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On sex work: a client's perspective

By Clara How, Nov 15, 2019

The sex work industry doesn’t just carry stigmas for the workers  it extends to the clients who pay for their services.  

In our research and in speaking with a number of sex workers (some of whom are not featured in this series), we felt it was only fair to hear from a client. Why pay for sex? What is the relationship like between a client and a sex worker, if there is one at all? How does one draw boundaries? 

Understandably, it was a challenge to find someone who was willing to be interviewed. Public opinion towards clients tend to swing towards the negative, so much so that many of the leads we had fell through because the men were concerned about their identities being uncovered, and that it was too personal a topic. Some declined because it was part of a past they did not want to revisit. 

It took quite some time before we found X. We do not wish to pass judgment on him or his beliefs  his inclusion in this series is purely to give a client’s perspective on the industry, and what he thinks about the prejudices both clients and workers face. 

He is kept strictly anonymous, and we thank him for his honesty and his willingness to share his point of view on the subject. Much of his story has been said in his own words. 

This story is the second part of our series on the sex work industry in Singapore. For part one, read: www.dayre.me/story/a19f9dd61a

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You can call me X, and I have been paying for sex work since 2009. On average, I engage sex workers once every three months, wherever it’s convenient and when I travel. 

It started when I was single in my mid 20s, and I felt all the ‘nice girls’ were already taken and couldn’t find a partner to fulfil my needs. I first started engaging sex workers after a colleague brought me to Geylang one night to show me what it was all about, and it went on from there.  

At the beginning, I would trawl sex forums to read reviews from other clients, and if a review caught my eye, I would engage the worker in question. One day, my friend mentioned that there were Singaporean freelance sex workers, which was something that interested me. From my experience in Geylang, I knew I preferred Malaysian girls to the women from China or Thailand, because I felt like there was a better rapport. So I felt like the familiarity with Singaporean girls would be something nice.

I eventually stopped engaging freelancers and going to Geylang when I got a partner, because there was no longer a need to transact for sex, at least in Singapore. 

I am with my partner because I can connect with her on a deep, intrinsic level. Of course, it’s hitting the jackpot if you can find someone whom you can connect with emotionally and intelligently, AND you are attracted to, AND as into you as you are into her. But it doesn’t happen often, and if I had to prioritise, physical attraction in a partner is rather low on the list. But a mental and emotional connection will never fade, it will only grow. 

My partner does not know that I pay for sex work, and I would never tell her because if she found out, we would definitely have an acrimonious split. If she actually chose to stay with me and asked me to stop engaging sex workers, honestly, I don’t know if I would. The fun and variety is so attractive that it’s hard to walk away from.

As for now, I often travel alone for work, and if there is any source of adult entertainment during these trips, I will usually go and check it out. This can range from strip clubs in Australia to the full service establishments in Japan, China or Europe. However, one thing that I am always careful about is the standards of security of the place — whether it is legal, or “protected” by gangs. For example, there is a rumour that a street of working girls in Osaka is actually run by the Yakuza, so as long as you don’t cause trouble, it’s very safe. 

Health and hygiene standards are also very important to me. I take precautions by avoiding freelance workers, and engage those who go for regular health checks. I prefer not to approach girls on the street because I can’t be certain about their health or hygiene. If I visit an establishment, it will only be one where health checks are done. In the clubs in places like Manila, Jakarta and Germany, they have in-house doctors to give the girls health checks. 

On my end, I insist on protection at all times to protect both myself and the girl. However, I don’t go for regular health screenings as you are required to notify the authorities if you have contracted HIV, and I work in an industry where you will be terminated should you do so. I am concerned about my partner contracting an STD from me, but we use protection to reduce this chance. 

To me, sex and a relationship are two disparate concepts. Of course, they can exist together and it’s good when they do, but both can come separately. You can have a great, loving relationship even when there is no sex involved (for example, if one party is unable to do so for medical reasons). A relationship is a connection of minds and souls, not about physical possession. 

On the other hand, sex is just sex. It’s like scratching an itch. It feels good afterwards, and you go back to your normal life. 

I don’t consider what I do cheating, because I believe cheating is something emotional and not physical. I am with someone because of how I connect with her emotionally, not physically. 

If there are marriages where both partners are completely in sync and are soulmates, but they are each bad at sex, should the marriage remain completely sexless then? Why is there any issue with either partner getting satisfied from sex with someone who just treats it as a transaction with no strings attached? 

Having had both types, I can tell you that sex within a relationship and purely physical sex feel different. It’s not that one is better than the other, they’re just not the same. 

I choose to engage sex workers because I believe there are some sexual acts which different people may find unacceptable or not willing to perform, like cosplay or BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism). In fact, when it comes to SM, I find that it is better to do it with someone with whom you have zero emotional engagement with, because it is unlikely that you will want to submit someone whom you care about to such activities.

I would like to stress that I always tell the girls what is involved, and they are not tricked or forced into anything. My opinion is that if you are paying for the service and the girl is aware of your request and is fine with it, then you can indulge in this fantasy or fetish that you can’t with your partner.

When it comes to no-strings-attached sex, I would rather not use dating apps or pick people up at clubs because both parties don’t know what the other’s intention or objective is. A guy might be looking for a one night stand, while a girl may be looking for a relationship, or a good time without sex involved. I find it very awkward to proposition someone only to find that I misread her signals or worse, if we get carried away and then she changes her mind and cries wolf.

If my objective is to find an attractive woman to have sex with, it is more straightforward to find women who are offering exactly that. Then it becomes transactional, and less complicated or risky.

Like most men, I am visually stimulated. While I am physically attracted to my partner, I accept that my partner is not the hottest or most gorgeous woman in the world, and there are really a lot of hot women out there. If such women whom you find attractive are offering you a service you desire for a fee, why not? It’s about variety. 

And it’s not just about my pleasure. I find it a great turn-on to watch a woman enjoy herself sexually, so I usually spend a significant part of the session giving the girl a good time. These girls don’t always get pleasure from their work, so I want to make sure they do. It’s a win-win situation for both of us. 

There was one girl who enjoyed herself with me so much that whenever I came to the club, she would ask me to choose her, because she knew she would be getting paid to have a good time. She was initially apprehensive about some light bondage and SM but agreed to try (and I would have respected her wishes if she wanted out), but in the end she enjoyed the experience so much that she told the other girls how good it was. In subsequent sessions, she was the one who initiated being tied up. As a client, it felt great to know she was genuinely having a good time and not dreading being screwed by a strange guy. 

I make sure that there aren’t any opportunities for emotional attachment to form — we don’t have any deep introspective conversations to form a connection that isn’t physical. If they tell me a sad story, like how their father has passed away and they have to raise their siblings, I do feel sympathy. But I tell myself: that’s why I’m helping you make ends meet by giving you work. At most I tip them a bit more, but there is no opportunity for an emotional connection. 

So while I see paying for sex work as a purely physical act and try not to cross the line where we become friends, I make it a point to be friendly towards sex workers by talking to them before and after I decide to choose them. I usually have a few standard icebreaker questions, like her name, how old she is, does she have a day job, how long has she been working there, or has she had many customers from Singapore before. I answer the same questions I ask: my age, my “clubbing name”, and where I’m from. But nothing that allows them to identify me. 

I also ask a little more about what it’s like working where they work. For example, I found out that the girls in the Manila clubs are usually sourced from the poor villages in the south of the Philippines, and if they are chosen by a customer, they have to tip the mamasan, doctor, and makeup artist (as they are credited for getting them noticed) once they return to the club. The girls don’t take back much after that, so I usually give them extra to help them out with this. Sometimes, I buy them food from room service. 

One of the questions I start with is asking how they started working there, because I do not wish to engage any girls who are tricked or forced into what they do. I have not met any workers who appear forced to be there, though I am aware that they might not be telling me the complete truth. However, as far as I’m concerned, if I ask and they don’t tell me, I don’t know. 

When I say forced, I mean she is made to do what she does against her will. I believe that forced by circumstance does not fit this because in the end, she still had a choice and this is what she chose.

Sex workers are also human beings and deserve respect as such. We may be the ‘customers’, but we should never force them into doing anything they are reluctant to. Some guys I know see the girls as just “a hole” or an object to do as they wish, but I see these women as people with feelings. That’s why I always make sure that the understanding of what is to happen is mutually agreed on, and I don’t stop them if they want out. There was a girl who did not want to be blindfolded and bound, but she agreed to vanilla sex. Had she not agreed I would not have pressured her.

When it comes to stigmas and prejudice, my take is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the sex industry. It is purely an issue of supply and demand.

We should all embrace our sexuality and enjoy sex as something that’s enjoyable and recreational. Some men can’t do it with their partners because they can’t find one, so they procure services from girls who are willing to provide. I don’t see what’s wrong with that. It becomes a matter between two consenting adults. 

Essentially, sex workers are providing a service in exchange for payment. The service is a physical service. Stigmas attached are unwarranted, and are due to an overarching obsession with moral values. The problem with applying the same moral standards across the board is that morality is subjective and varies from person to person. For example, to some Muslim societies in the Middle East, showing anything other than your eyes is immoral, whereas in the West, as long as your genitals are covered, it isn’t. Tattoos are seen as immoral by some in Japanese society, but they can be a source of pride according to the Maoris.

But across cultures, the basis for morality has always been on two principles: a) whether a person does something of his own free will, and b) whether such action causes harm to another. This is why theft is universally regarded as immoral, because it causes harm by depriving another person of what belongs to him. 

With all that said, I think sex work should be made legal. By making it illegal, it drives the industry underground where it becomes unregulated and opens a vicious can of worms where exploitation or worse circumstances can happen. Making it legal means the industry can be controlled.

I also don’t believe there should be a distinction between the age of consent for commercial and non-commercial sex. In Singapore, the former is 18, while the latter is 16. It’s a blurred line — if I went to Thailand and found a 17-year-old village girl and made her my ‘girlfriend’, and I provide for her meals, shopping, even her family’s upkeep but I never explicitly pay her for any services, is it considered commercial sex? 

Legally, I also believe the law is problematic in that it paints the male as the aggressor. There was a case with an underage sex worker who told her clients that she was 18 when she was not. This actually constitutes fraud. The prosecution’s case was that the men should have verified her age by checking her identification documents, but the reality is that no sex worker will ever tell you her real name, let alone show you her ID. Besides, there is no assurance that it isn’t a fake ID, so where does it all end? 

The purpose of the law regarding age of consent is to protect underaged girls from being sought precisely because they are underaged. This I agree with. But it should not punish men who might have done their due diligence to avoid procuring the services of underaged girls, but were duped into doing so. 

The long and short of it is, as long as I am still able to perform and to appreciate the diverse beauty in all women, I don’t think I will stop engaging sex workers. There are many attractive women in all manners of appearance, and I like variety because it keeps things fresh and interesting. I think that many women see themselves as providers as pleasure, but they don’t receive it very often, which is why I’m always eager to give them a good time. 

Writer’s Note: 

Create Collective does not condone or endorse any statements made in this story. We thank the interviewee for his perspective, and we hope that it generates discussion and talking points. 

If you’re interested in hearing more on the writers’ perspectives while working on this series, check out @i_yune and @clarahow on the Dayre app. 

For the final part of the series (to be posted tomorrow), we speak with a former consultant who left her job to pursue a career in BDSM.

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