When Harvard medical student Alexa Albert conducted a public-health study at the Mustang Ranch brothel in Nevada, the only state in the union where prostitution is legal, neither she nor the brothel could have predicted the end result. Having worked with homeless prostitutes in Times Square, Albert was intimate with the human devastation caused by the sex trade, and curious to see if Nevada's brothels offered a less harmful model for a business that will always be with us. The Mustang Ranch has never before given an outsider such access, but fear of AIDS was hurting the business, and the Ranch was eager to get publicity for its rigorous standards of sexual hygiene. Albert was drawn into the lives of the women of the Mustang Ranch, and what began as a public-health project evolved into something more intimate and ambitious, a six-year study of the brothel ecosystem, its lessons and significance.
The women of the Mustang Ranch poured their stories out to Albert: how they came to be there, their surprisingly deep sense of craft and vocation, how they reconciled their profession with life on the outside. Dr. Albert went as far into this world as it is possible to go -- some will say too far -- including sitting in on sessions with customers, and the result is a book that puts an unforgettable face on America's maligned and caricatured subculture.
Chapter I: The Opening
The postmark read "Reno Nevada, 24 Dec 1992." I stared at the envelope for a long moment before opening it. Reno? My mind was blank. Then it came to me: the brothel. For three and a half years, off and on, I had tried to convince a man named George Flint, executive director of the Nevada Brothel Association, to grant me permission to conduct a research study inside Nevada's legal brothels, the only licensed houses of prostitution in America. My letters and telephone calls had been for naught; Flint stood firm that the brothel industry wasn't available for a researcher's examination. "Brothel people are very private people," he had told me. "They don't like people nosing around."
It had become a ritual to send him a card every year reminding him of my project. I had long ago stopped entertaining any serious hope that he would agree, so I was in a slight daze when I tore open the envelope and read: "Your holiday card arrived earlier today. ...
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