My friend, the phone sex worker

Phone sex is still around, and this is one of its stars

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I met Denise for lunch last week at a quiet corner cafe in Paris. She was lounging on the terrace with a friend and a bottle of rosé, their faces two dark dots amid a row of pale office workers packed into tables on the sunny side of the street. She flashed a toothy grin as I apologized for being late, and poured me a glass.

"So," she began as I settled in, “do you have any questions or do you just wanna start talking about sex?”

Denise and I met for the first time last summer through a mutual friend. She was vacationing in Paris for a couple of months, and came back again this summer. She spends the rest of the year in Miami, where she works in marketing and moonlights doing phone sex. The summer is her off-season, and she’s spent the last two traipsing around Europe — visiting friends, lounging on beaches, partying relentlessly. We’ve grown close over the past few months, but she wouldn't have been here if it weren't for phone sex.

"I am totally their LeBron James."

I can’t remember the first time Denise told me about her phone-sex career, but it wasn't long after we were introduced. She’s refreshingly — sometimes brutally — honest, and one of the most contagiously social people I’ve ever met. We all know about her double life as a lady of the line, but she asked that I not use her real name in this article, for fear that one of her clients may be reading.

There's real value to her anonymity, too. Denise is far and away the top earner at her company, where she's been atop the leaderboard for more than a year. "I am totally their LeBron James," she laughed between drags on a Newport.

Phone sex seems like a relic from the pre-internet age, before cam girls and chat rooms usurped 1-900 numbers, but Denise’s success suggests there are at least some die-hards who still prefer voices to videos. And although she says most of her clients are between the ages of 45 and 50 — "guys who aren’t as comfortable with the internet" — she remains optimistic about the industry’s future.

"I think it’ll survive," she said. "There’s something that’s different between phone sex and like, let’s say cam girl situations. Yes the girl’s on camera, yes you can see her, but it’s so much harder to fake it when you can see the girl. You can’t fake your face, you know what I mean?"

"On the phone it’s way more fantasy. You can do whatever you want."

She gets paid a flat fee of $5 every 15 minutes, but it’s the tips from loyal customers that finance the trips to Europe. In her most lucrative month, she says she earned $6,000. On average, she sees about $3,500 to $4,000. Some tips are directly transferred through the company website, others are more discrete; $300 in exchange for a pair of panties or a lipstick-smeared note.

On the phone, she uses two personas: Rose, a petite, 5-foot-6 "tropical-looking" brunette from Yorkshire England; and Jasmine, a blue-eyed, giggly 21-year-old who studies at the University of South Carolina. They’re both very attractive and very sexual, according to their bios. Denise, of course, looks nothing like either. She's 31, black, and curvaceous, with plastic-rimmed glasses and blonde braids that are usually tied back above her head. Her eyes are big and pale green. She doesn’t even like men. But she’s outgoing and theatrical, and pours herself into each character. As she was describing them to me her accent seamlessly glided between sorority girl and upscale Londoner. Both were pretty convincing.

"You can’t fake your face, you know what I mean?"

She says she doesn’t keep notes about every client, but tracks them mentally. Many calls are straightforward — fantasy, climax, click — but her most faithful (and lucrative) clients treat her as a real companion. At lunch she showed me texts from a longtime customer on the West Coast who’d attended his father’s funeral earlier that day. They weren’t sexual, mostly just of the "wish-you-could’ve-seen" variety. Another man just calls her to watch movies over the phone together.

Some requests sound pretty challenging. One guy has this fantasy about a white teenage virgin who has this intensely personal relationship with a horse. He has Denise play the girl, and he plays the horse, communicating only in whinnies and neighs. The only clients she won’t take are those whose fantasies hit a little too close to home.

Denise was born in New York to two drug-addict parents. After they split up, she bounced around between relatives' homes and foster care before finally moving to South Carolina with her mom. Over lunch she told me that when she was 14, she was raped by her step-dad, so she refuses callers who want to play out similar scenarios.

For everybody else, she puts together the stories and rakes in the tips. When I asked her if she ever feels guilty about it, she shrugs.

"Sometimes I feel guilty, but sometimes I say fuck them," she says. "Because they have wives, they have kids, and then they try to manipulate some impressionable 20-something college girl to be their lover…. Because I get into full character, like I'm in love with you, I'm pinned, all this stuff. If I'm telling you this and if I'm heartbroken for certain things, then they get off on that. And it's like fuck you, what if I was really a 23-year-old. What if I was really 23 and in love with you and I could never have you. You never send any pictures. The only thing you do is throw money at me."

She’s not embarrassed or quiet about her work. She actually seems to have grown attached to her characters, and she's very proud about dominating the phone-girl leaderboard for so long. But there’ll be a new queen soon. Denise is planning to retire once she returns to Miami next month; she’s got new job opportunities, and has grown tired of the effort it takes to juggle so many quirks and personalities. But she’ll also miss the quiet pleasure she gets from dipping in and out of the fantasies she orchestrates after dark.

"Don’t get me wrong, I love my body, I’m happy with the way I look," she said, after the waitress took away our plates. "But it’s nice to be that blonde 22-year-old that every guy is fawning over. It’s the same way I used to think growing up, listening to like, the Cranberries and Alanis Morrissette. I always thought my life would’ve been different if I looked like them."