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Healing Sexual Trauma through Sensate Focus

One of the most difficult things for me to deal with as a therapist is the aftermath of sexual trauma. And I know that the trouble I have with this is only a tiny fraction of the difficulty my client has as he or she faces his/her past. I share with you a correspondence I’ve had with a 36-year-old man from Boston named Trent.

Dr. Dick,
When I was 10 years my parish priest molested me. It went on for over a year. Mostly, I’ve been able to put this behind me. I’ve been married over a year to this really great gal. She’s been very understanding and supportive, and we love each other very much. A couple of weeks ago when we were having sex, my wife started to massage my bottom. This was the first time someone touched me there since I was 10. At first it felt good, but then I remembered how I felt when I was a kid and freaked out. I started to cry. My poor wife was devastated at the thought of triggering this painful memory. I told her it wasn’t her fault, but we haven’t had sex since. I’m worried, but I don’t know what to do.

Working through a sexual trauma, like the one Trent experienced as a kid, is difficult. But it is essential for regaining a healthy sense of the sexual self. I told Trent—and this applies to any anyone else who has had regrettable early sexual experiences in their past—that I strongly suggested that he and his wife engage a sex-positive therapist to help them get back on track.

Many people have dealt with some kind of sexually related trauma in their lives.  However, some trauma is more severe than others. Emotional scar tissue and painful memories may linger, but you can learn to insulate yourself from the disruptive effects of the past in the present. Thanks to the indomitable human spirit, most of us live through our difficulties and go on to develop healthy, integrated sex lives.

Sensate focus is a process that helps individuals move through painful sexual memories and heal the rift between the affected parts of the body and the pleasure they can produce. I thought this technique would be of particular value for Trent because of something he’d said: “At first it felt good, but then I remembered how I felt when I was a kid and freaked out.” This tells me that he was able to enjoy the sensations before the association with the molestation kicked in and ruined everything. Sensate focus offers a way to short-circuit this disruptive connection and rewire it for pleasure instead of pain.

What follows are structured therapeutic touching exercises for couples. They are not a prelude to sex. You need to be clear on that. Your genitals will be involved. There will be pleasure and arousal, for sure. But the object of this process is to desensitize the trigger (in Trent’s case, his butt), then re-sensitize it for pleasure. These exercises take about an hour one day a week over the course of a month. If you embark on this course, make sure that you dedicate that kind of time commitment. Please, don’t short-change yourselves; this is an investment in your sexual health and wellbeing.

You and your partner will take turns being the one touched and the one doing the touching. Both of you will have 30 minutes to touch and 30 minutes to be touched: 15 minutes lying on your front; 15 minutes on your back.

Week 1—Breaking the Ice
Structured touching will be unfamiliar to you at first. I want you to use this first session to connect with each other in a sensual and playful way. I want each of you to explore every inch of your partner’s body from head to toe, first the back of the body then the front. This first week, however, avoid one another’s genitals.

This isn’t massage, where touch is directed toward pleasuring your partner. Sensate focus exercises are about gleaning information. Focus on how it feels to touch different parts of your partner’s body in a non-seductive way. Be aware of the different textures contours and temperatures. Use different pressures—heavy and light; different strokes—long and short. Use fingertips, palms, the back of your hands and forearms.

When you’ve finished the first 30 minutes, swap places. This will work best if the one being touched relinquishes control as much as possible. Keep verbal communication at a minimum. Once the hour is over, thank one another for the experience and get on with the rest of your day. Don’t try to process things right then and there, just sit with the sensations. Or better still; write your feelings in a journal that you might want to share later.

Week 2—Making Things More Interesting
Building on what you learned in the first week; this time, kick it up a notch by expanding the structured touching to include anal and genital areas. These are sexually charged zones, but the touch must remain non-seductive. Begin the exercise with some full-body touching before moving on to the new areas. Again, the emphasis is on obtaining information and awareness of physical sensations.

This is where things got a bit challenging for Trent. When his wife touched his butt, I told him I wanted him to want stay in the moment and focus on who was touching him and why. Trent’s wife was not touching him in a sexual manner; she was gathering information.

Staying in the present helps take the edge off. If anxiety builds, deep breathing can help you to relax. Your partner will probably be very nervous too, so breathing together can be helpful.

A guided touch technique can also be useful. Place one of your hands on top of your partner’s and guide it over your trigger area. Try using more or less pressure as you see fit. Remember your trigger spot is just like every other part of your body. Even though an early trauma has sensitized this area to be off bounds, sensate focus exercises will re-sensitize and reintegrate it with the rest of your body. You’ll have to trust me on this.

Week 3—Mutual Touching
This week, we move on to mutual touching. However, it must remain structured and non-seductive, both in the giving and receiving. Mutual touch will provide a more natural form of physical interaction than the previous weeks. You’ll also be shifting attention from how it feels to touch to being aware of how your partner is receiving your touch. Keep verbal communication to a minimum. Let your body tell your partner how you are enjoying the touch. If you must talk, assign a number code to the touch you are receiving: 5 being, ho-hum, 1 being Yowsa!

Remember, no matter how sexually aroused you become, this is not a prelude to sex. If you need to release your sexual tension, feel free to masturbate afterward. No partnered sex during the exercises. Okay?

Week 4—Bringin’ It Home
This last week of exercises continues the mutual touching, with a focus on overcoming any final reservations you have about your trigger zone and the pleasure you derive from it. More of your partner’s touch should focus on that area. For Trent, I advised that his wife include a nice lotion or personal lube for this investigation. (Touching with a wet hand is different from touching with a dry hand.) While concentrating on his butt with one hand, I suggested she fondle his genitals with the other. By playing with the energy around Trent’s sphincter, his wife was able to redirect it and help him reconnect his ass to the rest of his body.

Try receiving your wire’s touch in different positions. Being proactive will facilitate the healing. While she is touching your trigger area, move your butt toward her to meet the caress. You’ll immediately see how being in control will help you move beyond any remaining anxiety. You are not just being passive recipient anymore; you are actively involved with inviting the pleasure. If there are still reservations, take it slow until they too, melt away.

Once he’d freed up his ass for pleasure, I told Trent be sure to incorporate butt play into his future lovemaking repertoire, but I also reminded him to take as much time as he needed to resolve the issue. There is no quick fix. I assured him, though, with diligence and care, sensate focus would remove the fear and shame of the molestation, and replace it with a sense of wholeness, joy and pleasure.

Good luck

Making a Marriage Work; A Primer For Sexual Success

I’m preparing a workshop for recently engaged couples. I expect there will be about a dozen couples attending. While most of the participants will be preparing for their first marriage, there will be at least two couples working on their second marriage. My experience tells me that regardless of how many turns one takes on the merry-go-round anxiety about sexual compatibility, particularly for the long haul, abounds.

One of the best resources out there for those considering a sexually exclusive traditional marriage is Esther Perel’s controversial book, Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic.  Her thesis is that increased emotional intimacy between partners often leads to less sexual passion. I’ve been preaching the same sermon for nearly 30 years. But I assure you; there are ways around this predictable stumbling block.

Here we have Paige, age 22 from Tulsa. OK.

I am engaged to a wonderful guy. I’m excited about my upcoming marriage, but I’m also afraid that it will fail. I know you are going to think we’re freaks, but my fiancé and I have decided to save ourselves for after we are married. Some of our friends even our recently married friends are having trouble with their relationship and with the divorce rate so high, what are the chances that my marriage will work? Do I just have cold feet or am I not ready to get married?

First off, I don’t think you’re a freak for reserving full sexual expression till after you’re married. It wasn’t too long ago when that was the norm. But even people who enter marriage as established sex partners aren’t assured success.

I caution you to jettison any Pollyanna notion you might have about marriage being a breeze, or that all you need is love. These are dangerous fictions. Your recently married friends have problems because there are always problems in a marriage. It’s the nature of relationships. Hopefully, the problems you guys will face won’t be insurmountable, but sure as shootin’ problems will be your constant companions, even big problems. So count on it and prepare yourself accordingly.

You can also be assured that the problems you will encounter, regardless of their nature, will impact on your sex life together. Money concerns, the stresses of a career, kids, in-laws, you name it will all influence how you perceive your spouse. Nothing dampens ardor like financial difficulties or meddlesome relatives.

So Paige, rather than focus on the nature of your sex life as you enter your marriage, may I suggest that you concentrate on the bigger picture. And in order to do that you need to ask; why do most traditional, sexually exclusive marriages flounder? They crumble because they can’t bear up under the strain of the couple’s expectations for each other. Simply stated, they want too much from their spouse. They expect companionship, economic support and family for sure, but they also expect their partner to be their best friend, confidant and passionate lover. That’s a pretty tall order to fill for a single individual. Who wouldn’t have cool feet, or even be frozen in place, faced with those daunting expectations.

A lot of engaged couples overly concern themselves with the sexual viability or their relationship. My sense is that sexual concerns, by themselves, don’t tax a marriage to the point of breaking. You’ll notice that I said, ’sexual concerns, by themselves’. While sex and intimacy issues are indeed real and sometimes overwhelming, it’s the underpinnings of the relationship that bring these sexual issues into stark relief. Let me give you an example.

Say I’ve just spent 60 hours this past week at work; I get snarled in traffic on my commute every single day. I drag my sorry ass home to a loving partner, who may have been looking forward to an amorous night of sex play. But I’m completely fagged out, so to speak. I simply don’t have an interest in the old slap and tickle. It’s not that I don’t love my spouse; I do! I don’t have the energy to even squeeze one off by myself, let alone please and pleasure my partner.

Or say I’ve been caring for a house full of sick, ornery kids all day; and freaking out about our family’s precarious financial situation. I have barely the time and energy to rustle together some grub for the brood, when my loving partner, who may have been looking forward to an amorous night of sex play, arrives back at the homestead with stars in his/her eyes. I’m exhausted; and the idea of a tussle in the sack is the last thing on my mind. It’s not that I don’t love my spouse; on the contrary. I just don’t feel attractive, interesting, or more importantly, randy.

As these examples point out it’s not that the sexual energy has flown the coop. More often than not couples who face the tribulations of life together redirect their energy into resolving more pressing concerns than gearing up for sex. The reason I know this for certain is, if I were to take this stressed out couple away from the humdrum of their day-to-day, and land them on a tropical beach without a care in the world; I know for certain they’d fuck like bunnies.

Another example, say a couple is joined at the hip; you know the ones I’m talking about. Where one or the other partner can hardly take a trip to the loo without their spouse traipsing along. Many couples think this kind of closeness is a sign of their love and fidelity, and it may very well be for them. But I can guarantee this kind of familiarity will also stifle sexual passion. The truth of the matter is erotic fervor is dependent on at least a modicum of mystery. If I know my partner like the back of my hand, I’m less likely to see him/her as a sexual object; in the same sexual way as when we were courting.

This also can be proven. Why is the chick at work, who I have virtually nothing in common with, such a turn on? How is it that my yoga instructor, someone I hardly know and who pays me no attention, make me wet? It’s the mystery or the forbidden that jacks up the sexual tension.

The way I see it is passionate sex is dependent on a good deal of sexual tension. This kind of tension dissipates with time and it takes a great deal of work to keep that tension alive. Most couples don’t invest that kind of energy; even though they may pay lip service to the notion that they want the passion to continue.

Intimacy, on the other hand, is dependent on domestic tranquility, in other words, the elimination of tension in the relationship; regrettably this also includes sexual tension. And since most couples desire intimacy over sex they choose (either consciously or not) the path of domestic tranquility. But the result can be the kind of sexual frustration so many married people report.

I’ve been to a lot of wedding; and I’ve officiated at more than I can count. I’ve helped numerous couples construct their vows. Generally the first thing they want to say to each other is something like: “I promise to be your best friend, your confidant; your constant companion. Sound familiar? I thought it might. What I never hear is: “I promise to always be up for all your hot monkey love.” Not only would that vow be a showstopper; it would be an impossible promise to keep, unless you’re a blow-up doll. Frankly, it’s so much easier being a best friend or confident than the sexual siren that will be the answer to all your erotic dreams after we’re married for a few years.

Sexual exclusivity is at the heart of the romantic ideal. That’s why sexual infidelity is such a bugaboo in our culture. But the truth of the matter is, sustaining a model where marriage is the font from which all fulfillment flows is simply unrealistic. Maybe if we expect sexual exclusivity from our spouse, we ought to manage our other expectations of him/her (best friend, confidant, etc.) more pragmatically.

I am of the mind that since more than 50% of marriages in this country end in divorce; we must look at the relationship model we are laboring under. Maybe the romantic ideal is simply an illusion. I mean we can’t honestly try to explain away the divorce rate by saying all these couples simply married the wrong people. Know what I mean?

The parameters of a healthy, successful marriage will need to expand and contract with the stresses put upon it; it is after all a living entity. The balance between dependence and independence will constantly shift; so will the power dynamic in the relationship. Carve these things in stone and you will be mark a grave, not milestones on a path to growth.

Good luck

Sexual MYTHBUSTERS, Part 1 – The Big O

No podcast today, but there is this…

Angie is 20 and she’s having issues, lots of issues.

Hello, I would ask you a question that has been on my mind for a while. I seem to have a problem orgasming without stimulating my clitoris. I suppose that doesn’t really sound like a problem but it’s really starting to annoy me. I would like to be able to enjoy an orgasm without having to stimulate my clit every time! I love having sex and it feels super duper good but why can’t I climax that way? I mean I am aware of where my G-spot is and my boyfriend said he’ll be focusing more on hitting it “spot” on. There’s also another thing I have noticed, sometimes my boyfriend will hit my cervix and it hurts a bit, but is this even normal? Should he even be able to hit it? Or is there something abnormal going on here?

Let’s see, when you say you “love having sex and it feels super duper good but why can’t I climax that way?” Are you referring to full-on cock in cooter fucking when you say, “having sex”? The reason I ask is that not everyone means the same thing when they use that trite euphemism.

Since you’re not here to fill in the blanks, so to speak. I’ll assume you want to know why you can’t have or haven’t yet had a vaginal orgasm. But before I answer, I just want to say that I hope you are not setting up an orgasmic dichotomy where there doesn’t need to be one. That would truly be unwise.

If you are at all familiar with your genital anatomy, you will know that the pleasure centers in that area of your body are all wired together. Your clit, G-spot, pussy, taint (perineum) and butthole are all on the same circuit, so to speak. Each erogenous zone is distinct, of course, but they act in consort with one another. However, not all your parts will generate the same amount of buzz. Since a woman’s clit is at the center of this network of nerves, it tends to dominate all the others and it is generally the quickest way to intense pleasure for most women.

Ok, now my answer. I can’t really say why your not climaxing while you’re fucking. Other than the fact that an exclusively vaginal centered orgasm is a myth. The vast majority of women don’t have vaginal orgasms. In fact the degree of insensitivity inside a woman’s vagina is so high that Kinsey wrote in his seminal work, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female published back in 1953: “Among the women who were tested in our gynecologic sample, less than 14% were at all conscious that they had been touched.” That’s pretty remarkable, wouldn’t you say?

The vaginal orgasm myth is perpetuated, in part, by many women’s confusion and/or lack of knowledge about their own anatomy. Some women believe that an orgasm felt during fucking is centered in their cooch. This suggests to me that they aren’t being precise in locating the center of that orgasm. Other women believe in the vaginal orgasm myth because they think they need to conform to a male oriented notion of female sexuality — fucking = cuming. And that’s simply wrong, don’t cha know. Just ask all the preorgasmic women out there.

But ya know what? I don’t own a pussy my own self. All I can only tell you is what I have learned from those people who actually have a honeypot. The people I’m referring to, we’ll call them females, tell me vaginal orgasms, mythological or not, may simply be dependent on a tone of a woman’s pelvic musculature. As amazing as pussies are, and they are amazing, if the muscles that surround them are not taught and toned enough, a fucking generated orgasm may elude the owner of said pussy.

Some women haven’t developed their PC muscles enough to cum through fucking alone. Are you doing your kegels, Angie? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you have some serious remedial research to do.

The elusive vaginal orgasm may also have to do with your partner cock, particularly the girth of his unit and opposed to its length. My women friends tell me that a thicker cock may have more of a chance triggering a vaginal orgasm then a pencil dick. No surprise there, I suppose. Position will also play a role. Why not give a bunch of different positions a try and see if one or another makes a difference? You on top cowgirl style, or doggie style might work best. But it’s your coozie, my dear, and you ought to know it better than I.

As to your G-spot question. That’s another thing all together. I am so glad that you are familiar with your anatomy enough to have found your own personal G-spot. And it’s great to hear that you have an accommodating partner who is working on stimulating this sensitive area. Good for you both! However, while I wholeheartedly endorse and encourage your further investigations and sex play, I do have one caution. I share the concern of most of my women friends. We want you to avoid all the G-spot hype floating around in the popular culture these days. Most women have a good time with their G-spot exploration. They report that it is not particularly difficult to find, but it’s also much harder to pleasure. If a woman, you perhaps, gets it in her head that something amazing is supposed to happen with a G-spot stimulation, she might be setting herself up for disappointment. In the same way some women, you perhaps, set themselves up for disappointment if they buy into the myth of an exclusively vaginal generated orgasm.

I encourage you to see your genitals as a whole, not a bunch of separate parts that somehow work independently of one another. If your pussy is happy and your pussy is making you happy; is it really all that important how the happiness comes to be?

In comparison us men folk are not all that fussy. What gets us off; gets us off. I never hear from a guy who is disappointed because he’s not having an exclusively prostate generated orgasm. They do happen, but we’re not the least bit concerned when they don’t happen. I also never hear from a guy who thinks he should be orgasmic through manipulation of his balls alone. That can happen too, but we’re not holding our breath for them.

What I do hear from guys is that we often need a particular kind of dick-oriented stimulation to get us off. And this is where the men folk and the women folk are a whole lot alike. You, like us, probably need a particular kind of stimulation to get you off. Be it vaginal, clitoral, G-spot, or whatever. If you acknowledge that your genitals are a composite of parts that work together to bring you joy, then you’ll be less likely to be swayed by the claims, hype and misinformation about female sexual response.

Regarding the issue of your boyfriend hitting your cervix. Yeah, that’ll hurt, don’t cha know. I’d be willing to guess that he’s in the wrong position and being too athletic in his pumping when that happens. If he’s bumping your cervix, but you like the depth and athleticism of his manly thrusts, simply change position. That should remedy the problem.

Finally, I’d simply advise you to respect the uniqueness of your body and your sexual response cycle. If it’s your clit that delivers the big O, even though you are being pleasured elsewhere. Then by all means, stimulate your clit while whatever else is happening, and enjoy the ride.

Good luck

Sex Addiction, or Too Much of a Good Thing?

This last post of 2010 will start with a declaration. One of my famous “Thus Sayeth Dr. Dick” sorta things, if you please.

Ready?

I categorically reject the concept of sexual addiction that has been floating around in the popular culture for the last 20 years or so.

And yes, I know this will rankle a bunch of you, but you’ll just have to get over it. You see, there is no such thing as a sexual addiction. Period!

Nowadays people bandy about the term addiction as if it can be applied to any and all obsessive behaviors. I have an addiction to chocolate; I’m addicted to shopping; I’m addicted to video games; I’m addicted to porn—or, I’m a sex addict. NONSENSE!

That being said, I hasten to add that I do believe there are sexual obsessions and compulsive sexual behaviors, plenty of ’em in fact. However, obsessions and compulsions are not addictions, and addictions, while they may involve irresistible impulses, are not the same thing as compulsions. Get it? Got it? Good!

I want to be absolutely clear about this. An addiction is a very specific condition. It denotes a dual dependency, physical as well as a psychological.

  • A physical dependency occurs when a substance is habitually used to a point where the body becomes reliant on its effects. The substance must be used constantly, because if it is withheld, it will trigger symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Psychological dependency occurs when the substance habitually used creates an emotional reliance on its effects. There is no functioning without it. Its absence produces intense cravings, which if not fed will trigger symptoms of withdrawal.

Check it out. With the help of my handy-dandy dictionary, a good place to start in discussions of this sort, I discovered these three very distinct definitions:

Addiction: The need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal. Broadly: persistent use of a substance known by the user to be harmful. A state of physiological and psychological dependence on a drug.

Compulsive: Driven by an irresistible inner force to do something; i.e., a compulsive liar.

Obsession: A persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling.

See? Different words. Different meanings. Not a particularly complex notion to grasp, right?

And listen, just because a bunch of yahoo afternoon talks show hosts and even a load of my esteemed professional colleagues banter these words about like they were interchangeable doesn’t make it so. In fact, we do ourselves a huge disservice by muddling these very specific concepts into a jumble. My fellow therapists should be the first to recognize this because finding help for an addiction or an intervention for an obsessive/compulsive disorder will be as specific as the problem itself.

One thing is for certain: identifying one of the things, as the other will complicate the problem solving. It’s like going to the doctor with a headache, and when the doc asks where does it hurt, you point to your stomach. It just won’t do.

Hi Dr. Dick,
I recently found out my boyfriend has been cheating on me. He wants me to forgive him, but he keeps on doing the same thing over and over again. He’s like addicted to sex or something. I love him very much, but I feel dirty just by being around him and knowing what he’s doing. It also makes me feel stupid putting up with all of this and at the same time I still love him, please give me some advice. Thank You.
— Darlene

Before we turn our attention to your boyfriend’s behavior, let me make a quick observation about you. You’re a big fat ball of contradictions, huh? How can you say that you love the person that makes you feel dirty and stupid? You’re deceiving yourself about at least one of those feelings. And if I had to guess, I’d say what you’ve got with your man ain’t love—it’s an obsession.

Your boyfriend probably has you figured out by now, and he knows that you will tolerate his misbehavior, which gives him tacit permission to do whatever he feels like doing. From where I sit, you’re the real sap. If you’re really serious about reining in your wayward BF, you’d better come up with a clear, unambiguous message about what you will and will not tolerate. Until you do precisely that, he’ll just think that he can roam wherever he wants and whenever he wants.

If the two of you are supposed to be living in a sexually exclusive relationship, and he’s taking his business elsewhere, then he’s got a problem, too. However, I caution you against thinking that his sexual behaviors are an addiction. Because they’re not.  And thinking they are will not help you find the solution to the problems you folks are having.

There are root causes for his behavior, just like there are root causes for your behavior. To get to the bottom of all of this, each of you will need to invest a good deal of time and energy with a qualified therapist. One can only hope that there’s a big enough bank of goodwill between the two of you to carry the day because overcoming your obsession and his compulsions will demand all of your emotional resources.

Dear Dr. Dick,
I have been in a relationship for five years now and truly love my partner, however I can never seem to get enough sex. I am 30 and he is 29, but I constantly find myself in the chat rooms lookin’ for younger guys to have sex with. It’s more than just a hobby—it’s a habit! I’ve actually lost jobs because he’d be out of town and I’d spend almost every waking hour on the PC with a cocktail looking for sex, not caring about anything else. It’s like I’m addicted to sex. He knows I have played around (I actually have talked him into three-ways a few times), but he has no idea how extreme it’s become. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m not unhappy with him. I just can’t seem to stop wanting sex with younger guys. Any suggestions?
— Brian

It’s interesting that you should tell me about your compulsive sexual behavior in the same breath that you tell me of your love for your partner. As you’ve probably guessed already, there isn’t really much of a connection between the two. Love and sex are two very different things. Sometimes they go together, but not always or even often for that matter.

It appears to me that you’ve really got two problems happening simultaneously: First, your compulsive prowling of the internet for sex (complicated, I might add, by your alcohol consumption). Second, the deception you’re practicing on your partner. Let’s deal with each of these in turn.

Your particular sexual activity, like any compulsive behavior (overeating, excessive shopping, etc.), is more than just a bad habit. It’s a serious psychological dysfunction. Take it from me: breaking this behavior pattern will be nearly impossible without some professional help. If the problem is as serious as you say, then you’d better seek help right away. This sort of thing, if left untreated, will not only destroy your relationship, it will ruin your life. When you seek that professional help, I encourage you to include information about your alcohol consumption. If there is an addiction in all of this, it’s the alcohol, not the sex. And in your case, the addiction may be fueling the compulsion.

Now, regarding your relationship. It’s imperative that you come clean with your partner about your sexual obsessions and compulsions, as well as your probable alcohol addiction. Not only will you feel better about not lying to him anymore, you’re going to need his support in overcoming the difficult obstacles you face. I suggest that you attend to this right away. There’s not a moment to lose.

Good Luck

Sex Work — The Principle of Supply and Demand

No podcast today; instead there’s this…

Sex workers and their consumers are two sides of the same coin; the operative word being coin. Few things are more troublesome to the social hierarchy than the notion of sex for money. And yet, as the saying goes, there’d be no supply if there weren’t a demand.

I travel a lot for work and often get really lonely on long trips. I don’t go to bars, because I don’t drink. The idea of looking for sex in a bathhouse or sex club puts me off. Lately I’ve been thinking I should just hire an escort, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin. It must be a pretty common phenomenon thought, because I see tons of ads for escorts on line in every city I go to. Any suggestions on how I might proceed?
— Gabe

I presume you’ve ordered out for food while traveling for business, right? Finding a satisfying “order-out” sexual adventure is not all that different. In the case of an escort, the commodities are charming company, erotic massage, and possibly a little sex, instead of potstickers, mu shu pork and Kung Pao Chicken. (Now if only someone would devise a marketing plan to combine the two—erotic massage and mu shu pork? We’d all die from an overabundance of bliss!)

Not all order-out is created equal. Just as there is bad food, there are also unsavory escorts. Do your homework. You already know there are scads of escort or rentboy sites on the net. There are also plenty of review sites, where customers of the provider leave their comments regarding levels of satisfaction and the like. Most escorts, particularly the really good ones, immediately call your attention to the reviews they’ve received. It’s like having the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval stamped on your ass.

Start by interviewing a few working boys. This can initially be done via email. Ask for further information about services and rates. Many escorts have photos of themselves available to send to prospective clients, so you might respectfully request those. If at all possible, include a photo of yourself—or at the very least, an accurate description.

When communicating with a service provider, NEVER suggest that you are offering money for sex; in most jurisdictions, that’s against the law. While most clients hope to get a little sex in the encounter, the money exchanged is not for the sex. It is for the provider’s time and expertise. This may sound like splitting hairs, but if sex happens it is by mutual agreement by consenting adults during the time you’ve arranged to be together.

Finding the right escort for you is your task. Know what you want and know how to ask for it. Don’t waste your time or that of the provider by beating around the bush. If you are new at this, say so. The rentboy, if he’s any good at all, will be familiar with this territory and help you though the initial conversation.

There are different levels of pros out there; each will have his own fee structure for services provided. If you’re looking for something kinky, be ready to pay more. Never bargain with the provider. If he’s out of your price range, move along. Or come right out with it and say, “Listen, I have X amount of money to spend. Are you available?” This gives the provider the option to see you at the discounted rate. You’d be a fool not to insist on safe sex, but there’s a shitload of fools out there.

When arranging an outcall to your hotel, there may be an additional surcharge for traveling cost. This should be agreed upon before the deal is struck.

Not all prostitutes are prostitutes because they want to. But most guys turn pro because they’re good at what they do. And most enjoy the accompanying lifestyle. The truly successful provider will have a string of regulars, men they have a somewhat more intimate connection with. Kinda like finding a great Chinese restaurant and becoming a regular there. The proprietor might just offer you something not on the menu as a way of acknowledging your preferred customer status. Get it?

Some johns use the service of an agency, which can be a reliable way to go at first. However, I believe the hard-working independent entrepreneur is often one’s best bet.

You’ll also find among the independents a unique phenomenon—Gay for Pay. These are ostensibly “straight” (and I use that word in quotes with great intent) guys who will have gay sex with gay men for money. In the old days, we used to refer to them as trade. And like we in the business say, “today’s trade is tomorrow’s competition.”

Remember, a wise and informed consumer is happy and satisfied consumer.

I’m just out of college and have a ton of bills and no real job prospects at the moment. A friend suggested I do some escorting to make ends meet. Guys tell me that I’m hot and I like sex, but I don’t know if I could pull it off. Suggestions?
— Kevin

Being hot and liking sex are great assets if you decide to turn pro, but you’ll need a whole lot more than that. Being a sex worker is not like having sex for love, or even recreational sex. You will be exchanging sex for money and that makes it a business proposition. You’d be wise to approach this with as much forethought as you would any other profession. It is, after all, the world’s oldest.

You’ll need the physical fortitude to have sex with a wide range of people; some who may not be attractive to you. And when there’s an exchange of money, the john becomes your customer. And all pro sex is client-directed; it’s not about you even when it looks like it’s all about you.

You’ll also need the emotional distance and psychological resilience to cope with the intimacy issues this line of work creates. This is precisely the point where most fledgling sex workers flounder. They either give too much, or not enough. Some actually resent their clients for sustaining them; go figure! A lack of clarity on this issue will cause troubling boundary issues for both you and your john.

A cheap street hustler turning tricks to support a drug habit and an expensive rentboy who is attending the rich and famous face many of the same pitfalls. A lot of sex workers are self-destructive or have huge unresolved sex issues that they are trying to compensate for by making people pay them for what they usually give away.

If you still think this is a line of work for you, know that your mind and body are your greatest business assets. Take care of them. Keep them clean, fit and toned. Hygiene, both physical and mental, is a must. Improve your mind. Make yourself interesting. Stay abreast on current affairs. Develop other skills like massage and bodywork. Self-awareness, not the narcissistic type, and safe-sex practices are your frontline defense against STIs.

Stay clean and sober while on the job. More sex workers get busted for drugs than hustling. Know how to handle a drugged-out client. You’ll probably see a lot of those. Also know they can take forever to get off, and can sometimes be paranoid and dangerous.

Be fiscally responsibility. Plan for the lean times…and there will always lean times. You’ll probably be a hot property at first; the new meat phenomenon, don’t cha know. Don’t let this go to your head. There will be cuter, younger, hotter competition getting off the bus tomorrow. Try to cultivate a number of regular clients. Have a thought to how and where you will market yourself. And I encourage you not to do this full-time. If you find it difficult to pay the rent, you’ll be tempted to do more and more risky things just to make ends meet.

Sex work is often more about being psychologically present than a sexual performance. Your clients will often be more lonely and isolated then they are horny. Always treat them with respect.

You should have at least one trusted friend who knows your whereabouts at all times, or who has access to your appointment book. Never make a date with anyone who won’t share his/her phone number with you. And always make a call back before you head out. Keep an appointment book, in code if you must.

Have a travel bag prepared with all the basics you will need: condoms, lube, massage oils, handi-wipes, an extra shirt, toys, mace (or other protective equipment). Have that bag ready to pick up and leave if there’s trouble.

Finally, I suggest that you connect with other sex workers in your area. There is strength in numbers. Other rentboys will provide you with essential information about troublesome clients and help you get the lay of the land, so to speak.

Good Luck

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