Saturday, July 11, 2009

Can Men Make A Living Selling Sex?

Can men really make a living selling sex? Male prostitutes talk to Tracy Quan about HBO’s new series, Hung, and how it measures up to their real lives. Hung, HBO’s new comedy series, is about a divorced dad who turns to prostitution after having an epiphany about his “winning tool.” But penis as plot device? If an HBO script were to address a call girl's anatomy in this way, it wouldn't be so funny.

The world of men who sell sex is hidden, even from women like me who think we know a lot about selling sex. A call boy I used to pal around with once told me that prostitution simplified his life by allowing him to work in a completely gay environment.

For male escorts who aren't gay, it’s more complicated. How do they feel about the premise of Hung, in which a well-endowed Michigan schoolteacher tries to solve his financial problems by servicing women? Can a guy really make “an indecent living,” as the ads for Hung put it, by catering to the female sex drive?

Damien’s sex partners are beautiful women in their 20s—and the men pay to watch.

At 17, David Sterry was trying to do just that in the Hollywood Hills and other affluent Los Angeles neighborhoods. Among his clients were “upper-class housewives flexing their sexual muscles, out-of-town business ladies looking for a straightforward romp, hippie chicks, unhappily married women who talked about how the maid was being mean to them.”

Sterry’s memoir, Chicken, is being developed into a series for Showtime, and he recently published an edgy collection of stories by “hos, hookers, call girls, and rent boys.”

“I’m sick of people with no experience of sex work recreating their own fantasies of that world. It would be like me fantasizing about Iraq." He objects to seeing customers portrayed as "these sad, pathetic buffoon wretches." At the same time, he's fond of saying that "Blondie wasn't playing in the background" when he was turning tricks—a reference to the overly slick soundtrack of Paul Schrader’s 1980 film, American Gigolo, starring a young Richard Gere.

The situation has changed for male sex workers, says David, "especially in the middle and lower end of the market." Because of the Internet, today’s practitioners have to specialize, find a gimmick. David gets nostalgic about pre-Internet technology—"I had a pager before those things were in vogue”—but says other forms of social change have altered the sex trade at a deeper level.

“It was the middle of the women’s liberation movement. Women didn't think it was pathetic to pay for sex. There was a post-Woodstock afterglow,” he recalls, and people felt different about money. A gentler, more creative attitude about the financial exchange has been replaced by something formulaic and harsh, more Wall Street than Woodstock. A general preoccupation with wealth and power, winners and losers, has made the American sex industry less playful—for buyers and sellers alike.

Andrew Rosetta began working in the late ’90s and stopped in the fall of 2008 when he was 29 or 36, depending on which calendar he’s using. (“Every escort shaves off five years,” he says.) Whatever She Wants, a hectic account of his 10-year career, focuses on women he serviced in Central London. But men make “better customers than women” because they're more likely to provide repeat business, so Andrew maintained two distinct Web sites, operating under two escort names.

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