When Harvard medical student Alexa Albert conducted a public-health study as the Mustang Ranch brothel in Nevada, the only state in the union where prostitution is legal, neither she nor the brothel could have predicted the end result. Having worked with homeless prostitutes in Times Square, Albert was intimate with human devastation cause by the sex trade, and curious to see if Nevada’s brothels offered a less harmful model for a business that will always be with us. The Mustang Ranch has never before given an outsider such access, but fear of AIDS was hurting the business, and the Ranch was eager to get publicity for its rigorous standards of sexual hygiene. Albert was drawn into the lives of the women of the Mustang Ranch, and what began as a public-health project evolved into something more intimate and ambitious, a six-year study of the brothel ecosystem, its lessons and significance.
The women of the Mustang Ranch poured their stories out to Albert: how they came to be there, their surprisingly deep sense of craft and vocation, how they reconciled their profession with life on the outside. Dr. Albert went as far into this world as it is possible to go — some will say too far — including sitting in on sessions with customers, and the result is a book that puts an unforgettable face on America’s maligned and caricatured subculture.
Perhaps the most prominent legal brothel in Nevada, Mustang Ranch held mythical status in contemporary Western culture until it was shut down on racketeering charges in 1999. As a medical student, Albert was granted rare access to this intensely private world in order to conduct a study on condom use, and lived periodically at Mustang Ranch from 1993 to 1999. Her routine study soon deepened in tandem with her curiosity about the politics of prostitution and about the prostitutes themselves. In this straightforward account, she details the brothel regimen (from the women's relative captivity to what happens during various "parties") and explores the private lives of the women who work there, as well as those of the "johns" and the workers who service the Ranch. Yet the heart of the book lies in Albert's exploration of the sense of family that thrives in the brothel with all the fractious infighting, competition and camaraderie inherent in any community. Her short history of the legalization of prostitution in Nevada revolves around Joe and Sally Conforte who officially owned Mustang Ranch until charges of tax evasion forced Joe into hiding in South America in 1990 while illuminating the confluence of public opinion and economic forces that spurred legalization. Acknowledging her own feelings (which range from disgust to profound respect), Albert convincingly dispels myths about this mysterious world and provides a strong defense for the legalization of prostitution. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.