When people ask me about my romantic life before my marriage, I often tell them I was a femcel.
Hindsight being what it is, I can say now that that wasn’t quite true—I wasn’t a femcel. I just didn’t feel wanted.
My premarital dating experience was marked by oscillating feelings of invisibility and disposability; cruel text messages from potbellied 20-somethings who’d tell me things like, “I don’t like big girls,” even though I was maybe 10, 15 pounds overweight at most; thousand-yard stares in night clubs as my prettier, thinner friends would retreat to the bathroom or step outside for a cigarette, and I’d be left holding the bag with the man who clearly wanted to bring them home.
“Could you get out of here?” or something like it was a familiar refrain, as men saw me as an obstacle between them and my friends.
Like any teenage girl and later early 20s woman, I internalized it, overanalyzed it, extrapolated any number of conclusions that only now, as a fully matured adult, I can recognize as untrue. It was never about my worth, but at the time it felt like it.
I’d go online searching for answers and find myself down rabbit hole after rabbit hole of blogs written for men and by men, denigrating ugly, disposable women, denigrating beautiful, stuck-up women, denigrating current girlfriends and former wives(1).
I’d think, “What I would give to at least be worthy of objectification,” unaware of how misguided all of these feelings were. I feel some compassion for my younger self, how couldn’t I? We’re all products of our environments. But these memories are also tinged with shame—I wish she loved herself more, but more than anything, I wish she knew better.
I came of age at a weird time. It was the height of hook-up culture, when for a certain type of coastal, educated young woman, promiscuity was inextricably linked with empowerment. While I agree this wasn’t universal, it was one common millennial lifestyle, and it was the one I entered my adulthood engulfed in.
Friends bragged about the men that gravitated towards them like moths to a flame, and then they bragged about their subsequent body counts. If a would-be romantic partner didn’t work out beyond an evening, which was, unfortunately, often the case, it was re-cast in a new light. They never wanted a relationship, anyway. The 20 drunk texts sent to the men in question would be swept under the rug.
“I don’t get emotionally attached,” friends would insist, “Sex is just sex for me. It’s meaningless.”
As the years marched on, it became clearer that this was a two-way street that was at once gratifying and filled with disillusionment, as each new sexual partner brought new disappointments, the least of them being a mysterious de-centering of physical pleasure, only psychic pleasure from the thrill of being desired, or the thrill of further pushing the sexual envelope. (Fucking for the experience, in more crass terms.)
My friends tended to date two kinds of men: the “fuck boy” with whom they’d give anything to be in a real, committed relationship, and the older man who had his own kind of baggage, but at least had a bed frame and deep pockets.
Fuck boys were embroiled in the hook-up culture writers like Nancy Jo Sales wrote so much about during that period, and older men were the kinds of guys you’d meet at bars or, sometimes, at work. Swipe-based dating apps weren’t yet a thing outside of the gay community, and OkCupid was still the domain of intellectuals and hipsters.
Both the older and younger men were fair game to develop feelings for and later feel abandoned by; neither were capable of reliably giving you an orgasm.
In both scenarios, sex was often about the meta-narrative of the act, rather than the act itself. Sex as a symbol, rather than an expression of anything, including carnal desire.
And thus, as outlets like Vice and social platforms like Tumblr began glamorizing sex work, the newest way to rebel, I began to hear things like, “I may as well charge for sex.”
In other words, “I don’t like the sex I’m having anyway, and it comes at an emotional toll, I may as well make some money.”
If Tumblr and Vice were to be believed, why the fuck not—college girls were great candidates for high-end escorts, and high-end escorting at that time was portrayed as the apex of a kind of countercultural cool. It was a backdoor into glamor. This was especially salient in cities like London and New York, where you were constantly being reminded of who the haves and have-nots are. If you were a college student, chances were that you fit firmly into the latter.
Why not charge an admission fee for sex you already didn’t enjoy, especially if it meant a comfortable wage and an interesting experience?
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say—and this is the part most of my other pieces have been missing—the reality of sex work is much different than what a porn-y Tumblr blog or glitzy Vice article designed for clicks might portray.
Sex work is not some effortless dance into thousands of dollars and it’s offensive to cast it that way. Not just to women who are in the industry by an informed and confident choice, like Aella, but also to women who are doing survival sex work or who were trafficked.
But this reality is no reason to discount that sex work was and continues to be misrepresented online. It’s also vital to understand this absolutely was a prevalent misconception of a certain, non-trivial subset of millennial women, one that spawned countless once-used Eros, MyFreeCams, and Seeking Arrangement profiles.
Today, these same kinds of misconceptions are what lead women to start and then abandon OnlyFans careers, only to discover the money isn’t cheap or easy.
Only to discover the alternative to bad sex, for most women, is no sex. Not sex with a price tag affixed to it.
by Default Friend