Coronavirus Diaries: I’m a Sex Worker, and My Clients Keep Calling Me Up

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Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

This as-told-to essay from Jana, a sex worker in Bologna, Italy, has been transcribed, translated, and edited for clarity from a conversation with Greta Privitera.

The last message came from Marco. He asked me how I was doing and told me that he was listening to some songs from one of my theatrical performances to cheer himself up.

Marco is not the only one who texts me—many others do the same, others call. I get around five calls a day from clients who want to chat. They wonder how I cope with the lockdown, and they tell me about their family. They talk mostly about their wives and children. I listen to them, as if I were a psychologist. They are careful not to ever tell me that they miss me, but I know they do.

I’m a 51-year-old woman, and I’m a prostitute. I’m not that young anymore, but I still have my charm.

I stopped receiving clients at home on March 5; it is too dangerous. My job requires physical contact—my job is, in fact, all about physical contact—and keeping a safe distance is impossible when you are having sex. I don’t want to risk getting sick, and I don’t want my clients and their families to get sick either. The first week, I was inundated with many requests—they wanted to see me any way they could. They tried to ask if they could come to my house, then they tried upping the price of the session. Finally, after a few hard “nos,” they understood that I was adamant. Then they asked for video chat. I refused that too because I have children, two boys, one 22 and the other 33 years old, whom I haven’t seen from or heard from for years because of my job, because I’m a prostitute. What if I do a video call and someone records the video, or takes a screenshot that ends up on some chat or site that somehow could reach my children? No, thanks. I don’t want to embarrass them anymore.

If I did video chat, I would, however, earn something. I have many colleagues who are making a lot of video calls where they undress or masturbate, the usual things. I understand it’s another way to pay the rent, but I have to protect my children. My customers have now accepted that too, and they know they will have to wait until this is over.

Like most of my fellow citizens, I have been locked in my house for more than 40 days, since the first Italian decree was signed. I go out only to get groceries.

I am living this quarantine with my partner. We have been together for seven years. We usually live in two different houses, but during these difficult times, we have decided to stay closer. He knows about my job, and he doesn’t judge me. He is a courier and he works during the day, so that’s when I agree to answer some calls from my clients.

Believe it or not, the calls are never erotic. Over these five weeks of quarantine, I have realized how much of a “comfort” I am for them. Many find support in our relationship. It’s not about how I fuck—anyone can do that—but rather it’s the special attention that I give: I listen. On average, I have 30 clients per month. Most are between 40 and 60, and almost all of them are married. Twenty percent of them are younger—a lot younger.

I haven’t earned a penny for over 40 days. If I were single, I wouldn’t know how to pay the expenses or rent. I am very ashamed to rely on my partner because I am an independent woman and I never ask anyone to help me, but today I have no choice. I am a prostitute because I never wanted any help. Up until 12 years ago, I worked in a metal company, and I used to earn very little, around 600 to 700 euros a month. With two young children, a house, groceries, their school, I would never make it to the end of the month. One day a friend of mine told me about a site where women could prostitute themselves. I signed up to see how it worked, and then it became my job. I don’t like it—I would prefer to do something else—but I have big debts to pay off. I have almost cleared it, and once I’m done, then I’ll finally be able to quit this job. I think I have a year left and then I would like to carry on with my passion: making costumes for the theater. I lost my family and my beloved children because I chose to be a sex worker. They all disowned me, except for my sister; she has always been by my side.

My job has existed for centuries, and it is crazy that the state has not normalized it yet. If it was legal, during these months of inactivity, I would get 600 euros a month, like all other Italian freelancers. It’s not a lot, but it would at least help me with basic expenses.

I would like to pay taxes and I would like to contribute to my pension. There are about 100,000 prostitutes in Italy, and it is a business worth almost 4 billion euros, which, in many cases—not mine—end up in the hands of the various mafia. This is a war that other colleagues and I have always waged; I hope one day we will win.

Today I feel good. I lack the freedom to go out, but I’m doing OK. Last week I had a nervous breakdown. There have been nights when I wake up crying. I try to keep distracted by cleaning the house, reading good books, and cooking. But in the moments of silence, I often think of my mother, an elderly woman with whom I have no contact. I wish I could talk to her. More than anything, I can’t stop thinking of my children. I miss them; I miss being part of their lives. They are always on my mind.

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