"I have to confess to knowing the truth about this sordid profession - because eight years ago, I succumbed to the lure of paying for sex." And - oh yeah - the lure of being Richard Gere in Pretty Woman.
While you might hear the words "Daily Mail" and "escort addiction" and mentally call for the check - I did - Andy Bodle's essay is suprisingly interesting. Misguided? Troubled? Worrisome? Sure - as only those things written with "now I know better" authority can be - but also thought-provoking. See, Bodle's not, he's at pains to tell us, the kind of guy who would have ever seen himself paying for sex. And he says now, "I'm ashamed of exploiting women, and of having supported a degrading, dangerous industry. I don't expect anyone to condone what I did.But now, after many years have passed, I want to explain why I was propelled into that addiction - and why so many other men are, too." And he;s still kind glad he did it!
Well-educated and successful, Bodle nevertheless had a disastrous history with women: mocked in school, painfully shy, and by his own reckoning stood up 27 times in the 90s. Cue violins.
When I hit 30, I hadn't had a girlfriend - or even a kiss - for three years. I was starting to feel desperate: lonely and with little to look forward to. I'd never seriously thought about paying for female company: my image of the sex industry was of kerbcrawlers and kneetremblers in needle-strewn alleyways. But, according to the article, it was very safe and very clean. You visited the girls in plush, rented apartments; you were paying for companionship, not sex.
Of course, although he treats the transactions like dates - insisting on buying the escorts dinner, bringing them flowers, and choosing to believe the pros "like" him - they invariably end in sex. And not shockingly, this boosts his ego. He gets 'hooked' - blowing through his savings, forswearing normal dating altogether. "My reasoning went like this: why should I hang around trying to pick up women in bars when I could meet far more attractive women with no risk of getting hurt emotionally?"
As we've seen, the man is susceptible to the media; not shockingly, he falls for one of the working girls, even paying for her to spend his birthday with him. "I was convinced, after that, that Hayley and I had a special connection. Maybe the whole Pretty Woman myth was true. Maybe, if I played my cards right, I could persuade her to quit escorting and be with me."
Um, no. His bubble is further burst when one woman mentions that his visit will allow her to pay her electric bill. And he has a revelation.
In a year of visiting escorts, this was the first incontrovertible evidence I'd heard that not every girl did escorting because they enjoyed it. Some of them were doing it because they had to. And even though Sylvia seemed to like me, even though I had helped her out in the short-term, I was helping to perpetuate that situation. Perhaps I'd been naive not to notice anything amiss before; perhaps I was just too immersed in my own self-pity at being single to worry about anyone else's feelings. But the truth is that up until that point, I had genuinely been convinced that all the girls I'd seen were selling their bodies entirely of their own free will.
When one escort starts crying, he leaves without sex and gives up the lifestyle, gradually easing back into non-paid relationships. While the depth of his delusion - or denial - is kind of hard to grasp, we try to stay with him. So, does he regret it? Well, here's where the article gets weird.
Many people say that men who use escort girls hate women. That may be true for some; but in my case, I believe those escorts stopped me hating women. I feel gratitude towards those sweet, beautiful girls for the warmth they showed me. Guilt, absolutely, that I helped perpetuate an industry that is unregulated and potentially unsafe - but also gratitude. I firmly believe that while some sex workers are escorts by choice, thousands of others are not. And the fact is, when you book an escort, you never know which you are going to get. And that's why I'll never again try to re-create the 'girlfriend experience'. The truth is that it's an unedifying sham.
Basically, what's at war here are what he thinks he should think about the women, and his own self-interest. Is he sorry he - maybe - exploited women and promoted an industry he finds problematic? Nah, it was worth it! And in some ways this piece underlies what many find worrisome about the world of high-class escorting (as opposed to the more obvious pitfalls and degradations of less rareified forms of sex work.) That in some ways it's the men like Bodle - lonely, naive, certainly self-deluding - who are a big part of the problem. Because while these men might treat an escort with respect and kindness, they're also buying into the fantasy - allowing them to misrepresent their own actions, and, more to the point, effecting the way they view real-life relationships. Take that telling admission that now he can have "more attractive" women with less effort - do we really think this superficiality and entitlement won't carry over into a normal dating life? To say nothing of "relationships" - which he admits he considers them - centered around pleasing him, fulfilling him, demanding nothing? Sure, good training wheels. And we're not even getting into the sex element.
It's easy, as women, to underestimate the self-esteem issues inherent in this kind of give-and-take. It's funny: when I ask some male friends (the type who'd 'never pay for sex') what they make of men who do, one word always comes up: "pathetic." A guy who can't get sex on his own terms seems, implicitly, more problematic than one who'd indulge in an unhealthy power dynamic, or a current system that allows for the degradation of women (even allowing for a best-case-scenario view of sex work.) And ironically, of course, it's this same kind of judgment that draws men like Bodle into "addictions" like the one he describes - a wish for that kind of validation. And tying self-esteem up with paid sex? Well, as plenty of women have found out, the Pretty Woman scenario rarely works out.