Cosmopolitans with a Prostitute
Inside the life of a sex worker living in Russia
After spending a month traversing Russia through the Trans-Siberian railway, I finally arrive in St. Petersburg. Though fatigued and slightly restless from being confined on a train for a long period of time, I feel my energy renewed by the bustling chatter and music throughout the city. As soon as I check-in to my hotel, I am lured back out by the jazzy tunes lingering faintly in the distance. I may be weary but oh, how I crave a live performance right now.
Shortly after 10 P.M., I hop onto the 49 bus to do what I love most in a new city — wander aimlessly through its public transportation, free to step off anytime when something piques my interest.
I follow the faint jazz, and about a half mile in, the tunes grow more and more pronounced. I step off the bus and find myself in front of the Hat Bar, where a mid-aged man passionately plays his saxophone. Such talent, I think as I walk in and find a seat at the bar.
To my right is a woman, in her late twenties perhaps. She wears bright red lipstick and dark eye makeup. Her cheekbones are flushed and professionally contoured. Her black v-neck top outlines her full breasts and her dark, tight skirt that barely reaches her knee hugs her curvy figure. I give her a half smile and a slight nod of acknowledgment, almost embarrassed by how unkempt I look in my oversized denim top and stained sweatpants.
Unprompted, she turns to me: “Where are you from?” Her voice is resounding and deep.
“California. And yourself?” I ask, a bit taken back by her almost-perfect pronunciation. I had spent the past month without saying a full English sentence.
“All over,” she chuckles and throws her head back, gazing longingly at the ceiling,
“Wherever the most interesting men are.” She locks eyes with me again. “Care to join me for a cosmopolitan?”
And that’s how our conversation began. Alaina* was born in Belarus moved to the U.S. at a young age. She has been a sex worker since she was 20 years old and has evolved this career for the past decade.
“The biggest misconception about sex workers is that we sleep with everyone,” she whispers to me. “But that’s not true — I have the upper hand.” There is a betting process with men, and when a client presents himself, she lays her terms and conditions and asks for details and references. She calls the listed reference for more insight, making sure the client is reliable and respectable. Sometimes the trade of information can take many cycles.
“Why did you choose this profession?” I ask, curious as to what leads someone to pursue sex work as a career.
“How else does someone pay for college,” she scoffs. Lack of ability to fund her education forced her to earn money through phone sex and web cam favors, and later, porn and prostitution.
“It wasn’t easy at times. I was naive, I faced brutal challenges and a lot of emotional abuse.”
Alaina married someone she met online, but the marriage lasted only three years. Sex work has completely taken away her ability to feel intimately close to someone. “I will never be okay with a committed relationship,” she sighs.
“So why did you come to Russia? Isn’t prostitution illegal here?” I inquire. I had read that prostitution had been banned during the Soviet times.
She looks at me seriously, “Honey, I am not a prostitute here. I’m on vacation. I live in Montreal now. Would you care for another drink? On me.” I join her for a second cosmopolitan. “When you see girls with baileys on-the-rocks, you know they are fishing. In Saint Petersburg, half the women are prostitutes. There’s no other jobs for them”.
“How do they get around then?”
Alaina flashes a wad of cash. “That’s how. Always have them around in case the police stops you. Business is business. We have to live somehow.”
She’s been in Russia for two months and has not yet determined when she will return to Montreal. “I like it here. St. Petersburg has flavor to it. I’ve lived in three different neighborhoods already.” She turns to me and winks. “If you want to make some money, a lot of money, I can hook you up now.”
I let out a nervous laugh and quickly change the subject. “How do you even reach your clients?”
Similar to many other prostitutes, Alaina started off by offering services on Craigslist. Soon after, she created a Twitter account that gained tens of thousands of followers. Most of her clients nowadays find her through Twitter. “I gained confidence after using my real name,” she tells me. “The most important rule to success is to know yourself and your own character, and dial it up to the max.”
She describes her character as dominant and peculiar. For example, Alaina appeals to men who desire a naturally curvy body and a full bush. She learned after her phone sex experience that her comparative advantage lies in her mannerism and conversation skills. This led her to create her own sex consulting business, where she taught other sex workers how to speak in a manner that is domineering yet enticing and irresistible. “I charged $100 an hour. You can look on Rolling Stones and Vice. They wrote about me.”
“So what are types of sex workers, and how do you classify yourself now?”
“There are many different types of sex workers,” she answers. There are the street sweepers, who wander the streets waiting for clients to sweep them up. Usually, they’re forced into prostitution because of financial reasons. Then there are the brothels, where a profit-sharing model is in place. Men choose from a line of women and are quoted a price. Women get to keep 50% of the payment but must get tested every two weeks. At her best, Alaina is considered a mid-elite. They earn slightly more than the other two types and usually have recurring clients. At the top of the totem pole are the elites. These women are beautiful model-figures who have invested hundreds of thousands on plastic surgery. They’re classy and understand how to talk to men, which also explains why many of them are escorts for politicians, moguls, and tech billionaires.
Alaina is now working on how to make her clients come back. “It’s a business. I need to develop empathy so they keep coming.” When asked how she achieves this, she mentions to play it nice at first, and then gradually dial up the aggressiveness and domineering qualities. “The men like it, and they will come back for more.”
Couples seek her out as well. “Sometimes, the husband knows his wife is cheating on him, and so he finds someone else to add to their relationship.” Her eyes widen, “Other men pursue trophy wives and enjoy watching them have sex with other men since they know they are still in control.” She laughs. “Can you imagine? Such power hungry men.” The third type of couples is less interesting. “Sometimes a couple wants to extend their relationship and find a prostitute. They will house and purchase anything the prostitute wants, as long as emotional and sexual engagement continues.”
She calls over the bartender: “two more cosmopolitans please!” Her attention goes back to me, and I wonder if she’s had too much to drink.
“My last client spent $45k and took me on this one month paradise resort in Jamaica. It’s hedonism. He wants to be in a relationship with me but that’s not what I want.” She leans a little closer. “There’s something truly powerful about getting paid to have sex. It is sexy.” In her words, she satisfies the men who are rotting, who are fulfilling their sexuality bucket list, who lack attraction physically and sexually… “and I get paid more than enough.”
I wonder how much of what she’s telling me is true. Maybe it’s the cosmopolitans that have bolstered her storytelling skills, but maybe this is simply her life.
She puts her face in mine, “the women to your left, she’s an escort. You can tell by the nails, because men pay attention to the details.” She’s looks down at hers — perfectly curved and painted with a layer of fake, glossy, neon-yellow polish. “And I can also tell she’s eavesdropping on our conversation.”
With delight, she calls over the bartender, “Two more cosmos, pazhalsta!”
*name has been changed