Joan Nestle describes female-buyers and Harlem brothels for women in Sex Work — which includes an account of one madam keeping a shotgun by the door to deter unwelcome men.
According to Dr. Melissa Ditmore of the Sex Workers Project: “Women clients seem to be prevalent in places where women have more earning power than the sellers. Consider the female clients of local men in the Caribbean and parts of Africa today.”
“Yes — women buy sex.” This was Jeannette Belliveau, author of Romance on The Road, which includes research on (and first hand experience with) “romance tourism” — a form of sex tourism driven by women. Kris, a gay sex-worker and activist explains: “Women are possibly the biggest users of sex tourism. Many women I know personally travel to Turkey and to parts of Africa to buy sex from young men. In these cases a pseudo form of affair takes place but both parties know that money/goods are exchanging hands in return for sex.”
According to Belliveau, romance tourism has been going on since the Victorian era — coinciding with the first wave of feminism. “During the first wave of feminism, women became able to travel on their own and soon we had the first women sex travelers going to Syria, Italy and Africa.” While on vacation without male companions, they began flings with the local men — the men got to live like a rich Westerner and the women got a young attractive tour guide. Lesbian tourism also exists in Greece and Thailand, but is not as popular.
According to an article in Reuters, Kenyan locals estimate one in five single women visiting from rich countries are in search of sex. When British sociologists Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor and Julia O’Connell questioned women tourists in Negril, they found a third of them had sexual contact with local young men during vacation. Sixty percent agreed the men probably did it for money. In Jamaica, the men-for-hire are commonly known as “rent-a-dreads;” they comb nightclubs for women, which help them keep up with the latest sneakers or sunglasses. “Going rates for sex with men have been reported as high as $30 an hour in Jamaica. Men can earn as much as ten times the typical income,” says Belliveau.
Belliveau says she’s been asked to buy dinner for guys in the Caribbean, but not flat-out to pay for sex. “It is a very informal thing, maybe the woman pays some of his college tuition when he mentions it, or that he has a tourist business and needs a car to get set up. It’s heavily unstructured and more likely to be ‘so I am visiting my cousin in Kingston and really need $200’ the morning after.”
When Heidi Fleiss announced a few years ago that she would be opening up a brothel for women in Nevada, it made the news rounds, even though an actual lady bordello never appeared.
In a 2007 ABC article about Fleiss' announcement, commenter Brandi Lou said: “I am a 36 year old woman in Idaho. I could get sex anytime I wanted. But I would like variety! I would like to go somewhere where no one knows me, etc. Yes! Hurry up Heidi! We ladies are waiting!”
Commenter, Karen Blake agrees: “My husband of 18 years has no testosterone in his body and thus no sex drive. I am atrophied from years of no sex. I would pay for this sex in a heartbeat. It's a physical need to be touched and held by anther human being, and to be sexually active. I get depressed all the time because I have to go to for this sort of attention. Hurry up Heidi! Start soon please!”
Another commenter, BlondeeGirl1972, adds “I am also interested, right now!! My husband is partially disabled. We are a close couple and love each other very much. We both know I need more sexual gratification in a safe non-threatening environment where I can relax and enjoy the experience. He is as much for it as I am. Open the doors soon! Put some publicity out there so we can seize these opportunities.”
It seems, there is an interest, yet Belliveau believes we are a far from seeing female sex-buying in the U.S. There is still such socialization around female sexuality, women are not taught to own their desires.
“The woman enters what psychologists call a liminal zone, where everyday reality doesn't apply. Although we modern people pride ourselves on having a fixed personality, in reality we mirror others’ expectations very closely — at home we behave so our families aren’t ashamed and we aren’t labeled a “slut.” Then on the road, a different mirror is held up — one that might say a casual fling will be mutually fun and harmless — and we find ourselves responding,” she says.
But like my interviewed male buyers pressed, women who buy sex do exist — everywhere. Even though he’s gay, Kris has had women book appointments with him. “They usually call to make an appointment for their bisexual husband. During appointments women watch, sometimes undressed and masturbating. At other times they have joined in the sex. Often, it is their first time with a sex worker, but sometimes they've booked female escorts in the past for a threesome. I have noticed a recent increase in this type of appointment.”
Stephen, the writer, photographer and sex-buyer from Part One, once set up a female friend with a sex worker. “Several years ago, I had a woman friend visiting and I took her to a transgender club. As soon as we got there, a very attractive Latina trans woman caught my friend’s eye, they started flirting and dancing very suggestively. I spoke with the woman and asked if she would “date” my friend and I together. After making sure that I understood that we would have to pay, she that she would be happy to.”
Stephen propositioned his friend, but she felt torn. “My friend laughed nervously, and for a big part of the night was in great turmoil because she was very attracted to this woman but also scared about acting on her desire. She told me that she had never paid for sex; nor had she ever been sexual with a trans woman, although she was/is quite actively bisexual.” After much indecision, she decided to go for it. Stephen and his friend went back to the woman's apartment.
“Mi casa es su casa, the woman told us both. I watched but didn't participate. They both seemed to have a wonderful time. When we left the apartment, my friend was floating on air.”
What would it take for female buyers to come out of the closet? In one article on Fleiss' proposed brothel, Dr. Laura Berman muses that maybe the female-brothel idea would catch on if it were more vacation-like. Perhaps, if Fleiss's stud farm were marketed as a spa, a time for getaway and relaxation, women would be all over it. Maybe that post-sex-buying floating-on-air feeling paired with a glass of cucumber water in the waiting room is all it takes.