This essay first appeared on Cliterati on February 17th; I have modified it only slightly so as to fit the format of this blog.
The fashionable anti-sex work dogma of our times is that prostitution is “paid rape”, an exertion of “patriarchal dominance” by violent men acting out their misogyny through the “buying” of women. The most fanatical of the True Believers proclaim that all sex workers are in reality “slaves” who are “owned” by pimps and traded like cattle, while those with a slightly less tenuous grasp on reality will (if pressed) admit that it actually isn’t like that most of the time, but that we simply don’t recognize our enslavement because we suffer from “false consciousness” as a result of the “social construction” of our sex roles under evil, evil Patriarchy. “End Demand” strategies, the Swedish model and “sex trafficking” hysteria all draw on this bizarre paradigm, which is an almost exact reversal of the typical harlot-client relationship; there is a vulnerable party in the transaction, all right, but it isn’t the woman.
Because I insisted that my escort service advertising appeal to my own aesthetics, it was perhaps more “female-friendly” than that of some of the other agencies; as a result I attracted a disproportionate number of young, inexperienced applicants. And because the three other agencies with which I was friendly all knew that I was more maternal and patient than they were, they usually sent inexperienced girls to me as well. Many a time I sat on the couch with a young lady who was understandably nervous about going on a call for the first time, and asked how she should handle her fears; I replied that it was not really all that different from a blind date, and that after a week or so she would discover that the clients were often far more nervous than she was. I never once had a girl come back to me weeks later and say that I was wrong, and many took the time to tell me how right I had been.
As I explained to those who wanted me to elaborate on the subject, the client faces just as many unknowns as his escort. Even after phone or email conversation, neither knows what the other will really be like in person; either could intend to cheat or harm the other, either could be unbalanced or stoned, and under criminalization either could be a cop. And while it’s certainly true that the average man is much stronger than the average woman, many clients are elderly, infirm or in poor health while escorts tend to be young, active and physically fit; it’s also not unknown for female thieves to work with a male confederate in order to entice men into private quarters with intent to rob them. Furthermore, on average the client has a lot more to lose than the sex worker; while he is likely to be established and married with a reputation he does not want to lose, she is likely to be far less well-known in the community. And if she’s done her screening properly, she knows his legal name and a great deal of personal information, while he knows only her stage name and (if he’s done his screening properly) her professional reputation.
As if all that weren’t enough, there’s the familiarity factor; every person gets more comfortable with doing something through repetition. The more anyone goes into a similar situation the more he learns its ins and outs, its highs and lows, its likelihoods and its rarities; he develops instincts regarding it, is able to assess potential problems, and learns how to solve or escape those problems. But while the typical sex worker might see ten or twenty clients per week, the typical regular client won’t exceed ten or twenty escorts per year; a hooker who’s been on the job for a month has the equivalent experience of a punter who’s been hiring professionals for years. And that’s really an apples-to-oranges comparison; while probably 60% of sex workers see that typical rate, most clients only indulge themselves occasionally rather than regularly. Experience leads to mastery and confidence, which increases self-esteem; over 72% of escorts report that their self-esteem increased after entering the trade. Clients, on the other hand, have to contend with demeaning or demonizing cultural messages about men who buy sex in addition to their doubts or fears about a comparatively less familiar transaction.
As any experienced escort could tell you, it shows. Many clients are as nervous as the proverbial long-tailed cat, sometimes to such a degree that they get cold feet and cancel (or merely fail to show up or answer the door). Others require “liquid courage”, sometimes to the point that it impairs their performance; others insist on looking around for hidden pimps or asking questions intended to reveal police affiliation or (in the case of younger girls) legal age status. I receive far more questions from men than women, and many of them reveal other fears and concerns: they worry about penis size, performance, unattractiveness or disease; about accidentally causing harm or contributing to exploitation; about ethics, guilt and the proper way to treat their escorts; and even about falling in love with a working girl. I’m currently corresponding with one gentleman who is so nervous that he has angered several ladies by his vacillation, and has sought my advice in overcoming it. To be sure, these men are not the majority; most clients seeing a particular escort for the first time are either a little shy or else no more visibly unsure than a man going into any new business relationship. But the very nervous are a substantial minority, and vastly outnumber the abusive monsters on which prohibitionists are so firmly fixated.