Last week, a report revealed that 1 in 10 British men have paid for sex. Find that shocking? Then try this for size: the same report, pulled from a total of over 6,000 men aged 16-74, also found that those most likely to have paid for sex in the last five years are single men aged 25 to 34.
The research – conducted by University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections – led lead researcher Dr Cath Mercer of UCL to conclude: “The picture that emerges does not necessarily fit the stereotype of the lonely older man … men who pay for sex are more likely to be young professionals.”
It’s an observation that rings true for Charlotte Rose, escort and sexual trainer. Two of her most regular clients are best friends, both aged 19, who visit Rose one day after the other. Neither count as anomalies among her clientele.
“The demographic is changing towards younger professionals because younger men’s preferences are changing,” Rose tells me. “A ‘professional service’ with an escort [creates] a mutual understanding of what the client wants and gets. All do’s and don’ts are pre-discussed and fantasies are more easily explored.”
Peter, a young professional in his late 20s, regularly visits escorts. He tells me that with some escorts there’s a connection, an emotional “nourishment” as he calls it, but that most of the time it’s “purely transactional”, feeding a sexual need, getting that professional service Rose speaks of.
He also admits that nine out of ten times paying for sex is an “alcohol fuelled” act that occurs at the end of a night when he’s been left frustrated. But he does say there are “emotional catalysts” as well as alcohol related ones. In fact, as with one of Rose’s 19-year-old clients, Peter lost his virginity to a prostitute, a ‘Soho walk up’ at the age of 24.
“It was during a frustrating part of my life. I was living at home with my mum. I had feelings of hopelessness and despair and a real fear of becoming the 40-year-old virgin,” he says. “After one bad night I just decided I wanted to get it done, but it turned out to be something which I evolved a dependency around.”
That dependency has led to over 50 encounters with escorts, something Peter doubts would’ve happened in the pre-internet age. “We spend half our lives online now,” he says, before explaining that he believes watching porn – and porn addiction – served as a gateway to paying for sex. Peter effectively uses prostitutes to scratch an itch that hours of watching sex on screen can’t reach.
Rebecca Dakin, self-proclaimed Great British Sexpert and an escort between 2000-2010 who had many young professional clients, tells me that “over the last decade, the internet has increased awareness and availability of escorts”. She says it has sparked the industry’s shift from cards in phone boxes to online ads, and widened out the demographic of people paying for sex.
Dakin also believes the 24/7 lifestyle of so many young professionals plays a part in how they get their sexual kicks. “The faster pace of life, the increase in pressure at work and longer hours mean that many young professionals look for quick instant gratification when they feel stressed,” she says. “The fast speed of the internet has made this all the more possible.”
Sue, an escort for over 15 years and member of the English Collective of Prostitutes concurs that a quick fix in a fast world is part of the appeal of visiting an escort for many young men. “People are a bit more pressed for time now so if you just want to have a quick bit of sex it’s more reliable. They can just look on the internet and find somebody and just pop by and it’s very straight forward.”
There’s no doubting that the internet has increased access to escorts – there are over 100 agencies in London alone and that’s not taking into account independents. However, there’s another element which needs to be taken into account – that of the ever growing digital landscape of our lives and the emotional kickbacks we are increasingly garnering from it.
Sexual Sociologist Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals says technology is an interesting dimension. “Technology has really changed and expanded the ways in which we think about social interactions, including intimate ones. If it’s easier for someone to pop open their laptop and spend a relatively brief amount of time having exactly the sort of intimate experience they want and need at that point in their lives, so be it.”
It’s an observation which perhaps places some weight in the notion that more young men like Peter will become digitally isolated and fall into a dependency on sex work as they increasingly become bereft of actual physical, sexual interaction. A harbinger, if you will, of what’s already occurring in Japan, where more and more young people are supplanting sexual interaction in the physical world for virtual reality romances and online stimuli.
Of course, that kind of outcome is a long way down the line. As for the here and now, Dr Tibbals offers a caveat to the notion that young men paying for sex is a modern phenomenon: “There are endless historical circumstances that have led to professional sex work. Sex workers were an integral part of westward expansion in the US, for example, or in the lives of people in the military,” she argues. “People of all age groups may find themselves in a situation wherein they may feel compelled to pay for companionship. So I wouldn’t say that the ‘lonely old men’ idea is outdated so much as it was always off mark.”