Hero for Hire: Male Prostitutes as Romance Heroes

5 Jan

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.

escorted

Click on image to order.

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.

Curio

Click on image to order.

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.

tumblr_lwvjlruarg1qbtfb6o1_500

Um…yeah.

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.

couple who fooled the world

Click on image to buy.

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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21 Responses to “Hero for Hire: Male Prostitutes as Romance Heroes”

  1. Elisabeth Lane (@elisabethjlane) January 5, 2015 at 7:10 am #

    Fascinating post Kiersten. I certainly would not have a problem with a heroine buying a hero for her sexual pleasure, shame free. To follow the Pretty Woman analogy, why couldn’t a successful female business owner hire a male companion for a week? Personally, I think that would be a very interesting book. Someone must have written one already! I’ll follow the comments in case anyone mentions one.

    Also, apparently Jared, the male escort from Kit Rocha’s Beyond series, is going to be the hero in an upcoming book. No idea what the context will be yet. But he’s also bisexual and it’s dystopian so quite different than the examples you’ve given here.

    Like

    • Kiersten Hallie Krum January 5, 2015 at 10:39 am #

      I’m SUPER excited for Jared’s book, no small amount because his heroine is Lilly, the escaped wife of one of the other Sector leaders. Plus, Jared’s one of the up-till-now fringe characters who doesn’t feel out of the blue coming up to the front because he’s been layered into the Sector Four world for so many books already. Also, any book that includes Jared means Ace will be prominent too and I do love me some Ace. But am panting the most for Mad’s book, which is still a ways off, sadly.

      Like

  2. Kayla Lords January 5, 2015 at 7:19 am #

    And this is the question I’ve focused on: “Do women, even fictional ones, still require the trappings of fantasy to enjoy shame-free sex?”

    What would happen if someone wrote a book (and maybe it’s already happened) with a heroine who enjoyed sex for the sake of sex, for the pleasure of her own body, with zero shame? Could it be a bestseller (assuming all other details such as being well-written with engaging characters were met)? I don’t write this kind of romance or erotica, but based on my experiences with readers, there are plenty of people who enjoy seeing something real – and enjoying sex with no shame is a reality for many people (not enough, but many). Maybe the way to help change perceptions is to write in a different way – write the heroine who unashamedly basks in her sexuality, seeks out pleasure, and enjoys the hell out of herself in the process. (If those books exist, PLEASE share the titles!)

    On the flipside, while prostitution can absolutely be a scarring, damaging thing for people forced into in simply to survive, what about story lines that discuss sex workers who chose the lifestyle – from a woman’s perspective? Who doesn’t have shame – other than the shame that society tries to impose? Who wasn’t abused as a child “causing” the desire to engage in sex work. Do those books exist, and if not, should they?

    The written word is powerful beyond measure. If there’s a desire (or way) to change perceptions, maybe writing the stories we want to see is the way to go.

    Like

    • Kiersten Hallie Krum January 5, 2015 at 10:34 am #

      There are lots of books out there in which the heroine is shame-free about sex. Victoria Dahl’s ouevre comes immediately to mind, but lots of erotic romance and sexy contemporary romance, and even historicals these days feature heroines who revel in their sexuality and are shame-free about it. My post, and suppositions, were meant to be particularly related to *paying* for sex and how that outright, no ambiguity, declaration of a woman claiming her sexuality enough to, frankly, treat it like a man does, still seems to be verboten.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kayla Lords January 5, 2015 at 11:15 am #

        And I guess that’s where my real question lies – could writing about sex work from a woman’s perspective that doesn’t involve degradation and shame being a catalyst for a shift in the conversation? I’d like to think it could be but not knowing if anyone has tried it already, I wasn’t sure if it’s a failed experiment or simply an untried one.

        Like

  3. Madeline Iva January 5, 2015 at 7:58 am #

    You assume that people won’t buy a heroine who’s a prostitute because earning money through sex is shameful to them. That’s probably true with some people, but I find Pretty Women appalling not because she earns money for sex, but because it’s this unbelievable fantasy version of what that job is like. Sex work is not glamorous by a long stretch and it’s the f*** ton of horrible crap that comes along with it that’s so appalling–including rape and other multitudes of horrors. While there’s always something out in the media attempting to prove that it’s ‘just not that bad’ or that women are making strides in taking control of the sex biz, for the vast majority of women who engage in this work–many of them homeless or runaways–it’s a total frickin’ nightmare. And that’s the end of my Pretty Women rant. (Side note–originally the Pretty Woman script was supposed to be an ironic title about a much darker, twisted, unhappy situation. Then hollywood got hold of it…the rest is history…So now young women across the land think if you become a hooker…you get to fall in love and go shopping….)

    Like

    • Kiersten Hallie Krum January 5, 2015 at 10:31 am #

      I actually wrote and deleted several variations of ranting against the Pretty Woman sanitization of the life of a street hooker because I didn’t want to get derailed from what I really wanted to focus on in this post. But I totally agree. I remember girls my age (17) when PW came out sighing about how they wanted to go work a corner now so Richard Gere could come pick them up and I was all, “you do realize the scum you’d have to bang first in the 100s right? Oh yeah, and it’s NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN.” Oy. Vey.

      Like

  4. Madeline Iva January 5, 2015 at 8:17 am #

    These books sound interesting–esp. the last one. Okay, so aside from my Pretty Women rant above, I heard an interview with a guy who used to be a male prostitute and then got out of the biz and became a high up person in opera admin. (Go figure.) Yes, he was a prostitute because he was addicted to drugs and needed the money to score. But what made him finally clean up his act, he said, was always having to pretend to be in love with his clients.

    He said that’s what his clients wanted most. Not just great sex–but for him to act like it went beyond sex, like he’d fallen helplessly and totally in love with them. And it drove him crazy. Enough so that he got clean rather than deal with it anymore. He said that aside from the bad acting–which seemed to offend him aesthetically, putting out that ‘you, you, it’s always been only you’ emotion 24/7 was exhausting. He said if he wanted to deal with his emotions, then he wouldn’t have become a drug addict. So he finally went to rehab.

    Like

    • Kel January 5, 2015 at 10:13 am #

      That’s… I was going to say hysterical, but actually it’s sort of sad. Of course people want to be the center of someone else’s universe for a little while; they generally don’t know how to be the center of their own.

      On sex being guilt-free… yeah and no. So, sex could be guilt-free, except that people build all kinds of emotions into it. Even when one is very clear that there is nothing beyond sex, people get attached. And it’s not just women who get attached. Orgasm is a powerful thing, touch is a powerful thing, there’s vulnerability and if one is a caring/considerate/aware partner, the recipient of that focus wants it to continue beyond the end of the sexual contact.

      Or at least that’s been my experience.

      Like

      • Kiersten Hallie Krum January 5, 2015 at 10:37 am #

        There’s the whole “Girlfriend Experience” out there, which arguably is what Pretty Woman was aiming for, but also, women tend to want and/or need the trappings of her escort being her boyfriend. There’s an argument that can be made there of women needing the emotional connection more than they need the sexual one, but I’m of the opinion that sex and emotion are interconnect regardless of who you’re having it with, though I know many don’t share that view.

        Like

      • Madeline Iva January 5, 2015 at 10:21 pm #

        I couldn’t agree with you more. I think the shame feeling that people sometimes get with hook-ups that *doesn’t* come from outer society can come from the signals of people who secretly “that sex and emotion are interconnected regardless of who you’re having it with” but at the same time it’s like they keep rubbing their partner’s nose in it *not* being that. Uggggggh! This brings back the truly wretched memory of a friend of mine telling me about how a guy she had sex with kicked her out of his place in the middle of the night in a snow storm with no taxi’s available for a long hike home in high heels because “he was feeling really emotional and just needed some alone time.” And knowing what shits people are in general to service workers, I can only imagine how this plays out with prostitutes…male or female.

        Like

  5. Adriana Anders January 5, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    Love this post! Oddly, I seem to have read quite a bit on the subject. I read (and enjoyed) two of the three books you mention here (the Maisey Yates is now on my to-read list). A few others:

    Megan Hart wrote a book called Stranger in which the heroine pretty shamelessly enjoys her paid sexcapades… up to a point. Anyway, for those Hart fans out there, it’s an enjoyable read.

    Others are Laura Leone’s Fallen From Grace, in which a male prostitute attempts to find a way out of the life with the help of a good woman and Finding Home by Bonnie Dee and Lauren Baker, in which the heroine falls for a homeless teenage street hustler. Yep.

    Like

  6. delphinedryden January 5, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

    If you read the whole cycle of Curio books, the development of the relationship between Didier and Caroly kind of *does* kind of involve a rescue…because of course the most interesting thing about Didier isn’t that he’s a prostitute, it’s that he suffers from crippling agoraphobia and really can’t leave his home. A big part of the reason he remains in prostitution is that it’s a job he can do without leaving his apartment, and it’s a way to maintain contact with people through very limited, controlled interactions that won’t trigger his anxiety. She doesn’t rescue him, exactly, but she is the catalyst for his decision to work harder to rescue himself. And by the end of the cycle he *does* leave the profession…because he has enough mobility to have other options, among other reasons.

    Another book that kind of touches on the male-prostitute-hero thing is Amber Lin’s NA, “How to Say Goodbye.” The hero is homeless, and has done just about whatever he’s needed to in order to survive on the street. Sold himself, sold other stuff, with some implication that he’s kind of sold his soul along the way (emotionally, not supernaturally…he’s just so damaged). Very unusual dynamic between him and the heroine because neither of them really has any power…but there are still power dynamics in play, and privilege dynamics in play.

    Also Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock’s “Playing the Fool” trilogy has a con man hero who was a prostitute in his teens. Highly recommend if you read m/m (full disclosure: I edited this series …but honestly, it’s so good I rec it even to people who don’t read m/m. And Henry’s past is just one facet of a really interesting character).

    Like

    • Kiersten Hallie Krum January 5, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

      Yeah, Del, I was deliberately trying *not* to spoil tbe agoraphobia wrinkle b/c I found it to be such a unique twist…

      Like

      • delphinedryden January 5, 2015 at 10:40 pm #

        Oh, doh! Sorry. I found it key to understanding why he remained in that line of work, but possibly later books make that connection more distinct than first one?

        It’s definitely also on my “heroes with interesting psychopathology” shelf.

        Like

  7. Alexa Day January 5, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

    Hey, ladies! I’m here on my phone and will be back later with a longer post, since I love this topic. I just wanted to say that the heroine of my first book, Illicit Impulse, is a firm believer in guilt-free sexcapades. She spends the story testing an experimental pill designed to prevent women from catching feelings for their partners, and I think it works out pretty well for her. I can’t leave you a link (because I’m on the phone), but it’s over on the Shop page if you’re down. I’ll be back later, and more on topic. Promise.

    Like

  8. Kiersten Hallie Krum January 5, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

    Just to clarify, the guilt-free, shame-free question is *specifically* in relation to sex w/a male proz. I think we all know women and heroines who are shame-free in their sexuality in general and/or their private lives.

    Like

    • Alexa Day January 5, 2015 at 9:12 pm #

      Oh, I’m sorry. I think I misread Kayla’s question after yours. She said, “And I guess that’s where my real question lies – could writing about sex work from a woman’s perspective that doesn’t involve degradation and shame being a catalyst for a shift in the conversation?” But where she meant “sex work” as a noun, the way you did, I read it separately: “could writing/about sex/work from a woman’s perspective,” etc.

      Sorry.

      Like

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