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Chester Brown’s Paying for It

The sex worker rights movement desperately needs more men outing themselves as johns, standing with sex workers, and defending the right for consenting adults to buy and sell sex. But while I was reading Paying For It, a graphic memoir by Canadian john Chester Brown who does just that, I kept thinking one thing: I would never want this guy as a client.

I’m not flattering myself—it’s clear that Brown wouldn’t want me either, since I’m over 20 and don’t offer half hours—but it was hard to set aside that reaction in spite of the fact that 1) I’m in complete agreement with his arguments for decriminalizing prostitution, 2) I loved his citation of the nearly defunct $pread magazine in his appendix and 3) we share an obsession with sex work. But I’m not the only one who finds him abrasive. In the book’s appendix, one of his friends writes, “Chester seems to have a very limited emotional range compared to most people. There does seem to be something wrong with him.” Internet commenters routinely tear him apart, though most have assuredly not read the book, reinforcing how far johns will have to go in order to surmount their own set of stigmas when they are now so easily dismissed as perverts and sociopaths.

The book begins as Chester reexamines the usefulness of conventional romantic relationships after his dissolves in an unusual fashion. (He was dating beautiful semi-celebrity Sook-Yin Lee.) He ultimately decides it’s all bullshit and he never wants to have a girlfriend again. This, coupled with his self-confessed lack of game, makes him prime material to start buying sex. So he does.

From a social standpoint, Chester is the ideal john: he’s not married or in a committed relationship and he doesn’t excel socially. People who are largely against men hiring prostitutes will make cautious exceptions for just such individuals. “Well…,” they reason reluctantly, “if you’re incapable of getting laid any other way and you’re not betraying your significant other, I guess it’s okay.”

Less socially acceptably, Chester occasionally seems detached to the point of amorality. He’s only mildly concerned about the possibility that one woman he see repeatedly is under 18, and is aroused by another escort’s apparent pain while he’s screwing her. He’s not categorically a bad guy—when a different escort tells him he needs to hurry up and come, he loses his erection and doesn’t get off, but still tips her.

From my (escort) standpoint, he’s the type of john I religiously steer away from, and that’s largely due to his immersion in review board “culture.” It doesn’t take too long for Chester to start cataloging the physical attributes and sexual performance of every woman he sees in anticipation of going home and writing about it for other dudes. Even his non-prostitute seeing friend asks, don’t “prostitutes […] expect a measure of privacy and discretion for their johns”? And his (temporary) regular tells him she doesn’t want to read the reviews because they’d make her uncomfortable, but Chester is not dissuaded.

In the five years that I’ve been networking with other prostitutes, I’ve only ever met two who were enthusiastically in favor of reviews. At best, my acquaintances and friends have seen them as a necessary evil, a form of advertising they dislike but worry they can’t do without. Most women I’ve met hate them and sometimes forbid them outright, like I do. I get why some guys want to read Yelp-like write-ups before seeing someone, and I can understand why Chester wants to complain about it when he loses money on a disappointing experience.

But his fickleness and shallowness rubbed me the wrong way. When one girl stays quiet and inert during sex, he decides he likes her honesty (because she isn’t pretending to enjoy it.) When a different girl gives him “the best blowjob of [his] life” but then stays still during penetrative sex, he doesn’t tip her and plans to disparage her in a review. Initially he hews to escorts ages 18-20, and when he complains about a girl’s legs being “a bit thick,” it invites some eye-rolling. (“Oh, the girl you’re paying $80 to fuck you doesn’t have the body of a photoshopped supermodel? Call consumer protection!”)

To his credit, Brown is diligent about not giving away the identity of the women he sees, but instead of fabricating facial features he simply depicts them exclusively from behind or with their heads cut off by the frame or text bubbles. This renders his stream of escorts literally faceless and largely interchangeable. And though Brown ostensibly enjoyed his encounters, at least enough to keep seeing escorts, the sex is coldly rendered and abrupt. Often, the deed consists of several panels of two tiny white bodies rutting in a square of blackness—or more accurately, one body rutting and the other being rutted. Although (spoiler alert?) he eventually leaves the hobbyist lifestyle and settles down with one regular prostitute, this development isn’t explored much. “Denise” asks to appear in the book as little as possible, and he’s rightly honored that request, probably at a detriment to the story.

The book ends with a dense text-only section refuting anti-sex-work arguments—except for the myth that prostitution is bad for marriage. Bizarrely, never-married Chester says that he agrees with this though many prostitutes and, privately, many johns, have claimed the contrary, reasoning that sex workers are a safer, more reliably discreet option for extra-marital sex than a mistress, and the unavailability of that sexual outlet might otherwise prompt men to leave chaste marriages.

So, regardless of how I felt about Chester the john, I’m grateful to have Chester the cartoonist as an ally. I hope his book reaches many people who might otherwise never give much thought to the legal state of prostitution, and I hope it influences them for the better.


  1. I would love to out myself! Do you have any constructive advice on how one (a male client) could do so productively.

    I am single and love my sex workers to the core, I want them to be safe and free.

    Perhaps you could write another article giving advice to male clients on how then can be helpful in the struggle!

  2. OMG he said he loves us “to the core”, I feel like that’s a dirty joke waiting to happen.

    Actually, the guy who wrote comic creeps me out a little. I remember trying to cater to those men when I was a baby hooker….oh to be 19 again. I’m just over the limit where your age is literally enough to give a man a hard on (which I have seen). Now that I am in my mid twenties I side eye anyone who says they only want to see women who are 20 and under. As if there is some fountain of youth in a womans vagina that dries up the day she can buy liquor. Yuck.

    Also, I don’t understand the “board” culture. These men just set up accounts (presumably on work time, otherwise how would they pay for their “hobby”) and talk trash about women they paid to see? For what? Is there some kind of pride in it? Seriously, what do they get out of it? I tell my clients I don’t want reviews, even though there isn’t a site specifically for fetish clients, I wish everyone would. The guys who get off on telling other men (which is the freaking opposite of discretion) about what you did together and whether you were any good don’t need any power at all. Period. I say the same thing for men outside the hobby world who are sleeping with civilians. Shut your trap about it.

  3. Well, I know a big part of TER is also bragging about how many times you get the girl off. Because you know most clients get a girl off at least five times in an hour. And they love using “mish” to indicate missionary position, which makes me want to punch things. Allegedly the boards are used to avoid scams like bait and switch but in practice it’s a bunch of guys punishing women who charge “too much” or require guys to wear condoms during blowjobs, since you can’t get a “10” rating unless you permit certain acts. And it gets even grosser, like with girls having unprotected sex with members who convince them they can get them lots of clients or will give them a great review or whatever. Then there’s Dave Elms’ history of criminality and stalking. I don’t care that a bunch of men want to high-five each other about having been in the same pussy but it’s a cesspool. Not like I am telling you anything you don’t already know, but I get worked up about this topic!

    theswjournal—Thank you for that suggestion! I love it. I will start working on something for the next few weeks.


  4. Thank you for writing this, Charlotte, and commenters, for talking about TER at all. I’ve recently started thinking about combining pro kink and escorting (which is to say, just going ahead and doing whatever I want in my sessions but being clearer about what I offer and more specific in the different types of donations for different types of interactions), and I went on TER to try and learn a little more about the escorting side of things (at the suggestion of a friend who used to date an escort).

    There have been a couple of really cool women and a couple of seemingly decent dudes who’ve been kind enough to address my “newbie” questions on that board, but jesus, there is also SUCH a pervasive feeling of misogyny there. For me at least. And there is this implication (or outright claim, depending) that you’ll “never be anybody in this line of work” unless you suck enough dicks that are attached to the types of men who post reviews.

    In my 6 years of being in the pro kink area of the sex industry, I was shocked to accidentally find out that I had two reviews on TER, from clients I would never have seen if I’d known they planned to write about it.

    (I had no fucking idea such places even existed – I seriously would have thought that men would want to be as protective of themselves as possible [my own clients certainly seemed to have that concern] so it would never have occurred to me that all these dudes would be all over the net talking about their illegal activities with such frequency and gusto.)

    Both reviews were fine, but it still felt invasive to me. I have always been protective of the people I see for sessions, and would ONLY ever share information about any of them if it was for the safety of any other woman who was thinking of seeing them. That TER board just feels like a total power play to me, and it kills me that there seem to be quite a number of women who feel at the mercy of all those men.

    I’m sorry if that sounds paternalistic of me – I know they are grown women and could decide, like some of us seem to have done, not to participate there or worry about what some of those douchebags say or think. But it really does feel to me like one more way that women are vulnerable, in this business, to some of the harms that are a natural outgrowth of male entitlement.

  5. I understand and feel the same way! Adult women are not automatically victims because they buy some sleazy guy’s line about how much work his reviews will earn her. They’re capable of thinking critically and analysizing risk just like other adults–although their circumstances might incline them to take risks, which is sad. For me, it’s a matter of many of these guys purposefully manipulating women to do unsafe things or things they’re uncomfortable with, for their own ego and gratification. Particularly when they’re pouncing on someone who is new to the work or otherwise especially vulnerable. The board users are also often careless about personal information that’s been confided to them, not only in reviews but in forum threads. I remember one friend who had a client reveal her job and workplace, not by name but through tons of context clues. For him it was just par for the course; the whole point of the site is divulging every detail of the experience, from the neighborhood where someone keeps their incall to a stray pubic hair. The emphasis for me is less on “those women need protection” and more on “those men need to behave better.” It’s not an ethical way to interact with any human being, and it’s not defensible just because they get away with it.

  6. I was guilty of some of this. I used to post to the usa sex guide http://usasexguide.info. It seemed like a place where information could be transparent. Most of the time it seemed fine. But every so often I would be disturbed by careless talk.

    All sex workers deserve to be treated like ladies. They also deserve to be paid a fair wage.

    The real problem here is the lack of communication between johns and sex workers. I feel we should hold neighborhood meetings around America where sex workers and johns could meet to discuss conditions and strategies.

    I am single which makes this easy for me. I guess the main problem is that most johns are married.

    • “I feel we should hold neighborhood meetings around America where sex workers and johns could meet to discuss conditions and strategies.”

      Interesting idea! So would the johns have to pay the hourly rate of every single girl there, or just like, pick one and pay her? I’m pretty sure you have to pay these women to meet them, right? ‘Cause I’d love to get them to hang out with me for free, but they always give me this bullshit about “paying for their time.” Maybe your community meeting ideas can revolutionize the culture, so that I can check the bitch’s face out in person before I give her any of my hard-earned money to spread her legs.

      I’m pretty sure these concerned-citizen-community-activist meetings would end up looking a whole lot like a TER meet-n-greet, good intentions aside.

  7. “The emphasis for me is less on “those women need protection” and more on “those men need to behave better.” It’s not an ethical way to interact with any human being, and it’s not defensible just because they get away with it.”

    Thank you for yet again totally nailing it. That’s what I meant about male entitlement, too.

  8. I was browsing the line-up of this years’ Comic-Con and this guy will be making an appearance, signing. It would be really interesting to confront him with these critiques. Thanks for the article!

    • You should definitely check in with him at the conference! And then let us know how it goes. He seems pretty unapologetic and unflappable, so I have a feeling it will be water off a duck’s back.

  9. All sex workers deserve to be treated like ladies. They also deserve to be paid a fair wage.

    You said it. And while we’re at it, why don’t we get our “leaders” to fix it so that anyone who works for a living, no matter what the job, gets at least a living wage? (It’s one thing to choose sex work intentionally. It’s another to have no other realistic economic choices).

    Unfortunately, when you get a bunch of men together to talk about sex online, even on forums that aren’t exclusively dedicated to sex, it seems that what you get a lot of the time is garbage. I’ve never seen so much preadolescent-sounding language from the keyboards of what are presumably grown adults. (Oh, don’t even get me started about the way men are socialized in American society!)

    While I agree with the idea of reviewing boards as a way to protect people from unfair business practices (such as bait-and-switch) or dangerous situations (such as phony escorts who turn out to be muggers’ accomplices), it seems to me that what the escort reviewing boards (which I must admit I’ve never been to) need the most is moderation by someone who knows the sex industry well (a current or former sex worker perhaps?) and who absolutely won’t allow flaming, defamation of character, violation of peoples’ privacy rights and baseless complaints (safer-sex procedures are or should be de rigeur, period and complaining about workers who insist on them is just plain out of line). This I believe would make them function more like Angie’s List or Yelp and less like an electronic locker room.

    Of course for this to really work, personal sex work would have to be legalized, wouldn’t it?

    • why do all sex workers “deserve to be treated like ladies” (even the male ones..?)…as distinct from how every other human being should be treated? sure, people should all be nice and respectful to each other but erm…they’re just not. shock and surprise, assholish behaviour extends to sex work customers

  10. I enjoyed this review very much and would be less informed without it. When I read the book, I’ll be influenced by this review and the comments to it. I was particularly grateful for Ms Shane’s description of the graphics and the role they play in projecting Mr. Brown’s ideas about sex and sex work. They seem to portray a counter thesis to the one presented by his text. I have read the Naomi Fry review at: http://www.tcj.com/reviews/paying-for-it/ which ignores the graphics and focuses on the philosophical, social justice and market economic messages carried in the narrative. In my own experience, I would have to say that there is a good deal of self deception on the part of clients in this industry, and since what’s being offered by many escorts is emotional intimacy, even love for sale, as well as physical intimacy, that’s understandable. Many of the new or younger escorts seem to buy into this “truth” that “intimacy and care” can be bought and sold. This, and their physical appearance, is what make them popular with most men. In a word, they are “immature,” and as a result emotionally and intellectually dishonest. (Immaturity and innocence can be a form of deception as well as a defense it seems to me.) I don’t mean to say that all escorts are intentionally dishonest, but that they thrive on self deception, the deception is self deception, or at best a cultural myth, i.e., that love can be bought and sold. So, at least one of the difficulties with prostitution is this inherent deception to the extent it exists. The industry and the psychology of the work, and in my opinion the service, would be improved immensely if there was more truth and less deception. With social and market place acceptance must come fuller disclosure and this means regulation. So let’s start by stating that what an escort is offering is physical intimacy not emotional intimacy; not love or care, but privacy and discretion, and that what she is selling she has a right to expect. And that all parties to this very human encounter have a right to respect, safety and security.

  11. Just read your review, I was very interested in reading this book when I first hear about it. The idea of using sex workers to meet my desires for affection and sex is very appealing to me. While I still hope that I can find that love relationship, a relationship that would enrich both of us, I am not sure it will happen for me. Since my last relationship ended I found new ways to fill that space. I do lots of volunteer work and I found this to be rewarding and very meaningful. Since I still lacked something I really desired, physical affection, both giving and getting. So one day I decided to hire an escort and it turned out to be one of the most wonderful and exciting experiences I’ve had in a long time. The only down side was not really being able to share it. I wasn’t willing to talk about it was friends, co-workers etc, I was afraid of people’s reactions. I know that not everyone experience is like I had. Since I would like to see this type of work be accepted by society.

  12. I honestly wish I had the balls to out myself as a john. I’ve only ever been once but it was honestly more healing than any words anyone could have given me at the time and I’m immensely grateful.

    thanks for the great read and maybe some day I’ll be “out” and I can post here with my real name… i cringe at the thought of how much judgement I would receive.

  13. I recently finished Brown’s memoir, and really enjoyed his dry humor and found myself relating as a guy whose romantic prospects are drastically limited by social awkwardness. I’m not as specific as Chester, but I feel he’s entitled to his preferences, it just makes sense that he wouldn’t want to have sex with someone he’s not attracted to. Also, I’m not 100% that it’s a necessarily an aversion to older women. In the appendix, he explains that he began finding ladies through ads in the back of newspapers and, since the ads didn’t provide pictures, tried to visited younger girls because he felt that they would have still retained their good looks… Which kinda sounds worse. Anyway, for what it’s worth, “Denise”, the woman whom he becomes committed to, is in her thirties.

    I’ve never browsed the forums so I can’t comment on the nature of the posting, but I have read some of the reviews and they can get really graphic. Pictures have begun to eliminate the need for descriptions, but a place where one can get information relating to rip-offs, upselling, false advertising, and other dangers and bad business practices I feel is necessary. Any John with any sense is just as concerned with personal safety as a like-minded provider would be, so despite how much I disapprove of the unsavory aspects of TER, I don’t feel comfortable visiting anyone who doesn’t have at least two reviews.

  14. Do sex workers have an on-line space where they can swap information and review clients? I am sure I read about such a service being launched in New York a few years ago.


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