A rent boy's story

Mark Oaten isn't the first married man to visit a male prostitute. But what's it like from the other side? Rent boy Erin Smith tells his story, while therapist Phillip Hodson explains what drives successful men to sexual self-destruction

Erin Smith, 24, is one of an estimated 10,000 gay escorts plying their trade in London. Erin, who is slim, has dyed blond hair and is around 5ft 10in, works at the top end of the market, and a night in his company costs between £450 and £600 with or without sex. His recent client list includes "a plastic surgeon, a film director, a member of the House of Lords and at least two well-known journalists".

"I've been speaking to my friend about this story and we are annoyed about how the media keep using the term 'rent boy' when that's not what it's about. 'Rent boy', I find anyway, is a derogatory term because it really means a 'crack whore' who charges £10 for a blow job to feed their drug habit.

"But this man was clearly an escort. When you pay an escort you pay for discretion as well as the company you get. But sometimes when the client is about to turn off the financial tap it can get a little bit nasty. He may have decided to go to the papers, to sell his story, but I wonder if he ever thought of blackmail. He might have got a lot more money out of the politician than he got out of the paper.

"I was born in Dublin, Ireland. My father is a banker and my mother works as a teacher, so I suppose I am Catholic middle class, but I don't think that really means anything. When I left school I went to study photography at Edinburgh before going to Canada to work as a photographer in the glamour industry. I spent a year in Toronto, mostly involved in porn shoots, but I got fed up with it and came back to look for better work in London.

"I got started in the escort business after a school friend filled in an application form for a website escort agency. He sent both of our pictures to the agency but they didn't want my friend and they rather liked the look of me. They didn't put it quite like that - I think they said they already had someone who looked like my friend. But I found I was in demand and the money was very, very good. I'm still only part-time because I'm studying for a marketing and advertising qualification so that I can also work in the PR industry.

"I do my escort work with a newly-established agency called Escortboy, which mostly uses young men from Eastern Europe. I think that this is a trend also reflected in the prostitution industry as a whole. My face fits because the agency also want to offer clients as much variety as possible.

"I have to pay the agency £30 for every £100 I receive so I also advertise myself on my own web page and I take everything from my freelance work.

"You have to be careful not to promise sex because that's illegal, but if the escort chooses to have sex later on then that's OK. I have had many different clients and some of them have been politicians, but because I don't follow politics I haven't recognised any of them. When I told a friend of mine who one of them was, he said: 'Well, I know him,' and then he mentioned the party he belonged to.

"Most of the well-known people who use me are discreet but others want to brag about themselves. There was a reporter once who kept telling me he was always on television although I had never heard of him.

"The worst kind of work is the holiday stuff. I recently had a week away in Gran Canaria with a plastic surgeon who wanted me there as his boyfriend. By the end of the week I was desperate to get home and back to my life.

"Many of the clients are older men who like to be with younger men. They are often married and leading a double life. I give them a lift from the mundane... and what's so wrong with that? I also have clients who are younger men, 20-35 - that's still young isn't it? They are usually foreign men who come over for a holiday and may have a boyfriend in New York and want to keep their visit secret. Lots of the foreign clients prefer to book me up in advance. I had an e-mail this month from a foreign man who is visiting London in May. But it's impossible to know what I'm going to be doing in May.

"On average I have between two and three clients a week and earn around £2,000 but full-time escorts earn a lot more. My rule is that if I'm asleep then I won't pick up the phone no matter what the work is. I get enough money working the hours I do now. Female prostitutes get paid even more. One of my girlfriends gets twice what I get and the idea that somehow the pink pound is big money is not always the case.

"Safety is always an issue and you have to practice safe sex: always use a condom, absolutely no exceptions. I've met clients at all the big London hotels, the Savoy, Hilton and the Sanderson. You have to know how to carry yourself when you walk past reception otherwise they simply won't let you in. Some of the hotels have key-coded lifts which won't work without one and that can be difficult. To be honest I would rather use a cheap motel - it's far less hassle.

"The media likes to portray escorts as victims but we don't see it like that. We get paid good money and I get to meet many wonderful and interesting clients. At the moment I want to work in PR but I am finding it hard to give up the escort job - the money is just too good.''

We have changed the surname of Erin Smith to protect his identity. He was talking to Robert Verkaik.

The tragedy of such men is that they must secretly want to be caught

Mark Oaten won't be the last, and sexual self-destruction is not confined to the Liberal Democrats - or to politics. We are not talking serious crimes here; we are almost solely preoccupied with the shocking difference between the way men present themselves externally and what they are like on the inside. So; what is the attraction of sexual self-destruction?

The answer is that men not only seek a shag, but they want sex with someone who at the very least is guaranteed not to criticise them. They may admit to being lonely and frustrated, but nearly all of them are looking for a certain quality of experience. Prostitutes uniformly report today that many clients would rather talk than perform a sex act. Ironically, the modern prostitute's top-selling product is now called the GFE - the "girlfriend experience". Its principal attractions include "cuddling" and "deep French kissing".

But, fake love aside, commercial sex also sells on risk. High adrenalin turns men on. Studies confirm that, in general, more men than women enjoy fast cars, extreme sports and high-stakes gambling. In the sexual world, more men seek multiple partners, have affairs, enjoy sexual deviations and patronise prostitutes than women.

As men enter their mid-life zone, with waning testosterone levels and more fragile sexual responses, they tend to seek out increasingly extreme sexual experiences. There's even a reported association between experimenting with first or renewed homosexual experience after the death of a man's father. But sex with other men is not just about homosexuality. Many gay men would not allow Michael Portillo to share the badge of gay identity just because he admitted to certain youthful adventures: "It's rather more difficult to be gay than that," is the view.

There are at least three hidden factors to consider before you label anyone. First, although roughly 3 per cent of the population is mainly homosexual, there is a far larger group who have had some same-sex experience and who, at different times of life, will have rather more. Second, environments we might call "homosexually conducive" - boarding school, prison, service in Her Majesty's forces - affect men who still call themselves heterosexual. For instance, prisoners who freely sleep with cellmates wouldn't look at another man after being released. Third, society legitimises gay sex, not just via legal reforms but in broad, subtle ways, even down to the hints in contemporary pornography. In the recent issue of Desire magazine (No 34), there is a phone-sex advert on page 154 reading: "Straight men do have sex with other men, go on slide your hand..." That's an interesting piece of enterprise. And, going back to risk, men are less attracted to the all-male content of a Mark Oaten-type encounter than to its taboo-breaking intensity.

Finally, there is the role of the unconscious mind in these destructive unmaskings. For many husbands, particularly in middle age, there is a quiet, unexplained desperation to escape a pattern of life. Perhaps their career no longer fits them, but they cannot easily think of sloughing off its constricting skin. Part of them wants to play; part seeks attention; part wants to drop out; part wants to be young again; part wants to be mothered; part wants to be an artist; part wants to retire - but none of these is considered "rational". Instead, they get themselves into a horrible public pickle - rather like an ex-Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Allan Green, who of all people was caught kerb-crawling in the early 1990s, or Hugh Grant, who invited a hooker into his car. Or like Mark Oaten. Their tragedy is that secretly they must have wanted to be caught.

Phillip Hodson is a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, and the author of "Men: an investigation into the emotional male"

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