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When you get used to having sex for money, you forget that it can be anything else. You forget how different it was to be touched with affection rather than lust, to be wanted for who you are—not for your thighs and your breast size, or what you represent. I knew I was a fantasy for these men, and I had gotten off on feeling larger than life, but I hadn’t realized how much more of a turn on it could be to be desired for who you really were.

When I was doing it for work, I was always amazed at how easy the sex was. I’d forgotten how hard it was to make love. The first time I did it with David, the entire experience was so intense; I almost couldn’t stand it. It felt so warm and loving and sweet. It was incredible how different the exact same gestures could feel. One man’s hand on your back could feel territorial and possessive, while someone else’s hand on your back could feel affectionate and loving.

Naïve as it sounds, it hadn’t occurred to me that I might forget what love really felt like, that I could get so used to being a sex machine, that I wouldn’t remember how to do it any other way. The whole experience with this boy was so overwhelming. It made me realize how desperately I wanted and needed to be loved, and I wondered how much of this project had been a search for exactly that.

Back when I first started doing research for this project, back when it was just supposed to be a class paper, before I’d gotten up the nerve to actually do it myself and realized it was so much more than a paper, I’d read piles of books about sex workers, strippers, porn stars, and peep show dancers. One of the books mentioned a curious phenomenon—an overwhelming number of strippers lacked father figures in their lives. Either they had distant fathers as children, or they grew up with single mothers, but many of them had a hole where a father’s love should have been.

Of course, this didn’t mean that every girl without a supportive father was destined to be a nudie dancer. It just meant that the lack of a father’s love was one of several factors that might encourage a woman to follow that line of work. It was a curious parallel to my life, and one that gave me a lot to think about. Even though my parents were still together, my father was never very emotional or affectionate, and times were few and far between that he told me he loved me or was proud of me. He worked a lot, and my recollections are pretty much limited to a hazy figure across the dinner table, or someone reading the newspaper in his office on weekend afternoons.

The older I got, the more conscious I became that I had a hole I was seeking to fill. I sought out men to date who would play paternal roles in my life. I craved the approval and security I could only find in older men, trying to find men who would create the illusion of family, who would make me feel loved and taken care of.

Then I did this project, perhaps the ultimate stereotypical search for male-based approval, looking to these men, the ones who paid me to love them, for a security they could never really give me. I was forced to discover I would never get my father’s love from them; I would inevitably have to find it within myself.

However, it was only after I’d walked away from the porn work that I realized it had helped me break my father figure cycle in an unexpected way. By gaining financial independence and a stronger sense of my own sexuality, and hence a stronger sense of who I was, I had stopped drifting towards middle-aged men. Having my own apartment enabled me to create a home of my own, giving me an internal foundation of confidence and focus. I didn’t need an external force to create a sense of home and family—I managed to create one of my own. With more money in the bank, I could take myself out to dinner, I could buy my own pretty things, I could pay for my own drinks. I didn’t need anyone to take care of me.

It took a long time for me to acknowledge my reflex of seeking the nearest man’s approval—and to make it stop. The most desired approval, the one that I sought every day, was now my own.