Name your price
*John Moore, National Post *Published: Friday, March 28, 2008
An actor friend of mine once told me he was asked to perform oral sex on a
director to secure a supporting role in a movie. "Did you do it?" I asked.
"Sure why not," he responded, "I do it for free-- why wouldn't I do it for
Just another unseemly Hollywood anecdote to some. But to those of us
inclined to see the world through an economic lens, it is an object lesson
in how sex is just another commodity. Like most financial instruments, it
has its amateur and professional traders.
We know sex has intrinsic value because it is universally coveted (al-though
more by men than by women). We fail to identify the transactional nature of
everyday coupling only because of the ineffable and unquanitifiable nature
of the major currencies: youth, power and beauty. Those who have these
qualities in abundance have little trouble obtaining gratification. If you
lack in all of these areas, you can either do without, work exceedingly hard
(begging, serial dating) or use the most commonly accepted currency there
"Jade" is a thirty-something university-educated mother of two young teens
living in southern Ontario. She provides sexual services for $200 an hour.
Jade started out in the escort business as a driver. Eight years ago, her
agency came up short a girl at a gathering of plastic surgeons. "I ended up
crossing the line into escorting and I really liked it," she says.
Jade makes eight calls a week and spends the rest of her time doing
volunteer work and raising her daughters. She pays taxes on her earnings and
calls herself "a soccer mom." When people ask what she does for a living she
tells them she works for CSIS. She doesn't feel dirty. No client has ever
beaten her up. She's never had to dress up as a school girl or wear a ball
gag. She always practises safe sex and most of her clients aren't dirty old
men. "Even the dirty old men have an interesting aspect to them," she
laughs. Beyond businessmen, athletes and politicians, there are also clients
who are aged or have disabilities that would make them completely
unmarketable to regular partners.
So if Jade doesn't feel demeaned by her paid couplings, surely her clients
must live in a permanent state of shame, right?
There's no evidence of that. Seventy-five per cent of them are regulars who
schedule weekly or monthly appointments.
Sex for pay is such a sober exercise that there are Web sites where escorts
are reviewed like restaurants. The reviews usually focus less on the sex act
and more on attitude, punctuality, conversation and even cuddling. A client
of Adrian, a male escort in Toronto gushes "I just want to praise this young
man for his excellence." ("The Tiramisu is not to be missed!")
Most of the johns describe themselves as businessmen who regard hiring a
sexual partner as a practical means of avoiding the time-wasting,
emotionally precarious and often futile practice of working the bars in the
vague hope of hooking up. In place of sloppy pick up lines, leaden
conversation, booze-greased couplings and regret filled departures, they
order up sex like Chinese food. The money assures the act is scheduled to
the hour and, most importantly, that both parties are willing and
enthusiastic. I know of one man who actually included weekly escort visits
as a line item in his retirement plan. It sure beats lawn bowling fees.
The Eliot Spitzer scandal has made it clear that mainstream society still
regards sex for pay as a shadowy world of furtive and guilt-ridden
encounters between desperate men and the damaged boys and girls they
exploit. While that is most certainly true of street prostitution, it's
thought that the street represents only a small fraction of the industry.
Escorting, on the other hand, thrives in homes and hotels all around us, as
men and women trade intimacies for hard currency with little evident
Freudian or Catholic collateral damage.
It's hard for some to imagine people performing sex acts the way accountants
do taxes (and certainly, the former would be much more interesting to
watch). But for millennia, we have thought nothing of applying the consumer
template to food, water and shelter. We regard these life supporting
essentials as something to be bartered for. Why the higher standard for sex?
The problem would seem to be that few people want to be seen to be paying
for something they believe should be available for free.
But as a comedian once observed, "You only think you've never paid for it."