Thursday, April 3, 2008

For A Good Time, Call Jennifer

originally published in the Hartford Advocate and Fairfield Weekly, April 5, 2007

For A Good Time, Call Jennifer

My Brief Career As a Phone Sex Worker

By Jennifer Abel

"Oh yes," I sighed. "Yes. Right there. Please - oh! Oh, God. Harder. Please, oh God, Simon, don't stop. Oh yes Oh, yes ooooooh." My words melted into incoherent moans.

"You like that, don't you?" Simon's husky voice demanded.

"I love it," I gasped.

"You smell so good," he groaned. "Oh my God." He literally screamed upon reaching his finale, and I turned my head just enough to keep his loud cries out of my ear. "That was amazing," he finally said. "Thank you."

"No, thank you," I murmured.

"You have a great day, Jennifer," Simon said, and hung up the phone. I resumed normal breathing as I scrawled in my notebook: "Simon, hardcore sex call, came and went in eight minutes. Thanked me before hanging up, very nice of him." I would've written more but the phone rang again, so I picked up the receiver for another performance.


My phone sex career was (ahem) conceived the previous week, when I strolled into my boss's office and said "Good morning, Alistair. I saw a help-wanted ad for a phone sex line. No experience necessary! And I'm told I have a nice phone voice. Can I try it?"

Editors always smile when their writers say such things. "If you feel comfortable with that, go right ahead."

"I don't feel comfortable at all," I said cheerfully. "I expect I'll be quite awful. But won't it be fun to write about?"

With a fast Internet connection you can find a phone chat job in under a minute. I signed on with a company that runs psychic hotlines and straight and gay sex lines for men. After filling out the online application I got an e-mail telling me it was being processed, and meanwhile here's the pay scale, job requirements and password to a restricted Web site where I could print out an employee handbook.

Two words for anyone who wants to get rich giving phone sex: don't bother. In theory, you can make up to 40 cents a minute, but to get that you have to do at least 60 calls a week with an average call length of 10 minutes or more. If your calls average six minutes or less, you only make a nickel a minute and risk being fired. (And you're only paid for when you actually talk, not the time spent waiting for the phone to ring.)

But the deck's stacked so a high average is hard to get. For example, you have to hang up if you get a call from a minor, but that means a five-second call bringing down your average. There's no appeals process to say, "Yes, that was a short call but it doesn't count."

If, despite the low pay, you still want to work in phone sex, the other main requirements are a land-line phone connected by a wall cord (nothing cellular or cordless, lest a 10-year-old with a ham radio listen in) and a quiet place to work without interruptions.

The next morning Alistair looked quite interested as I explained how the pay scale worked, but when I mentioned the need for uninterrupted privacy he gave me an intent look. "Are you sure you're up to this? Emotionally?"

"Oh, sure," I said airily. "It'll be -"

"Seriously ," he said, so I changed tone too.

"Seriously? If I were looking for an actual second job, I wouldn't even consider this. But it'll be a funny story."

"All right. But you stop the minute you start feeling creepy. I'm serious."

"Of course I will," I promised.

Sex lines, psychics and other pay-per-call services started in 1980, when the FCC ruled that phone companies couldn't put limitations on the content or ownership of so-called Dial-It services, where customers could call phone numbers (usually in the 976 exchange) for weather forecasts, horoscopes and other oft-updated information and have a per-minute fee added to their phone bill.

Once businesses other than the phone company could run paid calls, there appeared almost immediately a service known as "dial-a-porn," where customers could hear recordings of women describing graphic sex acts. Naturally, dial-a-porn inspired laws to shut it down on obscenity grounds until 1983, when the Supreme Court deemed such content bans unconstitutional.

Now phone sex is a billion-dollar-a-year industry, and when the numbers come out for 2007 a couple hundred of those dollars will have been shelled out by guys talking to me.


While waiting for the chat line to process my application I implemented a half-assed training program: I watched the fake-orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally and read the sample scripts in my employee handbook.

Success in phone sex requires a good voice, salacious imagination and ability to talk drop-dead raunchy without embarrassment. The third one matters most in phone porn, where even Jenna Jameson's libido won't help you if superimposed over the vocabulary of a nun.

The third one worried me. I know how to flirt but that's all implication and innuendo - everything phone sex is not. Those sample scripts used nouns and verbs I don't even utter to the gentlemen who've applied them to me. However, English is a versatile language. Many of its rude words do double-time as syllables in terms so respectable even a nun can say them. So I practiced the full-length versions as a prelude to the vulgar abridgements.

"Cockamamie," I said. "Tittering pussy-willow dictator." I also bought a large bottle of chocolate liqueur.

On Sunday a woman from the chat line called to give me my extension, pass code and the toll-free number I'd call to log in.

To simplify matters I decided to use my real name and description (minus a few years off my age). The important part of the message dealt with my ideal man. The preferred answer was "breathing," but I had to be pickier. Though the handbook talked about many different types of callers I could expect, they basically fell into two categories: men who took the lead in calls, and men who expected the woman to.

A phone-sex call with me taking the lead? No. I needed an introduction that would enflame the take-charge guys while leaving the meek ones cold. So I described myself as a hot 27-year-old and added "I like a strong man who knows what he wants and knows how to get it. If that's you then pick me so I can give you what you want."


Alistair agreed next morning when I suggested I take the afternoon off to sit alone in my empty apartment and wait for obscene phone calls.

I went home at noon. Of course I had to eat lunch first, and the coffee table needed clearing, and hey, here's that barrette I was looking for, better put it away so I don't lose it. . . By 1:30 p.m. I stopped procrastinating.

But I better use the bathroom before I start. And I should really -

The phone rang. I answered and heard a recording from the Dispatch Center, saying they needed agents to work the lines now so stay on if I could.

Oh, hell! I grabbed a notebook and pen and downed the shot I'd poured. After a few seconds I heard, "Thank you, agent 5380. Please enter your four-digit passcode followed by the pound sign." I did. "Thank you. You are now logged out. Press one to log in."

Two o'clock. The phone rang at 2:01 p.m. and a recorded male voice said "Hardcore sex call. Press one for hardcore sex call." Here goes.

"Hey, it's Jennifer," I said softly. Complete silence. "What's your name?" More silence. I pressed one again, and hung up after hearing more nothing. I got three more silent calls, and at 2:08 I hung up to log out and in again. The phone rang before I could.

"You're 18 or 19 and hold nothing back. Press one for 18 or 19 and hold nothing back."

What happened to 27? I pressed one and said, "Hey, it's Jennifer," for the fifth time in eight minutes, doubting anyone would actually answer.

But a man's voice said hello! It was Jay, my first phone sex partner.

Phone sex is like the real thing, in that no woman's good her first time and if she says she was she's lying. Jay expected my clueless virgin self to take command of the situation and I had no idea how, so I asked "What do you want me to do for you, Jay?"

He wanted to hear me have a good time. With no assistance from him.

The handbook says phone performers do better if they get into a fantasy. Okay: I'm in a diner eating lunch with Billy Crystal. Moan. Gasp. A few soft-core phrases from the manual. I sounded a little stilted but Jay got the happy ending he sought and hung up just after I heard the telltale gasping on his end of the line.

A successful call from Jay's perspective but a failure from the company's viewpoint, lasting only three minutes.

The next two callers were jokers; I actually heard the third guy's friends snickering on the line. And between those two I picked up the phone to hear, "You are a mistress with a strap-on dildo."

Like hell I am. I hung up.

Discouraged, I logged out after the third caller and e-mailed an update to my editor: "I am very very bad at this, here."

Good editors always respond with prompt encouragement and guidance. "I'm sure it takes practice."

I logged back in.

Alistair was right: it does take practice. After an hour I could stretch calls out for eight to 12 minutes, though my average was still pretty low: I hung up on one kid so young his voice hadn't changed yet, and 30 seconds into "press one for a 15-minute credit card call" I heard a beep and a metallic voice: "You have one minute left."

By 4:30 my routine, when sanitized, boiled down to: "Let me unzip you. Wow, that's impressive. I'm inspired to do things to it - My shirt is off. Behold the grandeur of the twins. Oh, it must be cold in here - I'll remove my underwear too. What, you'll do it for me? Forsooth, that feels nice."

And the Foley artistry. The first time a caller wanted to hear me being spanked, all I could think to do was draw my knee up next to the receiver and slap it. It worked until I started laughing and failed to disguise that as passionate gasps.

For imitating Clintonian acts I filled a small bowl with water, to wet my fingers when I needed to start sucking on them. This technique also conveys helpful voice-muffling qualities. Some guys even like the occasional gagging sound, which proved useful when I swallowed water down the wrong pipe and had a coughing fit.

"You chokin' on me, baby?" the caller asked.

"Yes - cough - you're so big I - cough - don't know if I can - cough handle it - cough oh God - ha hamf humf."

But I couldn't rise to all challenges (or get the caller to, which is the same thing). One call went well until the man said he'd just used my mouth as a toilet and wanted to know how that tasted. "Hell on a biscuit, honey, how should I know?" I wanted to say, but that would be unprofessional. So I guessed. "Uh, salty?"

Must've guessed wrong. He hung up.


Not counting the disconnects and kid hang-ups, I took around 24 calls that day. Most of the guys wanted a quick phone roll in the hay, but a few had an emotional component to their fantasy. Simon, the one who told me to have a great day before he hung up, acted like his first time with a woman he'd long loved.

But they were rare. Most of the guys liked name calling, with dirty bitch, nasty slut and filthy whore punctuating their chats. I don't know if that's standard for phone sex or the result of my "strong man" message (why strength should mean abuse is another question). And I could hardly interview the guys about their motivations when they were paying by the minute to chat with me.

By quarter after six I felt pretty jaded. "Press one for hardcore sex call."

"Hello, Jennifer," my caller said pleasantly. "My name is Nikolai and I'm a dominator. I'm looking for a pretty woman to be a submissive. Would you like to do that, Jennifer?"

You know how sometimes you don't notice your refrigerator running until it shuts off? His voice struck me like that. All my calls, even minus their X-rated content, shared a quality I hadn't noticed until Nikolai spoke without it: a pay-by-the-minute rather than conversational tone. He spoke in complete sentences with clear enunciation. None of my other callers sounded like they'd willingly read a book in their lives.

This man sounded like the men I know.

As for his request, all I knew about S&M were its pop culture handcuffs-and-black-leather stereotypes. His familiar tone made me slip out of character, so I answered with my normal voice instead of my breathy oh-yes one: "I don't know. What would that entail?" I quickly amended, "I mean, I've never done that before."

"Really? You haven't?" He sounded genuinely surprised.

Oops! Go in for the save. And don't use words like entail. "Maybe you could show me how." I paused. "You'd be nice to me, wouldn't you, Nikolai? You wouldn't hurt me?"

Bingo. "Oh, I'll hurt you, you stupid little slut. You deserve it. But I won't hurt you as badly if you do what you're told."

He sounded angry and the abrupt change surprised me, but I figured it part of his game. Spanky-spanky, I thought. Middle-class suburban vanilla S&M play. I've seen it in skits on Comedy Central.

"I'll do what I'm told," I said. This at first entailed my repeating the statement along with his name and various affirmations. He made me describe my appearance and then said, "I'm going to put a lot of bruises on that pretty white skin."

All day I'd heard fantasies I found repulsive, but Nikolai's were the first that would cause actual damage if played out. He wants to bruise me? Even as a fake-out that bothered me, and my real voice re-appeared when I said "No, I don't want you to do that."

And from his next response crawled the slimy fantasy that slithered through the stinking wasteland of his libido: he said he'd rape me, strangle me, and cut off body parts I'd much rather keep.

I let out my night's only genuine gasp, and almost hung up. But no - I wanted to see what these calls were like, right? Hell of a story. Besides, it's only a phone call with some distant stranger.

So I stayed on, and faked neither bewilderment nor horror when I asked, "Why - why would you want to do such a thing to me?"

"Because you deserve it, you stupid little bitch."

All right, I can see where this is going. I'm supposed to beg him not to. I did.

The storyline got worse. Three minutes into it he started threatening my (imaginary) little sister, too. Again I almost hung up, but suggested he do things to me instead. He agreed.

"Get down on all fours, you dirty bitch. I just kicked you in your side. I just smashed your pretty little face. How does that feel?"

He called me pretty dozens of times in the context of destruction: bruise my pretty skin, rip out my pretty hair, smash my pretty face. If the beating were real I'd've been dead six minutes into the call.

I've long known sadists existed, but only in the abstract; I'd never actually talked to one. Doing so was like feeling pain after a lifetime of only reading about it.

And this sadist who daydreamed of torture and murder was the only man all day who sounded like the ones I know.

I think I lost it. At some point the call became almost real: this man wants to do horrible things and I have to talk him out of it!

Fifteen minutes later he started building up to the climax of his story: he wanted to hear me say, "I'm a stupid little slut who deserves to be raped and strangled and have my tits cut off."

That's what almost made me hang up at the start. I didn't hang up now, but I couldn't say that sentence. I'd spent the whole day in character uttering words I'd never said before, but I did. Not. Want to say that sentence. I spent several minutes trying to bargain out with less extreme variants. Finally, I managed to choke out the phrase and added, "But please, don't do that! Please?"

Silence. The air collapsed, somehow. I thought he'd hung up. Then he spoke again, in the same friendly, cultivated, every-man-I-know tone he'd introduced himself with 20 minutes before.

"Thanks for playing along with this, Jennifer. Bye-bye."

I logged out for good soon after. A few calls came through but none lasted more than two minutes - I'd lost whatever competence I'd gained.

I'd been had. The son of a bitch wanted a mind fuck, not a phone one.


The next night I thought I'd change my greeting and try one more shift to collect more data, but my password didn't work and I got a curt e-mail saying the company "is no longer purchasing your services." Too short a call average, I guess.

That's how you get fired from a phone sex line. At five cents per minute, I made around three or four dollars. I don't mind being a phone-porn failure, but it was damned annoying to sit in Alistair's office later and admit, "OK, you could maybe make the argument I was just a tad overconfident when I told you I could handle this."

But I would've been right, had I quit before that call from Nikolai. There's a warped lesson on the value of perseverance. And I learned another useless lesson from the night's events: a sense of ironic detachment strong enough to sustain you through spanking your knee and fellating your fingers won't do jack to prevent a sadistic murder fantasy from scaring the hell out of you.

Obvious in retrospect, isn't it?

There's a lot of paperwork required to claim your first and only paycheck from a sex chat line. But I won't cash it when it comes. No, I'll buy a dollar-store frame and keep it on my desk, and then someday - if God is good to me - an unsuspecting person walking through the office will say, "Why, Jennifer, whatever is that check?" And I'll flash a smile filled with sunshine and innocence, and say "That's the cumulative lifetime royalties from my career in phone porn."

Oh God, oh please, oh yes.