Lydia Faithfull works at Dennis Hof’s Alien Cathouse brothel (brothel review / brothel website) near Las Vegas. She’s a “madam on the menu” — that means she runs the show, but is also available to customers for sex. She specializes in BDSM as a dominatrix, but is also available for other services.
Before she started working at brothels, Lydia worked as an independent escort. She is also the talented writer behind the Ask a Hooker blog at vice.com.
♦ ♦ ♦
How did you initially get into sex work?
I started out escorting, and I did it for almost ten years, on and off. I never did it when I was in a relationship. If I got into a relationship, I’d cut off the escorting and go work a square job.
I also worked independently as a professional dominatrix, just going to people’s homes. I have some unusual friends, so I just put the word out there.
I didn’t start working in a legal brothel until a little over a year ago. I had just left a long-term relationship and I went from a two-person household to just by myself and I needed to make up for that. I had been dabbling with the idea of doing it fulltime.
I went to the Chicken Ranch first in Pahrump, then I went to Love Ranch North in Carson City, then to Love Ranch Vegas and then I ended up here at Alien Cathouse.
I found that I really love Alien Cathouse and I still feel it’s the best brothel I’ve worked in. It’s fun. It’s not pretentious in any way. The people who have worked here tend to stay.
Did you enjoy being an independent escort?
I didn’t. No. It’s expensive for one thing—placing ads. You have to publicize yourself. Plus, it’s a little scary—going into hotel rooms, not knowing who you’ll encounter.
Did you have any bad experiences?
No. I never did. I was very lucky. When I found someone and we clicked, they would become a regular and I didn’t pursue others. I had a handful of people that I worked with. I never had any legal problems. I’ve never been arrested for anything in my whole life. But I also was really big on the vetting process. I don’t take risks.
What do you like least about being a sex worker?
Probably the sacrifices I’ve made in my personal life. Like I don’t date or have relationships. I feel like I’ve lived ten lives, though. I’ve lived all over the country. I’ve had three long-term very serious relationships. I don’t really date around. I kind of stick with someone and I’m all in, so it’s a big sacrifice for me. It would be nice to be in a relationship, but I don’t think it would be fair for me to expect someone to be monogamous with me while I’m doing this work. It’s a trade-off. Most of the women who work here make big sacrifices like that.
Did you ever work as a stripper or try porn?
I never stripped. You have to stand in heels for six hours and break your ass on stage and leave covered in bruises from wrapping around the pole. What they make in six hours, I can make here in twenty minutes. Given the choice between going home with three hundred bucks for grinding on someone’s pants or making three thousand for actually fucking them, it’s a no-brainer. Why would you do that? Aren’t your feet tired?
Same thing with porn. I have a lot of friends who are porn stars. I think if you do it right, porn can be lucrative. If you hit the ground running when you’re 18, 19, 20, and build your brand early on. But I can do the same work here without being recorded and make the same amount of money that they make for a 10-hour shoot.
Is brothel work the most lucrative sex work?
I think so. A lot of independent escorts might disagree and say, “The house takes half of what you make and you have to spend a lot of money on STI tests.” But they spend a lot of money on advertising and hotel rooms and other things that I don’t have to worry about. And they’re also taking a great risk. The arrangement we have here in Nevada is unusual. This state is the only place in America where you can legally visit a house of prostitution. It’s legal in Europe and elsewhere—though the women are grossly underpaid. In Germany and Australia they have a huge influx of Russians and Eastern Europeans and Asians that will work in brothels for very little money. There is a brothel in Germany where you can do a $135 overnight. When we have clients who come in here and say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been to Amsterdam or Germany,” I’m like, Oh God … we have to start from the bottom and work our way up. In the brothels in Australia and New Zealand, the ladies make a tenth of what we do. They do higher volume, I will say that.
If brothels were legal all over the U.S., would the price of sex come down?
I’m sure it would.
You’re the Madam at Alien Cathouse. What does the Madam do?
I hire and promote the ladies. I do their scheduling. I schedule their doctors’ visits. I schedule the cashiers, the shift managers, little things like our grocery list. I work with our driver and manage her hours. All the office work, payroll, that kind of thing. But I’m also a “Madam on the Menu.” I specialize in BDSM, but I’m available for regular sex as well.
Is the dominatrix work much different from regular prostitution?
Some people don’t consider being a dominatrix sex work. I have worked in a legal dungeon and we weren’t actually offering sex of any kind. I have very little sex here when I have BDSM sessions. It’s not something my submissive clients are interested in. They don’t want to penetrate me, they want me to penetrate them. I have a profile on Fetlife.com, which is kind of like Facebook for the kink community. It’s a really great way to connect with other people in the BDSM community.
What do you like about being a dominatrix?
I like being in a niche market, not catering to everyone. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. If I throw out there that I’m looking for a man to fuck in the ass with a strap-on, then those guys will come and find me, as opposed to escorting where you never know what you’re going to get. It allows me to use my creativity.
Are there girls who get into this kind of work who shouldn’t?
Yes, there are, but not at Alien Cathouse where I do the hiring. I’m very conscious of that. I would never hire a woman who has a pimp or a drug addiction. I know that does exist out there, but I can be selective about who comes in. I’m choosy about the type of applicants I want. She has to be intelligent. She has to get along with the other ladies.
Are there a lot of applicants?
Oh, yes. I probably get ten a day. And that’s just me, just this house. They don’t all look how you would like them to. They don’t all have the right aesthetic. This is a fun environment to work in. I desperately want to hire a gay man for a bartender, so if there are any reading this …
Why a gay bartender?
I think it would be nonthreatening for clients coming in here and I think it would be a morale booster for the ladies. Sometimes you need male energy.
Do any Nevada brothels offer male prostitutes for women?
They tried that but it was a failed experiment. I think he booked maybe twice out of a couple months. It didn’t really work out. Women don’t pay for sex. We also tried a transgender woman at Love Ranch Vegas about a year ago. It didn’t go that well. I think it might work with an appointment-only scenario, like she’s available if you put down a deposit for her. But to have a trans person sitting around all day and getting rejected, I don’t think that’s very fair. That’s also a niche market, like a BBW would be.
How often do couples come in?
Quite a lot. I’ve had great luck with couples. I would say we get one couple a week. All different scenarios. I’ve had couples parties where it was just myself and the lady. Some guys just want to watch. Or just myself and the guy and she watches. Or both participate. For everything involved, it ups the price. It’s not free to watch either. Couples parties and overnights are some of my highest-paying parties.
Is brothel traffic seasonal? Is there a busy season?
A lot of it depends on the conventions in Vegas. During the summertime, we get a huge crowd from people driving to and from Burning Man. That’s a really big deal here. That was my last couples party that was really fun and exciting and different. I’ve done couples parties since then, but that one stands out. I like the Burning Man crowd. They’ve embraced Alien Cathouse and all of its weirdness. I’m in kind of a unique position here, because I’m an openly feminist political Madam and I don’t know of another. I don’t censor myself or my ideology.
What was Alien Cathouse before Dennis Hof purchased the property?
Before Dennis purchased it, it was called the Shamrock, and it was the Shamrock brothel for decades. The Alien Center store is over a hundred years old and people who believe in the paranormal believe it to be haunted. This place was owned by a guy named Joe Richards and it looked very different. It was a little tragic back then—mattresses on the floor, small narrow rooms, some boarded up windows. It had a pretty seedy reputation. When they did the renovation here they found a skeleton on the property. The could tell it was a woman from the pelvic bone, but they couldn’t identify the dental records.
I think Dennis dropped like five million on the renovation here. He was the first brothel owner to come in and invest serious money. I think he realized with the Bunny Ranch when he put in a beautiful pool and expanded the bedrooms, he really set the standard for what brothels should be—clean, well-lit, you should offer specialty services, a massage room, a dungeon. He forced every other brothel owner to up their game and create a luxury experience. HBO’s Cathouse was a huge boon for us. Clients understand now that they’re walking into a luxury experience.
Is it true that women who work in Nevada’s legal brothels have strict rules against going off the property?
That’s not true at all here. There are brothels in Nevada where that is the case, where women are allowed to leave for four hours at a time once a week. They call it Pussy Prison. You have your payday, you get to leave, you get to cash your paycheck, then run to Walmart and buy your stuff and you have to return by the specified time. But this is not true in any of Dennis’s brothels. When Dennis bought all of his brothels, every one had a fence around the property. The first thing he did was rip the fences down. He doesn’t want an environment where you feel like you’re in confinement in any way. The girls here make their own schedules. They give me their schedules and I set up their doctors’ appointments around their schedules. We are real independent contractors. When I worked at the Chicken Ranch, you could only use their email. My clients could only contact me via the chickenranch.com email. They wanted to monitor everything. Dennis does not play those games. Most of those types of places detest the media, while Dennis is like, “Come on in. Take pictures.” He’s an open book.
Can the ladies who work here do outcalls?
Nye County doesn’t go for that. It’s in the county’s brothel ordinance that we cannot do that. But I’m also licensed to work at the Bunny Ranch in Northern Nevada (Lyon County), where outcalls are allowed, so a client can book an outcall with me up there. So, I work in two different houses in two different counties. Nye County is a bit more conservative about some things.
Is the brothel business booming in Nevada?
Brothels are a shrinking industry in this state. Ten years ago, there were 33 brothels in Nevada. Now, there are 18. There are forty thousand escorts in Las Vegas. That’s tough competition. But there will always be men who are not willing to take the risk.
What would you like brothel customers to know? Are there any common misconceptions people have about this business?
I think many people believe that we’re disenfranchised and that’s not necessarily the case. It kind of shocks me when people come in and pull me aside and say, “Will they let you leave? Are you okay here? Are they treating you well?”
It kind of shocks me because if you’re under the impression that we’re being sex-trafficked, and you come in to ogle us in our underwear, that’s pretty sick. It’s not so much our customers, just looky-loos who want a tour. It’s funny when they treat us like we’re there against our will. Many of us make as much as surgeons, and you’re concerned about our well-being? It’s hilarious.
Wouldn’t the feminist movement consider you, if not the enemy, a victim of the enemy?
You’re thinking of second-wave feminism, which was less sex-positive. I consider myself a third-wave feminist. I was an adolescent in the 90s and there was a big cultural phenomenon called the Riot Girl Movement. A lot of women started playing in punk bands. It was like punk-rock feminism. I came of age just when that was happening and it made a huge impression on me that I still carry with me now. When I entered this business, it gave me a sense of empowerment. I’m not going to do anything that I don’t want to do.
So, third-wave feminism accepts women working not only in brothels, but in strip clubs, massage parlors, as escorts, or even in porn?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I would never tell another woman what she could do with her body. That’s very important to me. It’s important to me to hire women who are like-minded, who are here because they choose to be and they feel empowered by their decision. We truly are independent contractors. I got an email the other day from a man inquiring about his wife going to work here—asking kind of pimp-like questions. I responded with “Your wife is the one who should make this inquiry. We’re independent contractors. We make our own schedules. We set our own rates and make all our own decisions. Husbands have nothing to do with the hiring process.” He did not respond.
Tell me more about third-wave feminism. What’s first-wave and second-wave feminism?
First-wave was women’s suffrage. Second-wave was Gloria Steinem. The second wave had a lot of women-only consciousness raising groups. Third wave is sex-positive feminism. It’s also intersexual and all-encompassing. We believe in equal rights for trans people and women of color.
Do you think prostitution should be decriminalized?
There are a lot of sex workers who don’t support decriminalization. I do. Just as I support our right to work within a regulated system. There are those who believe that decriminalization is a threat to us in a legal brothel. But I don’t think so. I have clients who are cops, who are judges, who are lawyers, who would take a great risk seeing an escort on the Strip, whereas they know they can come in here and they’re totally safe.
I’ve always thought feminists considered all prostitution to be a form of violence toward women.
No, that’s not the case, although that attitude does still exist. I was on “This Is Life” (CNN TV series) with Lisa Ling. Her TV crew came to the Bunny Ranch up north and she hung out with us for a couple weeks and interviewed us and she was super cool. But when that episode aired there was so much backlash from people saying that CNN and Lisa Ling were promoting prostitution—which was not the case. She was just demystifying it.
It surprised me because most of the women that I interact with on social media are very supportive of what I do. So it was kind of shocking to me. That was the first time I had been truly attacked. They attacked the way I was portrayed, the way Dennis (Hof) was portrayed –there were probably about twenty of us on the show. That was my first interaction with the anti-prostitution crowd. They came after us pretty hard on Twitter. But I believe I held my own with them.
I’m not closeted in my life. My family knows what I do. All of my friends know. I have nothing to hide.
For more information on Las Vegas area legal brothels, see: “Las Vegas Area Brothels and Escorts — A Guide.”