by Kiersten Hallie Krum
Happy New Year! And what better way to start the new year off than by hiring some male prostitutes!
Now that I have your attention…
We’ve talked about professional escorts on Lady Smut before in various ways. Elizabeth Shore has written two posts about Showtime’s “reality” series Gigolos and I’ve touch upon the issue somewhat when discussing Manservants among others.
A few weeks ago, there was a Twitter convo between several romance authors that spurred a series of recommendations of books where the hero is or was a prostitute. I’d read an erotic romance some time ago, called Escorted by Claire Kent, about a woman who hires a male escort and the two fall in love. I decided to chose two other books from the Twitter hive mind to see how this trope played out elsewhere.
Escorted by Clare Kent.
The Couple Who Fooled the World by Maisey Yates.
Curio by Cara McKenna.
As you might suspect, I have some thoughts.
Let me say at the outset that I enjoyed all three books and would recommend them without equivocation as good romance reads. This post isn’t meant to review the quality of these books so much as use them as examples as to how they implement the male whore hero.
The scenario of the woman prostitute who falls in love with her male client and is “rescued” from The Life by him when he, in turn, falls in love with her (and not only because of her particular sexual skills), aka the hooker with a heart of gold trope, is a familiar cliché whose shining moment was Pretty Woman. It is, arguably, the modern-day equivalent of a historical romance novel featuring the down on her luck, honorable-at-heart but poor, unappreciated for her true worth governess/seamstress/overworked companion who just needs a crabby, lonely, rich man to see her worth and save her from her unhappy life. It’s not a commonly used trope in Romancelandia because a hooker heroine is a hard sell given that so many people, yes, even awesome women who read romance, continue to judge a woman’s (or a heroine’s) character by her sexual behavior. A heroine with a history of selling her body and, perhaps, not apologizing for it, would not be sympathetic or identifiable for many readers.
Men, traditionally, are portrayed as being experienced and “using” prostitutes either to scratch an itch or to get some without having to invest in caring about the woman for the privilege. Often they’re portrayed as wanting something sexually their wives won’t give them because they’re cold or prudish or consider it deviant behavior. Men in such scenarios are almost always already sexually experienced and are using a prostitute for the simple need of sexual pleasure. It’s the whole “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” idea. At the same time, uber-male alphas (and betas), are often portrayed as being insulted by the mere suggestion that they’ve ever had to pay for sex, as though getting a willing female partner is a proof of masculinity and paying for one a sign of weakness. To be fair, this aversion has also been used to show the good nature of the guy whose objection is because he would never contribute to the possible victimization of the woman he’d be using.
In contrast, in the books mentioned above, all three heroines were virgins. I wonder if that’s because we as a reading society still can’t accept a heroine having sexual experience from the get go of the story or that the idea that she might contract with a male prostitute merely because she wants a sexual experience where it’s all about pleasing her and getting an orgasm she doesn’t have to earn or for which she needn’t apologize if she dares to come first? Traditionally in Romancelandia, and specifically in some subgenres, the only lover the heroine is allowed to have or acknowledge having on the page is the hero of the story. That seems to still apply even when the heroine is hiring a professional to do the deed.
In Escorted and Curio, the two erotic romances is the group, both heroines have hired their respective prostitutes due to sexual issues they want to resolve. Both are “women of the world” and neither of them are shy, retiring, stereotypical virgins, but each woman is sexually inexperienced and is self-conscious enough about her status at her age as to not want to change that status with a man she might date or with whom she might want to have a relationship. The subtext is that, while not shameful, being a virgin at their age and experience is…embarrassing.
In Escorted, Lori is a successful romance novelist who’s self-conscious about the fact that she’s never actually had sex. She feels as though it’s become a barrier to her being able to get involved with a man in a relationship given she’s called the Goddess of Romance but has no personal sexual experience. She’s gotten so into her head about it, she hires Ander, a highly recommended male prostitute, to “take care of this inconvenient detail.” Ander is super qualified and indeed almost clinical about the whole thing, calmly giving advice in situ, like telling Lori not to tense up so much on the cusp of orgasm because it dilutes the ultimate sensation. He’s far from disconnected, but everything is very polite and matter-of-fact. This works for nervous Lori because it gives her control of what’s happening and removes the romantic façade from the experience. Ander is also well-researched. He even reads romance novels to learn what turns woman on and be familiar with women’s fantasies. I’ve often wondered why more men don’t read romance novels as a training guide for what women are looking for in a partner (not the ripped abs so much as the emotional stuff and sexual attention, though the abs work too). Ander also uses female-oriented erotica and toys and practices safe sex to a startling degree.
Similarly, in Curio, Caroly, a successful art curator in a Paris museum, hires Didier to be her first sexual partner. She too has gotten far too much in her head about her lack of sexual experience. In social interactions, she presents herself as haughtily above the mouth-watering gorgeous men she so desires so as not to reveal a desire she never expects to have reciprocated. Didier is European, loves women, and is, of course, mouth-watering gorgeous. He suavely creates any fantasy his client desires with typical European aplomb. A check is discretely left afterwards in his mailbox. I confess, after the first description of him, I supplanted David Gandy is his place in my mind’s eye. Look, if I was going to hire a male prostitute for any reason, he’d look like David Gandy. Hell, he’d be David Gandy if that could be arranged. Not that David Gandy is for sale in that way. Please don’t sue me, David Gandy. Ta.
Needless to say both women find their sessions with Ander and Didier vastly satisfying. Enough for repeat performances. And both professional relationships evolve into emotional connections that lead to love in unique ways. They are, after all, romance novels and thus guarantee some shade of a happy ending. I find it interesting that in one book, the hero leaves his profession for another once he falls in love with the heroine while in the other, the hero conversationally relates how he openly continued his profession while also being involved in relationships. It can be concluded he continued to do so after the book’s happy conclusion. I’ll leave you to read them both and find out which one does which.
The power dynamics are very different when the prostitute in the romance is a man. The concept of the prostitute being “rescued” from The Life doesn’t even get a play. Can’t have a woman rescuing the man from anything, of course, as it would undermine his masculinity. She can (and often does) influence him to change his profession for various organic reasons, but the rescue element does not exist.
Rather than sordid and shameful as when the woman is the professional, in these novels, the whole profession is reshaped as something somewhat honorable, a man who takes “clients” who are struggling with their sexuality and need a professional partner to ease them into this new level of intimacy without judgment or the mess of relationships. The onus is thus again passed onto the woman–she’s the one with the issues. He’s just trying to help her resolve her problems, a therapist there to help her overcome her sexual hangups with some hands on demonstration.
Don’t get me wrong, the stories are good and the emotional journeys believable and complex. It interests me though that both women are excused, for lack of a better word, for paying for sex because they each have serious reasons for doing so and not just because they want to have some no-strings, only for her pleasure sex. But both heroines are also more liberated after their experiences with their respective inamorato as both admit to feeling as though they’ve finally been admitted to a special club. How could you not feel liberated after a night of sexual hijinks with a David Gandy lookalike? Hey, he’s my fantasy. No judging.
Maybe that’s it. These stories are, essentially, fantasies for the reader and arguably a fantasy fulfilled for the heroine. Yet even within the fantasy, the dynamics change because of the gender inversion and the woman can’t be in it just for pleasure, no issues attached. A similar scenario of an adult man wanting to relieve his lingering virginity with a professional would be portrayed much, much differently. No romantic trappings required. And I have to wonder about glossing over the negative aspects of prostitution. Do we want to just ignore those issues because it detracts from the fantasy? Would we do so were it the heroine who was the professional?
The Couple Who Fooled the World is a very different story from Escorted and Curio. Ferro, the Italian tech billionaire hero, is no longer a working prostitute. He did not take on the profession as an adult either nor with the intent to be the solution to women looking to get past their personal sexual roadblocks. Ferro, while gorgeous, charming, and suave, was a street kind in Rome plucked off the corner one day by a wealthy woman. Shades of Pretty Woman. While not a hooker at the time, he was starving and without options when he first caught his patroness’ eye. He took on prostitution solely as a means of survival as a hot young stud for bored, wealthy Ladies Who Lunch.
Ferro’s past has greatly scarred him and, in fact, has left him with huge baggage that prevents him for various reasons from having a healthy relationship. Julia, the heroine, is not a client. A self-proclaimed geek girl who has herself built a tech empire from scratch, she comes with her own social challenges and painful sexual baggage that has kept her from being able to trust a man enough to form a relationship. When business machinations bring them together, their sexual relationship becomes part of the deal. But I’ll leave you to read it and find how just how.
The Couple Who Fooled the World is the only book of these three to treat prostitution as a demeaning, emotionally painful, potentially dangerous, often illegal profession undertaken for only the most desperate of reasons. Ferro’s scars go deep and Julia’s increasing ability to make him feel emotions he thought long supressed in order to perform is a painful awakening he does not handle well.
It’s also this book that has the biggest contribution from the hero’s POV. Curio is written in the first-person and Escorted is almost entirely from the heroine’s perspective. Both Ander and Didier discuss their profession with their curious client, but there’s little to no shame or overall regret displayed. They are both in the job by choice, not circumstance, unlike Ferro who is still paying emotionally for what he was forced to do to survive.
What do you think? Does the male whore hero require the oldest profession in the world to be re-framed as sexual therapy for the heroine to be excused for buying one and accepted by the reader? Or does the power dynamic not matter among willing parties even in fiction? Could you, as a reader, invest in a book where the heroine bought her hero simply for pleasure’s sake? Or do we still require women to have some greater emotional need to explain why they would purchase sexual favors? Do women, even fictional ones, still require the trappings of fantasy to enjoy shame-free sex?
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