Identity

The First Time I Was Paid for Sex

"A lot of sex workers talk about this feeling of crossing a boundary, the first time you’re paid for sex. It’s a transgression—once you’ve done it, you can’t go back. You’re marked by society for life."
January 4, 2018, 2:20pm
Illustration by Niallycat

My First Time is a column and podcast series exploring sexuality, gender, and kink with the wide-eyed curiosity of a virgin. We all know your "first time" is about a lot more than just popping your cherry. From experimenting with kink to just trying something new and wild, everyone experiences thousands of first times in the bedroom—that's how sex stays fun, right?

This week, we're talking to sex worker and activist Lucy Foster about her first experience of being paid for sex.

You can catch My First Time on Acast, Google Play, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

I’ve worked in the sex industry on and off throughout my life. I started doing sex work as a teenager and did it for six years, then stopped for 12 years. At the time, I didn’t think I’d ever go back to it. Right now, I’ve got another freelance job I do, but most of my income comes from sex work.

I grew up in a small English country town. I’d say from the age of about 13 upwards, I went off the rails. I was really into the free party scene and drugs and I saw myself as a party girl—sometimes I even took drugs at school. I haven’t fully unpicked everything that was going on back then, but I think if there had been more awareness about mental health when I was growing up, my life would have turned out differently.

I moved to Amsterdam when I was 17 with some friends. We were so young and on some levels, it was really fun—the whole world was a party and we could get wasted all the time. I don’t think I bought my own drugs until I was about 25; people would always just pay for me.

I got a job as an au pair, and I was living with this family who didn’t know anything about what I was up to. I’d go out all night and sneak in at 8AM and sit on my bed, spinning out for a few minutes, then I’d go downstairs and pretend I’d just woken up and make the kids breakfast. Anyway, after a few months working there—I think I’d turned 18 by this point—I was standing waiting for a tram one day.

I remember it so clearly, even though it was over two decades ago. I even remember what I was wearing: stripy T-shirt, baggy trousers, and Adidas trainers, with my long brown hair parted in the middle.

I saw this couple drive past in a smart car, a man and a woman, and they looked at me. Instantly, I guessed what was going to happen. The man got out of the car and came over and he was like, " We were just looking at you and you look really cool, you could fit into any city anywhere_."_ He asked me how much I was earning, and I told him I was making about 100 guilders [$56] a week, which isn’t a lot of money. He said, " If you want to make more money, here’s my card," and he peeled off a 100 guilder note and gave it to me.

Later that day, I went to a phone booth and I called the number. I met up with this woman who was working for the escort agency in a hotel, and I remember thinking she was the most glamorous person I’d ever met. She had amazing nails and was really beautiful and she told me she’d also been an escort until she’d fallen in love with her pimp, and now she helped manage the agency.

She told me what to do on a booking: you get into the room, put on some beautiful lingerie, and then suggest you have a bath with the client. I went out and shoplifted some lingerie, and turned up at my first booking, which was this young English guy at a really cheap hotel behind the central station. I was going to be making 100 guilders an hour, which seemed like a huge amount of money back then.

I got into the room and it felt really awkward. I remembered what the woman from the escort agency had said, and suggested we have a bath. So we go into his bathroom, and it’s tiny! We both climb into this narrow bath and sit there with our knees up to our chest, and I could see he was kind of amused, like, I was obviously a really unprofessional hooker. It didn’t feel sexy, just ridiculous. After a while, we get out, and I can’t actually remember having sex with him, but I know we did.

Back then, you’d have a driver who’d wait outside the hotel for you and take you to your next job. So I left his hotel, and was driven to another hotel, and another, and another, and we stayed out until daylight. I didn’t realize you were allowed to say when you wanted to stop, so eventually I was like, "Please can we go home?" And the driver said "sure" and drove me home, and honestly by that point I was pretty broken, but I’d earned what seemed like a fortune to me.

A lot of sex workers talk about this feeling of crossing a boundary, the first time you’re paid for sex. It’s a transgression—once you’ve done it, you can’t go back. You’re marked by society for life. Although I see sex work as a job, not an identity, society doesn’t see it that way—it’s not something you can easily do and then put behind you.

Looking back, I feel quite sad about those years. When I started escorting, I’d only had sex like three times—I was basically a virgin. It’s a shame that so many of my sexual firsts were with clients. I had my first orgasm with a client, for example. I feel like that’s a bit sad. I’m not scarred by it, but I feel like it’s not what I would have wished for if I could have designed the perfect life.

Now, I’m part of a sex worker activist scene, but back then I didn’t have any support. It was this huge secret, and it wasn’t until quite recently that I started talking to people. I’m still not out to my family and none of my friends did it, so it was just this weird thing I carried around for a long time.

I carried on working in Amsterdam until I met this guy who I got into an awful, abusive relationship with. We were smoking a lot of crack and smuggling suitcases of weed and pills in and out of South Africa. I quit sex work for him—he was disgusted by it—even though sex work was by far not the most dangerous thing I was doing at that point.

Back then, I was a terrible escort, I used to get complaints, but I just didn’t give a fuck. I literally didn’t know how to give blowjobs and I wasn’t confident about my body. Nowadays, with online forums and reviews, I wouldn’t last five minutes. There was one client—I was on my period, and hadn’t learnt about sponges—and I basically got blood all over the sheets. He was like, "You haven’t been doing this for long, have you?" I just thought, Oh god, I’m rubbish.

After leaving Amsterdam, I worked around the world for six years—Sydney, New Orleans, Fort Lauderdale, London. I find regular jobs really hard because of my mental health, so the good thing about sex work was that you didn’t have to work much. Even if it was grueling getting through it, afterwards you didn’t have to work for two weeks, so I’d just get wasted all the time.

I didn’t see sex work as this negative thing, but it did affect my life a lot. Lying to your family is one thing, but lying to romantic partners is different—it makes you feel like you’ve got a shameful secret that you can’t share with people. Even now, when I get a lot of satisfaction out of sex work, and I feel really proud of how well I’m doing, I’m still not able to tell my family, and I find that frustrating.

Heterosexual cis men in particular tend to have a real problem with sex work, particularly full-service sex work. It’s like when you’re being penetrated with a penis, something is taken away from you. It’s seen as very sullying, even though you’re selling your service, not yourself. I hate that view, and although there’s a lot that’s wrong with the sex industry, there are problems with most industries—that’s just capitalism. Society would do itself a huge service if it applied the level of scrutiny on other forms of work that it applies to sex work in general.

I quit sex work for a while when I was 26 because I fell in love. I got a job in a bar. Bartending was much harder. I remember standing behind the bar, massively disassociating, not even really in the room, and you’d have to do an eight hour shift. It was torture.

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We were together for four years, and after we broke up I never thought I’d go back to sex work. But I met some sex workers and became aware of the activist scene, and thought I’d give it another try. It went really well, and I’m genuinely proud of the business I’m building up now—I don’t work for agencies any more, and I’m making good money and saving.

There’s two perceptions of sex work in the media—the happy hooker, who’s super empowered and makes loads of money and loves sex, and the abused victim. Most people, myself included, don’t fit either of these models. There needs to be more nuance. And obviously we need decriminalization to protect sex workers—the legislation around sex work is ridiculous. I hope that one day this job will be treated like any other form of labor, and that the people working within it are allowed to organize, and work, as they want, with basic labor rights.