Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Is paying a man for sex exploitative?

There’s a fine line between street prostitution, which implies powerlessness, and the role of high-end escorts

Virginia Ironside
Monday 23 September 2013 17:05 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Dear Virginia,

I’ve just ended a 10-year relationship and the last thing I want to do is to get involved with another man for the moment. The problem is that I’ve always been highly sexed and I really miss it. A friend jokingly suggested I ring an escort agency and find out if they would send me round a man for sex. Of course, I was horrified at first, but the more I think of it the more appealing the idea gets. I’m against women being exploited for sex, but somehow this doesn’t seem the same. Do you think I should give it a try?

Yours sincerely,


Virginia says...

Well, would you be exploiting a man if you paid him for sex? That’s the question. Of course I know what you mean when you say “somehow it doesn’t seem the same” as for women. And I suspect the reaction of most people to a man who worked as a sex escort would be “lucky bloke”, while if they were talking about a woman in the same situation they’d be thinking either “dirty slut” or “sad, exploited girl”.

Before you go ahead, you’ve got to sort this dilemma out in your head. And I don’t think there are easy answers. Some women and men, particularly young men, are exploited for sex, forced into it by their poverty, wretched circumstances and manipulation by powerful abusers. But one can’t deny that there are others with powerful personalities who lease out their sexual favours – often at a high price – by choice. They’re in a different category. There’s a fine line between street prostitution, which implies female powerlessness, and the role of high-end courtesans (different words, even for exactly the same thing) who regard their job as empowering and would strongly object to being pitied. And before you go any further, isn’t it time to think of where you fit into all this? You could regard yourself as strong and in control by ordering a man to have sex with, like a pizza over the phone, or the reverse – tragic, needy and desperate.

I know nothing of the world of male prostitutes and maybe many are exploited adults. Perhaps you could find out. If you feel certain that the man you book is doing his job by choice and not because he’s forced into it by circumstances (you could always pay for him to come over for a chat first if you really want to sort out your conscience) then I can’t see anything wrong with employing a bloke for sexual favours. Having said that, I’m sure you could easily find someone on the internet who’d be happy to have sex with you for free, which might make this easier, morally, all round. And no less risky, I would imagine.

On some US campuses there are clubs for students are too busy to find mates, which exist simply for the students to exchange sexual favours with one another, with no strings attached. I’m sure such groups exist for older people. It’s just a matter of plunging into murkier depths of Google than I’m prepared to do on your behalf. And if you can find one, you’d save yourself not only money but moral angst as well.

Virginia’s one-woman show will be at the Soho Theatre on 26 September:

Readers say...

It’s the same for men

It might not seem the same because most people believe that men and women are inherently different when it comes to sex. The truth is, you could just as easily be exploiting a vulnerable person whether you call on a man or a woman to satisfy your needs. Then again, you could also be partaking in an enjoyable activity with someone who really doesn’t mind that this is their job. It depends on how you look at it – but I wouldn’t assume that calling on a man rather than a woman automatically makes it OK. If not, then maybe give it a miss and try looking for a casual fling online.

Sarah Rudston, by email

Go ahead and do it

So, Rachel, my paying a female stranger to steel herself up and pretend to enjoy shagging me would be exploitation, while your paying a male stranger to pretend to enjoy shagging you “somehow doesn’t seem the same”. Hmm. In theory, I don’t see anything wrong with either, as long as the services paid for are provided voluntarily, so my advice would be to go ahead and enjoy yourself – just ditch the double standards first.

Frank, by email

Next week’s dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I’m a loving aunt to my younger half-sister’s children. I see a great deal of them and my only problem is that I feel she’s too hard on them. They seem permanently to be on the “naughty step” and often when I go round to see them all, I find one or other of them sitting unhappily on the stairs, choking back their sobs and waiting for permission to return to the playroom. They’re only two and three years old, and my heart bleeds for them. Can I say anything? I feel so powerless.

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Antonia to do?

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