Chris Arnade Photography

The Currency of the Desperate

“Sucking dick, that’s what I do.” – Pepsi


Almost all female addicts and many male addicts, the poor ones, the homeless ones, “suck dick” for their money.  They do not like it. They are not proud of it, but it’s what they do. Says Pam, “I hate it. I hate it. I feel filthy after, but I am addicted to the money.”

Momma is an older woman in the Methadone clinic in Hunts Point. She spends her time sitting on a low wall across the street from the clinic. She is, by Hunts Point standards, clean. She spoke with me for a half hour detailing her past drug use, her past addiction. Near the end I asked her if she ever did sex work. “Shiiiiiiiiiiit, of course! Honey, are you fucking crazy? I was addicted to crack. It was my daddy and my daddy made me suck dick.”

One recent night two older male addicts, long time users of heroin, were drunk on Cobra and high on dope, hanging out in front of the bodega. I usually see them collecting pallets or scrap metal, so I asked them how that business was going.  The older one said, slurring, “We scrap metal, but we also do other stuff, you know. Yes, we suck dick if we need to. I ain’t like that. I ain’t queer, but I need money now and then.” They have never mentioned it again, nor have I asked.(Dumpsters)

Oral sex, fellatio, accounts for about 85% of what the prostitutes of Hunts Point do. They take the johns to the “Dumpsters,” an empty lot where construction dumpsters are stored. They take them to the back of parked semis. They take them to an empty parking lot near the old Coke factory. They take them there and they “suck their dicks.”

Most sex takes place with a condom. BBJ, or bare blowjobs, blowjobs without condoms, are only reserved for the real regulars. Says Takeesha, “I have this one guy. He comes every week. White guy. I ask him to bring me HIV test results every few months. Him I do without a condom.”

Why is it that the currency of desperation is sucking dick? Why is it only men paying for a woman to provide them a sexual favor? You don’t see women cruising around looking to pay men to orally please them. You can snicker and laugh at the question, but ask yourself again. Why? Is it biological? Is it cultural?

The demand side of the equation is clear. Men will pay for oral sex.  Go to Hunts Point and stand on a corner.  Watch the cars, windows half-rolled down, men slouched, driving in circles, shopping for a woman. Married men, older men, recent immigrants removed from their family.


There is very little good said about the johns.  Hollywood may love the idea of a prostitute being saved by a john, but being saved from violence by johns is what occupies the sex workers minds. Everyone who walks the streets has a story of being raped, of being attacked, of being beaten up and robbed.

The total control of addiction and the scant resources available to the poor provide the supply: Addicts desperate for money.

Oral sex is “quick money,” twenty bucks for fifteen minutes. The women try to become numb to it, a very intimate personal act that through drugs, experience, and desperation they hope to turn into a very impersonal act. “I don’t think about it. I just do it.”  The condom provides an addition layer of removal.

The women take huge risks. They jump into a stranger’s car, alone on desolate streets, and often ignored by the police. With oral sex they have more control than if they are naked and having intercourse.  The men are somewhat vulnerable, exposed in a woman’s mouth. “I can grab his balls, or bite him if he tries to fuck with me, and I have.”

They are not proud of what they do, but they are also not embarrassed. Society might want to ignore them, shun them, laugh at them for sucking dick, but they don’t really care. Some even brag, “I am damn good at it.”

They try to turn it into a job, a job that is separate from who they are, but most can’t.  Pepsi was talking to me at the McDonalds. “I have to tell you, Chris, I don’t think I can ever enjoy sex again. That makes me cry, makes me sad. I used to have such fun with my husband. We did everything. We loved each other. Now, I won’t let myself get to close to someone, can’t let myself be vulnerable. I do it for money. I don’t think I will ever be able to enjoy sex again.”

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    "Honey, are you fucking crazy? I was addicted to crack. It was my daddy and my daddy made me suck dick.”
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