I made a google forms survey asking people a bunch of demographic information, and what they meant by the word ‘racism.’ I kept it simple and only gave three options – “Discrimination on the basis of race”, “Prejudice + power”, and “other.”
I posted the survey all over, but got respondents mainly from 4 locations – fetlife (1050), my blog (234), reddit (5045), and twitter (963). Total N (after cleaning up a few fake-looking responses) was 7,381.
I anticipate reddit and fetlife as being ‘less biased’ than my blog and twitter, because the vast majority of people who follow me on those platforms don’t know anything about my politics, polls, personality, etc.. If anything I’d assume fetlife as a source leans more liberal than average, as it’s an extremely sex-positive community source.
Here’s what people said, broken down by all the demographic stuff.
Correlation of age and answering “discrimination on the basis of race” was r=-0.06, very small, but definitely significant at a likelihood ratio of 3 million to one. Likelihood ratios mean basically how much more likely the observed correlation is than a correlation of 0.
This one is much less surprising to me – the more educated you are, the more likely you are to report “prejudice + power” as how you define racism. Probably confounded by age, I didn’t check for this. Education was weakly anti correlated with answering discrimination on the basis of race’, r=0.07, LR 1/8 million.
I’m not sure how to interpret the ‘native’ results here; maybe selecting both this ethnicity and ‘other’ were troll responses? I did clear out troll responses I noticed so I think this is a bit less likely, but who knows.
Obviously the other outlier here is “prejudice + power’s” black/african american’s 29.3% (as compared to e.g. white’s 17.4%). This seems pretty in line with the discourse. It’s interesting that the discourse doesn’t seem to have touched the Asian or Hispanic populations I sampled!
I didn’t include ‘pacific islander’ (few responses) or ‘other’ (???) category for this graph.
Keeping in mind some of the bins here are small (afab and ftm especially), these results also aren’t super surprising. I suspect some degree of this is confounder, though I’m not sure in which direction – a higher percentage of female responses came from fetlife, which also registered as a more “prejudice+power” source (26%, as opposed to twitter’s 10%)
I’m surprised to see ‘middle’ outranking ‘east’ for USA’s “prejudice + power” responses; although it’s only a 3-percentage-point difference, the bins were big; 1192 for ‘east’ and 637 for ‘middle.’
But besides this, I’m unsurprised to see the US leading the world in the “prejudice+power” definition’; it also seems related to discourse which is so far a mostly US-centric phenomenon.
I also asked respondents to pick which statement they agreed with more: Definitions are: Descriptive: We know the correct definition of a word based on observing the way it’s used – we “describe” its use” Definitions are: Prescriptive: We know the correct definition of a word based on what we’ve decided it should be – we ‘prescribe’ its use
10% more people who said ‘discrimination on the basis of race’ saw definitions as descriptive, compared to those who said definitions were more prescriptive (r=0.09, likelihood ratio 2e+12). A pretty weak but real effect.
There weren’t many interesting other correlations (including education!) with this question besides the ‘how do you define racism’ one , though there were two even weaker ones with with age and twitter as a source (r=0.04, tend to say ‘discrimination on basis of race’ more)
If you’d like to doublecheck my work or play with the data yourself, here’s the raw responses. They should be fully anonymous, given the girth of this sample size, but I binned the age data anyway to be safe. If I’ve made any mistakes please let me know and I’ll update this post!
When I mention my dad’s abuse, I usually mention salient things – physical pain, insults, and controlling behavior. These are “clearly bad” – if I tell that he you often told me I was lazy and would fail horribly at life once I left home, you know it’s bad, because it’s concrete, easy to imagine and obviously unkind. But this wasn’t the worst of the abuse; the most terrible parts were extraordinarily hard to understand or describe.
In his world, I felt insane – I couldn’t tell what was real, who was at fault, or why my heart hurt so much. My sense of clarity around my own intentions crumbled; everything I thought or did might have seemed good on the surface, but that goodness became just a disguise for my true, darker intentions – all helpfully revealed to me by my dad. And none of it was salient or concrete or easily understandable; I remember my mom once telling me, “I can’t describe what this is like to other people. The individual things seem so silly, I can’t put the important thing into words.”
I’m going to try to put it into words, and the words I use for “the important thing” are frame control.
This isn’t just about my dad, and he wasn’t even particularly good at it when children weren’t his targets; frame control pops up elsewhere. It’s a feature of cults, leaders, of some charismatic people, of abusers in relationships, of some parents, of some ideological movements. It’s hit communities around me, hurt friends of mine. I don’t know how to fight it, but I at least want to name it. And naming it is really hard, because at first glance frame control looks like completely normal behavior. Every individual instance is “not that bad”; and when the knife that wounds you is invisible, you might doubt that you’re bleeding at all. Frame control is inherently illegible; it’s not something that checks a few clear boxes, it’s only really visible through the experience of the receiver.
In this post I’m going to advocate for some perspectives that I think can also be really dangerous. I’m going to avoid too many disclaimers or safety warnings throughout for the sake of directness, though I have some thoughts on danger at the end.
Your frame is basically the set of assumptions you hold about the world around you, in every way there is – your values, your identity, your beliefs about meaning and social norms and economics and whatever, although most of it tends to be implicit or subconscious; probably only a small portion of your frame is directly expressible! Your frame might encompass anything from “Jesus is my savior” to “It’s bad to touch the sidewalk with your hands” to “I am valuable because I’m funny”
Imagine your frame exists as a box around you; when someone engages with you, they try to get you out of your box and into their box in various ways. This can be via stuff like:
Debate: Trying to demonstrate, through reason and facts, how their box is better (“No, sex isn’t about power, it’s about sex, here’s a study!”)
Recommendation: Showing that the box they’re in has been really good for them (“Viewing my body tension as actually about childhood trauma really cleared things up”)
Pressure: Holding social alliance with them as conditional on them joining you in your box (“I only really respect people who believe all lives matter”)
Rescue: Offering up their box as the solution for an issue you have (“Want to escape your suffering? Become aware of no-self”)
Aggression: Trying to push you into their box (“You’re a piece of shit for denying climate change, you’re the reason we’re all going to die”)
These are all attempts to control your frame, but none of these is what I mean by frame control. These techniques can be manipulative or abusive, but they’re also broadcast clearly; in a similar way to how a man catcalling on a busy street alerts both the target and everyone else to their presence. It’s annoying, but clearly legible. It’s easy for you and everyone around you to say to each other, “Ah, that person wants something from you” and move on with your day.
No; frame control is the “man doesn’t announce his presence, he just stalks you silently” of the communication world. It’s when you end up in the other person’s box without knowing that it happened. It’s not violence you can feel, or coaxing you can reason with; it’s a slow build of their frame around you until you don’t remember what your box ever looked like. Frame control is a quiet subversion of your agency; instead of offering up their frame for you to consider, they pull you in without consent, into a world you probably would never have endorsed from the outside.
Frame control often results in doubt, denial, or suppression of your own feelings, as the frame controller has you in their frame and exerts a huge amount of energy to keep you there. Your own experience is warped to align with that of the frame controller, even (especially?) when this comes at cost to you.
For a very simple, obvious example (not all of them are so obvious!), my dad would sometimes command obedience in things that were very painful to obey (e.g., permanently ending all contact with my best friend). This made me angry, but his frame treated my anger as a sign that I was sinful and corrupt, and I thus experienced my anger as a failure on my part. I would get angry, and then feel guilty for being angry, and spend a huge amount of effort suppressing the anger and trying to convince myself I felt grateful for how much effort my dad was putting into his parenting.
How is frame control done in such a surreptitious way? Surely you would notice if someone was telling you it’s your fault for feeling bad, right?
Sometimes, frame controllers will make high-risk moves that serve to alienate 98% of people and draw in the other 2%. “My organization is going to save the world” – a maybe crazy claim, but if you’re one of the people who really believes it’s possible to save the world, you might instead process the claim as instead incredibly brave, because you know 98% of people will think it’s stupid. And maybe it is brave! My point is not that the moves are bad or good, only that high-variance, high-risk moves will fail most of the time, but be very effective when they don’t fail. This can make frame control strategies that fail on you seem to be very obvious and easy to avoid, but the frame control strategies that work will feel extremely exciting.
Also, frame control is often more likely to happen to vulnerable people. If you’re younger, or alienated from family, or don’t have a great social group, or if you’re very weird or neuroatypical and don’t easily feel seen, or if you end up in a system where your core needs are controlled by your compliance (romantic relationships and employment and MLMs can fit this), this makes you much more susceptible.
Before I’m more direct about identifying frame control, I want to clarify a few things.
One is that good frame controllers put a lot of effort into avoiding the appearance of control. They will explicitly say things that appear to validate your emotions and increase your degree of freedom. They might appear empathetic, self-reflective, open to negative feedback, genuinely caring. Skilled frame controllers track the quiet social understanding of how you have to act in order to be perceived as good, and they are very careful to fill this (Some are a bit less skilled; for example, see Geoff Anders dutifully including option C in this otherwise aggressive tweet). This causes the victims to justify all sorts of harmful behavior to themselves – “Well, my dad says he loves me and wants what’s best for me, so his discipline must be good for me”, “Well that person says they’re open to being wrong, and have pointed out when they were wrong before, so it’s unlikely they’re wrong about x”.
Frame controllers, typically after they get a good foothold, also can determine the standard by which you measure what is good. Instead of just replicating good behavior, they also tell you what good behavior is, e.g. “correcting your sins is good” or “not giving what you want is good for you.”
Second point is a doozy, and it’s that you can’t look at intent when diagnosing frame control. As in, “what do they mean to do” should be held separate from “what are the effects of what they’re doing” – which I know is counter to almost every good lesson about engaging with people charitably.
Frame control is an effect; very often, people who frame control will not be aware that this is what they’re doing, and have extensive reasoning to rationalize their behavior that they themselves believe. If you are close to a frame controller and squinting at them to figure out “are they hiding intent to control me,” you often will find the answer is “no.”
This often functions as a trap to keep people in a controlled frame. For example, I once hung out for a while with a cult (which nobody, including me, viewed as a cult at the time), where their cult leader was doing a lot of really bad frame control stuff. The narrative inside the group (which is not universal across cults!) was that the cult leader was both deeply flawed and perceptive, and the things he did that hurt people were either for their own good, or an unintentional byproduct of him genuinely trying to do good. “He means well” was a crucial element of keeping people in this cult; focusing on his good intent functioned to dismiss and downplay the damage that was being done to its members.
And so, when evaluating frame control, you have to throw out intent. The question is not “does this person mean to control my frame,” the question is “is this person controlling my frame?”. This is especially true for diagnosing frame control that you’re inside of, because the first defense a frame controller uses is the empathy you hold for them.
This all might sound pretty dark, like I’m painting a reality where you might go around squinting at empathetic, open, caring people who have zero ill intent whatsoever and trying to figure out how they are ‘actually bad.’ And this is kind of true, but if only because “I am an empathetic, open, caring person with zero ill intent” is exactly the kind of defense actual frame-controllers inhabit. The vast majority of good people with good intent aren’t doing any significant kind of frame control; my point is just that “good person with good intent” should not be considered a sufficient defense if there seems to be other elements of frame control present.
Much of frame control occurs in the land of things not said. We’re constantly, unconsciously making strategic moves in conversation that shift ourselves into more favorable positions. For example:
You have a bad fight with your romantic partner, and things are tense. Shortly after the fight, you’re hanging out in a group of friends. Your partner suggests the group should set up a fund where everyone can contribute to group trips, and the excess in the fund can cover emergencies. You announce that this sounds like a great idea, that communal bonding is great.
You publicly announcing reinforcement of your partner’s idea has a secondary function of aligning yourself with your partner and communicating to your partner you’re still affectionate despite the fight you just had.
And maybe your partner says that no, this isn’t about communal bonding, this is about handling emergencies.
Your partner’s words were just clarifying their own meaning, but the secondary function is un-aligning themselves with you, pointing out your understanding failure, and implying the fight is still ongoing. On the surface the conversation is normal, but other communication is also happening, likely without conscious knowledge of the participants. The above example is from a personal experience, and when it happened I had zero conscious knowledge of the secondary functions.
Conversation, action, and context are overflowing with secondary functions. Words have effects that aren’t just about the words, and so we get things like greeting rituals (hello how are you im fine how are you) designed to indicate alliance, “I’m busy again” means “I don’t want to date you,” telling the unattractive person they’re beautiful just the way they are indicates you are magnanimous and virtuous and value people for their inner spirit or whatever. We often ‘hear’ these by gut instincts; feeling uncomfortable, feeling affectionate, calm, agitated. We instinctively know the kinds of things to say to communicate the right unspoken functions. We get weird feelings around some people even if we can’t put a finger on it.
Those examples are more obvious, but the vast majority are trivial. For example, if I tell my friend “I can’t talk right now I’m about to run to a doctor’s appointment”, it’s full of mundane implications. My priority right now is the doctor’s appointment, not you. I am taking time to tell you this. I want you to know about my life. I take care of my health.
Frame control heavily relies on apparently trivial secondary functions. Frame controllers will say very normal sounding things with trivial secondary functions that also happen to give them more power.
For example, I was once visiting a tightly knit group where my presence was somewhat a threat to the leader; I was an outsider, and some people in the group respected me. At one point, while in a discussion about gender dynamics, the leader casually mentioned that “if Aella were a man, people would find her disgusting.” This was plausibly a normal thing to say in context; he was known for saying hard truths, for having insights about gender, and to be fair I was sitting there sweaty, topless, and on acid, *and* I hadn’t showered in a week (this was at burning man). But it also had the function of reframing respect for me as actually coming from attraction; with this sentence, it caused everybody listening to reevaluate their opinions about me, to doubt their own experience of liking what I had to say. It was also brilliant because it wasn’t a direct accusation to or about me; he didn’t say “Aella isn’t worth listening to”; it was framed as about the people perceiving me. This then increased my barrier towards challenging him, because I would have had to explicitly point out implications that would give him another foothold to resist.
Or, Aubrey De Grey’s Facebook post. (Aubrey De Grey is a high profile man who was recently accused of harassment). He wrote a defense of his behavior in which he argues that the accusers are not at all malicious, but rather were deliberately ‘set up” by a third party who fed them misinformation.
This has the effect of establishing Aubrey as more authoritative than the accusers (he can see the real guilty party and his accusers cannot); it frames his accusers as innocent and mistaken victims (thus subverting their accusations as valid) and positions Aubrey as firmly determined to bring the true guilty parties to justice (why would you oppose him if you want to pursue the guilty?).
The examples I’m giving are obvious, salient ones, because they stood out and I remembered them. But most of the time it’s a quieter accumulation of a thousand tiny implications, each one so small that to point one out would sound insane. It might be something like asking the frame controller if they want to go to the store with you, and they respond “no thanks, because I went last time.” – a completely innocuous comment, but in the right context it might be an implication that last time they went with you was doing you a favor and making a sacrifice. A lot of it is also not explicitly verbal – it can be how they say it, their body language, where they’re placing their attention.
Of course, everybody does things that I could recount here and assign a frame control frame to it; we constantly manipulate each other, asking implicitly to be viewed as competent, or kind, or insightful. And maybe it’s good to pay closer attention to this too! But the difference between this everyday thing and the frame control that traumatizes people is generally that of intensity, frequency, and practical control. If it occurs regularly, and in a direction that consistently reduces trust in your own mind, if it hands the frame controller power over your reality and devotion, and if this is backed up with credible threats to your needs (social acceptance, income, etc.), then I’m much more likely to give it a ‘frame control’ label. I provide examples of what’s not frame control, later.
If you try to point out the secondary effects, frame controllers typically have a more advanced version of the “it’s just a joke” defense. Why are you taking such a normal thing in such an uncharitable light? What issues do you have that are causing you to be so resistant (a’la the NXIVM flip)? If this happens in a culture of intense self-improvement, where people are used to finding actual insights by investigating their own resistance to things, this can be a very effective tactic, because it’s a question that points to a legitimately useful direction – there is always something interesting going on in your own experience. Parallels are drawn to sympathetic situations; for example, perhaps once you finally established a necessary boundary for your own good in a relationship with someone you cared about, and this person got agitated, accused you of making them feel bad and limiting their self expression. This is unfortunate, but you believe with your whole being that this person really should investigate their own resistance to your boundaries. And thus “investigate your resistance” is a powerful and well-known rule that people widely agree with, and this is why it’s so effective as a frame control defense.
The problem is if your goal is to end your suffering, and the actual best way to end your suffering is to change your circumstances, then “investigate your own resistance” is a distraction; it’s a frame where your circumstances are not considered as a changeable option.
A related strategy is pushing the painful update button. I’m sure you’ve had experiences where you learned and grew, and it was really painful to do so. You had to face some hard truths, let go of how you saw yourself, and maybe even do a bit of surrendering your ego. This is legitimately good! But a key aspect of frame control is reframing harm as good – and so the pain from beneficial updates becomes an easy candidate. You might be promised insights about yourself (usually handed to you by the frame controller), and pain from those insights gets reinterpreted as evidence that the insights are valuable. No pain no gain. This also tends to be more common in meditation communities where they might encourage things like very hard work or lack of sleep or no food; “what, did you think growth was going to feel good?” the norm is whispered from every corner. “The pain you feel from this community and its leader is what growth means.”
And to be clear, a lot of this is true. Frame control breaks your reality down to fit another one, and while I view this as poisonous, the act of breaking down your frame can have huge benefits – similarly to how forcing a child to sit through school might break their creativity but give them the ability to reliably perform boring tasks. When I first started doing LSD, I recognized a lot of parallels between the drug and my upbringing. “Oh, this is the same thing” I told my sister, who was tripping with me that first time. “Dad broke us in the same way, he just did it violently.” Being mentally broken by an abuser was super educational; it annihilated my sense of fight, it taught me surrender, how to handle huge amounts of pain without resistance, how to let go of everything I loved. And in LSD, though a vastly different tone and infinitely more healthy, I somehow encountered the same basic story.
This is part of the reason why escaping frame control situations can be so disorienting. Frame control situations can give you legitimate, valuable insight. It can open up deep, tender parts of your soul. You might genuinely love the frame controller. It can be some of the most meaningful experiences you’ve ever had. The basic story is a good one. It’s just that the goal of frame control is someone else’s power over you; the story is infused with poison. They grant you profound awe in exchange for serving them. And the combination of valuable insight at the level of your soul mixed in with poison and subjugation to someone else’s will can be a deeply traumatizing experience. People who escape frame control situations often have a really hard time making sense of the world or themselves or what is good or bad or how to feel; their own sense of judgment has been undermined so thoroughly they don’t trust themselves to hold their own frame anymore.
Zoe Curzi (who worked at Leverage) says “a key confusing feature of leaving is that you weren’t acknowledging the badness, and now you have to. And for a while, the badness is all-consuming, because it’s the main thing you weren’t allowed to acknowledge while maintaining your relationship to the community or person controlling you. But something about this is ALSO fucky for sense-making, because it doesn’t acknowledge the powerful soul insights. But if you acknowledge only those, you’ll never leave. So the extremes create a yo-yo in recovery that often makes sense-making and integration an extremely long process, possibly never finished, very incoherent along the way.”
In a lot of ways this is similar to an abusive upbringing. As a child, you bond tightly with the parent who teaches you, cares for you, molds your reality. You rely on them, and many wonderful things you value came from your relationship with them. So how do you come to terms with a world without them?
I’m talking a bit philosophically about frame control, but in an attempt to get more concrete, here’s a non-exhaustive list of some frame control symptoms. Keep in mind these are not the same thing as frame control itself, they’re just red flags. Some of these overlap strongly with traditional cult signifiers. Also not all frame control has all of these.
They do not demonstrate vulnerability in conversation, or if they do it somehow processes as still invulnerable. They don’t laugh nervously, don’t give tiny signals that they are malleable and interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview. I once had a long talk with a very smart man who was widely perceived as deeply compassionate and kind, but long after the talk I realized at no point in the conversation he had indicated being impacted by my ideas, despite there being multiple opportunities for him to make at the very least small acknowledgements that I was onto something good. It took me a long time to realize this because he’d started out the conversation by framing me as special, telling me it was unusual to find someone else who had the ideas I did, that I must have taken a different path. “He is someone who respects me” was the frame he set up, and so I was blinded to the stark lack of reinforcement or vulnerability he actually displayed. This guy still has a lot of social power and I don’t feel comfortable yet publicly naming him.
They have status and power. A key component that makes frame control dangerous is when it’s linked to concrete consequences; maybe people really respect them, maybe they control resources, maybe they are the person throwing big events, maybe they gave you a new name, maybe they have the power to exclude you from your social group. Less powerful people can also do frame control, but it tends to be tighter (e.g., only in a romantic relationship).
Finger-trap beliefs; my term for beliefs where pulling against the belief only strengthens the belief. One example is how Christians say that Satan will make you doubt the existence of God. If you find yourself doubting the existence of God, this gets processed as evidence for Satan. Similarly, frame-controllers will instill beliefs designed to clamp down if you ever doubt the frame controller; “Other people will try to tell you we’re misguided because they’re too afraid of our power” results in “if I entertain the notion that the leader is misguided, does this mean I’m too afraid of their power?”. Frame controllers will often reframe ideas that challenge them as red flags that point to deeper flaws in the questioner. Often these defenses are established well in advance of the challenging idea, so that your memetic immune system gets disabled long before it has a chance to get activated.
Reframing harm as beneficial. I discussed this earlier but to reiterate: in normal life we have self-protection instincts that tell us to run away from things that hurt. We also have norms where we’re taught not to do this – spending your childhood sitting in school might suck, but it’s “for your own good” so we accept it (which is bad, imo). Frame controllers use our prior understanding that ‘sometimes things I don’t like are good for me,’ and they make sure to map this onto everything about the frame controller you don’t like. Your pain, through one narrative or another, is evidence of goodness.
Sometimes, when your pain is processed as evidence of goodness, you often stop processing it as pain entirely; if you’ve ever looked back on a period of your life with shock that you could have handled that, likely this is because you viewed the harm as beneficial and thus did not process it as pain at all. This is often actively reinforced by frame controllers, who inhabit a worldview where it’s just not an option that a thing might be causing you pain.
They are the teacher, and you the student. They might make perfunctory gestures towards learning from you, but the general attitude, upheld by them and also the culture around you, is that knowledge passes from them to you. Unlike in traditional teaching, this usually extends to all things; they are uncomfortable with you holding subcategories of expertise, and will tolerate it only insofar as they can take credit for your power in some way or maintain a narrative where they have the ability to ultimately judge the value or role of what you’re presenting. They might take steps to keep you in the position of student, such as deliberately giving you tasks you’re bad at, or placing you in situations that make you deeply uncomfortable (with good-for-you explanations included, of course). Insofar as they grant you actual authority, it will only be after they’re convinced of your absolute, unfailing loyalty.
A belief in their own importance. They often feel they have unique access to some knowledge that you can only get through them, whether it be religious or mystical or a complete theory of psychology.
A refusal to affirm ways in which your frame falls outside of theirs. In health(ier) relationships, people tend to “approach each other’s frames”; as in, set aside their own worldview for a moment, inhabit the other person’s, and talk to them “from that frame.” Frame controllers don’t do this; they do not come to you, they do not acknowledge or validate your frame. There might be some performative aspects of this; for example, saying “I know this is so hard” while the rest of their speech subtly doesn’t seem to indicate they actually understand that it’s hard.
When conflicts or disagreements happen, they operate from an assumption that you simply haven’t seen the light yet. They might be very magnanimous about this, or listen to you for a long time, or say things like “that’s a great point,” but their attitude seems to imply that there’s not actually a possible reality where you are correct. They are gently, caringly waiting for you to realize the thing that they knew all along. They are so helpful. They are so patient as they help you to see the one truth. And if they have the one truth, how many other things are they right about, that you simply can’t see yet because you haven’t tried hard enough?
There’s a narrative of openness and flexibility that deflects from areas of inflexibility. “I’m so kind and patient,” their actions imply, as they graciously sacrifice hours of their attention helping you work through why you don’t want to do a task they want you to do.
They orient around their turf; they prefer to decide location and method of debates, they want you to come to their house; maybe they sit while you stand, maybe they don’t give interviews with anybody slightly hostile, maybe they want you to come on their show and frame it as evidence of wrongdoing if you decline..
They consistently reroute pressure away from them. I once sat in on a dojo where I watched one of the students point out an error the teacher had made. The teacher then responded by asking the student a question that investigated what was behind the pointing out, what was really about them that caused this? The resulting discussion then was entirely about the student, and as far as I can tell everybody else forgot about the mention of the error. My dad used to refer to this tactic explicitly – “make sure they’re always on the defensive, don’t give them room to have energy for offense.”
Similar to the above, they ask questions with forced answers – a common tactic in police interviews, when explicit. “Did you leave your dish in the sink?” “You know that I don’t like that, right?” “You left your dish in the sink, knowing I don’t like it, right?” “So you admit you are intentionally upsetting me”. Sometimes it’s less explicit – for example, years ago I was at a large group dinner with acquaintances and a woman I didn’t like. She was talking about something I wasn’t interested in, mostly to a few other people at the table, and I drifted to looking at my phone. The woman then said loudly, “Oh, looks like I’m boring Aella”. This put me into a position where I had to choose between either being honest and drastically escalating the social tension, or to politely disagree and thus lend social validation to what she was doing.
They make “buried claims” – assertions that pressure you to jump through hoops to challenge the core. For example, “Everybody knows you’re sensitive” asks you to challenge everybody knowing before you can challenge being sensitive. If you angrily ask them to stop opening your door without knocking, they might say “Annoyance is understandable, it comes from a desire for privacy instilled into you by an isolated society.” If you want to tell them your annoyance is important, now you have to argue for an isolated society, or that no it’s not caused by society.
They constantly redirect to salient measures. This is a very classic example with abusive parents, when they point out how they’re feeding and clothing you as an appeal to being a good parent. I remember once, shortly after I went no-contact with my dad, he surprise visited me at the library where I worked. Upon seeing him, I fled into the staff area and hid under a table and curled into the fetal position and sobbed; when a coworker found me, all I could say was “Don’t worry, it’s okay, he didn’t hit me. He didn’t hit me”. I was worried my coworker would think I’d been “abused”, I was embarrassed at my “dramatic overreaction”, and I didn’t want to be misleading – at the time I didn’t process my childhood as abusive, because my dad had constantly redirected me to salient measures.
A refusal to collaborate with other perspectives. Most interactions have a normal push-pull of power, usually designed to distribute it evenly throughout the group; an obvious, simple example is responding to a compliment with a self-effacing joke. In this regard, frame controllers are antisocial rather than cooperative; they don’t participate with the group in evenly distributing power, they subvert other perspectives in service of their own power.
So if frame control looks so similar to just being a normal person, what are some signs that someone isn’t doing frame control? Keeping in mind that these are pointers, not absolute, and not doing these doesn’t mean someone is doing frame control.
They give you power over them, like indications that they want your approval or unconditional support in areas you are superior to them. They signal to you that they are vulnerable to you.
You feel really, deeply loved by them. Frame controllers often say they love you, or have demonstrations of love like loyalty, but often lack a subtle profound attention and selfless care. For example, both my mom and dad made terrible parenting mistakes, and both said they loved me, but I could feel the selfless care from my mom and it was notably absent from my dad.
They repeatedly validate your reality, wholeheartedly, without subtle implications otherwise, and even when they don’t agree. They defer to you as an authority on yourself.
Acceptance: in a sense, they view you as perfect the way you are, they assume your hidden intentions ultimately come from a place of deep goodness.While you might be attempting to fix things about yourself, they carry an attitude that you are fundamentally okay.
You don’t have to justify your preferences. While they might inquire about them, they respect what you want even if they don’t understand why, even if it seems irrational, even if you have no idea why. Your wants are treated as fundamentally valid regardless of what generated them.
Frame control is damaging when it’s invisible; if you are fully aware of it, it might affect you similarly to how most normal, salient attempts to move frames do, like debating or persuasion. For this reason I don’t think all frame control is inherently harmful; it’s possible, for example, to be close friends with a heavy frame controller while being fully aware of all of the frame control moves they might be doing. I think this is really hard to achieve, though; being very close with someone almost by default means vulnerability to each other’s frames. When you want to “get their world”, empathize with them, see things the way they do, and especially if you respect them – this is how the frame control slips through.
And this is why my general philosophy for people who frame control is “burn it with fire.” I don’t have this for any other human flaw – people with terrible communication skills, traumatized people who lash out, anxious, needy people who will try to soak the life out of you, furious dox-prone people on the internet – I believe there’s an empathic route forward. Not so with frame control.
Frame control uses the pathways of love, desire to do good, empathy – of any sort of human connection. Pushing the painful update button is effective because people genuinely want to grow. Finger trap beliefs snap shut because e.g. you were shown just how much the outside world persecutes this person and you are genuinely moved to be the one who shows them true kindness. You look for their human intent, you imagine what it’s like to be them, you empathically step into their world, and then it clamps down around you.
In this, I am a conflict theorist; this is not a mistake, this is war. And a part of me knows this isn’t “true” – as in, I could have been born into a brain that ended up doing strong frame control. I know they are real people with feelings and needs. But that “true” perspective will let them destroy you; when I run into strong frame control, I snap to an extremely antagonistic frame. No, you are not allowed into my life, my home, my friends, and I will try to remove you from the power you might use to hurt anybody else. Maybe I’m being overly dramatic about this because I’m more vulnerable to frame control than most, but another part of me simply doesn’t care. “They will use your fear of being overly dramatic to undermine your reality.”
Breaking out of frame control is really high cost. In cults this is often clear – you lose your community or financial support or whatever – but the cost can also be internal. With frame control, you have to decide between two worlds – “They are normal and I am bad”, and “They are fucked up and I am sane.” And if they are fucked up, you have to be able to believe you need to separate from them, to cut them off from you fully. This is really hard to do.
“For a normally empathetic person, the idea that someone could be so confused as to be so harmful that I have literally no idea how they could be healthfully allowed close to me or people I love is….very, very tragic.” – Zoe
Part of the motivation for inhabiting a world where anybody you love can be “saved” is that this means you yourself might be saveable. I have a wonderful friend who often invites questionable people to parties, and I suspect it’s because he views himself as questionable, and demonstrating inclusion of other questionable people is a way of demonstrating to himself that he also will be included. We want unconditional love and acceptance to be possible, because we want it for ourselves, and so solidly ejecting someone else is a destruction of that possibility. It means someone can be so bad that they’re ejected out into the dark, and you have to stand there staring at the decompression chamber as you press the button to open the doors into space. It’s brutal and it hurts and it’s terrifying; who are you, that you could do that to someone? Who are you, that you know your ship is surrounded by space?
A lot of things I’m pushing in this post are pretty dangerous. I’m handing you a label of frame control and giving it permission to cut off empathy, to stop investigating your own motivations, to squint super hard at possible subtle motivations in others, to stop looking at intent and only look at effect. This is basically the opposite of all good advice, and even worse it seems like it might give a license to use frame control as a weapon – not just on others, but also ourselves. Technically, everybody “frame controls” all the time; we can probably find numerous examples where every one of us – including me – does the things I outline as bad. And people who frame control may also accuse others of frame control as a weapon for sowing self doubt (and dismiss accusations of frame control at themselves as simply weapons for sowing seeds of self doubt).
I don’t know how to address this problem. This is partially because it’s a moving target – as soon as frame control is named and described, then it can get Goodharted – frame controllers will use this as an instruction manual to become less visible. It’s also because frame control exists as a subversion of normal behavior; as the salient stuff is labeled bad, they stop doing the salient stuff, all the bad gets squeezed down into the cracks below our feet, and now you can’t tell which parts of the floor are poisoned just by looking at it. And if we manage to point at a spot and label the poison, it becomes salient, and the whole process starts again.
If someone tries to use this blog post to argue for someone doing frame control that you don’t see, it’s okay to still be skeptical. If they try to use it to argue that someone isn’t doing frame control, but you still feel a weird unsettledness you can’t name, it’s okay to still feel unsettled. Don’t let this post tell you how you should feel. Take this article lightly, take it as a pointer, take it as art. Ultimately, checking in with how you actually feel is the answer. I don’t mean to imply this is easy; it’s often really hard to know how you feel, and maybe it changes often and frame controllers put in a lot of effort to obfuscate this. But in the end, careful attention to your own sensations are your saving grace.
(Remembering that inclusion of names doesn’t mean endorsement) I’d like to thank Zoe Curzi, Lawrence Kesteloot, Malcolm Ocean, Daniel Filan, Alexander Zavoluk, Melody Trainor, Hrothgar, Elizabeth Van Nostrand, Kathryn Devaney, Catherine Olsson, and a few other anonymous contributors for leaving feedback and suggestions on this post as I developed it.
Last year, I published a “date me” survey with ~60 questions in an attempt to find a serious long-term partner. I designed it with a few categories – lifestyle choice compatibility (stuff like age/location/relationship style/future plans), sexual compatibility, value/personality alignment, and questions that would filter me out if they valued stuff I didn’t have.
Unbeknownst to the respondents, the survey was scored, with various questions weighted by how much importance they had to me. The result was a big spreadsheet of a few thousand people sorted by their survey score. I contacted the top three scorers; of those, two responded, and logistics allowed me to meet up with one of those two.
This scorer was Nate Soares, someone I’d met before; he’s a deep-rationalist who’d shown up to a party or two (including my naked mask party, wearing an anglerfish mask, where he didn’t speak a word the entire time, and nobody could figure out who he was for months afterwards. This was hilarious). I hadn’t particularly found him memorable; he was nice, but I hadn’t felt attracted to him.
He proposed our first date be a yolo 3-day airbnb in the woods. I like yolo spirit and accepted. It was awkward and terrifying; I didn’t feel attracted to him, but had sex the first night anyway in the spirit of figuring out if we were compatible. Things felt stilted (to clarify, the sex did not feel stilted), like we were coming from two different countries, but on the third night one of our conversations felt a bit of a breakthrough in connection, and we decided to attempt actually dating.
Our second date was a week long (estimated 50% chance of working out), our third date a few weeks long (estimated 10-15% chance of working out), and our fourth date was moving in together for a three month trial period. We tried an explicit, high-pressure escalation to speed up “figuring out if we want to be life partners”; as each successive date seemed to hold promise, we figured we should turn the knob up even further to see if anything exploded.
We’re currently 2.5/3 months into the living together part, and it’s probably not going to work out; we estimate a 5-10% that we’d want a ‘serious long term partner’ role from each other. The problem mostly (but not entirely) resides in communication difficulty; we speak two very different languages, and often very basic conversations get sidelined by hours of processing (mostly my) emotional fallout from miscommunications.
(He’s still a really wonderful person in a myriad of rare and valuable ways, and many people with a more compatible language with him would probably have a fantastic time dating him. I wrote up a ‘Why You Should Date Nate‘ here, if you’re a lady and interested).
This experience was super useful for me, and clarified a few things.
First – the organic selection process (where you meet up and vibe first before pounding your way into Serious Relationship territory) probably does good selection for communication styles. We subverted this and ended up with a lot of communication difficulty, which is an incompatibility that we probably would have picked up on and stopped things a lot sooner if we’d tried to go the organic route.
Second, it made me really aware of how flexible attraction can be. I wasn’t into this guy at all, but with some sustained effort and a few days of close proximity I felt my first stomach butterflies (and I’m now extremely attracted to him). This is crazy to me, and opened up a whole new world – how many other people who aren’t attractive to me, could become attractive to me with some effort? This does seem to hold with how other people select their partners, too; proximity has historically been one of the greatest predictors of dating – people you go to church or work or school with. And people falling in love in arranged marriages seems like it might be more the norm than the exception.
The same holds true for non-romantic social groups. I have a specific social group I’ve had a strong hand in crafting; it’s full of a lot of people I knew I liked already, and a few people invited by others who I wasn’t initially excited about. But over time they really grew on me, and at this point I would likely invite them myself due to this developed fondness. And it’s strange to watch “how much I like someone” be so moldable! Now, instead of “I don’t find you particularly interesting (my term for this is tofu-human),” I view most people as just… in various stages of pre-liking, where the only thing preventing them being fascinating to me is just a lot of proximity.
It’s like inside me I have a little garden of affection, where I feel affection for anyone who steps into that garden. I will be loyal to them, help them if they need it, devote time and attention to them. This garden is (mostly) unconditional; it does not decide who within it gets its fruits, or if they’re worthy enough to eat; the only requirement is to be in the garden.
But my garden has the gatekeeper, who decides who to let into the garden. I might see someone who doesn’t have their shit together, who needs a lot of emotional labor, who might cause me a lot of pain, who I will struggle to understand, and know that I could love and care for them. The question is not if I have a garden that would accept them, but rather if I want to let them into my garden. My gatekeeper is cold and brutal. It checks how many resources my garden has, how many people are in there already, how sustainable it is. It evaluates potential entries on concrete facts – how emotionally mature are they, how intelligent? How much power do they have? Do they have money? Are they socially strategic to be associated with? Will they increase your garden capacity to hold others in the future?
And so, right now my choices around who new to allow into my garden is associated mainly with an unflattering calculating strategy. My life is a chess game, and these players are the potential pieces. This is particularly true with my romantic life right now; I’m looking at potential mates as strategic moves. Really I suspect this is what I was doing all along, and likely what many other people are doing, it was just much more subconscious before.
But the gatekeeper itself is not allowed in the garden; once in the garden, the newcomers are free from evaluation. If they drop in power, if they stop helping me, if they start absorbing way more emotional energy, then in my garden they remain; doused in affection and unconditionally accepted. My garden carries many powerless people from earlier places in my life, or from high-proximity adventures, or people who came in attached to someone else who my gatekeeper wanted more. I am not evaluating them, my love for them is not dependent on what they can offer me; they simply reside in my heart. I have no regrets about this and it’s not an issue for me that my gatekeeper might continue to reject people similar to them.
(also to be clear, the garden analogy isn’t perfect and I’m oversimplifying; people don’t always stay in my garden forever, it’s not exactly binary if you’re in/out of the garden, there’s different garden levels, and i don’t think literally everybody would be automatically and unconditionally drowned in affection once they got past the gatekeeper)
Thirdly, my dating experiment gave me the cool sensation of dedicating loyalty to a romantic partner.
As in; once I dated someone where the relationship wasn’t great. He did things that really upset me, and I put in a lot of effort to managing my own emotions and trying to get the conflicts to stop. Later, I dated a new person, and was shocked at how comparatively easy it was. I realized I shouldn’t have been trying so hard in the past relationship; I should have noticed the strain and noped out of there, that it was a sign that we were incompatible.
But also people in long term, successful relationships often talk about commitment – sticking with it when the going gets tough. You can’t just nope out if you don’t like it, you have to work hard and build the relationship like a shared project. If you flake out, you’ll never have a long-term relationship at all! No relationship is perfect, you have to try. This is what commitment means.
(Or is this just a cope? I know someone in a 30-year abusive marriage who says exactly this.)
So which is it? If you’re in a relationship and it’s really hard, are you in the reality where you’ll nope out and go wow thank god I didn’t stay in that awful relationship”? Or are you in the reality where you nope out when it’s tough and go “wow why can’t I ever find a long term partner”?
When things get hard, a part of me is always running that question, and evaluating a conflict for “should I break up because of this”. I’m never just having a conflict, I’m also trying to decide if this conflict is worth the relationship. But with the time boxed setup of this relationship, where we “committed” for a certain length of time, I found that I was able to just have conflicts. I dedicated myself to making the relationship work no matter what, for three months. This allowed me to give the conflicts my all, to try way harder than I would have otherwise, to remain undistracted by the evaluation process of ‘does the intensity of this conflict mean this relationship isn’t worth it’. And this was awesome. I learned a lot about myself, and grew much more optimistic about being able to make a very serious relationship work long-term in the future.
Or in a way, I was able to let him into my affection garden (or the version of it that is for romantic partners or something) for a time-boxed period of time, and get to actually explore the relationship from after the gatekeeper, instead of running my gatekeeper on what was happening.
As it stands, after Nate moves out we’ll probably keep dating more casually, but while each making more deliberate attempts to find more compatible serious partners (we are both poly, anyway). The whole process has been super bittersweet. It hurts to be so close to someone you care about so much, and to see so close potential for a flourishing partnered life, and have it just not quite fit. It’s really tragic, but I don’t regret any of it.
I’m still running the date-me survey, and might continue keeping an eye on results from there, but I don’t think this is a full substitute for in-person hunting. My plan is to attempt to orient my social life such that the kind of person I organically meet also is more likely to have the kind of values and resources my gatekeeper desires.
Maybe a term for this dichotamy already exists elsewhere, but I haven’t heard it yet and have found my own term for it super useful, so here we go:
Cold Culture examples
Highly efficient in small things
Knows how much time is worth, e.g. might consciously spend no more than 1 minute selecting a grocery product with a price difference lower than a dollar
Libertarian-esque; pays attention to system efficiency, not what ‘feels good’
Willing to use money to incentivize things in their personal life, e.g. “if you figure out my emotional issue I’ll pay you 1k” or “paying a roommate to do chores for you”
More risk-tolerant; likely to view downsides or problems as sometimes being worthwhile tradeoffs
More likely to place responsibility inside the self; views others as ultimately not responsible for your well being
Less likely to parse things as exploitation or manipulation; views additional choices as non-coercive (e.g., a new employer offering well below minimum wage is not viewed as exploitative)
Donates to efficient charities; utilitarian
Ask culture: a frame where people should ask directly for what they want with the expectation that the askee will say no if they don’t want to
Destination over the journey
Warm Culture examples
More attention to the subjective, emotive, connective world
More disgust sensitive (more likely to resist things that trigger moral disgust, such as homosexuality or sex work. this is highly relative to culture)
Persuaded by sense of fairness
Distrusts conscious signaling as manipulative; e.g., really hates pickup artistry because it’s making deliberate something that is otherwise organic and intuitive
Wary of manipulation in general; more likely to perceive manipulation as genuinely subverting individual agency
Perceives responsibility as resting more outside theself or diversified; others can be responsible for your well being
Views some voluntary options as coercive or exploitative; e.g. less likely to allow a rich private individual to pay voluntary minority groups to get sterilized
Naturalistic and community oriented
Dislikes advertising and capitalism
Guess culture: a frame where there can be harm in asking for things because of implicit pressure for the askee to agree even if they don’t want to
Journey over the destination
I know this list covers many clear dichotomies already (ask vs guess culture, or right vs left brain), but I have kept wanting a more general term that covers a lot of these feelings. I keep saying “that sounds like a cold culture thing” in conversation and then feeling awkward I don’t have a longer post to refer to, so here it is finally.
Imagine you are mean, don’t have a lot of empathy, and enjoy making people mad. You go on the internet and post the most provocative takes you can find. The goal is to generate attention, reactions, and controversy. When people react with horror, this feeds you. “Maybe Trump should be grabbing more women by the pussy,” you tweet on one account, and “I’m not sure we shouldn’t be discussing white extermination” on the other.
And people say, “why are you being so edgy?” or “You seem to be getting off on making people upset” or “you are just looking for the most controversial opinion because it generates the most attention”
Now, imagine you live in a society where pedophilia is the norm, and children are forced to engage in sex acts on adults. You think real hard about this, conclude it’s really bad, and then run around going “Hey we’re literally traumatizing children, this is horrible for our culture, maybe we should stop?”
Or, maybe you live in a society where slavery is the norm, considered to be a moral benefit for the slaves. You enjoy running provocative thought experiments designed to poke at the edges of people’s moral intuitions. “Imagine we discover a fully industrialized civilization in Africa, with a train network and full cities. Would you support the exportation and enslavement of those Africans?”
And people say, “why are you being so edgy?” or “You seem to be getting off on making people upset” or “you are just looking for the most controversial question because it generates the most attention”
From people inside the society, opinions generated by making people mad and questions generated by genuinely trying to point out inconsistent moral intuitions look… pretty similar, because the effect of poking at moral intuitions makes people mad.
Probably the most common criticism I get is that I am troll-edgy. I’m often characterized as the first example – I enjoy sitting around and thinking about what will make people the most mad, and then I go post it and revel in the retweets.
And this… kind of got to me after a while, because I do like getting retweets, and I do think about what makes people the most mad. Am I… troll-edgy? Am I just getting off on making people upset? I felt sensitive around it because I was confused about my own motivations, and everybody was telling me that my motivations were bad. Was I bad?
While I don’t claim that troll-edgy and thoughtful-edgy are fully non-overlapping categories, there’s still really distinct differences – the former optimizes for a reaction, while the latter optimizes for a deeper point, with reaction as a side effect. While troll-edgy is disconnected from a sense of a moral frame, thoughtful-edgy is directly connected.
A lot of the strategies to do thoughtful-edgy are very similar to being troll-edgy. Thinking what makes people mad? as a prompt is a perfect troll move, but also as a way to find the edges of moral intuitions. Focusing disproportionately on high-risk questions – things most likely to split audiences or generate discussion – is what trolls do, but also what you do if your thinking frequently questions social norms.
Unfortunately there’s strong incentive for people who prefer maintaining the current social norms or moral intuitions to mischaracterize moral questions as troll-edgy. If you critique slavery in a pro-slavery environment, people might call you troll-edgy in order to dismiss your intentions as malicious, and the conclusion you’re pointing to as stupid, so they can run around continuing to support slavery as good. They’d prefer to see you as being driven by reactions alone, as disconnected from a deeper point, so that they themselves don’t have to engage with your deeper point. It’s an evasion technique, and a move that seeks to neutralize you as a threat to their worldview.
Separately from all of this, there’s a spirit of exploratory playfulness I think the troll-edgy accusers miss. In my ideal world, my friends and I would sit around figuring out what sorts of thoughts we don’t want to think, because to me this is inherently interesting and fun. I absolutely relish the rare occasion when someone asks me a question that triggers unexpected disgust in me. It doesn’t always have to be about making a deeper moral point – it’s an act of creativity to find and put together different parts of our mind in ways that want to push away, sorta like one might mess around with magnets that don’t want to touch, or figure out a tune of music that makes your stomach feel ticklish. It’s just straight-up cool.
And I understand that other people don’t have this same urge, and this is fine – but what’s not fine is when they recategorize delight here as arising out of maliciousness. I am not bad, I am not a cackling asshole who wants to watch the internet world burn; I’m childlike in this, and I actively enjoy my own discomfort and want to share that enjoyment with others.
I might have a typical-mind tendency to assume everyone else is equally delighted, but I try to be aware of discomfort and not push the edges of people who seem uncomfortable in a way they don’t want to be. I also want to promote this as advice – regardless of the moral intuitions you push, and regardless of how much you value play, be careful not to allow righteousness or a display of your own ‘bravery’ or whatever to blind you to your care for others. Have empathy for those you engage with! Be carefully attuned to the effects you’re having on others. You don’t have to fully censor yourself – as an extreme example, you could argue that we should make pro-slavery people feel uncomfortable – but if you decide that your self expression is worth causing discomfort, at least be in contact with the results of your decision.
I asked a bunch of people (~19k) what kinks they were into, and as an almost-afterthought asked people what quadrant of the political compass they were on.
Almost all the political-fetish correlations were uninterestingly weak, but the sample size was huge enough that it became very unlikely that the correlations were showing up due to chance. So, for fun, I put them on a political compass chart.
The charts were done by adding authleft and authright answers (to get auth answers), libright and authright (to get right answers), etc. and then checking fetish correlations with these (as I now had auth, lib, right, left). I then combined the auth-lib correlations and the right-left correlations via subtraction into one point, and then plotted those points.
You’ll notice in the above graphs, there’s a distinct diagonal skew. I tried to “undo” the skew a bit so that things were more equally spread out for the purposes of joyful memeage, however the actual data was way more clustered around the trendline.
The cluster around the trendline is interesting and really confusing, for me. It looks like there’s something politically that’s predictive of fetish, but that something is mostly a left-right spectrum with a little bit of lib-auth skew? Why would this be? I don’t know how to think about this and am very curious for theories.
Also, not included in the memegraphs cause it would require too much explanation – the “Score” is also listed as a point, which corresponds to the total tabooness of the fetishes for the person answering (a simple adding a tabooness score for each fetish they marked being into, with higher scores for being more into it). For the male graph the highest taboo score exists in libright, and for females it’s near the border in authleft).
Both men and women were more likely to be gay if they identified as libertarian-left ((r=0.1 and r=0.21, respectively).
Surprisingly, I found basically no correlation with age and location on the graph (except for maybe liblefts being younger if you squint). This makes me feel slightly unsettled, as I had a lot of weight on “political orientation is stratified by age.”
But in general, the political compass isn’t a great graph; I asked people to self-identify, and didn’t place them based on diagnostic questions. I suspect people overreport being libertarian, because libertarian is a nicer word than authoritarian.
Wanna be an independent full-service escort in the US? Not sure if it’s for you? Included is tips on getting started, marketing, how to increase your income, male sexual psychology and getting them to hire you again, networking, branding, dealing with the emotional burden, safety, and more!
My credentials: I escorted from 2018-2020 (I of course no longer escort, however if you happen to see a woman in the ads who looks very similar to me you should hit her up). I charged $1200/hr (with discounts for multi-hour sessions), and earned 50k on my highest-earning month.
Escorting is more difficult to develop widely applicable strategies for because the business is invisible. With online sex work, successful techniques spread fast and get adopted as new defaults because everything is clearly visible. With in-person sex work, all you know is what you do. I also worked primarily as high end (initially charging $800/hr for the first month or two before raising it over time to $1200), which means I am not experienced with lower-rate, higher-volume work; two elements that strongly impact the kind of experience you’ll have. I also am speaking to the US market, which has many differences from other markets around the world, primarily legally. I am assuming you are female; while male escorts can in fact do well, this article is targeted towards women.
I conducted two surveys, of 165 escorts and 411 clients, and I’ll be referring to findings from these surveys throughout this article. The survey is not meant to represent all sex workers and clients; I gathered responses from my social media, in sex worker forums, and on fetlife, so it’s more a reflection of “people from the western world who follow me or sex-friendly social forums”. But hopefully this is the kind of person you are, so it might be good data for you!
I’m also experimenting with likelihood ratios (“LR”), instead of p-values. The program I’m using to calculate them is new and there might be some errors, and though I’m doing my best to double check, keep this in mind! Also be aware I checked a lot of correlations, and didn’t do anything to control for the… likelihood ratio equivalent of p-hacking (be kind with me I’m still learning).
(Likelihood ratios basically are how much more likely the given correlation is compared to no correlation at all. For example, “r=0.3, LR=100” means that the maximum-likelihood correlation was 0.3, which the data says is 100x as likely as a correlation of 0.)
Deciding if you should try this
A summary of things: many of these points I go into more detail later in this article.
I probably don’t have to go over the cons, because you already know them. In-person sex work is very highly stigmatized; if you live in a conservative community, if you ever want to work with kids ever, if you have a job that might get mad and fire you, if your options for romance are with men who don’t like sex work, then this is an extremely high-risk thing to do.
The safety risks are very different from online sex work; it’s common for escorts to completely conceal their identities and faces online, which actually makes it much less likely to get outed to your employers or family. There are, of course, risks to your legal and physical safety, though they can actually be quite minimal given precautions I’ll address later.
This work is also emotionally hard for some people, as the job carries huge social weight and touches on a ton of vulnerable chords of our sense of self worth. You might carry away feelings of disgust, shame, or hatred. Not everyone feels like this, but if you do, I would not recommend escorting (or if you do, putting your prices extremely high so you at least get paid a lot more for fewer total experiences of disgust and shame).
As for the positive side, this job is fully self directed; you decide who you see, when you see them, for how long. You decide your rates, your vibe, where and how you want to work. It’s highly flexible, which means you can do it while raising kids or working another job.
Also: money; even low-end escorts make hundreds of dollars per hour of work.
Typically the bigger the city, the higher the rates; in NY and LA you can probably tack on an extra few hundred to your hourly, while in a smaller city like Spokane, WA the going rates might be 20-30% less.
This means if you’re looking to work as a high end escort, it’s worth either moving to a larger city or establishing a regular travel schedule to the large cities.
Physical appearance also matters a lot, but compared to online work, your body matters more than your face (as the face is typically hidden in advertisements). I’ve made an extremely rough, super general calculator here to help estimate how much you might be able to charge hourly. This is by no means definitive, it’s only meant to help you get a sense of your possibility range and if it might be worth it for you.
Keep in mind this is not set in stone; a lot of other things matter too, and I’ve seen smoking babes charging $300 and women not considered traditionally attractive charging $800+.
The average hourly rate reported was $477, and the median $325. The median monthly income was estimated at $5,000.
The average length of time escorts had been working was 4.5 years (median 3). The average age was 29, the average number of times per year they were tested for STDs was 6.5, and 45% were in a serious relationship, engaged, or married. 30% expressed they either planned to quit escorting or that it was only a side job; 21% intended to retire early. 62% used a condom for genital penetration (but not oral), 29% used a condom for genital and oral penetration, and 9% reported not using a condom at all.
The #1 Question: Safety
How dangerous is the job, really?
I asked people in my survey about some Bad Things they encountered on the job.
8% reported legal trouble 8% reported being arrested 16% reported physical assault 17% reported contracting a STD 29% reported being stolen from 41% reported sexual assault
These numbers are not great, and it’s not ideal to go into a job where you’re close to a coin toss away from sexual assault. But for what it’s worth, escorts still reported an average job satisfaction of 5.3/7. Also, I’ve been sexually assaulted on the job (which was sort of my mistake; this was the one guy who I thought I’d screened but actually hadn’t, and if I’d screened him I would have not met him) and I consider escorting totally worth it and would happily continue if my Onlyfans ever takes a plunge.
People reported more Bad Things if other negative experiences were associated with the job as well – like feeling shame or getting into escorting out of desperation (r=0.28). In general, my impression both in person and from the data is that class and attitude matter a lot. If you’re careful, deliberate, if you have the luxury of not taking clients you don’t want to take (which honestly is not a very high bar), if you have confidence you can be successful, if you don’t have a lot of shame around this, if you can charge higher rates with fewer appointments, you’ll likely end up with the kind of targeting and clientele that tend to be safer.
In general, I’m going to be advising you from the perspective of pursuing high-end escorting. This guide will likely help even if you’re not, but my goal here is to get you the most income for the least amount of work. After all, higher hourly rates are correlated with a higher total income, without more hours worked.
How To Get Clients
You’re gonna have to get photos, a website, an email, and put up ads.
The very first step typically is the photos. You’re going to need a set, ideally 15-20 (but you could get away with 7-8), of high quality photos to show off your goods. Unlike online sex work, escort photography typically is much more high-end; think closer to lingerie catalogue than casual selfies. I’m not sure if this is effective, but it’s the norm, probably because you’re trying really hard to convince men to drop several hundred dollars on you because you’re luxury.
It’s common to hire a photographer to pump out these sets of photos. Most websites don’t allow nudity in the photos you use in your ads, so make sure to get plenty, if not all, non-nude content (typically lingerie).
Lots of escorts choose to use only non-nude content on their websites as presumably a branding choice; such as, “if you want to see me naked, you’ll have to see me in person.” I can’t tell if this is a good move; I suspect it’s less important here than in online sex work, because even if you show nudity, there’s still much farther to go (actually seeing you in person). But still, not showing nudity can signal high class, dominant, powerful, and might be more likely to attract higher power men who are looking to “unlock” something they feel few other people have seen – your nudity.
But who knows?I showed nudity, and I did pretty well.
You should also decide if you want to show your face in your photos. Most escorts don’t. I’d recommend censoring your face when you first start out and get a feel for the landscape; you can always decide later if you want to upload the uncensored photos instead! I’ve anecdotally heard that face-showing doesn’t have a huge impact on earnings.
But deciding this early helps with taking the photos, so you can arrange things to block your face or pose where you’re looking away.
After you have photos, make a website. I’m slightly outdated on this; lots of escorts use Squarespace and Wix, but keep in mind lots of companies don’t want anything to do with sex work and will remove you if they notice you’re doing escort stuff. I use BlueGravity for hosting, which is a bit complicated and I’d recommend trying one of the easy-build sites first.
And of course, you have to choose a name! As usual, make sure to check namespace – search escort directories for your considered name to see how often it’s used. High-end branding is important here, so you might plan on going for something more traditional or classic – I nearly went with the name Esther King (narrowly avoided by a roommate asking if I was trying to actively repulse clients); an example of a good name is Mara Blake. Femininity is also really important! Names like “Eve” and “Emma” are common. You want to stay away from names that signal lower-class in your area. Last names are less important, but make sure they’re unique and easy to remember. The holy grail is getting your full name as a flat domain – e.g. “Estherking.com”, so keep an eye on what domains are available!
You can include whatever you want on your website, but most escort websites have a standard set of things – an introduction (a few paragraphs about you and your personality), a rates page (listing how much you charge for different amounts of hours), an etiquette page (where you outline behavioral expectations and stuff like if you want them to shower and how to give the donation, more on this later), a page instructing you how to book (some girls include a typeform application, others just ask you to email them), and a gallery of photographs of you.
You can also include stuff like tour information (if you travel, when and where) and a list of stuff you like so they can buy you a gift if they feel like it.
The copy on most escort websites sound the same, I don’t know what’s going on or if everybody is hiring the same writer to do their websites? There’s a strong desire to appear high end, so the text is usually stuff like “You see me walking down the marble staircase, silk fluttering from my pale legs as our eyes meet under the Parisian sun”. I only slightly exaggerate. Everybody seems to be pursuing some exotic advanced educational degree, to have traveled extensively, and to be unnervingly elegant. Her website implies that booking her will make you superior to every other man, that you will become enlightened by plowing her platonic ideal of a pussy.
Most men don’t care too much about the finer details of your textual vibes, but some do; I’d recommend reading through several other websites to get a feel, and figure out what you want to signal. You’ll get the clientele you attract! Some do signal IQ pretty well (also here’s what probably is the single other libertarian escort)
Get an email, ideally protonmail (secured if sending to another protonmail account) with your name, and list the email somewhere visible on the website (for screening purposes, more on this later).
Some escorts advertise themselves as low volume, typically associated with higher ends. I asked escorts what they thought “low volume” meant, and the median response was 3 appointments a week, whereas clients thought it meant 5 appointments a week.
Ads are the next step – how people find you. There’s several websites to choose from, but the general gist is you upload a few photos, write some text about yourself, and link to your website and social media. Here’s many (but not all) of the popular options. They’re listed in order of correlation to hourly rates, from most to least; so the first had the highest correlation with escorts reporting using it, and their reported hourly rates.
Eros – the most expensive, charging hundreds of dollars for a prime listing for a single week in a big city. It also is birthed straight from the asshole of Satan, having a reputation for the worst website to touch the face of the earth. It takes a long time for them to approve your ads, and half the time they’ll reject anything you submit without telling you why (as the ad slot you paid $400 for inches closer to its scheduled release, ask me how I know). It does, however, get clients; escorts reporting using Eros also reported the highest income (though this might be just because they have enough money to afford it). It tends to have the classiest escorts. Before Tryst (below), I got most of my clientele from here.
Slixa – A friendlier option, medium-expensive, they tell you what’s wrong with the ad so you can resubmit. Not huge traffic, a lower total number of listings, probably worth throwing a bit of money at in the beginning to see if it’s worth your time.
Tryst is the newest up and comer, and my personal favorite. It’s free to list, and you pay monthly for different priority in the stack. It’s got by far the most customizable search, and as far as I can tell has the most total users. For me, most of my traffic ended up coming from Tryst.
P411 – I haven’t used this website, but it’s popular, has high use among high earning escorts, and (as far as I can tell) features a verification and review system. Some escorts refuse to participate in websites that have reviews, more on this later.
PrivateDelights– another popular website with reviews, but correlated with reports of arrest
SeekingArrangement – This website, unlike the above, professes to definitely not allow escorts, and makes it difficult to be explicit about it. Most men connecting through the website anticipate paying around 50-70% less, as women tend to be willing to accept less money if you give them a veneer of not being a real sex worker. You can still attempt to do clear sex work here though – “PPM”, or pay-per-meet, indicates that you want to be paid per meeting, and this is the way to start out the discussion. Seeking Arrangement also had the lowest correlation with arrests,
Dating Apps – Advertising on dating apps has gotten harder since the advent of Onlyfans, as there’s been crackdowns on anything resembling sexy advertising. You can try putting a wink-and-a-nudge in your profile; some have success with this but be prepared to buy burner phones if you want this to be sustainable.
Freestyling is the art of picking up clients in person, typically done by looking cute and hanging out alone in a place where horny men of means congregate – for example, casinos, or a nice bar. I haven’t freestyled, but from my understanding the trick is to flirt heavily with a man, and then either imply or outright state that you’ll be available in exchange for some generosity. If he seems hesitant or strings you along, don’t be afraid to leave him and move on. This is apparently a numbers game, and eventually you’ll find a guy who’s excited enough at the prospect of being with you that he’ll be down to part with whatever your rates are. This is likely more feasible if you charge the kind of rates that men are likely to have on them in cash. Basic safety applies here – rotate your freestyling locations, as staff of the places are often trained to keep an eye out for people like you.
Most escorts have Twitters, which are great places to verify that you’ve been active for a while and seem mostly human. A lot also use Switter, the inevitable backup when Twitter gets around to banning all of the escorts. Lots of clients can find you through Twitter, and use escorts networking and crosstweeting each other as discovery.
So you’ve got your website running, your ads up, and now you’re getting interest from men. What now? The answer is screening!
Screening is the process of checking information about clients before you see them. You can choose whatever level of safety you’re comfortable with, but one of the most common setups you’ll find is requesting:
1. Two references from other providers they’ve seen in the last 6 months 2. Photographic proof of employment (e.g., a photograph of your work badge or a link to a corporate website with your face listed)
The goal here is twofold – to demonstrate the man is a respectable client (by checking his reputation with others), and to verify he’s not a cop (with evidence that he seems to have a normal job).
When asking references a client, you will ask “Could you give me the email and website of two providers you’ve seen in the last six months?” When he sends you this information, you need to verify a few things –
The escort he referenced seems established and legitimate; sometimes men will create fake escort listings and websites that they control, to give themselves a free reference. Check the linked social media, see if any of the accounts are new, make sure her photos are consistent and possibly reverse image search to make sure they’re not stolen.
Check that the contact email listed on the escort’s website is the same email he gave you. Sometimes men will link to a real escort, but provide a real-sounding but fake email they created. This happened to me – someone else used me as a reference for another escort, but gave her a fake email that was slightly different from my actual email. Luckily the escort checked my actual email and let me know!
When emailing the escort, I usually said something like “Hey, [name] contacted me from [his email] and mentioned he’d seen you. Did you see him, and if so would you mind letting me know if everything went smoothly?” Make sure you include his contact information – the escort will probably have to look him up in her records, as she likely won’t remember him by name.
Typically the escort will respond in a day or two with “Yes, I had no issues.” Sometimes they might give more information, like warning you if he’s a high effort client who likes to go multiple rounds or if he’s pushy and you’ll have to stay on high alert.
Once you start seeing clients, expect to get used as a reference and to start getting emails from other providers asking about clients you’ve seen. It’s considered extremely good form to respond; this is a collective safety system we all use to help each other, you rely on their information and they rely on yours.
You can choose how you handle references; how many you want to ask for or how far back you’ll accept.
If the client is a first-timer with no references, you can choose if you feel comfortable seeing them. I did, but on the condition of more information – I required a phone number and photo of his ID, which helps with better blacklist checking. Make sure to carefully check the photo of the ID for any hint of photoshop.
In addition to checking references and employment, it’s also good to run his information against a blacklist. There’s a few out there (like VerifyHim), but the biggest I’ve found starts with “S” and is one that’s known but not super widely publicized, and I’d prefer not to signal boost it to a wide audience. If you’re an escort and would like a recommendation to this blacklist, please send me a request at firstname.lastname@example.org from your escort email with a link to your escort website.
With blacklists, make sure to run their information carefully. If you have his phone number, run that. Try variations on their email – search just the part before the “@”, in case they use different email providers. If they have a name like “Barbedrodney295”, try searching just “Barbedrodney”. Some men will frequently switch their email to avoid blacklist problems.
If you add a client to the blacklist, do not tell the client. This will only let him know he needs to switch up his info, and will be more likely to get access to another woman in the future. This can suck, but it keeps others safer.
If you run a client and find bad entries on the blacklist, do not tell the client. In these cases I typically either stopped responding, made up an excuse, or said I was fully booked.
To make sure they’re not police, you want to make sure they’re employed elsewhere. As I mentioned you can do this by asking for a link to something like LinkedIn where their face is shown, and then making sure the face that shows up on your doorstep is the same (and sending him away if it’s not). Some escorts will ask for the client’s real name and employment, and then call their company and ask if the client is employed there – then either make up an excuse or simply hang up.
Occasionally, a client has been unable to provide references or proof of employment; I once saw a newly successful higher-up drug dealer who understandably had no linkedin to give me. In cases like these I required a 1-hour coffee meeting, public-only, where I charged 30-50% my typical rates. This allowed me to get a sense of who they were as a person, and I imagined it’d be an annoying amount of effort to go through for police who might prefer easier targets.
You’re an Escort, Not A Prostitute
Remember: it’s not a crime to escort. They’re paying for your time, and you just happen to be quite a slutty woman; what happens between you two is at your discretion and your business and is independent of the money.
And so, many escorts refuse to discuss sex acts over email, and treat this closer to how you might a date where you’re probably going to hook up. The norm is to put nothing in writing that indicates any illegal activity. Assume there’s a police officer on the other side of every email.
Some use abbreviations to refer to sex acts; it’s up to you if you feel comfortable doing this. I personally did not. If a client asked about sex acts, I would respond with strong clarification that in my personal life, I might or might not enjoy such a thing, but as a reminder our exchange was about time only. I have one escort friend who considered even this too risky, and would simply not respond if asked about sex acts.
Many refer to money as donations or gifts, indicating that this isn’t even in exchange for time at all, it’s freely given and nontransactional.
For payment etiquette, a common strategy (and one I followed) was to ask the client to not mention the donation, to leave the donation on the counter or the dresser, and then excuse themselves to the bathroom. When they’re in the bathroom, you can then take the money. This way there’s no discussion of payment and no direct changing of hands.
If you’re meeting in public, the request is to include the donation discreetly in a small gift, such as a book or a magazine, so that the donation is ‘hidden’ inside, and you can ‘discover’ it later.
Remember: in every possible way in your interactions with the client and the exchange of money, you want to avoid giving off the appearance that you are doing prostitution. Don’t say or do anything that could be viewed as prostitution-esque; maintain clearly that you are selling your time only.
You can in fact get issued an escort license in some cities (e.g., San Francisco or Grand Chute, or Jefferson County, WA). I don’t know if this is a good idea, neither I nor anybody I know has applied for this, though I seriously considered. It’s possible it might grant you some legal protection, but also possible it might give you some legal issues, as it puts a lot of information about you in a government file that clearly states you are in fact an escort.
It’s probable that police are more likely to use specific escort directories for stings; the ad websites most correlated with reports of being arrested were AdultSearch (r=.28, LR=930), PrivateDelights (r=.26, LR=328), and SkipTheGames (r=.24, LR=146). It’s unclear if this is causative, but I’d avoid them anyway.
Location And Hotel Safety
So your client passed screening, you’ve managed to avoid any talk of sex, and now you’re going to meet up!
Incalls are where they come to you, and outcalls are where you go to them. I also did a survey of clients, and 2/3rds of them prefer incalls; this matches with my experience. You can charge extra for either incall or outcall, whichever you want to get compensated more for.
You have a few options for incalls – your place, a secondary place you rent yourself or timeshare, a short or long term hotel.
Your place has the bonus of being convenient and no extra cost, but comes at the risk of clients now knowing where you live or neighbors getting suspicious of high male traffic. If you see very few clients and have a rigorous screening process, this might be a good option for you.
You can also rent a second place; this still has the problem of neighbors getting suspicious, but at least you’re safe from clients knowing where you live. Often multiple escorts will split the cost of a place that’s used primarily as an incall.
Most common is hotels. If you only have one or two clients, particularly around that hotel-elusive 11am-3pm time zone, a whole day of rental can be excessive; I used the app Dayuse, which allows hourly rentals during the day and has saved me thousands of dollars. I booked 4-star hotels almost exclusively; 3-star hotels didn’t feel classy enough to match my brand, and 5-star hotels ate into my profits too much.
I picked 4-5 hotels I liked and mostly rotated through them to avoid staff getting too suspicious. I also developed a fake story if need be for if they ever asked why I kept showing up for a few hours in the middle of the day (tho I never was asked).
When choosing a new hotel, I looked for a few things – larger hotels are better, because there’s higher volume and less chance they’ll notice you or any oddities. I would usually call in advance to ask if their elevators used a keycard or had a freely accessible staircase; it’s very annoying if you have to go down and walk with a man upstairs from the lobby while still trying to be discreet, ideally they just knock on your hotel door and you’re good to go. Even worse, some hotels will ask your client who they’re there to see. The client will say the room number, and then the hotel desk will give them your legal name, typically by calling you and asking “Miss X, there’s a Y here to see you” where the client can hear. Make sure the client can painlessly slip past the front desk and into the elevator with no issues to avoid this trouble.
In the private blacklist I mentioned above, there’s a section for hotel reviews, where girls will report if they had bad experiences with hotel staff, and I would often check the reports there for locations to avoid.
Seeing lots of clients in a short period of time at the same hotel is probably the biggest red flag to staff, particularly at smaller hotels. If you’re going to see a lot of clients, try really hard to get a larger hotel, or try rotating hotels pretty regularly. Most hotel workers don’t care (I lurked hotel worker discussion groups for a while), but it’s good to avoid raising suspicion anyway. Make sure to stay well dressed, clean, and polite, to indicate to them you are a responsible adult who is not a threat. And if you’re staying multiple days, tip well! You want the housekeeping on your side.
A habit I picked up from a friend who got me into this: I also would wrap the discarded condoms in toilet paper, stow it in my purse, and throw away outside the hotel after I left, as I didn’t want to risk housekeeping finding any evidence.
If you are going to the client’s hotel, it’s a lot easier. If he wants you to come to his house, this can be a bit riskier, as houses are much more isolated and it’s less likely someone will hear you if you scream. Some escorts I knew would refuse to see a client at their house until the second appointment, and would only have a first time appointment at a hotel.
Do you need your own security escort? Some do; they have a boyfriend or something drive them to the location and wait in the car outside. It’s generally good form, particularly with higher-end escorts, to not have your security escort visible at all. I did not use a security escort; instead I installed a location-tracking device on my phone and gave access to two friends I trusted. I also would designate checkin times, where I would text shortly after my appointments ended to verify I was okay.
You’re in the hotel room with a stranger, now what?
How To Escalate
The first time is scary! But it’s less scary than you might think; after my first time I remember being shocked at how easy it was.
I’m going to describe my system here; it’s very likely that something different might work for you. This is meant as a template to get started if you feel utterly at a loss, and if anything here doesn’t jive with your vibe, then don’t do it!
Before the client arrived, I would place condoms and lube within concealed but easy reach of the bed, usually in the nightstand drawer at hotels. I would do a quick teeth brush and make sure my genitals smelled okay, and I’d connect my phone to a tiny speaker (to fit in purse) for music. I’d place the “do not disturb” sign on the outside of the door, and lower the lights to something that would allow us to see but also slightly obscure any buttcrack hairs I might have missed (more on buttcrack hairs later).
My strategy depended on the length of time I was booked for. Generally speaking, sexual activity lasted around 30 minutes, and I tried to position this closer to the end of the appointment. If you go at it too early, he’s probably going to get horny again afterwards and attempt to sneak in a second round right under the wire. This is generally speaking; lots of guys are longer and shorter, and some will do strong initiation on their own and you don’t really get a say in the speed.
But roughly speaking, for each length of appointment I’d aim to start the sexual activity:
1 hour: 15-20 minutes in 1.5 hours: 30-40 minutes in 2 hours: 45-60 minutes in (2.5+ hours almost always started out with dinner)
Keep in mind, if you require his showering at the appointment, that you have to squeeze time for that in there too, and many will want to shower again after sex. Both of these are typically done on the clock!
In another tip picked up from my friend, I had music playlists I made for different lengths of time, and I started the playlist exactly when the client entered. I knew which song was in the middle, and which were near the end, so I could tell how much time we had left without looking at a clock (an impolite move if you’re supposed to be enjoying it). Wearing a small watch is also useful for this!
My default strategy was this: I would invite the man in, we’d sit down and talk for a while. I’d establish physical contact in the conversation by touching his hand when laughing at a joke, or crossing my leg so it bumped into his. I would become increasingly charmed, utterly fascinated by his life, and I asked him to explain to me concepts I already knew (remember, they like you smart in order to validate their identity as a man who likes smart women, and they still love teaching you things).
(I’m being a little sharp here but this is basically a common internalized strategy women use when genuinely attracted to a man; I did legitimately like around 80% of my clients, and a small % were really wonderful and I still think about them.)
Eventually, after the right amount of time elapsed and when the moment felt right, I’d lean in for a kiss. We’d make out, and would act increasingly hot and bothered before I’d eventually descend to perform oral sex. After this, things get much more varied, as men have very different preferences for position, length of time, if they want to perform oral on you or not, etc. – but typically, I would then climb up to a cowgirl position if they didn’t direct me otherwise, and ride until I wanted to die.
Remember to grab the condom! Most escorts use a condom for genital penetration, but not for oral. I did the same (in my survey there was no correlation to indicate this resulted in higher STIs). Keep an eye out for improper condom use! It’s very common for a guy to place a condom on his penis the wrong way around the first time; he pulls the condom out of the wrapper, places it on the tip of his penis and attempts to roll it. He then finds that it’s not rolling, because the roll is going the wrong way. He flips the condom over and then rolls it the correct way down. As his penis made contact with the now-outside of the condom, it’s no longer clean. I would usually try to place the condom on myself to avoid it, checking the roll with my fingers before touching it to the penis. But sometimes they want to do it; I’d just watch them, and if they did it wrong I’d just grab them another condom.
I used Skyn Elite condoms – great feel, very thin, and latex free (in case a client had a latex allergy).
I would keep a few condoms of multiple sizes in my purse, and keep the smaller prepared in the nightsand. After encountering the peen, if it happened to be too big I got to be like “wow, you’re too big for my condoms! Luckily I have a backup mega bazooka condom for this fat stack of salami.”
For lube I used Uberlube – nobody had a bad reaction to it, and it came in a nice, classy little tube that fit in even the smallest of purses.
Getting Down To Business
My data is definitely unique to me because I had a regular strategy, but still reflects some degree of male preference; I tracked 70 of my appointments and here’s the stats:
One of the downsides of sex work is that you’re heavily incentivized to do what they want, to make them feel good. If you don’t make them feel good, they won’t hire you again. If you happen to easily orgasm, congrats – you have the privilege of being able to be honest and make them feel good. If you don’t, then you’re faced with a choice – fake your orgasm, or don’t and risk them not hiring you again.
Most men, I found, were interested in attempting to make me orgasm (though often not good at it), and cared quite a bit about my pleasure. A few didn’t (high correlation with dudes who wanted you to wear specific stuff, imo). I found nearly all of them to be very respectful and kind.
I found the vast majority of men did not request any unusual fetishes from me. I got a handful of foot fetishes, a handful of roleplayers, and one guy who did not need to wear a cock sheath but was very into wearing a cock sheath – but most at least behaved very vanilla.
It’s not uncommon for them not to orgasm! Some are older and simply can’t; others are really nervous, others have porn-dick and your vag is too soft for the required hand-slamming that’s by this point their only hope. It’s almost certainly not your fault, and be careful not to blame them either. I acted like it wasn’t a big deal at all, like I saw it often (which were both true). I was careful not to be overly reassuring, as I didn’t want to convey that this was something important enough to do a lot of reassuring about.
Some want to go for multiple orgasms; this is up to you. Some, typically lower-priced, higher-volume escorts, will have an explicit one-orgasm-only policy. Higher-priced, lower-volume escorts tend to be more girlfriend-experiencey, replicating the experience of a one night stand with someone you’re super into, and so won’t explicitly limit the amount of times anybody can orgasm (that would be weird to do with a one-night-stand).
(The absolute worst are the guys who don’t particularly want to cum again but force themselves just to get the biggest value for their money. I hate you)
Cowgirl can be hard and exhausting. If you’re not very good at cowgirl, it’s worth it to practice twerking in the cowgirl position on your own. Youtube videos are great at this – remember the movement comes from your legs, not your back!
(Fun fact; there was possibly a negative correlation between my likelihood of real orgasm and his physical attractiveness (r=-.12, LR 7.5), but a positive correlation between my real orgasm and how much I liked his personality (r=0.18, LR 60))
Some clients will try to push your boundaries. Maybe you don’t want butt stuff, and he keeps trying to slip a finger in; maybe he wants to talk to you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, or wants more dick sucking than your poor jaw can handle. Prepare yourself beforehand in reacting to this; it can be hard to say no to a client who’s paying you, especially if he seems nice or threatening, or if he’s pushing very slowly. I often would allow a boundary to be pushed, and then decide never to see him again, because I am nonconfrontational.
My worst experience with a client (the one I accidentally failed to screen! if I had I would have seen other women reporting similar experiences!) was someone who did had a few warning flags beforehand:
A) He pressured me to drink more alcohol. I typically have a max of one drink, but he heavily encouraged me to drink more (which I did).
B) The appointment was 1.5 hours, and he spent over 1 hour of it at the hotel bar with me, consistently ignoring my increasingly strong suggestions that we migrate upstairs.
C) He put the donation directly into my purse when I went to the bathroom. Opening up my purse without my presence or permission is bad.
D) This one is ‘after’, but he pushed our session well past the ending limit, giving me no opportunity to take a graceful break.
This client ended up being very rough with me, hitting, biting, and choking me quite hard, as well as telling me aggressive, degrading stuff about me being a “whore” who deserves this. At no point did he ask permission to do any of it. I remember evaluating my chances at escape, trying to figure out if hotel staff would hear me if I screamed. But I at no point gave him an indication that I did not like what he was doing. I was afraid that if I showed any resistance, that this would count as an escalation and that he would hurt me. As I was trying to figure out the chances he was gonna get murdery on me, I emitted fake moans of pleasure. As I headed out the door I was cheerful, kissed him, said I would be happy to see him again, and then I GTFO’d.
(Unfortunately, reporting this client to the police wasn’t an option, as I was afraid I would be arrested myself.)
My point is that I viewed myself as a person with good boundaries before this; the boundary violations came in slow and steady, and I didn’t find any individual one worrying enough to pay attention to before it was too late – and when it was too late, I was afraid to institute the boundaries. If anything makes you feel strange, trust yourself, don’t dismiss it as probably being oversensitive. If your gut intuition evolved for anything, it probably was for detecting danger around men and sex.
Ending the session
So what happens if your time is coming to a close and he’s still pounding away? I try to increasingly signal ‘let’s end this’ with all the subtle power I have within me (like asking him to cum). If he’s not getting the message, I’ll whisper into his ear that I’m having so much fun but we don’t have much time. If he still doesn’t get the message, I’ll stop him saying I have to pee; I go to the bathroom, and when I come out I make sure the tone has changed; like “Damn sucks we have to end on such a cliffhanger, I hope I get to see you again to finish.”
Having to boot people wasn’t common for me; in my survey 35% of escorts checked the “I wish more of my clients would leave on time” box.
You can go over time if you’d like, but be careful of blurring boundaries of personal and professional. If you’re going to go significantly over time, you can discuss payment – lots of escorts have a pre-set in-session extension rate. If it’s just a little over, it’s up to you. I tended to be very firm, because I’m a super heavily compartmentalizer and this was necessary to protect my ability to enjoy my clients. One of my friends would regularly let her clients stay an additional 10-15 minutes if they were slow, as she considered the extended goodwill to be worth the extra time.
In my experience, it was not standard for clients to tip; I got a gift or tip on 15% of my appointments. I put a line on my website explaining that tipping was not expected and I wouldn’t be upset if they didn’t, but that it was nice if they had an utterly fantastic time. Most escorts don’t mention tipping on their websites. Most of my tips consisted of around $100-200.
Who Are These Clients And Why Do They See You?
The men who saw me had generally white-collar professions; according to my personal spreadsheet, we had:
Finance(x4), lawyer(x3), engineer(x3), artist(x2), CEO(x2), doctor(x2), hedge fund manager(x2), software engineer(x2), AI, biotech, data analyst, movie director, electrician, investment advisor, manager, marketing, perfumer, producer, real estate investor, screenwriter, special effects designer, student, teacher, think tank, vice president, writer, and youtube creator. The median income for my client survey was 100k.
The average age of the man I saw was 46, and the avg reported on the survey was 41.
I found clients tended to fall into a few groups; here’s some of my stereotypes:
The young and inexperienced. He wants to “know what it’s like” and is torn between his inability to attract women in real life and the roaring sex drive of his 20’s. They tend to be more shy, and to have been taught to treat women carefully and really really want you to have a good time. The occasional virgin is in this category. (from my personal records, the younger a client was, the less time he spent talking; r=0.24, LR=621)
The busy businessman, who could probably attract women if they tried but they simply don’t have the time. They flew into town yesterday and are leaving tomorrow, they’d love to go on a date and relax with a pretty woman tonight, but can’t be bothered to spend hours on dating apps or making a gamble at the bar. They want a sure thing. These tended to tip better, be wealthier, and have the most interesting conversations.
The married man – he married a long time ago and built a life with the woman he loved – but now she doesn’t want to have sex with him. Maybe he’s tried to talk with her about it, maybe not, but one thing is clear – she would absolutely not tolerate him finding sexual fulfillment outside the marriage. So he is seeing you, because you’re a neat and tidy sexual experience that isn’t a coworker or a neighbor and isn’t going to mess up his personal life.
There’s also “Hobbyists” – a slightly derrogatory term that sex workers use to refer to a type of guy who treats escorts a bit like pokemon; gotta catch them all. Hobbyists tend to want quantity over quality, tend to be less interested in connection with the woman he sees, and to write and read reviews (often detailed and graphic) for escorts, sort of like a conquering trophy symbol. Hobbyists tend to prefer seeing lower-priced escorts.
I estimate about 80% of the men cared a lot about my experience, and about 20% viewed me more as an object. Again, my experience is higher end; the lower end you go, the more likely you are to get booked by men who are less respectful of your boundaries. Escorts who charge lower prices are more likely to have requirements for the clients they see, typically for them to be over a certain age or to be of a specific race.
There does seem to be, unfortunately, a racial association with how well they treat you; I’ve encountered numerous reports on forums of people avoiding specific racial groups. I suspect this effect shows up at the lower end of price range; at my rate of $1200/hr, I personally saw no difference in how I was treated by different races.
Wealthier clients tended to book longer appointments (r=.29, LR=1.5e+8), spend more total on escorts (r=.56, LR=1.5e+34), see escorts more often (r=.2, LR=18000), and be in a romantic relationship themselves (r=.15, LR=100). They also were slightly less likely to indicate that reading reviews for an escort before meeting her was important (r=-.19, LR=1600); my guess here is that wealthier clients tend to be more personality-oriented in choosing escorts, and that review sites tend to emphasize sexual aspects (while reminding clients of the uncomfortable fact that she has in fact seen many other men).
Clients who feel shame about seeing escorts report enjoying interacting with escorts less (r=-0.37, LR=1.9e+13), tend to be a bit younger (r=0.19, LR=1500), were slightly more likely to report seeing escorts who used photos that were misleading about their appearance (r=-0.17, LR=305), and slightly more likely to report being unable to get laid elsewhere (r=0.17, LR=443).
Clients who prefer younger escorts tend to see escorts a bit more often (r=0.15, LR=97); clients who prefer older escorts tend to enjoy interacting with them a bit more (r=0.17, LR=487) and place more importance on personality (r=0.14, LR=62).
Who They Want You To Be
But, as is basically common knowledge by this point, the majority of the men you see will be significantly interested in getting to know you as a person, and being known by you. They talk, a lot, it’s good to encourage it with lots of questions. You operate a little bit like a therapist and confidante, most men do not want to fuck just a body, they want to fuck a soul, and it’s important to present yourself whole and aware as you shudder with delicate feminine ecstasy under their fat stack of salami.
You are here to be the ideal woman; you want nothing from them they don’t want to give, you are fascinated by their words, you find their jokes hilarious, you are touched by their struggles to get where they are, your nipples get hard when they glance at your lips, you are playful and show them a childlike wonder at the world, you find the stories about their wives charming, you are split open at the heart and begging them to touch you, you are beautiful and heaving and witty and insightful, you are very smart, you find them smarter, you will think of them later, you won’t ask them to call you later, you will never get upset at them, you don’t need them to take care of you. You are the woman that only exists when a few thousand dollars are resting on the nightstand.
I wax a little poetic here, but it’s largely true, and probably you know it and have been shaped by it in your life already.
They still want to work for it at least a little (and sometimes a lot), to prove to themselves that they earned this in some way besides the money. I would sometimes “get frustrated” that I couldn’t orgasm, before asking them to shift position and then having a fake orgasm, in order to demonstrate that some effort on their part was in fact required. Remember to treat them as an equal, not a superior, to slowly dole out the perfect woman to them as they ‘earn’ it by charming you; don’t lay it all out too fast. You’re here to create the illusion that none of this is about money, and if it’s not about money then it has to be about something else.
You love sex. You are a sexy horndog who wants nothing but getting railed to china and back every day of the week. You took this job because you love sex, not because you need to pay your student loans. The money is just an ‘excuse’ to be a slut, a ‘why not make money off of something i love’, a side effect. Remember: men do not want to make you feel bad; this is not sexy to them. If they get the impression that you don’t like your experience with them, that you’re only pretending, they are very unlikely to return. Their fantasy is getting an opportunity to spend some time with a woman who is on the cusp of banging them anyway, and just needed a little financial reason to do it.
(To be clear; as an escort I did genuinely like most of my experiences with clients, although apart from a handful of memorable experiences with talented men, most of the sex was mediocre. But most of my sex I had on casual dates from dating apps were mediocre too, so whatever)
Sometimes, women will hire you. In my experience this was very rare, and in every case I was hired by the woman as a gift to her man in a threesome. These have pros and cons; being a hired third wheel is super high variance, and is easier insofar as the woman takes up more of her man’s energy, and worse insofar as you have two people to pay attention to now.
Sometimes, men will hire you and another escort together, a practice referred to as “hiring a duo.” Some escorts advertise regular duo escort partners they’re familiar with and like working with, but some guys will want to hire you and another escort they like but that you don’t know at all. I don’t have a ton of experience working in duos. I typically meet the woman beforehand briefly to discuss preferences and limits. In the session, I’ve found the oral sex is generally faked on each other (it’s very weird eating out a coworker) by covering the labia with the mouth and then not actually moving the tongue. I don’t know if this is standard; it’s probably way more fun to do a duo with another woman who you actually enjoy having sex with.
Getting More Business
How To Look
This depends a lot on the kind of clientele you’re going for, but I found most men prefer an understated, girl-next-door kind of look; jeans, t-shirt, flats type deal. Even with keeping it real, it’s important to still keep it classy – be clean, put together well, pay attention to the details. You want to signal that you’re successful, responsible, and wealthy (remember, you’re doing this because you want to, not because you need the money). I wore a lot of minimalistic, versatile high-end dresses and chunky heels.
You can still express yourself a lot in appearance, as they like seeing your personality. Just make sure it’s not too extreme, too threatening or intimidating, too messy, or too sexy – they want to feel like they’re on a date with a normal girl, not with a whore.
Don’t wear lipstick, it’ll smear on them and they probably have a wife to come home to.
If you do wear perfume, keep it subtle, you’ll be very close and they probably have a wife to come home to.
If you wear a necklace, keep it short, like a choker, so it doesn’t swing into their eye when you’re on top of them.
If you wear rings, take them off before banging, so you don’t destroy their dick as you stroke it.
Wear clothing that’s not a pain in the ass to take off; soft, touchable things with quick ties and buttons are great.
Nice lingerie is a bonus (occasionally you’ll get a big lingerie fan), but I often found the men immediately discarded it and didn’t even notice what the lingerie looked like.
A change of underwear is good for before or afterwards, so you don’t have to arrive and depart in the same kinda sweaty string lace thing.
False eyelashes are dangerous, as you’ll likely be squeezing your eyes shut hard or rubbing up against him
It’s up to you if you’re down to take clothing requests – in general I recommend against this, as this is a visible indication that you’re willing to change your self expression for them, and lots of guys register this as not genuine. But some guys do want you to wear a specific thing and don’t care too much about if you’re genuine, so if you want to hit that market then taking clothing requests are a good idea. You can mention you take clothing requests on your website (or they might bring it up themselves in email).
How much should you charge? I’d look around at other escort ads and websites in your city to get a sense for what range of appearance charges what. Your attractiveness is important to understand when pricing yourself; in comparison to online sex work especially, your body matters more than your face. Keep in mind that other escorts tend to not be as hot as they seem to be in their photos; you’re seeing the carefully selected, most-flattering versions of themselves. The escorts I met in person were much more… normal seeming than the gorgeous vibes presented on their websites (I’m sure I’m included in this). Even still, monthly income in my survey was moderately correlated with self-reported attractiveness.
As a very general rule, I’d recommend erring slightly on the higher end of rates; at the very worst you just won’t get a lot of business, but the business you do get will be better quality.
Some escorts are nervous to change their prices, but I don’t think this is quite so big a deal. If you drop them, do it silently; simply update your website and ads, and bring it up to recurring clients if they ask. If you want to raise them, you should announce this so people know you’re doing well. You can grandfather current clients into previous rates; I often did a thing where I announced I was going to raise rates, but that I’d grandfather anybody in for a year who booked in the next month or whatever. Keep in mind this can be annoying to track and you’ll have to keep good records.
According to my survey, escorts who charged more per hour also got booked for longer appointments (r=0.44, LR=4e+7) and made more total money (r=0.59, LR=3e+15), even with fewer appointments. The sweet spot will be different for everyone though; one of my friends found she lost income after raising her rates $200.
Lots of escorts will charge an additional fee, typically around $100-200, for either incall or outcall; whichever you want to get compensated more for doing. I charged $200 for incalls, because I had to book a hotel and wanted to cover it; some escorts who use their own home for incalls will charge more for outcalls, because they have to travel.
Most escorts offer discounts for longer hours booked. You can adjust the discount according to how much you want to incentivize longer appointments, and this is very much up to your personal preference. You can see the spreadsheet I used to figure out my own early pricing here (tho I didn’t build it with public consumption in mind).
You can also charge more for traveling; if the client wants you to go somewhere three hours outside the city, be prepared to have an additional rate. Some clients might take you up on the elusive and prized FMTY (“Fly Me To You”), where they pay for your flight, and typically a bit extra for your travel time, and bring you to them for (usually) a longer appointment. It’s common for escorts to have separate FMTY rates listed on their profile.
You can also establish a cancellation fee within a certain amount of hours before your appointment; I requested something like 20% if cancelled 24 hours before, and 50% if cancelled 6 hours before. There’s a good chance they simply won’t pay you, and there’s no way to enforce them paying you, but if they do want to ever see you again you can require that cancellation fee first.
Some escorts require deposits before the appointment, where they keep the deposit if the guy cancels, or if they fear the guy might try to steal money. This is less common; I required deposits of 20% for long appointments (6+ hours), because I had a lot of time booked up that would be a painful loss if they cancelled. Deposits are hard to do because everybody wants anonymity and payment processers are cruel; I typically accepted amazon gift cards or crypto.
I recommend against negotiating rates! There’s exceptions (often providers will do negotiations with clients they really like who might want a unique arrangement), but by-and-large negotiating price indicates to the client that your boundaries in general are negotiable, and blurs the boundaries of your role as a provider.
One strategy I’ve heard a few girls try is having two identities you run ads for; as your face might be obscured, this isn’t super hard. You list two different sets of ads under two different names, and you advertise two different price points. The goal here is to capture both low and high markets; for example you might get 15 appointments a month from your lower-priced identity, but could also grab 2 appts a month for your high-priced one, whereas otherwise you’d miss out on one set. Doing this is more work, and you have to be careful not to cross clients, but might be a good option especially if you’re very unsure what price point is best for you.
You can travel! Lots of escorts tour, which is basically to schedule a trip to another city, publicly advertise you’ll be there, put up ads in that city (lots of ad sites have a special designation for tours), and then book clients for that city. This is especially great if you live in a smaller city or if you’ve “exhausted” your local client base. Tours can be expensive, though; escorts sometimes charge higher prices on tours to offset this, or require deposits from clients who book on tours.
Shortest Appointment To Offer?
Some escorts will refuse to offer shorter appointment times, as a way to indicate that they are a “get to know you” kind of girl and not the fast-slam-bam type. Higher end norms are to offer 1.5hrs as a minimum appointment length; 1hr is midrange, and a 30minute minimum is typically lower end.
I started out with a 1.5 minimum, but eventually switched to 1hr minimum, but made the rate for 1 hour very expensive; only slightly less than a 1.5. I found this worked well for me; I rarely got bookings for 1 hour, but when I did I was quite happy about it.
Overnights are when you spend the night with your client, and you can choose whether or not to offer this. I did, and stipulated that I required a minimum of 7 hours of sleep (to guard against boners poking you in the night), with a 14 hour total minimum. On overnights I would bring a sleeping pill to discreetly take before bed. Keep in mind very long appointments can be absolutely exhausting for some.
Should you allow reviews? My recommendation is no, but some escorts do really like them. In my client survey, clients who reported reading reviews before seeing an escort tended (slightly) to be younger, poorer, book lower priced escorts, and feel shame about seeing escorts.
Reviews sort of break the spell you’re attempting to weave that you and the client have a uniquely special bond; reviews often are done by hobbyists, and tend in general to be more sexual than you might prefer. They also reinforce the view of you as a whore, and most of your work is in presenting a brand that is the opposite of nearly everything people think of when they think of whores.
Some people hire other people to manage their bookings for them; you might also run into one of these from another escort when asking them for client references. I used a booking assistant (someone I trusted in my local community and taught what to do) and it was awesome; just make sure they are very careful with screening!
Sometimes, forms of exclusive arrangements can be on the table. Some escorts will advertise the ability to pay them an obscene amount of money in exchange for them only seeing that one client. I get the impression that often this is done quietly, under the table, where an escort sees many clients, one expresses an interest in taking her exclusive, and the they privately negotiate a price and the escort then takes her ads and website off the market.
(One of my most awkward appointments was with a pair of these; I was hired by a male-female couple, and when he excused himself to the restroom she told me that she was also an escort, had entered into a long-term exclusive relationship with him, and was trying to end it; she was hoping getting him to have sex with someone new would help. The session involved her trying to encourage me and him to have sex while he very clearly only wanted to touch her. As I rode him, he only looked at her. I felt bad for him, but he was consenting, but also holy shit it was so awkward.)
Some escorts have long-term, sustainable arrangements with only one or two clients, and they don’t run ads or accept any new clients. This can be the holy grail!
Hormonal birth control can let you skip periods. If you don’t want to do this, the strategy I used was to buy sea sponges, cut them down until they fit in my vagina, soak them in warm water, squeeze the water out, and then slip it in right around my cervix. These are basically undetectable, and feel just like your vaginal wall, and depending on your vaginal shape it’s even undetectable to aggressive fingering. The downside here is getting them out; you have to squat, bear down, and fish around with your fingers, and try to get enough of a grip to pull, for what can often be a frustratingly long and exhausting period of time. You could try tying a string around it (but would be more detectable); I had slightly better luck using a bigger sponge and cutting a hole in it for my finger to latch around. I’ve once needed someone else to get the sponge out for me (and I once was the volunteer to help another escort pull her own sponge out).
Some other people report success with soft cups, but those can spill and I am not so brave.
What to do with pubes and the aforementioned buttcrack hairs? You can leave them long, though keep in mind this is more niche, and you might benefit from having photos that hint or show pubes on your website so men know what they’re getting into.
But if you’re not advertising pubes, know that cleanshaven is the expected default. Waxing is ideal, so you don’t sandpaper your client, but shaving also works if you do it right beforehand. Laser hair removal is probably a worthwhile investment at this point!
If you tell your healthcare provider you’re an escort, they will likely very happily try to get you STI tested as much as humanly possible. The average escort reported getting STI tested a little more than once every two months; I got tested about once every three months. The amount you should get tested probably depends on how many clients you’re seeing, and the type of client.
Keep in mind there’s some things standard STI panels don’t regularly check for – stuff like trichomoniasis or myco/ureaplasma.
Handling It Emotionally
This job can be really emotionally hard in various ways; maybe you don’t get booked enough for the rates you want, and this can be a hard reflection on how attractive you are. Clients can be rude, or pushy, or uncaring, and keeping your boundaries firm can be very hard.
There’s also a lot of social shame that comes with the territory (often increased if your rates aren’t very high). I have a friend who felt disgusted and disgusting after clients, with a compulsive need to shower to get rid of their smell. Some are very attraction-oriented, and feel degraded by having sex with clients they find disgusting. This can be really hard to deal with; I don’t experience this personally, so my best advice is simply to raise your prices so you see fewer clients, and get rewarded more when you do.
Take escorting slow; this isn’t a race. If you do take an emotional toll doing this work, be mindful to constantly evaluate if it’s worth it for you, if this is what you really want to do. Consider finding other escorts in your area to be friends with (you can look up their ads and email ones you like!); having a likeminded community can drastically reduce the amount of shame you feel for this job. If you’re in a conservative culture you need to hide your job from, take active steps to find a more sexually liberated community to bond with. Much of the emotional burden is actively caused by the judgment of your social surroundings – so change the surroundings!
Most of my personal sex life has been unaffected by escorting, except in one key element – my standards have raised. Personal sex still feels just like it did before escort sex; I have no trouble bonding or wanting my partner, but I now am much less likely to endure free sex that I don’t particularly enjoy, or push myself to do unpaid sex acts that don’t really thrill me. It’s unclear if this is a blessing or a curse; going for exactly what I want feels good, but also it narrows the pool of people I can have sustainable sexual relationships with, as I’m less willing to compromise.
The government still expects you to pay taxes despite it using those tax dollars to try to put you in jail for your job. If you choose to fund the government for this is up to you.
The government will likely expect you to report income that is consistent with your lifestyle, and if you don’t this can make audits go worse.
As far as I know, at the time of writing this, banks are required to report cash deposits over 10k to the IRS. How you choose to deposit is up to you.
I personally did report and pay taxes, as did the other escorts I knew. Most didn’t want the stress of trying to hide income.
Escorts often report a job that’s not ‘escort’ on their tax returns; any sort of vague, gig-based independent thing can work well for this; coaching, modeling, consulting, etc.
Legalization and regulation?
It’s possible legalization would make things worse than we have now, by driving down the prices and also reducing quality of life for sex worker (I have an escort friend who once told me “the day they legalize sex work in the US is the day that I quit). Legalization tends to come with burdens that give power to others; in that one county in Nevada where sex work is legal, you have to work in a licensed brothel, and you have to pay that brothel in order to work.
Other places might ban brothels or “living off the proceeds of a sex worker” for fear of pimps, but in the process this means a sex worker isn’t allowed to move in with another sex worker (now it’s a brothel) for safety, and isn’t allowed to support anyone else off the money she earns.
Some well meaning but utterly incompetent places think it’s a good idea to make it illegal for johns to hire a sex worker, but don’t prosecute the sex worker. This increases competition of sex workers for johns, artificially drives prices down, gives johns greater bargaining power over sex workers, and doesn’t fix the problem of johns trying hard to remain anonymous and requiring situations where you’re less able to go to the police if you wanted. Sex workers hate this.
The vast majority of escorts I’ve talked to want decriminalization, not legalization. We simply want it to be not illegal to do what we’re already doing. This would allow us to go to the police if we need to, would allow better screening services to operate without fear of being taken down (I couldn’t even name the best screening service here in this article!), without imposing additional burdens.
The Heart Of It
Most of this guide might seem a bit cold and calculated, but cold and calculated doesn’t mean there isn’t heart; I’ve “coldly” analyzed many things that I love or deeply move me. You can break down the romantic mating dance between men and women into brutal evo-psych theories about status and competition and shit-tests and pheromones, but the felt experience of romance is no less true or powerful – it’s just harder to write a guide about.
I’ve had many clients that I remember fondly and who mean a lot to me. One client I would regularly hold in close skin-to-skin contact as he cried, and I cried with him; another was young and vibrant and too big for the small world around him. Another was a quadriplegic, and yet another was a talented writer who valued rarely seen things in me and encouraged me to do great things without ever once implying escorting was beneath me. Another whose wife had recently died and found me as his first foray into being with another woman, because he couldn’t bear to fully date another person yet. I’ve had clients figure out who I am and show up asking me to tripsit them on psychedelics, wildly successful CEOs who treated me as an intellectual equal, or people who were dying of cancer and didn’t want to go out without another bang (I recently looked up one of my favorite clients and instead found his obituary).
A part of me really fell in love with these people, and I consider my experiences with them immensely valuable and I am honored to be able to have been there for them in that way. And the part of me that loves them gets furious when people mock all sex work as degrading or meaningless. You don’t know how deeply I’ve touched and been touched. There’s a thread of sacredness in here, of vital work that is profoundly healing and I will defend these men until I die.
And this is part of the strange world of escorting; you get the good and the bad, the men who push your boundaries and the men who respect you immensely. You get high pay in exchange for social shame, legal risk for many more hours of free time. It’s a wild world and I don’t regret a second of it.
And am I worried that posting this will destroy my ability to escort in the future – would it make men not want to hire me? My hope is that it will discourage the men who should be discouraged, and encourage the ones who know they’re more likely to make me actually happy.
In 2018, I did MDMA at Burning Man with a cult. The experience was great, as MDMA usually is for me. I glowed with love, made eye contact with people, rubbed arms. At around 2am, I laid in the main tent after everyone had gone to bed, and as I came down I became gripped with horrible anxiety.
The anxiety crept into my head like poison. I began thinking intrusive thoughts about how everyone must hate me, about how terrible I was. My body was gripped in fear. I tried to go to bed, but couldn’t sleep because of my brain screaming that the world was awful and I was awful and everyone was definitely combing through every mistake I’d ever made. I stayed up all night running through these thoughts, and in the morning crept out, exhausted and tense all over.
Turns out I was horrifically dehydrated and hadn’t noticed it; I gulped down water, and things settled a bit. Eventually I belched; a huge, vibrating belch, and the anxiety vanished within ten seconds. I sat there, utterly exhausted in the rising heat and desert daylight, feeling perfectly chill and like the world was fine.
I forgot about this incident, until the night of a wedding a few months later, in December. I was trying to go to sleep, drunk, and then casually remembered I was planning on doing MDMA at a party the next day. And instantly, like a cavern opened, I dropped into anxiety again; everything seemed bad, like a train was about to hit me from I-didn’t-know-where. It took me a few hours to get to sleep, and when I woke up in the morning the anxiety was still there.
And it didn’t leave for a year. I grappled with this anxiety in various ways, from various directions, for a really long time.
It was hard because I didn’t understand it. It felt sort of formless, though there were thoughts. I’d find an anxious thought and then meditate on it; okay, so I’m afraid of people thinking bad things about me. What happens if they do? I knew how to deal with fears, I’d done this a thousand times; you identify what you’re afraid of happening, then you inhabit a world where it’s happened to you and then you grieve and come to terms with living this reality for an infinity, so that it’s integrated fully into your mind, so you don’t flinch away. So if people thought bad things about me, I’d notice I was really afraid of being alone and unloved, and then I was like okay – let me be alone and unloved, let me be the isolated, unseen outcast, doomed to writhe in the pain of solitude forever. And then I grieved it fully, didn’t resist it, accepted the unendingness of it.
But here, for the first time in my life, this process didn’t help. I accepted it, but something still felt bad, somewhere. And so I kept twisting over my own shoulder, trying to figure out what had gone wrong.
I eventually did LSD with the goal of figuring this out, and it was the single ‘bad trip’ I’ve ever had (out of around 100, at this point). I was consumed with anxiety I couldn’t locate. It was confusing, more than anything. No matter what mental motion I performed, what technique or manner of looking, anxiety hid behind that. I tried doing shrooms over the new year, and found the anxiety as this rock settled in my chest, immoveable and dense, with the rest of my body flowing gently around it.
I learned a lot over these months; I examined many parts of myself much closer, I learned some mental motions that helped a bit. But it was like I was built out of “reality is bad”, and I was trying to fix myself with corrupted tools.
The worst thing was that any strong emotion seemed to trigger the anxiety – grief or joy or anything. It was like my access to deep, expressive feeling was stunted; as soon as my body began to light up, the anxiety would swoop in and slap it away from me. I didn’t understand why.
One day, in the grips of the usual anxiety, I was drinking sparkling water, and I released a truly massive belch. Immediately, the anxiety disappeared.
This shook my fucking world. Why did I feel fine? Why was the world suddenly good? Because I belched? What kind of sick, immature kind of joke was this?
But it replicated. The next time I got anxious, I drank fizzy water and belched and the anxiety was gone. I didn’t know what was going on; was it a vasovagal nerve pressure thing? I didn’t know how the nerve worked, but some pressure somewhere in my system must have been causing the anxiety.
More importantly, this meant the anxiety wasn’t a mental thing, it was physical. This felt ridiculous; the anxiety clearly felt mental. I was having clear, concrete thoughts that I could react to and try to reason with. It felt as mental as any other emotion. I’d believed the anxiety was some ‘mistake’ I’d been making, something I hadn’t realized, some subconscious belief I was holding, and I thought once I ironed it out the feeling would go away. I didn’t think drinking fizzy water would be the solution. Surely I had some emotional hangup, not.. gas!
But uh yeah, it was gas.
This changed the way I related to my anxiety; I would lie there, feeling like the world was ending, and my orientation changed from this being a symptom of mental disarrangement and more like physical sickness. I noticed that I felt the world was ending much as I might have noticed a stomachache, and in a way this was infinitely more tolerable.
And it was funny, I realized, that I’d been treating the mental and physical worlds as two separate things; not just in what they were but in what they meant. As in, I had some sense of self wrapped up in my mental world that I didn’t in the physical; if this was a mental disarrangement, then it reflected on me to feel it; I could fix it purely through mentally rearranging myself, and to feel anxious was a sign I had failed to solve some puzzle. I had no such sense of self in my body; if my body was disarranged, it didn’t reflect on me, and being sick wasn’t a failure. And there was an intense peace in this; somehow, I began to endure the anxiety with a weird form of acceptance, despite still experiencing the anxiety itself in hyper clarity.
This also made me wonder how many other things, in myself or in others, were physical problems instead of mental ones. I’ve been using the terms sky problems/solutions and earth problems/solutions for this division; sky problems being things mentally created and mentally solvable, such as resolving childhood trauma, dealing with getting annoyed when your friend closes the door too loudly, or being more productive.Earth problems are ‘practically’ created; your car breaking down, genetically-passed-down schizophrenia, or being gluten intolerant.
And so when my friends talked about their childhood trauma, I wondered if their sky problems actually needed earth solutions, and I started suggesting them to drink sparkling water or get more sleep or check their diet and exercise.
This ran into a bit of pushback. Was I not suggesting ignoring their sky problems? They saw a genuine problem with the sky. Really, they suspected a lot of earth problems themselves were actually sky problems; maybe your back pain is actually unresolved childhood trauma! They reported having effectively fixed problems with their body by fixing problems with their mind. I believed this – but maybe it should be equally possible to fix mind problems with your body?
One issue is when people don’t optimize for solving their problem, they instead look to have an identity of someone who’s solved a problem. If the issues of your childhood trauma are solved by getting eight hours of solid sleep, your problem might be solved, but you don’t feel like someone who’s solved a problem, and so you might not seriously consider trying “getting eight hours of sleep”. The only solutions on the table are solutions that might reaffirm your identity as someone who’s fixed something.
This also comes from losing sight of what ‘solving a problem’ is, or losing sight of what you want. Maybe you have abandonment trauma and feel insecure or angry when your romantic partner has other close friendships. This is hard because you want to be able to have a relationship where your desires aren’t restricting the other person, perhaps because you want to make others feel good, because you love them. And as you try to fix this issue, you’re drawn into a lot of narratives around what it looks like to solve the problem – maybe you need to work out your hangups from when your first girlfriend cheated on you, or become fully integrated, or develop an introspective skillset that emotionally stabilizes you.
And probably a lot of these will in fact help! But the path is not the goal; being integrated isn’t what you want, you wanted to make others feel good because you love them (or whatever else your core value might be). There’s a thousand promised paths to the goal that beckon as a true path because they claim to be a good path; or rather, a path that will prove that you are good.
And maybe one day you figure out that whenever you dress in neon pink and do acroyoga your insecurity and anger melts away, your relationship with your partner improves, and you make them feel good because you love them. But we might say this doesn’t count as a true path, because it’s too easy; where’s the labor? Where’s the change in your character? Where’s the hours of introspection and feelings of insight? Surely there will be some repercussions here – surely you will find this stops working, or doesn’t address other important problems, or isn’t a true fix – whatever ‘true’ means.
To be quite clear, there is merit to this – people often think they’ve fixed themselves when they haven’t, or want an easy route where there is none, or don’t understand that the path to their goal requires a wide ranging series of modifications to their mind. My point is not that the path is never hard, my point is that sometimes the path is not one we expect, and that we avoid considering those paths because we prefer thinking of ourselves as someone who is ‘good’ (hard working, strong, determined, etc.).
As in; if you could take a pill right now that is perfectly designed to chemically rearrange your brain to instantly fix the problems in yourself you want fixed – removes a trigger you have, or increases your productivity, or cures your abandonment issues – would you do it?
As for my anxiety, it eventually faded away over the course of a year and hasn’t come back since, without any insight, labor, or personal growth on my part.
On the way to my very first circle, I had an intense conversation with a friend about whether I should break up with my then-partner. It was very sad, and by the time we arrived at the circle, I felt like I was about to cry. I shoved down the feeling, put on a neutral, vaguely pleasant face, and sat on the floor in a circle with everyone else. They all spoke their names, the leader told us some guidelines and explained this was a ‘surrendered leadership’ style, and had us close our eyes in a brief meditation before starting.
People went around the circle talking about their feelings in a way I hadn’t really seen before. In some of the words there rose tension between two men; they noticed it, the whole room noticed it, and there was a dense silence. One of them was angry at the other; he was mad at how much space the other took up. They turned to face each other, made eye contact, said more careful things. Eventually the angry one said, “I desperately want your approval.” Something in the room discharged, the tension shifted.
I was shocked. I’d never seen anyone admit they wanted someone else’s approval – I could barely admit it to myself, when I felt it. I couldn’t believe this man had torn out his heart and slammed it in the open for all of us to see. I was in awe.
Eventually the circle turned to me, because I’d been so quiet. They asked me what was going on for me, how I felt; I still had the discussion about breaking up with my partner heavy in my body with grief, and quickly, embarrassingly, I started crying. “I’m just struggling with a hard decision,” I said between sobs. The group watched me quietly, patiently, not trying to fix my tears, just witnessing me in my grief.
And then a man on the other side of the circle said loudly, “I’m bored.”
I stared at him through my teary face, feeling like I’d just been slapped. I’d never heard anybody say something like that – their true feeling even when there was intense social pressure not to disrupt an experience?? From that moment on I was absolutely hooked – something going on here was magic, and I wanted more.
Exposure to rationality (of the rationalist community style) radically changed me; I felt like it significantly upgraded my ability to reason. The only other thing to have a comparable impact on my life was circling.
And to be clear, I am pretty allergic to most stuff in the neighborhood of circling. Authentic relating games, bonding workshops, eye contact stuff, those hippie circles where someone breathily expresses something they’re thankful for and everyone murmurs this vaguely-sexual hum in response while clicking their fingers – in all these things I range from ‘tolerant’ to ‘actively disgusted’. I’m not a positivity-human-contact junkie, I’m more of a ‘talk about our feelings through text over telegram while we’re sitting silently in the same room’ type girl.
But circling? Circling is great.
I’m not a circling expert, I’ve done maybe 120 hours of circling, nearly all in surrendered leadership in Circling Europe style. There’s different schools; my preferred school is the ‘wild west’ one, the ‘abandon all structure and see what happens.’ It can be quite intense, and of all the schools CE has the least emphasis on safety. The surrendered leadership mode is exactly what it sounds like – while there is a facilitator, they often barely guide the experience; everyone is expected to be their own leader in the group.
This is awesome, and terrifying. In surrendered leadership I’ve seen people outright lie down and sleep, cuddle piles spontaneously form, pretending to be animals, screaming at each other, 40 minutes of spontaneous silence, clothes coming of, and of course absolutely heroic displays of vulnerability I didn’t even know were possible for a human soul. Once I left a circle utterly triggered by a near-fistfight and spent ten minutes sobbing behind a door.
I’m listing the most exciting things to try to demonstrate that the boundary of ‘what counts as circling’ can be quite huge, but most of the actual content of it is slower, quieter, and internal. Some of the most bored I’ve ever been as an adult has been spent in circles; but this is sort of the point; I get an opportunity to meditate on a social experience and my relationship to it. Should I say something to be less bored? Am I embarrassed about being bored? Am I afraid of breaking silences?
It’s notoriously difficult to describe the heart of circling. It’s a bit like a drug; you can describe the funny visuals, the realization you’re a deity or whatever, but the meat of the thing is sort of sub-concept, where it’s hard to understand conceptually and much easier to understand experientially.
My favorite description is interpersonal meditation. Much as with regular meditation you sit and notice your experience, and then notice yourself noticing your experience, with circling you notice your experience in relation to others, and then notice yourself noticing your experience in relation to others, etc. You can also communicate your experience to others, much as you might communicate your experience to different parts of yourself in traditional meditation. The entire group becomes, in some sense, a single unit, exploring what it’s like to be in connection with each other.
For a while, I predicted experienced meditators would do a really good job circling; after all, they’ve spent a lot of time in careful consideration of themselves, so “themselves while around others” seemed like a small leap. I was surprised to find that (in my admittedly small-ish anecdotal experience), proficient meditators didn’t seem to be particularly better at circling than others, or pick it up faster. My theory is that meditating on self-as-part-of-a-group is simply really really different than meditating on self-alone, enough so that the muscles used to practice on them just don’t overlap.
Some people describe circling as consisting as five principles:
Commitment to connection – to commit, in this experience, to connection with others. Keep in mind connection is often misinterpreted as being ‘on the same wavelength’ or ‘vulnerable’; I personally interpret this as ‘attention’; to pay attention to what it’s like to be with the other people in the circle.
Be with the other in their world – to try to inhabit the other as they are. We’re here to ‘get’ those around us; not who we would be in their circumstance, but to be them in their circumstance.
Own your experience – to treat the things you experience as yours, without placing them on others. If someone makes you mad, the goal is to recognize that your anger is your own, the stories you have around it are yours; you are the generator and the creator of this experience. This is subtly and critically different from self blame or suppressing the anger.
Trust your experience – to let your experience guide your interaction with the group. If you are angry, this isn’t something that needs to be understood; it’s trying to tell you something important, and in expressing it you may find out what it means. Or if you want to suppress the anger, trust that too; the urge to suppress is trying to tell you something important, and in suppressing you may find out what it means.
Stay at the level of sensation – keep your attention regularly on your body, on the tiny little reactions you might have, on the fine-tuned, tiny-grained little movements in your stomach or heart or emotions. My more liberal interpretation of this is don’t get heady – we’re not here to analyze, fix, change, theorize, reminisce; we’re here to be with what is in this moment (even if it’s noticing the sensation of an urge to analyze, fix, change, theorize, or reminisce).
Curtis Yarvin recently wrote a takedown of circling. I’m probably not the right person to respond to this, because I’m a relative circling n00b and his takedown was of Circling Institute style, which features a strong facilitating hand and a guided experience. But it’s all under the ‘circling’ label, and includes some misconceptions about it, or at least accurate conceptions of ‘bad circling.’ Here’s some:
You have to be vulnerable No; this implies you have to be a specific thing. Circling seems to be less about being a thing and more about being aware of whatever thing is going on, while in connection with other. If your experience is that you absolutely do not want to be vulnerable around this group, then the experience of avoiding vulnerability is what’s up for you.
Connection with other means you have to tell others how you’re feeling No; it means being aware of your experience as it exists in relation to those around you. I’ve known multiple people who would regularly go to circling and say almost nothing, ever. One of my good friends would just lie down with his eyes covered on the outskirts of the circle and give only grunts as a response to questions. Another friend would cover his head in a blanket. “I don’t want to answer that question”, or “I don’t feel safe talking to you”, or just straight-up silence are all valid responses.
If you do want to be ‘honest’, this is often brutal and shitty Especially early on, I’d go to circles terrified; what if I feel something really mean and someone asks me what I’m feeling? What if I hurt someone? What if people don’t like me? What if they think I don’t care about them? Turns out, when the time came to share my feelings, I didn’t just have a single brutal thing to say, I had an entire relationship to the thing I was saying. “I am afraid to say [brutal thing],” I’d share. “I am afraid I might hurt someone, and I’m afraid you won’t like me. I’m afraid you might interpret my experience as this other thing. I’m afraid you’ll interpret this as lack of care for you.” The point is, “hard honesty” that exists in isolation from all other parts of you isn’t really honesty.
“Owned” language, like “I’m feeling x”, when you really want to say “stop being a jerk,” mutes some important expression I sort of agree with this, but my point here is a bit nuanced; I think it’s very possible to say “stop being a jerk” within the bounds of circling; it’s just that it’s not very circling-y to say it when you don’t know how not to say it, when it’s not a very conscious and deliberate choice. Sort of like how, when learning to paint, you might train carefully in realistic shadows and highlights, but then later on break all the conventions when you decide to pull in some abstract moves. The point of the restriction of language is to help draw your attention to what’s going on for you when you want to call someone a jerk, so that when you do finally tell someone to stop being a jerk it can be done with true mastery.
Circling is too restrictive and suppresses good communication that might happen just cause it’s not said correctly Generally I hear this from people who are interested in doing more analyze-y things; a really cool theory occurred to them in the circle, and it feels almost criminal to be unable to discuss it with others. After all, isn’t connecting with concepts also a form of connection? Why are we stuck to just the present moment and feelings? And again, much like “stop being a jerk”, I think it’s possible for conceptual discussion to be done in the spirit of a circle – I just think it’s hard to do it well until you first have the ability to not do it at all. There is a difference between circling and not-circling (though the line is often blurred for some, including me; I’m referring more to the intentional frame), and one of those differences is a different allocation of attention that results in a really specific vibe. It’s hard to describe the vibe as the goal
Circling done well is an interesting combination of going super meta about the immediate moment. In this, it sort of default-circumvents a lot of complaints; if there’s a complaint about something happening in circling, if you feel bad about something being done, then let’s address it, and it’s the addressing it that feels like what circling is, not the thing generating the complaint in the first place. Circling is closer to a process of inquiry as opposed to specific conclusions.
Yarvin’s critique of circling felt a bit like critiques of science; “this study led to a wrong conclusion” or “people use scientific data to justify racism” or “people blindly trust scientific authority even when scientists are often misguided or have bad incentives.” Like yes, these things are true, but I can’t help but feel like people who make these critiques don’t fully understand the heart of science. “People doing science badly” doesn’t mean the process of inquiry itself is a bad concept, it means people are bad at executing the concept.
And sure – it’s possible that you can have full scientific institutions that are butchering the heart of science, and it’s meaningful to critique that. And if you don’t really know that the heart of science exists at all, it is pretty reasonable to confuse the Big Scientific Institution with science itself. It’s possible Guy’s style of Circling Institute is butchering the heart of circling somehow; I haven’t watched the video Yarvin linked and I haven’t done Circling Institute style. But I want to be clear that there is a heart in there, an incredibly valuable heart, and the goal here is to ‘do the heart justice’. If circling is going wrong, it’s because we’re failing circling, not because circling is failing us.
Much as exposure to rationality changed the way I think and orient to concepts, exposure to circling changed the way I experience interaction with other people.
It made me more perceptive. This comes from raw practice – it’s common in circling to make guesses about the way other people are feeling, and then check if your guess is correct. This is incredible – it gives you quick feedback about your intuitions in a way that’s rarely possible outside of circling. It helped me refine my interpretations of how other people behave because I got to regularly ask them if my perceptions were correct.
It made me less fearful of running into the edges of social boundaries, and gave me greater agency in social situations. This, also, was due to practice handling extreme edges of social boundaries and learning that the other side is quite safe, actually; much as science promises a ‘safety’ in following the process of inquiry wherever it leads, so in circling I learned an incredible safety in following the process into novel social dynamics.
It caused me to realize humans are way more different than I thought. Often in circling a situation would happen where someone would say a thing, and I’d quietly, subconsciously assume that everyone must be having the same reaction to it. Either it was obviously cringe, or obviously heartwrenching; the idea that people all must agree wasn’t even in question, I only thought how people were going to communicate it. And time and time again, people surprised me by having completely different reactions than I predicted. It’s hard to overstate how shocking this was; I knew people were different, of course, but circling was the only place where we slowed down carefully enough to examine reactions that I got to see differences in places I’d never considered were possible before.
It gave me the tools to feel and express love for others. By ‘love’ here I mean Looking; a pure, unflinching being with the other person in whatever they are. I knew how to do this already, but had sort of ‘turned it off’ in social situations where everyone seemed to be implicitly asking the group not to look at the people in it too closely. Circling helped me learn not to turn it off, to find ways to feel and express the love more directly in between the cracks of social politeness.
It made me much, much more self-aware about my social impulses. I’d never before gotten the opportunity to pay super close attention to my social procedures, because a bunch of my attention was busy running those social procedures. Circling caused me to become aware of desires and impulses I had no idea I was subject to; shone a bright, cold light directly onto the social me. And to be clear – I wasn’t exactly ignorant to my ‘shadow’ self or whatever (tho I dislike the term) before, I’d done a huge amount of work staring directly at my own eyeballs on the mirror while on LSD and stuff, but me in relation to othercoming to you live, as it happens was really, really new territory.
It gave me a much healthier sense of boundaries (micro-boundaries?) in interactions with others. I got a lot of practice figuring out whatfeelings were mine and what weren’t, which made me both more comfortable expressing my own feelings and receiving others. I’m less defensive when someone is upset/needy/judgey at me, and I’m less afraid expressing my own displeasure to others – not because I consciously attempted to become less defensive or afraid, but rather because I had the opportunity to pay close attention to myself during times I felt defensive or afraid.
If you’re interested in trying circling, CircleAnywhere has easy-to-join circles of various types done online. There’s also in-person meetups in many, usually larger cities.