the line is between caring and being emotionally entwined with their patients? It is a matter of emotional survival to not cross that line and it can and must be done for the emotional health of the physician AND for the sex worker. I am sure that there must be a course given to future physicians to help them learn to do this, and it would be wonderful if there could be such a course available for sex workers.

      • http://www.facebook.com/MatthewMcVeagh Matthew McVeagh

        Thanks for the reply normajeana. I take on board what you say, but I would still like to hear Cathryn’s take on it because my enquiry is not sceptical, just puzzled.

        And I know it’s not just me, most of the people I’ve ever talked to about such matters would be of the opinion that they could never be sexually intimate with anyone other than their partner, unless of course it was ‘cheating’. They are monogamous by intent at least, and sex may be something for them to buy (if they’re a man) but it will never be something to sell.

        You talk about “what was real (our relationship) and what was make- believe (the fantasies my clients enjoyed)”. But if you were a call girl that means out-and-out sex right? Not just sex work, which could mean various things as Cate has revealed: stripping, lap dancing, peep show, fetish work, phone line etc. All of which don’t involve penetrative sex but being a call girl does. So to me that is not just ‘make-believe’ or a client’s ‘fantasy’, but a very intimate physical reality. And the majority of people couldn’t do this even if they could do some of the other stuff.

        So to me there is an interesting psychological difference here. A woman commented on one of Cate’s early articles in response to Cate saying she had felt much more degraded in regular non-sex-work jobs than she ever did in her sex work by being surprised and saying “It takes all sorts”. Speaking personally I could quite easily have sex with different women but not if I developed emotional ties with any of them and not for money, even if I was attracted to the woman anyway and the money would be useful. ;)

        To continue the point, I don’t think the cancer doctor’s situation is the same. I think the key thing here is that sexual organs, sexual feelings, sexual arousal, sexual fantasies, sexual contact, and especially penetration… are all extremely emotional things for most people. We are touchy about them, conflicted, sometimes contradictory or quickly changing; they are very sensitive things which we are very picky about what contexts we apply them to. A large part of what a relationship means to most people is that intimacy, including sexual intimacy, is limited to the couple. When someone is selling sexual access to their body to any number of strangers that is not the case; but when they are doing that *and* carrying on a loving, non-platonic relationship in a couple it is both the case and not the case. And I for one, and again I think I’m not alone, want to get to the bottom of that. :)

      • normajeana

        “But if you were a call girl that means out-and-out sex right?” Not at all. Many clients simply wanted to experience their harmless fantasies such as masturbating on a woman’s high heeled foot (a foot fetish). I had another client who wanted to be my ‘slave’ during which time, I tied him up to my bed, and put a mask over his eyes for hours at a time while I went into the other room and wrote chapters for my book or cleaned house. Occasionally I would return to my ‘slave’ and spank him and ‘threaten’ him with more punishment if I heard a peep out of him. If he had been a good slave, I would allow him to masturbate on my breasts. If he wasn’t a good slave, he had to go home without having an orgasm. He was my client for many years, and no, he wasn’t married. He was a widower.

        More clients did NOT want ‘out and out sex’ than those who did. It really is about the fantasy, not the reality. I had one client who fantasized about Julia Child. The fantasy involved purchasing a whole chicken (from a specific butcher at the Farmer’s Market in LA), going to his house, putting on an apron (after removing my clothes) and pretending to be Julia. I watched her cooking videos so I could learn to talk like her, and then I would create an entire dialogue for him, while he sat on a stool on the other side of the kitchen counter, and I would pretend to be preparing the chicken for cooking. He masturbated while I talked, and watching him, I could see which words excited him (trigger words) and then I would use those words over and over in as many ways as I could to further stimulate him.

        There was no sex between us. I never even messed up my lipstick. For less than a half hour’s work (not counting the time it took me to watch the cooking videos in advance of our ‘date’) I was paid $500. And because I was good at it, he became a regular client. Some of the other women laughed when they tried to talk like Julia.

        I try to explain to people that if all a man wants is an orgasm, he doesn’t need to pay anyone hundreds of dollars. What he is paying for is the skills we acquire to take him to the place in his head where his fantasy becomes real to him.

        Additionally, I had clients who liked to cross dress and pretend they were lesbians. Again, no sex was involved. It was all make believe. The most difficult thing for me was to engage in B&D- because I was supposed to be the dominant one and punish/ spank/ tie up the client. This was most true of the powerful men. In their real every day lives, they wielded the power and wanted to relinquish it in their fantasies. The more powerful the man, the greater his need to let go of that role and be a slave. It was difficult for me because I am not an aggressive person and to give someone else orders did not come easily.

        I also had couples as clients, where the wife wanted to learn how to fulfill her husband’s fantasy- and also to fulfill what I found to be the most popular fantasy for men- which is to watch two women make love to each other. That was also my husband’s fantasy, so on occasion, I would bring home my favorite work partner to share with him.

        Regarding the separation of emotions – work vs. real life- perhaps you don’t see the connection, but my point is that there are many other professions which require the professional to separate their work selves from their private selves. No matter what the job- doctors, cops, therapists and many other people must find a way to keep their private feelings out of their professional ones. I know- I used to work for the LAPD many years ago and I had to learn to separate my work personality and emotions from my private life.

        If one is of the opinion that sexual emotions are only to be experienced with one person (at a time) then obviously sex work is not the right profession for them. But if you view sex work as providing a very valuable service, and that there are many people out there who do not have access to a ‘normal’ relationship, it is very easy to separate one’s feelings at work from one’s feelings during one’s own personal relationship. I was very fortunate in that I could share my positive experiences in providing pleasure to my clients with my husband. No, he was not my pimp. When he was a young man, he ran away from home and working in the coalmines in the hills of Tennessee and ended up working as a towel boy and then a bouncer in a New Orleans Brothel (he turns 80 this year and I will be 62). The women who worked at the brothel were very attracted to this tall, strong young man with flowing blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes and taught him everything about sex and how to please a woman. Because of his experience there which lasted about 5 years, he has a much different outlook on prostitution then most men. Sexual skills can be both learned AND taught, and the best relationships are when both partners know how to please their partner. It is the thing most lacking in relationships, according to the clients I had.

        Unfortunately for many of the married ones, the wives often did not want to know how to please the husband, which was usually because the husband did not want to take time to learn how to make his wife happy.

        And finally, it is because I had such a solid personal relationship that I was able to recreate that intimacy for the many, many men (and women) who seldom or never experienced it because they were widowed, divorced, physically disabled or socially inept. I wasn’t selling anyone sexual access to my body. I was selling them the warmth and tenderness that I could create for them during which sexual intimacy may or may not take place. I was selling them my skills in being able to take them to a place where they could experience something that strongly resembled a ‘real’ relationship for them. On a scale of one to ten, if murder is the worst thing that one human being can do to another, surely it must be at the top of the scale to provide pleasure to another. Why sell it rather than give it away? I am also an artist and love creating things- but would I be expected to give away my artwork just because I love what I do?

      • Cate

        I agree with a lot of what you say, especially the part about non-sex workers having toxic relationships too. I actually have met more sex workers in stable, loving relationships than I have non-sex workers which is kind of interesting. I’d be curious to know whether this is just because a person has to be more tolerant and communicative if they are going to be a sex worker’s partner, or if it has something to do with most (successful) sex workers’ ability to be open about pretty much anything. It also could be a combination of these things, or something else entirely.

        I do agree with @facebook-100000124840950:disqus though, in that I think the gynecologist and oncologist is not the best example. While you raise really good points about the gazing at genitalia that a gynecologist does, and the difficult emotional work of an oncologist, there is not, I think anything that can really compare to sex work of any kind, especially actual escorting.

        And the more I think about it, the more I realize I must write about partitioning in sex work. Two weeks, people! Two weeks!

      • Cate

        P.S. I think your idea about a course for healthy processing of sex work stuff is amazing. Now we just need to get it all decriminalized and destigmatized so people can actually openly offer such a service. I hope I live to see that day, even if I’m ninety when it comes.

      • normajeana

        Hi Cate, Yes indeed we do need to decriminalize sex work. I’ve been working on that issue for the past 31 years now. I do hope you are involved in one of the many sex worker rights organizations – I run two of them. COYOTE LA and ISWFACE (google it). And for anyone who needs to access accurate data on the number of cops who rape and extort sex workers (among the many other issues we face), feel free to visit our site: policeprostitutionandpolitics .com. and there are plenty of sex worker positive videos online (youtube) by us and about us… as well as my own videos at youtube /normajeanalmo1 many links to those videos can be found on the policeprostitutionandpolitics website at the page entitled “INFO ON SEX WORK-STATS AND LINKS FOR STUDENTS AND OTHERS”

        We know therapists who put themselves through college doing sex work who are very sex work positive. It would be a great thing if we could get them to offer free or low cost sessions via Skype to any sex worker anywhere who needs counseling on their issues relating to their work. They could even conduct a course over the internet. In person is always better, but sex workers tend not to have a lot of time and if they could take a course at home, wouldn’t that be wonderful?

      • Cate

        Hi Matthew!

        I do know a lot of non-sex workers who totally do that putting on a show thing. It is, I think, a thing we ladies are totally socialized to do to the point where even a take-no-shit-from-nobody lady such as myself will make all kinds of compromises she would never otherwise make, just to keep the relationship going. I could go on and on about this and what I think are the good things and the bad, but that would take an entire other article.
        Anyway, the line between sex work intimacy and sex fun intimacy is definitely something I’ve been thinking about writing. It’s really complicated and changes a lot depending on where I am in my head, what work I’m doing, &c. The analogy I always used for people is this: in addition to writing I draw and paint things, and it is art, though not the greatest art. If I were to get a job say, painting houses it would be IN NO WAY related to my art. Would I be using the same kind of tools? Yes! but it wouldn’t be the same thing. It’s sort of in how you look at it.
        There’s more, and though it is not lighthearted and funny, I may write about that the week after next (next week is already written) since there is interest.

    • Cate

      Before I reply to any other comments, I must take a moment to thank Ashley for choosing a still from Closer for this article. It is perfect and makes me very happy.