Some nights I lay awake thinking about gigolos. Not whether or not I should hire one. Nor whether or not gigolos are real. But I think about their history. I ponder who the ur-gigolo was, and I imagine that a sketch of him gallivanting around with his merry female client is carved into the rock at the Lascaux Caves. For the past decade I’ve casually studied gigolos, but I could never find answers to the questions I was interested in: How do they get new clients? And how have they done so throughout history? So I searched the academic literature, and I came upon this disappointing sentence : “Research on male prostitutes who advertise to women in any format remains virtually unexplored.” (Gonyea, Castle, and Gonyea, 2009)
And once I read that sentence, I realized that my next project would have to incorporate gigolos in some way. So as I continue working on my history of sex toys, I am also planning my new study on the history of prostitution advertising (both male and female). I fear that sources for gigolos will be much more difficult to find than those for female prostitute because many people don’t even believe that gigolos exist, as if they’re some sort of cryptozoological creatures: porn Yetis that reside only in the minds of the most desperate, horny women. However, the reason gigolos are invisible is not due to the fact that they are imaginary, but it is instead the result of the cultural norm that women’s sexual behavior must be confined to monogamous romantic relationships. I will not stand here and let the gigolo remain a mythological creature because of female stereotypes that insist that women are incapable of separating sex from love, that they abhor no-strings-attached sex. Like those who asserted, in the face of doubt and ridicule, that the giant squid was real, I will trek to the edges of the earth hunting down these sex workers, bringing back photographs or live specimens if necessary.
But I don’t even know where to start. I’ve never met a gigolo (as far as I know), nor have I been able to verify that a gigolo advertisement was, in fact, legitimate. How do you find evidence of a doubly stigmatized category? Even our popular culture stigmatizes gigolos. Female sex workers are somewhat acceptable in film. Actresses who play hookers win Oscars. But nobody is bestowing awards on Rob Schneider’s career-making performances in Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo and its criminally underrated sequel Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo. Of course, both Bigelow movies are severely flawed. They present gigolo customers as pathetic or revolting–obese, 7 feet tall, etc.–as if the only types of women who would pay for sex would be doing so because they had no other choice. I suspect that this is far from the truth.
The prospect of women buying sex seems outlandish in our culture because of female stereotypes that insist that women have so many sexual opportunities that only the most disgusting of them would seek out paid sex, but I bet many female clients of sex workers are attractive and that they frequent prostitutes for the same reasons that men do: sex workers provide an uncomplicated novel sexual experience. A gigolo study might not change with world, but it could chip away at sexual stereotypes and reduce the stigma of women who frequent male sex workers. If we continue to ignore gigolos in our scholarly research, we will never fully understand female sexuality.