Saturday 24 June 2017

Confessions of a male escort

Catherine Murphy

One male escort I call to arrange to meet tells me he's from Mauritius. 'Ricky' proceeds to divulge, in rapid and explicit detail, which services he offers and the physical measurements that he thinks are relevant to his job.

In the course of researching male escorts, I read and hear the words 'eight inches' on a regular basis.

I think twice about meeting overly descriptive Ricky and meet Nikolas instead, a 28-year-old wannabe porn star and escort who advertises himself as Spanish and bisexual but tells me he's Romanian and straight.

"Irish people hate Romanians. I have sallow skin and speak Spanish, so it's easier to advertise myself as Spanish," he says.

Who knows where he's from or what he is? There isn't exactly an official way of checking his credentials.

Singer Sinead O'Connor brought the subject of 'prostidudes' to the fore last September when she spoke about googling male escorts on a recent Irish tour.

"Let me tell you," she said, "the tiny town of Tallinn in Estonia has hundreds of male escorts. Ireland has like three and one of them has to be flown in from the UK," she said, apparently not too impressed at Ireland's scant male escort market.

She wasn't wrong either. Trawling the plethora of websites that now advertise escorts in Ireland reveals a dearth of men, straight or gay.

Of 20 Dublin-based male escorts listed on a prominent website, most are gay, offering their services to other gay men. Others advertise as bisexual and available to work with men, women and couples.

Although, it's not always true: they're often straight men advertising as bisexual in the hope of earning more money; whatever it takes. Almost all of them are from countries other than Ireland.

Which brings me back to Nikolas. He says he has no secrets about his work -- he has featured in newspaper articles back in Romania and has been interviewed on camera, using his full name, for an upcoming TV3 documentary by journalist Paul Connolly about Ireland's vice trade.

Male escorts such as Nikolas pay ¤150 a month (less than female escorts pay) to advertise on Ireland's best-known escort website, which is run from the UK to get around the ban on advertising escort services here.

While escorting is legal, soliciting for sex or running a brothel are both illegal in this country. "Booking a male escort is a new thing for most Irish women," Nikolas says. "I worked in Bar-celona and Alicante, then I came to Dublin because the industry in general is booming.

"Irish women need to get more courage and power when it comes to sex. Booking an escort is like going to the hair salon or buying yourself a birthday present -- every woman deserves it."

This is the kind of comment that charity Ruhama, which works with trafficked female sex workers, says normalises prostitution in Ireland.

Ruhama is campaigning to criminalise the purchase of sex here, a policy that was introduced (unsuccessfully, according to critics) in Sweden a number of years ago.

A college drop-out, Nikolas started out in erotic dancing before getting into escorting through a friend. He has been in Dublin since June and says around 10pc of his clients are women.

He previously worked with a female Romanian escort as one of Ireland's first escort couples, but now says he works alone, often touring the country to tourist spots in Kerry or Cork, renting out apartments on a short-term basis from which to work.

"Many of the women I see come as part of a couple," he says.

"Either they've bought their partner a birthday gift or both the woman and her partner want to explore fantasies or discover new things. Sometimes a man will bring a woman but it will be his mistress, not his wife. They want to try something that they can't try as a couple.

"Sometimes they're crazy, they want to try all sorts of things. I've visited one couple 10 or more times -- they're married with a child and demand that I'm extremely discreet so that nobody knows what they're doing.

"They would tell me never to ring them or text them. But they want to prevent their marriage from becoming boring. They pay me to help keep their marriage going," he explains.

Nikolaus says single Irish women often go home with someone at the end of a night out but, he claims, that can be disappointing, if the man has had too much to drink and can't perform.

"The difference with paying an escort like me is that you know what you're getting," he says.

Some women use his services because there are problems in their marriage. "It's usually because of drink or drugs, where the man can't perform in bed because of his heavy drinking, or because the woman wants something that she's ashamed to ask her husband for," Nikolas continues.

Sometimes, he adds, a woman will go to an escort because she feels she's overweight or ugly, or because she's disappointed with how her husband looks.

"I'm 28 years old, I'm very fit, I'm shaved and well-groomed. Twenty per cent of what I earn goes on my appearance, on the solarium, new clothes."

Nikolas charges up to ¤100 for a half-hour appointment, ¤200 for an hour-long 'out call' (visit to a hotel or home), with additional fees for dinner dates or all-night bookings. He claims to earn up to ¤5,000 a month when he's busy.

He would prefer more female clients, but says he can't make good money working with women alone, as there aren't enough clients.

"In my experience, it's not that Irish women are lonely," he says. "They're more likely to be disappointed with their relationships and just want sex. They don't want to go out on dinner dates; maybe one drink to relax themselves, but that's it."

Other sources disagree: according to one sex worker's website, many male escorts offer a 'boyfriend experience' to female clients.

"Women are not as direct as the men," says Nikolas. "They will use word of mouth and recommendations from friends who tell them that I'm good. Eighty per cent of the time I hear the phrase, 'This is my first time with an escort' and, usually, women like to move slowly at first.

"I've visited clients in five-star hotels and in lavish homes complete with Jacuzzis; women who have a rich partner in the background, maybe he's travelling a lot and the woman is left at home alone."

Nikolas says he likes the money and freedom of escorting, but sometimes hates what he does and feels that he "loses his honour".

But like the other male escorts I speak to, he finishes with some cheery sales patter: "Please recommend me to any of your female friends who have a birthday coming up or just want to have some fun."

It's as if he's recommending me a hair salon or a café.

When we meet, he's casually dressed and fit-looking. But here-in lies one reason why male escorts have such a small market in Ireland. Most women have to fancy a guy to go to bed with him. I don't fancy Nikolas or any of the other male escorts that I find online.

And even if I did, I wouldn't dream of paying for the privilege. It must be the convent girl in me.

Not that all former convent girls think the same way. In New Zealand, broadcaster, former politician and convent-educated Pam Corkery announced that she was going to open the world's first legal male brothel in Auckland in 2011.

Her 'romance meets finance' venture was to include a beauty salon (blow dries), a 28-room penthouse (blow jobs) and a bar.

More than 1,000 men applied for jobs and Corkery declared the venture "a massive breakthrough for female sexual freedom".

In one comment that made women sound like sexually demanding ladettes, she said: "Our clients won't have to flatter our men, laugh at crap jokes, feign interest in jobs of no interest, watch the history channel or contend with poor grooming.

"They won't have to preen themselves for a night, only to have their hopes shattered because their bloke drinks too much and can't perform."

However, it seems the world just isn't ready for male brothels. Corkery's venture collapsed for a variety of reasons, one of which, she claimed, was resistance from the male establishment.

Other attempts at popularising prostidudes have failed.

In Nevada, the Shady Lady ranch hired a male prostitute in 2010 in an effort to drum up business. Ten days after he started work, he resigned due to a lack of female clients.

In 2005, madam Heidi Fleiss talked about opening 'Heidi's Stud Farm' -- that too fell by the wayside, with Fleiss herself saying, "Why bother paying when you can go swinging or on Craig's List for free?"

After Nikolas, I go in search of an escort who works only with women and who operates as a traditional escort, accompanying women to social functions; the classic gigolo.

I strike up an email correspondence with 'Patric', who says he's Italian. His emails come via a Polish server. He tells me he came to Ireland six years ago to work as a qualified masseur.

During one massage session in a top Dublin hotel, his English client, a 40-year-old woman, offered to pay him for sex.

"She was very attractive so I said yes," he recalls. "I was very happy and surprised when she paid me ¤100 for the massage and ¤200 for sex. Three days later, she called me again and paid me ¤500 for sex. On that day, I decided to become a male escort."

It all sounds very Samantha, very 'Sex and the City', very text book. Today, Patric says he caters for affluent, modern, high-class women who lead busy lives but want the finer things in life.

"As a VIP male escort," he writes. "I offer an exclusive, safe and discreet service, ranging from accompanying you to dinner, social events and functions or personally chauffeuring your car to a more personal experience at your private apartment or your hotel in Dublin."

He charges ¤100 for half an hour, ¤200 for an hour, ¤400 for a three-hour dinner date, ¤900 for 12 hours and ¤1,500 for a full day.

Who can afford those fees in recessionary Ireland?

"I work mostly with professional women who have a lot of money, or women whose partners are rich and influential," he says.

"It's a lot of money for normal people but for these women, it's a drop in the ocean. I can't tell you who the clients are, I wouldn't want anything to happen to you or me. A number of places I visit specifically are Dalkey, Ranelagh and Malahide."

He says women rarely want to be brought to dinner, but it's not just about sex either. Above all, he explains, a woman wants intimacy and to feel that the man focuses his attention on her.

Some women treat it like a visit to the beauty salon or a massage. Every woman is different, but most start cautiously -- they email me and ask me how much, if they can see photos.

"It's true that few Irish women use male escorts; it's more common in the UK," Patric continues.

"I have four regular Irish clients, one woman puts thousands of euro into my account each month, as well as giving me gifts. She pays me a lot of money because I spend a lot of time with her.

"If she calls at midnight I must go -- it doesn't matter if she wants sex, dinner, has a party or function or wants me to drive her somewhere, I have to go. Sometimes, I go just to play golf with her.

"She's very wealthy. I never really check how much I earn in a year but I can afford to go to Bora Bora, French Polynesia, on holidays. I also have a friend, an Irish woman who used to be very rich; she helps me to meet new rich women, she arranges for me to call at exhibitions and other social functions to meet them." He says he gets a lot of work because he is extremely discreet.

"Perhaps escorting has a bad image, but I feel that everyone has to do something for money. I know women who've slept with their bosses to get a good promotion at work. The world is ruled by money, power and sex, and if I'm going to hell for the work I do, I certainly won't be alone," Patric says.

During my trawl through Ireland's online male escorts, I come across Mike, a single, fortysomething Clare man whose naturist-style photos look distinctly out of place among the soft-porn images posted by other escorts on one site.

There he is in all his white Irish glory, posing on a rock by the sea. No Calvin Klein boxers or spray tan in sight.

Next to the ultra-groomed gay boys advertising near him, he seems ordinary -- a man next door doing something that you don't expect the man next door to be doing.

I call him, posing as a potential punter. He chats easily, telling me he took up escorting 12 months ago after losing his job in a local factory.

"Let's say, this job grows on you," he says. "I travel around a bit and I offer more than company for a social function, anything you want, including body to body massage.

"I charge ¤60 for half an hour, ¤90 for an hour and ¤160 for a whole night. There's no point in going overboard on rates -- ¤200 for an hour with an escort is too much in my opinion. I see women from all over the country and I can survive on what I earn," he says.

Most escorts I speak to assert that going to a hotel is safer for female clients, a theory I see no validity in.

"You'll be safe with me," Mike assures me. "I'll take you down to the bar for a drink and a chat to relax you. Then, I'll take you up to the room, have another talk and anything you want after that. Most women dress up to the nines to meet escorts; there's really no need, sure I'll be taking the clothes off you."

Of course, behind the escorts' sales techniques and the innuendo, there are deeper issues involved. It's a problem that's beginning to pop up in marriage-counselling ses-sions, as therapist Tony Moore from Relationships Ireland testifies.

"There is a huge level of sexual misery and loneliness in so many marriages and relationships," he says.

"People become desperate. I had one couple where the use of a male escort by the wife was a major problem," he recalls.

"She was in her mid to late 30s, married to a very successful businessman in Dublin. She had started using a male escort and used the same one all the time, which most women do for safety reasons.

"After time, she developed an emotional connection with the escort, who was 10 years younger than her. Her husband was shattered, just as most women are when they find out their husband has been playing away."

In the end, the woman stopped seeing the escort and she and her husband came to some understanding, but how long can such an understanding can last?

"Of course she was ashamed," says Moore. "She said it should never have got to the point where she was using an escort. It sounds like a cliché but it's true; it really was like 'Desperate Housewives'. There's also a social stigma involved and women are more harshly morally judged than men."

The therapist says Irish women do use male escorts, but it's not as prevalent here as in the UK -- and it's under the radar.

"It's very secret and while there are no social barriers, apart from money, historically it's something that goes on in the upper echelons or the middle classes," he explains.

"It is very much word of mouth and networking, so that it's usually with someone the woman half knows. So it's not anonymous in the way that a man going to a prostitute in a brothel is."

For safety reasons, the woman has usually been assured by a friend that the gigolo she's using is safe and she will tend to use the same one over and over.

"It's not marketed in the same way as it is for men," Moore continues.

"It's very much individual men advertising on websites, as opposed to brothels that women can go to. The reason it's marketed differently is that it's a very different experience for women. Women are more discreet and subtle than men."

He adds: "Biologically, women don't tend to think, 'it's midnight, I'm horny, I want sex right now' -- it's more of a long burner for them. Also, in general, women aren't fuelling their sexual desires by looking at porn in the way that men are. It's very very different."

Yet, he says, Irish women would never admit to using an escort: "Women are still looked down on for having sexual urges, often by other women as much as men.

"If a man has 100 women he's a stud, if a woman has 20 men she's a slag."

Whatever about the male hierarchy not being ready to allow women pay for sex as men have been doing for years, Irish women aren't even ready for that situation.

And, according to Tony Moore, Ireland is 30 years behind other European countries on this issue.

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