As a newly divorced middle-aged woman, I found myself at an exclusive New York City event space listening intently to a lecture given by a mother-and-daughter matchmaking team male escort who provided advice for 21st-century dating.
After 28 years of marriage, I didn’t know how to find a man. This duo usually charged men $50,000-$100,000 to assist them in finding partners; perhaps they knew something I didn’t.
“Women shouldn’t offer to pay for drinks or split the bill on a date,” her mom insisted. “Men don’t appreciate that.”
“I’m willing to split the bill,” I replied.
“Any woman who offers to pay her share is someone uninterested in sex,” she scowled with contempt.
“I am more than happy to split the cost,” I replied.
“Be careful,” she warned, noting that you could end up with a gigolo.”
After some thought, I concluded that this could actually be a beneficial development.
Months passed without me thinking much of that lecture or the possibility of hiring a sex worker until after being sexually assaulted on my first date with someone I met through OkCupid.
When we discuss sexual work, what typically comes to mind is a woman providing services for men at a fee. Rarely do we consider men offering those same services to women. Why?
Our culture still discourages us from thinking of older women having their own needs met outside of relationships – much less paying for it! Consequently, seeking sex on one’s own terms remains taboo in many circles today.
What if a woman has been married and had children, but now she just wants some fun? Or maybe she doesn’t even want marriage or kids — now or ever — and just needs someone to fulfill her sexual needs?
Does hiring someone for sex need to be legal, accepted, and recognized for the benefits it gives women who crave physical touch, need sexual attention, and are willing to pay for such experiences? Certainly, these women should be valued and not criminalized for seeking such fulfillment through paid experiences with men who are specifically designed to fulfill them.
By the time I agreed to meet this man from OkCupid, I’d already carefully reviewed his profile and checked off all of my desired characteristics: age appropriateness; fatherhood; ownership of a successful business in NYC; and attractiveness.
After exchanging several messages on the app, I wondered if he’d ask me out on a date; eventually, he suggested meeting at a bar with dancing – an added bonus as someone who actually read my profile rather than just looked at pictures!
I was eager to meet him, yet knew there would be risks involved when connecting with a stranger from a dating site. Whoever the person (or bot) behind those charming words and pictures might be, it’s impossible for me to know for certain.
Therefore, my mind began making calculations: Will I be safe meeting him in a public place (I never go to a man’s apartment on our first date.) How much has he misrepresented himself? (Most people present the best sides of themselves and neglect or lie about other stuff.) Does he really have a job? (Is “entrepreneur” code for unemployed?) Is he actually single? (Cheating? Separated?)
Do his pictures look like him now or were they taken ten years ago?) After considering all these questions, and feeling secure about our upcoming date, I felt secure about knowing everything that needed consideration, confident that everything had been taken into account, and felt secure about what lay ahead.
On a balmy September evening, I arrived at the bar early and stood on the sidewalk waiting for him. He looked just as handsome as in his pictures (check), wearing a sports jacket, nice jeans, and a crisp white shirt (check). When he introduced himself and kissed me twice on each cheek (a European custom), I knew we should go inside; “Yes,” I replied.
I made all my preparations for the date, feeling sure this man was one of the “good ones,” yet hours later he coerced me into his apartment and sexually assaulted me there.
After reporting the attack to the police, I was left feeling vulnerable and uncertain. No matter how well prepared you are when meeting strangers on dating sites, you never know who or what will show up.
Weeks later, I reflected on the lecture I attended and began seriously considering hiring a male escort — or sex worker — just for pleasure. It seemed safer to hire someone to please me than search for an intimate partner on dating sites.
If nothing else exists and I enjoy sex, is it really so bad to seek out and pay for an enjoyable physical encounter until a more emotionally connected relationship develops?
“I had friends to talk to, dinner companions, theater buddies, and travel partners. So while I wasn’t lonely or lacking company, having someone special for sex wasn’t on my radar – and frankly, I didn’t want to have to go through all the hoops of dating just for some pleasure.”
I had girlfriends to chat with, dinner dates, theater buddies, and travel companions. In short, I wasn’t lonely – in fact, quite the contrary! With plenty of people around me to choose from at all times, there was never a shortage of company or conversation. I didn’t have anyone to have sexual relations with and didn’t want to have to go through all the trouble of dating just for pleasure.
When I paid for an escort from a respected agency (as much as this can be measured since New York City sex workers and the agencies they may work with cannot get licensed), I knew the man would more than likely show up, be attractive and resemble his online pictures and bio, be attentive to my needs, and accountable to his agency.
Furthermore, since it was paid for by me, I could tell him exactly what I liked and didn’t like – there was any need for me to focus on what he needed; instead since he’d been paid to take care of me instead!
My friend recommended visiting a website. There, there were pictures of attractive men in various stages of undress and short bios. After being tempted, I called the agency and was given a password to “unlock” more options on the site. When I asked about payment, she also provided me with some guidance.
I asked how much time should be dedicated to a “get-to-know-you meeting,” and if the men were regularly tested for sexually transmitted infections. The owner abruptly replied, “We are not in the business of selling sex.
If we did, that would constitute prostitution and is illegal.” I took a deep breath. Unbeknownst to me, I was calling for a service that was illegal. “Right, I’m so sorry,” I said with an obvious wink in his voice – as if we both understood he meant what he said but the reason for calling was to set up an appointment with a sex worker. Nonetheless, this thought took me by surprise: could I be arrested? Will my license for psychology be taken away? What if my patients found out?
Sex is often driven by desire, feelings can arise, and love and commitment may even enter the picture – but sex itself, for its own sake, is essential for women’s physical well-being.
In October 2020, after not having sex for nearly a year due to the pandemic, I saw my gynecologist and she told me, “You need to start having sex again.”
She noted that my labia and vagina were “drying up,” suggesting a dildo, hormones, and creams as alternatives since having intimate encounters with someone may not be feasible at this time. Furthermore, she laughed at health officials’ advice that single people and non-monogamy engage in during COVID-19 — something involving physical barriers and holes.
Sex work is a complex issue in America, mostly illegal except in certain counties of Nevada where brothels are allowed. Due to the lack of regulation surrounding sex work, those engaged in it face numerous dangers while doing their jobs.
Physical and psychological abuse against women, girls, and trans people participating in sex work is unfortunately commonplace and may involve trafficking, and exploitation by clients, pimps, or law enforcement personnel.
Many are advocating for the legalization or decriminalization of sex work to protect sex workers. Two bills are currently being considered in New York and earlier this year the Manhattan district attorney’s office announced they would no longer prosecute sex workers. “Criminally prosecuting prostitution does not make us safer; rather, it often has the opposite effect by further marginalizing vulnerable New Yorkers,” District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. declared.
It’s a step in the right direction, but I believe we need to go much further. Additionally, when considering that sex work can include men servicing women, does that change how we view this industry? Perhaps not. But if sex workers were protected — from prosecution and violence — and women felt entitled to think their sexual needs are as valid as any man’s, I believe we would live in a much healthier world today.
At this stage in my relationship, I’m undecided on whether to risk hiring an escort. We are having a great time together but if the relationship were to end and I found myself single again, having the option to hire someone would be ideal. After all, if I can hire a massage therapist for back pain relief, a hairdresser for cuts, a mechanic for services on my car, and a handyman to replace the broken doors, surely legal hiring of men for sexual activity should also be allowed?
Patricia Thornton is a psychologist, mother, dancer and writer based in New York City.
Are you interested in having your compelling personal story featured on HuffPost? Discover what we are searching for and submit a pitch today!