I lean in to Dana and whisper, “I’m scared.” She is affectionately studying the Walgreens display of sex stuff. I pick out a sex sponge with innocuous packaging. Its white printing across a pale blue background and scientific language reaches its target population: overly educated hookers. I toss some tampons, makeup applicators, and condoms into my plastic basket.
“I really don’t understand,” Dana whispers back, cradling assorted vaginal cargo. “With all that shit up your, uh, pussy, how are you going to put a dick in there?”
Like many best friends, mine are easily prevailed on to indulge my wiliest adventures. Take Dana, for example. We’ve been known to enable one another; everything from breaking and entering, drug use, marriage, and other terrible ideas.
We stand side by side as the grisly Walgreens checkout clerk waves my incriminating purchases across the barcode scanner. Ignoring the multifarious ways in which we, together, develop bad, bad ideas, Dana and I determine that that the most steadfast way to mask my period while providing my weekend long Girlfriend Experience, or GFE, is to stick as many things up my vagina as possible.
I am preparing to fly across the country to see Greg, my John. I made the mistake of greedily accepting his lucrative business proposal before considering the time of the month. This is my first time selling sex while on my period. Although a somewhat devoted feminist, a few thousand dollars is enough to persuade me, although begrudgingly, to shave my legs and use feminine hygiene products.
Dana drops me at curbside check-in. Hers is a cerebral farewell. I take a long, concentrated drag of my cigarette and wash down 20 milligrams of Valium with the vodka sloshing around in my Perrier bottle. My cavalier attitude towards mixing substances is engendered from a debilitating fear of death, an entertaining paradox that does not escape me.
I’d engaged in commercial sex with Greg a time or two before, often overnight or weekend visits in bland waterside hotel rooms. I’d grown fond of him despite his hubristic attempts at reigniting his proverbial and literal phallus, its flaccidity the result of a paralyzing injury. He compensated for a lackluster love life and a culture that read him as asexual and genderless by pill popping and booze drinking, often equally daunting and unfulfilling for us both.
I did adore his comic book appearance: lanky limbs with scribbled, unshaven scruff stenciled across his dominating jaw, weighed against bright eyes and an anachronistic head of hair, soft and baby thin. I imagined him before his injury. I’d look at him over the rims of my glasses and think, before his injury, I most assuredly would have pursued him in a non-commercial fashion. I’d then wonder if that somehow made me an immoral or exploitative person. Then I’d take solace in the social narrative, albeit false, that I was indeed a victim and thus could not be held accountable for my own behavior, to say nothing of my own thoughts.
Such self-reflection makes the bond between hooker and John more tenuous; a bond, first and foremost, amalgamated through precarious circumstances that often involve one party’s loneliness and another’s poverty. For Greg, his paralysis was emasculating. His previous, non-commercial mistress, a mother and New York socialite basking in the yields of literary success, left him after his crippling injury. He often bemoaned the sharp emptiness where once there was a family naïve to the misgivings of paralysis.
Greg needed much assistance. Although hired to fuck him, it was also necessary I succor his bath and toilet needs. I’d awkwardly shimmy into his lap after assisting his entry into the wet, slippery tub where we’d let the faucet rain on our heads. He’d rub soapsuds across my breasts and in between my thighs and we’d kiss like lovers meeting secretly during lunch break. I often thought I loved him. I’m sure I did.
After our routine baths, we’d plop onto the drab comforter draped over a formless slab disguised as a mattress. We shared beers, popped pills, and smoked cigarettes. We watched television in silence until his prescription Viagra allowed him to rub himself erect. His desires were aesthetic insofar as they were visual. He had almost no feeling in his penis and as such, my job was to cinematically recreate a time when he did. An anathema to the deluge of dominant social narratives, Greg did not rent my body for his pleasure alone. The whole enterprise was a synecdoche of nostalgia for something that never really existed, anyway.
I curl into his solid arms; they are the foundation of his mobility, after all. He smells acidic and like garlic, like most men in physically laborious, blue-collar jobs. He holds me awkwardly, focusing on the Pay Per View movie I’ve chosen— the movie Bridesmaids, actually— and his penis, which is inorganically filling with blood as the characters in Bridesmaids puke all over each other. I excuse myself to the bathroom where I litter my assorted vaginal products across the sink like a junkie preparing her works. First the makeup applicators, then the lubricated sponges. I waddle back to the bedroom. I feel like I’m hiding a small animal in my vagina.
Greg and I have sex for the better part of six hours. Hour five is when I think, “Two-thousand dollars is just not enough.” I exhaust all my fantasies at this point. I’ve already made belief that he is my ex, my priest, my professor, my doctor, a stranger, a bondage expert, a porn star, an inmate, President Obama… My raunchier fantasies, however, hide in a tinderbox Freud would most likely have a field day with. They often involve shameful or dirty things; things utterly blush worthy. One such fantasy is a red shower, as resident sluts or sex workers will tell you. It is, essentially, a fantasy wherein sexual partners get off from menstrual blood. You can even buy red lube if you’re super committed to the idea.
For me, having sex on my period feels taboo and, thus, sexy. I like dirty things and I like when partners like the dirty things my body does. And I think we can all agree, no matter our feminist proclamations, having someone else’s period blood stuck in the crevases of your teeth is pretty fucking dirty.
I feel the cotton and synthetic makeshift endometrium dams turn to a polymer of blood goop. The persistent in-and-out foils my novice plan to mask my period. Apparently, Greg shares my period sentiments. This would have been nice to know five and a half hours ago.
He propels himself on top of me. Blood covers our thighs. Balancing himself atop shaking arms and using momentum to penetrate me, he smiles and says, “I bet you didn’t think I could do this, did you?” Not knowing if he is referencing his ability to be on top or his newfound appreciation for dirtiness, I bring his lips to mine. It is a moment of remarkable sincerity, a kind of absurdity, almost.
After we finish, as the sun peers onto our bastardized conjugal sheets, I shower alone and removed the sundry particles from my insides. When I return to our bed, he is mummified in blankets and quilts; the thermostat at ninety degrees—there are many side effects to Viagra and, especially, Viagra/ opiate cocktails. Despite the profuse sweat turning our bed to puddles, his are tremors of frostbite. Our respective compulsions to be some static ideal seem silly, unfounded and unnecessarily devastating.
I brush his sopping hair to the side and kiss his forehead before climbing into bed and spooning his body in the warmth of mine.
Jenny Heineman is a grad student, researcher, and sex worker. She slings condoms and other harm reduction stuff on the streets of Vegas and documents the lives of riffraff like herself. She has a geriatric poodle with a mohawk and an inflated sense of universal importance.