Ladies, yours for $300 an hour

BENJAMIN LAW
Last updated 13:54 01/02/2014
FAIRFAX

It might seem like the stuff of fantasies, but is male escorting really all it's cracked up to be?

Sex worker
Tim Bauer
PLEASURE PRINCIPLE: Ryan James says to be a successful escort you need to get enjoyment from pleasing others.
Sex worker
Tim Bauer
PRESENTATION SKILLS: Adria says he spends time making himself look good and expects the same from clients.

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Some jobs you never see advertised. Think Hollywood actor, astronaut, adventurer. They're also the kind of professions people fantasise about, but if we sat down and realistically thought through what would be required to do them, most of us would conclude they're beyond our skill set. Male escorting is similar.

Imagine that occupation listed in the classified ads: "WANTED: men willing to have robust intercourse with numerous women. Meet interesting people. Excellent pay, flexible hours, immediate start."

Excelling at male sex work, say those in the know, isn't just about the sexual gymnastics. Unlike female escorts - who tend to charge by the hour - a standard booking for a male escort generally involves a minimum of two hours.

This is because most female clients don't just want sex, but conversation and affection, too. So yes, you will need to be a god in bed, but you'll also be required to play counsellor and friend.

To be a good male escort, you'll need to be a good listener and able to understand your clients' needs. To be a great one, you'll need to know and understand their stories.

Sandra Davies* met her husband at 16, married him at 21 and had their first child at 24. Now 55, she sees the marriage for what it's become: an arrangement of circumstances and assets, devoid of romance and affection. Over the years she's endured her husband's affairs (two), lies (countless) and a period where he rented a place with another woman, insisting she was just a "flatmate".

Davies knows she should have left her husband years ago, but the reality of divorce - dissolving their joint mortgage, disentangling their finances - meant staying in the marriage was the more practical option. Last year, Davies decided to put herself first. She started going out more. She went to a rock concert and screamed her lungs out like a teenager. She hired a personal trainer and lost 10 kilograms. When she looks in the mirror now, she sees someone who looks at least a decade younger. Meanwhile, her husband scolds her and says she's going wild.

The unfairness of his affairs gnawed at Davies: why did he get to sleep with other women when he was the only man she'd ever slept with? She confronted him one night: "If I had a one-night stand, would I get the same chances I've given you over the years?" Her husband stared at her. "That was in the past," he said.

Later, when Davies joked with a friend that she might as well just hire someone for sex, her friend's response - "Well, what's stopping you?" - caught her off-guard.

She ran some online searches and came across a Sydney-based escort with the professional name Ryan James; a blond, clean-cut calendar boy. Her main concerns were cost, discretion and health risks. "Obviously, I thought about disease," she says. "But his website said he gets tested every two months and that he'd use condoms. Just looking at the physical appearance of the guy - and the fact that he's a personal trainer - made me feel more confident." Also, she read he was a porn actor and she'd heard they take care of themselves: they can't work if they're not healthy.

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Several emails and text messages later, Davies flew from her Queensland home to meet James in the foyer of a Sydney hotel. After heading up to her room together, James asked for his money and then asked Davies to take a shower. After the shower, they moved to the couch, where he started to undress her. It was the first time Davies had taken off her clothes in front of a man other than her husband or her doctor. It felt exhilarating.

"It was just the self-satisfaction of thinking, 'Wow, there's another bloke looking at my body,' " Davies says. She knew this was a job for James - just work, nothing more - but says there was still a thrill in knowing that having sex with her wasn't going to be a chore for him.

All Davies will divulge of the experience are the comments, "Believe me, it was good. I certainly wasn't disappointed."

And if she could rate the experience out of five? "Oh ... six," she says, laughing.

Ryan James looks exactly as he does in his online photos: clean-cut, blond and gym-toned - like someone who should be putting out fires and rescuing kittens from trees. In a good month, when his diary is full, James might earn about $NZ3250 from escorting, another $NZ2150 from his personal training job and another $NZ2150 to $NZ3250 from acting. For seven years, he had a brain-corroding desk job in finance. "I was a nine-to-five office drone - mindless, repetitive computer spreadsheet work," he says. "Now I set my own hours. It is a job, but it's a very enjoyable job."

There are a few things James wants to clarify about his profession. First, he's not in this job because he has an unusually high libido.

"I wouldn't say my sex drive is any higher than anyone else's," he says. "Guys with really high sex drives all want to be escorts and they make terrible escorts. As soon as they're with a client they're not particularly attracted to, they fail." What do escorts need to have then, if not a high sex drive? James thinks for a minute. "The ability to get enjoyment from pleasing someone else."

Second, he says, no one is forcing him to do this. In fact, he's never heard of any heterosexual male escort who's been forced into the profession - they choose to be there. "They don't do it because they're desperate for money or are drug addicts," he says. "There might be men who are sleazy or creepy trying to get into it for the wrong reasons but, simply put, they won't get any work."

Finally, says James, there's nothing wrong or damaged about him, or anyone else he knows who works in his field. I read him a quote by writer, Fairfax columnist and anti-pornography crusader Melinda Tankard Reist: "Buying and selling male or female bodies for sex will always be reducing them to a means to an end; a denial of their full humanity." James grins boyishly, like a kid who's been told something ridiculous. "Everyone I know in this industry is very smart and intelligent. Some are doctors, lawyers or psychologists, but they prefer not to do that as they find this work more rewarding."

After her session with James, Davies felt renewed. She sent him a text message that said, "Thank you so much - I've had the experience of a lifetime. You're an amazing person that's [sic] made me very happy."

As she tells me this, Davies starts to cry. "I'm getting emotional," she says apologetically.

I ask why she's crying.

"Oh, just the sheer pleasure. It was a moment of feeling self-worth and feeling special, feeling like I was someone ... who mattered," she says. It had been a long time, "a hell of a long time, probably the majority of my marriage, to be quite honest" - since anyone had made Davies feel that way.

"Ryan didn't know me, but he gave me emotional satisfaction. He is lovely to me, he makes me feel like a woman. It's business, but I still feel very desirable with him."

Davies is now a semi-regular client of James. When he comes to the hotel room, she now knows to leave the money on the side table before they start. She also feels her time with him has helped clarify her relationship with her husband, settled old scores about his affairs - at least in her mind - and made her reconsider the potential for other men in her life. "It's made me think that there's got to be guys out there who can give me what I get from Ryan," she says.

It's impossible to determine how many male escorts work in Australia, but agencies and workers will tell you there are more female sex workers than male, and definitely more male-for-male sex workers than male-for-female. Exclusively heterosexual male escort work is still a niche industry in Australia. The market is so new that Cameron Cox, of Sydney's Sex Workers' Outreach Project, says that five years ago one Sydney escort agency even approached gay male sex workers to do "straight for pay".

But every straight male escort I spoke to said business had only picked up since they started working. The industry may be boutique, but if you're good, your client base will grow. Over the past year, James may only have had 30 clients, but many are repeat customers who book him every fortnight. "There's no typical customer," James says. "When you think of people who pay for sex, you probably think of lonely, middle-aged people - husbands who are cheating on their wives, that sort of demographic."

Women like Davies - caught in unhappy relationships - form part of James's clientele, but he is also hired by businesswomen who need a date, young women, married couples and men who want to watch him having sex with their wives. Similarly, there's no such thing as a "typical escort". If you're interested in escorting and don't resemble a muscled, waxed calendar boy, you needn't despair. In the US, there is an escort named Sugar Weasel who will, upon request, arrive at your home or hotel dressed as a white-bodied clown. Another male escort named Vincent splits time between Washington DC and Toronto and describes himself as an "adult entertainment entrepreneur". Vincent is in his 70s. Apparently, both are popular.

John Oh, 41, is a 188cm, Sydney-based male escort with pale skin, prematurely grey hair and big hands. He looks like a handsome naturopath. Most of his clients are older women who have teenage or grown-up children and the idea of having sex with someone in their 20s gives them the creeps.

"Mostly, my clients are aged about 47," Oh says. Forty-seven is a very specific age, I say.

"At 47, your children are self-sufficient," he says. "You've probably also reached a point in your relationship where it's either going to work for the rest of your life or it's not. A lot of women get to 47 and find themselves single again."

Oh's one-bedroom Sydney apartment, which he rents exclusively for sex work, is a slick, modern affair that resembles a hotel suite. There's a stainless-steel kitchen, a large flat-screen TV hooked up to music, and an acoustic guitar on a stand. The mattress on the bedroom floor doesn't have a base and still has crumpled sheets, most likely from his last booking, which only finished an hour before we meet.

When a client visits Oh, he'll buzz her in and then they'll share a cup of tea or a glass of wine. They'll then talk. It's all rather wholesome. "You spend half an hour sitting around talking, touching, connecting - just being normal people - before you do anything else," Oh says. His next step is always to offer a massage so he can initiate more physical contact without the client having to request it. "Then it progresses from there," he says. "Clients are mainly looking for someone to help them rebuild their self-confidence. They've come out of a relationship - a marriage of 20 or 30 years - so they may have had very few partners in their lives. The prospect of getting back into dating is hugely intimidating. What they're looking for is a soft beginning. So to speak."

Nine months ago, Abby Ward* found she was seeking not so much a soft landing as a gentle re-entry. Her seven-year relationship with a woman had ended and she wanted to ease herself back into the world of men without resorting to the bar and club scene. Ward is a likeable, energetic 42-year-old, based in Sydney, who works as a cosmetic surgery nurse - "Botox, fillers, that sort of thing" - and has an infectious toucan squawk of a laugh. She wears sequinned, body-hugging clothes and has bold magenta streaks in her hair. You get the sense she'd have no problems picking up anyone of either sex.

"But I didn't want some drunken idiot picking me up," she says. "I also wanted to make sure I still liked men, because it'd been so long."

Ward also felt self-conscious about her weight at the time. She is athletic and healthy-looking when we meet, but weighed more than 100 kilograms when she broke up with her partner. As a bigger woman, she didn't like the prospect of going to a bar by herself. After searching online for escorts, Ward found a Sydney-based escort with the moniker of Adriá and was immediately smitten. "I'm into pretty boys, and he's a pretty boy," she says.

She made the booking, had her hair and make-up done, took the day off work and booked a hotel in Potts Point. Adriá knocked on her door. When Ward opened it, she threw Adriá against the wall, unzipped his pants and said happily, "Haven't seen one of these for a while."

Adriá, for his part, looks every bit the Spanish Romeo. Wearing a double-denim ensemble, he has tanned skin, dark shiny hair, calf-like brown eyes and a stud in his left ear.

At 27, he is already a veteran of the industry. The first time he was paid for sex, he was 21. It wasn't planned. Adriá was working as a concierge in a Sydney hotel, and one guest - a corporate woman in her mid-40s - kept requesting that he bring various items to her room over the course of one evening. All of these items were minor - a phone charger or a bottle opener - but each time, she gave him a disproportionately large tip of $NZ55. Finally, she asked him what time he finished his shift, adding, "Since I paid you for your services, can you return the favour?"

Lots of things went through Adriá's mind at the time. He figured he'd earned a lot of money in a short period of time, and that hospitality wages weren't great. He also found the woman attractive. "I felt flattered," he says. "I was 21, my hormones were going nuts and I was getting paid. It was a sexy scenario." All up, he earned more than $NZ325 that night. "And my wage [at the time] was $NZ540 a week."

Emboldened, Adriá sought out more sex work. At first, he signed with an agency, but didn't get any work for six months. So he took matters into his own hands, got some professional photos taken and started his own website. On a good week, Adriá will have anywhere up to four bookings.

"For guys in this business, that's really busy," he says. "Women like to book longer sessions: two to three hours at a time." Unlike men hiring female escorts, women hiring males usually expect conversation, he says. "If I'm charging $280 an hour, it adds up."

Adriá says it truly doesn't matter how clients look. Most of the time he can get and maintain an erection naturally, though he adds, "If my head space is not there, I'm stressed or I've got other stuff going on in my personal life ..." He trails off, sheepishly. "I mean, it has happened."

The last time "it" happened - or, to be more precise, didn't happen - was a job he turned down last year that involved a heterosexual couple who booked him for a threesome: "They weren't ... hygienically acceptable."

While Adriá tries to remain flexible, there are other requests he's also had to turn down. He's never slept with a man, despite it being a popular request. "[I'm asked] plenty of times," he says. "But I just say, 'Sorry, I can't do that. I'm not physically attracted ... I just can't.' " He'll kiss on the mouth but says it has to feel natural, not forced. "Oral, I'll do," he says. "I'll do that a lot. But extreme fetishes - peeing and pooping - no.

"I spend a lot of effort making myself look good and being presentable and I expect my clients to do the same as well; to at least shower and look after themselves." Most of the time, Adriá says he can get an erection by finding something genuinely attractive about every client. John Oh agrees, adding that finding yourself being desired is a huge turn-on in itself.

Christian is the most expensive escort I meet. His rate is $NZ1100 an hour - Adriá's is $NZ280, James's is $NZ300 and Oh's is $320. Instinctively, I understand why: Christian is in his mid-30s, tall and toned, with insanely white teeth. He looks like a Brazilian underwear model.

But there's another reason Christian warrants such a high price: his name. Christian settled on his escort monicker 10 years ago - long before the erotic romance novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, was published. But ever since that book took off and made purchasing S&M erotica from department stores a mainstream transaction, the requests for Christian to simulate the role play in that book have been non-stop.

"It's like they wrote the book about me," Christian says, laughing, before admitting that he hasn't actually read it. "Sometimes, I'm the dinner date and handbag, while other nights, I'll have my bag of goodies - chains, whips, the whole thing - and I'm Dominant Christian." He won't do serious sadism - no pain or blood are his rules - but will happily tie clients up and blindfold them.

"Fifty Shades of Grey has created a revolution in women wanting to try taboo things," Christian's boss Missy says. A former escort herself and a dead ringer for the Australian actor Essie Davis, Missy adds that there are a lot more females nowadays demanding the Christian Grey experience. When clients call Missy and enquire about Christian, they'll often ask whether specific passages - taken line for line from the book - can be re-created during the booking.

Christian works through Missy's agency, Platinum X, and benefits from her rigorous screening of potential clients. Over the phone and on email, Missy assesses each potential client's needs and matches them to the most suitable escort on her books. She's also there to protect her escorts, ensuring clients don't become too emotionally attached to any particular one.

"Female clients have been like, 'Oh, Christian. Where is he and what's he doing today?' " she says. "As a female, you can read them. I politely cut them off and say, 'Christian is on other bookings.' You have to give them a bit of a reality check. He's doing his job. You are his job."

It's not uncommon to become the victim of a stalker's obsession if you're a male escort. Some clients do become overly attached, says Adriá. "But if someone keeps asking for you all the time - weekly - you tell them, 'Try to space it out, maybe once a month.' That's a healthier arrangement." The initial impulse is to take on all offers for the money, Adriá says, "but then the stalking happens, or they have your phone number and they call you and they're drunk. 'Oh, I got money,' they'll say. But just because you've got money doesn't mean I'm going to come out at 2 o'clock in the morning."

Drawing boundaries between professional and personal relationships is a constant challenge. Christian avoids forming serious relationships with women while escorting, though he always balances sex work with personal training, teaching kickboxing and modelling. His last proper relationship lasted a year, then he was back on the job. "While I'm working, I'm absolutely single," he says. "I've had a partner before, but I specifically stopped escorting out of respect for her."

Anthony - a 32-year-old Melbourne-based escort who works with an agency called Aphrodisiac - found a novel way around these conundrums: he started dating a female escort. Prior to this, he'd avoided dating altogether. "If I started seeing somebody, and then said, 'Look, I've got something to tell you,' either they'd be really receptive or they wouldn't," he says. "Or they'd know my secret, and I'd be uncomfortable with knowing how they might use it."

Dating another escort meant all these concerns evaporated. Anthony would meet with his partner after work and says he never felt any jealousy towards her clients, nor she towards his.

"It's really funny," he says. "The only time I felt jealousy was when she was telling me about her personal trainer: 'Darren was brilliant today; he's so fit.' But escorting? It's work. Then, you go back to your normal relationship at night, where you keep something for your partner.

"Some female escorts don't allow themselves to be kissed on the lips - only their partners can do that. For us, it is more about openness and how deeply you share yourself with somebody." Emotional connection, honesty and vulnerability are for each other only.

Of all the escorts I spoke to, only John Oh has been in a long-term relationship for the entire time he's been an escort. "What I do has never been a problem for [my partner], and she's always been very supportive," he says.

The biggest issue for them as a couple is that Oh is away for work so often - they live together in northern NSW, and his Sydney apartment is rented purely for his sex work. However, while clients becoming too emotionally attached is an ongoing pitfall, Oh says another danger involves becoming too close to clients. "Sometimes you meet really nice, attractive, interesting people," he says. "That can be hard. It has caused difficulty for my partner and me on some occasions, but we've always survived; there's been nothing we haven't been able to manage."

For some clients, the thing that keeps their emotional attachment in check is the moment of financial transaction, which usually happens at the start of each booking. "I know it's a service; I know it's not emotional, that it's non-connecting," Sandra Davies says of her time with Ryan James.

But she still feels a small sting at that moment of transaction. "There's a tiny little thing in me that says, 'Yeah, it is only business, isn't it?' It's a weird feeling. You think, 'It's still going to be empty after he walks out.' But it's just a tiny feeling," she says. "Nothing major."

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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