The reasons why many men pay for sex are revealed in the interviews that make up a major new piece of research
Research published in 2005 found that the numbers of men who pay for sex had doubled in a decade. The authors attributed this rise to “a greater acceptability of commercial sexual contact”, yet many of our interviewees told us that they felt intense guilt and shame about paying for sex. “I’m not satisfied in my mind” was how one described his feelings after paying for sex. Another told me that he felt “disappointed – what a waste of money”, “lonely still” and “guilty about my relationship with my wife”. In fact, many of the men were a mass of contradictions. Despite finding their experiences “unfulfilling, empty, terrible”, they continued to visit prostitutes.
I interviewed 12 of the men, and found it a fascinating experience. One told me about his experience of childhood cruelty and neglect and linked this to his inability to form close relationships with anyone, particularly women. Alex admitted sex with prostitutes made him feel empty, but he had no idea how to get to know women “through the usual routes”. When I asked him about his feelings towards the women he buys he said that on the one hand, he wants prostitutes to get to know and like him and, on the other, he is “not under delusions” that the encounters are anything like a real relationship.
“I want my ideal prostitute not to behave like one,” he said, “to role-play to be a pretend girlfriend, a casual date, not business-like or mechanical. To a third person it looks like we’re in love.”
But another of the interviewees left me feeling concerned. Darren was young, good-looking and bright; I asked him how often he thought the women he paid enjoyed the sex. “I don’t want them to get any pleasure,” he told me. “I am paying for it and it is her job to give me pleasure. If she enjoys it I would feel cheated.” I asked if he felt prostitutes were different to other women. “The fact that they’re prepared to do that job where others won’t, even when they’re skint, means there’s some capability inside them that permits them to do it and not be disgusted,” he said. He seemed full of a festering, potentially explosive misogyny.
I felt compassion for Alex. No one had shown him how to form a bond with another human being and he was searching for something that commercial sex was never going to provide
One of the most interesting findings was that many believed men would “need” to rape if they could not pay for sex on demand. One told me, “Sometimes you might rape someone: you can go to a prostitute instead.” Another put it like this: “A desperate man who wants sex so bad, he needs sex to be relieved. He might rape.” I concluded from this that it’s not feminists such as Andrea Dworkin and myself who are responsible for the idea that all men are potential rapists – it’s sometimes men themselves.
Half of the interviewees had bought sex outside of the UK, mostly in Amsterdam, and visiting an area where prostitution is legal or openly advertised had given them a renewed dedication to buying sex when they returned to the UK. Almost half said that they first paid for sex when they were below the age of 21. “Dad took me and my older brother,” said David. “He paid. Maybe he wanted to make sure we weren’t gay. We went to a brothel. Dad didn’t do it, and I don’t think he told my mum.”
Many men seemed to want a real relationship with a woman and were disappointed when this didn’t develop: “It’s just a sex act, no emotion. Be prepared to accept this or don’t go at all. It’s not a wife or girlfriend.” Others were clear that they paid for sex in order to be able to totally control the encounter, including Bob, who said, “Look, men pay for women because he can have whatever and whoever he wants. Lots of men go to prostitutes so they can do things to them that real women would not put up with.”
Exclusive: Meet America’s First Legal Male Prostitute
Today, a 25 year old from Los Angeles (by way of Alabama) will become the first legal male prostitute in this country’s history. “Markus” (his working name) was fresh off the Greyhound bus yesterday when he granted Details an exclusive first interview in a cottage at the Shady Lady Ranch brothel, two-and-a-half-hours northwest of Las Vegas. His story is about to become a national sensation. Read on to find out why.
Q: So you’d rather be called a gigolo than a prostitute.
A: I think for a male, if you want to be successful in this type of venture, you’re not a prostitute. You’re a surrogate lover. You encompass everything that’s required of you—not only emotionally, physically—but psychologically. Because women are wired differently. They’re much more sensitive creatures. You actually have to enjoy what you do. You can’t necessarily say, “Oh, it’s just a job.” You actually have to say it’s a passion. I think it’s the same situation as with anything that happens when you break apart a social institution. There has to be some kind of change in terminology to describe persons like myself. And it’s more of a civil rights thing now. Basically this is the first time in the economy of the United States that a male has actually stood up and said, “I want to do this for a living.” And be protected under law to do it. It’s just the same as when Rosa Parks decided to sit at the front instead of the back. She was proclaiming her rights as a disadvantaged, African-American older woman. And I’m doing the same. I’m actually standing up now, and hopefully I can be supported by the male community and be understood as a person. This actually isn’t about selling my body. This is about changing social norms.
Q: And how is it that you became the first legal gigolo in this country?
A: When I was 7, my father and mother applied for a divorce, and I was pretty much left sensory deprived for my whole adolescent and formative years. There was a deficit there—a sensory deficit—where I was left in a shell. There wasn’t anything sexual about it. It was more, like, caresses—maybe a kiss on the cheek or a hug. Psychologists say a child should be hugged at least, you know, two or three times a day for him to be a functional human being. Then, once I reached adulthood, I didn’t have any sexual relationships. So naturally, when someone is in the psychological state that I’m in, I don’t think of it as a disadvantage. I think it’s more of a prerequisite for what I’m fixin’ to do. You’re striving to make up for lost time, basically. You’re trying to remake the things that you were missing out on as a young adult. Psychologically, Freud always said that every man inherently has an innate desire to copulate or have some sort of relation with his mother—regardless of whether he wants to admit it or not. I think this engenders what it means to be a gigolo. A gigolo is looking for a surrogate mother. And basically he’s filling the need for someone, but at the same time, he’s getting the respect and the compassion that he missed from an earlier developmental deficit.