In the spectrum of sex worker clients is a type of consumer sometimes known as "the hobbyist." A profile popularized by the rise of online sex work review forums, these men are known to treat the industry as sport: hobbyists troll the internet for the newest young escorts, and then write detailed and often vulgar critiques of their encounters.These men are not the average patron, and the sex workers and sex work activists VICE spoke to estimate they only represent a small percentage of the clientèle.
Opinions of these types of clients vary, and service providers point out that, like most things internet-related, people who write terrible things online can sometimes be quite sweet in person. But some sex workers believe the hobbyists' preponderance for misogynist, gratuitous reviews and their tendency to give higher ratings to women who perform riskier, unprotected acts, can be dangerous.
VICE contacted several of these men to ask them about their hobby. Only one agreed to speak on the record, via email. Here's what he had to say.
VICE: Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
Hobbyist: I have to be a little opaque on the boards, so I generally describe myself as an IT professional, early 60s, who lives in the Montreal suburbs.
When and how did you get interested in sex work? Can you tell me about your first few experiences?
I have always been interested in sex work, dating back to my teenage years, when I used to watch the street walkers on St-Laurent Street on the way home from the bars.
One night I saw a hooker who looked exactly like a girl I had a crush on in high school. For $50, I was able to relieve five years worth of longing after this girl. When you think that for a lousy $50 (say $200 in today's cash) you take take away all of any woman's power over you, it puts things in perspective.
VICE's documentary on how Bill C-36 has affected the sex industry in Canada.
Based on your posts, it seems you're a frequent client. How often do you hire sex workers, what are your preferences, and what do you seek from these women?
I see about a girl or two per week and have done so for more than 30 years. Like almost all hobbyists I like them young, say between 19 and 23, and new to the trade. "Girls next door" types are the most popular; the ones who don't look like escorts. Once a girl has been escorting say, for ten or 12 weeks, at say 10 clients a week, she has seen about 100 clients. After that, she loses any authenticity and becomes essentially a total actress; a "whore" for the lack of a better word.
Do you have a ballpark of how much you've paid throughout the years?At least $250,000. But don't laugh. That's way less than most guys spend on a single divorce. In fact some idiots work all their lives to buy themselves one girl. The hobbyist can have one every week – on top of his girlfriend.
Tell me about your use of review boards - what purpose do you think they serve on the client side, what do they mean to you, how long have you been using them?
I have been using the boards for about eight years. I use the review boards for one reason: to find out if there any new girls in the hobby. Cheap whores you can find anywhere; in bars, massage parlours, strip clubs. But new girls, that still have a bit of authenticity to them, are rarer. A lot of people think that younger girls are more popular because they are "easier" and more open. That's bullshit. The younger girls are hotter and everyone wants them, so they can dictate terms if they are smart. It's when a girl gets older, and addicted to the drugs, or worse, to the easy cash, that they become more open and often more generous services.
Do you think review boards created this 'hobbyist' type of client?
The boards wildly exacerbated a situation that always existed. I used to have to take a day off every week, sometimes two, just to track down one decent, new, young girl. Now the hobbyist has dozens of new young girls avail at his fingertips at almost all times.
What are the review boards' pros and cons, for clients and for sex workers?
The boards are simply atrocious to all girls. There are no pros for sex workers. The younger, good looking and new girls get all the business they want, so they don't need the boards. Indeed they often change their names and agencies, to appear "new" so they can market themselves as debutantes. Occasionally, older, independents will try to market themselves; but like I said, the critics are simply brutal and if a girl has one bad date, they will fry her. The other thing is once a girl hits her early 20s she already has to start lying about her age to get clients. This is harder to do in the Internet age, because the truth gets out quickly.
What do you think of some of the language used on review boards? Some posts are quite aggressive, yet providers have told me this is not usually representative of the client. What do people need to understand here, do you think some posts are derogatory?
All of the posts are derogatory, but this is a rough business. It brings out the worst in everyone. That said, the bad language and worst comments are usually edited out.
You are right about one thing. The workers I meet all tell me that the clients they meet on the boards are pretty good (compared to what you would meet advertising online, in a bar or in a strip joint).
Some of the providers I spoke to told me that reviews create this kind of competition, wherein if women want business or a good rating, they need to offer some services they may deem unsafe or may not be comfortable with, like anal or BBBJ (industry acronym for bareback [unprotected] blow job). What do you think of this?
I agree. Like I said, the review boards are horrible for women.
You post quite regularly on MERC (Montreal Escort Review Community). Do you post on other boards? What do you get from your interactions with the other participants? Is this a community for you?
Veteran hobbyists, don't get much out of each other, because frankly, for most veteran hobbyists, screwing lots of women is a normal activity, not different than going to the gym. And what's interesting about talking about going to the gym?
I never post on the other boards, because other boards filter out a lot of the comments. MERC keeps things relaxed. Has C-36 changed things for you? How do you feel about the way Canada treats the sex work industry, the taboos around it, etc?
C-36 marks the start of a new trend: discriminating against men. If a guy sees an escort, he gets prosecuted, the girl goes home. What do you make of groups that claim sex work is exploitative and should be abolished?
A former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said that "the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation." I agree. Look, the real question is whether sex work is good for the girls themselves and it is clearly not. But when a 19-year-old girl with a Grade 10 education, or a foreign student with no work visa (a big source of escorts) can easily take on 10 clients a week at $140 a pop (her cut, the agency gets the rest) – that works out to $1,400 cash a week or say $70,000 a year. Tax free. Thats equal to $100,000 before taxes. Almost nobody makes that kind of cash these days. It's hard to convince a girl to stay away from that. In an ideal world, how should sex work be legislated or perceived?
Look everything in the world balances out. Young women have a phenomenal power of attraction against which most men are simply defenceless. However, men do have one weapon, because, although not many realize this, women are almost defenceless against men with money. You don't even have to spend it. Women can smell it on you, and if you play it cool, they will eventually walk over to you and sit on your lap like a cat.
The law should stay out of it. As for what "society" perceives. Who cares? The average IQ of a Canadian is 100. Take off your elitist hat for a second. Do you care what someone with an IQ of 100 thinks?
You reiterate a few times that sex work is bad for the girls… What do you think makes it so bad? Other than the money, do you think there are positives?
The huge turnover in girls provides a clue.
Because I see mostly young girls, who are new to the hobby, I get a different perspective. I see first hand how long they last and how they turn out. Don't forget, that most prostitution researchers, journalists and politicians, generally get their views about the hobby from talking to veteran service providers, who in my opinion, are in no way characteristic of the profession.
Do you think any of us would pay real money to sleep with the so-called prostitution industry spokespeople you see on TV. They are generally old, fat and butchy.
The girls review board hobbyists are after are among the most beautiful and smartest in the world, bar none.
I can't tell you how many curious English lit and journalism students try out as escorts. For these girls, there are huge positives. For one, just one or two meetings with a client and they find out immediately the way the world works. Nelly Arcan the famous Montreal writer/ex-prostitute (of the novel Whore), said that after her first client, she crossed a threshold…after which she was changed forever.
But here is the thing: although the "normal" girls who come into the hobby generally have a good time with me, they rarely stay in the hobby long. About 90% of girls are gone before their 100th client (say ten weeks). The ones that stick around are the pimped girls, the dope addicts, the cash addicts and the female sex addicts (that's another story).
Given your opinion that it's an overall negative experience for the girls, do you ever feel guilt at taking part in this industry?
Yes. But after sex, I always make it a point, to give the girl the straight dope on the hobby – if she wants it. Particularly the importance of not getting addicted to the money. I try to rationalize that at least they get something (other than cash) out of it.
Do you have other hobbies, or is this a main side occupation? Is this something you've ever considered an addiction or a problem, something you've ever wanted to "quit"?
I won't lie. The "hobby" takes up a lot of time. It's not just seeing the girls. You have to earn the cash to pay for them.
But yes, most hobbyists have many other hobbies. In fact, hobbyists are among the most interesting, informed, open and curious people you will ever meet (though they can be very cynical) because they see so much. Something like journalists.
As for the addiction part, that's all bullshit. Being attracted to beautiful women is normal male behavior. It's the guys that stay at home watching porn videos, or worse—professional sports—that I feel sorry for.
Do your loved ones know about your participation in this industry?
Duh. Most of us hobbyists are educated, normal dudes, with Type A personalities and girlfriends or wives who look and talk pretty much like you do. Would you put up with that kind of behaviour from your BF?
So do you have a wife, kids… daughters? If so, how would you feel if your daughters got involved in the industry?
I, like most hobbyists, would be horrified if [I] had a daughter who went into the industry.
This interview has been edited for for length and clarity.
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