Deconstructing Pop Culture

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Girls of the Web

March 15th, 2008 by David Kronemyer · No Comments

The recent fracas involving Elliot Spitzer and prostitutes reminded me of a paper I wrote several years ago when I was a Senior Policy Analyst at Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California. One of my primary interests always has been the economics of pop culture. In fact, I presently am working on a book about it. While at Rand, I authored several studies, including one examining the influence of media on real-world actions (for example, does violent television entertainment contribute to adolescent delinquency). These were published internally, but did not have much wider dissemination.

I also wrote this analysis of internet prostitution, which now seems particularly pertinent. While some of the numbers are slightly dated, and some of the web-site links now may be dead (I have not attempted to reconstruct them), the theory still pertains. My approach is phenomenological and deconstructionist.

I actually am sympathetic to Mr. Spitzer. He is an extremely smart man. His problem involves errors of judgment, not errors of cognition. He probably is subject to a serious mood disorder, as described by the eminent neuropsychiatrist Peter Whybrow in his book A Mood Apart.

There has been significant commentary on the case. It is beyond my ability to prepare a comprehensive bibliography. While some of them are titillating, none of which I am aware approach the issue from an academic perspective, which is what I was attempting. Some of the more interesting articles alluding to the economics of prostitution are set forth at the endnotes.

There also are a number of articles on Ashley Dupré, Mr. Spitzer’s counterpart. These emphasize, among other aspects, her privileged background; her MySpace page; and now, her 15 minutes of fame (including the economic prospects for sales of her sound recordings, and the obligatory nude photo spread). Some of them also are set forth at the endnotes.

If nothing else, the Spitzer case undoubtedly has affected the earnings of internet prostitutes. Many of their clients, or would-be clients, simply are deterred by the unprecedented media scrutiny and interest in this peculiar social phenomenon.

By way of caveats, I should say that while the preparation of this article was supported in part by RAND Corporation, the views set forth herein solely are those of the author. This article is not based on what might be called “personal experience.” My thanks, however, to several “highly knowledgeable” interviewees. Numbers in parentheses reference footnotes at the end of the article.

Eliot Spitzer

  Eliot Spitzer

 

Alexandra Dupre

Alexandra Dupré

 GIRLS OF THE WEB

Anything that has been written about prostitution since the ascendancy of the internet in, say, the year 2000, is obsolete (or, less judgmentally, of historical interest only). (1) The reason why is because the internet has revolutionized both the means by which prostitutes advertise, market and promote their services; and procure their clientele. In this paper I will explore the mechanics, and some of the implications, of this paradigm shift.

Another one of my objectives is to criticize the assumptions, and thus the utility functions, set forth in a recent paper, “A Theory of Prostitution,” by Lena Edlund and Evelyn Korn (2) (“ATP”). ATP proposes a “marriage market” solution to the apparent puzzle created by the fact that prostitution is relatively well paid, even though it is low-skill and labor intensive. It hypothesizes that, to a large extent, wives and prostitutes are substitutable – with prostitutes being, in economic terms, the “inferior good.” If a woman compromises her marriage market prospects (i.e., by being a prostitute), she therefore must be compensated for forgone marriage market opportunities; hence, well paid.

ATP, though admirable in its attempt to establish an analytical framework, is hopelessly out of touch with the attitude, orientation and outlook of “Generation X” women (“GXW”). GXW are those born in the 1970s (3) — in other words, in the prime cohort of their years either as childbearing wives, or as prostitutes, according to ATP. (4) ATP also does not even begin to consider the influence of the internet. Because of these infirmities, the conclusions reached by the authors by and large are counter-intuitive, and require drastic revisions in order to make explanatory sense.

A. You Can Get Anything You Want … Or, a Taxonomy of Internet Prostitution

To begin with, it is important to clarify that we are not talking about streetwalkers in Thailand, or anywhere else, for that matter. They present a completely different economic phenomenon. It is not demeaning to them to observe they are much lower on the economic scale — and the dynamics and exigencies of their occupations also are significantly different. The reason why internet prostitutes are much more interesting is because they present a paradigm case for the phenomenon of prostitution, as it is situated in the early 21st century. They distill, or embody, the most basic elements of what is involved in prostitution, or to be a prostitute, in the most extreme or exfoliated case.

As it lies at the core of cultural concepts and assumptions regarding any topic, the paradigm case is the most salutary starting point for any critical analysis; it “lies at the center of our conceptual space.” (5) Derivative instances of the same phenomenon (i.e., prostitution in general) then often require nothing more than reference to or modification of the paradigm case model.

On the internet, term “prostitute” in its dictionary definition is not useful. “Prostitution is the sale of sexual services (typically manual stimulation, oral sex, or sexual intercourse, less often anal sex) for money or other kind of return, generally indiscriminately with many persons. A person selling sexual favors is a prostitute, a type of sex worker.” (6)

This definition has both poor positive fit and poor negative fit. It has poor positive fit in that internet prostitutes do not have sex “indiscriminately with many persons.” To the contrary, internet prostitutes are extremely selective about their clientele. It also has poor negative fit, in that there are many aspects to the phenomenon of internet prostitution this definition does not encompass.

Rather, a new euphemism has evolved to describe internet prostitutes, which is “escort.” Escort is a conflation of several different notions, including (in addition to prostitute) that of “call girl.” A call girl “is a prostitute who is not visible to the general public, like a street walker, and who does not usually belong to an institution like a brothel. One must summon her, usually by calling a telephone number – hence the name call girl.” (7)

While this has a pleasant 1960s connotation to it, (8) the term call girl has fallen into disuse, and at this point would have to be characterized as archaic, having been replaced by escort.

Further semantic confusion arises with the term “escort” itself, which connotes, for example, a person who might be available to accompany one to a social or business function – literally, to escort them there and back. In this sense, for example, the secret service “escorts” the president. While some of this type of activity might occur, it comprises but a small element of the transaction between the internet prostitute and her client, which overwhelmingly is oriented towards sex.

An escort either may be “independent” or work for an “escort service,” the latter being an agency that procures assignations for the escort, and handles ancillary matters such as administrative and logistical arrangements, and billing. In contrast, the independent escort deals with these matters for her own account.

It is important to differentiate this type of escort service from the escort service that prevailed pre-internet. The pre-internet escort service was a shadowy phantasm of a business, possibly based off-shore, that relied on a high level of contacts and inter-group referrals between clients and client facilitators, e.g., the concierges of prominent hotels. As described in an interesting set of reflections by a former, pre-internet escort:

“My agency was owned and run by two retired call girls, with the assistance of a lawyer and an accountant. Registered in the Caymans and physically headquartered in another Caribbean country, it was, obviously, beyond U.S. jurisdiction, even though it hadn’t gone to the trouble of arranging its affairs this way for the reason you probably imagine, i.e. to avoid criminal prosecution.

* * * No, it wasn’t so much the DA the agency was avoiding as the IRS. And by locating where it did, it accomplished exactly that.” (9)

This type of escort service no longer exists or, to the extent it does, it has become economically irrelevant. Rather, today’s escort service is internet-based. In order to locate one, all you have to do is search on the words “escort service” followed by the name of the applicable city, and dozens of links will materialize. Many of these are of dubious authenticity; in each city, two or three services account for the bulk of the business. (10)

The nature of the “service” provided by an escort service also has changed. While there still are escort services classically understood – i.e., those that will arrange and supervise a transaction from inception to conclusion – most of them simply are content aggregators, the content being advertisements posted by individual prostitutes, typically for a modest fee. In some instances, the service also may earn a commission for transactions booked through the site.

Properly understood, then, it doesn’t even make sense to refer to these compilation sites as “services,” to begin with, although they do offer a variety of interesting search tools. For example, girls (11) are arranged by color of hair, ethnicity, and other physical characteristics, such as breast size. In order to select a prostitute of one’s choosing, all one has to do is utilize the search function, then refer to the pictures and biographies of the girls remaining after this triage process.

This leads to the building blocks of these sites, which are the girls themselves. These typically fall into two types, which are: those with internet pages sponsored by the site; or, girls with their own sites, (12) which in turn link to the compilation site. This is a hierarchal process; that is, the more successful and entrepreneurial escorts tend to have their own, linked sites, while beginners, or part-timers, start off with a page on a sponsoring site. Depending, perhaps, only upon their appetite for business, girls with their own sites may link to any number of sponsoring sites.

Either way, the sites for individual girls only can be described as extraordinary. Typically the opening page is a collage of pictures, featuring what euphemistically might be referred to as “tasteful nudity.” On some sites, a simple music application is launched – say, a melody in a low-key electronica format. Others audibly greet the viewer, as in “Hello, I’m ________, won’t you come in and look at my site,” or something similar.

Curiously, about half of the sites have the girl’s face, or perhaps only their eyes, blurred (in the same way that “reality TV” shows often blur the faces of bystanders from whom they couldn’t procure releases, or who otherwise didn’t want to be identified). What factors affect the decision “to blur, or not to blur?” The answer undoubtedly revolves around the girl’s employment (or even social life) outside of prostitution, which she wishes to protect (by not being identified as a prostitute), to the extent possible.

It would be outside of the scope of this analysis to speculate as to the exact nature of that employment. For example, one girl asserts she attends business school; (13) another, that she has a doctorate degree; (14) another, that she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. (15) In virtually all instances, though, it is not unreasonable to assume that the girl’s career simply is one of the classic standbys that have served working girls well over the years, such as waitress – actress – model. (16)

The organization of each site follows a simple template; several firms seem to design most of the sites. Typically there are five or six sub-sections. One is for a gallery of pictures, continuing the “tasteful nudity” theme. Another is for what purports to be biographical information. This either is generic (identical words and phrases appear from site to site), or so general as to be meaningless, such as “my favorite color is ______.” It is safe to assume that the diligent reader of the biographical information will find little that is useful in the way of true biographical facts. As with all things internet, “biographical facts” present a fertile ground for self-invention. Rather, the real purpose of this section appears to be nothing more than to achieve a certain degree of romantic titillation, especially when read in connection with the pictures. It seems highly unlikely that any girl uses what we might refer to as her “real” name, and statements as to age unquestionably should be taken with a grain of salt.

Another page is a schedule of what euphemistically is referred to as “donations.” This key word really means compensation to the girl in exchange for the act of prostitution. When these sites first were originated, it must have been felt that using a term such as this was less blatant than, say, “schedule of charges.” Enhancing this inference, most sites have long quasi-legal disclaimers, emphasizing they should not be construed as an offer of prostitution. It is difficult, however, to discern any real legal difference, or liability-reducing distinction, between the two.

Donations fall into two categories, the first of which is a per-hour rate; and the second of which is a rate corresponding to a scheduled block of time, e.g., four hours. Some girls make clear they will not accept engagements by the hour, this apparently being too closely related to prostitution conventionally understood; others set forth charges for blocks of time as long as a week. Some require an advance deposit on fees; others accept credit cards, or even wire transfers.

Then, there is a means to contact the girl, which typically is achieved in one of three ways. First, there is a telephone number, which without exception is picked up by an answering machine or service. Sometimes the message begins with a mildly salacious introduction, and then assures the caller that the call will be returned in due course. It stands to reason that girls using telephone as their primary means of communication are those wishing to be more accessible, i.e. attract a higher volume of clientele.

Second is an email address, again without exception to yahoo.com or some other ISP that permits anonymous referral. Some of the e-mail addresses show a high level of ingenuity and are quite amusing, e.g. “expensivebutworthit,” “highmaintenance,” “wortheverypenny,” etc.

The third is a form the prospective client is instructed to complete, and then transmit back to the site itself. This clearly is the most sophisticated communication mechanism. In addition to basic contact information, these forms typically require extensive (and, it might be said, somewhat intrusive) personal information about the prospective client, accompanied by assurances of confidentiality, however dubious. Several sites go so far as to request information about previous internet prostitutes seen by the prospective client, almost as if the prospective client was submitting a job application together with references. Surely these girls are the most selective, limiting their clientele through a rigorous screening process.

No web site would be complete without a roster of “frequently asked questions,” or “FAQ”s, and these sites are no exceptions. The most frequent FAQ is whether rates are negotiable, and without exception the answer is “no.” Others offer to accommodate special requests, such as hair – makeup – wardrobe; or to permit the use of a video camera (for an extra charge, of course). (17)

A final curious phenomenon is the way in which sites link to each other. Sites for individual girls often link to those of other individual girls; or, to one of the higher-order, compilation sites previously discussed. Some link to sites that actually provide reviews of their services (18) — though, of course, there is no way to ascertain the provenance of these reviews, which may be posted either by satisfied customers, the proprietor of the site, or the girls themselves. As with everything else on the internet, the doctrine of caveat emptor applies.

B. Kissing and Coming … Or, What’s a Girl to Do?

The nature of the transaction between a prostitute and her client is a personal services contract, much like a personal services contract entered into by any other personal services provider, such as an actor, a doctor, a lawyer, or an accountant, all of whom charge either by the engagement or by the hour. Traditionally, however, this implicit contract typically does not involve two elements: the client kissing the prostitute (as in, on the lips); and the prostitute coming (as in, achieving sexual orgasm). Does this model also pertain to today’s internet prostitute?

There is (unsurprisingly) a conflicting body of opinion on the internet about kissing and coming. In “50 Tips for Prostitutes,” Jahnet de Light – a “Tantric Sex Teacher” — advises (at Tip No. 40) that, “It’s all right to come.”(19) Another writes:

“But I can clearly and categorically state that … by far the large majority of women … who are sex workers, are doing it BECAUSE THEY WANT TO. Because they enjoy the financial freedom it brings them, because they enjoy the sex, because they enjoy the flexibility of the hours – and for lots of other reasons. To say that all these people are abusers/abused, deluded, etc. etc. etc., is denying their reality. (20) [capitalization in original.]”

Academic studies have shown that various psychological attributes of prostitutes do not differ appreciably from those of other women. And, except for “street walkers” controlled by pimps, most appear to have freely chosen their occupation. (21) Entire web sites are devoted to “promoting intimacy and positive, healthy and consenting adult sexuality.” (22)

On the other hand, the anonymous author of An (Ex-) Call-Girl’s Story states:

“Well, the happy hooker who enjoys the sex while earning the money is a myth; if you’re a nympho, you can’t do the job. Superhorny women get involved with clients and it is no longer a business deal. * * * I did – inadvertently – come a few times with clients, but I made sure they didn’t know the real ones from my fake O’s. You have to distance yourself emotionally from the job.” (23)

So, what’s a girl to do? The new generation of GXW internet prostitutes is unlike its predecessors, in that they actually enjoy sex. Contrary to the modality of the 60s (or 70s, or 80s, or 90s) call girl, kissing and coming is OK. This has more to do with who they are as women – their attitude, orientation and outlook — rather than their occupation as prostitutes. For example, in an interview presented by Borders.com, (24) Paula Kamen, the author of Her Way: Young Women Remake the Sexual Revolution, (25) stated that GXW:

“[A]re more sexually assertive, in terms of initiating dates and sex and pursuing their own orgasm in bed, and they are being open to more diverse types of sex, like oral sex. They are more likely to communicate their needs, and less feel ashamed to do so. They are much more likely to use condoms to protect themselves and not feel ashamed about it. They are more likely to experiment with other women.”

Apparently, GXW particularly enjoy oral sex, which has completely different connotations for them than for, say, their mothers. “To the women who came of age in the ’60s, oral sex was an act of great intimacy. To their daughters, it’s about as intimate as shaking hands.” It enables them to “deliberately embrace their ‘bad girl’ sexuality – call it grrrl power – taking pride in their erotic doings and bragging about them to their friends.” “[T]oday’s young women exult in their seductive power even though the seduction is often not reciprocal. * * * [they] now regard ‘giving good head’ as an accomplishment, an end in itself …” (26)

To some extent, this simply is an echo of the Andrea Dworkin-inspired debate about feminism. (27) However, it is feminism (or anti-feminism? ). This antinomy is difficult to parse properly. To paraphrase the song performed by Tina Turner, love has nothing to do with it. In a column entitled “Love in the Age of Irony” at Salon.com, (28) a reader writes:

“I have not been in love. * * * Most of my friends my age (22, 23) have not been in love, either, even the ones who have been in ultra committed, I can’t live without you type of relationships. It is something, but it’s not love. Perhaps we’re holding out for something that isn’t there. In the meantime, we date, date and date some more. Properly protected, there’s no harm in getting laid while waiting for The One to sway her hips in our direction. Maybe modern birth control reinforces this; condoms turn sex into a ‘yes, but’ affair. But with all that sex, can a true love make herself heard?”

Another writer concludes: “With the decoupling of sex and love, intense passion and romance are vanishing.” (29)

Although she might not be thinking of it in quite these terms, all of this is immensely pertinent for today’s GXW internet prostitute. Earlier, I characterized the nature of the transaction between a prostitute and her client as a type of personal services contract. It is a personal services contract with a unique element, though, which is that neither the prostitute nor her clients are required to expend any kind of mental effort. For the prostitute, it is sufficient if she brings clarity to her work, and at least pretends to derive enjoyment from her client; the truth of the matter is that she may have her mind on any one of a million different things, from having sex with somebody else to going grocery shopping. (30) Maybe she just goes to her spirit cave. Similarly, there is no requirement that she think of her client, in the sense of devoting any intentional mental effort, after their encounter; it is perfectly within the scope of the implicit contract, if she doesn’t give him another thought.

The same is true from the client’s perspective. It is not unreasonable to assume that he enjoys the time spent with the prostitute, though again he is not required to devote any intentional psychological effort to her; nor, similarly, is he required to remember the slightest detail about her. This freedom from the psychological issues that sex typically imports into the context of a relationship is one of the distinguishing features of prostitution. It might be explanatory to refer to this as “tabula rosa time” (the anagram for which, conveniently, is “tart,” as in “strumpet”) – in that both the prostitute and the client can approach, enact and then exit their encounter with no further emotional commitment.

Even so, this still leaves one with an uneasy feeling that there is more to it than this. How, for example, is it possible for today’s GXW internet prostitute to be in love? Or, what does she tell her boyfriend she does for a living? These questions cannot be answered satisfactorily.

The answer to being in love has something to do with distinguishing between “work” sex and “romantic” sex, which would be a difficult psychological exercise under any circumstances – though possibly not for a GXW sophisticate. Contemporary authors such as Jean Genet, Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller have written convincingly about prostitutes and love; the movie “Pretty Woman” portrays just such an occurrence. And if it happens in Hollywood, then it can happen anywhere, right? One researcher states that, for a prostitute:

“Managing and ‘making out’ includes complex interactions with the ‘self’ around prostitute identity, caring and giving but not being a ‘stupid prostitute.’ Listening to their narratives, it appears that women make out by separating the self from the body when doing body work * * * (31) [emphasis added.]

She adds:

“Emotional labor is a central aspect of the prostitute’s working relationship with her clients. Emotional energy is directed at minimizing her own feeling world at work, and emotional energy is used in and around her interactions with and for clients. * * * The issue here is how to women “make out” in conditions where they must separate body from self to do the intimate work of fulfilling clients’ sexual needs/desires and at one and the same time how do they manage to suppress their own feeling life and manufacture care, concern, consideration, a listening ear, indeed a devoted stance to their clients?” (32)

Psychologists should envy the internet prostitute who is adept at making these epistemological transitions.

Boyfriends are another matter altogether. In Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl, (33) Tracy Quan’s fictional protagonist Nancy Chan concludes that telling her boyfriend (Matt) what she does for a living would be an egregious error. She therefore devotes an incredible amount of time, energy and effort to elaborate and complex evasions to prevent him from discovering her true profession. Says Ms. Chan, “Almost every girl I know leads two sex lives. If you let them intersect, it can be disastrous.” This includes things like pretending to be less skillful (that is, from a sexual standpoint) than you really are. “The illusion of monogamy is supposed to prevent a guy from straying, and the idea is to prevent your boyfriend from noticing that you have more experience than he has.” An interesting perspective, but one that would be incredibly difficult to maintain, especially with the ubiquitous presence of the internet. After all, those “blurred-out” photos aren’t all that blurry and web pages can be archived forever.

C. The “Girl Friend Experience;” the “Porn Star Experience”

Many internet prostitutes advertise they will provide their clients with something they refer to as a “GFE,” which stands for “Girl Friend Experience.” Much like a trip to Disneyland, this locution postulates a differentiation between genuine reality (that is, the experience of actually having a girlfriend), and a simulated experience of that reality (that is, pretending to have a girlfriend).

As explained at one web-site:

“GFE is ‘Girl Friend Experience’ like renting a girl friend for the hour instead of the more cold, detached ‘hooker’ type pro. * * * But GFE is defined differently by different people. For me, GFE involves having an emotional and intellectual connection with a provider like you would with a real girlfriend, not just a body for physical sex. Some define it by what things a provider will do such as kiss. But I’ve experienced very mechanical kisses and relate it more to that ‘connection’ on a deeper level than only the body, even if only for the moment, is paid for and you may not meet her again.” (34)

It’s not hard to understand, at least in theory, how this would work for the client.

“I want to be with a woman, I want to touch her and have sex with her. I want to have a wonderful time with her, and for the time we’re together, I want it to feel like I care for her and she cares for me. BUT, in the morning, I want to wake up alone in my bed, I want to go in to my office, and I DO NOT want to have to worry about calling someone in the morning or about going home to be grilled about what I did with my friends Friday night. I want the physical pleasure without the responsibility of a relationship. * * *” (35)

It is far more difficult to see how it works for the internet prostitute. From an epistemological perspective, the key to being a successful GFE should be to dissolve the boundaries between appearance and reality, thus making the client forget about the fact that it’s just for pretend. This would be a strenuous psychological exercise under any circumstances, and far more difficult to achieve than, say, having an orgasm. One internet prostitute writes:

“I am still curious about the men, fascinated by their stories * * * There is a drunkenness of pleasure I feel with each [client]. Part of me falls in love with each one. It [is] what makes the GFE so real for both parties. I have an intense fear of relationships and yet enjoy the intimacy of sexual relations.” (36) [emphasis added.]

Part of me falls in love with each one? This seems rather complex. A more conventional view is that:

“Unless sex is a ten minute one off back street act, I contend that it is impossible to guarantee that emotions of affection and love are not aroused but at least within the confines of the prostitute/client relationship this is mitigated as much a possible, and a true professional in this sense should be attuned to the emotions of her clients and of herself, in this direction. Love was not part of the deal (although care, healing and romance might be) and it is part of the prostitute’s job (not the client’s) to control the emotional boundaries in the relationship and keep it professional, in the same way as a doctor or psychotherapist might.” (37)

In a way, a prostitute being in love almost would be like becoming a courtesan; someone more like a mistress, but with many lovers instead of just one. Curiously, “courtesan” is a designation by which some internet prostitutes sometimes refer to themselves. (38) One of them – a Ms. Veronica Franco – even has adopted the identity of a famous 16th Century Venetian courtesan, (39) and prominently advertises her ability to provide a “genuine GFE.”

Is this anything more than a figure of speech? A “true” courtesan would be more in the mode of Harriette Wilson, who famously averred, “I will be the mere instrument of pleasure to no man. He must make a friend and companion of me, or he will lose me.” (40) This more closely approximates the true GFE – in remarkable contrast to the internet prostitute, who (even in GFE mode) is devoted to perpetuating an illusion that specifically depends for its sufficiency and vitality upon eschewing the very notion of a “relationship.”

Furthermore, courtesans “were highly cultured women; rich, famous and, most remarkably, independent females in an era in which this was almost an impossibility.” (41)

“She is not a mere prostitute, although she is unequivocally a ‘professional’ woman who accepts money in return for sexual favors. Neither is she a mistress – who usually considers herself the lover of one man … Unlike a prostitute, prepared to sell favors to all-comers, a courtesan always chose her patrons, very often for her own pleasure as well as theirs. Her gifts – of company and conversation as well as of erotic pleasure – were only ever bestowed upon a favored few, who paid fabulous – sometimes ruinous – sums for them.” (42)

From an historical perspective, courtesans inhabited the demi-monde, that is, “the half-world midway between respectable high society and the low life of the common prostitute.” (43) Today’s internet prostitute, on the other hand, is indistinguishable from anybody else. Paradoxically, she is exposed globally, because of the internet’s worldwide reach; yet, because of web-site features such as obscured faces, it is unlikely you would be able to recognize her at, say, a cocktail party.

In contrast to the GFE is the PSE, or porn-star experience. Several sites (44) actually offer prospective clients the opportunity to interact with actresses in pornographic movies. Presumably this would appeal primarily to a consumer of pornography; in a McLuhan-esque twist, the medium literally would become the message, and the client would have the discerning pleasure of being able to have sex with the actress whom he saw in the movie. Surely this lends new meaning to the concept of “interactive” media. The epistemological nuances of the PSE seem far less challenging than those of the GFE, so I will not examine it further, here.

D. The Wages of Sin …

One of ATP’s key arguments is that the reason why prostitution pays better than regular jobs is because the prostitute forgoes marriage market income. (45) ATP assumes that all prostitutes are and will remain unskilled at any other line of work. This data constraint is necessary in order for ATP to contrast prostitution income with marriage income:

“Prostitutes have their best earnings while young, as opposed to many other professions that have a flat or positive age-earnings profile. Is this the reason why prostitutes have high earnings? Under the assumption that prostitutes are drawn from a pool of women who are and would remain unskilled, this cannot explain the earnings premium since the unskilled face a relatively flat age-earnings profile. Hence, a low-skilled woman who plans to remain so does not give up much in terms of training possibilities and hence future career options by a stint in prostitution.” (46)

In a footnote, ATP specifically contrasts these women with those whom we might characterize as more upwardly mobile:

“If prostitutes were drawn from a pool of women who could have had high-powered professional jobs if in training instead, the alternative cost of prostitution would clearly be linked to forgone job market opportunities as well.” (47)

To begin with, this footnote doesn’t make grammatical sense. It seems as though the phrase “if in training” was inserted by accident, or is a typographical error. With this emendation, let us take on the proposition it expresses – that, for a reasonably well-educated GXW, a high-powered professional job “clearly” is more remunerative than being an internet prostitute. The fact of the matter is that this demonstrably is not the case. (48) While ATP’s argument might work for that hypothetical Bangkok street walker, it cannot explain the GXW internet prostitute, who not only makes far more money than her counterparts employed as lawyers, accountants, etc., but also (so I shall argue at §E) suffers no prospective marriage penalty, either.

A survey of Los Angeles internet prostitute web sites disclosed a typical fee of between $2,000 to $3,000 for four hours; as earlier observed, most girls do not make appointments for shorter periods of time. Possibly reflecting their notoriety, the girls found at PSE web sites were much more costly, as high as $10,000 for four hours. Most regular sites offer longer periods of time for an additional fee; for example, a common quote is $25,000 for a week of companionship. Assuming the market is efficiently priced, that is, there is an equilibrium between supply and demand, and ignoring the PSE sites as non-representative, it appears the market-clearing price for a GXW internet prostitute (in Los Angeles) is somewhere around $625 per hour.

As a control to this data, consider the rates set forth by the author of An (Ex-) Call-Girl’s Story:

“A girl starting out at my former agency would be charging $1,400 – $1,600 a night. Usually it was $1,500, but the priority for a new girl is to get customers even if she has to go down to $1,400 a night for a while. * * * I was able to push my price up so fast that, by the end of my second year, I was costing newcomers $2,500 a night. Two and a half thousand a night is the semi-official target the girls are shooting for. (It’s usually about the limit the market will bear. Though, once you’ve established at $2,500 a night and have a full diary, you can pitch prospective newcomers the “only for $3,000” ball and see if they swing at it. A few do, but at that level you really are at the edge of the market’s tolerance, no matter how talented you are.) Not all the girls ever get there though, and I think most of them hit their personal ceiling somewhere between $2,000 and $2,500 a night.” (49)

Considering this was several years ago, pre-internet, and making adjustments for inflation, etc., this result certainly is within range, if not on the mark. (50)

How much the GXW internet prostitute earns on an annual basis thus simply is a function of how frequently she wants to work. The author of An (Ex-) Call-Girl’s Story worked 120 nights a year, which seems like a lot; her gross, after agency commission, was $234,000 per year. Let us imagine that our hypothetical girl works twice a week; at $2,500 per engagement, her annual gross (with no or minimal agency commission) is $260,000. (51)

Contrast this with, for example, the hourly rate commanded by a GXW at a mid- to large-scale law firm. At this point in their career, GXW most likely are what is referred to as “mid-level associates” – that is, not yet partners, but somewhere in the middle of the herd of attorneys employed by the firm. A survey conducted by the influential publication The American Lawyer showed that, circa 2003, the median annual compensation for mid-level associates was $150,406. (52)

The point of this exegesis simply is to make an illustrative comparison between two categories of professional women. Even allowing for some indeterminacy in the data, it seems hard to justify a conclusion that a GXW internet prostitute suffers foregone job market opportunities, as ATP concludes. To the contrary, it appears as though the mid-level law firm associate is the one who is suffering, particularly considering other employment-related perquisites. E.g. mid-level law firm associate: long hours, demanding bosses, boring case assignments; versus internet prostitute: two assignations per week in a controlled environment, she enjoys having sex, travel to strange and foreign places, etc.

By way of summary, an article in the Journal of Personality Assessment found that the only difference between prostitutes and non-prostitutes who shared similar class and family backgrounds was that on a yearly basis, the prostitutes earned at least twice as much. (53) Data for internet prostitutes shows much the same conclusion. As expressed by the author of An (Ex-) Call-Girl’s Story, “Simply put, it’s a matter of ambitious girls taking a rational career decision.” (54)

E. “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry …”

ATP’s central argument is that prostitutes must earn more than other women similarly situated, in order to compensate for the prospective wage differential caused by their lack of marriage-ability. ATP cites no evidence in support of this proposition; possibly illustrating the moral opprobrium the authors attach to prostitution, it is an assumption, not an empirical result. (55) Yet, we know the Old Testament prophet Hosea married the prostitute Gomer; (56) and there are dozens of other occurrences of such a union, both literary and historical. Is ATP’s premise viable, especially for today’s GXW?

Let us postulate that a social group (“SG”) comprises a set of individuals (“I”), each of whom in turn comprises a set of attributes or ascriptive predicates (“AP”). These can be of any nature, be it physical or mental, and they can be determined by any means, be they behavioral observation or self-reporting. (57) Thus,

{AP1, …, APn}ε I1

and

{I1, …, In}ε SG1.

The set of AP we are interested in are those that a counterpart I2 might consider in evaluating a potential mate (“PM”). (58) Such a set might look as follows:

1. {She is pretty}

2. {She is smart}

3. {We get along well together}

4. {She takes care of me}

n. {AP} ε I1.

From I1 = {AP1, …, AP4, …, APn}, I2 then might conclude:

PM = {“an appropriate candidate to marry”}.

Yet, from a logical standpoint, there is nothing in {AP1, …, AP4, …, APn} that even weakly infers such a conclusion. G. E. Moore coined the term “naturalistic fallacy” to describe the effort to define an evaluative statement (such as “this is good”) in terms of a set of descriptive statements (such as “it has qualities x, y and z). (59) He characterized ethical statements, of which marriage preference arguably is an example, as particularly vulnerable to this problem.

It is not clear why being a prostitute should be accorded some sort of preference as an ascriptive predicate. If I’s AP set is:

1. {She is pretty}

2. {She is smart}

3. {We get along well together}

4. {She takes care of me}

5. {She is a prostitute}

n. {AP} ε I1,

what is it about AP5 that would accord it epistemological priority of sufficient critical mass to outweigh {AP1, …, APn}? In the algebra of ATP, we would have to introduce a new factor, call it Π, which was so incredibly powerful that it would outweigh all other APs. This might be the case, by way of example, for religious fundamentalists, but they are not likely to be that interested in GXW, anyway.

To this point, the difficulties we have been discussing have been mainly theoretical. Yet, there still remains a potential practical problem, which is the overwhelming preference of GXW to have sex. If I1’s AP set comprised the following, for example:

1. {She is pretty}

2. {She is smart}

3. {We get along well together}

4. {She takes care of me}

5. {She is a virgin}

n. {AP} ε I1,

then it is unlikely that I2 will be marrying a GXW any time soon.

But this example is too obvious to be interesting. What if, instead, I1’s AP set was:

1. {She is pretty}

2. {She is smart}

3. {We get along well together}

4. {She takes care of me}

5. {She has had sex with a hundred people}

n. {AP} ε I1.

Many GXW have had sex with multiple partners. In The Sexual Life of Catherine M., for example, the author Catherine Millet analyzes her sexual experiences with many lovers – including attendance at orgies – in excruciating detail. (61) Would this disqualify her as a PM? Apparently not, since she states that she is in fact married.

Another example might be this:

1. {She is pretty}

2. {She is smart}

3. {We get along well together}

4. {She takes care of me}

5. {She has a venereal disease}

n. {AP} ε I1.

Which is less desirable: AP5 = {She is a prostitute}, or AP5 = {She has a venereal disease} (and she is not a prostitute)? There is no correlation between being a prostitute and having a venereal disease; in fact, it probably is far less likely, especially considering that prostitutes earn their living by commercially exploiting that part of their body most susceptible to such a medical condition, and therefore would be maximally incentivized to take good care of it.

From this perspective, it is not difficult to see how AP5 = {She is a prostitute} actually might be far more desirable to I2 than AP5 = {She has had lots of casual sex with strangers whom she meets at bars}. Or, let’s even consider AP5 on a stand-alone basis. For example, for some I2s, AP5 = {She is a prostitute} D AP6 = {She is good in bed and will provide a sexually satisfying experience} well might end up being a valid equation – one that promotes, rather than derogates from, I1’s viability as a PM. The point being that this is a slippery slope, and I2 might as well conclude that marrying a prostitute would not be that much different from, or actually would provide more utility, than marrying a woman with limited sexual experience; the distinction is quantitative, not qualitative. (62)

F. Conclusion

ATP’s premise thus can be seen as being flawed for that form of prostitution that is most interesting and most pertinent to GXW, the demographic cohort most likely to ply such a trade. There really is no obstacle to her having it both ways: that is, embarking upon a career as an internet prostitute, with its attendant earnings capacity and personal utility, while at the same time preserving, if not maximizing, her marriage potential.

ENDNOTES

Articles re: the economics of prostitution, provoked by the Spitzer scandal:

Bazelon, E., “Why Is Prostitution Illegal?”, Slate (Mar. 10, 2008).

Tsai, M., “Eliot’s Erotic Games – When is a massage more than a massage?”, Slate (Mar. 11, 2008).

Greenwald, G., “Who cares if Eliot Spitzer hires prostitutes?”, Salon (Mar. 11, 2008).

Manjoo, F., “A look at Spitzer’s Emperors Club Web site,” Salon (Mar. 11, 2008).

Levin, J., “So You Want To Open a Brothel,” Slate (Mar. 11, 2008).

Farley, M. & Malarek, V., “The Myth of the Victimless Crime,” New York Times (Mar. 12, 2008).

Goldman, A., “Scandal gives peek inside call-girl ring,” Los Angeles Times (Mar. 12, 2008).

Venkatesh, S., “Skinflint,” Slate (Mar. 12, 2008).

Lloyd, C., “New debates about the oldest profession,” Salon (Mar. 13, 2008).

Bazelon, E. & Levin, J., “Sex Sells,” Slate (Mar. 13, 2008).

Tsai, M., “Porn vs. Prostitution – Why is it legal to pay someone for sex on camera?”, Slate (Mar. 14, 2008).

Meyer, J., “Spitzer scandal offers rare glimpse into prostitution rings,” Los Angeles Times (Mar. 14, 2008).

Meyer, J., “Spitzer a rarity only in getting caught,” Los Angeles Times (Mar. 15, 2008).

Articles re: Ashley Dupré a/k/a “Kristen”:

Kovaleski, S. & Urbina, I., “For an Aspiring Singer, a Harsher Spotlight,” New York Times (Mar. 13, 2008).

Dowdy, Z., “Call girl ‘Kristen’ in Spitzer scandal identified: Ashley Alexandra Dupre,” Los Angeles Times (Mar. 13, 2008).

“‘Kristen’ doesn’t want to be seen as a ‘monster’,” Los Angeles Times (Mar. 13, 2008).

Rosin, H., “Poor Ashley Dupré,” Slate (Mar. 13, 2008).

Manjoo, F., “For Ashley Alexandra Dupre, selling music beats selling sex,” Salon (Mar. 14, 2008).

Strickler, A., “‘Kristen’ MySpace profile out of sync with reality,” Los Angeles Times (Mar. 14, 2008).

“Spitzer’s Call Girl Could Parlay Infamy Into Payday,” New York Times (Mar. 14, 2008).

“Call girl to father: I’m in ‘a little bit of trouble’,Los Angeles Times (Mar. 15, 2008).

“Call GIrl Laments Use of Exotic Photos,” New York Times (Mar. 15, 2008).

Gamboa, G., “Spitzer’s call girl starts her 15 minutes of fame,” Los Angeles Times (Mar. 15, 2008).

Endnotes to text:

1. See, for example, Reynolds, H., The Economics of Prostitution (1986).

2. Edlund, L. & Korn, E., “A Theory of Prostitution,” 110 J. Political Economy 181 (2002) (“ATP”).

3. Kamen, P., Her Way – Young Women Remake the Sexual Revolution (2002).

4. ATP at 186.

5. See, e.g., Quine, W. v. O., “Natural Kinds,” reprinted in Kornblith, H. (ed.) Naturalizing Epistemology (1985).

6. http://www.jahsonic.com/Prostitute.html (2004); see also http://www.ipedia.com/prostitution.html (2004).

7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution (2004). The circa-1970s New York call girl service “Cachet” was the subject of the best-seller Novak, W., Mayflower Madam: The Queen of Credit Card Sex (1986). See also ch. 27 of Ringdal, N., Love for Sale (1997).

8. For example, Christine Keeler, at the center of 1963’s Profumo Scandal in England, was a call girl. http://www.trashfiction.co.uk/profumo.html (2004).

9. An (Ex-) Call-Girl’s Story, http:www.geocities.com/RodeoDrive/7234/index.html (2004).

10. For example, three of the largest services in Los Angeles are: http://www.thatmall.com; http://www.eros-la.com; and http://www.city-source.com.

11. Throughout this paper, I use the term “girls” or “women,” as females account for the vast majority of prostitutes; however, this primarily is for ease of reference, and should not be taken as an indication of gender bias, as clearly there are male prostitutes and those catering to the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transsexual community.

12. A brief evaluation of the Los Angeles market shows there may be upwards of 500 such sites (though the population of sites changes constantly).

13. http://www.victoriataylorstudio.com (2004).

14. http://www.amytaylor.net (2004).

15. http://www.wortheverypenny.com (2004).

16. In Los Angeles argot, euphemistically referred to as a “wham” (for “waitress – hooker – actress – model”). In the song “Celebrity Skin,” the actress-model Courtney Love slightly rearranged the order of these professions (to waitress – hooker – model – actress) in order to accommodate its poetic structure, http://www.canoe.ca/JamAlbumsH/hole_celebrityskin3.html (2004). All porn stars are escorts; while there are some instances of it, the converse is not the case.

17. One actually can shoot a home movie of oneself having sex with a prostitute. Hopefully the ambient lighting is correct, and appropriate copyright releases are secured for later public performance of the film. Masquerading under the rubric of “film” also may create artificial First Amendment issues, that would not otherwise be present with simple solicitation.

18. E.g., http://www.theeroticreview.com (2004).

19. De Light, Jahnet, 50 Tips for Prostitutes – Helpful hints to The Working Person, http://www.sfc.org.uk/docs/protips.htm (2004).

20. E-mail from Sera Pinwill at http://archives.econ.utah.edu/archives/pen-1/1997m08.d/msg00038.htm (2004).

21. Lee, C., Common Myths About Prostitution, http://www.cybercollege.com/prostitution.htm (2004).

22. See, e.g., http://www.sexwork.com/subcontents/notvictims.html (2004).

23. http://www.geocities.com/RodeoDrive/7234/index.html (2004). Arguably, actresses in hard-core pornographic films (i.e., those that actually depict sex) are somewhat akin to prostitutes. In her book How to Make Love Like a Porn Star (2004), the actress Jenna Jameson similarly vacillates between detachment and engagement. At p. 332: “When you are doing a sex scene, try not to be too detached. * * * Realize that the more you give and the harder you work, * * * the better the scene will be. * * * And while enthusiasm in a sex scene is important, overdoing it is as bad as not doing it at all. * * * Besides, it doesn’t look real.”

24. http://www.liveworld.com/transcripts/borders/1-29-2001.1-1.html (2004).

25. Kamen, P., op. cit.

26. Thurer, S., Gen X’s change of head at www.salon.com (2004).

27. See, e.g., Dworkin, A., Women Hating (1976).

28. http://www.salon.com (2004).

29. Whitehead, B., “The Girls of Gen X,” The American Enterprise 54 (Jan. – Feb. 1998).

30. Keeping a mental distance seems to be a common strategy. Says one prostitute, “I often think about the shopping and what I’m giving for tea.” O’Neill, M., Prostitution, Feminism and Critical Praxis at http://www.staffs.ac.uk/schools/humanities_and_soc_sciences/sociology/ level3/prost3.htm (2004).

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid.

33. Chan, N., Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl (2001).

34. http://www.sexwork.com/subcontents/whymenpayGFE.html (2004).

35. Ibid. As this site makes apparent, not all men seek GFE experiences. One stated: “Well for me, I’m no more looking for the reality of a caring relationship from a sex worker than I look for the reality of a death scene from an actor. I’m just looking for a good fake out, not the real thing.”

36. Ibid.

37. Mackenzie, S., The Morality of Prostitution at http://www.capital.demon.co.uk/LA/pamphlets/prostit.htm (2004).

38. See, e.g., http://www.cynthia-jacobs.com.

39. http://www.veronica-franco.net.

40. Wilson, H. (ed. Blanch, L.), Harriette Wilson’s Memoirs 83 (2003).

41. Hickman, K., Courtesans – Money, Sex and Fame in the Nineteenth Century 2 (2003).

42. Ibid. at 3.

43. Rounding, V., Grandes Horizontales – The Lives and Legends of Four Nineteenth-Century Courtesans 1 (2003).

44. E.g., http://www.exotica-2000.com (2004); http://www.bodymiracle.com (2004).

45. ATP 189.

46. ATP 191.

47. ATP 192.

48. To the extent our girls are not rocket scientists, this merely enhances the validity of our observations.

49. An (Ex-) Call-Girl’s Story, op. cit.

50. She goes on to state that the agency’s commission was between 20 to 30%; but gives an example illustrating a 22% commission, which is the more likely figure.

51. And, depending on her tax reporting practices, some to most to all of this is tax-free.

52. Pearlman, L., “The New Lifers,” The American Lawyer (Oct. 1, 2003), reprinted at http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1063212112648 (2004).

53. Lee, C., Common Myths About Prostitution, op. cit.

54. An (Ex-) Call-Girl’s Story, op. cit.

55. And it probably would be difficult to design such a study, if for no reason other than the heteroskedacity of the data.

56. Hosea 1:2 (Revised Standard Version).

57. Thus, it is not my intention to analyze how we know when to apply an ascriptive predicate to another person, or the nuances of self-reporting, particularly when states of consciousness are involved. Rather, with Strawson, I simply want to acknowledge the concept of a person as primitive. Strawson, P. F., Individuals 103 (1959).

58. Thus, the AP set can be defined either in terms of those AP actually embodied by I1. or, reciprocally, by I2’s preferences (or lack thereof) with respect to same.

59. Principia Ethica 10 (1903).

60. Millet, C., The Sexual Life of Catherine M. (2001).

61. “Will you go to bed with me for ten thousand dollars?” goes the query a philandering businessman is said to have posed to an attractive lady of the fashion world in a story that is variously said to have taken place in New York, Paris, Milan, or London in the mid-1960s. “Your proposition will not be excluded from consideration,” she replied with an engaging smile. “Will you do it for ten dollars, then?” The woman’s smile became a thin line. “What do you take me for?” “But my dear, you have already indicated that you are for sale. I’m just trying to negotiate the price.” Ringdal, N., Love for Sale 341 (1997).