Last November Andrea Werhun was a part of the CBC documentary Sugar Sisters talking about her time spent as an escort. While Werhun had been out as a former sex worker to close friends and family members for years, the documentary was the first occasion where she addressed it publicly. Since then, Werhun has been using the attention gained from Sugar Sisters to advocate for the decriminalization of sex work and has documented her experiences in the upcoming memoir Modern Whore. The book a series of stories and photographs in collaboration with filmmaker Nicole Bazuin and highlights the highs and lows of having sex for money.
Recently I had the chance to chat with Werhun about the different types of connection, johns, and the nature of shame. You can read our interview below.
VICE: How did you decide that you wanted to be a sex worker?
Andrea Werhun: I was taking a creative writing class at the University of Toronto, and when I look at my writing at the time, I noticed all my female protagonists were exchanging sex or sexuality for money. They were all really happy about it, too. And it just sort of hit me that I wanted to be a whore all along. I realized that I wanted to be paid for my gifts. My gifts are being able to relate to people, being able to connect with people, making people laugh, bringing pleasure… there is something almost spiritual about it. Being young and pretty helps, as does also being a horndog.
You say you wanted to be a whore all along? What do you mean by that?
It's just something that I deeply wanted for myself. As a woman I'm expected to offer my time and attention to men for free. To demand something in return is liberating. The vast majority of men in my sessions were looking for connection and the chance to express themselves sexually without the fear of being judged. With a whore they can be honest. I think that's love.
Did any of your clients fall in love with you?
No, but there was real connection. For instance, one of my most regular clients was a paraplegic. He had no feeling below the waist so he couldn't use his dick, but what we did was indicative of all the other things whores can do for clients. We would bathe together, wash and touch each other. After we dried off we would make our way to the bedroom where he'd eat my pussy for an hour or so. When we were finished he would saunter up to the top of the bed and we would talk and hold each other. It was sexually fulfilling in an entirely different way.
Read More: What It's Like to Date a Sex Worker
How much were you paid for your time?
The total was $260 an hour. I got $160 of that.
Escorting affords a certain level of anonymity. Why did you make the decision to go public about your former job?
I don't do shame or secrecy well. It hurts too much. Six months in I told my parents. We'd always been close and I'd like to live in a world where we can be open about these things. My dad was supportive and my mom was heartbroken, but they love me the most in this world, and I knew if they accepted me then I'd have a chance at convincing others to accept me, too. They continued to love me, which is a huge privilege. While I could be real with my parents, for a long time after I left the industry I was afraid of what people would say if they found out.
You were fine with your parents knowing about your sex work, but you were afraid of what acquaintances would say?
For a long time. Yes. That's the nature of shame. It comes from society, and so many of those negative opinions about whores get internalized. You don't have to be a sex worker to know what it's like to feel excluded from society. I couldn't be myself. I couldn't share the stories about these hilarious clients I had. I couldn't share the stories about the shitty clients. Most people weren't in a place where they could deal with my sex work. Granted nowadays I tell people I'm a former sex worker, and they see that I'm comfortable with it, so they are too.
Tell me about your transition out of the sex industry.
When I stopped escorting, I was working behind a front desk and while the job itself and the people I met were great, it was still the most depressed I'd ever been. I was making far less money, wasn't able to set my own schedule, and I no longer had free time to pursue my interests. It was heartbreaking because it was the first time I had hit that real world wall... and because I was also hiding this huge secret, I didn't feel like I could really be myself. That shame was eating away at me so much that I actually ended up leaving Toronto to work on an organic farm.
Wait, you left sex work to work on an organic farm?
Sort of. An opportunity presented itself, and weighing the pros and cons, I decided it was a good time to leave the city and learn about myself through some healing, hard-ass labour. It was physically demanding, but meditative in many ways. There is something special about working the land and...hoeing. Besides there aren't a lot things you can do with a BA in English, especially when you're a former prostitute who is out on the Internet.
I can understand that. Would you ever consider a return to escorting?
I want to be myself without fear. When I got into escorting, it was because I felt it as a call to adventure. I needed that experience for myself. I'm worried that if I returned now it would be solely for the money. Society wants to see whores in one way, and I want to help show everyone that I'm—that all of us sex workers, current or former—are so much more than just that."
This interview was edited for length.
Andrea Werhun is also featured in an upcoming episode of Nirvanna the Band the Show.
Graham Isador is a writer living in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.