Alexa Albert Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Alexa Albert
Photo: Lucy Bekheet

Alexa Albert

An interview with Alexa Albert

Alexa Albert reviews what she learned while researching her book "Brothel", and how it effected her understanding of prostitution in the US today.

Do you know where any of the women whom you met in the brothels are today, or could you speculate?
I am actually still in touch with many people from the industry including women and customers. In fact, I was just responding to an email from one woman I know. Some have moved to other legal brothels in Nevada to work, many continuing to work as prostitutes and some having decided to move into cashier or bartender positions. Some have quit the business entirely. Most all speak of missing the sense of community at Mustang.

How does this sense of community differs from what these women might have found elsewhere?
What was remarkable to me was the fact there was a sense of community in the brothel at all. Naively, I suppose, I didn't expect to find a "community" or sense of family within the brothel--which included not only the women with their complicated sense of sisterhood--ripe with both intense competition and camraderie--but also the brothel staff, with terribly loyal and protective bartenders, cooks, cashiers, laundry maids, etc. Then the community of customers who desperately wanted to belong: the regulars like Stewart who visits several nights a week and deems himself to be very important to and valued by the business, and Frankie who started a business to service brothel jukeboxes so he could spend even more time inside than he already did as a customer. The stories go on and on.

But is this really any different from us in our own workplaces? We all want to belong and fit into something bigger than ourselves. I don't think the brothel community is any different ... I just don't think most of us expected to find it.

What is the current status of the legalized brothel industry?
There are currently 27 legal brothels operating in Nevada. According to George Flint, this legislative session (which finishes up in the next week or two) was relatively easy for the industry ( no new bills that threatened the industry), despite Flint's fears that Mustang Ranch's recent closure might reinvigorate brothel opponents.

Is the appeal of the brothel, for either the worker or the customer, ever about the physicality of sex? Most of your anecdotes address the loneliness and low self-esteem that lead customers to the brothels--and for the prostitutes themselves, enjoying sex is frowned upon. What role does physical satisfaction play for the women and their customers?
There were definitely men who came to Mustang Ranch for the sex and for variety of partners. However, it seemed most of the men, including these ones, had trouble getting their sexual needs/desires met elsewhere and consequently ended up at the brothel. What this communicated to me was an inability to communicate frankly and vulnerably about sex in their private lives. In these instances, it seemed men didn't believe they could ask someone in their lives for a specific sex act or sex without commitment. So while they came to satisfy their basic physical needs, as it were, it seemed to stem from a fear/reluctance/inability to discuss their desires openly with others and/or to get them satisfied, which seemed very "relational" to me.

Some of the women did say they enjoyed the sex. Their responses ran the spectrum for those who absolutely denied any arousal with customers and those who said they did occasionally. But a few of the women said they loved the sex and consequently the job was really personally satisfying. This seemed hard for me to believe given my own prejudices but I have no reason to doubt these women as it was clearly a taboo within the industry to admit this in the first place. Again, in the book I mention that almost 1/5 of the women said that sex with customers was sometimes as good if not better than with lovers at home. But the women were there first and foremost for the income not because they enjoyed the sex.

I didn't meet women who said they chose to do this work because they wanted to have frequent sex. Although this myth is out there. But I did meet women who enjoy sex and knew they wouldn't be uncomfortable doing the job. Some of these women told me the job was a "win win" in that way for them.

Is there a high percentage of bisexuality among the prostitutes?
Very few women (three of 44 in my first condom study) identified themselves as bisexual (none identified themselves as lesbian). But many of the women (not all) spoke of experimenting while in the house and enjoying the intimacy they could find with each other.

What would you cite as some of the fundamental differences between legal and "illegal" prostitutes? Should prostitution be legal?
According to members of the brothel industry, women who are accustomed to working on the streets often have a tough time getting used to being contained and working under the eyes/scrutiny of management. Now a lot of folks on the streets have pimps who "manage" over them so they aren't really all "free" but when they do turn their tricks, as it were, they do have more physical liberties; they can solicit whomever and however they want versus waiting (tediously on slow days) for business to come to them. Some folks who sell sex on the street do it briefly, maybe to get their next "high," unlike what I saw in the houses where women really have to go through a whole relatively elaborate process to be able to work. I didn't meet women there just to get their next fix. I don't know if legalization would work for all prostitutes. Prostitution is not a monolith; there are some sex worker rights' activists opposed to any regulations who want to work freely without any laws. But unlike the system of criminalization we have in place now, which does not afford its workers any protection (legal recourse in instances of abuse, etc.), a legalized system in the end would be a social stand in the direction of protecting vs. further marginalizing these workers.

Are drug and alcohol abuse greater concerns within the brothels than they are in general in our society?
There was definitely drug and alcohol use and abuse in the house. But it often seemed not unlike other late night/long hour businesses (restaurants, bars, club scenes) in which the drugs helped people pass time and stay charged. It got boring in that brothel day after day, hour after hour.

Which of your findings surprised you the most?
Hard question for me because so many of my preconceived assumptions were turned upside-down after spending time in the brothels. I will list just a few. For example, I never expected:
a) to find a community had developed within this business, made up not only of the women but customers, ancillary staff, vendors and suppliers . . . a little hidden world . . . an insulated, almost self-sufficient subculture.
b) that the women would take their work so seriously with many taking real pride in their work and in their ability not only to satisfy a wide spectrum of men but to also do "quality" work. That they should care about this at all.
c) the WIDE variety of secret sexual desires men harbor and their seeming inability to communicate these to partners outside the business.
d) that the women maintain such control over their parties . . . that their customers are at no time in control or "own" the women (even though they paid for their services).
e) that the sex frequently became the least interesting thing going on in the brothel. Sometimes I forgot what the women were doing back in those rooms. At times I would be involved in talking with a few women and one woman might disappear with a customer for a half-hour, but when she came back she would jump right back into our conversation as if she'd never left.

What do you wish people understood about the brothel industry?
Many of the realizations that I made above. Principally that this is a job for these women. That sex for sale can happen safely . . . with no disease and no violence. That these women are expert condom users and very good at their work. That these women aren't amoral people but rather people trying to earn a living to support themselves and their families. That there remains a demand for sex for money and that we can't eradicate prostitution until we address that demand. That we aren't as sexually progressive and evolved as we think we are if we can't seem to request the sexual fantasies many of these men are wanting in our intimate personal relationships.

Who do you see as the audience for your book?
Everyone. Every one of us has at one time wondered what it must like to be a prostitute, to patronize a prostitute, and/or what the secret world of prostitution must be like ... and very few of us have ever had the opportunity to look inside the world of legalized brothels.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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Brothel jacket
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Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Alexa Albert but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
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    Paulo Coelho

    Paulo Coelho was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 1970, after deciding that law school was not for him, he traveled through much of South America, North Africa, Mexico, and Europe. Returning to Brazil after two years, he ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
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    Try:
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