While it may be the norm for blokes to pay women for sex, the same can’t be said for the reverse. Brooke Hemphill meets the Aussie guys who have sex for a living.
Julian is 39. If you saw him in a bar you’d probably look twice. He has dark hair, blue eyes and a muscular build. He oozes confidence and knows how to hold a conversation.
Greg Stamos is also in his 30s. He has dark eyes, a cheeky smile and the type of body expected of a guy that works as a personal trainer. But crunches and squats aren’t Greg’s only source of income. Like Julian, he’s a male escort.
“A few of my close friends know,” Greg explains. “Most people get the wrong idea. They either think I’m gay or some sort of sleaze.”
Nearly a decade ago, Rob Schneider undersold the attractiveness of the male escort in his film Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. But Greg and Julian are no Schneider, and that somehow comes as a shock: How did these good-looking Australian men come to be working as male escorts?
“My partner and I have an open and honest relationship,” Julian says. “She told me she thought I had something special to offer in this line of work, so she made an enquiry with Madam Vivian. No, know one knows, only my partner.“
“I was browsing for a second part-time job,” Greg says simply. “I came across Madam Vivian’s website and I thought it was a great idea.”
Madam Vivian’s is a Sydney-based escort agency catering solely to straight women. There are more than 20 men on Vivian’s books and although couples can engage their services, the escorts will only pleasure the female client during the booking.
Marcus is another immaculately groomed gentleman-for-hire through Madam Vivian’s website. He’s in his thirties, of English and French heritage and lives in Sydney – with his partner of eight years. “My girlfriend knows, of course.” Marcus discovered escort work “by chance” while at university. He was 23. After graduation he continued to work as an escort for a further four years. “It was too much fun to give up,” he says. But he did for a while, before recently resuming after meeting Vivian at a party. “It took a year and several attempts for her to convince me. I thought my time had well and truly finished. To the contrary, I discovered my passion for it was as strong as ever.”
The brains behind the brawn, Vivian, is an ultra discreet woman in her 30s. When she separated from her husband six years ago after ten years of marriage, she set up the business. “There was no where for women to go,” Vivian explains. “I would hear stories from friends who were in sexless marriages or difficult relationships and their need for attention was almost unbearable.” Although she has never used a male escort herself, she has hired female service providers for threesomes.
Vivian’s website, www.escortsforwomen.com, offers four ‘levels’ of men. And like any high-end purchase, you get what you pay for. The difference in pricing pertains to looks, education and social status. A ‘Level 1’ gentleman like Julian will set you back anywhere from $350 to $500 for two hours while you’ll need a platinum card for a top of the line fellow like Greg, who fetches a whopping $1500 for the same time period. Marcus is a ‘Level 3’ with a going rate of $800 for two hours.
Although Vivian believes her close friends are open minded and accepting, she has never told them about her work. “Nobody knows at all,” she says. “It’s all intended to be very discreet. I don’t want people I know to be unable to use the service.” As Vivian is an energetic businesswoman with interests in property development and interior design, her friends have little reason to suspect she is also involved in the sex industry.
For the purposes of this story, Vivian asked that we not reveal her identity. “I think it adds to the mystery,” she says. Perhaps it does. But it also reminds us that no matter how liberal we think we are in the Noughties, some taboos just can’t be broken and paying for sex is still very much one of them, arguably more so for women. Of course, this can be partly explained away by legalities surrounding sex workers – laws applying to this industry are laid down by the states and territories and therefore differ between them. Still, no states prohibit the operation of escort agencies.
Bernie is the owner of Global Escorts, www.globalescorts.com.au, an agency based in Melbourne, where the sex industry was legalised in 1994. He is a mature aged gentleman with a knowing tone to his voice that comes with being involved in the sex industry for 18 years. He even worked as a male escort himself, although it was “a long time ago”, and in Europe.
Bernie’s escorts have a going rate of $250 per hour and although the rate is generous, all of these men have other sources of income. Vivian says that most of her gentlemen are models or actors who appreciate the flexible hours the work affords them. The men on Bernie’s books are mainly corporate professionals. Working as a male escort provides pocket money, not a full time job.
Not all male escorts register with agencies. Some advertise in classified sections while others have their own websites. Bernie says, “Some private escorts are lovely people.” Still, he recommends women arrange to meet them away from their home for a small fee with the agreement to pay more if they are then happy to proceed. “It is much safer to go with a licensed operator,” Bernie adds. “We are checked rigorously and regularly by both the police and the Government.” In Victoria, escort agencies must be licensed through Consumer Affairs Victoria and the Business Licensing Authority.
During his time in the industry, Bernie has seen great changes in women’s attitudes towards using the sexual services of men. “Up until about five years ago, the heterosexual male escort business was dead in the water,” he says. “I had only two or three straight males on the books.” These days Bernie receives calls from women who have come across his website. “They’re blown away. Some of them didn’t even know this was possible. A lot of women feel it is still taboo or that they’re not allowed to do this. But if men can do it, why can’t they?”
Many would argue that in the twenty-first century, we can. But statistics suggest either we don’t, or we’re just too embarrassed to stand up and be counted. The Australian Study of Health and Relationships found that while one in six Australian men have paid for sex at some time in their life, only 0.1% of women admit to having done the same.
Greg cocks an eyebrow at this. “I don’t think it is more common for men to pay for sex than women,” he counters. “It has been in the past but a lot of women now are looking at having their sexual and emotional needs fulfilled without feeling the guilt of past generations.”
“I believe males can rationalize the process of commercial sex far easier than women,” allows Marcus. “Females have trouble with the idea that they should pay for what may be found easily at a bar or a party.” And Vivian agrees. “For men,” she says, “it’s like playing a game of tennis. Women are less sexual in general.”
Dr. Margaret Redelman is a medical sex therapist and relationship counsellor. She says her female patients rarely talk about paying for sex. “Women who mention it do so in passing. It’s not really spoken about but I would say it’s more common than we expect.” Dr. Redelman suggests women have trouble handing over their money because of personal shame. “Having to pay for sex suggests you are not good enough to attract a partner.“ However, she says, “There’s nothing wrong with paid sex. As long as there are safety factors involved like STI checks and compulsory condom use.” She says she would even recommend her patients engage the services of a professional. “If a woman’s self-esteem has dropped, paying for sex may help. It may help to get her over a blip in her life.” On a personal note, she adds, “I wouldn’t use an escort. But I have a partner and have never been lonely in that way.”
But what of the women readily overcoming any psychological barriers, picking up the phone and calling Vivian – just who are they? “It’s a strange demographic,” she explains. “There are well educated corporate types who know what they want. For them, it’s like setting up a date. Some of the women are married and dissatisfied while others are just naughty.” And the demand is steadily increasing. “At first I received a call, text or email about every 1-2 weeks, now we receive a call, text or email about every 1-2 hours.”
Says Marcus, “About half are executives between 30 and 60 years old.”
According to Dr Redelman, for highly intelligent career driven women who have been “promoted outside of the couples market” using an escort service becomes a very real option. “In Australia there is currently a small number of women in that category,” she says. “For those women it is very difficult because they are looking for an equal. They know what they want but for them, there is only a small pool of men available.”
35-year-old Heidi* is one such woman. She works as an executive in a staging and sound engineering company. “My time is limited,” she says. “I do travel a lot and when I’m not travelling I work very long hours. But from time to time, I need servicing.
“I read about escort agencies in a magazine, but the article was more bent towards women who went with their husband or partner,” she says. “That got me thinking that there must be agencies that service women.” After doing some research, Heidi contacted a Sydney-based agency.
“They were very discreet and professional,” she says. “It’s almost like ordering a pizza. They send you a selection of pictures and profiles to choose from. You pick the one that you think does it for you the best and then you arrange a time and a place.”
Although the option was available to have dinner or spend some time with the gentleman, Heidi chose to get straight to the point. “We had a bit of a snog and off came the clothes,” she says. “He said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ I’m paying for it and I’m in control of the situation so the first port of call was him going down on me. It was great, because in my other sexual experiences with men, I’d say 9 times out of 10 they have no idea what they’re doing. This guy was a professional.
“I don’t know if they give them some sort of training or something but it was incredible. I didn’t have a single twinge thinking this was a weird thing to do,” she concludes. “It was power, power, power.”
Surprisingly, the clients that account for the second half of Marcus’ work are virgins in their 20s and 30s. “I spent time with a virgin who was getting married and wanted to know how to please her husband,” Greg says. “I made sure I taught her what she should expect too.”
Once upon a time women held on to their virginities for their husbands but marriage rates are on the decline. The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us there were 6,000 less marriages registered in 2005 than in 1985 despite a population increase of almost 5 million people over the 20-year period. Brides are getting older, too. In 1985 the average age of those at the altar was 24 while today it’s closer to 30.
Madam Vivian says, “Every girl wants her first time to be special. If it’s with someone you really care about there is a lot of pressure and no knowledge of what you should do. This usually results in a fairly average experience. Instead you can be with a professional who will ensure the first time is definitely memorable in all the right ways.”
Bernie says his Global Escorts only meet the “occasional” virgin. He feels the figure Marcus is quoting is something of an “exaggeration.” Still, Bernie says he can understand the motivation behind calling in a professional. “If you think about it, a lot of things we do for the first time, we do in a controlled environment where someone teaches us,” Bernie says. “If a virgin picks up a guy in a bar, she would firstly have to tell him and she might be afraid that he would laugh at her.”
“Clients as young as 20 to 26 are very rare,” he says, adding, “Late 20s to 40s would be the average age range.” But there was one 80-year-old woman who called to make a booking. “She said, ‘I understand that it may not happen because of my age.’” He then had to find the right man for the job. “It wasn’t going to be easy for him and it may have been a long time since she’d interacted sexually.” Bernie offered to have an ambulance on stand-by. In the end, he didn’t have to and the booking was a success for the client.
Bernie says there is no handbook or guide as to how an appointment with an escort should unfold but there is a framework. When the escort arrives at the agreed location, the first step is to say hello before taking care of any formalities such as payment. Bernie’s boys must then call the agency to let him know they have arrived. The next step is a “chat session” over a cup of tea, a glass of wine, a beer or a cigarette. Bernie says this is where they start to gauge who the woman is and what she is looking for. “Don’t sit and talk forever,” Bernie advises both the clients and the escorts. Five to fifteen minutes should be enough. The next step is perhaps the most difficult – getting from the lounge room to the bedroom. This task generally falls to the escort and Bernie says the best move is to offer a massage. From there, the boys are on their own and every job is different.
Both Vivian and Bernie explain that, regardless of age, there is a lot more to the transaction between a woman and a male escort than just intercourse. “Women want the up close and personal stuff,” Bernie says. “They need to be hugged and they want to talk but escorts aren’t cut out to be psychologists or counsellors. It can leave them mentally drained.”
Madam Vivian says that her boys just love women, but Dr Redelman is sceptical. “It’s a romantic spin I don’t buy,” she says. “These men must be easily aroused. A more sensitive man is not going to get an erection with someone they are not attracted to.”
Bernie agrees, “You can’t fake an erection and the women are not necessarily going to appeal to these men sexually.” Bernie instructs his gentlemen to spend the first twenty minutes getting to know the lady. “You’ve got to get the momentum happening,” he says. If all else fails, the boys carry sex toys.
You might be thinking that if a woman like Heidi wanted to have sex, why not just go to a bar and pick up a man? Likely, she could. But those in the sex industry believe that in times of need, you are better off with a professional. Madam Vivian’s men must pass a sexual health test and a police clearance, but, she says, “Someone in the bar could be anyone from anywhere.”
“Certainly there are consequences for picking up random strangers,” says Dr Redelman. “But really, what’s the difference between picking up a stranger and picking up the phone to call for an escort? Is one more moral than the other? It’s a very personal moral question.”
*Name has been changed
This piece was written for, but ultimately not published by, a major Australian women’s magazine.