Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Sometimes, when I’m having a bout of writer’s block, I scan through the pages of my Facebook friends and revel in their latest feats. Yes, there are pictures of vacations, new babies, and drunken nights on the town, but sprinkled among them are selfies with Ron Jeremy, photos of strippers in teeny-tiny outfits, and links to articles about the newest innovations in sex toys.

I am a full-time freelance writer, but there were a few years when my passion didn’t pay the bills. We’ve all done odd jobs to make ends meet, whether it’s babysitting, flipping burgers at McDonald’s, or working as a personal assistant to Hollywood tyrants. To fund my budding career in journalism, I moonlit in the adult entertainment industry. It’s not exactly what you’re thinking; I am not — nor have I ever been — a porn star. For three years, I had a side hustle as a promo model, and some of my work involved the historically controversial industry of sex. To this day, only a handful of my closest friends know about this side of me. For most people, this revelation would be a total surprise.

I grew up in the Detroit suburbs, where the nearest I got to seeing a provocative film was trying to watch Fear at a friend’s house. Her father abruptly clicked off the TV when he walked into the room and saw Marky Mark gearing up to fondle Reese Witherspoon on the rollercoaster. My parents were just as conservative. Aside from the initial birds-and-the-bees breakdown, sex was never a topic discussed in our house. My parents weren’t fond of me taking overnight trips with long-term boyfriends, and they shunned the idea of me moving in with my husband before we were married. (I did it anyway, but didn’t tell them until four months later, when we got engaged.)

I started modeling as a teen. It was always a side gig, and a great way to pocket extra cash for traveling and concert tickets. It wasn’t something that I thought would stick, but when I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in writing and entertainment, I was quickly introduced to an agent who signed me to do some promotional modeling. On weekends and during the occasional evening, I wrangled people into photo booths at concerts to pose with a bottle of Coca Cola, gave out free Jack Daniels shot glasses on the Sunset Strip, and helped people make custom T-shirts at screen-printing conventions. Everything was very vanilla until one day, when my agent called me with a great paying gig — $2,000 for a two-day event — for a small business just breaking into the sex-toy market.

The company was called Masque, and the product was a dissolvable strip that you placed on your tongue to “mask” the flavors associated with oral sex. My job was to put on a skirt suit and man a booth at the adult-industry trade show AVN.

I came home after the first night of work and felt surprisingly empowered. The job was so outside my normal comfort zone — I was in my late 20s, married, and was raised to believe that everyone involved in the adult entertainment industry had STDs, drug addictions, or criminal records — and yet, I had so much fun. I liked the people I met, and I was excited to help a small business get off the ground. But with my traditional upbringing, I couldn’t help feeling guilty. I didn’t give my parents many details about the gig in Vegas. I also downplayed the whole ordeal to my friends, except for a few in my inner circle who were open-minded — and had no connection to my writing career. I was worried about people judging me the way I once stereotyped anyone who worked in the sex industry. I felt it best to keep it to myself.

The Vegas gig wasn’t just a one-off. I started working for Masque regularly, and then eventually took on other jobs within the industry. I passed out samples to attendees at a party at L.A.’s Pleasure Chest, where 57-year-old porn star Nina Hartley demonstrated the proper way to give fellatio. I was photographed for the real estate brochure of the self-proclaimed “King of Porn’s” $4.5 million house. “We want to have some girls in the background to make the house seem more luxurious,” he said, from the balcony of his gilded foyer. Sure, the pay was good, but I also found I really liked the people I was working with. And the job was fun!

I have my own selfie with Ron Jeremy. I had dinner with a guy who makes vibrators shaped like rubber duckies. I befriended a bondage guru over the fact that we both hate ET and love Alanis Morissette. I’ve critiqued my friend’s caricature that was painted via the male appendage on “Pricasso.” And these experiences have changed me for the better. I left my comfort zone. I threw out the concept of “normal” and realized that people in the industry are doing what the rest of us are — hustling to earn a living. Many of my colleagues are married, too, and some are proud parents. They were not the slimy scum of the earth some might assume them to be. They love what they do. How many people can truly say that about their jobs?

After five years, Masque went out of business. And my focus returned solely to my writing career. But I did one final promo job for my agent before wrapping up that chapter of my life. I got hired by a company to promote its latest thermal technology at a solar-panel convention. On the job, a man dropped a beer bottle on the floor and, while picking it up, attempted to look up my skirt. As I walked off the gig mid-shift, it really hit home how my initial reservations about the sex industry were unfair. As the porn stars say, the adult world is nothing but professional.

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