Book ReviewsBook Review: Modern Whore by Andrea Werhun

Book Review: Modern Whore by Andrea Werhun

Book Review: Modern Whore by Andrea Werhun

Photo credit: Nicole Bazuin 


In my sex fantasy, nobody ever loves me for my mind. Nora Ephron

Andrea Werhun’s contrarian disposition on all matters related to sex and society is liberating, exasperating, provoking, authentic, truthful, debauched, funny and outrageously honest. At times it’s also seedy and unpleasant. Nora Ephron would love Werhun’s intelligent sex-positive, imaginative and autobiographical narrative of her experiences working as a part-time escort in Toronto. 

The 150 page book shines a light into the parallel universe and sometimes sordid underside of  society, a world outside the boundaries of political correctness.  It’s a place where sex and sexual relations are about escapism, power, money, loneliness and longing. The narrative serves as an uncompromising and blunt chronicle about the truths of sex and society, sex and power and sex and people. It’s written as a memoir in the form of a collection of short stories and features photography that was staged and shot by Werhun’s filmmaker friend Nicole Bazuin.

The dictionary defines a whore as a woman who engages in sexual acts for money : prostitute; also,  informal + offensive : a promiscuous or immoral woman.   

Werhun is certainly not an immoral woman.And she’s no whore in the demeaning sense of the definition.She is quite moral and honest. Smart, sexually liberated, a #metoo victim and a survivor of sexual assault, Werhun considers what she does with her body her business and no one else’s. It is an extreme libertarian view of sex and of sex work.  She wrote this book because she believes it’s important for people to tell their stories and says that most people in the escorting industry don’t have the freedom to tell their story. 

Modern Whore defies common stereotypes and visual representations of the “prostitute.” Werhun is from a typical middle class family. Her parents divorced when she was young and she and her brother were raised by her mom who she describes as a very independent thinking and strong person. She did not grow up with “sexual shame” and is not religious although her family is Catholic. When religion is mentioned, she deftly notes the irony of the adoration by Catholics of the Virgin Mary in contrast to Mary Magdalene, the close friend of Jesus of Nazareth, who is vilified in scripture as being everything from a prostitute to sibyl to mystic to celibate nun to passive dupe to a feminist. Not surprisingly, Werhun says she always related more to the second Mary!

Werhun made a conscious to become an escort and for her this choice matters as she distinguishes between the sexual victim (no power) and someone who chooses to work in the world’s oldest profession (choice is power).  She was studying English literature and religion at the University of Toronto where she found herself constantly writing stories about a female protagonist exchanging some form of sexuality for money. She decided to get into sex work after being surprised at how much she liked the strong, sexy and elegant performers she saw on stage at strip clubs. When she told a pal she was seriously thinking of stripping, the friend’s mother suggested she become an escort instead. She recalled: 'I was surprised when she told me, “Why don’t you become an escort instead? It’s private, you’re protected by a driver, and you make a lot more money.  Werhun says felt no shame about having sex with people for money.  “I needed money and I like sex so it made sense”, she says.   The only shame she  felt was the shame of others.” I always separated my work self from my real self. “Emotional detachment   is required  to engage in this form or labour”, says Werhun. “Clients have a fantasy about sex and this fantasy was projected on to me.” There are always boundaries says Werhun.  “The escort decides the boundaries”.  That is the choice part.

She says “sex with strangers did not daunt me, it excited me”. She had the regular concerns related to health and safety. “How prevalent are STIs? Are condoms provided by the agency? How likely am I to get assaulted on the job? What is the protocol in case of danger?” Her main worry was that she could not be open about her sex work experience due to social stigma.  Werhun says that as an aspiring writer, escorting afforded the chance to meet new characters on a deeply intimate level with no commitment to monogamy whatsoever was very appealing.  One of the most interesting parts of her book is a section where she publishes the reviews that several of her clients posted of her online. She then contrasts those reviews with her own thoughts on those same people. The perception versus the reality of how the client sees her versus how she sees them makes the book unique and lays out in stark terms how often people can delude themselves or they get confused about what is sex and what is love and where those two very separate things intersect and depart.   For Werhun, her role in these fantasies was just sex for money. Often for her clients, the experience according to their reviews was more than just about the sex. Her customers or “Johns come from all parts of society. Everyday men  - co-workers and bosses, husbands and fathers, teachers and community leaders. Werhun says they all have valid reason for seeing escorts.  Usually its loneliness, unhappiness in a relationship or marriage, intimacy issues, physical and disability issues or living out long-repressed sexual fantasies.   These are some of the reasons why the escort profession thrives.  She says society is too  quick  to condemn men who pay for sex  simply because “we are too ashamed as a society to frankly discuss sexual desire and the real human need for physical intimacy”.

Werhun describes her first night as an escort was a series of thrills and revelations.” She had sex with four clients and says she felt completely liberated and empowered. She used the alias Mary Ann and dressed in short skirts, thigh-highs and high heels, loving each and every moment she f***** and got paid.  She described each man has his own world, and says that “by the time I’d reached Max, my fourth and final client of the night, I was a triumphant sexual queen. He opened the door and we were quickly thrown into a flurry of mutual interests, including poetry, religion, and politics.” 

Over time she would visit fat clients, slim clients, old clients, lonely clients and in one of her not so great experiences, she would visit a young man living in the basement of his parent’s bungalow who seemed to be obsessed with the Toronto Maple Leafs (read the book for a good laugh here!). Through it all, Werhun says most of her clients were just good people seeking sexual fulfillment. There were exceptions.  A senior she connected with became a favourite client, He was 80. She describes him almost as a soulmate. She had similar feelings about “one of the nicest people I ever met” who was a man paralyzed below the belt. She describes him as an incredibly positive, kind, and resourceful individual who lived alone and was very self-sufficient.

"In my experience, most Johns are good people who recognize the value of no-strings-attached, non-judgmental sexual company, who also treat their service providers with kindness and respect,"she said.

Modern Whore is oddly and ironically a feminist soliloquy of a liberated  woman who unapologetically decides to use her sexual prowess as a tool to make money. She is the penultimate sexual libertarian. Escorting allowed Werhun to go from $10.25/hour to $160 an hour and provided her the  opportunity to focus on her studies.   

“With escorting, I had the opportunity to work a lot less and study a lot more. That was important to me”, she says.

Werhun is candid about all matters relate to sex. She says abstinence is perfectly fine as a choice, but as a form of sexual education it’s stupid.  A year into her escorting career, Werhun graduated and went for a celebratory lunch with her parents, brother and boyfriend.  'As we sat down at the table, my mother asked a very pertinent question: “So, when are you going to quit that job of yours?”,' she recalled. Werhun wants to see society become more accepting of sex work as a profession. Her decision to leave was about honouring her mother and had nothing to do with the clients she met through work.  She says she has no regrets about her escort experience. This is an exceptionally brave book by a very strong willed, observant and perceptive writer.

Andrea Werhun's book is available to order from modernwhore.com 

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