I was introduced to Sugarbabe by my friend Charlotte who received the book from a client. I was able to track down one used copy at Powell’s after a few weeks of keeping an eye on the sex worker section. It was obvious from a dog-eared page toward the beginning of the book and the way that the spine wasn’t cracked and that the previous owner hadn’t made it very far. It’s a shame that he or she didn’t stick it out because it’s kind of the greatest bad sex work memoir ever.
Holly Hill finds herself 35, out of work, and dumped by the married rich boyfriend who had been supporting her. She decides to make a career out of being a sugarbaby and places an ad online. As soon as she gets her first response, she is already so turned on that she moans aloud in anticipation before even opening the email. It only gets better from there as she navigates the tricky business of being a full-time sugarbaby, taking a tour of multicultural dick and learning about herself (maybe? Not really) along the way.
Charlotte and I got together to discuss our reactions to Sugarbabe over Skype and this is what we had to say.
C: She calls her labia “flaps”!!!!
K: Do we have any Australian friends that we can ask whether “flaps” is Aussie slang or if Holly Hill is just a flappy freak? I’m going to ask twitter right now.
C: I feel very strongly that “flaps” is unacceptable no matter how may Australians use it. It’s like calling human breasts “teats.”
K: Flaps majora and flaps minora.
C: Those names sound like species of whales.
K: So, Holly Hill.
C: Bless her heart, the woman is a terrible sex worker. But I say she counts as one because she was so diligent (albeit bad) at seeking out different guys. It’s not like she just unwittingly found herself in the situation once.
K: I think she counts as a sex worker, as she was having sex as her sole source of income. Did you find yourself wishing she’d make some prostitute friends so that someone would mentor her? There’s just so much hubris involved. I feel like even if she had met some “real” whores, that she wouldn’t have felt like she had anything to learn.
C: Never for a moment does she think anyone else has done what she’s done. She regards herself as a true trailblazer. Pages 76-77 are the best, where she’s like “lesson number one of being a sugarbaby” and then on the next page she’s telling the guy, “right, unprotected sex it is then!”
K: She masturbates so much. I really want to make a tally.
C: It should be a drinking game. Her masturbating.
K: The whole book is like, “And then he went on his way, and then I put the leftovers in some Tupperware and then I masturbated, and then I wrote in my journal and then I wrote in my journal about writing in my journal. Good night, journal.”
C: What is up with the nonstop narcissistic asides where she’s like, “I don’t like the way coffees are sized these days!” She’ll just go off on any little thing.
K: Is it edited AT ALL? What was taken out???
C: Oh my god, that would be a delight. From the cutting room floor…
K: Do you think there were MORE sex scenes that didn’t make the cut?
C: I can’t imagine. Were there even more time-wasting meet and greets where she made no money?
K: Like lady, we don’t need to read every single email and text message. And she texts like such an old person. She signs every text with “H”. Like, duh, dude probably knows it’s you masturbating and buying wine.
C: How many times did she have to mention Pilates gave her a tight pelvic floor?
K: I’ve never read a sex work memoir that was basically crossed with a Harlequin romance novel like this. It’s like a midlife crisis journal more than anything.
C: You’re right, it is. This is how women cope with approaching 40: become bad prostitutes for no reason. Yeah, page 94 is her sex scene with Dick and I have notes all over the place, just like, wtf. Dick thanks her during the sex, before he’s even come. As soon as he’s inside her, he’s saying “thank you, thank you!” Erotic.
K: “You’re welcome! No problem!”
C: What did you think about her staying friends with that guy she was hot for and then having sex with him regularly for free? Andre, that’s the guy, the one who admits he met her with no intention of paying her, so he was knowingly wasting her time from the start. And she’s like, “No worries, you’re so sexy, let’s be friends!”
K: The Latin Lover?
C: Yes. She spends so little of this book actually making money, it’s depressing.
K: But the whole thing does wonders for her self-esteem.
C: I was completely confused by the way she talks about Jacques, the African guy. I mean, she’s with him for an hour or something and decides that he’s “horrible” and stands for everything she despises, and there’s no explanation as to why, except that he’s making her feel like a “cheap hooker” and that’s turning her on.
K: She describes him as “animalistic” at one point and like a snake looking at her as prey at another. It’s super racist. Oh yeah, and she says he looks like a hippo naked.
C: She’s the type of half-sex worker who horrifies real ones—undertakes the whole thing as a personal experiment, is terrible at it, thinks she’s Isaac Newton of the sex industry. I forgot about the hippo thing, that’s terrible.
K: I’m sure he did have a gut, but three animal comparisons in a short span of time is a bit much.
C: Then when she goes down on him, he comes in her mouth, and she’s proud of herself for not putting herself at risk by swallowing.
C: …and by not having any mouth ulcers that day. Seriously. She congratulates herself for her sense of “self-preservation.” Because unprotected vaginal sex with a white dude is always safe but go down on a black guy and it’s all over.
K: I love her flat rate. No charging extra for anything.
C: She starts talking about the “whims of penises” about 2/3rds of the way through, when she realizes she’s broke.
K: Even when they screw her over and disappear without paying, she refuses to fault them, as if that will make her a nag/killjoy and put her in the same category as their prude wives.
C: Right. Andre, the fake client who was never willing to pay, starts giving her business advice by saying she’s just being a typical woman by expecting these guys to give her a heads up before dumping her.
K: She just makes so many excuses for them.
C: Even though, because of her weird “monogamy” clause, it means she won’t start trying to find someone else right away unless she knows they won’t see her again. On p. 209 Andre tells her she could be single-handedly responsible for stopping the climbing divorce rate because of all her insights.
K: HA. I remember that. Like, she’s holding the secret in her flaps!
C: Open the flaps! The world needs you to.
K: It’s so sexist and hypocritical that she feels obligated to be monogamous with her clients, but then she goes on all these anti-monogamy rants.
C: She’s very cute in a way, because she’s so clueless. Like on page 217, the book is almost over and she’s wondering what “greek and facials are” and resolving to find out. Adorable.
K: Yes, you get the sense that she’s very sheltered and sowing her oats. I think starting off by telling us about being an other woman kind of let us know where her self-esteem is at.
C: Yes! She doesn’t even expect decency or civility from these men because that’s apparently too much of a demand. They’re just so damaged by their wives not having sex with them as much as they want that they’re allowed to behave horribly. OH MAN, I just remembered that when that one guy has unprotected sex with her and ejaculates inside of her, she yells at him and he doesn’t pay her and she’s just like, oh well. She left it up to him to put his own condom on, classic rookie mistake. I felt very bad for her but not demanding fistfuls of money immediately after that was a mistake.
K: There were a lot of cringe-worthy scenes where she’s just so naïve.
C: It’s painful. It’s like watching an episode of The Office. She’s definitely the Michael Scott of escorts. She had absolutely no boundaries, which meant she couldn’t negotiate in her own self-interest and she’d just agree to whatever they proposed. She makes this big deal out of how SHE chooses THEM but really she will entertain almost anyone, unless they’re Indian and too nice.
K: Yeah, the Indian guy’s problem was also that he was too young and so she was worried about falling in love. Like, what is that?
C: But then she spends all this time pining over Dick when he was only her client for TWO WEEKS, yet he becomes the paragon of sugardaddies.
K: How could you sweat a guy who says “thank you” during sex? She sweats Dick so hard.
C: I wish I had that on a t-shirt. And he wears a tracksuit when they reunite. That killed me. “Dick started taking off his tracksuit.” I was in the mood for a fuck!
K: Oh, when they meet at a park at the end!
C: P. 261. “I made sure I included my clit” is the greatest sentence I’ve ever read. “Groans of pleasure every time our pubic areas mashed together”!!!
K: HOLD UP. She describes his penis as “clear-skinned.” WERE SOME OF THEM NOT CLEAR-SKINNED?
C: Yes, but only the ones she had unprotected contact with. What does it mean that his cock “reached me ‘just-so'”?
K: just-so = g-spot?
C: Ahh maybe. I thought she could shift her g-spot around to wherever she wanted thanks to her superhuman PC muscles.
K: Is she sponsored by the Australian Pilates Association or something?
C: Too bad she couldn’t get sponsored by some condom companies.
K: Or a dairy and a vineyard.
C: Ha, cheese! She should move to her own diary farm and write about that. I think that would be the most pleasant life for her.
K: She pretty much Mr. Magoos her way through being a sex worker and somehow doesn’t get murdered.
C: Honestly, I think part of it is that sugardaddy stuff can be pretty messy anyway, because the whole thing is premised on never articulating the fact that it’s basically a less strict form of prostitution. You can’t tell a sugardaddy, “I don’t want you to know my real name or see my home” or whatever. I mean some people can get away with that, but it’s tough, because the money is supposed to be incidental and the relationship relatively “real.”
K: Right. I think a selling point for her may have been that she wasn’t a “professional”, evidenced by the fact that it was an exclusive arrangement.
C: I think she’s so loosey goosey about her boundaries that they don’t take her seriously, and as you’ve said, she doesn’t ask ANYTHING of them so she’s always at their mercy.
K: I know. When they break plans at the last minute she doesn’t even feel entitled to be irritated. That wouldn’t fly as boyfriends, nor as clients, but somehow as sugardaddies treating her like shit is acceptable.
C: Yeah, it’s like the limbo land means she has no leverage at all. She makes herself completely servile.
K: I guess all the empowered stuff is really for her own benefit. Like, “D’oh, I just got rejected by a cokehead with a small penis. I’ll just go type in my journal and masturbate and then I’m the boss again.” I really hate how she says sex is uniquely wonderful with each and every one of them. Why isn’t she allowed to say that it was awkward or less than satisfying? Okay, p. 190: “His penis was small but beautifully formed. It was uncircumcised.” I feel like that’s grasping at straws.
C: Well the fact that they even considered her in the first place means they “want” her, and that seems to be enough for her. That one guy, Tom, is always having erectile problems, right?
K: Yeah, the Chinese cokehead… She also has no impulse control.
C: Absolutely, that’s her ultimate problem. She can’t say no.
K: It’s not fun to read about someone who keeps having grody sex and is late on rent every month of the book.
C: To be fair, that was the entire Beat movement’s bread and butter though.
K: How did the book go over in Australia? Was it popular at all?
C: Oh my god. I’m reading her Wikipedia article and I know I’ve read it before, it must have been recently expanded. Her father was killed by his wife… who I guess was not her mother? No wonder she has weird wife issues. She’s working on a third book called “The Velvet Pouch.” I guess her editors ix-nayed “The Velvet Flaps.”
K: Being bed-ridden and [legally] fighting her stepmother for killing her father seems like it would have been worth mentioning. Why does she leave the interesting stuff out of her memoir?
C: I know. How could she have left that out? Hmm, I could write about my father’s murder but why not talk about Tom’s limp dick again instead?