Paying to Play

Published by Wednesday Martin

People pay for sex. This has been true for as long as we have had money. But until recently, the people paying for sex were rarely women. This was due to stereotypes about women’s libidos and sexual adventurousness that women internalized, as well as the lack of agency that many women had over their lives in and out of the bedroom. Women have historically paid a very high price in certain contexts, including the US, for exercising sexual autonomy. And there is still widely held stigma against women who pay to play. Nonetheless, recent research suggests that there has been a marked increase in women paying for sexual services as they have gained more economic independence and social mores have begun to change. This can be seen not only in women seeking out prostitutes and escorts but also in the rise of erotic massages and sex parties that cater predominantly or exclusively to female clientele. As striking as the numerical rise in these sexual practices is, the reasons why women seek them out are even more interesting. Some of these include:

  • Exploration — As Dr. Carol Queen puts it, “these kinds of in-person endeavors can help women map their progress toward sexual self-discovery.”

  • Busy Busy Busy — As one woman who has been paying for sex the past few years explained, “I am a busy lady and found dating boring, stressful and time-consuming”

  • Hitting the Spot — Said one woman after her first encounter with an escort, “Rare is the sexual partner who is not only handsome and anatomically gifted but also deeply skilled, not only on a technical level but in his ability to pick up nonverbal cues.” Many women find a consistent satisfaction in paid for sex that can be elusive in other contexts.

  • Connection and Attention — One male escort, who sees mostly female clients remarked, “Pretty much every single client that I see there’s some companionship element to the booking” and “Clients say to me that with a lot of sexual encounters they have the guy makes it about him, he comes and then it’s over. They want the focus to be on them.”

  • Discretion — “Some women who have an almost sexless marriage may not want to leave their husbands or partners because their relationships are not that bad, they may have children or they may be financially unable to leave.” Paid for sex can often provide a private, safe option for women who are otherwise constrained.

These various explanations reflect the diversity of women who seek transactional sex. They also speak to the ways that our society and its normative practices around sex fail women. There is still a persistent orgasm gap (though there is no such thing for lesbians, who orgasm at roughly the same rate as straight men), and on the whole it seems many women are failing to find the pleasurable intimacy they seek in traditional sexual arrangements. These trends also speak to one of the reasons that a more nuanced ethical and legal approach to sex work should be in order. These services are addressing felt needs and desires for many women and offering freedom, control, excitement, and novelty. All of which are long overdue for many of us. Or, as one article put it, “men have enjoyed safe, secure and stress-free ways to experiment with sex and pleasure for a long time. Better salaries, less stigmas and more options mean women can finally get in on that game, too.”