Sex & Relationships

Trading Sex for Survival: What It's Like to be a Street Prostitute

What happens when men want to pay you money to cuddle, and the thought of it makes you sick?

Editor's note: This is Part II of a series in which the author chronicles her life as a street prostitute.Read Part I here.

When you say the word “hooker,” the image that comes to most people’s minds is a white girl like Julia Roberts inPretty Womanor the highly paid call girl in the Eliot Spitzer scandal, the former New York governor. She may have made a few wrong moves in her life but she’s likeable with a heart of gold and will straighten out if given a second chance. We don’t necessarily forgive her for accepting extra money for her “favors” but we understand it.

The story is very different for survival prostitutes who work the streets and get in cars because of drug habits. Their lives are less Pretty WomanthanMonster, the story of Aileen Wuornos, for whom hooking was a kill-or-be-killed situation and who was herself put to death in 2002 in a Florida state prison.

Survival prostitutes are the most easily and frequently killed of all women. They lack the glamor of call girls and the “victimhood” of trafficked women since their pimp is their drug habit itself. They have been abandoned by their families, their communities and the other people on the street. Even law enforcement and social services slighted them until recently.

The author spent time as a survival prostitute driven by her drug habit until she found recovery in a 12-step program. This is the second excerpt from a diary she kept while getting in cars.

I wasn't even working, I was going to the store. A car stops and the guy offers me three times the going rate through the window, not even waiting for me to get in. I worry that he is a nut but go to a motel with him. He is not a nut but he looks really sick and also acts morose. In addition to sex he wants to cuddle which, even though he has technically paid for my time, irritates the hell out of me. I am speeding my ass off and the last thing I want to do is play statue with some needy stranger when I can't even smoke. This is agony.

This guy reminds me of Al, a construction worker I see a lot. He's in his 20s and always trying to be my last date for the night so he can sleep with me. He doesn't understand the reason you boot a guy is not because you have the next one or need to meet a quota, but because you can't stand the sight of them once you're done.

In his defense, he is nicer than any boyfriend I ever had. If I would have known guys like this before, I might not even be here. Where was he before my heart turned into a gizzard? But I also realize there is something self-hating about a guy who falls in love with the town pump.

It's like my printer. I go by his print shop several times a week and we do it on the darkroom floor. And he always cautions me to use the client bathroom, not the employee bathroom, because one of his female employees is loose and might have an STD. Where does he think I have been all day, at the library?

One guy I did end up spending the whole night with. His name was Kurt, he was German, an artist and easily in his 70s. No dick problems there. Again, it didn't matter how much he paid, I couldn't stand being in the clammy sheets with him for all that time. And he kept waking me up for more, though sleeping on speed I wasn't sleeping anyway. We couldn't exchange a word because he spoke no English. In the morning I felt so dirty from all the manhandling, I bought a fifth of whiskey, some hydrogen peroxide to gargle and a laxative. No, I would rather get in and out of cars all day.

My best trick ever was a similar situation. I was in California and this guy picked me up and said if I would spend the night with him, he would give me a car. Right--I really believe that. But much to my amazement, after a long night of performing oral sex on me even though a million women would allow that for free, there was a car. It was a Honda Civic and the reason he was giving it to me was it was hot. He put on welder's glasses and blasted out the serial number. He made me promise I would junk the car when I got home though I had no intention of keeping a promise to a john. He also gave me a packet of meth. I kept thinking, how does a girl start out hoofing it and end up a day later with wheels and speed? The car lasted two weeks and its entire exhaust system just fell into the street. But it got me home.

Since I have been doing this I have had to be strict about boyfriends and freebies or I won't make any money. Almost every guy thinks he's an exception and his ego doesn't want to let him pay. Instead of money they try to trade CDs and expensive handbags and dresses (for all the cotillions I go to) because it makes them feel less like a john. Younger guys are especially bad and I have had them steal back the money while I wasn't looking.

Then there's the guys whose fantasy is a turned-on woman, which is lot more work than a simple plumbing job. What do you like, they ask me, like I want my fantasies satisfied by some stranger who calls himself Mr. G? Beside money, I want to say. You have to be careful about requests for your erotic participation. A john can turn around and accuse you of getting paid for something you do anyway.

You also don't want to get your heartstrings involved. There is one guy named Bruce who works in the airline industry and is so cute and young and polite and even single I want to say keep the money, let's have real sex instead of me doing you. Same with another guy who wears a blue jean jacket and bought me a Christmas present. A Christmas present! But I never lost my professionalism. I also never drink on the job because I would get soft or sloppy and not get the money. I try to stay within daytime hours when the johns are sober and everything is efficient.

I guess I would call my boyfriend Ricky who I met in the day hospital. He makes no sense except for when he talks about Meher Baba. I think he is a schizophrenic. One time he got violent and had dark circles under his eyes, but I think he had gone off his meds. Most of the time he's good, low-key company. We have a good time; we get a small bottle of Jack Daniels. He says his psychiatrist told him not to get emotionally involved with me.

Don was my boyfriend for a while and he is definitely a schizophrenic. He described to me how the TV began to talk to him and tell him things and he jumped out the window and broke both legs. He's shown me the exact place where it happened. Now he seems fine but it will never work between us because he orders me around. You're not wearing that, he said once when we were going to a party, and he marched me back into the apartment to change. If I want to take orders I can get in a car.

Probably my biggest problem is drugs. The meth keeps me up and geared for each new day, but has its downside besides my mouth being dry all the time. I have to drink a lot of whiskey to be able to sleep. I could probably take downers, but they would step on the meth high in the morning. Someone told me and I believe it's true, if you're trying to sleep with meth in your system you're not getting REM sleep and won't be refreshed. And sure enough I wake up not just crabby and cranky which is maybe where they got the word, but downright paranoid. Some days I am afraid to leave the apartment. The hood is so dense with people it feels like everyone stares at me. There's not a patch of green anywhere where you could sit and just be a normal person. Within minutes some guy will come over and hit on me. I used to tell them to go away, but now I just name a price. Still, shouldn't I get a goddamn day off?