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The Girlfriend Experience

A wide-ranging, in-depth interview with a "girlfriend experience" escort about the biz.

According to definitions scattered through the internet, a girlfriend experience—or, GFE, to use the SEO-optimizing abbreviation—is a "commercial experience that blurs the line between financial interaction and romantic relationship." Sex happens, yes. More broadly categorized, GFE is escort work. But what else goes on that justifies the steep costs—prices vary, but $500/hour is a good baseline—associated with the service?


To find out, I spoke to Jessica, a Bay Area escort in her mid-20s.

VICE: How'd you get into escort work?

Jessica: I'd moved back to the Bay Area and started working at restaurants. At some point, they fired me, and I didn't have money for rent. I had a friend who was a stripper, so it was always in the back of my mind, and one night, I went into the city and auditioned, and they put me to work. I made $1,200 that night, mostly because I was like, _Aw, I don't know what I'm _doing__. It took me a month to know how to be sexy. I ended up doing that for four years. Then, the economy crashed, and nobody had any money to blow on strippers.

And right into escort work?

No. There's something about strippers—I realize I was one of them—that makes them think they're superior to other sex workers because they don't provide an actual sex service. There's a superiority thing.

So what'd you do?

I started nude modeling on Model Mayhem, a company of mainly just creepy guys with cameras. There are no clear boundaries. I had people ask me while they were photographing me if they could finger me, and it's like, no. You absolutely can't. You're my photographer. I tried to get back into restaurant work, but I didn't have enough experience. No one would hire me. That's when my brain clicked and said, You need to open your mind to what you're capable of doing and what's a good gig.

What's the first step to becoming an escort?


It's really hard to do because it's such a clandestine industry, so you can't research it. I reached out to girls whose ads I liked and said, "I'm thinking about getting into the industry, and I was wondering if you could give me pointers." Of course, not a ton got back to me because it's fishy, but some did with links to information. Their main advice was to make sure you get good pictures, make sure you screen properly, be safe, and be yourself. Very basic, but it helped me to slap together my first website. I put myself out there as already being a professional, like I'd been doing it for a long time. I didn't want people to know I was brand new. One thing I know is guys will take advantage of brand-new girls.

How did you advertise?

I used to put it on Cityvibe, but it's garbage. And RedBook when it was a thing. To get good ad space, it cost $400 a month. On Eros, it's $300 for placing an ad; to bump it up to VIP is another $100. To get front page placement is another $100 a week. But Eros is good because the guys using it know what they want.

What about websites with review sections?

The review section of any website is super misogynistic. RedBook had one, and theErotic Review has one. I don't allow people to write reviews of me. Those people are dirtbags. It's a super creepy thing, writing reviews about a humans like they're products. So much of review culture is bragging. "I did this, and she did all this shit." It's a pissing contest. I have an account on Preferred411, a community of escorts who've been vouched by clients and clients who've been vouched by escorts. That's a safe, mutually beneficial community for people seeking one another.


How do you protect yourself against creeps?

A lot is preliminary protection. I require whoever wants to see me to present his driver's license. So if anything comes up, I have his name. He's not totally anonymous. That's a difference if I show up at a hospital, and they check for DNA because someone assaulted me and don't have records for this person. If nothing shows up, those people are free to do whatever they want with whomever they want. If they're anonymous, I wouldn't be able to protect other girls. A lot comes down to self-protection, but also protecting my own community.

What is the community-based protection like?

For guys who don't want to give their legal names or work details, some girls will allow referrals. Basically, a guy will say I've seen this girl and that girl, and he'll give her contact info, and she will contact the escort. "I just got a date request. He describes himself looking like this, and he saw you at this time. Can you confirm he was a real person, was respectful, and you'd see him again?" Nine times out of ten, she'll say yes. We're good at getting back to one another quickly. There's a sense of camaraderie.

But you don't allow referrals?

I learned from another girl who doesn't accept references because she had too many experiences with girls not giving the full information, or having a different standard for what's respectful. Also, for people who have something up their sleeves, they're not going to see people who demand their legal name. They're going to try to stay as anonymous as possible. It weeds out a certain type of person. And it also weeds out people who are way too skittish to even consider seeing someone like me.


What's the difference between a "date" and your own personal life dates?

When I'm "recreational dating"—that's the term I give it, recreational, instead of work dating—to willingly engage in sexual activity with people, I have to be raging hard-on attracted to them. They have to walk in the room, and I have to feel everything in my body melt. With work, I have to like more things than I don't like. If my basis of attraction for clients were the same as what it is for dating, I would not see many of my clients.

When do you tell people you want to recreationally date about your job?

Immediately. My basis for friendship, the one thing that really makes or breaks a friendship with me, is I tell them I'm an escort, and you can see the red lights flashing in their brain. You're like, "That's kinda that." It has to get out of the way. I can't pursue anything with anyone who isn't cool with it.

And I'm sure people think they're cool with it, then…

People are like, "That sounds fine." But they don't think it through, or we're just going to have a casual thing. I can casually date people. But then we get closer, and develop feelings for each other, and there's the elephant in the room. To me, it's not an elephant. I'm perfectly capable of being in a monogamous relationship, in the sense of not seeing anyone outside of my clients. I draw a pretty fine line between what I do for work and whom I see in my personal life.


What if your client's blurring those lines too much, with "off-the-clock" texts and messages and such?

I don't talk about those things with a partner, because even though the lines are blurred, there's still a distinction. This person's who's texting me or saying I can't wait to see you again—I know that person is ultimately my client and not my partner.

Have clients tried to switch into an actual relationship?

Yeah. A lot. One time I actually laughed at him, and I feel really bad for doing it. Mostly. He was really into himself, really wealthy, thought that he was doing me a favor by asking me. I could not help but laugh because it was so preposterous, and so presumptuous, and self-serving. He ended up not taking it too personally because his ego was big enough to handle that kind of blow.

What happens if you turn someone down when he's trying to make the switch?

Usually, those people stop contacting me. More than a relationship with me is… they want to fuck someone for free. They want to not have to pay for it.

Do you ever turn people down for sex on a date?

I do, yes. It took awhile to build up this internal strength to have boundaries. As a woman, it's scary to reject men. It's always scary to reject men. It's even scarier to reject clients because they get it in their heads… mostly, they completely understand you're under no obligation to have sex. You're here to see them, and if something happens, something happens. Every so often, they'll get it in their heads that they're entitled to whatever because they paid. To explain that to those people puts you in a dangerous position, because they believe you're going to give them something they want, whether or not you like it.


Have you been in a dangerous situation?

No. But I'm sure that has to do with how aggressively I screen. When I put my first website up, I described myself as cutesy and sweet and submissive, and by describing myself like that, I was attracting people who were seeking to dominate. I don't think they were necessarily bad people, but I think the miscommunication made it such that the experiences were mismatched. It was not positive on my end. I really don't fault the clients for that. I learned really quickly and changed the descriptions. Since, I'd say 70 percent of dates have been super positive; I'd be really happy to see them again. Maybe 30 percent is, they're nice, but for whatever reason, we didn't click.

Do you see them again if you don't click?

Sure, yeah. If they want to see me again, I'm like, "Um, OK, I guess." And on the next date, they're loosened up and super relaxed and being themselves more. Sometimes the clicking happens later.

What are your usual clients like?

Rich guys. Usually over 40. Sometimes married, usually single. Most guys are not weird or creepy; they're super normal. Just something motivates them to see someone like me versus seeking out some girl in a bar, or at a coffee shop, or wherever. A lot has to do with safety; the married guys or the ones in relationships who feel they can't leave. It's a safe way for them to get something they need without seriously harming someone else. As in, maybe a lover or a partner they take on the side who develops feelings for them, and everything's a shit-show.


It's easy to sever ties with you.

Absolutely. You can sever the tie as soon as you need. They know I'm not going to get emotionally attached to the point of jeopardizing the relationship they have with their partner. Who is maybe not giving them everything they need. Not like your partner has to give you everything you need. But, you know, if the only thing missing is sex, and everything else is great and wonderful, they don't feel the need to leave. I don't blame them. They're like, this is my life partner, this is the person I love tremendously, but she doesn't want to have sex with me anymore, and I'm not going to make her dothat. I'm also not going to leave her because she doesn't want to, because everything else is perfect.

How do you deal with knowing you're "the other woman?"

It was something I struggled with because I wouldn't personally cheat on a partner. I don't see dishonesty around sexuality and fidelity being an OK thing. At the same time, I can't anticipate what my clients' personal lives are going to be when I meet them. By the time I find out they have a spouse, at that point, we've already seen each other a couple times, and have developed an arrangement or connection. Honestly, if I were to say "no married men" on my website, I'd lose a lot of business! Maybe it's selfish to think in those terms, but, really, it's not my relationship. I'm not going to this person and saying, "I love you, I need you, leave your wife." I'm just doing my job. Maybe I'm a facilitator of something that'd make someone else really, really upset, but I'm not the initiator. I'm a passive accomplice in someone else's infidelity. They were going to find somebody. I'm probably not the only one, but like the 30th person they've seen that year. I don't see myself as some kind of succubus trying to take men out of their marriages. In fact, I've had to talk with a few of them who, in my view, were being really quite unsafe with their behaviors.


What happened there?

They weren't taking enough precautions with protection. I've had people ask me if I would not use protection, and I was like, "You're on crack. It's crazy you'd even ask me that." Especially since they're married, and some are still sleeping with their spouses. I get some people with sex addictions, so they have to fuck everybody, even if they love their wife and have a great sex life. One person was telling me about seeing a bunch of girls in the same day and at some point a condom came off, and I was like, "You need to be more careful." That's unfair to the person you're married to, who loves you, who's counting on you to treat her with respect. There's a very good chance if you were to contract something, and she doesn't know about it, she could go years and years and years having an infection that could make her infertile, or that could kill her. If you actually love this person, and you're a decent person, you need to be more careful.

Did he continue seeing you?

He stopped. I think it was too real for him, and he took it way too personally. I think he felt judged. But it wasn't about judgment. It was, I'm not going to let something happen like that without me saying something. It was bullshit behavior, and he should've known better.

Do you require your clients to be tested?

No. I trust if you're seeing me, and if it goes in that direction, and we both use protection, then we're being as safe as we can. There's an unspoken assumption they're doing as much as they can to protect themselves, and you're doing the same. But to really talk about it and get into it would be presuming that sex is a guarantee, and then you start setting a precedent. It has to be one of those things where you do what you can. You get tested, and you use protection. I've been doing this for three years, and I've not contracted anything. I know the necessary protections for each type of thing. That's not to say I'll never contract anything, but if I do, it won't be the end of the world. It'll be really hard to tell people they're going to have to get tested. For people in the industry, especially for men cheating on their wives, that's the biggest fear. But they should also be more careful because it's the risk they take.


How many dates do you go on?

I'm expecting to have five to six dates in the coming week. That's more than usual. Usually, it's three or four a week. I did two dates in one day once, but it was rough. It's an eight-hour day of being… just on for two completely different people. It's also tougher if I've never met a client before and don't know what to anticipate. My attention needs to be higher, the amount of focus I need to use to find out what he's going to need from me. When it's someone you know, you get used to his rhythms. You get used to the jokes you know to laugh at, if that makes any sense? Some people you don't understand their humor, but you still laugh at their jokes because they want you to.

Do you file taxes?

I'm supposed to. I intend to do so this year. I'm a few years late, which is really bad. A part of it is with what I claimed in terms of how much I make—it means out-of-pocket, I'm paying a shit-load of taxes.

What do you list yourself under in taxes?

I say self-employed entertainment/counselor.

That seems accurate.

The IRS doesn't care. They just want me to pay them.

Have you ever been hassled by cops?

I have not. They're not looking for people like me. They can't prove I'm soliciting sex, because I'm not. I'm just not. I'm a companionship service, and if anything sexually happens within that time frame, it's not on the basis of having been provided payment. It's easier to go after—I'm not going to say amateur, because it's part of the industry, I think all of us are professional—but the girls who are distinctly selling a sexual product. For people who ask for sex in person, I'm direct with them and say, "For me to be doing this with you, it's me doing this out of my own… It's not even desire. It's my choice.

What's the long-term goal with the career?

I can't see myself doing it super long-term, making this my only job. I still see myself working one-on-one with people, providing emotional support, but in the context of different work. I don't want to get bored. I get depressed if I don't have things to learn and everything becomes meaningless if I don't have something pushing or driving me. And it's one thing to learn new information about a particular human being, but people are not interesting enough. They're just not! The information I gather and experiences I can have with clients has a limitation. So I can see myself getting bored of similar interactions and relationships. One thing that's great about developing a relationship with someone is being able to learn new things about him, seeing him evolve. But when your interactions with another person are deliberately limited, it limits the scope of information you can gather about him.

This is a means-to-an-end thing then?

I live in one of the most expensive places in the entire world. Rents are skyrocketing. And I don't like a lot of traditional work. I don't like working in the food industry, and my only available options at the time were that or this, and that wasn't good enough. For what I studied, there are so few jobs available, and what jobs there are don't pay well. They're not something I can do full time because I'd never make enough. What they pay is barely enough for my apartment, and I wouldn't be able to save money. I want to own a house. I want a dog so bad. And to do that, you need to save. So, for now, it's about using the time I have while I'm still young and cute and fresh, and using that money to make a transition into grad school and into a job where I'm going to be happy.

The interview was conducted over two meetings, and edited and condensed for clarity. Also changed: Jessica's name.

The Girlfriend Experience on VICE is a two-part editorial series. Read part 2 here.

Sponsored by The Girlfriend Experience, a STARZ Original Series that follows Christine Reade played by Riley Keough, as she enters the provocative world of paid intimacy and high-end escorting. Every episode available beginning 4/10 on STARZ.

This article was paid for by Starz and was created independently from VICE's editorial staff.