The Letters Project

Voices from Both Sides of the World’s Oldest Profession

In January 2008, I created two online projects: Letters from Johns and Letters from Working Girls. I’m not sure why I undertook a virtual endeavor that would deliver to me letters from johns and working girls about their experiences buying and selling sex, but within a couple hours of coming up with the idea — Hey, what would happen if I asked some of my readers why they’ve paid for sex? — I got my first letter.

“I am writing because I can’t tell this story to anyone I know and retain my dignity, but since you’re soliciting I figured I can get it off my chest.”

It was from a twentysomething, “attractive and ambitious” guy who, as he explained it — and despite the fact that he was in a long-term relationship with a “wonderful woman” — found “the idea of paying for sexual acts to be erotic.” Driving home from an out-of- town work assignment, he had met up with a Craigslist hooker in a seedy hotel near the freeway. All he wanted was a happy ending. He didn’t get it. “It was frustrating and embarrassing to say the least.” On his way out, the working girl asked him if he’d give her a ride to the next town.

“I spent an hour talking to a girl my age that followed a completely different path. She was broke, she had a daughter by a guy that took care of her most of the time, she had no license, no car, no real job to speak of, no manners, and no class. To top it off she talked with this ghetto accent that screamed white trash with an identity crisis.”

By the end of their time together, he revealed, “I had learned a lot about her, and something about myself.” He never did say exactly what he had learned, but I knew what he was getting at. I’ve spent the last 12 years writing about the sex trade, and when you cross over to the other side, you enter a different world — without rules, beyond the law, where anything can happen — and sometimes it’s in those darkest places that you find yourself.

A week or so later, I received a letter.

“I am 26. I’m a grad student in New York. Internet men pay to spank me.”

She was putting herself through school when she had heard about a woman in upstate New York who got paid a “fuck-ton” of money to get spanked, and with that, she wrote, “it was on.” Was she a sex worker or not, she worried. Why did the married Southern banker ask her if she had liked it after he had spanked her? How was she supposed to explain all the bruises on her ass to some guy she just wanted to date? And then there was the risk.

“You never really know, and no matter how careful I am, there’s still a non-zero chance that I’ll end up stuffed in a garbage can in Brooklyn and some dude will find me three days later when he’s walking his dog. Or something.”

Over the course of the following year, I received around 50 letters from johns. There was one from a state investigator who logged his working girl assignations in a secret diary with a special code.

“I keep a coded diary, in case it’s discovered. One dot is oral, 2 dots is vaginal sex, and 2 connected dots is anal sex. In the event that someone questions the dots, they are associated with good/bad days: no dots are normal days, 1 dot is a good day, 2 dots is a great day, and 2 connected dots is the best day for that week.”

There was the one with cerebral palsy.

“My entire life I have been trapped inside a body that I hate. It never does what I want it to. It always conspires against me.... However, each time I go, I no longer feel like a cripple. I feel whole.”

There was the military man.

“Pleasantries were exchanged, and I handed over her garish clothing and sent her on her way. After a cigarette and some soothsaying, I managed to convince myself somewhat that the money was well spent and that I had a ‘good time.’ I would possibly seek companionship in this manner again, but honestly it was a frightening act of depravity fueled by a complete loss of morals related to my murder-for-hire status in the military.”

If the question is, Why do men pay for sex?, their answers are legion. Because they’re lonely. Because they’re bored. Because their wives won’t screw them. Because they’re stressed out. Because they want somebody to touch them. Because they want to fuck. Because girls are pretty. Because sex is everything that they aren’t feeling. Because they can.

In the same year that I got 50 letters from johns, I got 21 letters from working girls. They came few and far between. I figured most of the women were too busy out living “the life” to write me.

There was the ex-crack addict.

“In the beginning of my crack addiction I always swore to myself and to anyone that brought up the subject that I would never sell sex for money.... I do not remember my first trick but I do remember many. I have had sex with as many as 12 men in a day.”

There was the sexual enthusiast.

“One guy, in particular, we all loved. We called him ‘park bench.’ He did not get undressed, he laid face down on the table, and the girl sat on him, naked, reading a magazine, not talking to him. After about 20 minutes he’d say thank you, and that was it.”

There was the high-end escort.

“The whole time I’m with a client, I’m at a heightened state of awareness. I pay more attention to all my senses and do everything with more care, and in the process I feel more alive.”

A year after I started The Letters Project, I shut it down. The sites are still online, but I’m no longer accepting or posting more letters. After a year, I guess I’d heard enough.

Afterwards, someone wrote an obituary for the project, a sort of goodbye letter to the letters.

“They’re a tremendously interesting little window on parts of people’s lives that are normally rigorously concealed.... These projects are what documentaries and reality TV can never be. (Not to knock documentaries.) There were no camera crews filming these people; there were no microphones shoved in their faces. It’s just stories about a subject that for many is too taboo to speak of, even with close friends, lovers or spouses, and the relative anonymity of a keyboard brings them out in a rich way.... The letters are further confirmation, as if any were needed, of just how bizarre a subject sex is.”

I Am a Journalist Call Girl

I am not terribly good at writing letters, which is strange because my day job is one for which I write constantly. I am a journalist call girl. Or at least I was, until recently. I met someone. I quit before he had a chance to ask me to. It’s just easier that way.

I think at this juncture, I should defend the men who came to see me. There was nothing wrong with them, and they were not perverts. Most of my clients were single, unhappily married, or married to a person who couldn’t understand their needs. One even had a wife with cancer. I know you’re probably thinking that he’s the worst of all, but sex is important. He needed the comfort and solace of flesh against flesh, and in today’s society, the only way to get flesh against flesh comfort is sex.

I guess my role as a sex worker was to reclaim the human contact that has been lost with our island-centric way of living. When was the last time you truly just held a person that wasn’t your lover with no thoughts of the sensuality of the situation? Touch used to be a very important thing for people. We want to be touched. We need to be touched. Truth be told, I did more pillow talk snuggling with my clients than anything else. Even the submissive clients, after their fill of their fetish, wanted to be cherished. The older men and the lonely men, which seemed to go hand in hand, raced through coitus and settled down for the rest of their time with my head on their chest to talk about their days. This is not the behavior of deviants and perverts — it’s the behavior of people reaching out for affection.

I think our world is in a sad state when a man, in order to get the affection, touch and attention that he requires for his mental well-being, has to go to a sex worker. I will concede that some men’s fetishes are a little too hot to handle for me, but on the whole, nothing that I consented to was so weird that the asker should have a look of shame and disgust on his face as he asked it. I know you probably think that I’m desensitized to sexual weirdness, but a blow job is not weird. Men were ashamed of blow jobs. That was the taboo activity. Some men were even ashamed to enjoy girl-on-top coitus. Is our world so upside down that for a man to enjoy a woman in a seat of power is wrong?

I know my thoughts have been all over the place, but it’s hard to write about these things without being outraged and a little mixed up. I also realize that I’ve said very little about me. Well, there’s very little to tell. At first I needed the money, then I wanted the money. After the thoughts of the money dried up in my head, I turned myself to analysing my clients. In them I found a rich burial ground of feelings. They felt neglected, used, put upon and some other things that made me wish I’d gone to school for psychiatry instead of journalism.

I am just an ordinary woman with the knack for making people love and trust me. These were just men who needed to love somebody who would let them. It’s all so simple. Not complicated in the least. There were no perversions too perverse to get in the way of the trusting bond that was needed. Women suffer out loud, and men suffer in silence. Until we allow men to suffer out loud, many a wife will wonder where her husband is during his lunch hour, and in my opinion, a lot — though not all — of those wives deserve it.

Of course, my life as a pampered call girl was a little different than the life of a pimped girl. I had the comfort of working in my own home and the freedom to choose with whom I slept. I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world. My life as a hooker taught me all about the many faces of love and truth. Not to mention, I can curl a man’s toes without even trying. I am proud of me.

I Am Ashamed of Nothing I Have Done

I spent twenty years, eight months, and one day in the U.S. military. The first ten of those years I was happily married to a sexual goddess. We made love, we fucked, we had casual sex with each other for almost every day of our marriage. The only times we didn’t have sex was when I was down-range for three-, four-, or even seven- month deployments. The best sex in my life would be in the weeks following my return home from those deployments. We would make love and just plain fuck for a whole week. Little did I realize I was married to a sex addict. Finally, I asked the question I didn’t want the answer to: have you been screwing other men while I’m away? I filed for divorce the next day, and did an ERD (early return of dependents) with my command. In one short week, I went from having mad/crazy lovemaking/fuck-fests almost every day to being Celibate Guy.

I was stationed in Germany at the time and was only a four-hour drive from Amsterdam. After two months having no sex, and getting very tired of the whole masturbation thing, I took a trip up to Amsterdam with a few single friends. We had a purpose, and it was to get me laid. We arrived about 5PM and started off at the Hard Rock drinking insane amounts of Heineken. None of us had ever done anything like this. We needed to take the integrity-first edge off, so to speak. We started roaming the district a couple hours later. Since we were window shopping, we walked around for about an hour trying to find that “perfect” girl. I found mine first.

She was about 5'6", light brown hair, smallish but perky breasts, and not a day over 22. There was no negotiation: fifty guilder. At the time, the guilder-to-dollar exchange rate was about 2:1, so $25 for a session. I had no idea what a session comprised, but I was quite willing to part with fifty guilder to actually touch a naked woman. I went in, she closed the door, pulled the curtain, switched on a small lamp and turned off the overhead light.

The room was tiny. It had a sink, a single bed and a chair. There wasn’t much room for anything else. I sat down on the bed, and she took off my shoes and socks, then my shirt, and then she unbuckled my belt, unbuttoned my 501s, and then slid my jeans and underwear off. She neatly placed all of my clothes on the chair, put my socks in the shoes, and placed them under the chair. Very neat, very proper, and very matter-of-fact. Then she examined my now very erect penis, took off her bra, and slid out of her panties. Kneeling there on the floor, looking up at me, was a thing of beauty. Not an ounce of fat, perfectly taut belly, spectacularly symmetrical breasts, and a completely shaved pubic area. She stood up and laid me on my back on the small bed, my feet hanging over the edge. She placed a condom on my penis, then straddled me, and then slowly lowered herself onto me. She maintained complete control, riding me until I came, about 15 minutes later.

She took off the condom, wiped me up and handed me my clothes. We chatted while I dressed, and in doing so, found we were both Czech. When I left, I asked if I could come back again later that evening. She said that would be fine, but she would be vacating the spot at 2200 hours when another girl would be taking over. My friends were waiting for me when I left, asking all the standard questions. (How was it? Was it worth it?). We walked around trying to find “perfect” for the other guys. When one of them found one, we’d wait outside, until we’d all had our Amsterdam cherries popped.

I found my first experience so exhilarating, I paid for sex three more times that night — once more with my Czech beauty. The next day was a carbon copy of the first: lots of beer and then sex with more girls. I visited her three times that weekend, and over the course of the next six months, I spent every other weekend in A-dam, buying blocks of time with her. Of course we spent a lot of time fucking, but we also spooned for hours, talking about life in America and life in Praha. After the second weekend, I’d bring her American cigarettes from the base commissary and cosmetics from the BX. (I asked her if I could bring something for her once, and then I’d always ask what else she wanted.) Those spring and summer months of 1996 linger in my mind for two reasons: I was single again for the first time in over 12 years, and I had amazing sex and spooning with “my” Czech beauty in A-dam.

I have been a john, off and on, since that crazy year. I’ve paid for sex with college girls in Seattle while on my way to Japan. I spent an extra two days in Frankfurt, returning from my last tour in Iraq, just to spend some euros in one of the various Eros Centers. I’ve picked up streetwalkers for twenty-dollar blow jobs, and I’ve spent as much as five hundred bucks (not including a room and dinner afterwards). I’ve crossed the South Texas border for weekend sex jaunts. When I was stationed in Japan, I even took a week-long trip to Thailand for the single-minded purpose of fucking, fucking, and more fucking.

Here’s what I’ve found out about myself, and life in general, in the process of being a john. I’m not a big fan of Asian women — although the Thai trip was completely otherworldly, in terms of no-holds-barred, freaky, whatever you ever dreamed of, off-the-charts-and-straight-to-hell sex — I prefer the end-of-century Eastern European women of Amsterdam and Germany (Czechs, Poles and Russians). American girls charge too fucking much. As much as I love to perform cunnilingus — and I’d rather spend an hour giving than an hour receiving — I’ve only done it with one working girl. I still do not have herpes (I’m certainly a very lucky man). I’d just as soon spend $300 to come right away and than spoon for 45 minutes as I would to have a whiskey-dick hard-on and not come for an hour. You can, in fact, buy intimacy by the hour, even if half of it is feigned. Lesbian crackheads do not give good head.

One can try to hang a sign on us, the collective john, as perpetuating the global conspiracy of sex/slave traffic, and I’ll grant that my Thailand trip probably contributed to some sort of thuggery. But in the end, I am ashamed of nothing I have done.

Susannah Breslin is a writer. When her time comes, she wants to die delirious.

Jim Unwin is an artist based in a leafy suburb of southwest London. When his time comes, he wants to die surrounded by many great-grandchildren, all of whom agree he is wise.