Handling The Review Boards

by Mistress Matisse on May 29, 2013 · 8 comments

in Clients, Pro-Domme


This isn’t the best way to handle issues with review boards.

Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.

—Oscar Wilde

There is no human experience so intimate and personal that people won’t publicly dissect it. Childbirth. Funerals. Cancer treatments. And sex. I agree with much of what has already been said here on T&S about the problems inherent to some sex work review boards. The whole concept of reviewing an erotic encounter that one was a participant in is an odd idea; it’s like having like a theater critic be in the cast of the play. How can one ignore the fact that the critic played some part in how the show turned out? But, especially with experiences that touch on primal emotions, people search for ways to bring some intellectual analysis to what they are feeling—with mixed degrees of success. Some sex worker reviews are truthful, insightful, and useful: others are more like naked bathroom selfies of the reviewer, with all the perils inherent to that art.

I’ve been reviewed, as an escort and as a pro domme, on both escort boards and sites specifically about professional dominance. Some reviews were positive, some not so much. Of course I prefer the paeans to my beauty and skill—who doesn’t? But I’ve learned to not take any of them too seriously, because I got toughened up in an equally merciless school: reviews and comments on my writing.

Besides being a sex worker, I am also kinky, poly, and queer, and that’s what I write about. There’s pretty much nothing I say that someone won’t strongly disagree with, and in many cases, get really pissed off about. And in comments, letters to the editor, on their blogs or Twitter, in letters and emails addressed directly to me, people often let me know. The criticisms are rarely measured and civil. They’re usually more like “This woman is WRONG and she should die in a fire.” A few people have dedicated entire blogs (now defunct, I’m glad to say) to hating me. I have been subjected to exquisitely-worded, razor-sharp, acid-drenched critiques from scornful intellectual elites, and I have had knuckle-draggers spit “You’re all fucked up and stupid” at me. I have had my physical appearance mocked, my intelligence derided, and my character impugned. I’ve been dissed in newspapers, on the radio, and maybe, one day, if I’m really successful, I’ll be insulted on national television. One can only hope.

I can say that lightly now, but there was a period in my life when public criticism really got to me. Every time I published something, I would swear that this time, I was not going to read the comments, was not going to look for reviews. Was. NOT. But I could feel the acid pool in my stomach when I thought about it, and, inevitably, I had to go look. And even if only some of what was said was unpleasant or inaccurate, I still got upset. I felt like I had tried so hard, and exposed myself so intimately, that anything other than unqualified approval was hard to bear. It hurt my feelings and made me doubt myself. I felt hostile and defensive towards my readers. And yes, I also worried that potential clients, seeing me get savaged in comment strings or blog posts, would be influenced by that, and that by writing at all, I might literally be the author of my own professional demise.

I’m sure someone is reading this and saying, “You can’t compare being reviewed for sex to comments on a piece of writing!” No, it’s not exactly the same. But I did find the skills I learned for one transferable to the other.

When I confront a problem, I ask myself: What part of this do I have control over? Do I want to change the situation, or do I want to change my feelings about it? It’s legitimate to be unhappy when people say inaccurate or unfair things, but I wanted to walk through my life without experiencing an uncontrollable cascade of negative emotions if someone online said something nasty about me.

So I worked on changing my feelings about it. I asked my friends and lovers to be supportive of me when I vented about it. I talked to my therapist. I taped notes to myself on my monitor. I studied how politicians handle bad press and come out of it unscathed. I read about how writers, actors and other types of celebrities live with the blistering snark we casually dish out about them, and tried to teach myself do likewise. Thinking about criticism in these larger contexts helped me not feel manipulated by words on a screen.

keep-calm-and-don-t-stress-7I learned to never, ever try to take any action right away. For a sex worker, a bad review can feel like an immediate threat to our security. It can go right to the “survival” part of our brain, which will then dump a bunch of chemicals into our system designed to help us fight a physical danger. When you have that going on inside you, there’s no way you can make a rational assessment of the scope of the problem and how you should respond. Wait several hours at least, and if you can, get some exercise to help burn off the stress before you do anything.

From a business perspective, the best response is often no response. Even if the review is nothing but a negative attack with obvious malice aforethought, don’t go all Amy’s Baking Company on it in public. You’ll just make the guy who wrote it look like Gordon Ramsay, which he isn’t. But you do have some options, as some of the other people who have posted on this topic have mentioned. I have seen women go to the manager of a board and successfully ask him to remove the posts that were clearly vicious mudslinging. I have also seen situations where a negative-leaning review was posted, the woman in question felt it was unfair, and she asked a neutral third party (known to both people) to mediate private communication between her and the poster. The bad review was subsequently removed.

Both these gambits are a little tricky, but if you have a good professional reputation in general, or you have good contacts on the board who will go to bat for you, and you’re willing to give (at least the appearance of) calm consideration of any legitimate grievance, it’s sometimes doable. If it’s a case where a reviewer posts too much information—and this has definitely happened to me—you can email him directly, tell him your concerns, and ask him to edit the review. My experience of taking this approach has been pretty good. I think occasions where you can transform a bad review into a good one by commenting directly on the review board itself, without first trying to resolve the problem off-stage, are rare. Sometimes you just have to hold your head up and not reward bad behavior with attention.

I’m sympathetic to anyone who’s been unfairly dealt with by someone with a keyboard and a bad attitude. But one bad review—even if it’s unfair—will not sink a sex work career. Clients are, by their nature, a curious and optimistic bunch. If a potential client is intrigued by the information you put out there, some snippy remarks another guy made will pale into insignificance. That’s if he even sees it in the first place. I think the number of guys who read and post on review boards is actually fairly small compared to the number of clients overall. The internet is a fast-moving river, so any small bits of raw sewage that might bob up? Soon get washed downstream. Vent to your friends, do what you can do to correct the situation, and then let the bullshit go and move on.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

D.C. Horse May 29, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Kudos, MM, for another well-composed, balanced and calm approach to the gut-wrenching reality of criticism aimed personally. A criticism of the individual’s product is very different, and yet not, from criticism directed at a production line product with multiple layers of construct. There is just more opportunity for spreading the pain. Your perspective is clearly more successful and professional; corporate businesses, let alone writers and providers would do well to heed your recommendations.


Serpent May 30, 2013 at 1:22 am

Really nice post MM. I agree that wasting anger on bad reviews is sometimes futile and really giving the reviewer more power over you than they actually have, which oftentimes is the result they want. As I mentioned in my piece, I remember consoling an escort friend of mine who was absolutely hysterical in tears over a bad review (which wasn’t even that bad). I remember telling her to not let it bother her as much as it did because the guy was probably a loser who wanted to exert power over someone he barely knew…which he was obviously successful at doing. Sometimes these guys give themselves away with the writing quality of their reviews. If they can’t write above a fourth grade level, it’s not hard to see through the BS of their reviews.


Ms. Vy May 30, 2013 at 11:24 am

As someone who (to the best of my knowledge) has been only reviewed once or twice, and then positively but without much detail (so it really, really doesn’t affect my livelihood), I don’t feel like I have a real place in this discussion, but I do want to let loose a good, long fangirl squee that you are writing here. That is awesome!


BoulderJB May 30, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Great article MM. Having met you at a Board party, it is hard to fathom you every getting less than a glowing review. However, I do read your columns and yes you venture out into explosive topics that some people will never see your side, much less agree with it.

As I peruse escort reviews, I actually find some (less than 1/4) so-so or negative reviews to be a good sign. When someone has only 3 reviews, all glowing, I wonder if they are real.


mistressmatisse May 31, 2013 at 12:26 am

Thank you all for the nice feedback! The pleasure I take in positive responses to what I say remains undiminished…


M. Amante June 1, 2013 at 12:32 am

Great piece about how to process reviews. It makes me think about an interview with President Obama, where the reporter asked him how he handle criticism. He basically said he doesn’t listen to it…but he said he also doesn’t listen to compliments either. His reasoning, and I tend to agree, is that often times criticism, as well as compliments, say more about the person giving them then the person they are actually criticizing, just like the Oliver Wilde quote above illustrates. I think it’s equally important (in thinking about how to balance handling negative reviews) to also not put too much emotional or personal stock into the glowing, positive reviews as well, and to learn how to temper them also. That’s not to say one shouldn’t appreciate positive feedback, but it should be humbled, and kept in the proper perspective, and not used as a main way to get validation. Validation (IMO) should come in the satisfaction of a job well done, repeat business, and money in the bank.

Thank you for the grounded post. Even though I delisted a few years ago, I still am interested in this topic because of how it so engrained in our business now, as Serpent brought up in her post. I hope to see continued conversations about reviews, how to improve them (as a system), and how to offer alternatives to them for those seeking more discretion.




Violet Ivy June 1, 2013 at 1:35 am

Over the years I seen great sex workers receive poor reviews and the other way around. I put it down to guys wanting to relive the experience and to claim their five minutes of fame from others reading about their exploits. The problem is that most review sites will not let the lady respond. That is NOT fair. It is very one-sided. I’ve had guys say I did things in the booking that I NEVER do and the next guy bitched that he didn’t get that and so had a bad service. Also how can two people who have never met each other be 100% guaranteed of mind blowing sex. It’s just not possible every time. some punters have unrealistic expectations and also the client’s body size, medications, stress levels, sobriety, technique etc etc do not allow the sex worker to perform miracles. We do the best we can but it’s not a perfect science.
I would prefer a perfect world in which these sites did not exist but that is not the case unfortunately.
Violet Ivy
Author, How I Survived the Sex Industry


V C August 18, 2013 at 2:59 am

I’d love to say the “just let it go” thing works in every situation, but unfortunately I’ve had negative reviews hit during a tour, with disastrous consequences.

One guy wrote a “review” of me that complained about me giving him 1/3 extra time for free – he literally complained about TOO MUCH time (30 min of which was FREE). He also called my room a “generic hotel room” – a suite at a mid-high level chain, on the club floor. I had actually moved from another because he had complained about my first hotel being too far away for his purposes. For some reason I actually decided to respond to his “please stay on the other side of town” pleas, I think because we’d corresponded on several visits but kept missing each other, and in a spasm of generosity told him I’d go out of my way to change my plans because of his enthusiasm. I actually had to cut my visit at the first hotel short by a day (he knew that I’d have to do this, and the hotel did agree without penalty, but it’s something they don’t typically do), tipped bellmen coming and going, drove across town, got set up again at the second location, etc etc. I even moved a few other clients I had scheduled over to that location, the direct opposite side of town (why I did any of this, in retrospect, is a mystery to me, but at the time I think I felt some misdirected obligation just because he’d routinely contacted me on several prior visits). He also knew beforehand what hotel I would be in after moving, and agreed before I even reserved it that oh yes, it was nice and in a great part of town, fantastic, wonderful, thank you so much for going to all this trouble over me… But afterward, in order to cover up his real reason for being ultimately disappointed (he couldn’t talk me into services I clearly say upfront I don’t offer), he had to pretend SOMETHING was actually wrong. So “generic hotel room” it was. The mental imagery with “generic hotel room” is “cheap motel”. And he knew that was exactly what the average person would think when he wrote it. Never mind at the time the city had few if any truly unique boutique style hotels. So ANY hotel was going to be “generic”, even if expensive and nice (mine was both of those things). As if I was somehow responsible for mass produced hotel art and furniture.

As far as his “too much time” weirdness, he’d acted oddly antsy during the appt, and I’d soothed him softly with it’s ok, slow down, I’m in no rush… Yet afterward he ironically reviewed me poorly BECAUSE there was “too much time”. He wasn’t late for an appointment afterward, he just didn’t want the service I actually state up front is the whole point of my appointments, massage. He reviewed a different provider after me who, so he said, advertised “massage” but was actually an escort (which he openly admitted made him happy since that was his only real – stated – priority) and he actually complimented her on only spending 15 minutes of the hour with him, further explaining that he doesn’t like the “pretense” of the massage anyway. He went even further in that review to elaborate that he schedules only with providers who advertise massage, even though he doesn’t actually want massage (some sort of nonsensical delusion that he’s seeing the “nice” or “inexperienced” girl is the only explanation I’ve been able to think of). I kid you not, his thought process was like the negative of a photo, 100% backwards in every imaginable way. Who says “give me the shortest appointment possible, please”? Yet there he was, writing it in my review, her review, and a lot of other reviews as well. Despite him being a lawyer and me a CMT, he also said that I was “too much into being a CMT”. It left me wondering if anyone ever tells him at work he’s “too much into being a lawyer”? The sad part of all of it is that with his “up is down, and down is up” weirdness, he singlehandedly DESTROYED my schedule, wholly and instantaneously. The difference wasn’t just partial, it was very nearly 100%.

Sorry for all the detail, but while I’ve gotten more legitimate bad reviews here and there for people for whom I simply wasn’t their cup of tea, a bad day on my part or theirs, etc, this was the first time I’d been criticized for something inarguably GOOD. And this is significant to me because of all the comments I’ve heard and read about clients taking an “overall average”, or only seeing a provider if she has “at least a few bad reviews” — I saw no evidence of ANY of that. As nonsensical as this “bad review” of me was, you’d think that other guys would have read it and thought “he’s criticizing her for giving him free time, what a nut, I never get ENOUGH time”, but the reality is that they all, including the lurkers, decided en masse against scheduling simply because one illogical “hobbyist” said “provider bad”. There was no “thinking”, critical or otherwise, on the part of ANYONE to consider if what he characterized as “bad” would actually be “good” by the standards of literally anyone else.

It wasn’t until I took all reviews down that everything started to equalize. Prior to his nonsense I had six pages of reviews, nearly every single one of which said things like “best massage of my life” (of course, TER would dial down the ratings from 8-10 to a 7, their max for FBSM). When he posted, my schedule instantly disappeared, whoosh, like the air out of a popped balloon. With me sitting in a beautiful but very expensive suite, there wasn’t the luxury of keeping calm, as everything was make it or break it in a matter of hours, not weeks or months.

That was the wakeup call that prompted me to delist myself. I could have called tons of real clients to request legitimate reviews, but by then I’d realized the undertow was always going to be there, no matter how hard you fight to tread water. The 57 perfect and 2 average reviews that I had going back 2 years meant nothing, only the most recent one, no matter how illogical, mattered to anyone. And even before that “bad” review I’d occasionally had “good” reviews that would say things like “only massage for me, but it may be YMMV next time or for you” (or 8-10 rated reviews that TER staff would randomly forget to edit down to a 7, then the unedited rating would not only make all the 7 reviews look “bad” by comparison but would give guys all the sliver of hope they needed to believe that ONE time I gave THAT guy “extras”). Of course even the slightest hint of “YMMV” sets off a cavalcade of inaccurate expectations, awkward appointments, disappointments, the potential for more undeservedly bad reviews…

I’ve since had to “delist” a few more new stragglers here and there. But I get a kick out of clients who think the “best and brightest” are the superstars on TER. I’ve since seen comments elsewhere about me that “I saw the bad reviews she used to have on TER” regarding my original 6 pages worth – by some guy who actually thought that “7” for an FBSM provider was “bad”. That person was halfheartedly set straight by someone else, but I’m sure he reflects the flawed thinking of so many more out there, that a review can say “best of my life” but have a numerical rating of “7”, and, not having actually read the words or educated themselves via the FAQ that a 7 is the MOST I could get, they just assume “bad”.

I’d rather have a steady, reliable small number of appointments than one week be flying high with several a day, only to get used to that volume, take a chance on a more expensive location to live up to the reputation and volume, then be knocked down to no appointments and left holding the bag. The roller coaster of insanity never ends with reviews.


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