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.
One of the most common questions people ask–especially when they find out I used to be a whore–is whether my experience in the sex industry has made me better at sex. They generally assume it has; people who visit prostitutes can’t just be paying for the opportunity to have sex with someone who normally would be out of their league, right? They must also be paying for some hyper-flexible nymph with no gag reflex, a set of pelvic floor muscles that could crush diamonds, and an appetite for sex that at least seems to be endless.
This is kind of true. I’m pretty sure most customers wouldn’t pay three hundred dollars an hour to engage in lie down kisses with a girl who sprawled there like a dead fish or commenced gagging if a penis so much as entered the vicinity of her mouth, but while I may have shared a profession with Manet’s Olympia, I’m pretty sure I’m no sexual Olympian. I’ve certainly never received any complaints about my technique, and I’ve received plenty of compliments, but I’m not sure that’s so unusual.
The main things sex work have done for me are to give me greater control over my gag reflex and weaken almost all of my inhibitions to the breaking point. As long as it doesn’t involve children, animals, or shit, I’m up for trying almost anything. Sex work has also made me completely unafraid of the human body and all the weird stuff it does. There was a time when I would have been pretty distressed if a guy, say, asked me to stick my finger up his butt during a blowjob. But in the almost five years I’ve been a sex worker, I’ve seen people who are into things so much weirder that such a request doesn’t even register.
I know it’s impossible for me to judge objectively whether or not all these assorted benefits have made me better in bed, and I don’t have the guts or the time to track down everyone I’ve ever slept with, pre- and post-sex work and ask them to give me a sex rating of zero to five stars, but I suspect these three factors have definitely improved my abilities, if not my actual technique. In my experience, the partners I’ve had who were most comfortable with their bodies and the bodies of others and most up for trying new things have also been the partners I had the most fun with.
One of the things that makes it so hard to judge whether or not I’m better at sex thanks to being a prostitute is the fact that the sex I had for work is not the same as the sex I have in my actual life. As a working girl, I mostly had very, very vanilla sex, and if there was any kind of kink involved I was always working as the dominant party. This is not what happens in my bed.
Perhaps I’m sharing too much information, but you guys, I’m a huge pervert, and as dominant, domineering even, as I can be in my nonsexual and work life, I am definitely not in bed.
I like being treated like straight-up garbage in bed.
The thing is, for a lot of my life I was told that this was something to be ashamed of or fight against. Growing up, my very Christian father had a “just say no” approach to sex and sexuality. Sex was not a thing I, or anyone, was supposed to want, at least according to him.
On the other side, my mother was extremely sex-positive. I was about eleven when she gave my little sister and me a speech where she explicitly told us to take any man we were considering marrying “out for a test drive.” Naturally I was appalled, despite the fact that I had only a vague idea what she was talking about, and I’m still sort of shocked she decided to phrase things that way and have a chat like that so early, but as I got older I took her suggestion to an extreme, taking a whole bunch of both men and women, and not just the ones I was thinking of marrying, out for various test drives.
Sex positive as my mother is, though, she has very little understanding of kink. She refers to it as “weird,” “crazy,” and “just bizarre.” When it comes to female submission, she’s even less understanding, very vocally holding view that if you allow a man to treat you like garbage in bed, he’ll treat you like garbage elsewhere too.
Because of this I was pretty sure there was something very wrong with me for a very long time. I tried really, really hard to if not be vanilla, at least be more dominant, but it didn’t ever really work. While I find dominance amusing and fun, it does absolutely nothing for me sexually and I couldn’t figure out why. I was supposed to be an awesome strong lady, right? Awesome and strong ladies don’t want dudes to spank them and call them whores!
Except some of us do!
And sex work was what helped me to realize that. From the beginning I always saw sex work as a form of therapy. My job wasn’t just to get people off, or help provide them with material with which to get themselves off, it was also to help them accept what it is they get off on.
During my time in the sex industry, especially as a prostitute who advertised herself as fetish friendly, I encountered boatloads of shame. If shame was a natural resource, I could’ve powered my entire city for at least a few months with all the mortification I encountered. There were guys ashamed of wanting to suck my toes, guys ashamed of wanting to be pissed on, guys ashamed of enjoying spankings or butt play, and guys who were just ashamed of patronizing sex workers at all. I made it my business to deliver heartfelt speeches to all of these poor, embarrassed men telling them not to be ashamed, that people all get off in different ways and the way someone gets off is the business of nobody but the individual and whoever they get off with. All the while I was suffering the exact same embarrassment.
It took way too long for me to recognize the blatant hypocrisy of the words I said to clients and the words I leveled at myself in my head. Clearly something was amiss, and since I totally believed everything I said to my clients, at least so far as their sexual proclivities went, I realized I had no reason to beat myself up about my own weird desires. I started experimenting more with what I actually wanted, rather than what I thought I should want and sex gradually went from being a pretty fun thing I liked to do to being a really awesome thing I seriously loved.
In a sense, I do think sex work has made me better at sex. Enthusiasm always adds to an encounter, and shedding the conflict I had with my preferences certainly made me more enthusiastic. I don’t feel like I’m forcing anything or trying to perform a role I’m not that interested in. Thanks to sex work, I realized that though I’m a huge pervert, I’m not all that weird or crazy. I may or may not be better at sex, but I’m certainly more comfortable with my sexuality, and that can’t hurt my skills.