“A client books a sexting session like they would book a massage”: How a Toronto sex worker is pivoting her business online
I’ve been an independent erotic masseuse for about six years, working out of a condo in the financial district. I usually see six to 10 clients a week. Some sessions are an hour or 90 minutes; others are two to three hours if we’re having a glass of wine or going out for lunch or dinner after the massage. I’m lucky: I’ve been doing this for long enough that I have a good base of regular clients who keep coming back.
I’ve always really liked the work. I’m meeting people I wouldn’t normally meet. People share their fantasies and the sexual problems they feel they can’t tell anybody else. I feel it’s a privilege to help people explore certain things they just can’t otherwise explore.
I first noticed my business starting to change in early March, during the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada mining convention. PDAC is normally pretty good for me; there are people who come every year and always book me when they’re in town. Sometimes twice. So I had some bookings for PDAC, and it was looking good, and then all of a sudden, coronavirus hit. Then it was cancellation, cancellation, cancellation. Pretty much everyone cancelled. March 14 was the last time I saw someone in person. My birthday’s in May, so I’ve had clients message and ask if they can send me birthday money. And I’ve had some clients say, “I know things are hard, let me pay you in advance for a session.” Which is nice.
It’s shocking. I went from making money to making zero money. My inbox used to be a happening place—people emailing to ask questions, to set things up—and suddenly tumbleweeds are blowing through. I live alone in a tiny condo, and I’ve been taking social distancing really seriously and don’t leave very often. I’ve mostly been painting—just before the lockdown I bought a bunch of watercolour supplies—and reading. I managed to get a bunch of books from the library just in time. Right now I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running—it’s great if you’re trying to get inspired about running. I run very early in the morning and avoid people carefully. I’m not breathing moistly on anyone!
To keep paying the bills, I knew I had to move my business online. I saw on Twitter that other sex workers were offering virtual dates and texting services. And I thought, You know what, I’m going to do snail mail, actual physical pieces of mail, and see if anyone wants it. It’s just fun to get mail. It puts a smile on my face, and it’s an interesting way to get to know someone. The letters aren’t too sexual, just chatty, and I write about nerdy stuff like my love of stationery, learning French, my plants, loneliness. Clients write about their families, travel, work, hobbies. All the letters mention Covid—they talk about missing things, plans and thoughts about post-quarantine life, etc.—but they’re generally positive. People say different things when they’re writing something with pen and paper. You’re not able to erase things so easily. We’re so used to instant communication that maybe that’s a relief.
I’ve also been sexting. A customer can book a session like they’d book a massage session. Just before Covid, a client bought me a selfie stick, so out of boredom I’ve been taking a lot of photos. If a client books a sexting session, they’ll get a few photos. Depending on my mood, I’ll send an audio clip of me having an orgasm. I’ve found that auto-correct when you’re sexting can be disastrous—I’m not saying “clock,” I’m not saying “duck.” It costs $50 for a half-hour, $100 for an hour.
I’m not getting tons of business—I’ve made about $860 in six weeks—so I can still be eligible for CERB. The stuff I’m offering is a bit different, maybe a little less exciting, than what other people are offering. Like some people offer custom videos where clients decide what they wear and they’ll say the client’s name. I’m not even showing my face in photos. But if this goes on for a year, I guess I’ll have to revisit all this. Even when this finally ends, when the government says, “Okay, people can work again,” I don’t know how long it’ll take for me to get going. I can’t offer a Groupon. There are so few avenues for me to advertise because of legality and stigma and all that stuff. Sex workers on Twitter are always getting their accounts deleted. Maggie’s, the Toronto Sex Workers Action Project, has been fundraising emergency donations specifically for sex workers affected by Covid. They’re a registered charity, so you can get a tax receipt.
I’m surprised how much I miss everybody. I miss connecting with my clients and other sex workers. I miss the social part of the job, hearing about what’s going on in my clients’ lives. I have clients and colleagues whom I’ve known for years, and it’s jarring to stop seeing them so abruptly. Some people hire me me because they’re missing physical touch and intimacy in their lives. After all this isolation, I have a new appreciation for that.
—As told to Jason McBride