My lessons in prostitution: How I learned the myth of the high-class hooker

It did not matter if I was in a high-class hotel or on the street — the work didn't change, only the surroundings

Published September 19, 2015 11:30PM (EDT)

  (Touchstone Pictures)
(Touchstone Pictures)

Excerpted from "Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution"

"[F]rom the perspective of a woman in prostitution or a woman who has been in prostitution—the distinctions other people make between whether the event took place in the Plaza Hotel or somewhere more inelegant are not the distinctions that matter. These are irreconcilable perceptions, with irreconcilable premises. Of course the circumstances must matter, you say. No, they do not, because we are talking about the use of the mouth, the vagina, and the rectum. The circumstances don’t mitigate or modify what prostitution is." -- Andrea Dworkin, "Life and Death"

Because I’ve worked in every area of prostitution, I can say that no area has a monopoly on degradation and no area is free of it. The perception exists that street-walking prostitutes are unique among their kind in that they are the only women in the business who suffer daily degradation. They certainly suffer the consequences of being regarded as the lowest of the low, but it would be very wrong to assume that degradation is restricted to the red-light zones. There are no such restrictions in prostitution. Contrary to this misinformation, it is just as possible and just as customary to be humiliated in a five-star hotel.

Some of the worst experiences I’ve had in prostitution took place in Ireland’s most exclusive hotels. Indeed, sometimes when you are dealing with a particular type of man, with a particular type of mindset, you are far worse off finding yourself with him in environs of opulence: some wealthy men (not all, thank God) communicate to you that you ought to feel yourself privileged to be there, regardless of how immaculately and expensively dressed and made-up you may be.

The sense of the male being the dominant force in a money-for-sex exchange only ever comes close to fully disappearing in the case where a man expressly requests it in order to fulfill a desire to be dominated, and even in that case, as I’ve said, they still enjoy the control inherent to the status of the paying customer. Some men I’ve met in very expensive hotels or on callouts to extremely affluent houses were among the most difficult people a prostitute could meet. There was a sense of entitlement with those men that actually increased with every pound they paid you. The attitude was clear: ‘I have paid you two hundred pounds—therefore I will do whatever I feel like doing to you and you will keep your mouth shut about it’. Of course, in some men this attitude was simply a reflection of their general arrogance and inhumanity; in the majority of men who treated me this way though, it was clear that they got off in the sexual sense on humiliating me, on making me feel powerless, on giving me to feel and understand that I was there for one reason and one reason only—so that my body would be used as a receptacle for their sperm.

After I began working indoors in 1993, I found that it was not safer as far as violence was concerned (though it was certainly safer in terms of avoiding arrest) but the degradation was just the same and often worse. I cannot think of anything less ‘high class’ than some of the experiences I had at the ‘upper end’ of the market. The truth is there is nothing classy about the exchange of money for sex and the environs where it takes place are powerless to influence that.

I often met men who would have assumed that I was an escort, because they met me under those circumstances, and that I only ever worked in that sphere of the business; what they didn’t know was that I was often to be found on the streets or in massage parlours, and that they were paying me several times more than I’d been paid for the same service the day before. I met plenty of women who did this sort of ‘double-jobbing’, who worked different areas of the business at the same time. What I didn’t come across often were women like myself who worked all areas. Almost always, the women I met who worked in more than one area of prostitution worked either on the streets and in brothels, or in brothels and escort agencies. Working a crossover on the entire range of the scale, as I did, was unusual; so I believe that through simple diversity of experience I’ve got a fuller picture of prostitution than many of the women I’ve known.

The women themselves bought into the supposed hierarchical structure of prostitution, with prostitutes in escort agencies looking down their noses at street-walking women and those in massage parlours comforting themselves with the fact that at least they weren’t out on the streets, at least they ‘hadn’t sunk that low’!

I knew one woman, a lovely girl, who worked her own one-woman escort agency out of an apartment on an upmarket avenue in Ballsbridge. Her advertising costs were three-hundred-and-fifty pounds a fortnight. Her rent was a thousand pounds a month. Her mobile phone bills were higher than her advertising costs. This was in 1993. (Mobile phones were brand new technology in Ireland at the time and were the preserve of businessmen, drug dealers and prostitutes.) She spent a fortune on taxis and on clothes and shoes befitting her ‘escort’ stature. She broke even some months and when she did, she refused to work in any other area of the business to supplement her escorting income. ‘What are you doing on the streets?’ she used to ask me. ‘What are you doing in this fucking apartment?’ I’d ask her in return. It seemed so pointless to me—for some periods of time she was whoring herself just to maintain a situation in which to whore herself. The whole idea was supposed to be about making a half-decent living, I’d say to her, for God’s sake.

Still, she managed to save ten thousand pounds in the time she rented that apartment, but her money was earned in fits and spurts during peak-time periods and I could not understand how she tolerated the dead-end intervals. The problem was that she was paying the same overheads an apartment full of women would have split between them, but she was compulsive about her independence and the privacy of her space. I was the only other woman who ever worked in her apartment. I was the person she’d always call if a two-woman job was required, and I sometimes did some of her clients in her apartment as well, usually during periods so busy that two men would be booked for the same time.

We were close friends and I’d sometimes walk from the red-light district to her apartment at the end of an evening’s work. She didn’t try to hide her distaste for my street-walking work and I couldn’t have cared less. I knew that if she’d started out on the streets she’d have had an appreciation of the differences between the different forms of work and the pros and cons contained within each. As I’ve said, on the streets I was not at the mercy of someone I’d had no chance to sum up before I entered into a contract with. In indoor work you don’t know who or what you’re dealing with until the door has closed behind you, and by the time the door has closed behind you, it’s too late. She was inexperienced in these different dynamics.

Business was brisker on the streets. You often had the opportunity to make your money and go. There was much less of the waiting around inherent to escort work, which I found uniquely depressing. It gave you too much time to think.

I approached my work differently from my friend in other ways, too. I had a mobile but had it blocked for outgoing calls. It was strictly used for clients to contact me. I bought that phone when the laws changed in 1993 and street-walking prostitutes began being hounded nightly by the police. I rented an apartment in Terenure for a short time and opened an escort agency of my own. I was seventeen at the time and I’m quite sure I was the youngest person advertising an escort agency in Ireland. It was a very simple thing to do and only required an apartment, a mobile phone and an advertisement in the back of In Dublin magazine, but when I had to deal with the reality of the ridiculous overheads, I soon got rid of the apartment and advertised for call-outs only. I worked mainly in the brothels and escort agencies of others from then on and did my own call-outs to homes and hotels. If I’d get a request for a call-in on my agency line I’d use a bedroom in the brothel of one of the women I was associating with at that time. I’d pay them a fee for the use of the room, which was common practice. I’d made money myself that way when I had my own apartment.

The consequences of the new laws took a lot of getting used to. An understood street rule had always been that the encounter was over when the client climaxed, but now we found ourselves alone in rooms with men who were paying by the hour and wanted every minute of their money’s worth. I found this new form of prostitution more dangerous and more degrading, not less.

And so, because of all this, I developed a very à-la-carte approach to prostitution. I never bought into the nonsense that some forms of it were somehow ‘better’ in a social or moral sense than others. There was no true distinction that I could find there. Of course society would clearly tell you which was the most and least acceptable of these, but I had not been raised with an affinity to social structures or to compliance with social norms and I knew that such notions were nonsense here anyway. I measured the different forms of prostitution against each other in the only sane way I knew how, which was in terms of which was more dangerous, stressful or profitable. I found through experience that in terms of danger, stress and profit, each had their own pros and cons, but in terms of degradation, that was universal. It was to be found in differing degrees only with different men, not with different environments, and it was to be found everywhere.

One thing I never went in for in prostitution was calling myself an ‘escort’ or a ‘call girl.’ I find these terms derisory and ridiculous, ‘call girl’ particularly so. What this term seeks to do is to focus on the fact that a prostitute must call to your door and ignores entirely what goes on when it shuts behind her. It does not even seek to fraudulently repackage the prostitution experience, as the term ‘escort’ does, but rather discounts it entirely. These are lies, pure and simple. I never tried to sugar-coat what I did, no matter where I was working or how much I was getting paid for it. Similarly, while working as a stripper, I never referred to myself as a ‘dancer’, exotic or otherwise. I heard these terms at the time, both in the media and in the brothels, and when I heard them they always seemed to me to serve the same purpose, which was to seek to paint a deceptive veneer of respectability over what we did.

For the women involved to use terms like ‘call girl’ appeared particularly stupid to me, because to do that was to admit that you were not prepared to face yourself or others with the truth of your daily experience, and if you were not prepared to do that, was that not an admission in itself? Did it not say something, and say it very clearly? I felt that the women who preferred to call themselves escorts and dancers were even less happy with their lot than the women who’d tell you they were strippers and whores and hated the whole business, because at least the women who weren’t afraid to call a spade a spade weren’t indulging in self-denial. At least they were not afraid to look the truth of their experience in the face. If you look at something and say you find it distasteful your sense of disgust is probably less potent than that of the person who refuses to observe it at all.

As to the myth of the high-class hooker, this particular myth persists, in the main (like most myths in prostitution) because it suits the men who pay for sex to believe it. Many like to assume that when they call an escort agency, a higher class of vagina will arrive at their door and, as an afterthought, that there’ll be a higher class of woman attached to it. The notion of the high-class hooker is propagated by those who profit from it, because it is the simplest way to maximize the market. Women in escort prostitution buy into the notion that they are somehow better than their street-walking sisters because class-ism exists in all of life. Why should prostitution be any different?

There is a notion in and of the sex industry that you ‘can’t work up the ladder.’ That is to say that it is not possible to begin working on the streets or in brothels and then move on to escort agencies. This notion is commonly held. It is commonly held nonsense. I know that because my ‘career’ followed exactly that supposedly impossible trajectory, and also because, though unusual, I was not alone.

Interestingly, I found that misconception usually held among those prostitutes who had only ever worked the ‘high end’ of the market. This is an important point to note because, of course, it means that the notion is held and circulated in the main by those who have no experience of having done what it is they are claiming it is not possible to do. Women who’ve always worked in the area of escorting wouldn’t know how easy it is to enter that arena from ‘below’; they’ve never had to make the career shift. It is possible. I’ve done it myself and I’ve seen it done. It is bizarrely easy, considering how ‘impossible’ it’s widely perceived to be. In fact, it’s as simple as making a phone call. The notion of impossibility here is another example of the myths, or falsifications, of prostitution.

Many of the women who enter prostitution at its high end do so out of desperation, but many of the women who begin prostituting themselves on the streets do so out of destitution. There is a difference. For this reason, socially disadvantaged women like my younger self fill the streets and the brothels and middle- and upper-middle-class women fill the escort agencies. But the transition from one to the other is entirely possible and for all the comments claiming it not to be, I’ve yet to hear anyone posit what type of obstructions are in place to stop a woman ‘working up the ladder,’ or how they contend these supposed barriers operate. Certainly women from the streets are not welcome to apply for positions in escort agencies, being seen to be in possession of the lower-class vaginas I’ve mentioned already, but any woman with a whit of sense will simply keep her mouth shut about that, as I did.

The obstruction here, if there is one, is in the belief of the myth of the high-class hooker. Buying into this erroneous belief is possibly the biggest obstacle to any woman exercising social mobility within the prostitution world.

As to social class among the prostituted, I met advantaged middle-class women in prostitution and I honestly couldn’t understand them. I just couldn’t get what they were doing in brothels at all. (I always referred to the apartments escort agencies are run from as brothels, because that’s what they are. The only time I broke with that tradition was when I referred to them as whore-houses with the intent to rub some of the women who referred to what we were doing as ‘escorting’ up the wrong way.) My problem, my incomprehension, was in what they were doing in the business. It made no sense to me. They were privileged. They were educated, only to second level usually but even so, I am talking about well-to-do fee-paying private schools. They seemed to have had other viable choices open to them; they could have gone to university, they could have gone to work in daddy’s business, but yet here they were in this awful place doing something they clearly hated and that obviously made them miserable. Why? Well, there is no universal answer to that. The answer varies from woman to woman. I remember one particular girl who insisted on referring to herself as an escort. ‘Ah, good for you,’ I said to her. ‘I’m a whore myself.’

She was blonde and in her early to mid-twenties. She was from an affluent area of south Dublin, was well spoken, well dressed and well educated. She was also a victim of childhood sexual abuse, regularly self-harmed and by the time I last saw her, had progressed from the level of recreational cocaine user to a chronic cocaine addict. That girl had every privilege in life, except the one that matters most to a woman: sexual serenity. She hadn’t ever had that.

Not every middle- and upper-middle class woman who becomes involved in prostitution will have psychological issues that are so glaringly obvious, but I do not believe it is possible for a woman to willfully involve herself in prostitution without there being some problem, sexual or otherwise, that precedes it. Everything I have ever seen in prostitution leads me to this conclusion. To know that women like the one I’ve just mentioned are commonly regarded as ‘high class’ amongst prostitutes just adds a new negative dimension to prostitution for me; it is the dimension of the preposterous and the absurd.

Most prostitutes are from backgrounds of dysfunction, just like I was, and relive the turbulence of their early years in prostitution, just like I did. It’s important though, in examining the backgrounds of prostituted women, to remember that not all childhood dysfunction is as obvious as mine was. Not all young girls from emotionally unhealthy homes have greasy hair and tattered, dirty clothing. Many of the women I knew in prostitution had far more disturbing childhoods than I had; they just didn’t have the outwardly obvious symbolism of my own. Many of them didn’t have the visible symptoms that serve as sure-fire indicators that something’s wrong at home. In many instances in their childhoods, no doubt their skin was spotless, as would have been their clothes and hair; it would have been only in the eyes that you would have gauged something of what was going on at home.


People who see prostitution as something which exists on a number of different, exclusive and distinct class-related levels are people who do not understand the interrelated nature of it, and some of the people ignorant of the shifting nature of prostitution are actually prostitutes and prostitutors themselves. The evidence of this variable nature in prostitution is something which, looking back over my time in the business, is clear to me. When In Dublin magazine began publishing adverts for escort agencies in Dublin city in the early 1990s, many prostitutes and madams who had previously worked solely in the area of massage parlours reinvented themselves as ‘escorts’ and their operations as ‘escort agencies’. This worked especially well in the early days of the economic boom, because many Irish people were seeing enormous stylish apartment blocks being built for the first time. The shift from brothel worker to escort prostitute really is and was that simple. (In fact, in this internet age, many will find it simpler still.) The reasoning behind the ‘upgrading’ of brothel workers all across the city was equally simple: at that time, a woman working in a massage parlour could charge somewhere in the region of forty to sixty pounds; a woman working in an escort agency could charge somewhere in the region of one hundred to one-hundred-and-fifty.

It is an economic reality in business that a customer is not disposed to paying more for a service than he has been used to paying, if there is no improvement or upgrade to that service. If a man walks into an escort agency and meets a woman he met in a massage parlour the week before, he will naturally feel disinclined to pay that woman several times what he paid the last time he met her; and if the transaction is completed before he recognises her, he is sure to feel cheated, and of course he would, since he has just paid three times the price for the same ‘service’ from the same ‘service provider.’ This is the only common-sense reality upon which the myth of the high-class hooker rests, and it is of no relevance for two reasons: the first is that an aggrieved client is always welcome to walk out the door. The second reason this rule of business is insignificant is because prostitution, because of its illicit nature, does not conform to most social rules or norms. Not being a legal profession, it is not regulated either, and it is unlike any other arena of industry in that the ‘employers’ (pimps and madams) make it up as they go along as far as their employees’ (prostitutes’) professional status is concerned. Their ‘rank’ or ‘position’ or ‘standing’ is something that has either been applied to them or they have applied to themselves. This elevated sense of status is applied, of course, with no legitimate qualifications to support it. For this reason, the notion of an exclusive ‘high class’ end of the market is a nonsense. I worked for two notorious Irish madams who both had decades of experience running ‘low-end’ massage parlours behind them before they moved into escorting in the early 1990s, like everyone else who had any financial savvy at that time in the Dublin prostitution world.

Prostitution can be a transitory experience; you can move around within it, but here is the catch: this only holds true for those women who believe that. The woman who believes that it is not possible to work in an escort agency because she is working on the streets will stay on the streets. The woman who believes that working in a massage parlour precludes her from working in an escort agency will stay in a massage parlour. The classist attitude in prostitution is very clear. The women who have only ever worked in escort agencies have no doubts that it would be possible for them to work in the lower end of the trade, but rarely do this, not only because there is less money to be made per client, but also because they scrupulously refuse to do so. It is not just about accepting less cash for the same ‘service’; they feel that to work in these other areas of prostitution would in some way further diminish their dignity and would be somehow beneath them. I have heard a lot of sneering comments along those lines from women who market themselves as escorts, but what they are unaware of is that their bodies are routinely used far more thoroughly indoors than custom would deem acceptable to the women on the streets. If women’s bodily ownership in prostitution was to be measured, escort agencies are where the least of it would be found.

The women I met in escorting who had come from brothels had a much more realistic grasp of the reality of prostitution than those who had worked exclusively in escort agencies. A sense of derision towards the myth of the high-class hooker was a commonality among them; they simply knew better than to buy into it.

People who depict prostitution as glamorous usually view prostitutes against the backdrop of expensive hotel foyers; they imagine prostitutes as entering or leaving five-star hotels wearing sharp designer suits and high heels, the look set off with vivid red lipstick. I’ve walked into more hotels more times than I could count wearing sharp suits, high heels and every shade of lipstick. None of that changed what was going on in my heart or in my mind and none of it made any difference to the bodily experience involved here; none of it was of any practical benefit to my mouth, breasts or vagina. What was going on was the very same thing that was going on when I was lifting my skirt in a backstreet alley. The nature of prostitution does not change with its surrounds. It does not morph into something else because your arse is rubbing against white linen as opposed to roughened concrete.

Excerpted from "Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution" by Rachel Moran, Published by W.W. Norton and Co., Inc. Copyright © 2015 by Rachel Moran. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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