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As a young boy, I was always roaming the streets of Lyon, my hometown in France. The red light district was only a few miles from my house, right in the center of the city. Prostitution was legal there, and whores on sidewalks awaited customers, displaying as much of their flesh as allowed by law. To me, they all looked beautiful and erotic. At twelve, my groin was already steaming at the sight of these luscious ladies. Regularly, I would swing by the district to have a look. I was fascinated. I would often pretend to be window-shopping in order to have a longer stare at them. As I walked by them, I would often say, "Hi." Getting close to them was absolutely the best. Even their smell I can still remember. Their world to me was something I wanted, their legs I longed to touch, and their breasts lookedso warm and open. Their mysterious and ritualistic world was something I wanted to fathom.
One time- I was probably fourteen-I went inside one of the dark buildings where I knew some prostitutes worked, climbing four or five floors listening at every door for sounds. With all my innocence, I was searching for clues about sex in that somber world.
At home, there was never any talk about sex, except when my older brother, then in his early twenties, would tell me privately about his kinky sexual prowess. Sex was still a mystery. My attempts to conquer girls at school were quite unsuccessful. Then at the age of fifteen, at a friend's party, I was introduced to a hard-core porn magazine from Sweden. For the first time I saw how women's and men's genitals (as well as numerous other parts) fit together. Staring at these images, the effect on me was like a hard drug. I was hooked! I had lost my innocence, and these images were like carved into my psyche. I came across similar pictures in my brother's bedroom, and secretly looked at them when he was gone. For years such images haunted me.
After that, my taste for masturbation increased and so did my appetite for pornography. My twenties were a disaster sexually, even though my first sexual experience at eighteen was sweet and powerful. My addictions to pornographic images clashed with the reality of sex, with all its imperfections, emotions and inconveniences.
On a visit to my hometown-I must have been 25-walking alone near the red lantern district, my groin got the best of me, and I went with my first prostitute. Her apartment was small, with a single bed. She washed my penis like a mother would do with her child. She asked me what I wanted. A blow job was my fancy. She asked me if I usually came quick. She proceeded with great skill and asked me if I also wanted to have intercourse. I declined, I was way too nervous. My ten bucks then, bought about three minutes of pleasure.
For the next ten years, I had many other encounters with prostitutes, in the US and abroad. I always got blow jobs. Whatever city I went to, I somehow always found them, as if magnetized to them. In 1988, I was traveling through Lisbon, Portugal. On the way back to my hotel from a night of drinking and listening to Fado music, I came across three prostitutes a couple blocks from my hotel. I knew they were there for me. I talked to one of them and followed her into her building.
Her room was also small but with a large bed. She was very plain, in her early forties. She too washed me very carefully, giggling as we could not converse. She knew "fuck" in English, and I knew "obligado"-thank you-in Portuguese. It made for poor conversational material! She was sweet like a mother, and even seemed to enjoy giving me oral sex. Drunk as I was, I could barely keep it up. I left without having an orgasm.
The next night, coming back from another round of drinking, I took that same street, and there she was, as if waiting for me. She greeted me with a smile. She was so real and innocent-looking. For the first time with a prostitute, I wanted to have intercourse. I took her from behind. Nervous and drunk, I wasn't very gentle and seemed to hurt her. The pain I saw on her beautiful face made me stop. It was as if a train had hit me. I put my pants back on, kissed her on the cheeks and left for my hotel.
I felt incredibly ashamed, sorry and sad. For the first time in ten years, after having been with many prostitutes, I was suddenly being honest with myself, acknowledging how lost I truly was, how addicted I was. I wrote profusely in my journal that night, as if laying out a confession. And I made a commitment to stop this habit. It became clear how these addictions and patterns were affecting my ability to be intimate and sexually fulfilled with my lovers.
Since then, much healing has taken place. I've had to be extremely committed and disciplined, just like any addict in recovery. Slowly, the magical and sacred world of sexuality has revealed its face, overshadowing the rubble of my pornographic past. Looking back at my youth, I wish that, at home or at school, sexuality could have been addressed in a wholesome, joyous, and simple way. Instead the vacuum got filled with what was cheap and readily available.
I never knew any of these ladies' names. I remember some of their faces. I am grateful to the woman of Lisbon. She was my last prostitute. r
Hugo Piottin is an entrepreneur during the day, and trance dancer and writer at night. He lives in Seattle and can be reached at (206) 323-1966
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