When you’re navigating an unpredictable gig economy, you tend to wear a number of different professional hats. I identify predominantly as a sex worker and a journalist, but I also use my formidable administrative skills to assist international courtesan Ava Hudson with her intensive booking, screening, and scheduling workload.
Ava is, quite simply, an escort of the highest caliber, seeing only the most affluent and exclusive people. She’s so selective about new clients, she won’t even talk on the phone with one until after an assistant has conducted a thorough background check, which includes calling their references. While she’ll entertain the occasional businessman passing through town, she specializes in establishing longer-term connections with her clients — think quality over quantity — and she’s damn good at it.
As Ava acknowledges, her experiences as an escort are not typical, and they are greatly impacted by the privileges she carries. She is tall, leggy and conventionally attractive. She is also white, young and highly educated. These privileges allow her to work behind closed doors as opposed to engaging in riskier street prostitution. The whiteness of her skin makes her significantly less likely to be regarded as a “trafficked” worker in a misguided, destructive raid. Because of her appearance, background and education, she can charge a much higher price point than many, starting at $600 for “cocktails” and up to $10,000 for a “weekend tryst.”
Unsurprisingly, Ava is a Rolodex of extravagant stories from her multitude of adventures. More than that, though, she’s charming, intelligent, political, silly and flawed. She trips in too-high heels. She’s constantly chasing the neighbor’s freeloading cat out of her kitchen, and she’s convinced that she’s never going to the gym as often as she should. She regularly attends local Black Lives Matter events, is heavily involved in the organization of San Francisco Pride and is studying for a master’s degree in psychology. Ava fights for the recognition of sex work as legitimate labor, and for herself and other sex workers to be seen as the authentic, complex human beings they are.
When and how did you first break into the sex industry? What was your journey like?
When I moved back to Canada after college, jobs were really hard to come by, even for an Ivy League graduate. After applying to numerous jobs that I was overqualified for with no response, a lover of mine suggested that it might be “the time” to try to sex work. Next thing I knew I was working at an illegal “rub ‘n tug” downtown — I called it “Diving for Pearls.” That experience was tough. I actually ended up getting fired from that job because I tried to unionize the women!
I had been wanting to try my hand at pro domme work for a while as well, so when I left the spa I fell into that area for a few years, working out of multiple dungeons all over Toronto. It was wild! The work was intermittent but intense — one week I’d be flying down to Florida to eat at Versace’s Mansion, and the next week it would be total radio silence. The farther I progressed into the sex industry, the less afraid of it I became.
When I tired of pro domme work, I did some research and looked up the highest-rated escort agency in Toronto: Cupid’s Escorts. I was charmed by their ethical guidelines and the fact that the company was run by a woman. It was a very exciting, fast-paced job. I had my own driver who could pick me up from any part of town, and I saw clients in the fanciest hotels and homes. Despite the lavish working conditions, I knew after spending some time with Cupid’s that it would make more financial sense to strike out as an independent. So I broke away from the agency and went rogue!
What does an “average” session with a client look like?
I’ll connect with the client personally over the phone, so we can get to know each other. I often enjoy good food and conversation with clients at the start of a session. Literature, art, philosophy — pretty much anything but politics! The brain is the biggest sex organ — if you can stimulate my mind, then you’ve intrigued my body. Conversation is both a finely choreographed dance and an aphrodisiac. Sometimes a meal alone is all we have time for; sometimes we transition to a performance, event or favorite bar before segueing back to a private location to let ourselves connect more intimately.
What have some of your most extravagant client dates been like?
One of my dreams was to fly a plane, and one of my clients made that happen for me — we co-piloted a flight to New Mexico. I adore rendezvousing with one couple in particular who fly in separately from across the country or the world to meet up with each other and include me in their intimacy. I love watching them writhe in ecstasy together, bearing witness to that kind of intense connection; it’s gorgeous. Those evenings are more scandalous than Eyes Wide Shut! Of course, there have been exorbitant $7,000 shopping trips and decadent trips to renowned spas, but the really salacious stuff happens when sex workers get together with other sex workers. Watching eight drop-dead gorgeous women step dripping wet out of a hot tub to refill their champagne flutes? Yes, please.
How has being an escort affected your personal relationships, for better or for worse?
Being paid for sex certainly changed some things. Most importantly, I started valuing the sex I had in my personal life way more. I became pickier and more refined in choosing my lovers. What could they offer me that wasn’t money or sex? How safe do I feel to be playful? I compromise less now than I did pre-sex-work. It has led to a deepening in my committed personal relationships and an increased lightheartedness in my casual hookups.
Escorting specifically taught me the value of women to men. It’s a terrifying, beautiful reality that’s far less theoretical to me now. The civilian world never told me how much men need women, how lonely patriarchy is because it lacks balance in connection with the feminine. That’s not to say that my clients are sad people; it’s more that I can feel into the vulnerability of men as I work with them. What’s it all for if there isn’t a sense of companionship and connection? I carry this understanding with me everywhere I go; it affects how I interact with each and every man in my life.
A reality of sex work is figuring out how to monetize our time and access to our bodies, which requires creating price points and maintaining boundaries around them. Were there ever times that you struggled with that?
Oh gosh, it’s an evolving process. What I have learned over time is this: Always listen to your gut. Still, my fuzzier edges lie around money and women. Money is the obvious one. Some boundaries could be flexible — should they, say, pay off large portions of my student loans.
I have a soft spot for working with women. Female sexuality is so dear to me. My desire to give is best nourished when my labor is acknowledged—a challenge at times for women who have never questioned the labor they offer to men. Recently I worked with a female client who divulged to me late into our time together that she was high on MDMA. This had a huge impact on our time together and made conversations of consent murky. Had this been a male client I would likely have rescheduled our time together immediately, but my desire to meet her where she was at made me question that boundary. Ultimately she didn’t remember large portions of our time together, which left me feeling uncomfortable. I’ve since learned from that lesson.
Sex work inherently involves a great deal of emotional labor, so much so that sessions can often mirror therapy. How has your graduate degree work informed your experience as an unofficial therapist with your clientele?
I’ve been trying to answer this one since I started graduate school. Here’s a line I hear a lot from my clients: “I haven’t even told my therapist that!” There’s a way that criminalized sex work provides an anonymity for clients to spill all with no perceived repercussions. For instance, I’m not bound by mandated reporting laws as I am when have my official therapist hat on. My experience as a sex worker has given me insight into men, sexuality, fear, joy and transformation.
As a result I am utterly unflappable in my therapist’s chair when it comes to sexual deviation. The lustful, messy, creative aspects of sex tend to be pushed into the unconscious. I encounter these when I’m working as an escort, and sometimes I can work with it on a more subtle, physical level. Sometimes it’s not the time or place, or I just don’t want to. In my seat as therapist I need to keep my channels open and feel into my responses in case they offer insight.
I tend to refer to non-sex-workers as “civilians.” What’s one kernel of knowledge about sex work that you wish you could bestow on each and every civilian?
I believe that most women engage in sex work in one form or another, whether they’re conscious of it or not. It’s so much more than the obvious exchange of sex for money. The way the world is currently set up asks for women to live primarily off the material assets of men and be satisfied with it. This is a model based in scarcity. It relies on the falsehood that material gains are enough to sustain human beings and denies the unpaid emotional labor inherent in those exchanges.
Sex work brings transparency to the front and allows for a different kind of intimacy exchange. There’s no questioning; there’s no uncertainty; there’s no wondering about people’s hidden motivations or intentions. Both parties are rewarded to their exact specifications. Consensual, adult sex work flips the paradigm in a way that empowers everyone involved.
Andre Shakti is a sex worker and contributing writer to MEL, Cosmopolitan, VICE and more.