The money changing hands is a way of saying, “This money symbolizes our agreement that this is temporary, a fantasy, it’s just pretend, and at the end of the hour we go our separate ways. Now c’mere and let’s pretend!”
There’s a saying, which I think is kind of crass-sounding, that “You aren’t paying for the sex, you’re paying for her to go away afterwards.” But it’s true in a way, and the agreement goes both ways. By paying, you are agreeing that the hour is all you get, is all you are entitled to. In some ways, this is preferable to one-nighters and hookups and short-term affairs, when even if there is agreement to not get attached, inevitably somebody might anyways, and then there may be resentments and long-lasting emotional consequences to deal with
—from Antonia Crane’s interview with a John named Max for The Rumpus. The whole thing is really interesting and addresses a lot of issues inherent in sex work—whether paying for sex is something to feel guilty about, how to talk about the problems of sex work without disregarding sex workers’ own agency —but I keep returning to this bit suggesting that exchange of money is important to the experience in a positive way.