01 February 2018

The Guardian - Andrea Werhun: 'It’s a really good time to talk about sex work'


Andrea Werhun: 'It’s a really good time to talk about sex work'

Modern Whore, the young Canadian’s memoir, is a candid account of her time as an escort. She explains how she ‘created something that’s never been made before’

Patricia Kozicka - Friday 22nd December 2017

Andrea Werhun grew up in a loving Toronto home, with supportive parents in whom she was always able to confide. When, aged 22, she told her father she had started to work as an escort, he gave her his blessing. The situation was more complicated with her mother, a devout Catholic, or as Werhun, now 27, describes her, “a ride-or-die fan of the Virgin Mary”.

The confession happened at her mother’s home, which Werhun compares to “a shrine dedicated to the Mother of God, with pictures of her on the walls, framed by rosaries and tastefully pinned by crucifixes”. It went as disastrously as expected. Werhun writes: “As I left that night, I told her that being honest had extinguished the fire inside that threatened to burn me alive. ‘Well,’ she said morosely. ‘You just lit me on fire.’ I cried the whole way home. I had burnt my loving mother with the truth.”

This is one of a few painful moments Werhun shares in her debut book Modern Whore. Pairing stylised shots by photographer and friend Nicole Bazuin with insightful and humorous anecdotes about some of the 500 johns she slept with during her two-year escorting stint, Werhun’s account of life as Mary Ann, her former escort identity, is hilarious and charming. She’s bold and candid, even rebutting a few of her clients’ reviews with her own assessments of them. Werhun hopes to help destigmatise the world’s oldest profession with her “sex worker memoir/art book”.


To be a whore is to exist outside the bounds of female respectability and frankly, many of us would prefer to stay there
Andrea Werhun

“There’s no other work in that genre as far as we know, which is exciting. It feels like we’ve created something that’s never been made before,” she says. It’s late at night and Werhun is sipping tea at the Toronto cafe where she wrote parts of the book. Though she’s just flown in from Japan, she’s full of energy and generous with her time. She looks less done up than in the book’s photos, yet still exudes a casual glamour and confidence. “I feel like I’ve got a story to tell that only I can tell, and we created a book that only we can make. I have nothing to be ashamed of because we created a really beautiful piece of art.” 

Modern Whore was a huge success on Kickstarter, raising more than CAD$20,000 (£12,000) to pay for publishing costs – and then some. Werhun and Bazuin chose to use “whore” in the title as a way of re-appropriating a term that, as Werhun says, “has historically been used to put transgressive women – sexual or simply difficult – in their place. We fear the accusation of sexual impropriety like the plague. To be a whore is to exist outside the bounds of female goodness and respectability, and frankly, many of us would prefer to stay there.”


It’s been a year since Werhun came out publicly as a former sex worker, and to no longer have to hide her past is an enormous relief. Not long ago, her feelings of shame were so crippling that, in an effort to bury her memories, she moved to Ontario to work on a farm for two years with her long-term boyfriend. Werhun dedicates the book to him and her mother.

Werhun’s early sexual development was a catalyst of her innate curiosity. By age 10, her breasts were already fully developed and she was catcalled on her way to school. She discovered pornography around the same time. One of her most vivid childhood memories is of sitting in the school canteen at that age and thinking: “No one knows I have a porn addiction.”

Becoming a sex worker was an option that occurred to her while she completed her English degree. She was a barista at the time, and noticed that a bit of cleavage and a couple of jokes would land her more tips. “I was like: ‘Wait a second. I am using my sexuality to make money here.’” Her dark eyes light up as she remembers the epiphany: “Why would I slave away in poverty … when I could be making a lot more money and getting straight to the point?”

As much as she enjoys sex, she enjoys conversation and connection even more. Learning new things and feeding her curiosity about people and their complexities is what she misses most about escorting (aside from the money and flexibility). Werhun was known for the “girlfriend experience”, an escorting style that involves seduction through intellectually stimulating conversation. One of the downfalls of this expedited intimacy was that she grew attached to some of her unattached regulars. The vast majority of her clients, she says, were “bland businessmen with wives and children”.

While some may fault her for sleeping with married men, she refuses to be blamed for their indiscretions. “In a perfect world, the wife and the whore could coexist,” she argues. “They both serve a function. However, what’s missing is male honesty. Because it’s so easy to blame both the women in the situation for not fulfilling the man’s desires. But the problem is the man is lying about his desires.”

The #MeToo movement has launched an important discussion that Werhun hopes her book can contribute to. “I think it’s a really good time to talk about sex work because we’re talking about sex more openly – sexual abuse, harassment, and rape. I actually think we’re in a place where the more critically minded of us can confront these issues head-on.”

She’s optimistic that change can be achieved. Her mother is proof of it. Her attitudes to sex have truly transformed, Werhun says, and she is proud of the book. “So proud, in fact, that she asked that several copies be put aside for her so she can share them with her friends. It wasn’t always like this, of course. The news that I was a sex worker horrified her. She mourned for my future, feared for my life, called me crying in the middle of the night. But we never stopped talking, and I never stopped making my case that sex work was work, and that we ought to be afforded the same human rights as anyone else under the law.”