Christina Parreira worked in Nevada’s legal brothels in order to pursue her PhD

Christina in Red Rock Canyon State Park in Las Vegas.
Christina in Red Rock Canyon State Park in Las Vegas.
Image: Siyi Chen
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

In August, two Quartz reporters, Allison Schrager, who’s also an economist, and Siyi Chen, a video journalist, traveled to Carson City, Nevada to visit the famed Moonlite Bunny Ranch Brothel. They interviewed some of the few legal sex workers in America, and found that to really understand the work, they also needed answers to some basic questions. Here, Christina answers some of these questions in her own words. The following is lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Christina Parreirra (her real name), in her early thirties, had a different reason for working in the brothel. She is a doctoral candidate in sociology at UNLV. Setting a new bar for dedication to field work, she worked at the Alien Cathouse (a Hof-owned brothel in Southern Nevada) for research.

Back in 2012 she was doing a PsyD at the University of Hartford. Christina already had experience (various forms of pornography) and an interest in sex work. In 2013 she moved to Nevada and enrolled in UNLV’s PhD program in sociology. Soon after that, she approached the Alien Cathouse about living there and doing research. They told her only if she worked there too. Following a long talk with her advisor, she agreed. During her second semester, she worked at the Alien Cathouse on-and-off for six months, took a long break, and returned this past summer. Now that the semester started, she does not work at the brothel as she’s too busy with grad school.

On what brought her to the brothel:

I knew that I wanted to speak to the women. And that’s how I ended up working with them because that, as I found, was (at least for me) the best and the easiest path to get in and get the information that I wanted. And I decided that I wanted to do it as an insider instead of just, you know, as an outsider.  

On setting her own prices:

Dennis doesn’t pressure us and the management really doesn’t. If it’s happened, then I haven’t really seen it or heard about it. But internally I’d say we do pressure each other. And I remember instances of being in the brothel and working and there would be, you know, maybe one girl or one or two girls that we would call them the low-ballers. I don’t want to shame anybody; $200 or $300 could be a lot for somebody, whereas for someone else they won’t entertain it. But we would hear of girls doing a full hour of, you know, full sex for $150, $200, $300. 

And after a while there would be some annoyance. Girls would say, “You’re bringing down the house value.” And sometimes we would get together in little groups. I remember one time we all kind of decided, “Okay, this is going to be our house minimum.” This was just between the girls. I mean, the house does not encourage this at all. But amongst us, it was a smaller brothel.  It was only four or five girls. And we would say, “This is our bottom line. We’re not having sex for under this amount. If they want a massage, it’s going to cost this. It’s not going to go under this amount. And we’re not going to be seen as a low-end house.”

Now, that’s very difficult to control though. Because we’re not in each other’s rooms for the negotiation. And at the end of the day, you don’t know what the other girl is charging. Of course management won’t tell you. So you’re going based on her word. But I’ve seen arguments and whatnot and literal catfights over girls that are charging what other girls perceive to be too low.  

I remember there was a girl that I worked with that was really pretty and could have been charging a lot more. But she had no self-esteem. She had no confidence. And she was charging like the bottom of the barrel. She was actually one of the girls we had a bit of an issue with. And we sat down with her and said, “Look, you know, you’re lowering the house value. You could be making more.” I think she got a little offended by that. So I sat down with her one-on-one. And I told her. “Look, if you ask for it and you’re confident, you will make it. You will make that money, you know?”

She said she felt bad asking for $1,000 or whatever it was. She didn’t feel confident enough to ask for more than $300 or $400, even if it was a longer party. And I told her, “You’re crazy. Double that. Triple that. You’ll find guys that’ll pay. And if they don’t, you negotiate. But if you start low, you have nowhere to go but lower. You know? So you have to start high, and then there’s room for negotiation and to go lower or upsell and go even higher.” But to start at the minimum is just not wise as a salesperson, in my opinion.

On telling her family:

Oh they are not happy. They’re not happy. I kept it from my dad for a long time. He knew what I was studying, and he thought I was just like living there and, like, going to visit. My mom knows me better than that. So she was a little suspicious and started asking a lot of questions. And I’m seeing more and more interviews and I had done some stuff on TV and I was like, ‘This was going to come out.’

So I told her first and, you know, she was just, “I’m Portuguese, my family is Catholic.” She was horrified. I’m so close to them. We still talk, you know, they haven’t cut me off or anything, but you know loving parents. They’re still happily married, but my mom freaked out and she said, “You must never tell your dad.”

You know, like hopefully he dies before this all gets published. I mean she was really adamant about not telling. So I kept it from him for almost a year and then finally I just, you know, got pissed off and I got into a fight. “I’m sick of lying to you and keeping up with the lies.”

You know, he’d call me…and I’d be living there and working and I’d say, “I’m just here for research.” I like it too much, so I just told him, and he was not happy, but he took it better than she did and just said, “Well I don’t understand that. I don’t agree with it.”