This piece was published in partnership with The Influence.
I remember the first client I ever met who wanted to do drugs during a session. It was a doubles call in 2003, when I was still a newbie escort, young, dumb and 21. I remember wincing in secondhand embarrassment at Dan the Welshman as he confided to us, all put-on nonchalance and pride at his own edginess, "Oh, yes, sometimes I do a little crack… and sometimes I do a littlehorse." I remember thinking that if he wanted to impress us with his street cred—this middle class expatriate in a bedroom suburb in western Massachusetts, with some forgettable job in corporate agriculture—then maybe he shouldn't have used 60s-era slang.
My colleague, Brenda, smiled brilliantly as she took the pipe from him and I demurred. As they indulged, the room filled with the forced gaiety of uppers, exasperating to witness from the outside looking in. As they giggled incessantly, I felt like I was trapped taking care of two toddlers—I couldn't wait to get home and sniff some OxyContin and calm my nerves.
It was the first time I felt I'd lost control of a call. This was back in the day, before the Girlfriend Experience ("GFE") promised in our advertising didn't implicitly include a "BBBJ"—a bareback blowjob. Back before my rigid insistence on a covered blowjob didn't end up losing me business to the competition, because in that long-ago era it was industry standard that we all used a condom for giving oral sex. But Brenda went down on Dan without, and when I looked at her askance, she just said, "Oh, well, I know him." As if meeting a man a few times somehow served to protect her from STI transmission.
As soon as she relented, it opened me up to a litany of entreaties from him, lasting throughout our hour-long session, for me to to the same. "You sure you don't want to get your mouth around this and really taste it?" he kept asking, giving me what he must've thought were bedroom eyes.
That cliche about how men love blowing money on coke and hookers has its basis firmly in reality —Cynthia, a 20-something east coast escort
If that wasn't bad enough, after we finally left, he wouldn't stop calling us frantically every five minutes for the remainder of the evening, alternating between my phone and hers when we wouldn't pick up. Brenda had unwisely tossed off at one point in the conversation that maybe she might be able to get him some more crack sometime, and apparently he took that throwaway comment as a solemn vow to procure him more that very night.
"I have mostly experienced violence from clients who were combining cocaine and alcohol—the comorbid effect of those substances on hobbyists is not good," Cynthia concludes.
There are occasional advantages to client drug use, certainly. There are even advantages to whiskey dick and coke dick—when they lead to hours of extended sessions where all you have to do is allow an intoxicated client to keep ranting, and especially when inebriation also loosens the client's purse strings.
"They can be in a more generous mood and more likely to… really splurge in that they have planned ahead and want to invest in having a good time," says Ryry, a 26-year-old escort.
"I know I've had multiple-hour and overnight sessions because of cocaine use," Jordan, a 25-year-old east coast touring escort, tells me.
Or sometimes, a call can involve little time and effort if the client quickly gives up on getting it up or, conversely, has a hair-trigger dick.
"There have been multiple times where I got out of having sex because the person was wasted and either couldn't manage it or just wanted someone to talk at while they were high," Cynthia says.
"The benefits [to client use] included… wrapping up a session faster… because someone was either more 'eager' than usual or unable to do anything," Meg confirms.
Drug-using sex workers in need might occasionally even be provided with the drug they're addicted to via a client. Certainly, clients are good for sometimes turning up drugs we want.
"Clients have given me Xanax or Valium," Cynthia tells me. "I like it when they do that. Prescription drugs are the only ones I'll accept from clients because I imagine the likelihood of them being tampered with is a bit lower."
"I got pretty lucky when a really awesome overnight client shared some of his LSD with me," Maxine relates.
Personally, I fondly look back to the afternoon I took a couple of Valiums with a regular and we hopped into a warm bath together as one of the best days of my life. These days, though, I've cut "partying" callers out of my clientele almost entirely by working weekdays and daytimes, so that I get men on business lunches rather than guys on 3 AM coke binges. I've learned that despite the occasional perks of client drug use, it's just better to be safe than sorry.
But ultimately, it's not the drugs themselves that make drug-using clients dangerous. It's the lack of accountability. As Ryry explains, "People often say things like, 'Oh, clients on ice are violent,' or, 'I don't see clients on drugs 'cause they behave so badly,' but thinking about drug use like this isn't very helpful. It's behavior that needs to be addressed, not drug use in itself. So if someone is behaving in a way that is disrespectful or violent… of course that is not OK. But even if the person blames it on their drug use, and says the drugs made them do it, I think the underlying behavior is still the actual problem."
"And if a person still thinks that if they take a particular substance and that it then makes them out of control and leads them to disrespect boundaries or be violent," she adds, "then they need to take back control of their actions and then maybe not use that substance if they really believe it affects them in this way."
When you view illicit drugs and sex as a vacation from your day-to-day, law-abiding life, it's unlikely that you'll take responsibility for the way you behave towards the criminalized people you hire.
Many sex workers face other risks, too, when their clients are high.
"I definitely think my clients' drug use puts me at risk," says Jordan. "It puts me in a position where I have access to drugs I am trying to avoid. Many times my clients pressure me to join them in their drug use. The few times I have partook, it made it more difficult to keep my wits about me, which is dangerous. When I refuse to join, they often do not respect my wishes and continue to pressure me throughout the session. Sometimes I think they want me to get high with them in an attempt to get free services from me and otherwise make it easier to cross boundaries."
One of the most important boundaries drug-using clients are likely to cross—like Dan the Welshman—are our limits around safer sex. "Most of my clients request drugs because they want to share an extra kind of intimacy with me… casually trying to coerce bareback, for example," New York state sex worker "M" tells me.
While sex workers have been unfairly characterized as vectors of disease for centuries, it's our clients who are the ones angling for barrier-free sex, especially when they're high. A recent widely publicized example is Charlie Sheen: He claimed in his open letter to fans disclosing his HIV positive status that in his often coke-fueled liaisons with sex workers he "always led with condoms." But prominent New York madam Anna Gristina has claimed Sheen paid extra for unprotected sex between 2009 and 2010, a time when cocaine was allegedly delivered to his LA mansion in large quantities. And his porn performer ex-girlfriend Bree Olson told the Howard Stern Show that throughout their relationship, which ended in 2011 well after he was diagnosed, he used lambskin condoms, which don't protect sexual partners from STI infection.
My clients are boring old farts, so they see their drug use as something that makes them cool and edgy —Maxine, an NYC massage worker
Aside from the fact that the risk of unprotected sex looms larger when drugs are involved, even sex workers who are drug users often prefer to keep a clear head while engaging in work where we navigate potential criminalization and violence. Or, more prosaically, we just don't want to taint a high with the work of placating a client throughout it. "The client being around while I get high kind of ruins the high for me," says M.
Our drug use and a client's drug use are not viewed the same way—and for sex workers who are drug users, this can make babysitting a client who's high out of his mind while you're stone cold sober sadly ironic. "It's not OK for sex workers to spend our income on drugs, but it's OK if you are a lawyer to buy cocaine," observes Ryry.
"I think the public views client drug use as more like an occasional indiscretion, often brought on by the sex worker," echoes Maxine.
In contrast, even clients who do drugs themselves tend to have nothing but disdain for our drug use. "I was always conscious about the power dynamics when seeing a client, so I never admitted to using or being high," recalls Meg. "I was fully aware that they would probably see me differently and potentially use that to push boundaries, get freebies, trade sex for drugs, or even get violent/abusive."
"And it's clear that sex workers who use drugs are automatically categorized as financially desperate, willing to do anything for their next fix or line, the bottom of the social barrel… having no boundaries or standards," she continues. "Clients, on the other hand, are often viewed as simply men with a problem, often pitied more than made the objects of social derision and scorn."
"My clients are boring old farts, so they see their drug use as something that makes them cool and edgy, while they view the drug use of some of my coworkers [at the massage parlor] as evidence [that] they are sad and broken," Maxine observes bitterly.
When white middle-class men like our clients use drugs, it is at worst a tragic vice, not a marker of sociopathy. The sex workers these men call upon to facilitate their double lives are the ones that typically get to wear the scarlet A for their addiction. These men, on hiatus from their lives on the straight-and-narrow, expect us to cater to them on their benders, often leaving us to nanny reckless, inexperienced users.
It's particularly sobering to remember, while in session with an addled client whose drugs are strewn about the hotel room, that were we to be caught, the legal consequences would not be the same for him as for me. Client drug use is a situation that starkly clarifies the difference between a criminalized person and a more privileged person who sometimes indulges in criminalized behavior behind closed doors.