Ahead of a psychedelic trip, Malakai likes to do a lot of preparation. He curates a playlist to serve as a “rough indication” for how long he’s been tripping. He formulates a custom lighting set-up to avoid disrupting the mise en scène. He cleans the house so his mind won’t wander to the meaningless chores of a mundane reality.
Basically, when it comes to planning, Malakai doesn’t skimp on the details. But when he asked his regular sex-work provider to trip-sit him, a million more practicalities emerged. “What if I started crying?” Malakai, a pseudonym, recalls asking himself. “Would I fall in love with her? Would she get bored while I become detached from reality?” As it turns out, he needn’t have worried. “Rachel [also a pseudonym] saw no barriers to my concerns and seemed determined to turn my fantasy into a reality,” Malakai tells me.
A trip-sitter is a common phenomenon among psychedelic drug users, and it’s just a person who babysits you while you trip (most routinely with magic mushrooms, acid or DMT). The practice is credited as a form of harm reduction, offering those on the trip a sense of safety, and hopefully, a peace of mind for a more positive trip (though experts are quick to warn that this isn’t guaranteed). Typically, you might ask a friend or family member to trip-sit, or even hire a professional trip-sitter. Or you might knock on the door of your regular sex-work provider.
Rachel wasn’t the first sex worker Malakai broached the subject of trip-sitting with. He initially approached one of his regular providers in 2014, then another in 2017 — both times they agreed, but he never followed through. “I just had too much doubt over how I’d feel around a person who I don’t really know during a psychedelic trip,” he says.
But with Rachel, it just felt right. The pair met in the Netherlands in November 2019, and after lockdown in July 2020, started seeing each other twice a month. “We gradually got to know more about one another,” Malakai explains, adding that when he finally asked her about trip-sitting, she simply said: “Well, why don’t we do it then?” With lots of help from the sex-worker community — which he gleaned via Reddit — and a COVID-related delay, Malakai finally scheduled his shroom trip with Rachel for January. “I was nervous,” he says. “I could hardly believe this was finally about to happen.”
Shortly after Rachel arrived on the appointed day, Malakai had “chewed through the shrooms” and soon found her straddling his lap on the couch as he slowly fell into a psychedelic haze. “The lights began to dim and the music began to soothe me,” he remembers. “We spent around 30 minutes just kissing and cuddling before getting undressed — that was probably the most memorable part of the experience. It barely even registered with me as sexual, but more like a playful or spiritual act, with a deep sense of connection between us.” The pair spent the rest of the evening “cuddling,” sharing “very personal things” and eating takeout sushi as Malakai came down from his trip. When it was time for Rachel’s boyfriend to pick her up, Malakai was worried about how he’d feel with her leaving, but says he “felt nothing aside from peace and calm, alongside a continuing disbelief that such an amazing evening had just happened.”
In the months since, Rachel has trip-sat for Malakai twice more, with increased doses each time. During one, they stayed in the “royal suite” of a hotel so he could experience the trip with her in a jacuzzi. They’ve also taken salvia and MDMA together, the latter of which marked the first time Rachel took a substance with her client. “All of these experiences turned out to be wonderful in all kinds of ways,” Malakai reflects. “We have yet to decide on what our next experience will be.”
Although on Reddit, Malakai described his desire to hire a trip-sitting sex worker as “unusual,” it’s actually a fairly prevalent occurance. “Many sex workers, especially dominatrixes, speak with their clients on a very personal level and with no judgment,” says Daniel Saynt, the founder of adult members club NSFW. “This creates a safe space for requests. Psychedelics are popular, and people want to explore the trend and do so safely. Sex workers are entrepreneurs filling a gap in the market in this sense.”
Sierra Cirque, a sex worker from Seattle, has been an escort for six years and has been hired as a trip-sitter “maybe a dozen times.” “I won’t pretend to know the history of clients trip-sitting with sex workers,” she tells me, “but I know that drugs have been around forever, and prostitution is known as the oldest profession for a reason. I personally know tons of sex workers who have tripped or trip-sat with clients. It’s super common; people just don’t hear about it because it’s the intersection of two stigmatized and criminalized industries.”
London-based sex worker Valerie August adds that “clients like to take drugs with sex workers, as we’re often the only people in their lives who are open to anything a bit more alternative. Taking drugs to alter your conscious experience can also be a very intimate thing to suddenly try and introduce into an existing social circle that’s generally disapproving. There’s usually a confidence among clients that sex workers will be more comfortable with subversive lifestyle choices.”
Cirque has only ever trip-sat for regulars who she knew, trusted and had built solid, friendly rapports with. Her clients usually take acid, MDMA or both — occasionally with a little weed or nitrous oxide mixed in — though Cirque doesn’t tend to trip with them. Like Malakai, she likes to have everything meticulously organized ahead of the trip, so neither party has to alter its mood. This includes “soft blankets, fitting music, beautiful lights, marvelous art, massage oil, easy foods and drinks and fun ‘toys’ on hand, like art supplies.” Although the sexual element was the reason Malakai asked a sex worker to trip-sit — his goal was to experience sexual activities on psychedelics — sex on drugs tends to be a no-go for Cirque. While “intimacy, connection or openness to experience can be the point, it’s just true for a lot of people that when you’re high as a kite, you don’t want to fuck,” she says.
Similarly, August and one of her client’s agreed in advance of his trip that there would be nothing sexual about the experience. He was a regular client of August’s, and had asked her to travel with him on holiday. During the middle of their time away, he dropped a full dose of acid he’d bought on the dark web, while August — who helped him do a reagent test on the drugs — stayed sober.
“He had a lovely time,” August says, “mostly just smiling, laughing and looking at the scenery. It wasn’t a super ‘deep’ trip for him, although he did spend a little while reflecting on the loss of his wife, who had passed away a few years prior. There was a good moment when he was just watching the sky while starfishing in the empty children’s paddling pool after dark in the hotel, enjoying the feeling of the water.”
Discussing the trip the following day, August’s client said that reflecting on his grief during the trip “had given him some confidence to try it again and had also shifted some of the taboo around talking about [his loss].” “Someone once described a good psychedelic experience as having had an ‘accelerated therapy experience,’ and I definitely agree with that,” she says.
But, if there’s not a sexual element to the experience, why ask a sex worker instead of turning to a friend? Sex worker and performance artist Maggie McMuffin, who tweeted in May about her desire to have a domme trip-sit her, says: “Hiring someone means I would feel less guilty asking for assistance, skritches or to listen to me ramble. The ideal situation is for the pro to sit there on their phone most of the time and occasionally pet me; more sensual than sexual. Dommes especially would have skill sets around emotional wellbeing and physical safety. Plus, sub space is an altered space, so they’ve got that covered too.”
It’s important to note, however, that not all sex workers will be equipped or willing to trip-sit for their clients. “Do your research into what you require for a trip-sitter before asking your neighborhood domme,” says Saynt. “There should be a huge conversation about expectations and safety. A trip-sitter isn’t your fall guy; you’re still responsible if you get bad shrooms or a trash tab, or if you have a bad reaction.”
Although an effective method of harm reduction, Laura Garius, the policy lead at drug expert organization Release, points out that if governments stopped pursuing a punitive approach to drug use (and sex work, she adds), and instead invested in measures like drug safety checking services, facilities where drugs could be consumed safely with trained supervisors and decriminalized use and possession, safe spaces could exist where users could access proper harm-reduction services.
For now, though, the converging of two criminalized industries for an out-of-this-world experience feels fitting. “Sex work and drugs have a lot in common,” concludes Cirque. “They’re both extremely stigmatized while also ubiquitous. If you’re a person who believes there’s nothing wrong with consenting adults experiencing pleasure together, then you’ll probably understand why having a psychedelic trip with a sex worker can be a great adventure.”