Sitting at the bar, Jane squirms in anticipation of dislodging her sexiest and least comfortable lace thong. She’s meeting William, a 6’4”, supremely built blond at a seedy bar off 10th Avenue in New York - just as she ordered. But as the hour nears her determination wavers, and she almost bolts.
Then he walks in, 10 years her junior, innocent and approachable, apologizing for his lateness. “You’re hot,” he says, with a mischievous smile. And she knows he’s already worth the $300/hour.
The straight male escort is a cultural phenomenon. As women close the gender gap of economic equality, we value our independence more - we marry later and are more likely to divorce or stay single. And while there are no hard statistics on women using escorts media interest is at an all-time high.
Both The Tyra Banks Show and Nightline with Connie Chung have covered straight men for hire. Dr. Phil has just featured Cowboys 4 Angels – the only 100 percent straight male escort agency. HBO’s successful show Hung about a cash-strapped but package-heavy teacher-turned-escort just ended after three seasons. And then we have the piece de resistance - Showtime’s hit reality series Gigolos, which follows five straight male escorts in Las Vegas. The network renewed it for a second season. Showtime president David Nevins said, “people are fascinated.”
The escorts on Gigolos are also represented by Cowboys 4 Angels – a nationwide escort agency founded by 37-year-old Floridian, Garren James, who hardly fits the “pimp” image. He’s a clean-cut former model who grew up in Boca Raton, attended a liberal arts college and traveled the world modeling. He describes himself as an “agent” who wakes at noon, arranges appointments for his guys via his mobile, answers emails and works on marketing strategies for his website until 3 pm when he goes to the gym. At 5:30 pm he heads to a 12-step meeting. No white Bentley, no cape, no cane.
"I had no idea about the escort business until I met my ex," he says. His “ex,” a former Penthouse Pet, is one of the most established madams on the East Coast. He learned that it is perfectly legal to pay for someone’s time as long as there is no guarantee of sex for that money. “One girl asked ‘I love to kiss, will your guy kiss me?’ and even though I said no, I couldn’t book the appointment,” he says. But once the money is paid and the date has commenced, there are no restrictions. “If consenting adults want to have sex, that’s their choice.”
His gigolo agency got off to a rocky start. For one thing, James had no escorts. “I saw clients myself,” he confides. “I was desperate and I didn’t have a lot of money, so instead of losing the appointment, I would take it.” He enjoyed the few times he worked, but he prefers the anonymity of being the booker. “Without a go-between it gets too personal. I found I could make more money promoting other men than dealing with all that chaos.”
At first, Cowboys 4 Angels had one client per month, but after appearing on The Tyra Banks Show in 2008, his business multiplied exponentially. He now books 10+ appointments “on a slow week,” represents 35 men, and receives up to 50,000 unique visits per month to his site. (According to site demographics most visitors are 35-44 years old, childless, and have attended college.)
He quickly learned how men and women treat escorts differently. “At my ex’s agency, male clients were always trying someone new on the menu,” he says, “women see [the same man] over and over.” Men also tend to book one-hour appointments with female escorts, while women book four-hour dates at a hefty $1,000 a session. Add hotel, dinner and “tip” and you have a $1,500+ evening. James makes an undisclosed percentage of each man’s date. (While he won’t discuss his income, this is his primary job and allows him a comfortable lifestyle.)
Typically, client requests are tame – they may ask the escort to wear a suit, for instance. But there are exceptions. “I’ve had clients who want the escort to hit on them in bars in front of their friends,” James says. Couples are also common clients. “I’ve had men who hired (an escort) to hit on the wife in front of him and boost her self-esteem.”
“The beauty is that it’s choreographed and you can get all your needs met in the short-term,” she says. “You satisfy emotional needs, sexual needs, adoration and adulation needs, and company and affection needs. However, the cost is that you’re paying for it and it’s not real.”
A woman may go in date understanding that it is an illusion, but what happens is physiological as well as emotional. “As a result of being intimate and sexual, the hormone oxytocin is released,” says Berman. “This causes feelings of intimacy and bonding which are artificial. It’s a challenge to emotionally detach from that feeling.” Combine the “love hormone,” which is oxytocin’s nickname, with a perfect date, and the experience is impossible to beat in a real relationship, so women end up paying these men for fulfillment, leaving them at emotional and financial risk. “The woman feels like she needs him to fill an emotional need and it’s not real,” says Berman. “Eventually you wake up and you’re empty and alone.”
Inevitably James disagrees. “I like it when a client says ‘I had the time of my life’, or ‘Thank you so much. I’m going through a divorce and my life’s been miserable,’” he says. “At the end of the day, I know what I’m doing is a good thing. I’m making people happy.”
Meanwhile, back at the bar, our friend Jane flirts over her wine glass and enjoys the (albeit unwitty) banter with her delicious physical specimen. “So, you ready to go?” he asks while flashing that grin and giving her thigh a squeeze. Giddy, she lets him lead her out to the hotel.
What happens next? Find out next week when you meet the real Jane.
Jennifer Gersten Ray is a Los Angeles-based writer who has worked for Vogue, Men's Vogue, Style.com and US Weekly.