Among the million or so U.S. sex workers is a subset that is rarely discussed: women over the age of 50. Right now, there aren’t government bodies or academics tracking sex workers by age group, but Erotic Monkey, a popular website where escorts advertise, lists 4,835 women 45 and up in the U.S.
What is it about the job, outside of the money, that appeals to older sex workers? And just who are their clients?
VICE asked five 50- and 60-something OnlyFans models, escorts and porn stars to find out. These sex workers come from all walks of life—a former Mexican movie star, a one-time Christian missionary, and an ex-Marine, among them. Older sex workers defy stereotypes about the profession. Many pursue it as an after-retirement revenue stream, akin to a grandmother’s part-time job at Dress Barn. All of them tell VICE that sex work is fulfilling.
Note: All images in this article are of Sexy Vanessa.
The Original MILF: Sexy Vanessa, 69, Las Vegas, NV
In the 1970s, a red-haired, voluptuous 20-year-old showgirl was preening on stage in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when a theatrical agent discovered her. He urged her to move to Mexico City, so that Vanessa, who trained in classical ballet for 15 years, could dance in theaters and fancy clubs. She took his advice.
Soon, Vanessa was moving up the showbiz ladder, starring in comedy movies alongside Mexican film stars. Her first feature was Albures Mexicanos (“albures” loosely means “double entendre”), where she appeared as a showgirl. That was followed by a number of exploitation-type films, including Las Modelos de Desnudos (The Naked Models). For eight years, her career flourished, and she seemed poised to spend her life as a successful actress. That was until, at age 30, she made the mistake of engaging in an affair with a 50-something married Mexican politician. His wife, who happened to be the sister of the country’s president, found out. The next thing Vanessa knew, she had two days to leave the country, forcing her to decamp back to Argentina. She continued working with Mexican directors (one of whom flew her to Texas to star as the wife of a sheriff in Masacre en Rio Grande), but the dramatic departure from Mexico slowed her career’s momentum.
For the next 17 years, Vanessa’s tumultuous relationships dominated much of her life. She moved to Miami, where she got married to a much-older retiree, then promptly divorced him a month later after a disastrous European vacation during which she discovered she couldn’t stand him. She wasted no time in finding a second husband who helped support her. They were happy and in love, but there was one downside. He happened to be “the biggest [drug] smuggler in Miami.” After three years, he got caught in a deal that went bad and was sent to prison. She was in her late 40s and needed to support herself, so she began working as a showgirl again. After her husband got out of prison, they tried to make their relationship work, but she fell in love with another man 17 years her junior and got her second divorce.
“The young guys love older women.”
While dancing on stage around age 50, she was spotted by a producer from the porn company Reality Kings, scouting out his newest movie, MILF Hunters. Vanessa, with her flaming red hair and toned body, seemed perfect for the lead. When he asked her if she wanted to star in MILF Hunters, she said to herself, Why not? You cannot dance forever.
She flew to Las Vegas to film alongside Sean, a handsome actor about 20 years younger. “I was not nervous at all,” she said. “It was a little different to be naked and having sex, but it was completely comfortable.”
Vanessa had so much fun shooting that she sold her penthouse in Miami and bought a ten-bedroom house in Vegas to begin her new career in earnest, calling herself “Sexy Vanessa.” For years, Sexy Vanessa, with her voluminous breasts, pillowy lips, and shock of red hair, was in high demand at studios. “I’m the first MILF,” she said, laughing. But she grew weary of companies making money off of her while she only got a small cut. She also wanted to choose her co-stars. “I want to have fun when I work,” she said. In 2009, she moved back to Florida and started her own website the following year.
“I’m making money with my feet. It’s so easy.”
As the market shifted and fans desired more interaction with performers, Vanessa switched to OnlyFans. Vanessa prefers OnlyFans to studio porn because it’s safe. “I don’t have to be with anybody I don’t want to be,” she said. “You’re working in your home, you’re relaxed.” She posts sexy photos and videos, and she also FaceTimes with fans, calls them for phone sex, and sexts. Custom videos are where the 69-year-old brings in the most cash, charging $200 for 10 minutes. Strap-on and foot-fetish videos have been in high demand. “[Fans] say I have pretty feet,” she said. “I’m making money with my feet. It’s so easy.”
If she’s home alone, she’ll take a bubble bath and stream it on OnlyFans. She doesn’t view all of her sex work as difficult labor. “You’re supposed to masturbate every day,” she said. “I’d rather make money when I masturbate.” She usually makes $10,000–$15,000 a month.
Her biggest fans are in their 20s. “The young guys love older women,” she said. They can get younger women very easily, but “an older woman is hard to get—that’s why they’re attractive.” Some of her fans have watched her since they were 14. They tell her that they grew up with her and that she’s their biggest fantasy. They even recognize her in public, and she’s happy to take pictures with them. “They pay my bills,” she said. “So we have to treat them like gold.”
The stigma associated with porn means that she’s no longer cast in mainstream movies and that she’s had to hide her profession from some of the people she loves. She never told her mother, who “wouldn’t have understood,” about her sex work. (Her father died before she got into porn.) But her friends in Argentina are very supportive of her work. “They love what I do,” she said. “They’re married for ages and bored, so it’s exciting for them to hear these stories.”
Since becoming a sex worker, she has happily abandoned the strictures of marriage. She has friends with benefits, but she said she doesn’t let them stay for more than two days. “I don’t want nobody else in my house,” she said. “It’s my three cats and me, and I’m happy.”
The Reformed Missionary: Lady X, 58, Midwest
In the 1990s, Lady X was proselytizing in the heart of Chile. She was a 20-something virgin from the D.C. area who was saving herself for marriage, just like her parents and the church had taught her to. But Lady X soon found she wasn’t cut out for being a missionary: She didn’t feel comfortable asking people for money, and she felt insecure working in a distant country. She returned to the U.S. to get a degree in journalism, got a job as a newspaper reporter, and waited for a Christian Mr. Right. By the time she turned 35, he still hadn’t shown up. “I was like, OK, I’m done waiting. I’m gonna lose my virginity,” she said. “I went online, and I met guys. I realized that I loved sex.” She stopped going to church. For two years, she slept with a bunch of different guys and got into swinging.
She’d fantasized about escorting since she was a teenager, and after meeting someone in the industry, she made a go of it at the age of 38. “It just made sense,” she wrote to VICE. In her 40s, she landed a job working in marketing for a large health insurance company and cut her escorting hours down. When she fell in love with an escort client, she quit escorting altogether. “I wanted to be a good Christian girl again,” she said. “Part of the reason I married him is because I was like, Oh, he’s saving me from this bad life.”
She divorced after 11 years of marriage because her husband, who had initially said he wanted to raise foster kids with her, changed his mind. Lady X started fostering children by herself, which ended up being more expensive than she expected. Because she was still working full-time for the insurance company, she couldn’t watch the kids during the day, so she enrolled them in summer school, which cost $3,000 a month. Money was tight, her Christian husband was gone, and she missed escorting, so at age 55, she waded back in. She kept her insurance job and escorted on the weekends and during lunch hours.
When she got laid off after 19 years, she didn’t have to look for another job. Today, she usually sees around five clients a week at $300 an hour, but sometimes as many as seven. She could see more clients, but she doesn’t always want to. “I need lots of energy to project super happiness and excitement [to clients],” she said. “And I don't always feel that all the time.”
“I so much want to say, ‘You should just try escorting—you will feel so much better about yourself.’”
Usually, a date starts with her answering her condo door in a sexy body stocking. She ferries her client to her bathroom and asks him to wash his hands and rinse with mouthwash while she waits for him on a loveseat in the bedroom. “I always have cheese and crackers and different drinks,” she said. When he comes back from washing up, he sits next to her, and they talk and eat. “A lot of what they’re looking for is companionship in addition to sex,” she said. After some talking, she’ll give them a kiss. Usually, they end up having sex, and it’s always protected. “Mostly it’s just boring straight sex,” she said. But “there are a couple guys that I’ll pretend to be their boss, and they’re my bad worker or my good worker.” Sometimes guys want to go for another round of sex. “If we get finished sooner than the hour, and they want to go again, I will,” she said. “Whatever energy they have, I will meet it.”
Her clients range in age from their 20s to their 80s, and the older ones, she said, “don’t want a 25-year-old person like their daughter.” Her oldest client is a married 87-year-old who tells his wife he’s going to play golf when he comes to see her. Recently he texted her asking for a same-day appointment, which she rarely allows, so she texted him back saying, “No, but it’s a good day for golf.”
He responded, “My doctor told me not to play golf for a few weeks.”
Lady X became worried. “I’m thinking, Why do you want to see me? That’s more intense than golf.” She may drop him as a client.
When she first started sex work, Lady X said she had very low self-esteem about her looks. “My ex didn’t make me feel very good,” she said. “In the first few months [of sex work], I would wear fancy lace gloves. I was trying to be totally covered up because I don’t want people to look at me and go, She’s old.” But soon she recognized that clients did want to see her body. “I feel so much more confident now,” she said. “All the guys that I see, they love me.”
Lady X’s mother doesn’t know she does sex work. “She would freak out,” she said. “She would start praying for me madly.” Most of her friends don’t know either. She tried telling three of them. “They don’t want to really hear about it,” she said, or they tell her to be safe, which she does by verifying her clients through a security agency she hires. Lady X just thinks that they’re missing out. My friends “all have really low self-esteem,” she said. “And I so much want to say, ‘You should just try escorting—you will feel so much better about yourself.’”
The AARP-Eligible Erotic Masseuse: Bonnie, 54, Midwest
In the early 1990s, Bonnie began her career in a Minneapolis strip club, Solid Gold, because a friend who worked there met a drummer from the Cult who later joined Guns N’ Roses. Solid Gold was part of a strip club empire scattered across the country, including the Dollhouse, which Motley Crue sings about in “Girls, Girls, Girls.” Bonnie got a job so she could “meet rock stars,” as well. When Bonnie’s friend accompanied Guns N’ Roses on tour as a groupie, she invited Bonnie to come along. While the musicians soundchecked, Bonnie went to spas and learned massage techniques to use on the guys after the show. “I would just pay attention to what [the masseuses] would do,” she said.
“I made more money than most of the girls that are 10 to 15 years younger.”
After the tour, she settled down, got married, had a kid, and got a full-time job in advertising. Then, in 2017, when she was 49, she was laid off. “I was applying everywhere,” she said, but had trouble finding work due to felony probation. When a friend of hers began escorting, Bonnie was interested. “I had tried [escorting] back in 2006 for a couple of months because I was desperate for money,” she said. It hadn’t worked out because she’s not, as she put it, a “hey, wanna fuck?” type of girl. This time around, she did erotic massage, which seemed better suited to her skills. She rented a room for $40 an hour in a candle-filled, furnished, and remodeled room in a warehouse in a nice neighborhood.
She didn’t have high expectations about a booming business. “I thought that I might get a few massages here or there,” said Bonnie. “I’m old and overweight, [so I thought], No one’s gonna want to get with that.” She was wrong—clients couldn’t get enough of her.
“I made more money than most of the girls that are 10 to 15 years younger,” she said. “They're looking at me with their mouths wide open.” She attributes her popularity, in part, to her advertising background. “I knew how to market myself,” she said. “I had a website up within two months and professional photos, and that really set me apart.” She used to see 10 to 20 clients a week at $150 for an hour-long massage, but now, she charges $200 an hour for two to four clients a week at her home. The most requested sex act? A blow job.
She said that older guys “want somebody that they can talk to.” Younger men sometimes reach out to her because they have a mommy fetish, but she has her limits—and role-playing someone’s mom is one of them.
The Shotgun-Toting Former Truck Driver: Laura, 60, Las Vegas, NV
Laura was driving trucks in her 20s when she met and fell in love with a much older fellow truck driver. She married him, got pregnant, and quit driving. Five children later, she was selling advertising and bemoaning her sexless marriage. “The only sex we had was when he wanted kids,” she said.
After almost three decades of marriage, he passed away, and she struggled financially, taking jobs sewing mattress tops and selling ads online that barely covered the bills. After her kids moved out, she decided it was time to add another part-time job. She wanted good pay, flexible hours, and no meddling boss. She also wanted something fun, and since she loved sex, she became an escort at age 53. Laura didn’t want her kids to find out, so she moved to Las Vegas from the East Coast. “My kids were kind of shocked when I told them I was going to move,” she said. “They didn’t think I would move out in the hot weather.”
When she arrived in Vegas, she posted an ad on Craigslist, wondering if anybody would hire a woman in her 50s. The inquiries immediately poured in. “I was scared to death,” she said. “Since I was 24, I’d been with no one but my husband.”
Her first appointment was an “in call,” meaning that she met the guy at her house. “It was strange to know that I was going to be with somebody else that wasn’t my husband,” she said. “But I kind of blocked that out of my mind.”
“I always tell them, ‘Listen, I’m 61 years old. I am not a porn star. So you’re not gonna pound me for an hour.’”
That 15-minute appointment, for which she charged $30, went well. Six years later, he’s still her client. She’s since raised her rates to $50 for 15 minutes and doesn’t plan on going much higher. “I don’t think that any pussy is worth $100 for 15 minutes,” she said.
Laura calls her clients “visitors”—because “visitors always return”—and has about three to four of them a day, ranging in age from 34 to 70. Most are on the younger side. “They want to experience what it’s like to be with an older woman,” she said. But she will “not see anyone that is younger than my kids.”
Recently, Laura’s 20-something son’s friend contacted her through her online ad to book an appointment. “I said, ‘I can’t see you! You’re a baby, and you’re my son’s best friend!’” She fears he’s outed her to her son, who thinks she still works selling ads online.
Most of her clients are regulars. Some have even brought her soup when she was sick. She doesn’t always use condoms. “I see a doctor every six months. And she knows what I do,” she said. “So she always makes sure that everything is OK.”
She has had some scary clients. “I had one guy, he wanted a girlfriend experience. So he took me out to dinner and all this good stuff,” she said. He couldn’t get an erection during sex, but the date seemed to end well until he started stalking Laura. “He kept coming back and knocking on my door, trying to grope me and stuff,” she recalled.” I said, ‘You can't be here.’ He said, ‘But I’m your boyfriend.’ And I said, ‘No, you’re not. I don’t even like you—go away.’”
One day, he came over, and she opened the door a bit. She lodged her foot between the door jamb and the door to protect herself, but also to create a big enough opening so he could see the gun hanging on the wall.
“Oh, you got a shotgun. Do you know how to use it?” she recalled him saying.
“Do you want to find out?” she replied. He’s only come back once since then.
Laura said becoming a sex worker “made me not scared of anything anymore. But I have a shotgun that hangs on my wall, and a taser that’s always close.”
The Former Aircraft Mechanic Who Specializes in the Auntie Experience: Denise, 61, Chicago, IL
Denise always thought she was destined to serve her country. “When I was 12 years old, I went up to my mom and I said, ‘I’m going to be a United States Marine,’ and she laughed,” Denise recalled. She graduated early from high school, and in 1978, when Denise was 17, her mom signed the paper allowing her to be a Marine. She achieved her dream and became an aircraft mechanic. Yet the Marines in the 1970s was a nightmare for women. She lived in the men’s barracks, one of three women surrounded by 250 men. “I was sexually assaulted more than once, and they didn’t do anything about it,” she said. She recalled a higher-up telling her, “We’ll give you a couple thousand and an honorable discharge if you just get out instead of pressing charges.” Her mother told her to take the deal. So she did.
After leaving the Marines, she missed it desperately. Her mom got her a job as a printer. But Denise wasn’t happy, so she went to college, had a kid, and became a social worker. “It [was] rewarding, but I couldn't survive on the pay as a single parent,” she said.
When she wasn’t working, she was dating. One night, after a bad karaoke date, she came home drunk, flopped on the bottom bunk bed, and complained to her roommate who was in the top bunk. Denise’s roommate swung down from the top bunk.
“Why are you dating all those losers for free? You could be an escort,” she roommate said.
“No! I’m fat. I’m old,” replied Denise. She was 34 years old.
Her roommate showed her pictures of larger escorts online, but Denise still wasn’t convinced. The next day, Denise’s roommate secretly created a profile for her on AOL under the “BBW” (big beautiful woman) category and showed Denise the profile. After she looked at the responses, Denise decided to try escorting out. “I had my first date, and I was hooked immediately,” she said. “A month later, I quit my job as an elder abuse investigator.”
Because Denise had a child, she couldn’t see clients in her apartment, so she met them at a hotel down the street. That was until her daughter, by then a teenager, landed a job at the hotel, and Denise had to change locations. She found another hotel that charged $20 for four hours. “I always felt like I was a natural-born lover,” she said. “It was the perfect job.”
“You got to worry about the shooters. They don’t tell you they’re shooters, and next thing you know there’s semen all over the ceiling.”
Denise usually greets clients at her apartment with a warm hug while wearing a leopard robe. They talk for a few minutes, she gives them some water, and then she ushers them into her “play room,” where she keeps wipes, lubricant, and condoms. With younger clients, she offers a warning: “I always tell them, ‘Listen, I’m 61 years old. I am not a porn star. So you’re not gonna pound me for an hour.’”
She said most new clients are very shy, so she rubs their shoulders to relax them. Then, she gives them an erotic massage while they’re kissing, “which gets them really crazy.” Clients will beg you to have sex without a condom, she said. “I’m like, Have you lost your motherfucking mind?” After sex, she cleans them up with a warm washcloth. There are a couple of things she won’t do: anal sex and intercourse with extremely large penises. “If they pull out a 14-inch dick, I’ll tell them straight up: No full service,” she said.
Denise, who will see clients of any legal age, has numerous young ones. The youngest was 18. “Sixty percent of the men who see [me] are really into the mother-son or aunt-nephew scenario, so I cater to that. It’s a specialty of mine,” she said. “I call it the Auntie Denise experience.” She tacks $50 onto her $250-an-hour fee for it. Denise’s older clients, who are often married, are looking for something different. “They love their wives, they would never leave them,” she said. “But they need to get satisfied sexually.”
Her clients vary in other ways. Some are animalistic, and she has to tell them to calm down. Others are so placid that she doesn’t even know they’re enjoying sex until she sees them ejaculate. Semen is occasionally a problem. “You got to worry about the shooters,” she said. “They don’t tell you they’re shooters, and next thing you know there’s semen all over the ceiling.”
Most of her screening of clients is based on intuition, but sometimes it’s off. She once had a client who was a cop. He pulled out his badge and three of his fellow officers came storming in. They asked to see her breasts, then raided her house, taking her marijuana, an iPad, and $800. They offered her a deal: If she helped them bust a man they were looking for, she wouldn’t go to jail. She took the deal.
Denise successfully hid her sex work from her daughter for years, until she was recovering from kidney surgery and stayed with her daughter and her husband. Whenever Denise left the house to see a client, they asked her where she was going, and there was a limit to how many times they believed she was making hour-long trips to the grocery store. After struggling to make up excuses, she got a part-time job for Uber to hide her job as a sex worker. Whenever she booked an appointment with a client, she told them she was going for a drive. In spite of her extreme attempts to hide her job, her daughter’s friends found Denise’s profile online and her daughter became very upset. But that didn’t stop Denise.
She’s now 61 and, after surviving kidney cancer, is still flourishing in what she calls her “perfect job”—one that has made her more self-confident in her body. “I’ve had three clients ask me in the last week for full-length, nude pictures,” she said. “I’m like, ‘My stomach [and] my boobs are sagging! Are you kidding me?’ And they’re like, ‘That’s what I love about you!’ As long as I’m still getting that reaction, I’m gonna stay in the business. It’s good for self-esteem. It’s good for paying bills.”
The money is important, but once in a blue moon, she gives a discount. She recalled one client who would enter her apartment, kiss her, ejaculate in his pants, and then leave. “In the winter, you could see his pants steaming as he went to his car,” she said, laughing. “I couldn’t charge him more than 50 bucks.”
Hallie Lieberman is a historian and journalist, and the author of “Buzz: The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy.” Follow her on Twitter.