In my 5-6 years in the escorting world, I have only seen one woman completely get out of the sex industry. Others, a small minority, may leave the sex industry but typically revert back to selling themselves after a few weeks/months/years. I will never forgot the words, “She’ll be back, ” said by a Madame (brothel/escort business owner) at an establishment I worked at overseas. This was after a popular young woman decided it was her last day in the industry, and she wanted to pursue her new “normal” job and boyfriend. She’ll be back……how discouraging, yet later I realized how real the statement actually was.
Leaving the industry is NEVER without conflict. Paulina is the only former-escort I know who has left the industry entirely. She has managed so far successfully, but it wasn’t easy at first. I came to know her intimately only after she left the industry and when she almost fell back to it. However, when she was still in the industry and we were working together we hardly mingled. I was the odd girl who stayed away from the “casual sex, drugs, and party” scene, so generally she, like many working girls, found little commonality with me.
Paulina was a beautiful South America girl who immigrated to the West at a young age. I witnessed her loss-of-innocence in her escorting days, which is when she involved herself with heavy partying and living with another escort (a match for disaster). She ended up getting involved with an expensive drug (cocaine) habit, which seems to be the drug of choice for elite escorts/clients. Thankfully, her ‘experimenting’ phase was short-lived, and ended in less than a year.
One thing that Paulina and I did have in common was our conflicting values of traditional and modern. She was raised in the West, yet she still held on to her traditional South American values (her cultural values conflicted with the individualistic, care-free values she was living as a prostitute). Selling sex is often not problematic, but rather the lifestyle commonly associated with high-class prostitutes is damaging (excessive partying, excess shallowness). She had quit the industry, and completely got away from the drugs and partying. She called me out of the nowhere one day, and wanted to meet. At first I couldn’t understand why she would suddenly want to meet me, but later she told me that I was the only person she hoped to trust from the industry. In her view, I was someone who would not tempt her back into her bad habits, yet I could relate to her because I was an escort too. I was flattered, and determined to help her stay away from prostitution, even though I wasn’t ready to leave myself. She had deep emotional scars from being a prostitute, and found it hard confide in anyone. She had met a lovely man, but he had no idea about her past and she wanted to keep it that way. Whenever she got depressed or felt the urge to return to selling herself, she called me for comfort. I haven’t seen her in over one year, since she lives overseas where I used to live. Currently, she is still out of the business, and getting married soon to the love of her life. She is my hope…because if she can continue to be away from the industry, then there is hope.
Unfortunately, it is so easy to fall back into prostitution…
The pattern I’ve observed has become common: women leave the industry to pursue love, and then they return when that love failed. Another woman I know did ‘quit’ the industry, however she recently admitted that she is returning to escorting. Why? Because she broke up with the man she loved. Months ago I remember her telling me “If I wasn’t with my boyfriend, then I would still be selling my body.” This is classic of women trying to leave the industry, and perhaps the most depressing part of it. Over the years, I met countless women who’ve returned to prostitution after a failed relationship. Some of these girls say they “wasted” their youth in their failed relationships when they could have been essentially exploiting their youthfulness by selling themselves. And once these women return to sex work, their hearts are broken. Yes, I have seen many broken hearted women returning to selling their bodies, and sadly it seems like they’ve also lost their souls.
When falling in love with a potential partner, an escort has to ask herself: “Is he worth it?” Is love, itself, enough to give up her autonomy and business? The men she rejects are the ones who cannot offer her financial freedom, even though they may be willing to love and treat her good. Other escorts choose the latter, which is to avoid relationships altogether and focus on making money.
How often do escorts leave the industry when a man is NOT in the picture? I have yet to come across a prostitute who leaves the industry for her own intuition. I have to ask myself this question: Do I want to leave because I want love? Perhaps, as we all desire love and acceptance. Sadly, acceptance is only granted when people conform to what’s ‘normal.’ And of course, being a sex worker is out-of-the-norm in modern societies, thus furthering us away from societies embrace. But again, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are people who fight these oppressive norms that marginalize sex workers — it’s not a bad thing to be different. But being outside the norms of society requires a LOT of strength. There is no social space allocated for prostitutes. As a result, we face tremendous pressure to follow the ‘normative’ ways of living life (such as marriage, owning a home, etc). Although I did quit for a short period when I was engaged, I never mentally prepared myself that I was finished with the industry. I still haven’t. It’s a question that I’ve been avoiding to answer: when will I quit? Do I even want to quit? Why should I quit? I used to want to quit, and I told myself that I would quit selling my body after I am finished my graduate studies. Regardless, I don’t feel that I’m ready to leave now. I like aspects of my job, but I just do not like the implications (the stigma, the degradation of the industry, the legalities, etc).
Fear of leaving sex-work is strange. It’s a conflict of emotions. I’m aware that the stigma is damaging me, but when times are good I tend to ignore the harm I’m doing. At times, sex work doesn’t feel like a problem for some escorts, and for others, it is deeply damaging psychologically. But overall, one cannot deny the problem of trying to live in a world where ones identity is constantly hidden and condemned. Social Darwinism, the idea that started this whole “survival of the fittest” competition” among society is a false notion, yet the idea is still very real in modern society. I’m aware that competition is only a socially constructed concept, but yet I feel deeply pressured to be part of this race in society. I fear that if I don’t sell myself, I will lose out in this competition. This is what needs to change, I need to let go of the pressures of mainstream society. Why do I want to be part of this shallow competition in the first place? This is what happens in a cold society (Western-Liberal societies) that puts emphasis on progress, individualism, competition, status, and monetary wealth. This is what drove me to the Social Sciences as a field of study: society deeply impacts how people think and behave. I assign other reasons why I entered into prostitution on social pressures.
Once you’re in the sex industry, it is very hard to leave. A woman I know is trying her best to pursue a ‘normal’ job but admits she feels the pressure to return to escorting. It’s too easy (escorting), and the money is quick. Her mind, like most escorts, becomes tainted with the haunting fact: a few hours or an evening of escorting can pay all the bills that would take 1-2 weeks of hard work at a normal job. Did any of us imagine growing accustomed to our lifestyles? Did we ever imagine that we’d become a slave to our own addiction for fast-money? Of course not. A good friend of mine is a former receptionist in the sex industry. She told me how she was tempted to become an escort, however she changed her mind once she saw the reality: escorts may make lots of money, but at the high cost of our emotions. So I ask myself time and time again…”Was it worth it?”