If you’ve ever wanted to know what life is really like for a sex worker, then Andrea Werhun’s Modern Whore is definitely worth a read. The 28-year-old University of Toronto graduate, who spent a few years escorting while in college and after graduating, shares her experiences and insights in the new book, which features fine art photographs by collaborator Nicole Bazuin. Werhun, who also writes for Playboy, is candid about her clients and the stigma she’s encountered, and hopes her new book will change perceptions of sex workers.

Life after sex work has been busy for Andrea; in addition to writing, she’s also acted in several films, and, with Bazuin, cofounded the multimedia production company Virgin Twins, which is responsible for the release of Modern Whore. The New York book launch and reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on March 3 at the Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village. In the meantime, here’s our conversation with Andrea. Discussing everything from noteworthy johns to the #MeToo movement to her current endeavors, she proves that there’s no such thing as a stereotypical sex worker.

BB_Q(1) When did you first realize you wanted to become a sex worker? How difficult was it to break into the industry? When and why did you choose to stop?

BB_A(1) I felt my first tingles for sex work during an inaugural visit to a now defunct east-end Toronto strip club. Having walked in with the usual expectations of down-and-out, dead-eyed women climbing poles and hating their lives, I was pleasantly surprised by the joyful sexuality displayed by the dancers on stage. While I didn’t know it then, I realized soon enough that I wanted to become a beautiful, naked, dancing woman myself.

After about a year of research and preparation– which included choosing songs, reading sex work memoirs, and taking pole dance classes– I took the plunge into sex work, though not the way I’d initially planned. I’d told my friends I wanted to be a stripper, but was surprised when a few made the case to become an escort instead: it was safer, private, and the pay was better. When the time came, I picked the escort agency with the best website, made a call, scheduled a meeting with the owners, got the job, picked my sex work name, and started that week.

Six months into escorting, I told my parents about the job. Six months later, I graduated university. On that day, sitting at a celebratory lunch with my mom, dad, brother and boyfriend, my mother asked, “So, when you quittin’ that job of yours?” Thinking fast, I said, “By my next birthday,” which gave me another year. She responded: “Great, I’ll get that in writing.” That night, I signed a contract with my mom with an exact date of exiting the industry, to which I stayed true.

BB_Q(1) Are there any particularly profound, distressing, or otherwise notable clients and/or experiences from your escorting days?

BB_A(1) My clients ran the gamut from the intelligent to the rapey, the mediocre to the fascinating. There was a differently-abled man who was perfectly self-sufficient; a married man in his 60s who asked his terminally-ill high school sweetheart for permission to see me; a gentleman who encouraged me to shoot for the stars, write books, and fight for human rights; a young bro with no manners, a permanent musk of Axe body spray, and a penchant for staring at himself in the mirror during sex; a creeper with dead eyes who’d been blacklisted from every other agency; a divorcee who’d begged to be set up with my mother; a threesome-loving famous man and his wife. Many clients, many interesting experiences.

BB_Q(1) How does your book portray the experiences of a sex worker in the modern era?

BB_A(1) What most people don’t realize about sex work is that it is a deceptively common story: sex workers have to operate in secret because we’re not given the space to be open about our experiences. My journey, contrary to the story conventionally imposed upon sex workers, was one of choice; I chose to be a sex worker, enjoyed my tenure, overcame some obstacles, and emerged from the industry with no regrets. I acknowledge that I am white, educated, and middle-class; that I have the privilege of coming out for the sake of “living my truth,” when most others would face, at best, unbearable social shame, and at worst, the threat of physical danger and incarceration. While I would never claim to speak for anyone other than myself, my privilege means I can tell stories when others can’t.

As an autonomous, modern woman, my encounters with men and money are as nuanced as any. My sex work experiences were, on the whole, positive: I made a lot of money doing flexible work I enjoyed. But I don’t gloss over the negative aspects: I’ve been raped on the job, and have endured, like all sex workers, the internal and external effects of shame. What woman, sex worker or not, hasn’t been raped or shamed for her sexuality? In the #MeToo era, women everywhere are grappling with their sexual autonomy, and sex worker perspectives must be part of the narrative.

BB_Q(1) What would you like to change about societal perceptions of sex and sex workers? Most of the time, these come from popular culture– i.e., movies and crime TV shows– and tend to be pretty one-dimensional in their portrayals of sex workers. Can your book be seen as a response to these tropes?

BB_A(1) The major social perception I’d like to see transformed is the myth that sex workers are universal victims. The perpetual denial of sex worker agency is dehumanizing. Sex work is work. The vast majority of us, sex worker or not, are forced by a capitalist society to be workers. Some of us do sex work, despite other opportunities, because it suits us; some of us are forced by circumstance, be it poverty, a lack of education, criminal record, mental health issues, homelessness, addiction– all of which bar people from “regular” employment. Sex work becomes the only path to survival. Is the problem sex work or a shitty social welfare system?

Additionally, tropes that present us as one-dimensional characters fail to recognize our resilience, groundedness, and sense of humor. Sex workers have seen, smelt, and tasted it all: we’re raw, badass, and funny as all hell.

BB_Q(1) What’s the key to being empowered in your sexual choices, regardless of age, gender, profession, etc.?

BB_A(1) Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! Knowing what you want and what you don’t want, and most importantly, knowing how and having the wherewithal to communicate those desires. Boundaries are the most important thing sex workers can teach civilian women: we know our worth and don’t let anyone waste our time.

BB_Q(1) How do you hope your book will change the conversation around sex work and female sexuality as a whole?

BB_A(1) After reading Modern Whore, first and foremost, I hope people are better equipped to see sex work as real work. Like any other job, escorting had its highs and lows, its glamour and ugliness. Secondly, that female sexuality is nothing to be ashamed or afraid of — make that masculine sexuality, too. Men are simple beasts: they want to be loved, listened to, and respected as much as anyone else. Johns are not necessarily bad people, and their desires are nothing to be feared (so long as they understand and respect the concept of consent). Thirdly, I hope the book impresses upon the reader the importance of first person sex worker narratives and that we must make society a safer place for sex workers to tell their stories, no matter their background. People from outside the industry have always spoken for us; it’s time for us to speak for ourselves.

BB_Q(1) How is life after sex work? What other endeavors have you been pursuing? In general, do you feel that sex work has had an effect on your life?

BB_A(1) Life after sex work is wonderfully complex. Before I came out, life after sex work was difficult because I was forced to hide this enormous part of my life. Coming out presented new obstacles, namely implicating my family in my choice to become a sex worker. Let’s just say I’m still dealing with the stigma on a daily basis, but am much happier to be out of the closet than pretending to be someone I’m not.