Last week, I was talking to someone about prostitution. She was almost a bit reluctant to tell me that she had considered it in the past. I think she realized pretty quick that I wasn’t going to pass any judgement so she elaborated a bit. She said something to the effect of “I really like getting to know new people, I really like sex, I feel like it’s something I could probably do.” I suspect that she wasn’t being entirely serious, but serious enough to explore the idea. I appreciate that open-mindedness. She’s someone who I have a great deal of respect for.. and I love it when people unlearn social norms and explore what’s possible.
Prostitution was fairly common where I grew up. Waiting for the bus in the mornings, you’d usually see a half dozen on any given day. It wasn’t pretty. The vast majority of these women were in rough shape and I think it’s safe to say that most were at a desperate time in their life.. perhaps trying to feed an addiction they wish they didn’t have. Every once in a while one would talk to you but it was usually somewhere between incoherent and unnerving so you learned to ignore them. For the most part, they looked like zombies that had found their way into a drag queen’s wardrobe.
When I got to university, I remember this girl telling me that she saw her first prostitute. She had spent most of her life in a small town, so for her, it was like seeing an elusive animal in the wild. It provided an interesting moment of reflection for me. For most of my early 20s, I don’t think I held a very strong opinion on prostitution. I knew I had no interested in paying for sex as a matter of pride, but I really had no motivation to condemn the practice. I wasn’t down with extortion or putting people in harms way, but they didn’t exactly seem like the same thing.
As I got older, it became easier and easier for me to see that prostitution wasn’t inherently good or bad, and that much of the stigma we had around it was a reflection of how the business of prostitution existed in the present day. Which begs the question, what would this industry look like if it was approached intelligently?
Years ago, I watched the Firefly series… or rather the one season which probably should’ve been a series. While there were all kinds of cool ideas and concepts explored on that show, I found their approach to prostitution to be especially enlightening. Early in the season, the character Inara Serra is introduced. She ends up renting a shuttle from the Firefly crew and basically hangs out with them as she conducts her business about the galaxy. Inara is a Companion, a licensed, high-society courtesan, and member of the ‘Guild’. Or in plain English, she’s a high-end, unionized prostitute in a place where prostitution is legal and regulated. Her approach to companionship absolutely expanded my mind on this topic. Here are a few quotes from her character for context:
“A companion chooses her own clients, that’s guild law. But physical appearance doesn’t matter so terribly, you look for a compatibility of spirit.”
“On Sihnon, we started training at twelve, years of discipline and preparation before the physical act of pleasure was even mentioned. Control was the first lesson, and the last.”
“Your father isn’t right, Fess. It’s not embarrassing to be a virgin. It’s simply one state of being. As far as bringing me here, companions choose the people they are to be with very carefully. For example, if your father had asked me to come here for him, I wouldn’t have.”
Inara Serra paints this picture of companionship rather than prostitution… and I can’t help but think it’s rather genius. It’s less about sex, and more about filling that void that people try to fill with sex. There’s a social, physical, and emotional connectedness that our bodies and minds require to be balanced and healthy, and this is about providing that service. I’m trying to think of similar professions… it’s like the touch of a masseuse, with the listening skills of a therapist, and the wisdom of a spiritual guide. Genius.
So if that’s what it would mean for the clients, what would it mean for companions? In my lifetime, I’ve met several women (and probably a few men) who would’ve loved to do something like this. It’s in times like these that we must remind ourselves that not all of us are wired for monogamy. Not all of us care for a traditional relationship. And not all of us have hang-ups around sex. Some of us are wired for polyamory. Some of us would prefer to challenge the status quo of what a relationship could be. And some of us are so confident in our sexuality, that we are guided by our love of sex, rather than our fear of it. In the present world, these individuals struggle to conform to traditional relationships. or adhere to social norms which were never in their nature. What would these individuals do with their time if society allowed them to find their best selves? By no means am I saying that they would all become companions, but I can’t help but think that a few would be very well suited to the role.
Years ago, I had done the math. If sex was the goal, it was cheaper to hire an escort than it was to wine and dine your way into someone’s bed. And if sex was your only goal, you wouldn’t have to worry about the aftermath of having stumbled into a almost-relationship. Hmm.. maybe I should look into it. So I did. I started cruising through the different listing sites for my city and analyzing the profiles of these women. The marketing practices being used there seemed rather telling. It was like every third profile said something along the lines of “these pictures are actually me!”, suggesting a fair bit of false advertising. Something that was a bit of a deal breaker for me was that faces were rarely shown. Plenty of boudoir pictures, but the first place my eyes go on a woman are her eyes and smile.
Eventually, I found a couple profiles that I found quite interesting. The first was a woman who had her masters and was working on her PhD. Her profile described someone who was looking to live life to its fullest. She was a fan of new experiences which seemed to include food, travel, and people. She seemed like a highly sexual creature who thoroughly enjoyed what she did. Her profile made it seem like she had curated a roster of high-end clients who appreciated her ability to be a classy date at formal functions, while being able to help you relax and unwind afterwards. What stood out to me the most was that she took pride in being able to hold a real conversation… I was genuinely interested in meeting this woman and seeing what she was all about. But there was a part of me that was a little intimidated by what I would be getting myself into.. so I passed.
Not long afterwards, I saw another profile that caught my attention. She was from my neck of the woods, very cute, and was just starting out. Her profile said something to the effect of just getting into it and seeing what it’s all about. I thought jackpot, we can figure this one out together! The profile said to text her, so I did. She was bright and bubbly at first, so I told her this is all pretty new to me and I’m a little uneasy about it. I said that her being new to this was the biggest reason why I texted. I think she said something to the effect of it’s all good. Then I suggested going on a date. I think in my head, the plan was to pay the cost of her time for an evening.. take her out for dinner.. and if we were both feeling it, to go for it. I think in that industry, as soon as the guy suggests taking you out on a date, it’s a giant red flag. That conversation died in a hurry and it was the last time I really explored that option.
I’ve arrived at a point now where sex doesn’t interest me unless there’s a connection beyond the physical. A few years ago, I brought home a girl who had a couple sponsors via Seeking Arrangements. Blonde, fake tits, gym rat, mini-skrt.. the whole 9 yards. I actually tried to pretend to be asleep because of how uncomfortable I was with the situation. Maybe I ended up going through the motions because I thought it would be the least awkward end to the night. I’d say there’s a very good chance I never do that again.
And this is how I’ve arrived at the companion experience. I would wager that (at least subconsciously) most who pay for sex, are looking for more than just sex. I’d also wager that most who are motivated to get into that line of work, (at least subconsciously) would like to provide more than just sex. Sex is only one element of companionship, and we need to do a better job of honoring the full experience. If we did, I think we shine a new light on what it means to be human.
Right now, prostitution seems to operate within a category of stigmas. There are those who sell their bodies for lack of alternative sources of income. There are those who are forced into the profession. There are those who start out well-intentioned, but fall victim to their environment. There are those who have made a career out of it, but who have a strained relationship with friends and family because of it. And there are those who have truly made it in the industry, with a giant question mark as to what happens when their physical beauty fades. I wouldn’t wish this life on anyone I cared about. There has to be a better approach to one of history’s oldest professions. It needs to not be about power, control, sex or money. It needs to be about human connectedness.
When I imagine what a week with Inara Serra would be like, I’m imagining a deeply spiritual and balancing experience. In the show, they start off with a tea ceremony where the companion and client are given an opportunity to connect with one another. It’s almost like a coffee date where you’re given a chance to get a feel for the other person. From there, I think it would depend on the context of why you sought out a companion. For me, I would want to spend time getting to know one another. I would want to find an intellectual and emotional connection before we explored the physical connection. As an expert in such connections, I would trust the companion to suggest some activities to fill our time. When the time was right, I’d also let her take the lead on what the physical element of this would look like. Who knows, she might pick up on my vibes and instigate something playful in nature. Or maybe she’ll pick up on my stress levelsand suggest something more relaxing. Or maybe she’ll suggest something completely non-sexual because she can read my body and knows that’s what I really need. With all the decisions I’m responsible for in my personal life, it would be nice to arrive somewhere, where I know I’m going to be taken care of by someone who truly knows how to rebalance another human being. If there was a service like this, I’d probably be a repeat customer. And therein lies the next level to this..
In the show, it was understood that when a client found a companion they really liked, they would call on the regular. Not like once a week regular, but once a year or once every couple years kinda regular – almost like a vacation to a favorite destination. So that would mean that these clients are perpetually single right? Or they don’t tell their significant others right? Or they’re in open relationships right? Or maybe not?
I suppose in a perfect world, your significant other would be your companion. But our world is imperfect. In our world, we can struggle to be everything our partner needs. But we’re encouraged to accept that if it’s not being provided, we don’t need it. We’re encouraged to settle for what our partners are able to provide. Some can be accepting of that and live a happy life. Others find ways to fill those needs, at the expense of the relationship. And others still, will go through life without those needs filled at all. I can’t help but think that if we were able get past this all.. we could separate the two.
Imagine being in a healthy, long-term relationship where a weekend with a companion wasn’t seen as infidelity.. but rather an exercise in self-care. If the role of a companion was to be an expert in human connection and an expert in bringing your body back to a point of equilibrium.. I wonder.