Jessica Cutler never intended to get paid for sex, or to get paid for writing about it. But she was living in Washington, earning $25,000 a year opening mail for a senator, and it just sort of happened.
"If you're a young woman in D.C., there are guys with money looking for this kind of relationship," Cutler says in an interview. "It comes right to you. You don't have to solicit it. They know you're a young girl and you work on the Hill, and they know you don't have money, so that's what they offer you."
Cutler doesn't work on the Hill anymore, but sex is still what she has to sell. The 27-year-old received a reported $300,000 advance for her just-published novel, The Washingtonienne, a barely fictionalized account of her brief yet scandalous time in the capital.
Cutler did more than just take envelopes of cash from her callers. She wrote about her experiences last year in a blog - also called Washingtonienne - that included the dirty details on the sexual practices of certain guys, what they were paying her, and how she handled the "revolving door of men" in her life.
She thought only a few friends would read it. But then the blog was mentioned on Wonkette.com, a Washington gossip site, and soon everyone on Capitol Hill was poring over her online diary, trying to decipher the identities of her suitors. (She identified the men by initials only and other, shall we say, distinguishing characteristics.)
It was easy enough on the gossip-driven Hill to figure out who Washingtonienne was - not to mention at least one of her paramours, who has since sued her - and soon Cutler was at the center of yet another Washington sex scandal.
She was fired from her job in the office of Sen. Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican, for conduct that was "unprofessional and inappropriate." Calls from the media and New York literary agents soon poured in, and Cutler could not say no.
Her roman a clef, The Washingtonienne, was published yesterday (Hyperion, $23.95). It is a gossipy, swift account of her time in Washington. It involves a lot of sex and a lot of drugs, and it makes one wonder how bills ever become laws, what with all the hanky-panky going on.
The book explains how someone like Cutler, a 5-foot-2 brunette who was just average looks-wise in New York, could do so well in Washington: It's full of nerds. The girls in D.C., she writes, "had puffy-looking bodies, with silver Tiffany hearts dangling from their wrists. They clutched bottles of Miller Lite beer and sang along to 'Stronger' by Britney Spears."
And the guys on the Hill were the "obnoxious poli-sci majors in college who ran for student government." In Washington, she writes, they dressed in cheap suits, wore their cell phones and BlackBerries clipped to their belts and, sometimes, put on bow ties. "But worst of all," she writes, "they made less than six figures, which was so not sexy."
In the book - and in real life - Cutler had a relationship with the chief of staff for a government agency, who would pay Cutler $400 cash for each rendezvous. There was also a wealthy Georgetown lawyer who paid Cutler's rent, and a guy referred to as "Threesome Dude." She was also sleeping with three other guys - six total.
Cutler never thought she was doing anything wrong, partly because she knew others who had similar setups, especially in New York.
"If you're friends with someone who says they have three guys - one paying the rent and another two who think they're paying the rent - I feel like a total sucker paying my own rent," she says. "After a while, you just think, 'Why not?'"
Cutler, an admitted "self-absorbed exhibitionist," can be disarmingly direct and charming. Her book is the same - funny, trashy, addictive, but lacking any deeper meaning. She did it because it could be done, and she wrote about it because, "I was actually trying to keep an account of my actions," the book says.
The oldest of three girls, she grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and attended Syracuse University, where she wrote for the school paper. She moved to Washington to get into public relations, but all the K Street public relations firms told her she needed experience on the Hill.
"And that's what I got," she says. "Just not the kind of experience I expected."
But Hill staffers say they know very few people, if any, who supplement their meager government salary as Cutler did. They don't deny there is plenty of social drinking and that at bars there are people looking to hook up, but they say the life Cutler depicts is not the one they lead.
"We're just humans, we're young people and crazy stuff does go on sometimes," said one young Hill staffer. (Those who spoke asked not to be named, not wanting to be associated with a sex scandal.) But this staffer added of Cutler's blog: "It doesn't even come close to representing everyday life."
The staffer said it's unusual for people with as little interest in government as Cutler to work on the Hill. In her blog, Cutler wrote that she "could not care less about gov or politics" but "these marble hallways are such great places for meeting boys and showing off my outfits."
Cutler has since left Washington. She's moved to New York and is preparing a proposal for a second book. Some of the men she wrote about in her blog are still in touch with her, and on good terms. Others, though, did not take it all so well.
Robert Steinbuch, who worked with Cutler in DeWine's office and started dating her shortly before the blog was exposed, filed a federal lawsuit against her last month for embarrassing him. Steinbuch was not aware that Cutler was involved with other men, or that some were paying her for her services, the lawsuit says.
The unusually graphic lawsuit quotes at length from Cutler's blog, in which she provided a physical description of him and other intimate details of their relationship. The lawsuit seeks punitive and compensatory damages exceeding $75,000.
The lawsuit says, "Cutler caused widespread publication of private intimate facts concerning Plaintiff in a manner that would be deemed outrageous and highly offensive to an ordinary reasonable person of average sensibilities, subjecting Plaintiff to severe emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment, and anguish."
Steinbuch's attorney, Jonathan Rosen of New York, did not return a phone message. And Steinbuch's office said he had no comment. Cutler also said she couldn't comment, but said: "Let's say you like to do certain things in bed and you're ashamed of them and want to keep them a secret, then you shouldn't do that stuff with someone you don't know."
Cutler is unrepentant and says what she did was "just life." She remains somewhat mystified that her actions caused such a stir: Wonkette.com, the Web site that broke the story in May 2004, reportedly had 1.5 million hits that month.
"I can't feel bad. I feel very lucky," Cutler says. "Those people who act really shocked and disgusted with it, I'm like, 'Where in the world are you living that this doesn't happen 20 times a day?'"
She started the blog May 5 last year and took it down May 18, as soon as it was exposed. But by then, it had already been copied and distributed countless times. Anyone can find it on the Internet, where it lives in perpetuity.
Though the scandal is a year old, many are reluctant to talk about it on the record. DeWine's office, where Cutler used a computer to post to her blog, has no comment. Some Hill staffers quickly get off the phone when the subject is raised. And even Ana Marie Cox, the woman who runs Wonkette.com and earns a living by dishing D.C. gossip, won't comment.
"I'd prefer not to, actually," the usually loquacious Cox e-mailed in response to a request for an interview. It could be because Cox is mentioned in the Steinbuch lawsuit, which alleges Cox and Cutler went on a "late-night drinking spree" together and "posed for suggestive photos" that Cox briefly posted on her Web site.
Despite a seeming lack of friends in Washington, Cutler says she'd be happy to return some day.
"Yeah, people are mad at me, but that's only temporary," she says. "All those people in Washington, they'll be gone in a few years. Just wait a few years, and even the president will be gone."