Love for Sale


Writing in The Washington Post, the sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh lists five myths about prostitution. By his account, today's sex workers are less likely than their predecessors to work on the streets, to be drug addicts or survivors of child abuse, or to have a completely hostile relationship with the police. Furthermore, some of them manage to get paid for that other four-letter word for intercourse that ends with k:

Often, [men] pay them to talk. I've been studying high-end sex workers (by which I mean those who earn more than $250 per "session") in New York, Chicago and Paris for more than a decade, and one of my most startling findings is that many men pay women to not have sex. Well, they pay for sex, but end up chatting or having dinner and never get around to physical contact. Approximately 40 percent of high-end sex worker transactions end up being sex-free. Even at the lower end of the market, about 20 percent of transactions don't ultimately involve sex.

Figuring out why men pay for sex they don't have could sustain New York's therapists for a long time. But the observations of one Big Apple-based sex worker are typical: "Men like it when you listen….I learned this a long time ago. They pay you to listen—and to tell them how great they are." Indeed, the high-end sex workers I have studied routinely see themselves as acting the part of a counselor or a marriage therapist. They say their job is to feed a man's need for judgment-free friendship and, at times, to help him repair his broken partnership.

Venkatesh also argues that the recent crackdown on Craigslist won't have a significant effect on the prostitution business, reporting that "even before the site's 'adult services' section was shut down, it was falling out of favor among many users."

There are obvious potential problems with the numbers here, given that we're dealing with an underground activity. Still, Venkatesh and his colleagues spent several years tracking the behavior of hundreds of sex workers. In the cities he's been studying, this is as good a cross-section as we're liable to get anytime soon.

Elsewhere in Reason: Kerry Howley reviews Venkatesh's Off the Books.

Elsewhere not in Reason: Some of Venkatesh's scholarly work on the subject.

NEXT: Dope & Change: Terrible Drug War Expansion Bill Being Pushed by House Dems

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “Often, [men] pay them to talk.”

    No wonder they call them all “Johns”.

    I keed, I keed.

    1. No one pays John to talk. Some might be willing to pay for him to STFU, though. 😉

      I keed, I keed.

  2. Approximately 40 percent of high-end sex worker transactions end up being sex-free

    In my extensive research, these 40 percent are called “chumps.”

    1. The other 60 percent could also be so labeled.

      1. I wonder how many are lottery winners who paid a couple of escorts and forced them to do general landscaping and painting work?

        1. Unlike attorneys, there are some things sex workers just won’t do.

  3. They pay you to listen — and to tell them how great they are.

    And as Charlie Sheen allegedly said to put the icing on the cake, “I don’t pay women for sex, I pay them to go away after sex”.

    1. You can pay with money, or you can pay with emotional intimacy, feigned or not.

      For some men, the former is cheaper.

      1. Every form of refuge has its price.

      2. Everybody pays for sex.

        Whether it’s with money, time, emotion, etc.

        Dating is prostitution.

        You show me a woman, and I’ll show you a whore.

  4. If there’s no sex involved we can still bust these trollops for providing unlicensed therapy.

    1. The Spitz!

  5. “Men like it when you listen….I learned this a long time ago. They pay you to listen — and to tell them how great they are.”

    Of course! That’s why these asshole libertoid gurus post all this fucked-up right-wing shit here! They’re whores for the right who love being listened to. They want to stick their cocks in your ears, you stupid fucks.

    1. Max takes comfort in the fact that 20% of his mom’s clients only pay her to listen.


    3. It explains why you post here, Max.

  6. I’d pay $1,000 for a “session” with Kerry Howley.

    1. Just to “talk”.

      1. You can get her eggs for $10K/dozen. Good luck with your conversation!

    2. you’d be howling by the end of it.

    3. $1000 is a lot to pay to learn about “creative nonfiction”.

  7. They get paid to talk, go on dates, and maybe possibly do it? That sounds less like turning tricks and more like a freelance girlfriend.

    1. I’d be willing to bet that 20% for low-end hookers is way off. People paying $50 to get lair really need to get laid. People paying $1000 to get laid are in a different place emotionally.

      Seriously, who couldn’t get laid if they walked into a college bar with a grand in their pocket?

      1. Overheard in college bar: “Ewww! That creepy old man just tried to pick me up! What is he, like thirty or something?”

        1. You don’t know many women do you?

          So many have dated guys 15+ years older.

      2. I suspect Warty and capitol l have a candidate they’d like to mention. Hint: it’s not Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich.

    2. The “girlfriend experience” is supposedly the mark of a high-class hooker. From what I recall of the Spitzer case, the mistress mentioned that they looked for beauty, intelligence, and good conversationalists. I guess you get what you pay for.

    3. freelance girlfriend

      Girlfriends tend to have less of an open mind when it comes to politics, religion, what you eat, your hobbies, what music/art/movies/video games you like, your cloths, your job etc.

      A girlfriend is simply an automated judgment machine that can’t take 50% of your money when you break up with them.


    1. +1 for Night Shift reference.

      1. It makes more sense than feeding Mayonnaise to tuna.

        1. Edible paper. Eat it, and it’s gone – eat it; it’s outta there.

      2. Best line in that movie, and one that’s easy to miss: “Nice frame.”

    2. Aaaarrrrrrrhhhhhhhhh. The Doctorrrr is innnnn.

  9. of ocurse libertarians are for the lagalization of prostitution, it’s the only place those fucking omega-male nerd douchebags can get their sex!

    LULZ! It’s funny because it’s true!

    1. of ocurse libertarians are for the lagalization

      This, my friends, is what one-handed typing looks like.

      1. You hurt? Or didn’t want to put down your glass?

  10. We got teenage girls in here!!

  11. From the article: everyone’s a social worker!!

    In my own work, I’ve found that cops are among the most empathetic and helpful people sex workers meet on the job. They typically hand out phone numbers for shelters, soup kitchens and emergency rooms, and they tend to demonstrate a great deal of sympathy for women who have been abused. Instead of arresting an abused sex worker, police officers will usually let her off with a warning and turn their attention to finding her abusive client.


    , the high-end sex workers I have studied routinely see themselves as acting the part of a counselor or a marriage therapist. … Little wonder, then, that so many describe themselves to me as members of the “wellness” industry.

    1. I wonder how many of them would be abused if they were able to sell their services legally on the open market and weren’t forced into the pimp/ho dynamic.

    2. This is total bullshit. Clearly this guy is pushing a pro-prostitution agenda.

      I’ve worked with organizations that help prostitutes get out of the life, both male and female. You wanna know what the bulk of the life is like? Just watch the scene in My own Private Idaho where the young kid tells the story about turning a trick for a guy with a big dick. He wants to get out of it, but he’s already tossed the money out of the window to his friend waiting in the sidewalk below.

      The child prostitutes I worked with were beaten, forced to become addicts and contracted everything from HPV to HIV. Prostitution is a really, really shitty way to make money.

      Now would it be better were it not forced underground? Hell yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that this Venkatesh is just talking shit. Kind of like the the global warming advocates at East Anglia.

      1. And don’t even get me started about the cops…

      2. Pro-prostitution? How about pro-consent?

        Children can’t give reasoned consent, either.

        1. Fine. I don’t give two fucks about semantics. My point is thet prostitution (and I worked with people up to the age of 21, so the 18-21-year-olds were adults, is a really shity way to make money.

          1. It sure can be a really shitty way to make money for many people. It’s also true that it can be a very good way to make money for the people who enjoy it.

          2. So is shoveling manure. Should that be illegal too?

  12. Somehow, I imagine that a lot of the men who hire these prosti-nots just for platonic companionship are going to be in even more trouble with their wives.

    A quick-and-dirty fuck can just be chalked up to your husband being a guy, and doesn’t reflect badly on the wife, necessarily. If your husband has to pay top dollar to go out and have a decent dinner date, though, it makes the wife look bad. Really bad. Glenn-Close-rabbit-in-the-stewpot bad.

    And nothing pisses people off more than being made to look bad.

    1. I just want a bitch that shuts up while I’m tying to eat.

      1. Bondage and cunnilingus don’t mix, Sug’.

        1. Bondage and cunnilingus don’t mix, Sug’.

          Clearly a case of not doing it right.

    2. Yeah if your husband is going someplace else for emotional support then something is really fucked up in the relationship.

      Marriage *shudders*

    3. I would be interested in the breakdown of married dudes vs. just really, really lonely dudes. Hiring someone to hang out with you sounds to me like there is not a lot of human contact in your life.

  13. You don’t pay a hooker to fuck you, you pay her to leave immediately afterword.

  14. I’ve been studying high-end sex workers (by which I mean those who earn more than $250 per “session”) in New York, Chicago and Paris for more than a decade

    Sounds like a sweet gig. I wonder who was paying for the research? How do you write the NSF/NIH grant?

  15. Even at the lower end of the market, about 20 percent of transactions don’t ultimately involve sex.

    He probably means the lower end of the high end market. As Enough About Palin points out, life is very different on the real low end of the prostitution market.

  16. This is why I have hope that by promoting sexual surrogacy we could make a dent in prostitution and achieve what most who oppose prostitution want.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.