Worried for her

My girlfriend used to work as an escort, and I'm worried that she'll never get over her detached attitude toward sex and the abuse she suffered.

Published May 30, 2003 7:51PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My girlfriend just revealed to me that she used to work as an escort. This was for a few months, more than three years ago. She is very well educated and beautiful, and she cares for me the way no other woman I have ever met. I am madly in love with her and herein lie the intricacies of my issue. I would never judge her, and in fact I have a bit of a checkered past when it comes to dating. I was a bit of a player in my formative years, and my conquests land me in the category of being very experienced when it comes to sex. We have no intimacy issues, and our sex life is incredible, so good that I think it is the best sex I have ever experienced.

I guess my concern is not for what happened and her sleeping with men for money; rather, she always describes the experience as being empowering, and I just cannot see it in that light. It seems very difficult for me to reconcile this notion that a woman who is paid for sex is actually in control of the situation. I personally think men who pay for sex are pigs exploiting women for their bodies and the opportunity to get off. As a man, I could never fathom putting a woman in that situation, and it makes me a bit sad when I think about my girlfriend subjecting herself to those situations.

She grew up in a very abusive household and I can see on some Freudian level that these men (her high-end clients) were all very respectful and nice and that she was just trying to find a relationship with an older man (the father she always wanted). She is such a lovely, wonderful person who deserves so much love that sometimes it burns me up inside that she was treated so poorly and driven to treat herself so poorly.

The other fact is that she says that she now sees sex as being a very detached thing. I know this too well based on my own experience. She says that when we are together that everything is connected and that she is in love as I am; but I just want to be certain that this is the case.

The final problem is that I cannot talk to anyone about this. I cannot tell my friends or family members because there would be too much fallout, and that is not what I am looking for; I guess I just want to know that there are no long-term repercussions that will rear their ugly heads one day because of her experience as an escort.

Never to Judge or Be Judged

Dear Never to Judge,

These things you feel are the natural things any man would feel, and you are right to feel them. But there is no solution for them. There is no making them go away. Your sadness and outrage, your suspicion of problems ahead, your hopes that this will work out, your fears that it may not, your bafflement at what happened, your sense of injustice, all these things you are quite right to feel. But other than allowing them to enlarge your humanity, to make of you, as it were, more of a man, there is not much to be done about them. There is not a problem that can be solved now. There is just what has happened and how to live with it.

One thing you can do that will help you organize your feelings is read about other women from abusive families who have done sex work. That will help you place your girlfriend's experience in context. Knowing the political and economic conditions that contribute to that kind of thing can take the edge off it; rather than lying there as an isolated fact it can then reside in an aspic of information and thus be less vexing, less singular. Or you could say that studying its context can be like what an oyster does to a grain of sand, smoothing it into a pearl because if it can't get rid of it, it can at least make it less irritating. It then becomes more like just another of the things that people do or that happen to people, as if she had tried to become a professional bowler but it didn't work out, or she had an auto accident or got mugged, rather than once worked in a morally tainted business.

But there are no guarantees. Your worries are the worries any man would have, and you just have to live in the world with your worries like the rest of us and be ready to respond with compassion and wisdom if your worries come true. Suppose, for instance, that as a result of her abusive family situation she turned out to have some kind of maladaptive behavior, a problem with anger, say, or a tendency to steal things; or maybe she hits some wall of depression, or she senses monstrous pain at the edge of her sex and walls off emotionally. Things like this happen to people; some say it's the vig on cruelty, paid exponentially. That's why it's good social policy to protect children. But people who've never been hurt in their lives also go mad for no reason, or start stealing cash out of your wallet, or sleeping with your brother, or huddle in a corner and can't stop bawling, and you don't know why that's happening; it has nothing to do with abusive families or working as an escort, it happens as if on purpose just to baffle us and keep us on our toes waiting for calamity.

That doesn't mean you do a cost-benefit analysis and find someone new. Not if you're no longer a player. You stick around. You stick around and try to help. You cradle her head on your knees, you pick up her prescriptions, you get her to the doctor every Tuesday. That other stuff you were doing, that was a game; that's why they call it playing. This is real life, real love, where even if you start losing, you don't just walk away from the table.

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By Cary Tennis

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