Mary-Anne Toy explores the world of male escorts and why more women want their services.
This article is from The Melbourne AGE Newspaper April 2010.
SHE is well educated, well spoken and very well groomed: an attractive blonde in her 30s used to men hitting on her in bars. So why did ”Eva”* pay a man to have sex with her? And how did that encounter lead her, a single mother with a full-time professional job, into secretly running a male escort business?
About two years ago, fed up with internet dating and the desultory randomness of the bar scene, but missing male company, Eva toyed with the idea of using a male escort.
Ignoring the storm of censorial voices inside her head, all screaming variations of ”nice girls don’t do that” and worse, she started searching online.
”It was very hard; there wasn’t much out there. I rang one of the places and they never returned my phone calls.” She ran hot and cold on the idea for six months.
Then she found ”Steve”, a solo operator online. ”I was very lucky,” she says, having now a better idea of what is out there (not much). Steve sent her a picture. They exchanged texts. She wanted to ask all sorts of questions about how it would work, but didn’t feel confident enough to have those sorts of conversations.
So she leapfrogged her doubts entirely and arranged for him to come to her house.
”It was nerve-racking but I was also excited. The anticipation, thinking, ‘Oh goodness, what am I doing?’ ” she says. ”When I opened the door, I just went ‘phew’. He was gorgeous, beautifully presented and he made me feel at ease. He worked very hard to make me feel comfortable.”
That encounter resulted in Eva and a friend setting up an exclusive escort business, My Male Companion, for professional women like themselves who were well-off, but stressed or time-poor and wanted male company and sex on their own terms. About 40 per cent of jobs don’t involve sex; the clients just want the male company. For Eva, hiring Steve was an overwhelmingly positive experience that she doesn’t regret. But she knows that she is totally kicking against societal and possibly biological norms. Some men pay for sex, always have, probably always will. But women? It’s a fraught issue, especially as prostitution is one of the most divisive issues among feminists.
Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a lecturer in public policy and sex researcher at the University of Melbourne, likes the idea of women taking control of their sexuality, of women owning their desires, but isn’t sure that women paying for sex is progress.
”It still comes back to this idea of commodifying bodies and that’s not gender specific,” Rosewarne says.
Author Melinda Tankard Reist, an activist who campaigns against abortion, sexual exploitation and the sexualisation of children, says hiring prostitutes is fundamentally a male preserve, which is why we ”don’t see huge line-ups of women wanting to buy the bodies of boys and men”.
Another reason has been that women haven’t been in a position to treat men that way. ”Women generally don’t have the time or money that men have, nor the sense of social entitlement to the bodies of other people,” Reist says. She thinks that is changing, but that it is not a positive development.
”It’s really the democratisation of objectification. Buying and selling male or female bodies for sex will always be reducing them to a means to an end; a denial of their full humanity.”
Eva also believes attitudes are changing, and see Rosewarne and Reist’s misgivings as part of the old-fashioned mindset that restricts women from getting their needs met.
Although Eva was thrilled with her secret adventure with Steve, she was hesitant to tell anyone about it. Despite Sex and the City capturing some of the Zeitgeist of what being a liberated woman today means – if you’re white, educated, physically attractive and well-off – Eva argues that in reality women tend not to talk about their sexual needs.
Eva finally confessed to her friend ”Julie”, and was more relieved than she expected that her friend didn’t recoil in horror. Julie’s reaction was positive: ”That’s great! How much better is that? You didn’t have to go out all night, didn’t have guys sleazing on you all night, the whole internet dating.”
Was it just about the sex? Eva said no. ”We sat on the lounge and he held my hand and stroked my hair and we talked. I enjoyed that as much as the sex, though the sex was great.”
Eva and Julie figured that they were pretty normal, intelligent women and if they were interested in being able to have company or sex on their terms, others would, too, and that male escorts for women could be normalised or at least destigmatised.
My Male Companion has up to eight male escorts working in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. In two years of operation, Eva says hundreds of women have used the service, and they are getting so many men wanting to work for them that they have started charging for a full interview. Eva agrees to interview only about one in 10 applicants.
Eva says it’s difficult to find a good male escort because it’s not enough to be attractive physically. ”The perception of a lot of men who come into this work is it’s all about sex, but it’s not. It’s about making the women feel special,” Eva says.
She needs more Melbourne-based men and older men, in their late 30s and 40s. ”The whole cougar thing is making women more sensitive [saying] ‘I don’t want to be seen with someone who looks significantly younger than me’.”
So what kind of woman pays for sex? Eva says most clients are in their 30s and 40s though some are older. Most are attractive, professional, normally confident women who go to water when they contemplate hiring a male escort. A lot of Eva and Julie’s time is spent reassuring women and answering lots of questions.
She blames this on the fact that women who are very open about their sexual needs or sexuality are ”still labelled and judged”.
”We help women feel good about their choices, give them confidence that if this is something they want to do, they’re allowed to,” Eva says.
What she loves about the business is that so many clients who have agonised over it, contact her afterwards to say it was amazing. ”The feedback I get most is ‘that was a whole lot of fun’.” But they’re not about to tell their friends. ”We’re still very much in the closet. I think women want to do this, but they’re like me, it might take them six months thinking about it before they do it.”
Eva and Julie, who live in Sydney, are now thinking of ”coming out”, which they are certain would result in business soaring. But they are worried about the implications for their children, the fact that both of them are single mothers, and that going public might make it impossible to keep their current professional jobs.
”Even though what we’re trying to do … is an exciting concept, I am obviously conscious of the reality – society’s situation – that if I do come out there will be some judgments and possible repercussions,” Eva says. ”There’s a part of me that would really like to come out because I love the idea and would like to see more women act upon and make choices for themselves … to have the same freedoms that men have.”
Veteran lobbyist for the sex industry Robbie Swan says there are no brothels for women and few male escorts aimed only at women because ” women don’t buy sex, they don’t need to. If they want sex, they can just go get it for free wherever they want.” He wonders if male escorts for women will ever become common. He says women tend not to have sex without love or affection, whereas men do all the time. ”That’s just the difference, biology, and the internet doesn’t change that,” he says.
It does seem a contradiction. Everyone understands why men pay for sex, but women? And why is there more stigma for a woman to be paid for sex than for a man?
Reist says that when women pay men for sex, it doesn’t have the same social effect because there is no history of women enslaving men, the porn industry (which she calls the filming of prostitution) is still primarily driven by men’s sexual demands. ”There’s no social construction of men as sluts who enjoy their own degradation,” Reist says.
Rosewarne says the number of women who hire male escorts is still so small that it has not been much researched, but women undertaking sex tourism has become a big enough phenomenon to be studied.
Sex tourism for women mainly involves Americans and Europeans travelling to places such as Jamaica and Haiti to purchase sex with local men. ”I’m not saying women aren’t paying for sex, but the way they do it is different,” she says. Men will frequently pay for sex for 20-30 minutes and be satisfied. ”Women are almost buying a boyfriend for a week.”
But she says it makes sex tourism no more acceptable when it is women doing the buying. ”It raises a whole lot of power, sex, political issues that I’m not sure we’ve resolved. It’s not a level playing field … These men in Haiti, if you ask them if they had access to a university degree and could be a doctor or lawyer, do you reckon you would be a prostitute to a wealthy white woman?”
But in Australia, is it a level playing field for male escorts catering for women, and does that make it OK?
”Aundre” (pictured), 23, has been working as a male escort for two years and, like the other escorts The Age interviewed, has a full-time job. His detailed website offers the ”ultimate boyfriend experience”, from ”an intellectual conversation over dinner”, to ”ground-breaking sex” from $170 an hour to $1200 for 12 hours.
Aundre says lots of guys talk about becoming male escorts, but most are not focused enough to do it. ”There is demand out there, but it’s a niche market.”
MELBOURNE-BASED ”Daniel” has worked on and off in the sex industry for more than a decade, but has been specialising in just women and couples for the past year. His website states he ”practices the arts of intimacy, control, erotica, tantra, massage, bondage, discipline, cross-dressing, role play, sexuality and spanking”.
He also has a full-time day job, partly because there is insufficient demand and partly because he finds the work emotionally draining.
He says there are few male prostitutes for women because ”women would rather go without sex than face the fear of asking for it from a stranger and paying for it.”
Women ”still think it’s not allowed. They can’t ask for what they want and they don’t get what they want,” Daniel says.
His clients have ranged from a 19-year-old who wanted to lose her virginity with someone experienced, to women in their 30s sick of dating ”losers”; from 40-plus corporate high-flyers and married women bored with their sex lives, to couples (husbands don’t see him as a threat).
”Sometimes you open the door and you see a really beautiful woman and I can’t believe how lucky I am: this woman is going to pay to have sex with me.”
Steve, the first male escort Eva hired, ended up working for her. He is My Male Companion’s most popular escort and will wine and dine a woman for $250 an hour – or have sex with them for $500 an hour, minimum booking of two hours. A full day can cost $15,000. The escort work, which he keeps secret from most of his family, friends and employer, is paying for his higher education and training.
Steve, who moved here from Europe, lives in Sydney but travels, mainly to Melbourne and Brisbane, for one-off and regular clients. Sometimes he is hired just to spend the day with a woman and her children – ”looking after the children, walking in the park or with the dogs, cooking a meal together. Sometimes it’s to make an ex jealous.”
He says the income is good but not the primary motivator. ”In a selfish way I feel pleasure by giving pleasure and by giving I receive, that’s what counts.”
For ”Jeanette”, hiring a male escort was about safely extending her sexual boundaries, doing ”something for myself” after working full-time and raising two, now adult, children as a single mother.
She found Daniel online and chose him because he was an S&M (sadomasochism) master. She had no shortage of lovers, but hired Daniel regularly over a year because she could be totally upfront with him in a way she couldn’t with her regular lovers.
The liberating part was that Daniel was never judgmental about her sexual fantasies or responses, but rather patient, supportive and fun to be with.
”It was a trip to Paris or this,” Jeanette says with a big smile. ”My life has gone in a direction I would never have imagined. I would never have seen myself doing what I have done in the last few years with Daniel but I am really glad I have and I think it’s due to the freedom. There’s a lot more freedom for women now.”
Mary-Anne Toy is a senior writer.