Control Tower

Color of Money

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When I began my sex-work career years ago in the Deep South, the rules of sex work and race were unforgiving. White women who saw black clients were scorned. I remember working in small-town strip clubs with white dancers who, observing a white woman doing a lap dance for a black man, would mutter racist epithets and spit on the floor. Interestingly, black men and Middle Eastern men reliably aroused this response, but Asian men and Latino men rarely did.

Fast-forward to liberal, mostly white Seattle. I have clients of all colors, as do all the other white sex workers I know, and no one thinks anything of it. Or do they? I still occasionally hear stories of white sex workers refusing to see dark-skinned clients. So I asked Seattle sex workers: In the era of Obama, is this still an issue? Does the race/ethnicity of potential clients matter? Some women admitted mixed feelings:

Nikki: "I've had bad experiences with [Middle Eastern] non-Americans, so I prefer American men. Non-American men, if they're from a country with no rights for women, will treat me with contempt."

Barbara: "I give everyone a chance. I admit, though, when I hear a strong Middle Eastern voice, I have to 'gear up' [try harder to get in the mood] for the session."

Arabella: "No, I am not attracted to black clients. But I have some Latino and Middle Eastern clients."

Others were enthusiastic:

Jeanette: "I've had great experiences with black men. Middle Eastern men are hot, if they're raised here with our habits." What about Middle Eastern men who aren't Americans? "No, the cultural differences are too great. [They say,] 'Do this, now do this! No, do that.' I have said, 'No, I don't want to do that,' and the guy looked really mad. They tipped well, but I can't compromise my comfort for a tip."

Elisa: "I am very open because I am of mixed heritage myself. I would never turn down a client on the basis of race."

Except for Elisa, all the women quoted identified themselves as white. (I e-mailed more escorts for their feedback, but no black or Middle Eastern sex workers responded.)

I don't think it's inherently racist to have preferences about sexual partners. The only thing that made me wonder was the issue of scent—most of the white escorts felt that black men and Middle Eastern men have a different body smell than white or Asian men, and thorough bathing was required for it to not be a turnoff. Is that racist? I'm not sure. But it's worth noting that escorts are very sensitive to personal hygiene in white American men as well.

In the end, sex workers see clients they feel will be polite, appropriate, and pleasant to be intimate with—and who respect the rules of the game. Several of the ladies put it succinctly: "The only color that matters is green." recommended


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I like these columns that give you an in depth, behind the curtain look at worlds you may never otherwise know about.
Posted by SynTax on July 29, 2009 at 2:50 PM · Report this
I find that for me as an exotic dancer the biggest difference is whether they speak a competent amount of English. I don't mind foreign guys as long as I can communicate clearly.
Posted by fireez on July 30, 2009 at 4:53 AM · Report this
I think the issue of scent is a culture one, rather than a racial issue. I used to avoid a certain *dentist* at my office because she was Indian and smelled like curry. It's not a huge issue unless she's leaning centimeters over my face for an hour or more. Smell is a sensitive issue for lots of people; one of those deeply rooted things we can't easily "unlearn", just like our sexual proclivities. Makes sense that the two would be related.
Posted by scarletvirago on July 30, 2009 at 8:17 AM · Report this
i find that latino and asian men smell the best with black men and white men in a tie. i have such a small sample size for indian/pakistani and middle eastern men that i can't generalize. for me, smell is the most important measure of attractiveness. I wouldn't be too upset if my husband were disfigured but if he smelled different i'd freak out. I'm really pretty sure this has something to do with genetics. I've read that women are attracted to the way men smell based on genetic compatibility.
(i'm a white female btw)
Posted by freefall on July 30, 2009 at 2:49 PM · Report this
I am so sorry to hear that the type of Black men who pay for white escorts seem to need extreme washing intructions. At any rate being Blackand having lived with plenty Black men, I can tell you, the normal ones always smell good and love to be clean more than anything.

I do agree that maybe different people have different smelling sweat. Black people have long commented that white poeples swaet smells like "wet dog"- but of all the times I have heard a Black person make this comment it is never in rudeness or malice...just sort of a curious musing and instinctive understanding that there are differences between races, smells and what we are used to.
Posted by Lovely on July 30, 2009 at 3:41 PM · Report this
I would second that issues tend to be more of culture than race. When I was stripping, one of my sweetest regulars was Japanese-American. But I always cringed when tour busses of Japanese businessmen would pull up (apparently we were on some sort of "sex hot-spots of San Francisco" tour for Japanese tourists). They tended to be grabby, disrespectful, and cheap, and treat women as objects with no personality, just boobs. One of the many reasons I left that club was that I was turning into a racist--cringing when I saw Japanese men on the train. And I hated that about myself. (BTW, I never had anything but the sweetest black clients, but my black co-workers who were drop-dead gorgeous consistently made less money than the white girls).
Posted by AnathemaT on July 30, 2009 at 10:14 PM · Report this
Oh, and my current boyfriend is Mexican, and while he smells delicious to me, can't say it's in any way different than my white partners. For what it's worth. And I am a girl who **loves** the smell of sweat on a man I'm attracted to.
Posted by AnathemaT on July 30, 2009 at 10:16 PM · Report this
TheLando 8
I like how "Middle Eastern" isn't a racial/ethnic group according to the US government or any standardized test I've ever taken, but is well-recognized and disparaged by most of the women you managed to interview. Two things:

-FYI, Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi/etc. people are not Middle Eastern. They are subcontinental Asian. Arabs, Persians, Armenians, etc. are Middle Eastern.

-Don't these ladies think that their impressions might be slightly colored by our present zeitgeist? You, Matisse, remember Black clients/dancers being discriminated against in the South in, I presume, the 80s/early 90s. Luckily for Black people, we as a culture have largely moved on to hating Middle Eastern people (and the people who are unlucky enough to be assumed to be Middle Eastern). Convincing oneself that one just doesn't like the way people from this area of the world smell (which, by the way, is not like curry) is a pretty good excuse for adopting the racism of the moment. People used to say very similar things about Black people, as I recall.
Posted by TheLando on July 31, 2009 at 6:24 AM · Report this
I see your point, but you still can't deny that there are huge cultural differences in the way women are treated in the Middle East and America. I can see that if you are a sex worker, you might want to avoid men from cultures that repress women, as this may influence how those men treat sex workers.
Posted by ephemeroptera on July 31, 2009 at 10:13 AM · Report this
I'm really shocked to hear that non-white men are being described as having a scent that is a turn-off. I'm not a sex-worker and never have been, but I've dated Asian, Filipino, Indian, Jewish, White and African-American guys over the 17 years since I had my first date at age 15 (I'm an EOE dater). Some of the guys I dated were nice guys and some of them were jerks, but I never noticed any major difference in their natural scents. Yes, each guy has his own scent, but I would never say that any of them required more bathing than anyone else. That's crazy. American guys all smell similar, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds.
Posted by American Gigilo on August 1, 2009 at 12:39 PM · Report this
About the smell thing...I dont know bout middle eastern folks except for the ones who came and went through the valet stand back when i worked downtown, who all did smell awful, but it was always more cause they seemed to have bathed in overly noxious perfumes and such, so probably not a racial thing so much as a cultural one. As for for black girls, ive been with three and only one had any really offensive smell, abnd that was cause she didnt take care of herself, again, it was a hygine issue. Of course, Ive met some white girls who had truly rank odors, it really depends more on bathing as necessary and not overdoing perfumes. Mostly it seems to be cultural and economic really, and as things continue to get worse and worse for everybody but the wealthiest in society Im afraid well all have to just get used to stinkiness. Thankfully Im sick and have no hope of affording treatment so ill probably be dead before it gets too bad but good luck to all of you. Keep being complacent and greedy :)
Posted by Dead Soon on August 1, 2009 at 5:25 PM · Report this
At # 8: You've clearly not spent time in the Deep South. White people are still just as afraid of Black people as they've always been. I'm just sayin'.

Also, people from different cultures tend to smell different because of differences in diet, lifestyle, and geographical location. This is a long documented idea and not racist unless moral or value judgments are made based on this difference (any more than noting that light skinned people look different from dark skinned people is racist, without a judgment being attached to that difference).

Ask a lactose intolerant Asian what white people smell like.
Posted by White Girl From The South on August 2, 2009 at 12:34 AM · Report this
Lil 13
I am not a sex worker, but I encounter a lot of the same ethical, cultural and racial issues in my work as a massage therapsist. I am not sure about difference in smell (although living in a predominately black place I can attest that most Black people I know are way more fanatical about bathing than Whites). There are many Middle Eastern businessmen here, and while many of them are the sweetest, most hospitable, protective men I've met, a great number of them also equate massage with sex work. I have had them call me, assuming I'm a sex worker, and start ordering me around on the phone, their voices thick with contempt. When you are working with the general public in the service industry, it's very hard not to begin stereotyping, and I can sympathize with those who struggle with their inner conflict around this. I inwardly cringe when I see a Black male client, only because as a rule, they tend to have extremely dense muscle tissue and they just plain wear me out!
Sex work is an important part of our society and helps prevent a lot of crime. It's one of the main issues at the forefront of legitimizing and separating massage therapy from sensual massage, and I'm sad to see how prudish and scornful MT's are of sex workers. I think if it was more out in the open, it would be easier for both sides to define and separate their services. It would make it easier for the clients and eliminate a lot of uncomfortable situations in session. Every MT should have a go-to sex worker they can refer clients to who are looking for sexual service.
Posted by Lil on August 2, 2009 at 6:46 AM · Report this
Y.F. Redux 14
Eh, I had a Korean health teacher who told us that Asians (in Asia) think Americans/Westerners smell like butter. Apparently all the dairy products we consume makes us smell like butterine, the chemical in dairy products that give it it's taste/smell. When she first immigrated to the U.S., her students actually made her ill when the room was really warm. The scent was unbearable.
Posted by Y.F. Redux on August 2, 2009 at 9:31 AM · Report this

It's funny your Korean teacher thought Americans smell bad. Having the highest per capita consumption of garlic in the world, no one smells quite as ripe as a sweaty Korean.
Posted by smitty on August 3, 2009 at 10:25 AM · Report this
There seems to be some conflict arising, I think, from the idea of people having a distinct scent, meaning, someone stinks, or smells bad. I don't think that's what most people are saying. I have a very acute sense of smell, and it rules who I'm attracted to. I'm bisexual, and I can tell you men and women do not smell alike, and even among white people (I'm white, and most of my lovers have been white) there's a variety of scents. Some men have a smell that can make even a really plain guy extremely attractive to me. I've seen some gorgeous guys from afar, and then when I got a whiff of them, if I didn't like it, that was it.

And these are scents from clean people. Any one of any race who doesn't bathe, eats too much garlic or wears too much cologne or perfume can smell bad. I'm talking about an individual's intrinsic scent. I find I prefer how white, Latino and Native American men smell. I am put off by how black people, male and female, smell, and I've always felt bad about that. There's nothing wrong with how they smell, any more than there's some wrong with, say, how olives smell - I just don't like it. And I'm not saying black people smell like olives. That's just an example.

I work at a library that has some Indian patrons, and some of them smell so strongly of spices and sweat that it makes me a bit ill. But if I grew up in India, I'm sure it wouldn't bother me. I have no problem with Asians thinking white people who consume dairy smell bad - I can see how for them, that would be true.

I don't think reacting to another person's scent makes anyone racist.
Posted by Prosperity Snow on August 5, 2009 at 9:13 PM · Report this
The conversation about scent is fascinating. My first really serious boyfriend was a great guy, but one day I came back from a trip and his scent had changed from making me hard to something nauseating. He was still the sweet supportive guy I'd fallen in love with, but every time we became intimate half my effort went into trying not to gag from the smell rather than getting him off. We broke up a few months later due to new jobs in different states, but I would have had to end it anyway because the new smell was unbearable to me.

As for issues with Middle Eastern men, I think @6 & @9 have it right. It's not an issue of individual men, but rather that many men from cultures that do not treat women as equals have a tendency to treat their sex partners (female or male) rudely. I've experienced this as a gay man with several (but not every) partner I've had from countries like Bahrain, India and Japan. Bossy, self-centered and abusive partners are simply unattractive to most of us - no matter where they come from or what they smell like.
Posted by Smartypants on August 7, 2009 at 11:20 AM · Report this
yourherokate 18
i'm a white girl who smokes a lot of pot and bathes less frequently than a lot of people, so my body odor generally smells like pot. i've had guys really love it, and i've had guys stop seeing me because of it. basically what i'm saying is that one guy's "gross" is another guy's "fucking hot." also, that i agree with the people saying that differences in smells are cultural and not racial, ie. i smell the way i do cause i'm a stoner punk, not because i'm white.
Posted by yourherokate on August 9, 2009 at 12:51 PM · Report this
Funilingus 19
This is a fascinating subject to me. I agree with those who say its largely cultural, as opposed to racial. So much of what determines the smell and taste of a person's skin and bodily fluids has to do with a person's diet and environment. I remember reading a book in which a character
found another character's smell intoxicating, and found it wasn't some scent she was wearing: rather she lived near a place where incense was manufactured, and a resulting smell permeated her hair and clothes.

What really makes this subject interesting to me, is that I don't have a very strong sense of smell. Chronic sinus problems mean that a person has to have a powerful odor before I can even detect it. So about the only time I'm put off by a smell is when they smell like nicotine or like they fell into a vat of perfume. Usually I have to already be intimate with a person before I get a chance to enjoy the subtler scent of her hair, her skin, etc., etc.

Of far greater interest to me is what a person (women in my case) tastes like...and thats very much a product of culture, diet, and habits. The first girl I ever kissed was Japanese, and her mouth tasted strongly of the dried fish and seaweed snacks she was often eating. It took some getting used to. I've noticed over the years with several lovers that their juices will vary widely in taste based on what their last meal was...and I suspose I like Italian women because I like the seasonings in Italian food...

So to those who suggest theres some sort of racism in preferring people who smell a certain way...its just a personal preference. We're all attracted to, and put off by, different things. If you're into red hair and freckles,
you probably won't date many Pakistani. That doesn't make you a racist.
Posted by Funilingus on August 11, 2009 at 9:29 PM · Report this
Having been in that situation and being in the market to find a steady arraignment, how do I know before hand if the woman doesn't take on clients of my race?

They would never say in an ad or an email, even if they did answer emails.

Just how could I know?
Posted by Syntax on August 17, 2009 at 5:44 PM · Report this
Syntax, you can find that out very easily. Ask her.

"Are you comfortable seeing clients of [your] race?"

Most sex workers should appreciate being asked politely and directly, and will give you an answer. Otherwise they might end up wasting their own time as well as yours.

But as some people have said above, race is far less of a bar than manner. A pleasant, respectful demeanor should see you through 99 times out of 100.

Posted by tinuviel on September 13, 2009 at 3:31 AM · Report this
How funny, what could have been an intelligent discussion around race and sex work devolved into BS. Great. Especially for an African American Sex Worker who wants to believe that these discussions can happen.

Posted by MoneyPenny on October 25, 2009 at 6:38 PM · Report this
I've never noticed scents, unless it's an Asian client, and then the smell REALLY gets to me. If they are Asian American, they do not have this scent, so I'm assuming it's due to the diet in certain parts of Asia. I'd like this is not a racist idea, but almost all Asian clients I've seen have an smell like onions and chives and it seems to just exude from their pores. Once I smelt this sent on a client from Mexico. When I turned the conversation to what type of food he liked and he told me his group of friends, all of whom were Japanese, teased him for adopting their diet.
Posted by mnm on January 16, 2010 at 1:41 AM · Report this

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