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In 1948, the noted sex researcher Alfred Kinsey reported that 69 percent of men had paid for sex at some point in their lives. The 2005 General Social Survey put the number at closer to 15 percent. The true answer is probably somewhere in between—not just because time has passed and norms have changed, but because getting people to answer such questions honestly is not always possible. Still, it's clear even from the low-end estimates that hiring a sex worker is a pretty normal thing to do. I've been an escort since January 2000, I was a stripper for two years before that, and I practiced what the literature calls "casual prostitution" going back to 1985. In those years I've seen men of all ages, from 18 to 94, and all walks of life, from a truck driver to a U.S. senator. I've made a good living at it, and so do roughly half a million other women in the United States.
Despite being a common activity, buying sexual services can be intimidating. As with all black market transactions, there is an element of risk and uncertainty caused by prohibition. Maybe you're considering buying sex but are unsure how to proceed. Or maybe you've done it in the past but are nervous in the current climate of aggressive "end demand" stings and "john shaming"—complete with names and pictures in the news. Either way, you've come to the right place: Hiring an escort is neither difficult nor dangerous as long as one exercises patience, diligence, and good manners.
Before starting, it's a good idea to have in mind what you're looking for. Is there a particular kind of person you're interested in, such as someone with certain physical characteristics or a certain educational level? Do you have a particular interest—a kink or fetish, for example—that your regular partner is unwilling or unable to fulfill? Maybe you've fantasized about being with a transgender woman, a pair of bisexual temptresses, or a lady who can really wield a whip? Are you sexually bored and looking for someone to give you the kind of bed-busting experience you've seen in porn? Or perhaps you're simply lonely and would like an interesting companion for the evening?
As long as you live in or can travel to a city of at least moderate size, it's extremely likely you'll be able to find a sex worker online who fits the bill. But to do so, you're going to need to do your research, and this is where the patience comes in. Even if you're just looking for a decently attractive gal (or guy!) to give you a good time without drama, it's still a good idea not to be in too much of a rush. Don't jump on your computer at 11 p.m. and expect to have the perfect partner at your door by midnight. Hurrying things is a good way to be disappointed, if not robbed or arrested.
Not to say there aren't escort agencies who might be able to help you in a jiffy, or that behind every goofy emoji-laden ad lurks a cop or con artist. But if you put at least as much effort into choosing an escort as you would into picking a fine restaurant or a mechanic, you'll maximize your chance of having a satisfying experience.
The seizure this year of the classified site Backpage.com by federal authorities (for alleged money laundering and facilitating prostitution) has shaken up sex-work advertising, as has the passage of a new law, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (known as FOSTA). In the wake of FOSTA—which makes it a federal crime to host digital content that promotes or facilitates prostitution and, importantly, allows web publishers and platforms to be held liable—Craigslist shut down its personals section, multiple escorting forums have closed, and some foreign websites have started blocking U.S. visitors. But there are many different places for sex professionals to advertise online, and it is possible to connect without putting you, them, or the platform operator at risk.
These websites range from the no-frills to the glossy, from the local to the international. Though I wish there were an easy, universal formula I could give you for finding such resources, there really isn't. A Google search for "escorts" and your city is not a bad jumping-off point, but be aware that not all of what comes up will be high-quality. There are quite a few scraper sites, for example, that harvest escort ads from legitimate platforms in order to draw page views but don't care whether those ads are current or even real. (I still get calls from a post I put up in Tulsa more than a year before I moved to Seattle in 2015.) Big names such as Eros and Slixa (both hosted outside the United States), or a review board concentrating on your geographic location, are usually a good way to start.
Notice I said "start." Once you look through the ads—and most of the good sites have them subdivided by categories, such as "mature," "GFE" ("girlfriend experience"), "tantra," and so on—and find a service provider you think you'd like to see, the next step is to do a bit more research. Most established professionals will link to their websites from their ads. If you don't see such a link, a search with name and city will often turn it up.
Here comes the "diligence" part: Read the provider's site, and I don't just mean skimming it for the first thing that looks like a point of contact or glancing at the pictures. I mean read it, especially the rates page and the contact information. Trust me, guys, there is nothing that will annoy a pro more than an email containing a bunch of questions that are answered right there on the website. When escorts get together with each other for drinks, this is one of the most common things we bitch about. On the other hand, demonstrating that you did read the site by following the contact instructions correctly is an excellent way to get on your provider's good side from the get-go. (This is especially true of dominatrices, in my experience.)
If you're nervous and/or picky, this is the time to look at the person's online footprint. For years, reviews were a good way to find out what kinds of experiences other clients had with the lady you're considering, but that's not as true as it once was. While many sex workers like getting reviews and will happily point you to them (and some even prefer that you consult them rather than ask questions), others dislike or distrust them. For some, including me, it's a matter of taste: Reviews can often be crass and vulgar even when they're complimentary. They are also regularly embellished to make the reviewer look more studly—so much so that the information conveyed can be…let's just say "less than accurate."
But beyond that, the review system has been undermined by bad actors from both inside and outside of the sex-work community. Unscrupulous clients use the promise of good reviews or the threat of bad ones to coerce inexperienced girls into out-of-bounds activities; unprincipled profiteers sell fake reviews to equally unprincipled escorts; and unethical prosecutors have begun to charge clients who write reviews with "facilitating prostitution." Plus, due to the aforementioned FOSTA, some sites are either closing their reviews to U.S. readers or removing them entirely.
By all means, consult the reviews if a provider has them, but also (or instead) check whether she has a blog, a Twitter account, message-board posts, pictures whose image searches lead you back to a website, and other signs this is a real person rather than a sock puppet created by cops or crooks to ensnare the unwary.
Once you've found a provider you really want to see, verified to your satisfaction that she is an established professional with a history of satisfied customers, and absorbed pertinent public info about rates, hours, etc., it's time to make contact. But be warned: Just as you wanted to know what you were getting, sex workers want to know what they are getting. Reach out in whatever way the website directs, and provide whatever information is requested. Don't try to get cute, and don't act pushy or overly defensive: While you may be worried about being cheated or arrested, we're worried about those things plus the possibility of a rough, abusive, or violent client.
Most providers will ask for references—that is, the names and contact info of other professionals you've seen. For your sake, it's best to give at least two, in case one is slow to respond or doesn't remember you. "Bambi from Backpage, I don't recall her number" ain't gonna cut it. If you have never seen a pro before, or if it's been more than a few years, be honest about that; some will turn you down without references, but others are "newbie friendly" and will screen you by other means, such as employment verification or connecting with you on a site such as LinkedIn. Don't be shy—remember, you've already verified her, and she has no reason to risk her reputation and business by outing you. But if you do feel the provider is asking too much, you should politely decline and find someone else; pressuring a sex worker to "make an exception" won't get you anywhere except onto a blacklist.
(There are also whitelist services that will use employment verification and/or public records to confirm you are who you claim, giving you a number or other tag by which your certification can be looked up from our end. However, they typically charge a fee, not every pro accepts them, and they're going to ask you for screening info as well. I'd advise you to look into those later, after you've decided this is something you want to do regularly.)
If you've done all that and secured an appointment, the rest can be summed up in three words: Be a gentleman. Don't haggle over price, be coy with payment, ask rude or prying questions, push boundaries, or even think about asking for unprotected sex. Do be prompt (which does not mean "early"), clean (that means soap, including your whole crotch region), generous (a tip or small gift is not expected, but it is definitely appreciated), and as respectful as you would be of any other businessperson. If you have to cancel, do so far in advance, and if that isn't possible, either offer to pay for the session anyway or at the very least send a generous gift card.
In short, act as if you really want to impress, and there's an extremely high chance she will do the same for you.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "What to Know Before You Pay for Sex".