sally

Cathryn Berarovich is something of a renaissance sex worker; she was until recently employed as a stripper but has held numerous interesting jobs in the industry (and she’s currently an excellent columnist on this very website). Each week, she shares her stories in Harlotry.

When I mention I’ve worked as a prostitute, one of the things people ask most frequently is whether I’ve ever had an accidental orgasm with a client. The answer is no.

This may be part of why I was not the best hooker ever, but it’s also what kept me a relatively sane hooker. While on one hand I’m grateful for the fact that I’ve never gotten off with a client, I’m also a little sad. Stories sex workers tell about accidental orgasms are often the most interesting and powerful stories about being a sex worker. It’s like the stories from any line of work: the terrible ones are always the best ones. There’s nothing interesting about a client who is nice, respectful, and easy to satisfy.

The two types of whores I encounter most frequently are the ones like me, who actively avoid orgasms in a professional context, and the ones who actually hope for an orgasm, who try to take genuine sexual enjoyment out of their work. I don’t understand the latter variety at all, though I have nothing but admiration for them.

When I first started out as a prostitute I was eighteen years old. While I’d been having sex for four years at that point, I still didn’t really understand it (not that I think anyone will ever completely understand sex) and I had no interest in carrying my exploration of sexuality into appointments with me, and failed to realize I was already doing exactly that.

It took me a very long time to accept that my various jobs are just plain fun sometimes, let alone that it can actually be, if not sexually gratifying, then certainly sexy. I’ve spoken about Greg before, and though I haven’t seen him in many years, I think he may have been the beginning of my enjoyment of sex work. Greg’s thing is that he enjoys having his feet burned with cigarettes while he jerks off. He lives in an old building with thin walls, and so when he screams in a mixture of pain and enjoyment, his neighbors can hear everything.

Because of this, he stuffs a sock in his mouth during sessions. The first time I saw him, I couldn’t help but laugh as I sat on the edge of his bed, lit cigarette in hand, burning his feet and blowing smoke in his face. I laughed and laughed. Greg encouraged this. He wanted me to have a good time. He didn’t want some strict, humorless mistress; he wanted a girl to actually have fun with him. I was more than happy to oblige. It was the first time I ever really had fun at work.

There were a lot of factors in my decision to quit prostitution, but one of the largest ones was perhaps that I was completely unable to bring the joy I found in fetish work into the bedroom with me. The fact that I’d learned how fun sex work could be irrevocably tarnished the parts that weren’t so fun. It began to be very difficult to make it through tedious hour-long appointments, no matter how hard I focused on the $300 in the envelope in my purse.

And there was plenty of stress. I lived in fear of accidentally having an orgasm during an appointment. If I felt even the slightest amount of pleasure I would actively fight it, wanting an entirely neutral experience or better yet, a mildly unpleasant one. I was not only convinced that an orgasm in a professional context would ruin the barrier between work sex and fun sex, I also carried some puritanical prejudice against enjoying my work too much. Whores were not, I thought, supposed to take sexual enjoyment from their work and professional, put-together whores like myself were certainly not supposed to do so.

I do understand the fear part. During an orgasm, all my defenses are completely down. There is no time in my life when I am more vulnerable. As I saw it, it was one thing to show that vulnerable face to a stranger I had selected and quite another to show it to a stranger who had selected me and who I would likely never give more than the time of day to, were I to meet him on the street. While I no longer strive for an unpleasant experience and try my best to enjoy myself as much as possible, as often as possible, I can still understand why it could be scary to actually get off at work.

What I don’t understand is the feeling that there would have been something wrong with allowing myself to enjoy my work at least somewhat. I’m not sure exactly where that fear came from. I was already a whore, would it have mattered so much if I loved more than just the money? I don’t think so. Part of my concern I think, was that potential lovers would be disturbed and put off if I seemed too happy to be a whore. This kind of mentality, policing my behavior and wants to appeal to some future potential significant other was exactly the kind of thing that led me to eventually quit sex work for Stanley, a choice that brought me nothing but misery. I hadn’t yet figured out that anyone who good for me would not only accept my chosen career, but also want me to be happy with my work.

…Besides that, a significant other who couldn’t handle my profession probably couldn’t handle me, as sex work is very much part of who I am.

I hadn’t figured that out yet, though. While sex work was undeniably important to me, I didn’t realize that it had become a part of me. It isn’t so much the work itself that defines me, though when you’ve spent the majority of your formative adult years doing something it certainly has a great effect on you, it’s more the choice to take a socially frowned upon job that is part of my character. When you add someone else’s insane jealousy and insecurity to your own severe lack of self-awareness, you have the makings of a perfect storm of self-loathing and discomfort.

It wasn’t until Stanley and I had broken up and I started stripping again that I really truly began to enjoy my job. Not only was I realizing how intrinsic sex work is to my existence, I was also realizing how completely lovely my job could be. Sure, it was extremely rare that I’d have that unicorn of a customer who was attractive, nice, and fun to dance for, but even when I wasn’t dancing for unicorns I was able to appreciate a moment of tenderness during a dance or the ability to really make someone’s night. I was finally realizing what made my job so very worthwhile.

Recently I started work at a Chicago fetish house. In the time since I quit my job at Heavenly Creatures and now I have spent a lot of time examining myself and my impulses. I have forsworn jealous men and have found a gentleman who doesn’t seem to care what I do to pay the bills, so long as I am happy with it. I am secure in myself and my work, and I see no reason to feel guilty for enjoying what I do. No, none of the things I do in my capacity as a pro-domme are likely to produce an orgasm, but even if they did I’m not sure I would be so scared of such an event. I stopped selling sex a long time ago, but I think I can finally honestly say I am a happy hooker, unafraid not only of what I do, but also unafraid of having fun with my job.