(WASHINGTON POST) - Of the 20 or so women who work at the Kit Kat Ranch, one of Nevada's legal brothels, Ms Katherine Stone is the only virgin.
The 21-year-old has been living there since May, learning the ropes and entertaining "clients" - but not for sex. Instead, Ms Stone is auctioning off her virginity to the highest bidder, and says she wants to save herself for someone special.
Bids for her virginity are reportedly at US$400,000 (S$555,000), she said.
The unusual arrangement was set up so that Ms Stone, who grew up wanting to become a lawyer, could raise money to help her family, she said.
In December 2014, an electrical fire destroyed her family's Seattle home. They lost everything.
Worse yet, the house was uninsured. Ms Stone moved in with relatives for about eight months, but the family continued to struggle with bills.
"For a time my parents were actually living at the burnt-down house," Ms Stone told The Washington Post in a phone interview. "It was really hard to actually get back on your feet after everything."
Last summer, she said she came across the story of Ms Natalie Dylan, a woman who reportedly tried to auction her virginity in 2008 to pay for college. Ms Dylan had orchestrated the online auction through Mr Dennis Hof, a Nevada businessman who owns seven brothels in the state.
So Ms Stone looked up Mr Hof, found his e-mail address and sent him a note. Then she waited.
Ms Stone first shared her story on a widely shared segment on CNN's This Is Life that aired last Sunday.
"I saw an ad on Facebook and found out all about the brothels, and the money made me think, wow, it's a chance at, like, fixing all that I really need to fix," Ms Stone told CNN.
Nevada is the only state in the country in which prostitution is legal, though brothels are only allowed to operate in certain counties. There are 18 legal bordellos in the US, all in Nevada.
Mr Hof is fond of saying he owns "40 per cent" of those brothels, including Love Ranch, where former NBA player Lamar Odom was found unconscious last year.
In a phone interview with The Post, Mr Hof said he couldn't remember exactly when Ms Stone's e-mail arrived, but that he frequently receives e-mails from women who make similar requests - or who supposedly proposition him outright.
"I get three or four a month, minimum, wanting to sell their virginity," Mr Hof said. "So virginity - it's a real complicated phenomenon, if you will."
He said he is usually loathe to entertain these requests, particularly when it comes to helping sell someone's virginity.
"You get girls that come to us, 'I'm broke, busted, can't be trusted.' We don't want to hire that girl," Mr Hof said. "I want her to be there for the right reason and the right reason is to be able to achieve their goals and get ahead in life."
Still, Mr Hof said Ms Stone was persistent, travelling to Nevada - with her mother - to meet him. After that, he relented.
"I still didn't like it, that somebody's desperate to do something," Mr Hof said. "I said, I'll do this with her but I don't want any of the money. Other articles are not saying that. I'm doing it to help this girl... Now that I've gotten to know this girl, I just love her. She's amazing. She lives at the ranch. She's part of our family now and I hope this works out for her."
Ms Stone relocated to Nevada in May, around the time the Kit Kat Ranch reopened after a major renovation. "I had no clue what to expect - I've been nervous since I even came up with the idea to do this," she said.
The other girls quickly embraced her, she said, and they frequently hang out together when not working. Ms Stone was assigned a "big sister" named "GI Jen" who acts as her mentor in the house.
"I'm definitely growing as a person. I'm learning valuable life experiences, really," Ms Stone said. "Luckily, I've had a lot of support, so at first I was very scared to be here but I've grown to very much enjoy my work."
At first, Mr Hof said Ms Stone worked at his restaurant, then asked to start giving clients massages and "doing some things in the room". Outside of the virginity bid, Ms Stone now works at the ranch offering "girlfriend experiences" in a more traditional set-up: Of what she earns, she keeps 50 per cent and the other half goes to Mr Hof.
Ms Stone is not the first woman to try to auction off her virginity. Most recently, a college student in Russia reportedly put her virginity up for auction on an escort site to raise tuition money, according to the Daily Mail.
Ms Dylan, whose efforts inspired Ms Stone, reportedly drew bids as high as US$3.4 million, though some said her auction was a hoax. Mr Hof denied these reports, but said the transaction never happened and that Ms Dylan still walked away with US$250,000.
Ms Stone said the This Is Life clip featuring her own auction was filmed in January. Since then, she has turned 21 and, it seems, grown much more accustomed to living and working at the brothel.
"Over time, I've grown to understand how the sex industry works, how the brothel industry works," Ms Stone said. "It really is about the experience. We provide people with companionship they're missing in life. ... It's more than just sex."
Before the CNN segment aired, Ms Stone said she wasn't sure who knew she worked at a brothel. She said her sister is too young to keep up with the news and that she and her father don't have much of a relationship anymore. Her mother, while "not happy" about the arrangement, is generally supportive of her.
"My mum still tells me she loves me," Ms Stone said, adding that they talk every day. Her new goal is to buy her mother a home in the Lake Tahoe area one day. "I'm her daughter. What else is she supposed to do?"
Since Sunday, Ms Stone has seen hundreds of comments both criticising and defending her choice online.
"It's called lack of other viable options, vulnerabilities and often sexual abuse," one person tweeted in response to CNN's story. "Please get the facts!"
"Even if that was the case, you can't speak for ALL women," another person responded. "No woman can. Especially about sex work. Stop the fear."
Other commenters used cruder language to criticise Stone. Most don't faze her anymore, she said.
"Until they're in my shoes they don't really know what's going on," she said. "We're in a bad economy. I'm just capitalising on what most women don't. ... Growing up, I was very focused on school. I had extracurricular activities. I had a very good upbringing. I was very lucky. My parents were pretty conservative.
"We all choose to go different ways and I chose this path. I don't regret it at all, though. I've read people saying that I'm going to regret it later in life but I honestly don't believe that."
Ms Stone said her clients know she is a virgin, and that she is still waiting for more bids to come in. So far, she has entertained three serious bids by meeting the people who made offers. The highest amount so far has been US$400,000.
"We actually do a 'girlfriend experience' and we'll see how comfortable I am with him," Ms Stone said. "I feel like I'll feel it when it's right and I'll definitely feel like it's the right person. ... I'm definitely choosing someone not just because of the price but of the connection."
There is no timeline on the auction and Ms Stone is still waiting for more bids to come in.
"US$400,000 is just the start," she said. "It's still early in the process. I'm still learning a lot of stuff here at the brothel. It's still too soon to even decide."