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My Close Encounter With Prostitution In Salt Lake City

December 16, 2011

Telling this part of my life lets a skeleton out of the closet. My example of courage and inspiration to other Mormon women was not warmly accepted by family or church leaders.

By 1986, I had been indoctrinated thoroughly and had an intense commitment to the LDS Church. I accepted their doctrine, as well as the absurdities, inconsistencies, improbabilities, and contradictions therein. For 16 years, I believed I was unique, safe and connected inside my marriage, inside my church.

There’s no way to sugarcoat the drama that happened after I realized the community sanctioned by God — with everyone wanting to live, love, and share — FOREVER — had been a delusion.

In 1989, before I learned how to fill my own gas tank, I was divorced… supporting myself on minimum wage… shunned… seeking answers to questions I didn’t know how to ask… making my own mistakes without a safety net…

In 1991, keeping a job was like mixing oil and water. I did not fit outside of the church-defined husband-dominated marriage. I needed deprogramming or behavior modification — ideology versus reality — if I truly wanted to live in the secular world.

There were many anecdotal possibilities. I chose a radical kind of shock therapy. I went to massage school in Santa Fe.

It was the final year of New Mexico’s non-regulated massage (read: draping the client was optional). The therapist could give lonnnnnng unrestricted head-to-toe and criss-crossing strokes that are so soothing, nurturing and relaxing. The following year, state laws required covering the client, except for the tiny area being worked on. Massage schools were self-regulating (read: inappropriate touching and sexual conduct were forbidden and resulted in automatic expulsion). These are important details to note as you continue reading.

I remember the first hour inside our hallowed classroom at Scherer Academy of Natural Healing. The instructor told 30 students to disrobe and stand in a circle holding hands. This x-wife of a Mormon Bishop — and perfectly compliant with church rule to keep her body covered, except during sex and bathing —  was not at all sure this was a good thing.

And then we were told to pair up and give each other a massage. For the first time in my life, I would be rubbing oil all over a stranger’s bare skin, and she would be rubbing me. Oh. My. God. I was fairly certain that nudity-and-rubbing-among-strangers would put me in a hot suite in hell.

I was called into the office and offered a full refund of my tuition. No-no-no. I was determined to succeed with my plan to shock myself into self-actualization. And so it came to pass. After practicing on classmates and clients every day, for six months – giving or receiving an average of 4-to-6 massages per day without draping (that means NAKED), I got comfortable with hands legitimately rubbing nude bodies (mine and theirs).

I graduated on August 23, 1991, and was voted the graduate who had changed the most. My classmates watched me as I grappled with disorientation and an inability to relate to people.  They watched me struggle to communicate and begin to think for myself. They watched me grow into a human being with a mind and wit. They supported my election to be excommunicated from the LDS Church.

I returned to Salt Lake City and opened a licensed therapeutic massage practice. 1991 was on the leading edge of public awareness and change. “Erotic massage” was done by prostitutes. “Swedish massage” was done on another continent. “Sports massage” was done on ring fighters at Jim’s Gym. “Therapeutic Massage” was unheard of.

I found a beauty salon with a new massage room in the back for their female patrons. Business was very slow. Actually, it was non-existent. It would have been easier to sell freezers in Antarctica than to sell a legitimate massage to a SLC Mormon woman.

I pounded the sidewalk handing out business cards and education pamphlets. The tanning salon next door had offered massages and tanning before it closed. The landlord agreed to refer his massage clients to me. Several John Smiths with fake phone numbers scheduled appointments for their $35 “total massage”. I did not allow them to turn over on their back. One guy would not stay down. So I pinned him on his side with pillows wedged front and back. He was NOT HAPPY when his penis went UNtouched. He paid me with a tirade. Ew.  And I was very glad for the protection of the busy beauty salon.

You may be a little bit curious about prostitution in Salt Lake City………

The history of Mormon toleration of prostitution dates back to 1870, as long as it was kept out of public eye. Historians claim Brigham Young owned most of SLC. He owned distilleries, tobacco places, and BROTHELS (all no-no’s according to Mormon rules) … because they were profitable business ventures.

There are tales about polygamous pioneers visiting prostitutes to get the kind of sex their wives were not allowed to give. There is an old joke about a guy (charged with necrophilia) pleading to the judge: “Honest, judge, I did not know she was dead. I thought she was a Mormon.”

Commercial Street (renamed Regent Street in the 1920s) was Salt Lake’s notorious red light district. Once a month, police arrested prostitutes and madams and fined them $50/each. After a physical examination, they were released and allowed to ply their trade until next month. The LDS Church’s connection with houses of prostitution remained an uncomfortable “official” secret until 1941.

But I know for a fact that prostitution was alive and kicking in 1992 when I lived there. I went on a job interview to a place advertising for a “massage therapist – no experience necessary”.

I showed the employer my Massage Certificate and Utah Massage Therapy License. He wasn’t interested in my credentials. He explained I would use feathers and fur and sensuous things, along with a standard massage. My uniform would be shorts and tank top. The pay was good.

Me: “How much time is allocated for each massage?”

He: “Until he’s done.”

Me: ..?……?…….?……?…he…?……?…

He just looked at me without expression. Said nothing. Watched the information trickle into my brain…………

My eyes darted around my surroundings. I was in a brick professional building, with big windows looking out onto beautiful gardens and a large landscaped parking area, in a nice part of SLC. The reception area was business like. Not a clue.

Me (gasping in horror when realization hit): “Oooooooooooooo! No-no-no-no-NO! “

He: (laughing) “I didn’t think so. But you are welcome to have the job if you want it.”

Me: “Ooooo! No-no-no-no-nooooo! “

I shared this experience with a successful Licensed Massage Therapist. He explained about Salt Lake City’s tolerance. He said there was a restaurant/bar fronting a brothel on South State Street — not far from Temple Square. It catered to Mormon men who needed something he could not ask his wife to perform. He said a sign hung in that particular brothel: “No penetration, No touching, Protect your temple vows.” He said he’d heard whispers about an unnamed church official frequenting there. Allegedly, he enjoyed the pain of weights tied to his genitals.

Thus ended my close encounter with Salt Lake City prostitution. In the summer of 1992, I moved to Washington state. The anatomy and physiology courses and medical terminology I learned at the Academy gave me the necessary background to do medical billing and number crunching.

From → Mormon Stories

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