"I've spent $40,000 on escorts"
Anna*, 42 is a divorced business manager from Sydney, NSW.
I was as nerve-racking as going on any first date. Fidgeting with the dress I'd painstakingly chosen for the evening, I walked into the restaurant wondering what I'd gotten myself into. I clocked him straightaway. Dressed in a suit, he was mid 30s, with dark hair and glasses. Not my type at all. I began to regret the $2000 I'd forked out for the evening.
"Recently divorced after a 15-year marriage, I'd spent months looking for a man I clicked with. But I'd begun to feel disillusioned. I wasn't simply looking for a relationship; after a deeply unsatisfying marriage I wanted to explore my sexuality, too. It seems extreme, but I wondered if turning to a professional might be the answer.
"After weeks of researching online, I rang an escort agency, nervous and unsure about whether I was doing the right thing. Realising it was my first time, they suggested Stephen.
"A week later, here I was, standing in an up-market Sydney restaurant fighting the urge to run. Instead, I walked towards Stephen - after all, I'd hired him for the next six hours - and introduced myself. Of course he'd done this before, and within half an hour we were chatting easily and I found myself being seduced. I called for the bill and we headed to my place.
"At home, he led me into the bedroom. But I couldn't relax. As he slid his hands over my body I felt myself tighten up. It felt so strange to be kissing someone I'd just met, and I felt embarrassed about my body. I went through with it, but the sex was distinctly average. I didn't orgasm. When I kissed him goodbye, it was with the feeling that it wouldn't happen again.
"But as the week went on, I began to feel annoyed with myself. I'd wanted to explore my sexuality and learn how to connect with and receive pleasure from a lover, but I hadn't got what I'd wanted. I decided to give it another try.
"I booked Stephen again; this time the sex was explosive. As he started pleasuring me, I became nervous again. But, sensing my anxiety, he reassured me: 'Just take your time, relax'. And with those words of understanding I started getting lost in the moment, reaching an orgasm I never thought possible.
"After that, I started paying Stephen for sex regularly. It was exciting and he helped me gain a confidence in the bedroom that I'd never dreamt of.
"Over the next few years, I had incredible experiences with male escorts, even flying an American one to Australia for a week. I'd seen him on a TV show called Gigolos and I fancied him like crazy. It cost $14,000, but was worth every cent. Some women might find the cost hard to justify, but I'm a successful businesswoman and pay for other services in life. I don't worry about how much I'm spending on sex.
"It was only recently that my escort experience went sour. I started seeing Andrew* and I felt myself getting drawn into an emotional attachment I'd never had with an escort before. I told him I cared about him and the next day his agency sent me a text to say I wasn't allowed to see him again. It was incredibly traumatic.
"I am in a relationship now and my escort days are over. My partner understands it was something that truly helped me grow and develop and, given how sexually confident I am now, he is also the one reaping the benefits!
"I paid for my ultimate fantasy"
Louise*, 32, is a photographer who lives with her boyfriend.
Ever since a previous partner and I experimented with bondage in my late 20s, I've loved being tied up. I like straightforward sex, too, but there's something particularly sexy about being ordered around and restrained.
"Whenever I've met new boyfriends they've generally been keen to try bondage, and my current boyfriend, Pete*, was no exception. But he didn't find it a turn-on in quite the same way I did, and after about 18 months together he stopped initiating it. I began to feel awkward asking to be tied up, and when he wouldn't oblige I was left feeling frustrated and unsatisfied.
"In search of an outlet, I went online and discovered a website called FetLife. It's a social networking site for people interested in fetishism, and I found people to chat to who understood my desires. It was on there that someone suggested I visit a professional mistress.
"At first I baulked. I didn't need to pay someone! But over the next few days, I kept returning to the idea, and the more I thought about it, the more exciting it became. When I mentioned it to Pete, he was encouraging.
"Buoyed by Pete's enthusiasm, I contacted a BDSM dungeon. Chatting with 'the headmistress' was incredible. Talking through what I wanted, it felt as though she could read my mind. I booked a session with her on the spot. Our arrangement was that I'd be tied up and dominated, but that there would be no other sexual contact.
"In the run-up to the dungeon session, my confidence flagged. What if I didn't like it? Could I really go through with it? On the day itself, I summoned up the confidence and nervously made my way to the address I'd been given. From the outside it was a completely innocuous building, but inside the rooms were completely decked out. The room I was led to contained a bench and a chair, as well as equipment like ropes, pulleys and paddles all hanging on the walls.
"The mistress was tall and dressed all in black, her hair scraped back off her face in a severe plait. The fact that she was a woman didn't matter. It was the feeling of subsuming control that I was focused on. My whole body crackled with anticipation as she walked towards me and manhandled me towards the chair. It was nothing like being with Pete. There was no fumbling of ties as she secured me and wrapped a blindfold around my face. I was completely lost in the moment. I knew I had my safe word if I wanted her to stop, but I absolutely didn't want her to.
"For the first hour I thought about nothing else. I was just totally overwhelmed and dominated by this stranger. I never realised until that moment just how much I enjoyed being powerless during sex.
"Back home with Pete, the images from that session were imprinted on my mind and when we had sex it was wild. He was impressed!
"It's been about six months now and I'm still replaying that experience. Understanding how important it is to me, Pete has become more open to playing the role of the dominant partner. I haven't been back to the dungeon, but may well do in the future.
"In my mind, we pay experts for everything else in life so why not for one of the most important aspects? My experience cost $300, but it has helped open up a side to me that I needed to explore. For all the confidence it has given me, it was worth that and more."