This article originally appeared on VICE New Zealand.
The sex work client is a mysterious guy. We know he’s there. There wouldn’t be a sex industry without him. But unless something horrific like a murder happens, we know nothing about him.
Ten years after New Zealand decriminalized sex work, Dr. Pani Farvid, senior lecturer in Psychology at Auckland University of Technology, researched how sex work was portrayed in the media and found it was heavily over-represented by portrayals of female sex workers with very little discussion of the male buyers. "Unless the buying had gone wrong and someone had been violent against a sex worker,” Farvid told VICE. “In which case, the man was talked about as this monstrous other, as if he’s not your average guy. He’s this evil, violent man.”
So Farvid went looking for stories of the average male experiences. “Their invisibility really highlighted their position of privilege within society,” she says. “Even though they represent the demand aspect of this industry they’re very rarely talked about as part of the industry. It’s only the women who carry the stigma, or are problematized as 'unworthy' or 'difficult' citizens.”
Farvid categorizes the men who buy sex into three groups. The occasional buyer, the kind who will pop into a brothel with a friend on a night out. The repeat buyer who will engage a sex worker once in a while. Then there is the regular buyer, the frequent customer. When Farvid recruited for her study through sites like Adult Forum, it was mostly men from this group who signed up. Some visited sex workers as much as four times a week. They paid between $120 and $400 [$80 and $260] an hour and they were aged between 24 and 52. “Most of them had opted out of relationships with women and replaced them with sex work,” says Farvid.
Rather than the aggressive, take-what-you-can-get stereotype, Farvid described the clients as portraying a “softer masculinity.” They tended to be anxious, shy, socially awkward, or too busy for a conventional relationship. They were very aware of not appearing exploitative, and careful to describe the sex they had as more than transactional. Here’s an edited selection of what the men had to say about their encounters.
The Perfect Experience
"I’m a closet romantic really, but I haven’t had the ability to actually make that connection and so it’s sort of like, well, the next best thing. A session with a sex worker is the perfect boyfriend-girlfriend experience because everything goes the way that you want it to go. Whereas a relationship with someone else there’s always the to-ing and fro-ing, the arguments, the disagreements. And there’s a whole amount of emotional and time commitment involved with it, and that’s the big difference. It’s perfect because things happen the way you want them to happen, when you want them to happen. I have friends in relationships and I see the work that they have to do.” -Age 52
How to Be a Good Client
“When I book I at least try and put the effort in like it was a date with a regular girl and you spend a couple of hours on grooming and dressing nicely. Even though I’m there to buy sex, I at least try to be a good client if that’s possible. Let’s hope having put that effort in it’s a positive experience.[The situation] makes you feel like there has been this stream of other guys but at least you have tried to do the right thing and she appreciates that... To be a good client, you just behave, be polite, don’t push for anything, dress nicely, smell good, no haggling over the price. Be pleasant to be around and have good conversation just like being a good date really—not treating the girls like a piece of meat, and not having sex that's all about you." -Age 42
Feeling Like More Than a “Dick With Money”
“I found out how much of an amazing person she is and I felt so... elated that I’d actually met this person and got to know them. I felt very special that she trusted me enough that she let me into her personal life. That was a huge boost for me because—without being too graphic—I mean she ruined sex for me forever, she was so amazing at it. Just one of the milestones for me was that she gave me a full body orgasm that I’ve never had before. I was basically shaking and convulsing it gave me so much pleasure, but she is also an amazing person and she likes me, and that was a huge boost in my confidence. And we still talk and hang out and I guess that’s probably the biggest thing. When you come across someone that you actually click with and you know, they see you more than just a dick with money.” -Age 32
“Some of them are particularly good at making you get aroused very quickly. And it’s sort of like there’s that but there’s also the feeling that you weren’t a complete waste of time for them so that they got something out of it as well. I guess to a certain extent, that’s part of the reason I prefer giving oral, is I actually enjoy giving as much as I enjoy receiving. So if the woman is sort of fairly responsive in that respect that’s always a good indication.” -Age 52
What Makes the Sex Fulfilling
“I’ve found sex with a sex worker as fulfilling as sex with a girlfriend. It doesn’t happen that often because it’s all about what kind of chemistry you end up having with a girl that you go and see. But I guess that’s why I like to try and find a girl who’s independent and old enough to know her own mind so that she is happy and engaged in the session and that way you know it’s just as good as sex with a regular girlfriend... I think more than anything it’s someone who’s a good kisser, you know... I never used to know how important that was but I think that’s what takes it from being a kind of mechanical sex to something a bit more fulfilling.” -Age 42
Being Made to Feel “Special”
“If a girl makes me feel special, I’ll return the favor by continuing my patronage and also tip incredibly well. Like I’d say in the time that I’ve seen this particular regular I’ve probably overpaid her several thousands of dollars. Enough to see her 20 more times kind of thing so you know she knows I appreciate her. I don’t know whether she’s just riding the gravy train in a way. Having known her enough, I know that’s not the case. I know that she’s a family person, she’s very generous, and very caring. One thing that I’ve only told her is that my mother passed away. And I don’t tell this to very many working girls let alone my friends, actually. Out of the blue she texts me on Mother’s Day to ask how I’m doing. You know this is not something that any old person would do. So she hung out with me and we both went out and got a coffee, and you know we were both in sweatpants and crap shoes and hoodies and stuff like that. And I know that she’s not using me and she knows vice versa as well. So yeah, making you feel special is definitely a good way to start." -Age 32
“If I just wanted to come I’d just masturbate at home. So it’s nice to actually spend time with a girl and actually be able to make her feel nice as well. Like part of the enjoyment for me is feeling like I’ve actually made her day as well, and I try my best to do that as well. So I don’t force myself on her, it’s not all about me. When you do a full service sometimes you’re just about to go and kiss her and she’ll be “I’m sorry, I don’t do kissing.” In my head, I’ve just forced myself upon them and it does make you embarrassed. It’s very mechanical and it feels a bit more like a transaction I guess because you really are just giving them money to please yourself.” -Age 32
“With the girls that I don’t really care about, like if they’re faking it that’s fine because if it feels real then that’s good enough for me! But then with the girls that I really do care about, if they were faking it, I’d be pretty devastated. But at the same time, I wouldn’t really blame them because that’s what they’re there for, I’m paying them for their intimacy or for the illusion of intimacy.” -Age 32
Buying Sex as Long as It Doesn't Feel Bought
“She was so distant I guess during the session. Like it was nothing to her, like it was literally transactional. I’m not a carcass and it just felt very mechanical. That was the only time that I ever really didn’t like the girl… I’ve not come across any of them that don’t like sex and don’t enjoy what they do… I don’t like to take advantage. If at any point I felt like I was seeing someone that was doing it because they had to it would be so much worse for me. Like she was there because she had to be there because she needed the money, like that would just feel terrible to me.” -Aged 32
Coping with Jealousy
“I actually quite liked her so I’m not going to see her anymore because I’m not going to get attached because you know, it's not real. It can feel kind of real. Like you know nothing would ever happen so if it did, it would be a bit awkward because it’s not like she has any idea what’s going on. My thing is don’t do one girl [too much], it's like, you know, switch it up a bit if you, if you start to like her, it’s the safe option.
Remember that they’re just doing their job well. If they really liked me, well I suppose it’s just bad luck, could have had something that would go somewhere potentially.” -Age 33
“It does send a little bit of jealousy through me when I read about other reviews of her on Adult Forum and stuff because it seems a lot of other guys get this with her as well. I guess the only thing I take solace in is that I have seen her outside of work as well and most of these guys probably haven’t so that’s where the jealousy sort of ends. But it does make you feel a little bit not as special when other guys are just like blown away by her as well.” -Age 32
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